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March 16, 2007

Mark Steyn should not write off Europe just because she has a nasty temperature - Marc Sidwell explains why: America Alone - Mark Steyn

Posted by Marc Sidwell

America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It
by Mark Steyn
Pp. 224. Washington, DC: Regnery, 2006
Hardback, $27.95

Is demography destiny? Mark Steyn, columnist to the world, certainly thinks so. In America Alone, he lays out a bleak future for European dhimmitude - fortunately brightened by Steyn's trademark wit. He points out our collapsing birth-rates, despite (and perhaps because of) generous welfare systems that rely on a successor generation to pick up the tab. He sets this alongside comparatively high birth-rates among Muslims and increased Muslim immigration to Europe as our politicians attempt to make up the welfare deficit. Shake it together with multiculti paralysis before twenty-first century Islamism and, suggests Steyn, you have a cocktail mixed by Molotov, the kind already being tossed around in the French banlieues.

However, Steyn's argument seems to have been given a remarkably easy ride up the bestseller charts. As his book starts to attract attention in the UK, where its predictions are a matter of vital interest rather a wry joke on a distant and reluctant ally, Steyn can expect a more searching reception. Johann Hari has already attempted a takedown of the book's thesis for the New Statesman, one of the few occasions I recall a critic engaging with Steyn on the data.

So how seriously should British conservatives take America Alone? Is it time to buy a one-way ticket to Colorado, or will Europe, the western motherland, refuse to be bundled into a burqa?

I find myself in agreement with Mark Steyn most when he talks of Islamism as an opportunistic infection brought on by western weakness. Our greatest problem is not demographic, but a vast amnesia regarding the nature of our civilisation. Forgetting who we are, we do not know what concessions will be mortal or why we must hold our ground. Where I disagree is in Steyn's demographics-based numerical pessimism. I'm not especially convinced by his figures, but even if one accepts them, Steyn makes the elementary error of counting the West's assets in purely arithmetical terms.

If your school has two hundred guys and you're playing a school with two thousand pupils, it doesn't mean your baseball team is definitely going to lose but it certainly gives the other fellows a big starting advantage.
The triumph of the West is one long refutation of that argument. As Exhibit A, just take a look at 300, the new blockbuster remake of the Battle of Thermopylae as envisioned by graphic novelist Frank Miller. Once more, we see all the slave armies of the East marched out upon tiny Greece - and humiliated by the sacrifice of three hundred free men. The huge success of the comic and now the film (the record-breaking opening weekend in the US far exceeded expectation), demonstrates that the West's youth continue to be moved by the same classical virtues that have guaranteed our security for two and a half thousand years. The land of Barbie still possesses a Greek soul.

300 reminds us that freedom releases human potential and energy to such an extent that counting heads when the free and the unfree face off is simply a waste of time. A westerner is as different from the products of other civilisations as a smashed atom from a burning arrow. The sociologist Geert Hofstede has measured the citizens of countries around the world for their individualism - a marker for personal energy and initiative. The average Western score is 66.7. The non-Western average is 25.7. As a consequence, on every battlefield, in every field of endeavour, Western figures come out ahead in a manner totally disproportionate to their numbers. When Peter Watson came to write a history of ideas in the twentieth century [A Terrible Beauty, (2001)], he planned to draw on every culture, but found that

in the twentieth century, the non-Western cultures have produced no body of work that can compare with the West.
In the last century, we have created more wealth and reduced poverty further than in the last hundred thousand years. The continental scale of America has obscured the point of late, but we win because we are free, not because we have numbers on our side.

Consider the battle of Iwo Jima, subject of another recent film, Flags of Our Fathers. Seven thousand American soldiers died for their victory, but they cut down twenty-one thousand Japanese. In Vietnam's horrific Tet offensive, Americans lost two thousand men in killing forty thousand attackers. Alexander the Great lost fewer than one thousand soldiers in three pitched battles against the Persians - and destroyed an empire of seventy million. Cetshwayo and his two hundred thousand kingly Zulus were wiped out in less than a year for fewer than two thousand British dead. The West destroys its enemies despite being outnumbered: this is simple historical fact.

