The Long View 2005-06-13: The 34th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC)

Hubbert's upper-bound prediction for US crude oil production (1956), and actual lower-48 states production through 2014 – By Plazak - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42670844

Hubbert's upper-bound prediction for US crude oil production (1956), and actual lower-48 states production through 2014 – By Plazak - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42670844

Peak Oil was an interesting idea. I can see how it seemed compelling: it was based on data and experience, and the model fit the data reasonably well. However, the model and it's assumptions always struck me as wrong-headed. It turns out I was right about that, but I can't claim any special prescience about the mechanism that really drove the stake in: fracking

I had forgotten about this reference to Rammstein. For a guy 25 years older than me, he continually surprised me with his cultural references.


The 34th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations (ISCSC)

 

I have been a member of the ISCSC for some years, but the only other annual conference I attended was one held at the Newark, New Jersey, campus of Rutgers University, which is just a few minutes away from where I live. This year's meeting was at the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 9th, 10, and 11th. The only full day I was there was the 10th. I was importuned to come to this one so I could do a stand-up routine about Oswald Spengler. The conference theme was "Civilizations, Religions and Human Survival," so the obvious thing to talk about was Spengler's notion of the "Second Religiousness." Well, obvious to me.

I had never been to the Twin Cities before (Minneapolis-St. Paul). As big airports go, Lindbergh International (which is not to be confused with Humphrey) is not perhaps exceptionally huge, but it certainly looks that way, because the terminals are integrated into a single structure. I did actually check to see if there was an Amtrak route I could use. There is, I found, and it's cheap, but it would take 20 hours from New Jersey. I don't like to fly, but I don't not like to fly that much.

The University of Saint Thomas is a middle-sized Catholic institution. It dates to the late 19th century, but most of the plant seems to have been built since about 1970. It felt oddly familiar. Finally I recognized that it reminded me of Farleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey: both are "urban universities" located in leafy neighborhoods that are not particularly urban. Saint Thomas, however, is just a few blocks from the Mississippi, which is quite spectacular even so far north.

* * *

The ISCSC is in no way a politically radical group. It was founded by macrohistorians, but my own interest in macrohistory has become rare, except among some of the Japanese, about whose country Toynbee spoke so highly. Most of the papers were on aspects of globalization or on regional issues. Nonetheless, there were times during my stay when I found myself channeling Ayn Rand.

Just after I arrived, I walked in at the end of a presentation by an elderly prelate who was talking, as far as I could tell, about the role of religious groups in negotiating an end to armed conflicts. During the question-and-answer session that followed, he said he thought that the United States destroyed the Baathist government in Iraq in order to eliminate a successful model of socialism. Well, one does not heckle elderly clerics, especially when you walk in at the end of their presentation, but I was under no such inhibition at another presentation on "Peak Oil."

It wasn't a bad presentation. The thesis was that world oil production could be expected to peak in a couple of years, and that there would be economic and social disruption as prices rose thereafter. Unlike the topography of St. Paul, however, I recognized right away what this reminded of: I was hearing a scarcely updated version of one of the Club of Rome Reports from the early 1970s.

I have every confidence that an increasing scarcity of oil will have us scrambling to built new power infrastructure in fairly short order, but there is something terribly past-sell-by-date about all this. The imperative need for population control; the organization of resource use on a transnational level; the decentralization and localization of economic activity: all of this needs to begin now, the story goes, by government subsidy and coercion. When I first read this analysis and prescription in The Limits to Growth in 1972, it also sounded plausible to me. The future in Soylent Green looked plausible to me, too. Since then, the statistics have changed, but the story never does. It does not even change when, as in the case of Europe and Japan and China, something very like the Club of Rome prescription has been instituted and the societies involved are actually starting to die.

When you see that a policy prescription stays the same no matter how the facts change, you realize that the prescription is the point, not the problem it is supposed to remedy. Socialism, as the old saying goes, is the name of their desire. The only novelty is that socialism has realized it cannot create prosperity, so now it insists on mandatory poverty.

Thoughts like this make for awkward interventions in a public forum, especially when, as in this case, I was called on last, after a dozen supportive questions. I started civilly enough, though:

"Excuse me, but why would you expect command economics to work any better in the 21st century than they did in the 20th?"

"Well, you are right: it's a difficult issue. Still, I would offer Cuba as an example of a country that has successfully planned the transition to a more organic, low-energy usage society."

"What happened in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union was not a planned transition; it was a national catastrophe. (Shouting) To made the current state of Cuba a national goal would be lunatic public policy!"

I think I got a little applause at one point. In any case, I went down to the front of the auditorium to apologize afterward. I tried to explain that you don't actually need hot-spots for geothermal climate control.

* * *

One session that might have been of interest to many readers of my blog included a presentation by one Peter O'Brien (of, I believe, San Diego), who argued that America has become sufficiently different from Europe that America must be considered a separate civilization. Among other things, he said that when Europeans said "we," it was a "we" that did not include Americans.

We have blogs so we can offer responses that we did not think of at the time. So, let me mention here that I was recently quoted in a Dutch English-language newspaper, the Amsterdam Weekly, in an article by Paul Burghout about the recent referendum on the European Union Constitution. The title of the article was "They, the People."

And what about that Rammstein song, Amerika? ("We all live in America")?

* * *

After I delivered my own paper, entitled The Second Religiousness in the 21st Century, it seemed at first that I was not going to get any questions. It turned out that the presentation had not produced indifference, but about 10 seconds of stunned silence. Then I got much better questions than I deserved, including one from an old theologian who was familiar with both William Ernest Hocking and Philip Jenkins. I got to quote C.S. Lewis on the potency of religion for good and ill ("Demons are not made from corrupted mice, but from corrupted archangels") and the Talmud on the perils of trying to engineer a religious future ("Do not force the Messiah.") I did wax a little incomprehensible when I tried to explain the relationship of metaphysical immanence to American constitutional jurisprudence, but nobody seemed to mind.

* * *

The ISCSC is meeting next year in Paris, to talk about intercivilizational bridges. I think I will give that one a miss.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

 

The Long View 2005-05-26: High-Powered Jobs, Then Mostly British Stuff

Work-life balance is important, particularly insofar as a lack of it contributes to lower fertility in precisely the people who should be having more kids. However, the problem is that you can't make a job with time off for raising kids equal to a job with brutal hours and a lack of interruptions. You might insist that you can pretend, but the reality of it won't change.


High-Powered Jobs, Then Mostly British Stuff

 

Matt Miller wrote a column that appeared in the New York Times earlier this week, entitled, Listen to My Wife, that tries to transcend the affirmative action debates about gender:

In a world where most people are struggling, the search for "balance" in high-powered jobs has to be counted a luxury...

Here's the deal: this isn't a "women's" problem; it's a human problem. Yet for 30 years women have tried to crack this largely on their own, and one thing is clear: if the fight isn't joined by men (like me) who want a life, too, any solutions become "women's" solutions. A broader drive to redesign work will take a union-style consciousness that makes it safe for men who secretly want balance to say so.

The argument is interesting because it reveals a blindspot far more debilitating than any gender ideology. Power, at least in this context, means the ability to do work. High-powered jobs are constituted by the productivity of their incumbents. You can, of course, give someone a corner office and a princely salary even if he does nothing all day, but such a person will not have anything like the influence of someone who makes profitable decisions when they are needed. The real power of all workers, competent or not, diminishes when people are being appointed to jobs for reasons other than merit, because the ability of the workers to affect their own fate is thereby reduced. The same would apply when jobs are artificially designed in the interests of family life. There may be good reasons for doing so, but do not delude yourself that they will be the same jobs.

* * *

For reasons which seemed sufficient at the time, I recently sought to familiarize myself with the philosophy of Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.J. There is a description here of his views about epistemology: it seems to be a shotgun wedding of Kant and Aquinas, with John Newman holding the shotgun. I link to it here, however, because that article briefly mentions a mathematical puzzle I had not seen before. Look:

1/3 = 0.333...

3 X 1/3 = 3 X 0.333...

3 X 1/3 = 0.999...

1 = 0.999...

But what happens if you raise both those terms to the power of infinity? I am perplexed.

* * *

I have often mentioned, and will no doubt mention again, that my favorite C.S. Lewis novel is That Hideous Strength. The story deals in large part with the malefactions of the NICE, a very British bureaucracy called the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is a real NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. It even does NICE things, like advise the British government about when to cut off medical care to malingering patients. That characterization may be unfair, but what were these people thinking of when they coined the acronym?

* * *

Speaking of very British things, I have no excuse at all for having seen all the classic Doctor Who episodes. I did not see them "when I was a kid"; I was about 30, when the series aired on some of the less-well-to-do public television stations in New Jersey. (This information apparently leaked back to the scriptwriters: you may recall when Tom Baker remarks of K-9, his robot dog: "Do you like him? They are all the rage in Trenton, New Jersey.") In any case, I was surprised to learn that the series is back in business. The Doctor Who Website has all sorts of information about the Doctor's latest incarnation. Plus there are games, and you can download the Dalek cry, "exterminate!" I also see that each episode is judged by a panel of children to assess the scary bits. You would think the show was made for kids.

* * *

I am working on Chinese again, this time with special attention to the simplified characters. There are many free online study aids. I downloaded a modest-sized Java flashcard program from here. There is no audio, so you can use it at odd moments without attracting attention. Also, it is not embarrassing if you are caught goofing off.

* * *

Finally, I was pleased to see that The Weekly Standard ran a piece by Christopher Hitchens about George Galloway. The latter humiliated the US Senate subcommittee that was investigating corruption in the UN Oil-for-Food program in Iraq, and the US press seemed little inclined to explain who Galloway was. Hitchens explained why Galloway richly deserved to get a better grilling than the one he got, Hitchens also makes this observation:

In a small way--an exceedingly small way--this had the paradoxical effect of making me proud to be British. Parliament trains its sons in a hard school of debate and unscripted exchange, and so does the British Labour movement. You get your retaliation in first, you rise to a point of order, you heckle and you watch out for hecklers. The torpid majesty of a Senate proceeding does nothing to prepare you for a Galloway, who is in addition a man without embarrassment who has stayed just on the right side of many enquiries into his character and his accounting methods.

