Frontpage Interview’s guest today is David P. Goldman, the author of the new book, How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too), which Regnery brought out this fall. After 9/11, Goldman began writing weekly essays at Asia Times Online under the byline “Spengler.” At the time he directed a research group at Credit Suisse, and afterward ran fixed income research for Bank of America. After joining the masthead of First Things magazine early in 2009, he revealed his identity and devoted himself to writing, mainly on politics and strategy, but also publishing essays on religion, classical music, literature and mathematics. He left First Things early in 2011 to write his book.
FP: David P. Goldman, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Let’s begin with what inspired you to write this book.
Goldman: Thanks Jamie.
It was 9/11 and the aftermath. I’m an old Cold Warrior; I consulted for Norman A. Bailey, the head of planning at NSC in the first Reagan administration. We were playing a deadly global chess game with a fairly rational opponent; when the Russians knew they were beaten, they caved.
Radical Islam is a different animal. Never in history have so many people committed suicide in order to kill large numbers of innocent people. And not since classical antiquity have so many cultures willed themselves out of existence by failing to have children. Countries and individuals who habitually destroy themselves to inflict harm on others have no rational self-interest. You cannot negotiate with them. Our world has a different and terrible set of rules, and policy has to change appropriately.
FP: You refer to the failure to have children. For the first time in history, the birthrate in the West has fallen below replacement level. Explain this to us. Why is it happening? Expand on the consequences.
Goldman: That’s one of the few important developments in the world on which liberal and conservative scholars agree. People of faith have many children, and secular people have few or none. Liberal observers are terrified that “the religious will inherit the earth,” as the liberal sociologist Eric Kaufmann put it. America is the last big industrial country with a religious majority, and the only one with a birthrate above replacement. But that’s mainly due to evangelicals and Hispanic Catholics. Mainline Protestants, loosely-affiliated Catholics and secular Jews breed like Europeans. And people of faith in Europe behave like religious Americans. There just aren’t too many of them.
For the Europeans, this means eventual economic collapse. Take Italy, which dominates our financial headlines at the moment. By 2050, three-fifths of Italians will be elderly dependents. We are struggling to reduce future entitlement spending in the US, where the workforce is still growing. Add a zero to our problems to get an idea of the size of Italy’s. It also means that it’s nonsense to talk about American decline. By mid-century Japan’s workforce will fall by a third and Europe’s by a quarter. We’re the only industrial country that will turn up for the rest of history.
FP: Muslim leaders have perpetually boasted that they would defeat the West by numbers, and we are definitely witnessing the alarming growth of Muslim populations in Europe. Many Muslim males come to the West with four wives and have like 30 kids with them. Yet you are writing about a Muslim demographic winter. What are we missing? Has something changed?
Goldman: It’s true that the Muslim birthrate far exceeds the Western birthrate, but large parts of the Islamic world are catching up to the West’s demographic winter at startling speed. The Muslim world is passing from infancy to senility without going through adulthood. Muslim countries with a high literacy rate — Iran, Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia — have already fallen below replacement fertility. Islam is a religion of traditional society, where subsistence farmers have always had as many children as they could. The moment Muslims leave the traditional world — especially when girls get a high school education — their behavior changes radically. Most Iranians have six siblings, but will have one or two children.
Never has a national fertility rate dropped from 7 to 1.5 in a single generation. Turks whose cradle-tongue is Turkish also have a fertility rate of only 1.5 — the same as Europe’s — while Kurds are having four to five children. That means the map of Turkey will be redrawn a generation from now. In Judea and Samaria, Arabs had eight children a generation ago. That’s fallen to three, the same as the Jewish fertility rate in Israel. As the modern world forces its way into traditional Muslim societies elsewhere, fertility continues to plunge. It tells us that Islam, as a religion, crashes and burns when it encounters the modern world. That’s not just a Muslim problem, I hasten to add. The same sudden collapse of fertility afflicted ethnocentric branches of Christianity, for example, Catholicism in Quebec.
FP: So how should the U.S. deal with Muslim decline?
Goldman: With a hard hand, in the case of Iran. The foreign policy establishment has always seen Iran as a rational player. That was the view that Robert Gates brought into the Bush administration, and the reason that the Obama administration refused, disgracefully, to support the democracy movement that erupted in Iran in the summer of 2009.
An individual, or a country, that knows it has no future has no rational self-interest. You can’t invert the population pyramid in a poor country within a single generation without economic collapse. Iran knows its time is running out. Ahmadinejad is giving speeches calling the low birth rate a “genocide against the Iranian nation,” and Iran’s press is warning of a “tidal wave of elderly.” That feeds the apocalyptic impulse of Iran’s leaders. There weren’t a lot of Communists in Russia outside the Politbureau, we discovered in 1989, and there may not be a lot of Muslims in Iran. But the Russian danger peaked in the early 1980s when the Politbureau realized that time was running out to make their move.
Demographic decline tells the ayatollahs that their window of opportunity is closing. But there’s a big difference. Deterrence worked with a nuclear-armed Russia. It won’t work with the apocalyptic Shi’ite leadership of Iran. As a practical matter, we must stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, no matter how great the cost.
FP: How do you see the “Arab Spring”?
Goldman: The outcome, I predict, will be Somalia on the Nile. It’s an understatement to say that the so-called Arab Spring has disappointed its enthusiasts. We face the prospect of radical Islamic governments led by the Muslim Brotherhood or similar entities in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.
I argued in February 2009 that the global rise in food prices triggered the demonstrations; it wasn’t simply that people were hungry, but that the old autocracies showed themselves unable to offer their people food security. Three generations of Egyptian dictators kept their people in backwardness. The result is catastrophic. Three-fifths of Egyptians are farmers, but the country still imports half its food. Nearly half of Egyptians are illiterate, a third of them marry cousins, and nine-tenths of Egyptian women undergo genital mutilation. It has a huge university system, but its graduates are unemployable. Egypt’s economy is in a death spiral. With the collapse of tourism and other sources of foreign exchange, cash reserves are down from six months’ import coverage to just to two months. The military government is a kleptocracy of African dimensions. We are less likely to see a stable but hostile Islamic government than starvation and social breakdown. Syria seems condemned to a long-term civil war with Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia supporting proxies.
FP: Your perspective on American efforts at nation-building in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world? If these efforts are quicksand, then what are the alternatives?
Goldman: I supported the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but I shared Daniel Pipes’ view that we should have installed an amenable strongman and gotten our soldiers out of harm’s way. It is not within our power to stabilize societies that crash and burn on entry into the modern world. Americans often forget just how exceptional we are. Our founding premise is that God gave inalienable rights to every individual. The notion of a covenant in which every individual derives rights from God such that no earthly power can take them away begins at Mount Sinai. In Islam, it is absurd to suggest that God might limit his own power by a permanent grant of rights to every individual. The arbitrary, capricious and absolutely transcendent god of Islam would not condescend to a covenant with humankind. The institutions of representative democracy are a hollow shell without its covenantal premise.
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