Live Free or Die; Death is not the Worst of Evils.
Mark Steyn's home state, New Hampshire, takes its motto from General John Stark's 1809 toast. Steyn should take its meaning - that westerners define themselves by fighting against hopeless odds. Consider the words of Diomedes to King Agamemnon in Book IX of the Iliad.
If your own mind is set upon going home - go - the way is open to you; the many ships that followed you from Mycenae stand ranged upon the seashore; but the rest of us stay here till we have sacked Troy. Nay though these too should turn homeward with their ships, Sthenelus and myself will still fight on till we reach the goal.
Two westerners willing to fight a city on their own: that is the authentic voice of the West. It echoes in the words of Shakespeare's Henry V before Agincourt and in the terrible pronouncement of Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm:
If you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves.
We would struggle on even if the moment for despair were past. Yet I cannot share Mark Steyn's pessimism. Perhaps even he intends the description of Eurabia as a rhetorical figure rather than factual claim. Al Gore made one of his perceptive statements recently when he observed that will is a renewable resource. For the West, this has always been true. Our history is of loss and rediscovery, of Cicero cutting aside the brambles to find the tomb of Archimedes, of the Renaissance, of Schliemann revealing the Mask of Agamemnon at Mycenae. All civilisations fall; the West returns from the grave. Don't write off Europe just because she has a nasty temperature.

In one of his American Discourses, "Numbers", Matthew Arnold speaks of the idea of the saving remnant as portrayed by Plato and Isaiah. He argues that, although it was not possible in the past, our modern nations are now so populous that they will always contain sufficiently large remnants of civilised men and women for a decadent West to be revived. We possess the resources to recover even long after the glory days have passed into memory. I do not resile from that faith. The sheris ha'pleyte remain the real minority to watch in Europe. They will not leave America to face a common enemy alone, but remember the three hundred who fell for freedom at Thermopylae, the three thousand murdered at their desks on 9/11 and turn once more to the task of defending our shared civilisation, not with violence on the streets like our enemies but with intelligence, law and intransigent will. So long as we remember who we are, history tells us we cannot fail.

Marc Sidwell is a freelance writer and a member of the organising committees of the Henry Jackson Society and the New Culture Forum, as well as co-founder of the Champagne Charlies discussion group. He is currently working on an anthology of British writing in defence of liberal education, and is a regular guest on 18 Doughty Street's Culture Clash.


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"So long as we remember who we are". Or as Shakespeare put it in a more parochial context: 'naught shall make us rue, if England to itself do rest but true'.

But will we? I was struck by the reported remarks of young native English Londoners, quoted in Keith Ajegbo's report on citizenship eduaction.

Youíre bored with it, youíre just British.
White female, Year 10

Iím not from a Caribbean country or an exotic country or even France or Spain. Iím from nowhere like that, Iím just plain British.
White female Year 10

Itís boring, I just want to be like from a different Ďraceí, or a quarter something.
White female KS2

Do those sound like people who remember who they are ?

"Where I disagree is in Steyn's demographics-based numerical pessimism. I'm not especially convinced by his figures, but even if one accepts them, Steyn makes the elementary error of counting the West's assets in purely arithmetical terms."

I hope that doesn't translate as 'don't worry, we'll still win the civil war' !

Posted by: Laban Tall at March 16, 2007 05:35 PM
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I have some thoughts about this here.

Posted by: Patrick Crozier at March 17, 2007 07:37 AM
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i begin to wonder if comedy writers, even satirists are capable of making the transition to serious commentary. the humorous and gifted pj o'rourke has never made it effectively, i fear, and the (to me) rather less talented steyn seems to have faltered as well.

Posted by: s masty at March 19, 2007 12:08 AM
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The examples you quote of western triumph over statistical odds were situations where ingenuity could redress the numerical balance.
However, the demographics of a democracy is a numbers game, where one person equals one vote, however qualified (or unqualified) that person. Not much scope for pluckiness against the odds there. Assuming that European Muslims will have the same voting rights as anyone else, their numbers will certainly pose a threat at some stage.
You might argue that their fertility rates will regress to the European norm, such that they will remain an electoral minority. Even if this happens (and it is a big if), there is still a massive reservoir outside Europe.
Take Yemen. By 2050 on current trends it will have a bigger population than Russia. Now if that mass of ill-educated young men, fired with an assertive and dysfunctional belief system, were to stay in Yemen, it would be Yemenís problem. However, given their track record, it is safe to assume that many (even most) will find the draw of the West irresistible, bringing their cultural pathogens with them. It will be OUR problem. And this is one small Islamic nation. Magnify that with Iran, Algeria, Somalia etc, and I think Steynís projections should be taken every bit as seriously as climate change.

