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How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) Hardcover – September 19, 2011
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In How Civilizations Die, David Goldman muses on population trends and religion with a breathtaking depth, originality, and panache. Some of his startling but documented predictions: Europe is in its death throes. Muslim demographic collapse will undercut Islamic triumphalism. The United States and Israel will emerge triumphant. And that’s just the start.”
—DANIEL PIPES, President of the Middle East Forum and Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University
Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West was required reading when I was a college student and David Goldman’s contemporary argument should be required reading today.”
—HERB LONDON, President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute
David Goldman has explored the political implications of demography with rare insight. How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam Is Dying Too) is a mind expanding peek into the likely political future of our planet.”
—MARY ANN GLENDON, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University
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The title of Goldman's book is How Civilizations Die, but the addendum, And Why Islam is Dying Too, may be more important. For there is almost no awareness that the Muslim world is following in the footsteps of western civilization. Indeed, a popular narrative among those who seek to revive Europe has it that Muslims will soon rule the continent. But while European Christianity eventually lost the fight with modernity, Islam has fared worse.
Iran proves illustrative. "An educated twenty-five year old Iranian woman today probably grew up in a family of six or seven children, but will bear only one child." As of 2010, Iran's fertility rate stands at 1.7 children per woman. Decadence has enveloped the nation; drug use is rampant, and a sizable portion of the women work willingly as prostitutes. Paradoxically, this makes the Islamic world more dangerous, at least in the short term: "For in their despair, radical Muslims who can already taste the ruin of their culture believe that they have nothing to lose."
Of considerable interest was Goldman's account of the Thirty Years War, which ravaged Germany in the 17th Century. The German population declined "from 21 million to perhaps 13 million, mostly due to starvation." Ostensibly, the war was fought to decide whether the German people would become Protestant or remain Catholic. But there was considerably more afoot: Protestant armies were bankrolled by Cardinal Richelieu and Father Joseph du Tremblay, two French clergymen who had no trouble putting State ahead of Church. Their plan was to gain hegemony over Spain by bankrupting her. It worked. The senseless slaughter continued long past the point when battles decided anything--as in the American Civil War after Vicksburg. As Goldman tells it, nationalism was never fully subordinated by the Church; this failure, which first manifested itself under Richelieu, would haunt Europe until the middle of the twentieth-century.
Goldman finds two exceptions to the ennui that will lead so many nations to destruction in the coming century. The first, Israel, is well established; even secular Jews who live in Israel have children, and the ultra-Orthodox have large families--eight or nine children on average. His second example, America, is less convincing. True, religious Americans have proven less susceptible to the siren song of modernity. This has given the country a birthrate which remains at replacement level: 2.1 children per woman. Although he offers reasons for American demographic exceptionalism, I am forced to charge Spengler with too much optimism.
He is on firmer ground when he notes that: "America's demographic momentum offers a generation's grace period." Yet what evidence is there that we will do anything but fritter it away? For that is the approach America has taken with her debt problem, one that is not altogether different from its demographic dilemma. A nation does not run up too much debt for the same reason it raises children: it believes in its future. Presently, America lacks the political will to bequeath a worthy culture to its progeny. The demographic data tell a slightly different story--for now.
Goldman may as well be the originator of the phrase "Demographics is Destiny" because he has argued for years (and in this book) that demographics can go a long way into explaining nations' economic and cultural rise and fall. But then what explains demographics? In the introductory part of the book, Goldman explores why people in the developed world choose to have children and why they don't. His answer seems to be that having children is often an act of religious faith, or at least an article of faith in the future. Those developed societies (read: Europe) that fail to reproduce at replacement rate have lost faith. Not surprisingly, only two developed countries, Jewish Israel, and Judeo-Christian America, currently have birth rates above the 2.1 replacement rate.
The next part of Goldman's book takes the reader deep in the heart of Islam and explores how and why Islam is literally convulsing before our eyes despite its religious facade. Who knew that the world had never before seen a drop in birthrates as it sees in Iran today? Who knew that Turkey too faces a demographic crisis in the near future and that native Kurds might soon outnumber native Turks in Turkey? The reader will be shocked as Goldman goes through the numbers and explains the cultural and economic consequences of an Islamic world on the brink.
The second part of the book titled 'Theopolitics' takes the reader through history and examines cultures that failed: Prehistoric Greek civilization, Hellenistic civilizations and ancient Rome. Goldman then explains why Islam is soon to be the fourth failed civilization. The focus then shifts to Europe as Goldman explains how a once great continent no longer has a desire to live. This leads into a discussion of my favorite part of the book, a chapter titled 'How Christianity Failed in Europe.' I had always wondered how it was possible that the formerly most powerful nations, who fought for centuries under the nominal faith of Christendom could be so lacking in faith today. As Goldman explains, while the European nations were nominally Christian, they really practiced a form of paganism in that they worshipped themselves. And this was their downfall. In an awesome intellectual journey, Goldman takes the reader through the first Thirty Years' War in Europe (1618-1648) and discusses how that war eventually led to the modern nation state, the death of Christianity in Europe, and eventually the horrors of the second thirty year war in Europe (1914-1945).
The final part of the book explains why America is different and how modern Judeo-based Christianity has survived only in America. By examining America's religious roots Goldman contrasts living America with dying Europe and shows why America will thrive, but also why its uniqueness cannot necessarily be transferred to other nations. This of course has foreign policy consequences for us today as we seek to export American democracy (can't be done, Goldman argues). Goldman concludes by offering his foreign policy advice based on 'The Morality of Self Interest' which should be required reading for our policymakers.
Goldman is quite literally a polymath. The former head of Fixed Income Research (ie. smartest guy at the firm) at Bank of America, Goldman is a master of not only geopolitics and history, but also of high finance and macroeconomics. The breadth of his knowledge is breathtaking and combined with the writer's fine sense of humor makes for a gem of a book. I cannot recommend this book highly enough - simply an intellectual tour de force!
Is the author right? Time will tell. Meanwhile, he has written an exceptionally interesting book.
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