There is something to this observation, but do you really need to incur the risk of liver damage that a stint in Westminster entails to learn how to deal with a provocateur? Galloway's performance was classic open-meeting agitator: accuse the people on the podium of being criminals, make too many charges to answer, and never give a direct answer other than "no."

What Galloway did happens in public meetings everywhere in the United States at one time or another. School Board chairmen learn in short order how to deal with such people. The senators must have been school-board chairmen, or something similar, at some point on their way to the Senate. Have they forgotten how to answer a con man?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: How Abortion Builds Better Families

By Jajhill - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48972931

By Jajhill - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48972931

I was going to say that John missed the big picture on replacing AFDC with TANF in the late 90s:

Chronic, mass illegitimacy is a product of the lifestyle of the population that has become dependent on AFDC. If the program is removed or modified, there might be a temporary uptick in abortions, but the culture of illegitimacy will be eliminated.

because it looks like the long term trend wasn't much affected in the CDC data. But perhaps that is too harsh. Pseudonymous blogger Spotted Toad looked at the data, and concluded that it was possible there was an effect of eliminating AFDC. That effect is much smaller than the underlying trend, but that doesn't mean it isn't real.

The second part of what John mentioned here, a fear that pushing women to get married using welfare policy would cause an increase in the abortion rate, didn't materialize either.

Overall, I think this essay from 1995 holds up pretty well 22 years later.


How Abortion Builds Better Families

The word "conservative" has several meanings in American politics. It can mean respect for social tradition and legal precedent, after the fashion of Edmund Burke. It can mean a devotion to free market economics, which is what "liberalism" meant in the 19th century and what it still means in much of Europe. It can mean near-anarchist libertarianism. It can even mean the desire to create a theocracy. Although these possible meanings often logically lead to incompatible public policy, most people who call themselves conservative incorporate some elements of all of these different kinds of "conservatism" into their beliefs. This rarely causes significant problems: since none of us is omniscient, cognitive dissonance is part of the human condition anyway. Still, every so often an issue comes along that threatens to unravel the baling-wire and chewing gum structure the passes for modern American conservatism.

Consider the movement to deny payments to single women receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for children born while the women are on the program. This restriction is aimed at reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births, which might strike some people as a "conservative" issue if ever there was one, but the opposition to this policy is almost unique in uniting abortion rights advocates and pro-life advocates. The reason for this is the conventional belief that such a measure will increase the rate of abortion among women dependent on these funds. The pro-abortion people assert that restricting AFDC payments infringes on the "right to choose" by pressuring the women concerned to choose abortion. The pro-life people, while presumably opposed to illegitimacy, are more concerned about the possibility of a rise in the abortion rate.

In reality, of course, the premise of this opposition is probably wrong. Chronic, mass illegitimacy is a product of the lifestyle of the population that has become dependent on AFDC. If the program is removed or modified, there might be a temporary uptick in abortions, but the culture of illegitimacy will be eliminated. However, the belief that AFDC reform really does pose an abortion issue has provided an opening for that type of "conservatism" which consists of a mixture of free market economics and personal libertarianism. A particularly lucid expression of this type of argument is provided by the cover article in The New Republic of August 21 & 28, entitled "The Conservative Case for Abortion," written by Jerry Z. Muller. His thesis, in brief, is that bourgeois family values are incompatible with pro-life ideology. Unlike most pro-abortion arguments, which consist primarily of invocations of the fastfood slogan of "choice," this one rises to the level of refutable error.

Muller seeks to make his argument "balanced." He notes the eugenic value of abortion, including late term abortion, but then he also says "the right-to-life movement has done our society a service by insisting upon the humanity and moral worth of the unborn child." His real argument, however, is economic. (Since his most recent book is Adam Smith in His Time and Ours, this is understandable.) The right-to-life movement, he argues, "undermines [the] fundamentally conservative effort to strengthen purposeful families." Now the purposeful family is the middle class family, as defined in the light of Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." Such a family is one which believes that "the bearing and rearing of children is not an inexorable fate but a voluntary vocation, and that, like any other vocation, it is to be pursued methodically using the most effective means available." In purposeful families, the number of children is kept small so that they can be carefully educated and thus given the best chance to succeed in life. Purposeful families allow for the accumulation of capital that need not be spent feeding the kids, and therefore purposeful families have more to invest, either in their own businesses or those of others. It is people like this who make advanced societies advanced. Purposeful families are jewels beyond price, which social policy should do everything possible to encourage.

Unfortunately, in recent decades the purposeful family has been under assault from individualism, hedonism, and the excessive emphasis on career advancement by both sexes. Among its enemies is the pro-life movement, whose values are essentially pre- capitalist. "Just as older patterns of economic traditionalism and fatalism persist within advanced industrial societies, fatalistic conceptions of family life remain as well..." It is therefore no surprise that among the most vigorous opponents of abortion are lower middle and working class Protestant Evangelicals, who "stress redemption through divine grace rather than through a lifetime of purposeful activity." Muller, noting the decline in abortion rates among young women in recent years, credits the right-to-life movement. The result of their efforts has been to increase the number of out-of-wedlock births, he says. He therefore castigates the right-to-life movement with inhibiting the inculcation of middle class family values among the poor, particularly with regard to their opposition to welfare reform measures that would stop subsidizing illegitimate births.

Some factual points in his argument might give one pause. For instance, it is news to me that Protestant Evangelicals, either in this country or Latin America, are not entrepreneurial. It is also not entirely true that declining fertility is a law of nature (or capitalism). Fertility rates rose throughout the West, starting the late 1930s, and in the U.S. did not go into conspicuous decline again for almost 30 years. There are economic explanations for this, but the reality is fundamentally mysterious. For that matter, one may question whether the post-babyboom small families have been particularly "purposeful." Certainly they have been more divorce-prone than their predecessors, and the children they have produced do not measure up particularly well in terms of scholastic performance or social adjustment. Quite aside from the question of whether Muller's theory of social demography actually holds water, however, is his misunderstanding of the essence of the traditional family.

The distinction he makes between the "fatalistic" traditional and the "purposeful" capitalist family is, of course, nonsense. People have planned their families from time immemorial, quite without the aid of modern pharmaceuticals. Demographic studies of Puritan New Englanders, for instance, show that they obviously spaced their children. They planned on large families, of course, because infant mortality was high and resources abundant. The secular trend toward declining fertility began in the middle 18th century, in Catholic France. The institution of the family in itself implies a fair amount of forethought, of care for the future. Certainly the traditional family is in no way related to the improvident reproductive habits of today's underclass.

The real question here is not the social habits of the underclass, but of what it has become fashionable to call the "Overclass." This designation represents the latest version of the never-ending story entitled, "Whatever Happened to the Kids of the 1960s?" In reality, of course, the Kids of the 1960s became today's adults, not so different from other generations of Americans. However, there has always been enough peculiar about them that the temptation to weave them into demographic theories of history is irresistible. Michael Lind, an editor of The New Republic, has made a name for himself by propounding the theory that these baby-boomer professionals are slowly turning the U.S. into Brazil with snow, as they increasingly refuse to use or fund public services and fence themselves off from the growing numbers of marginally poor workers. One the other hand, David Frum, a fellow of the economically conservative Manhattan Institute, says that the Overclass is actually the world's first "mass elite." He says that all of the shrinkage in the middle class over the last 20 years can be attributed, not to people falling down from it into the underclass, but rising above it into the Overclass.

In any event, the Overclass are the people Jerry Muller is really talking about when he posits a group of people for whom abortion is a natural element of personal economics. The problem for his argument is that the behavior of these people really does not support his hypothetical correlation between fertility rates and economic behavior. What is unusual about today's Overclass is its improvidence, at least as compared with the haute bourgeoisie of earlier generations. They save less than well-to-do people have any right to, to the lasting frustration of economists. In the small Overclass families of today, we are not seeing the victory of the lean, mean, Weberian nuclear family unit. If anything, the Overclass represents a victory of genteel bohemianism, of the spirit of the Woodstock Generation, but with money. The Overclass, like the "counter-culture" whose incarnation it is supposed to be, is self-absorbed, antinomian, and fundamentally intolerant. It is also dishonest in a peculiar way, preferring evasive euphemism to argument. What other group of people could insist with a straight face that "choice" is the real issue in abortion and euthanasia?

Muller's argument is really about the need for a eugenic contraceptive policy, one designed not to weed out bad genes, but bad culture. Abortion is regarded simply as another technique to that end. Overclass culture is capable of acknowledging that there may be some special ethical issues involved in the abortion question, but is quite without any mechanism for assessing the importance of one moral principle with respect to another. That its why it calls principles "values," like quantities that can be added up and averaged out. There is therefore nothing "bourgeois" about the Overclass, if by bourgeois you mean the culture of people like the well-to-do Victorians. The Victorians did believe in moral absolutes, as did the Calvinists and the Puritans and all those other penny-pinching Protestants whom Muller is so eager to invoke. This was the reason for their purposefulness. To work was to pray (as that proto-Calvinist, St. Benedict, once put it), and the virtues of thrift and honesty were important, not simply for their utility, but because they conformed to the will of God. To the Overclass, however, every virtue is a construct, subject to no scheme of value but their own will. This is true even of their own children. Muller even tells us that the "activist conception of family formation also suggests that artificial reproductive technology should be used to reverse infertility." Children as artifacts are less intimidating than children as people.

People who think like this are not "conservative," whether they are Overclass lawyers or illegal aliens. They do not and they will not create strong families, because they think that families are arbitrary constructs, defined according to personal convenience and disoluable at their own considered whim. Having rejected traditional moral norms, they have no history to conserve, and they will make nothing worth keeping.

 

End

This article originally appeared in the November 1995 issue of Culture Wars magazine. 

