September 23, 2011

WHICH MAKES THE ARAB SPRING DARNED INCONVENIENT:

Book Review: David Goldman's "How Civilizations Die" (Reuven Brenner, 9/21/11, Forbes)

For Goldman demography is almost destiny. He argues that demographics shed light on the rise and fall of nations, tribes, and civilizations. Goldman views the decision to have children as being a matter of religious faith, or at least reflecting optimism about the future. Where religions fail, fertility declines, and these civilizations fall into oblivion.

This leads him to one of his "universal laws," namely, that "The history of the world is the history of humankind's search for immortality." A large part of the book is about the intricate ways in which this law interacts with demographic changes, and sheds light on national/tribal destinies from antiquity to our days.

According to Goldman, when a tribe or a nation suddenly realizes its demise into insignificance, whether defeated in war or leapfrogged by newcomers who accidentally stumble on better ideas, institutions, or technology, reproduction declines. When the fertility of the tribe or nation falls below replacement level, its civilization eventually disappears. At times, the tribe gradually dies out, literally speaking.

In other instances the tribes' unique features disappear as its members emulate the leapfrogging civilization's institutions and are absorbed in larger entities. These leave their tribal/national cultures behind for historians to explore the "death of births."

In spite of the recent pessimism pervading the U.S. (and Goldman is a severe critic of present and past administrations' policies), he is carefully optimistic about the U.S., India, and China, but not about Europe, and certainly not at all about Muslim countries. The latter, in his view, will not have the luxury of time to catch up, and populous nations such as China and India will leapfrog them.

Their present numbers notwithstanding, Muslim countries will fall further and further behind with their already plunging fertility rates. The survivors will have to adopt the more successful civilizations' features, a transition that will not happen peacefully, and cannot happen "democratically," as democracy has no roots in these societies. According to Goldman, the Bush administration's idea that "democracy" can be easily exported was a big blunder.

Another implication of his analysis is that since much of the world is now even more unsettled than the U.S., the U.S. has a window of opportunity to put its political and fiscal house in order and to become, once again, the civilization that emerging countries want to emulate. The U.S. appears to be the only country that stumbled upon a model of society that managed to link successfully an increasing number of people of different backgrounds to create a unique "American tribe."


Much as we enjoy reading them, folks like Spengler and Mark Steyn, like Whittaker Chambers before them, drastically underestimated the capacity of Anglo-American values to penetrate and change other societies.



Posted by at September 23, 2011 6:47 AM
  

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