“Jazz music and nigger dances are the death march of a great civilization,” declared Oswald Spengler in 1933. Spengler was the author of The Decline of the West which, funnily enough, sounds a lot like another book burning up the best-seller list.
I promised last week that I’d discuss Pat Buchanan’s The Death of the West
after my Los Angeles Times
piece came out. It did, so I will.
First, let me say I both admire and dislike Buchanan’s writing for the same reason: He brilliantly manages to do with one language what Yassir Arafat does with two. He offers red meat to the extremists while at the same giving himself the wiggle room to deny he said anything controversial in the first place. This is no mean feat. To be able to say something that wins applause from racists and bigots without technically saying anything racist or bigoted is a great gift, for want of a better word. Meanwhile, Yassir Arafat says all of his defensible stuff in English and leaves the red meat for his Arabic speeches.
When Buchanan rails against “Zulus,” Israel’s “amen corner,” or demands “affirmative action” for “non-Jewish whites” or “European Americans,” he does it in a way that lets him deny he was offering anything harsher than a strong opinion while his more hardcore fans “know” what Pat’s “really saying” and love watching the “liberal media in New York” and Washington get hysterical trying to prove he meant something else.
Now, I know that what I’ve written so far has probably angered lots of Buchanan’s fans, especially the legions of nonracist, unbigoted people who think Buchanan is a national treasure and feel like calling him a bigot is the same thing as calling them bigots. But if you go back and read what I’ve written so far, I do not call Pat a bigot, racist, or anti-Semite. Rather, it’s up to you to decide if I’m winking or not when I write these things. In short, I’m writing like Pat (though surely not as well).
The first argument of The Death of the West is that white countries aren’t having enough babies to maintain their share of the global population (what follows is data rich so if you want to skip ahead, be my guest). The title of the chapter dealing with this well-documented phenomena is “Endangered Species” (wink, wink). As I mentioned last week, Buchanan is correct, the economically advanced nations of the world are experiencing dramatic declines in their fertility rates.
Quick primer: Fertility rates are the number of children born per woman in a population. Depending on the health and health care of a given population (and discounting immigration and emigration), you need a total fertility rate of 2.1 (as in 2.1 kids per woman) to simply replace the population. Because of mortality rates some nations need slightly more than 2.1 babies per woman to account for the number of people who die before they can reproduce. So if you have a fertility rate below 2.1, i.e. “below replacement,” your population will be getting smaller, if it’s higher than 2.1 it will be getting bigger (For a good FAQ on this stuff see the Population Reference Bureau.)
Anyway, Buchanan writes, “Of Europe’s forty-seven nations, only one, Muslim Albania, was, by 2000 maintaining a birthrate sufficient to keep it alive indefinitely. Europe had begun to die.” Now I will say this just once, Buchanan uses words like “die” and “dying” for shrinking populations with such willful ignorance and tendentiousness that it makes it hard to take him seriously. As I noted last week, Buchanan’s equating of babies never conceived to victims of Hitler and Stalin is outrageous. Look: Smaller populations do not equal death. If your poor grandfather had ten kids and your middle-class father had five kids and now that you are rich you decide to just have three, would you say that the “Smith family is dying”?
Not only is this bad math and bad analysis, it leaves out the obvious response that you can have more babies if you think having fewer is, in Buchanan’s words, “suicide.” But I get ahead of myself.
So yeah, fertility rates are declining in Europe. But, as it so happens, they’re declining outside of Europe too, most notably in Japan, which is already the “oldest” country in the world with a median age of 41.
Pat does mention Japan briefly (mostly so he can denounce abortion, which is well established there (unlike the pill)). But he basically makes the decline in fertility rates sound like a calamity specific to whites. He goes on at great length about the exploding populations of the duskier, non-Christian, nations of the Third World asserting that these populations will swamp the West with their superior numbers.
“Of the twenty-two nations with the lowest birthrates, only two are outside Europe — Armenia and Japan.” On Pat’s canvas (brimming with images of swelling Third World hordes and “dying” Westerners), this looks particularly ominous. But, you know, “twenty-two” is an awfully specific number. Why is that? Could it be that once you dig deeper than the top 22, the list of nations gets inconveniently diverse? It turns out that 65 nations now have “below replacement” fertility rates including Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macao, and this obscure country you might have heard of called “China” — Pat’s insistence that “China’s enormous population swells inexorably” notwithstanding.
Of course, China’s fertility declines are controversial since they are partly the result of the brutality of its regime. But they are also partly the result of economic growth.
Indeed, that’s the real story; the richer a nation gets the more likely it is that it will have fewer babies. The “more developed” nations of the world have a combined fertility rate of 1.6. The less developed, minus China, have a combined rate of 3.6 babies per woman. Sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, has a whopping 5.6. But, remember, China had a total fertility rate of 5.9 in 1960. India’s has dropped from 5.8 to 3.2. Mexico’s plummeted from 6.1 in 1960 to 2.8 today. There’s no reason to think these longstanding trends won’t continue until scores of “Third World” countries are “dying” the same way white countries are “dying.” Indeed, almost all of the demographic trends Buchanan laments will undoubtedly be undermined by reality (as virtually all doom-and-gloom predictions of these sorts have in the past).