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2005-03-25: Good Friday

This quote is remarkable, and has colored my view of government and constitutions ever since:

Someday, a prominent person involved in the Social Security debate is going to say, in public, that the only remedy for a demographic problem is a demographic solution. There will be an immediate response from several points of the political compass, to the effect that the birthrate is no concern of government. To that, others will reply that the Griswald-Roe-Casey regime is already a demographic policy. A full response, which may be a while in coming, would be that oversight of demographics is one of the pre-constitutional functions of government. Like the police powers, or the power to acquire national territory, it is one of those things that every sovereign has to be able to do. That is true even if the sovereign's constitution gives no such power, and even if the constitution says the sovereign has no such power.

Pre-constitutional functions of government is a great turn of phrase.


Good Friday

 

Terri Schiavo does not have long now, unless some official decides to act without color of law. Lots of people are calling on the president, or the governor of Florida, or maybe the local sheriff, to do just that. Readers of this blog will also be aware that I have long been predicting, even advocating, the restriction of judicial review. Let me therefore repeat that this would not be the case to do it. The courts did not manufacture a right to euthanasia for Terri Schiavo, or perhaps for the convenience of her husband. The courts have been applying reasonable statutes in a reasonable manner. If the governor had sent Florida state troopers to take custody, he would not be defying the courts, but the legislature.

Remember the old saying, "A government that can do anything for you can do anything to you"? Do you really want to live in a country where the law can be suspended with respect to popularly designated individuals?

* * *

Meanwhile, at the other end of the sinking Roe v. Wade superliner, we have this uncomfortable truth from Mark Steyn: The strange death of the liberal West:

I am, as Tony Blair might say, deeply passionately personally deeply personally opposed to abortion. But, unlike him, I think it ought to be an election issue...the point about abortion is not that it's a "matter of conscience" for individuals to "wrestle with", but that it's a crucial part of the central political challenge of our time...The 19th-century Shaker communities were forbidden from breeding and could increase their number only by conversion. The Euro-Canadian-Democratic Party welfare secularists seem to have chosen the same predicament voluntarily, and are likely to meet the same fate. The martyrdom culture of radical Islam is a literal dead end. But so is the slyer death culture of post-Christian radical narcissism. This is the political issue that will determine all the others: it's the demography, stupid.

Someday, a prominent person involved in the Social Security debate is going to say, in public, that the only remedy for a demographic problem is a demographic solution. There will be an immediate response from several points of the political compass, to the effect that the birthrate is no concern of government. To that, others will reply that the Griswald-Roe-Casey regime is already a demographic policy. A full response, which may be a while in coming, would be that oversight of demographics is one of the pre-constitutional functions of government. Like the police powers, or the power to acquire national territory, it is one of those things that every sovereign has to be able to do. That is true even if the sovereign's constitution gives no such power, and even if the constitution says the sovereign has no such power.

You see: I am starting to sound like Carl Schmitt. Or perhaps like John Marshall.

* * *

And as if things were not bad enough, that Incorrigible Spengler at Asia Times has taken to writing light opera. To wit: The Jihadis of Penzance: Or, The Slave of Democracy. Just look:

Much of what US President George W Bush and his representatives have said lately might have been extracted from a W S Gilbert libretto. To put the matter in context, I have sketched the sort of libretto that Gilbert might have prepared for Arthur Sullivan were the pair alive today, and embedded in it some of these utterances. Links to MIDI files for the songs are provided in footnotes, and readers are encouraged to sing along with Spengler. Direct quotations from US officials are indicated by italics.

He shall bear a heavier burden in the Latter Day; particularly because he thought of this first.

* * *

About political acrimony, I am pretty thickskinned. It's stories like this that knock the wind out of me:

In a startling discovery, geneticists at Purdue University say they have found plants that possess a corrected version of a defective gene inherited from both their parents, as if some handy backup copy with the right version had been made in the grandparents' generation or earlier...If confirmed, it would represent an unprecedented exception to the laws of inheritance discovered by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century. Equally surprising, the cryptic genome appears not to be made of DNA, the standard hereditary material.

Actually, the suspicion has been growing for several years that DNA may be only one factor in heredity. Polymer chemistry, for instance, determines how proteins twist and bend, which has more to do with the structure of living things than does the information in nuclear DNA. And even regarding the nucleus: if information is not being stored in the DNA, then the obvious place to look is the RNA. However, that hypothesis has problems:

Dr. Haig, the evolutionary biologist, said that the finding was fascinating but that it was too early to try to interpret it. He noted that if there was a cryptic template, it ought to be more resistant to mutation than the DNA it helps correct. Yet it is hard to make this case for RNA, which accumulates many more errors than DNA when it is copied by the cell.

And if all else fails, there is always Morphic Resonance.

I jest. Mostly.

* * *

Waxing even more obscure, here is an item that will make sense only to readers of The Weekly Standard:

It is unlikely I will rent the new film, The Upside of Anger, much less that I will go to see it in a theater. Nonetheless, I found a certain fascination in John Podhoretz's review in The Weekly Standard of March 28. The film stars Kevin Costner and Joan Allen, and Podhoretz praises them to the skies (especially Costner, who is due for a little luck). The film is about the relationship between an apparently deserted wife and a gone-to-seed baseball player. It ends with a plot twist that seems plausible enough for a movie. The reviewer, however, goes ballistic, for reasons I find mysterious:

There is one upside to the anger I experienced as the closing credits rolled. It convinced me to blow the surprise ending so that you could leave the theater after about an hour and 50 minutes. When you see Kevin Costner starting to walk into the backyard with a couple of contractors, get your coat and leave. You'll think better of The Upside of Anger and not have the pleasure of seeing it damaged by the well-deserved contempt you'll feel if you stay until the bitter end.

Well, I will not give the ending away. Bad reviews are the most fun to read, whether or not you have the details. I quote it here chiefly because I find Podhoretz's reaction mysterious. Can anyone enlighten me?

* * *

Be that as it may, The Upside of Anger sounds like a chick-flick. If you want to see a real movie, or at least a real trailer, visit the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

The UFA has risen from its moldy grave and shambles amongst us.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2005-03-11: Chinese Green; Blogosphere Backlash; Never Mind

China has only continued to get more polluted since 2005. So far, it shows no signs of getting better. 


Chinese Green; Blogosphere Backlash; Never Mind

 

If you believe Der Spiegel, "The Chinese Miracle Will End Soon." At any rate, so says Pan Yue, China's Deputy Minister of the Environment, in an interview in that magazine. At the risk of parodying a serious assessment of the situation, it seems to me that the gist of the deputy minister's argument is that China's rivers are becoming poisonous, while the landscape is dissolving in acid rain. The amount of arable land decreases hourly, and the peasants crowd into the cities, where they contract cancer.

Well, maybe, but that's what I thought in the 1970s about the United States. I grew up in Toxic Avenger country, and I fully expected the climate by this time would be the perpetual New York summer of Soylent Green. (I was precocious.) So, though the deputy minister knows more about conditions in China than I do, I am inclined to take that part of the interview with a grain of salt. Much more interesting are his remarks about the political situation:

But we are also making another mistake: We are convinced that a prospering economy automatically goes hand in hand with political stability. And I think that's a major blunder. The faster the economy grows, the more quickly we will run the risk of a political crisis if the political reforms cannot keep pace...There won't be enough money, and we are simply running out of time. Developed countries with a per capita gross national product of $8,000 to $10,000 can afford [environmental reform], but we cannot. Before we reach $4,000 per person, different crises in all shapes and forms will hit us. Economically we won't be strong enough to overcome them.

Again, this is a commonplace of development theory. The model is that destitute societies are stable; developing societies are prone to revolution; societies with some critical proportion of middle class are stable again. It is hard to say how this model will play out in China. I suspect that the environment will not be a major cause of what happens, but that environmentalism will provide a significant part of the ideological justification for it.

* * *

This is not an issue on which I am eager to say, "I told you so," but it does seem that the passage of the vampire-friendly bankruptcy bill is going to be a catastrophe for the Republicans. The problem is not their enemies, but their friends. Instapundit posts links about it that, for the most part, are critical. The very Freepers say the bill is unfair and overreaching.

This is not the embarrassment for President Bush that the Social Security fiasco is turning out to be; his name is associated with the privatization scheme, but not with bankruptcy reform. Indeed, the president is getting a great deal of credit, both at home and abroad, for the regional thaw in the Middle East. He may keep that credit, but his party will keep the blame for these other matters.

The Internet now is working against the Republicans on more issues than not. The party establishment has not taken this on board. The president goes on speaking tours to promote his Social Security agenda, and the partisan talkshow hosts have been given new scripts. The notion seems to be that they can energize the new media to repeat the reversal of fortune that allowed them to win last year's election. This is a grave misunderstanding of how the new-media environment works.

It is possible for political and journalistic institutions to introduce issues for new-media debate. Just look at the gay-marriage question last year, which was completely a creation of the liberal judiciary and progressive-media outlets. What cannot be controlled these days is what the blogosphere and other new media will do with these issues. Only quite late last year did the proponents of gay marriage realize that every judicial decision in favor of their program actually served to energize opposition to it. Much the same thing seems to be happening now in connection with Social Security privatization, aided by such insult-to-injury blunders as the bankruptcy bill. Presently, the effect will spread to the attempts in Congress to make permanent the president's last round of tax cuts.

Yes, it is possible to lose an election for refusing to raise taxes.

* * *

And what do I think should be done about consumer debt? I think there should be less of it. There should be a low cap on how much a consumer can be liable for in credit card debt, including interest and fees. Creditors might, if they choose, extend credit beyond the cap, but under the condition that their only recourse in the event of default is the denial of credit to the consumer for some extended period of time. Under this system, junk credit would still be possible, but debt peonage would not.

* * *

The rule in journalism is that three incidents make a trend, but I have only two examples of incidents where horrible crimes that were supposed to be ideologically motivated actually turned out to have more prosaic explanations.

One was the murder of the husband and mother of Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. The instigator was supposed to be a fascist with a religious bent, who bore a grudge against the judge for an unfavorable ruling. The media loved this story. The attribution of guilt was plausible, and the suspects were wonderfully articulate about their appalling views. It now seems pretty clear, though, that the killer was just an ordinary mad plaintiff. In a way, this resolution is even scarier for the judiciary, but less likely to serve as the theme for outraged editorials.

Locally, the murder of the Armanious family here in Jersey City (sometimes spelled "Armonious" and "Armanious" in the same story) seems not to have been committed by Muslim radicals intent on keeping the dhimmis in their place, but by ordinary thieves. Again, this incident had created its own literature, to which I helped contribute in a small way.

There is no such thing as a happy outcome in a case like this, but some people seem intent on ensuring that the rancor never quite goes away:

Muslim leaders in northern Jersey asked the state to determine whether comments made by Coptic Christians implicating Muslims in the killings of a Jersey City family in January should be prosecuted as bias crimes.

Hate-crime laws are even more loathsome than the new bankruptcy bill, but don't get me started.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2005-03-08: Very Bad Things

I hadn't remembered this term, but John brings up 'debt strikes' here. This is apparently a thing, but it is a thing that hasn't quite caught on yet. John is right that this would have bad consequences on the financial system if it ever got really popular. Any debt strike bad enough to really hurt the financial system would hurt everyone else too. There isn't a lot of difference between what happened in the housing crash in 2008 and the likely effect of a debt strike on mortgages, for example. I suppose in theory you could use the resumption of payments as leverage, but even with the Internet that would be hard to coordinate on a mass scale. Right now, the ability of the Internet to foster discontent is limited to small groups of enthusiasts.


Very Bad Things

 

Once upon at time, college students majored in English literature if they were not pursuing a career in medicine or engineering or science. Then it was history. I myself majored in political science. I had long supposed that, eventually, nothing would be left of the curriculum but courses related to business or science degrees.

Once again I find that I am out of touch, if we can believe this piece by Elizabeth van Ness in the New York TimesIs a Cinema Studies Degree the New M.B.A.?. This new make-weight degree seems to differ from its predecessors in that the people who pursue it take it dead seriously:

"People endowed with social power and prestige are able to use film and media images to reinforce their power - we need to look to film to grant power to those who are marginalized or currently not represented," said [a student], who envisions a future in the public policy arena. The communal nature of film, he said, has a distinct power to affect large groups, and he expects to use his cinematic skills to do exactly that.

Look, if your undergraduate or graduate degree will give you the power to cloud men's minds, that's just wonderful. However, please have the grace to employ these dark arts for your own selfish purposes. You at least have some idea what you want, and you can tell when you are satisfied. If you try to do this kind of thing for what you imagine other people want or need, then neither you nor the victims of your benevolence are going to be happy.

* * *

In addition to a political science degree, I also have a law degree, a qualification of which stories like this make me deeply ashamed:

VIENNA (Reuters) - U.S. and Austrian lawyers have filed a lawsuit demanding Thailand, U.S. forecasters and the French Accor group answer accusations they failed in a duty to warn populations hit by December's Tsunami disaster, a lawyer said Monday. ...The lawsuit was filed Friday at a New York district court on behalf of tsunami victims by lawyers including U.S. attorney Edward Fagan, internationally renowned for 1990s lawsuits against Swiss banks over Holocaust-era accounts. It demanded an account of their actions on Dec. 26.

Anyone interested in the suit can pursue the matter here, in German and English.

Lovecraft did not have enough words for "reptilian" in his vocabulary to express what I think of this use of the courts.

* * *

Moving on from litigation, we come to legislation. In particular, we move on to the blood-sucking bankruptcy-reform bill now before the United States Senate. Newsday put it like this:

In the name of ending bankruptcy abuse, the bill would impose a means test to determine who could have their debts wiped out and who could only have them adjusted with a repayment schedule. It would do nothing to rein in companies that flood consumers with credit, high interest rates and long, costly repayment schedules. And in their zeal to pass a bill the House will accept without changes, Senate Republicans rejected Democratic amendments intended to take the focus off income and to take aim instead at willful deadbeats.

Earlier versions of this bill have failed of passage, chiefly because insanity attracts insanity. This latest version may actually fail today, because Senator Schumer of New York plans to introduce an amendment that would exclude prolife activists from any bankruptcy protection, if they have been loaded with civil penalties for demonstrating at abortion clinics. Such an amendment would be a poison pill: the House would not pass the bill if the prolife exclusion were added. However, it is possible that the amendment will fail, and the bill will pass both houses.

What would the significance of that be? Quoting Paul Krugman of the New York Times just encourages him, but in this case, he is almost right:

Warren Buffett recently made headlines by saying America is more likely to turn into a "sharecroppers' society" than an "ownership society." But I think the right term is a "debt peonage" society - after the system, prevalent in the post-Civil War South, in which debtors were forced to work for their creditors. The bankruptcy bill won't get us back to those bad old days all by itself, but it's a significant step in that direction.

The "almost" here is that peonage is not an option in America. Debt strikes are, however. That's what the bankruptcy laws were originally enacted to avoid. If that safety valve closes, the Internet will make collective debtor resistance easier to organize than it has ever been. The mere whiff of this will threaten the financial system from a wholly unexpected direction. Watch.

* * *

And then, in the frozen Ninth Circle of Hell, we find the Spengler at Asia Times. In a column entitled They made a democracy and called it peace, he explains that the Middle East would not long survive the success of the Bush Administration's universal democracy strategy. Consider World War II:

That victory by the United States replaced German, Japanese and Russian tyranny with democracies is not in doubt. The problem is: where are the Germans, Japanese and Russians? If the United States had set out to exterminate its erstwhile enemies, it could not have done a more thorough job. ...In any case, the former Axis powers and the former Soviet Union and its satellites occupy every one of the top positions on the death row of demographics. I refer to the United Nations' report "World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision"...None of this would have surprised the Nazis, who believed with paranoid fervor that Germany's national existence was in danger. One can hear the shade of Adolf Hitler saying, "You see, that is just what I anticipated and wanted to avoid! I warned the Germans that their national existence was in danger, and now you see that decadent democracy has finished us off."

Understand that the column is in no way a pro-fascist argument; Spengler is just suggesting that the Kantian Peace may turn out to be the peace of death.

This hypothesis needs work. The UK was on the winning side in World War II, but its demographics are not so different those of Continental Europe. Actually, the same is true of Massachusetts in the United States. The depopulation of Russia began before the end of the Soviet Union. Elsewhere in the world, China seems headed for a demographic crisis of its own; so are parts of India, believe it or not.

I am quite willing to believe that civilizations can die of despair, but a great deal else is happening, too.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2005-02-07: Terror War, Geezer War, Culture War

John Reilly posited two possible ways to deal with the aging of the population in the Western world:

  1. Euthanasia
  2. Have more kids

I know which one I would choose, but we ended up getting some combination of both 1. and 2. However, 2. was modified to be solved by immigration instead of more children across the West. The exact mix of 1. and 2. varies by country, but this program has been widely implemented in one form or another.

It is interesting to speculate why we chose to solve 2. by means of immigration instead of natural increase. In part, it probably seems easier. A number of nations have attempted to implement policies to increase the birthrate, and all have failed, with a couple of exceptions.

Also, immigration, in the US at least, ended up serving an interesting coalition of interests. Democratic strategists such as Stanley Greenberg saw a way to eventually create a permanent majority. Small- and medium-size business owners who are the core of the Republican party saw profits, and had delusions of Mexicans being natural Republicans. Feminists saw a way to offload childcare onto other women. Economists saw a way to keep GDP and tax revenues growing.

You can make your own assessment of how accurate these assumptions are.


Terror War, Geezer War, Culture War

 

At this point, it seems likely that President Bush's initiative to modify Social Security will die a quiet death. Certainly the Administration's friends and well-wishers better hope so, because this project has the potential to destroy his presidency. Still, at the risk of beating what I very much hope is a dead horse, we may note that the issues involved really do go beyond the structure of the US federal social safety net. Here is Mark Steyn's take on the subject:

After months of expressing deep concern, grave concern, deep concern over the graves and deep grave concern over whether the graves were deep enough, Kofi Annan managed to persuade the U.N. to set up a committee to look into what's going on in Darfur. They've just reported back that it's not genocide. Phew, thank goodness for that. It turns out it's just 70,000 corpses who all happen to be from the same ethnic group; could happen anywhere. But it's not genocide, so don't worry about it.

That's the transnational establishment's alternative to Bush dynamism: Appoint a committee that agrees on the need to do nothing. By happy coincidence, that's also the Democrats' line on Social Security. In a sense, these two issues are opposite sides of the same coin. It was noted in the chancelleries of certain capitals that, in a speech aimed in large part at a global audience, the president didn't even mention Europe. Why would he? One reason why the Continent is in no position to make any kind of useful contribution to the war on terror or reform of the Middle East is because of its inability to get to grips with the looming disaster of its own state pensions liabilities.

That's not strictly true. The budgets of European countries are constrained, but they are not that constrained. Even at current levels of expenditure, Europe could mount a military capable of force projection, if it had a mind to do so. Steyn is nonetheless right about the connections between geostrategy and the reform of the social safety net. Indeed, he is more right than he knows, since the see-no-evil strategy has been embraced not just by the EU and the Democrats, but also by the Bush Administration.

The problem that the US is going to face over the next generation is the increase in the percentage of the population who are pure consumers: old people, who cannot work and should not be asked to. The younger people who are working are going to have to pay much more to support them. There are two points to note about this necessity.

It does not matter whether the support is structured as private savings or as a public benefit. If the economy is not producing enough to fund one, it will not be producing enough to fund the other.

Private savings are irrelevant. The question is whether the economy will be producing enough goods and services at the the time they are needed. If it isn't, then the money in the IRAs and the stock in the portfolios will be so much worthless paper. If it is, then the money will be available for a transfer program.

There are just two solutions:

Civil Liberties. We could create a constitutional right-to-die and make sure that enough seniors exercise it. This would not be hard. All it would require is an extension of the Roe-Casey personal-autonomy right and some augmentations of the pain-management component of insurance coverage. Several courts and many legal theorists have already endorsed this approach, though the US Supreme Court backed off.