Of course, there’s also dying in the sense of people actually dying. The reason Japan, Europe, and the other economically advanced countries are getting older isn’t just because we’re having fewer babies, it’s because we’re living longer. So while Sub-Saharan Africa’s birthrates are dismayingly high, so are their mortality rates. In the U.S. today, life expectancy at birth is 77 years old and rising (in Japan it is 81). In Sub-Saharan Africa it is 51 and falling. This is the flipside of the fertility argument, people have more babies when they think their children will help keep them alive, they have fewer when their kids become luxuries, not necessities.
In Buchanan’s analysis, however, Western societies are “dying” because people are living more, while poor nations are taking over the world because their people are dropping like flies. This sort of bizzaro logic — being healthier and wealthier equals weakness, being poor but fruitful equals strength — gets applied to military and economic arguments in the most tortured ways. One wants to grab Pat by the lapel and tell him that his (and my) beloved British Empire ruled the globe with a fraction of the population of its colonies. One desperately wants to point out that his protectionist policies would make the rest of the world poorer and therefore more likely to multiply and emigrate from their societies to ours (people tend to stay home when their prospects are improving). One wants to tell him declining birthrates are a wealth thing, not a white thing.
I touched on the problem with Pat’s immigration argument last Wednesday and in the LA Times piece. But let me take a quick whack here. Buchanan’s basic complaint is that the U.S. will become a “Third World” country if it has too many people from the Third World in it.
The problem is that he never defines what the Third World is. When Rodin was asked how he would sculpt an elephant he reportedly said he’d take a block of stone and remove everything that wasn’t an elephant. If you take a similar approach to The Death of the West, removing everything he clearly doesn’t consider “Third World,” you’re left with white, Christian people. After all, Mexicans who speak a European language, are disproportionately Catholic and live to the west of “the West” are Pat’s exhibit A for Third World Man.
Now I am sympathetic to several of the sub-arguments Pat makes in his discussion of immigration. Nations must protect their borders. The multicultural left and a semi-porous border make assimilation much more difficult. Afrocentrists and the liberals who coddle them are a very real threat to the social fabric. Indeed, as Richard Brookhiser suggests in his review in NR, many immigration arguments — pro and con — are often stalking horses for arguments relating to the inability of so many African Americans to fully assimilate after 400 years in North America.
Assimilation is important. Having large numbers of citizens — of any race — convinced that they should hate America is a disaster. In fact, I wish Michael Barone and my old boss Ben Wattenberg, to name two pro-immigrationists I respect, would drop the comparisons of Mexicans and other Hispanics to turn-of-the-century Italian immigrants. This has nothing to do with race and everything to do with different circumstances. We didn’t have a generous welfare state back then. Italy doesn’t share a huge border with the U.S. and the Italians never owned — and lost in battle — vast tracts of territory in the Southwest of this country. The fact that few Italians started out as illegal immigrants or came here to sign up for benefits, is hugely relevant for all the reasons Tom Sowell and others have pointed out.
But the problem with Pat’s argument isn’t that he hasn’t identified a legitimate problem (even though he disingenuously calls for a “moratorium” on immigration, when he knows he means a permanent halt. Wattenberg pretty much got Buchanan to admit this on his PBS show, Think Tank.) The trouble with Pat’s argument is that he uses the problem as an excuse to champion a repugnant strain of conservatism which focuses on race.
I could support Pat in many of his arguments, no matter how un-PC, if they weren’t used to support an argument for white supremacy. Hell, I have no problem whatsoever with arguments about Western supremacy; I just don’t believe in the words of Sam Francis (whose fingerprints are all over The Death of the West) that Western Civilization is a product of our “genetic endowments.”
And even if our “genetic endowments” (I’m assuming Goldbergs are included) had something to do with the success of the West, any politics based upon that assumption are unacceptable morally and pragmatically. How do you win in a democracy when you take as a given that vast numbers of voters are essentially less American? Besides, the goal here shouldn’t be to persuade white people to buy the multiculti Left’s terminal asininity that says that logic, reason, democracy, merit, achievement, etc. are “white.” The goal should be to crush the multicultural Left’s Balkanizing philosophy, not surrender to it.
But that is precisely what Buchanan does. Pat and the paleocons used to be the most articulate defenders of regional diversity. They defended state’s rights and the cultural distinctiveness of the south with great skill and passion. Pat still defends the south quite a bit but he’s also pounding the table with indignation that we aren’t “one nation” and how “racial consciousness now conflicts with national consciousness.” The Death of the West reflects this schizophrenia — or hypocrisy — throughout.
Indeed, it’s striking how hypocritical the paleocons are these days. They denounce all conservatives who don’t toe their line as “neocons” who’ve “caved” to the liberals on all the important issues. But, that’s only true if you consider the important issues to revolve around this narrow and nasty emphasis on what Peter Brimelow calls America’s “specific ethnic core.” For that cause, they are willing to relieve themselves of any other principle.
For example, in his column demanding that Harvard adopt affirmative action for “non-Jewish whites,” Buchanan declared “If proportional representation is the name of the game, Christian and European-Americans should get into the game, and demand their fair share of every pie.” Well, who’s surrendering now?