This strategy sounds radical, but we must remember how radical a right to abortion and to contraception would have sounded fifty years ago. There are many reasons why people support those things, but we must remember that the original backers were chiefly interested in limiting population growth. They were as surprised as anyone when the courts agreed to constitutionalize the issue. The impending bumper-crop of elders is a demographic challenge of the same order, and it could be met in the same way.

Demographic Reform. The obvious remedy for a situation in which there are too few workers is to increase the number of workers. This can be done through immigration, but at a cost. Most social pathologies, from underperformance in the schools to a widening income gap, are products of immigration. It's not the immigrants' fault: the problem is that wage levels are going to be depressed in any situation when there is an unending supply of cheap labor. The other solution is to raise the birthrate. That sounds like a good idea, but no one knows how government policy could do it. We do know from European experience that generous family subsidies do not encourage people to have more kids. Go figure.

So, I no more have a solution than President Bush does, but at least I know I don't have a solution. The president's remedies are a diversion. If they have any effect at all, it will be to undermine the political support he needs to conduct the Terror War.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2004-05-31: The Great Evangel of the Terrorist Leeches

World Bank Crude Birth Rate Data 2014

World Bank Crude Birth Rate Data 2014

Here, John Reilly talks briefly about the aging of China's population due to the slowdown in the birth rate. The line I still remember is:

...China will get old before it gets rich. 

Parts of China have certainly gotten very rich indeed, although the interior remains rural and poor, much like America a century before. It is still not clear how the great demographic shift is going to play out across the world over the next century. The fate of nations will likely hinge on this. However, this kind of forecasting is inherent likely to fail, but I will proceed heedless of the risks. 

As you can see from the map above, almost the entire world has moved into the demographic transition, where birth rates slow as countries modernize. The big outlier here is all of sub-Saharan Africa. Granted, that is the poorest region of the world at present, but even taking that into account, the demographers have been surprised by how high birth rates have remained in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Consider this revised prediction from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division:

Each curve follows the same model, the logistic curve, but the 2015 prediction uses a much slower rate of change than the 2004 prediction. As is the nature of logistic models, a small change in the rate can have a very large change in total population growth. In this case, the expectation is an additional 2 billion Africans will be born over the next hundred years.

What that will mean is just a guess that this point, but you can expect the world to be very different 100 years hence.


The Great Evangel of the Terrorist Leeches

Even today, when Europe seems to be turning into a geriatric version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and the United States carries on ever fiercer debates about the relationship of God and the citizen, it's still taken as a given that America is the land of soulless materialism. Some very smart people make this mistake:

Fri May 28, 9:52 AM ET Reuters
VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II warned several U.S. bishops Friday that American society is in danger of turning against spirituality in favor of materialistic desires, giving way to a "soulless vision of life." ...To fight this, the pontiff argued, the U.S. church must study contemporary culture to find a way to appeal to youths. He made his remarks to bishops from Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee who were making a periodic visit to the Vatican.

When I was a youth, I lost interest in religion for many years, largely because the people who represented it were so keen to accommodate my interests and outlook. They were in fact pretty clueless about what those interests and outlook were. But even if the leaders of the Church in those days had been as sharp as today's MTV marketers, the mere fact that they tried to make Christianity blend into popular culture made Christianity seem negligible.

No doubt there is a way to evangelize using the music of Linkin Park (which I like). Much the better course, however, is to present a message so powerful and mysterious that Linkin Park will use it as a source.

* * *

Having just referred to Europe as a gerontocracy, let me hasten to add that I realize that reports of The Death of the West are exaggerated. It may well be that the human race as a whole is approaching an age of steady or, more likely, gradually declining population. Certainly it is the case that the West is not alone in facing the difficulties of the demographic transition:

The Most Populous Nation Faces a Population Crisis (Joseph Kahn, New York Times, May 30, 2004)

...Barring a radical shift in social policy, China is on course to age faster than any major country in history, as its median age soars from about 32 today to at least 44 in 2040.

China will mature more in the next generation than Europe has over the past century, according to data compiled by the United Nations. It will have to grapple with the same age-related fiscal, social and productivity challenges of countries with several times its per capita income.

Put another way, China will get old before it gets rich.

I frankly don't know how remediable this problem is. In the case of China, demographic collapse seems to be a product of government fiat, so maybe a change in policy will fix matters. However, much the same started to happen in the old Soviet block, which had no interest in population control. In Europe, and even the US, birthrates are influenced by official policy, but you have to wonder whether those policies are the cause of cultural change or its symptoms.

There is key difference between forecasting the future of the West and the future of China. however. There are, of course, uncertainties in the future of the West, but the general outline of that future is reasonably clear; just ask Spengler. China, however, has completed not just the culturally creative phase of its history, but even the era of the Universal State. The forces that govern China's future are therefore more random, mechanical, unpredictable.

At any rate, it is not predictable through Spengler or Toynbee's models. Maybe Lao Tse could do better.

* * *

Also in the May 30 Sunday New York Times, there was a report by Neil Genzlinger that I cannot find a link to: "This Year, a Dark Cloud Hangs Over the Carefree Season." The cloud hangs particularly dark over New Jersey, whose malls and public transportation make peculiarly target-rich environments for suicide bombers. In order to alleviate the danger, the New Jersey Department of Counterterrorism is about to begin offering instruction to local law-enforcement agencies in how to recognize suicide bombers. The report quotes a suicide bomber (a failed one, in an Israeli jail) about the relative merits of bombs in bags or on belts, and the question of whether the belts should be secured over the stomach or across the back.

All this reminds me of Robert Heinlein's novella, The Puppet Masters, a fine story that became the template for some really bad movies. The story was about the invasion of Earth by large, neural leeches. If they touched any part of a person's skin, they could immediately gain control of his mind. The government discovers what is going on before the whole country is infected, however. People are required to wear clothes in such a way as to make clear they are not carrying a leech. People who appeared in public in something more than beach-wear were shot on sight.

As summer turned to fall and the weather turned cold, this practice became more and more awkward. We could soon have a similar problem.

* * *

Meanwhile, while we go about preoccupied with petty concerns about life and death, the Great Conspiracy is beginning to implement its plans. I have obtained this joint statement from the American Literacy Council (on which I'm a board member, actually) and the Simplified Spelling Society, regarding the action they plan to carry out this week in Washington, D.C.:

SPELLING BEE TO BE PICKETED.

Not all spellers heading for Washington, DC, for the National Spelling Bee on June 1-3 think English spelling is a good thing that should be celebrated.

While spectators and judges inside the Regency Hyatt Hotel will be pondering the spellings of obscure words, and admiring the efforts of contestants, outside on the street some members of the American Literacy Council (ALC) and the Simplified Spelling Society (SSS) will be trying to convince passers-by that English spelling is a problem that needs fixing.

Like those inside, they [may] admire the efforts of contestants, but they will have signs and sandwich boards with slogans such as "I'm thru with through" and "Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much". Their aim is to alert parents, educators, politicians, business people, and others concerned about the unacceptable level of illiteracy among English-speakers, to the fact that a prime cause for this is English spelling.

One of the picketers, ALC chair and SSS member, Alan Mole, from Boulder, Colorado, puts it this way: "Our odd spelling retains words like cough, bough, through and though. This increases illiteracy and crime. Fix it and you fix a host of problems. We want to fix it."

And fix it we shall. 

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

LinkFest 2015-09-30

Wow, it has been a long time since I did a LinkFest, so here is one delayed 7 weeks.

48 Hours on the Dark Side of Vegas

This reminds me of the hidden desperation in Tim Power's Last Call.

Is the U.S. behind Fethullah Gulen?

Not as newsworthy as it used to be, but a very interesting take from a Turk living in the US.

Why Trump Supporters Think He'll Win

Still very newsworthy.

Could Trump Be the 'Man's Man' America Wants?

After the popularity of the above article, David Frum wrote another on the same subject. Part of the appeal of Trump is that he hasn't got even a hint of the Ned Flanders vibe that turns many people away from other Republican candidates.

Surprises of the Faraday Cage

It turns out a famous explanation of the phenomenon may not be correct. Which hasn't stopped the engineers who design them.

Internaut day: The world's first public website went online 25 years ago today

Also out of date. I fondly remember the early days of the internet. Everything was more innocent then. No, really.

No Matter Who Wins The Presidency, The ‘Deep State’ Will Run Things

I'm not sure I believe this, but I think the argument is interesting.

America's birth rate is now a national emergency

PEG says there is no good reason the US, an empty country that grows lots of food and exports oil, should have a birth rate below replacement. I am inclined to agree with him.

Terry v. Ohio. Happy 50th Anniverary, Detective McFadden!

I enjoyed learning the history of the 'frisk'. 

The Tesla Effect: How the cutting edge company became the most powerful engine in Bay Area manufacturing

People forget how much of the money any company pulls in as revenue goes to its suppliers, which go to its suppliers, and so on. 

What I learned as a hired consultant to autodidact physicists

In my opinion, the current trend of crank amateur physicists is entirely the fault of the direction that physics as a whole has taken. Lots of great progress has been made by applying mathematical theories in elegant ways, but the data that support those theories comes from a messy reality that is often obscured in the tales told about science [usually by science journalists and popularizers]. This is the story of a physicist who tried to bring a little reality to the amateurs.

Giving up alcohol opened my eyes to the infuriating truth about why women drink

The author seems like she lives in world that I've heard about, but never experienced. Getting sloshed sounds like an entirely human response to living that kind of life, but the bigger question is why would you want to? A good companion piece to the Jezebel article about binge drinking and how it contributes to women's dissatisfaction with their sex lives. There is a common thread here, and it isn't alcohol.

DEVOODOOIFYING PSYCHOLOGY

Psychologists have been trying to devoodoofy psychology for a long time.

What U. of Chicago Activists Are Complaining About

Trigger warnings are grossly overused, but this is a sympathetic look at the environment in an actual elite school. I still think Neal Stephenson got this all right thirty years ago.

In Defense of Prince Hans

I said the same thing the first time I watched Frozen.

Pondering Miracles, Medical and Religious

A breath of fresh air after all the nastiness from the atheist community before and during the canonization of Mother Theresa.

 

A brilliant series of Tweets from Ross Douthat on why Trumpism matters, no matter how much you hate Trump.

And of course, the essay that occasioned that Tweetstorm.

The Long View: The Black Sun

Raiders of the Lost ArkThe idea that the Nazis were into the occult has become a widely popular idea. When Indiana Jones battles Nazis for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail, no one needs any backstory to make this plausible. We just all accept it and move on.

What is perhaps more interesting is how the ideas that animated the Nazis have evolved. In the last seventy years, fascism and the occult have merged to produce something that potentially will again have popular appeal.

In this review, John was surprised to discover a Satanic-Nazi strand in heavy metal and Industrial music. I'm not surprised, but then John was a lot older than me and probably never listened to that kind of music. Perhaps he had better taste than me.

Something that did come as a bit of a surprise to me is the relationship between fascism and the German counter-culture. Nazism flourished in the same circles that were fond of nudism and vegetariansim, people who entertained what we would today call New Age beliefs, but in their time included a signifcant nationalist element.

I usually assume that any American espousing New Age beliefs is on the Left, but this isn't necessarily so. You need to be an American in the early twenty-first century to assume that nationalism is a right-wing phenomenon.

This is particularly important because most Americans probably view fascists, occultists, and occult fascists as losers on the wrong side of history, and therefore not worth our attention. Fascists in popular culture are perceived as objects of parody.

When I think of Nazis, this scene from the Blues Brothers is what I see in my head:

All of this might have gone nowhere, except that neo-fascists have been willing to openly state the widely felt anxieties occasioned by demographic change. Ths has propelled them to a fame that vastly exceeds their numbers. However, it worth noting that this kind of neo-fascist does not represent the kind of right of center party that actually wins elections in Europe, even if some of their concerns are the same, their motivations are entirely different.

What makes the occult fascists interesting is that they are natural allies of the anti-globalization, anti-capitalism, and anti-Western movements. Right now, this is prevented by the Right/Left dichotomy. We can only hope that this prejudice prevails.

Black Sun:
Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity
By Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke
New York University Press, 2002
371 Pages, US$24.97
ISBN 0-8147-3124-4

 

 

Nazi Germany has become Atlantis. The historical Nazi regime was peculiar enough, of course. In some ways, it was more like a cult in power than a state controlled by a totalitarian party. After it was over, however, the regime was increasingly portrayed as an empire of dark magic. The belief spread that its rise and fall were not just uncanny but historically inexplicable. Its end was sudden and complete, so complete that the shards of evidence on the surface seemed less significant than the excavation of the occult underground. In some circles, the mythology has progressed even further: Nazi Germany became not just a vanished civilization, but also an ideal civilization, destined to rise again.

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke is perhaps the foremost serious scholar of the relationship between the Third Reich and the occult. (The Occult Roots of Nazism, which he published in 1985, is not the only good book on the subject, but it is still a good place to start.) In Black Sun, he is chiefly concerned with the development of postwar esoteric fascism, which includes but is not limited to novel forms of magical Nazism. He is particularly concerned with its inflection into both terrorist politics and the mainstream New Age movement since the 1970s. He also argues that the social changes in Middle Europe that helped to plant the underground seeds of Nazi Germany 100 years ago now obtain to a greater or lesser degree throughout the West and Russia. The author draws dark inferences about what today's underground could produce by 2030.

Most of the information in Black Sun has appeared elsewhere, but even people familiar with the literature will get a few surprises. I had never heard of the pro-Nazi science fiction of Wilhelm Landig, for instance. For that matter, I had been only vaguely aware that there was a Satanic-Nazi strand in heavy metal and Industrial Music. Also, though the author had to take the principals at their word, the book has the first coherent account I have seen of the origins of the Order of the Nine Angles.

As for the rest, it is very useful to have something like the whole story between two covers. There are the key figures of the immediate postwar period, the American renegade Francis Parker Yockey, and Baron Julius Evola, who helped transform Nazi racism into a kind of aristocratic snobbery. There are the people who deified Hitler, or at least turned him into a Messianic figure, notably Savitri Devi and the former Chilean diplomat, Miguel Serrano. There are the early American neo-Nazis, such as James Madole, who combined Nazism and Theosophy to create a vision of America as the New Atlantis. There are the greater and lesser Satanists, whose ideas have tended to become more political and metahistorical with the passage of time. There is also a review of the Christian Identity movement, a largely independent phenomenon that nonetheless parallels esoteric fascism in its ontological rejection of the Jews and its expectation of a racial apocalypse in the future.

The role that the occult played in the foundation and policies of the Nazi regime is a matter of continuing research. Certainly the party grew out of völkish circles, people who entertained what we would today call New Age beliefs, but with a nationalist tilt. Important influences included the "Ariosophy" of the Viennese mystics Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, whose notions about the need for a knightly "Order" to advance pan-Germanism clearly affected Heinrich Himmler's model for the SS. The Nazi Party used ideas and symbols long familiar in occult circles, notably the swastika itself. Alfred Rosenberg's Myth of the 20th Century, which was at least nominally the party's ideological guide, invoked the familiar esoteric idea that the Aryan race originated in Atlantis. This essentially Theosophical model of history saw the past as a progression of ages that each had own master race, and that each age was separated by a transitional disaster. Generically, that is also the way that some of the Nazi leadership looked at the 20th century. However, this does not mean that the occult is necessarily the key to the study of the Nazi phenomenon.

As Goodrick-Clarke points out, the evidence that any of the Nazi leaders ever performed black magic is quite thin. Himmler did subsidize research into occult subjects. This included at least one SS man, an Otto Rahn, who hunted across Europe for information about the Holy Grail. I might note that Rahn does seem to have been a Satanist, in the sense of sympathizing with Lucifer and agreeing with the Cathar rejection of the God of the Old Testament. Still, even he was probably engaged in folkloric research rather than looking for an actual artifact. In Mein Kampf, Hitler himself made fun of völkish groups, with their rune-magic and their attempts to revive Nordic paganism. Hitler in some ways was intensely superstitious. He was arguably a millenarian of sorts. However, there is no reason to think he was playing out a specific esoteric agenda.

Esoteric agendas did exist, especially in the SS. The problem was that there was more than one. Should the Nazi regime simply promote German power, or should it seek to unify all Aryans everywhere, including in Russia? What attitude should the Nazi government take to anti-colonial movements, particularly in India and the Middle East? Was the future to be secular or religious? Was Christianity compatible with fascism? The German leadership deferred deciding these issues right up to the point when the working language in Hitler's bunker changed from German to Russian. After 1945, however, fascist ideology was freed of the compromises necessary for government. Black Sun describes the trajectory it took thereafter.

Postwar esoteric fascism falls into two periods, joined by a phase of startling mutation in the 1970s. The first period was backward looking, essentially a salvage operation from the wreck of the Reich. The pan-European orientation of the Waffen-SS finally won out over that of the German-chauvinist Black SS, if for no other reason than that Germans were a distinct minority in the early postwar networks. Oswald Spengler's model of history was adopted in various hermetic forms, often involving the identification of the terminal crisis of modernity with the Kali Yuga. There was an increasing tendency to call in the Russians to counterbalance America, now wholly identified with the Jews. Hitler was literally deified in some circles, thus carrying to its logical conclusion a line of speculation started by C.G. Jung himself. The fascists whispered about Hitler's survival, in this world or another. They also traded stories about secret Nazi bases surviving in the Arctic and Antarctic, where wonder-weapons were still under development. They quickly seized on the advent of flying-saucer reports in the late 1940s as confirmation of their hopes.

Though political fascism in the1950s and '60s could still display a lethal edge, particularly in Italy, in most places it was a sad affair. American neo-Nazis marched in Nazi finery and invited attack from passersby, in the mistaken belief that this would excite public sympathy. Nothing was behind such "movements" but perverse historical nostalgia.

Two trends were underway by the 1970s that would make esoteric fascism relevant. The first was the New Age Movement and the concurrent general increase in mysticism. Books began to appear in great numbers that depicted the Second World War as essentially a war of wizards. Jean-Michel Angebert's Morning of the Magicians got the trend fairly underway in 1960. The genre peaked in the '70s; the best-known book of this type is probably Trevor Ravenscroft's Spear of Destiny (1973). Some of the information that continues to circulate in this literature is wholly spurious, some of it relies on sensationalist accounts from the 1930s, and some of it is strange but true. The effect of the new mythology was to give the evil of the Nazi regime a metaphysical dimension.

It was this spiritualization of Nazi wickedness that attracted the attention of Satanist groups, which were starting to expand at just that time. Modern Satanism usually means the rejection of Christianity and the idea of natural order, rather than the worship of a literal Satan. Still, the budding diabolists were intrigued by the notion that there had been a "Satanic" government in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, in the sense of a regime that was the adversary of everything that had traditionally been thought good. For followers of the Left Hand Path, people who choose to pursue liberation through nihilism, it made sense to adopt the real or imagined rituals of the Third Reich, and to make its memorials places of pilgrimage. Additionally, many of the postwar esoteric fascists were also noted writers on Tantra, Jungian depth psychology, or ritual magic. Essentially magical techniques thus became central to some new forms of Nazism.

There had been some fantasy literature during the Nazi years about the life of the Aryans in Hyperborea and Atlantis. (As a matter of fact, I might note that there was quite a lot of it in English, from writers like Robert Howard.) In the 1970s, a form of pro-Nazi science fiction began to appear. This chronicled the adventures of Germans who escaped the downfall of the Third Reich by fleeing to secret bases in the Arctic or Antarctic. (The names to remember for the Arctic are Point 103, the Blue Island, and Midnight Mountain; for Antarctica, the venue was usually Neuschwabenland, an actual territory explored by Germany before the war.) As part of a secret international society engaged in defending the world against Jewish domination, the refugees abandoned the swastika and conventional German insignia. The symbol of the society was the Black Sun.

The Black Sun design can consist of a black or deep-violet disk with a lightening bolt striking it, or a disk alone. This symbol perhaps came originally from the alchemical shorthand for the lowest point the Great Work. It had some currency in Germany in the 1930s; Himmler had may have had it worked into the floor of the SS castle at Wewelsberg, though it is not certain that is what the design there is supposed to mean. The Black Sun is also related to the Theosophical notion of the Invisible Sun around which the universe is supposed to revolve. This seems to have been what Himmler's wizard, Karl Maria Wiligut, had in mind when he described an extinguished star that had once shone on Hyperborea, and whose rays still energized the Aryan soul. In any case, this symbol of the low point of history has become the preferred symbol for esoteric Nazism.

All of this imaginative fiction and pseudo-history might have done little harm, had it not appeared at just the point when demographic changes were giving ideas like this some popular traction. Low birthrates and massive immigration began to manifest themselves throughout the West in the 1970s. The author asserts that the situation in German-speaking Europe in the late 19th century was similar, when an influx of Slavs and Jews from eastern Europe occasioned resentment and anxiety, particularly in Austria.

In previous books, Goodrick-Clarke has made a good case for the argument that this immigration sparked the mystical racism that resulted in the Nazi Party a generation later. One may, of course, question how strongly the analogy holds for 21st century Europe, much less for the United States. Demographic changes are not sufficient to explain the outbreak of violent extremism. In the US, for instance, there was a severe agricultural depression in the Midwest in the 1980s that spread alienation and populist radicalization.

Nonetheless, large-scale immigration is always disruptive, especially in societies that have no experience of dealing with it. Certainly the conviction has spread in many nations that the homeland is becoming unrecognizable, and that the elites are complicit in the process. Black Sun summarizes the violent reaction that appeared almost everywhere in the '80s and '90s, from the incipient guerilla war of the Order in the United States to the arson campaign against Norwegian churches by neo-pagans. In these events, there was usually some connection with the new fascism, whether by ideology or organization. There is in fact a Nazi international today.

Reading about these events in retrospect, one cannot help but be struck by the small numbers of activists actually involved. Were there ever more than a few thousand British skinheads? The Oklahoma City bombing seems to have been carried out by just two or three people. Organizations that seemed powerfully ominous online turn out to have had no more than a few dozen members. One might also note that this brand of neo-fascism is unrelated to the right-of-center parties in Europe that actually receive measurable numbers of votes in elections. It has nothing at all to do with American conservatism, which somehow manages to be simultaneously evangelical Christian, libertarian, and pro-Israel.

Still, Goodrick-Clarke is probably onto something when he notes that esoteric racism is essentially a multicultural phenomenon. In a world in which one's ethnic group can determine what benefits one is eligible for, people tend to find an ethnic identity and cling to it for dear life. Today, people in pursuit of ancient wisdom are more likely to hunt for it among their own ancestors than in the habits and beliefs of distant or alien peoples. The past is a different culture, particularly when it is imaginary. Some neo-pagan groups, notably those associated with the Nordic cult of Ásatrú, have replicated almost exactly the mixture of beliefs entertained by the proto-Nazi völkish groups that appeared before the First World War.

Beyond this, though, is the "perfect storm" that coalesced after September 11, 2001, against the liberal West. The continuing attacks on Israel and the United States must be counted as a success for postwar fascist underground, which began aiding radical Muslim interests even before the Second World War ended. The anti-globalization movement constitutes just the sort of international anti-capitalist and anti-Western alliance of which some leading Nazis dreamed. Environmentalists who think of themselves as good liberals have in fact adopted the biological mysticism that was a notable feature of the Nazi regime. Almost unnoticed, eugenics has progressed from an aspiration to a roaring success: few children with genetic abnormalities are allowed to come to term in advanced countries.

In the Chancellery bunker in 1945, Propaganda Minister Joseph Göbbels exhorted his colleagues to make a courageous end. He asked them to imagine a color motion picture, made in the year 2050, about what they said and did in the final days of the Reich. The question they each had to answer, he told them, was whether they wanted to appear as a hero or a villain in that film. Even today, I think we can be pretty sure that the identities of the good guys and the bad guys will not have changed much from the Allied point of view in 1945. Still, Black Sun is a useful reminder that some people have different ideas for the scenario.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View 2002-03-01: The European Constitutional Convention

Just today I read an article featuring a prediction about the future of the EU by Emmanuel Todd, a prominent French anthropologist. Todd is known for his work on Anglo-American exceptionalism, particularly in how families are viewed differently in England, Denmark, Brittany, the Netherlands, and parts of Norway.

However, despite how interesting Todd's work on families is, the reason I mention him here is Todd's [correct] prediction in 1976 that the USSR would fall, based on failing demographics.

Todd is now predicting the same thing for the EU. I am not a Euroskeptic; indeed I rather prefer not sticking my nose into other people's business. Thus I take no sides in the political travails of the EU. I am simply interested that Todd was correct once before on a similar matter.

I do note that futures other than mere collapse may be possible for the EU and its member states. John always had a keen eye for historical analogy, and to that let me add a physical analogy. The fragmentation of Europe into nation-states took a great deal of energy; energy that Western Civilization now seems to lack. Without conscious effort to maintain the system created by the Peace of Westphalia, it is likely to relax back into the ground state.

That ground state is Empire.

 

 


The European Constitutional Convention

Yesterday, a convention opened in Brussels that is supposed to make recommendations for restructuring the European Union, in preparation for the expansion of the EU from 15 to 24 members. At any rate, that's the party line. The Convention was not called for the explicit purpose of writing a constitution, and its spokesmen say they have no intention of creating a "European Superstate," whatever that might be. Nonetheless, though the very term "constitution" is missing from the official title of the assembly, the press has decided to call it the Constitutional Convention. They have also decided to compare it to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which drafted the current federal constitution of the United States, and to find that the European Convention compares badly.

Certainly there is some chance the whole thing could crash and burn. The public debate in America on the Constitution of 1787 was open and the choices were clear. The Constitution had to be ratified by specially convened conventions in each state, so that the proposed Constitution would not fall prey to the interests of local elites. However, the Convention that wrote the draft was closed. The members thought, probably correctly, that they could not make compromises if they had to deal with public reaction to their daily debates. The European Constitutional Convention, in contrast, was called precisely because the European publics are tired of secret conclaves of diplomats and bureaucrats creating plans that fundamentally alter the way the publics' countries are governed. So, the Convention is to be televised, webcast, and otherwise open to inspection. The Convention will make decisions by "consensus," not by taking votes. Moreover, a Civil Society Forum will parallel the proceedings. There the EU's NGOs and other Usual Suspects can criticize the Convention's proceedings and offer proposals of their own. We have all heard the old witticism that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This structure could easily produce a kangaroo.

Maybe, but not necessarily. For one thing, the Brussels Convention does not suffer from the bloat that characterizes today's international conferences. There will be just 105 delegates, in contrast to the 55 in the Philadelphia Convention (who, incidentally, represented a country with fewer people than live in Paris today). More important, the Brussels Convention simply is not trying to do the same thing that the Philadelphia Convention did. The Founding Fathers met just from May 25 to September 15 of 1787, while the talk will go on at Brussels for a year. That is more the scale of an ecumenical council than of a deliberative conference.

What we are looking at here is a difference of historical periods. The Philadelphia Convention was an exercise in Enlightenment Neoclassicism, perhaps the last moment such a thing could have been done, even in America. The National Assembly in Paris just two years later was already on the other side of the historical watershed, the first great expression of political Romanticism. The Brussels Convention of 2002-2003 may provide the signature to a new era.

It is sometimes said that the European Union is an attempt to revive the Roman Empire. Sometimes even the architects of the EU said that, but they were wrong. What the EU resembles, and probably will resemble even more if the Brussels Convention does not fail, is the Holy Roman Empire. The Empire can be dated, according to taste, to the crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor of the West in 800, or, more correctly, to the accession of Otto I to the title of "Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation" in 962. A confederal structure, the Empire waxed and waned over the course of almost 1000 years. It mostly waned after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 created the Western system of sovereign states. At the behest of Napoleon, the Empire broke up into its constituent parts in 1806, with the last emperor abdicating to the slightly less exalted position of King-Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

The Empire reached maturity only with the promulgation of its constitution, the Golden Bull, in 1356. Americans usually think that they invented federalism, the separation of powers and checks-and-balances. Americans even think they invented the idea of a written constitution. A quick look at the Golden Bull will show otherwise. The Empire had a multilobed legislature, extreme deference to the sovereignty of its constituent states, and a court system with ample authority to gum up the works. The Empire looked, in fact, like nothing so much as the current EU, with the difference that it could, sometimes, function as a great power.

The Western nation-state system grew out of the fragmentation of the Empire. In the 21st century, the fragments are falling back together. Even if the Convention is successful, its work will be provisional. Eventually the US, as the other half of the West, is going to have to associate with the system somehow. The American president could perhaps be ceremonial head of state. This would give the EU a measure of diplomatic and military heft it would otherwise lack. It would reassuure the smaller states that they are still states among other states and not mere provinces. It would also act as a restraint on the American executive. No one on either side of the Atlantic is likely to suggest such a thing this year, however.

Certainly not me.

 

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

The Long View: The Death of the West Book Review

I think it was John who taught me the idea, "things that can't go on forever, don't". Demography is a pretty good example of this. A lot of ink has been spilt in the last hundred years agonizing over both why too many people are being born, and too few. I'm not aware of anyone who has managed to do conspicuously well predicting the future. We don't even do that well with the past.

In the last post of John's, Breeding like Rabbits, he noted that the major areas of the world seem to rise and fall in population together. I looked around a bit, and I found Wikipedia's pages on the demography of China and the demography of England, which makes this chart:

England China Population Estimates 1000 - 1801 AD Wikipedia data

That indeed looks just like what John said. This tickled my memory, and I remembered an offhand comment by Steve Sailer.

Think of this from the perspective of the Malthusian Trap. Europeans already tended to voluntarily keep their populations below Malthusian limits by practicing the moral restraint that the Rev. Malthus famously advised in 1798. From 1200-1800, the average age of first marriage for an Englishwoman was 24-26. Rich women tended to marry at younger ages, poor women at older. Illegitimacy rates were in the lower single digits.

Thus, due to this sexual restraint, Europeans tended to be in a less Malthusian situation than, say, the Chinese, who tended to marry younger. Consequently, Europeans tended to be richer while working less hard than the Chinese. If the European population didn't grow as fast during good times as the Chinese population did, they didn't experience quite as many vast die-offs from famine during times when good government broke down (e.g., as recently as the early 1960s during Mao's crazy Great Leap Forward). England, for example, hasn't had a major famine in over 600 years.

The chart above definitely doesn't support the notion that the Chinese population experienced bigger swings than the English due to a tendency to marry later. However, the data on the wikipedia pages is a little sparse, so I looked around some more, and I found some papers published by the London School of Economics on the historical population of China and the historical population of England:

England China Population estimates LSE data

Hmmm...That is not even remotely close to the other chart. The papers I found had been published with the express intention of debunking the sources that happen to be cited in Wikipedia, but looking at the details of how the population estimates were calculated doesn't give me a great deal of confidence in either set of data. Here is a chart from one of the LSE authors on the different estimates of China's population:

You could generate a similar chart for the English data. We have to make educated guesses about populations before modern census techniques. Some of the methods are quite clever, but as an educated layman, I have no opinion on which method might be best. Demography matters, but you should probably take everyone's predictions lightly.


The Death of the West:
How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization
By Patrick J. Buchanan
St. Martin's Press, 2002
308 Pages, US$25.95
ISBN: 0-312-28548-5

 

Patrick J. Buchanan is a gifted polemicist. He runs for president occasionally, the better to explain to the people why America is going to hell in a hand basket. In this book, the hand basket has grown to encompass the whole of Western Civilization, plus Japan and Russia. The arguments he presents are not new; after a long hiatus, people all over the world are starting to make them again. Though Mr. Buchanan would deny it, what we see here is an old-fashioned patriot starting to move beyond mere patriotism.

Towards the end of "The Death of the West," the author gives us a summary of the "four clear and present dangers" that face America and the West:

 

"The first is a dying population. Second is the mass immigration of peoples of different colors, creeds, and cultures, changing the character of the West forever. The third is the rise to dominance of an anti-Western culture in the West, deeply hostile to its religions, traditions, and morality, which has already sundered the West. The fourth is the breakup of nations and the defection of ruling elites to a world government whose rise entails the end of nations."

Let us consider these horribles in turn.

Dying Population: This thesis has attracted most of the attention the book has received, though only two of ten chapters are devoted to it. In a world in which two generations have been raised to think of overpopulation as the greatest threat to human survival, the revelation that it is possible for societies to have too few children still has considerable novelty. Nonetheless, it is true. The problem with the Social Security system, to take the most obvious example, is not federal fiscal practices or how the Trust Fund is invested; the problem is that there are fewer young people to support the growing percentage of old people. The implications go beyond the question of how the elderly are to be cared for, however.

For a modern population to sustain itself, its women must produce 2.1 children on average. This "zero-population-growth rate" is roughly that of the US today (it's actually on a pronounced uptick, including for native-born whites). In Europe and Japan, however, the rate is far below replacement. If you define Europe as the region from Iceland right across Russia, its total population in 2000 was 782 million. Absent immigration, however, and at its current fertility rate, that number will fall to 600 million by 2050. Take a specific example: if Germany maintains its current fertility rate of 1.3%, today's 82 million Germans (as distinguished from Germans plus immigrants) will be a mere 59 million in 2050. And a superannuated crew they will be, with one-third of them over 65. If you run the numbers to the end of the 21st century, Germany shrinks to 38 million.

The most interesting thing about this argument is that it is a revival. Popular jeremiads on the perils of population decline appeared in the 1920s and 30s, and indeed before. The deceleration of growth in Western populations goes back in some regions to the 1760s. The United States fertility rate first fell below replacement level, briefly, in the 1930s. That was also about the time the trend started to reverse in the West in general, at different times in different countries. The beginning of the famous Post-War Babyboom in the US is sometimes actually dated to 1943. Warnings about declining fertility took a rest until the 1980s, by which time most of the West had fallen below replacement levels again.

One does not quite know what to make of all this. As Mr. Buchanan points out, no demographer expects another babyboom. On the other hand, no demographer expected the 20th century babyboom, either. One request that I wish he had made of his friend at the UN Population Division, whom he thanks for sending him all these glum statistics, would have been for a set of population projections from fifty years ago and earlier. I guarantee that you could not have extrapolated the world of 2000 from the trends of 1950, or foreseen 1950 from 1900. The figures for 2050 are at least as misleading.

Mass Migration: Like most white ethnics, I cannot read arguments against immigration without reflecting that native-born Americans had similar suspicions about my own ancestors. (Having met some of those ancestors, I also reflect that the native-born had a point.) The early 21st century surely is different, however, especially for Europe, which now imports rather than exports people. In large part, the people in question are Muslims, alien in culture and religion to their host countries. Assimilation would be difficult even for societies used to immigration, and whose leadership understood the importance of incorporating the newcomers. Neither is true of most of the West. Guided by cultural relativism, governments often hinder assimilation, even when the proven result is intercommunal riots. Again, while demographic projections should be taken with a grain of salt, immigration by Muslims with high fertility rates really could Islamicize much of Western Europe in the 21st century.

In the United States, the object of Mr. Buchanan's single-minded ire is what he calls La Reconquista of the Southwestern United States by Mexico, or at least by Mexican immigrants. If you really need to be afraid, there are many frightening sources to quote. Mexican commentators sometimes speak about the peaceful reversal of the outcome of the Mexican-American War. Additionally, there is a fashion among Mexican-American radicals for proclaiming the formation of a new nation called "Aztlan," as well as a lot of Chicano blood-and-soil racism. None of this is terribly obscure, but the media leave it studiously unmentioned when discussing immigration and bilingual education.

Still, as the case of California suggests, there is less to this than meets the eye. That state no longer has an Anglo majority, but it does have an Anglo plurality, a group that is likely to grow when the economy picks up and people move back. In any case, the fastest growing immigrant group in California is not Latin but Asian. History suggests that immigration need not be good for secessionist movements. Quebec in the 1970s seemed likely to secede from Canada, but the immigrants who voted in the referenda on the issue insisted on preserving the state to which they had immigrated.

It is fallacious to equate a change in ethnicity with a loss of national territory. Certainly it is not clear that assimilation is a lost cause. The percentage of Spanish-speakers in the US today is comparable to that of German-speakers around 1900. Today, all that is left of the little Germanias of the Midwest are breweries and Von Steuben Day parades. Through marriage and adaptation, immigrants to the US have a continuing history of breaking out of their ethnic and linguistic cubbyholes.

Culture War: Pat Buchanan is sometimes blamed for starting the Culture War, since he used the term in his fire-and-brimstone address to the Republican National Convention of 1992. In point of fact, it is not controversial that the cultural Left has at every point been the aggressor in this conflict. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s combined century-old bohemianism with an anti-Americanism pitched to the defense of foreign Communist regimes. These elements never mixed well, and the author recognizes that his attempt to describe the phenomenon as a coherent product of the Frankfort School is perhaps incomplete. Still, when the promising young people of the 1960s moved into positions of authority in the 1990s, they did tend to bring with them a homogenizing intolerance to tradition that masquerades as enthusiasm for diversity.

This critique is familiar, and "The Death of the West" does not add anything to it. The book does make the somewhat novel charge that the Cultural Revolution disables the West from addressing its demographic challenges, or even acknowledging they exist. Importing and subsidizing a foreign culture is a very efficient way of displacing tradition. In the US, the Left uses it as a way to circumvent the reactionary native electorate. Mr. Buchanan is audibly unhappy that Hispanic immigration to the US broke the electoral lock on the presidency that, in the 1970s, the Republican Party seemed likely to enjoy forever.

Culture War is linked to demographics in other ways, too. The growth of large Muslim minorities makes it easier to remove Christian symbols and rhetoric from public forums. (The Muslims themselves often don't ask for this, incidentally, but secularizers can still act in their name.) The biggest single connection, though, is feminism. Whatever its intent, the effect of feminism over the past 30 years has been anti-natalist. Western societies find themselves in the odd position of giving priority to a class of human rights whose exercise seems inconsistent with the continued existence of humans.

Though these are serious arguments, they are somewhat spoiled by the odd set of traditions in whose behalf Mr. Buchanan seems most eager to wage Culture War. Not a Confederate battle flag can be ordered removed from a state house in the Old South without Pat Buchanan knowing and caring. Do we really miss much by losing "Dixie" as a national song? And while there is some merit to the idea of abolishing President's Day and re-instating Washington's Birthday, the author sees none in a federal revival of Lincoln's Birthday; Abraham Lincoln was "an absolute military dictator."

World Government: The number of influential people for whom world government is an actual policy goal is fairly small, though a growing fraction of political theorists think it is inevitable. Certainly it is easier to imagine now than during the Cold War. For the purposes of "The Death of the West," however, world government seems to encompass any restriction on the behavior of the governments of nation states, a class of polity that ideally encompasses a single people, culture and language. Thus, the threat of world government means not just expansion of the UN system to include mandatory criminal jurisdiction in human rights cases; it also includes the mere existence of the "superstate" of the European Union. "World government" means NAFTA, and indeed any multilateral trade agreement, particularly those with mandatory arbitration mechanisms.

Again, the author has a point: international bureaucracies often do bad work, and they have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. On the other hand, like many American conservatives, he never quite grasps the fact that world government is much more something the United States does than something that is done to the United States. Hegemony is arguably a bad situation, and not least for America's republican institutions. Still, would a total lack of international government really be better for anybody?

...