Posted by: Sholto at March 20, 2007 03:33 AM
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Laban wrote:"I hope that doesn't translate as 'don't worry, we'll still win the civil war' !"

You've hit the nail right on the head...That's exactly what he said! Good luck with that, guys. Wouldn't it be better instead if your heads of state acted on the information now, cut taxes, cut entitlements, cut immigration, did away with the EU, etc. But to my mind the final ingredient has got to be a renewed devotion to the Christian faith. European civilization is an admixture of Greek and Christian tradition, not just Greek paganism.

Posted by: Johannes at March 20, 2007 02:12 PM
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Mr. Sidwell seems to be counting on a small minority to buck societal pacifist and multi-cultural trends, who will also muster the ingenuity and force required to repel an impending wave...

(The beliefs of such a minority are currently under bombardament by the weight of our media. Our heroes will have to excell under every threat and trend.)

Sidwell's cited examples of small numbers rallying against large forces are inspirational, but I believe the battle usually goes to the superior count. Isn't that why these underdog stories are so inspiring to begin with?

Posted by: Max Shinty at March 20, 2007 03:39 PM
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"but we win because we are free"

But are we?

Where is there in Britain, Europe or the US anything approaching a truly free market?

Or consider this: that from the moment you awake (and indeed before if you factor in regulations governing alarm clock specification, fire alarms, central heating and so on) each and every day there is scarcely an area of human activity which is not mandated, predicted and provided for by government regulation.

The West may in the past have 'won' because it was relatively more free, but in a country where the government licences you to use a television, to take just one trivial but telling example, can it really be said that we are free in a meaningful sense?

Posted by: Edward Lud at March 20, 2007 04:14 PM
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Optimism and hope can be a great motivators, but become opiates when misplaced. I hope you are right, but think you are not. Even given your arithmetical thesis (and Hari's valid point about not all Muslims in Europe being partial to anti-western jihad), too many of our politocal and 'cultural' leaders and citizens have bought into Easy Street for me to feel as optimistic as you.

I don't think Steyn needs lessons from anyone about hedging predictions, at least not in this case. A careful read of his book shows just how careful he is in this regard. His book is a warning, not a climate-change-experts-type pronouncement that the debate about the main cause for global warming is over and all those who disagree are 'deniers'.

As for Johan Hari's attempted 'takedown' of Steyn's thesis, it was more a hyperventilating retch, brought on perhaps by the emetic effect Steyn's writing can induce in voracious but bulimic intellects. Let's hope the 'searching reception' Steyn's book gets from other voices in the UK is not quite as lightweight as Hari's.

Posted by: Ice Ko at March 21, 2007 07:42 PM
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The casualty figures you give for Iwo Jima are incorrect. In fact, about 20,000 Japanese and 22,000 Americans died - it was the only land battle in the Pacific War where the Japanese forces inflicted more casualties on the US than they suffered themselves.

Posted by: hibernicus at March 21, 2007 11:25 PM
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Actually, hibernicus, your numbers are incorrect. You're confusing total casualties with deaths.

Wikipedia: "Of the over 22,000 Japanese soldiers, 20,703 died, and 216 were captured. The Allied forces suffered 25,281 casualties, with 5,598 deaths."

The Allies, almost all Americans, had more total casualties, but almost all the Japanese died, while the Americans had the normal 3 to 1 ratior of wounded to dead.

Posted by: Sherman Logan at March 23, 2007 05:47 PM
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So because a comic book based movie about ancient Greece has a few big weeks in theaters the West will be fine? Spiderman movies do pretty well too. Does that mean the West has a mutant spider soul that is bound to come to the rescue when times get tough?

Oh another thing, all "300" died, so you might want to find another ancedote/metaphor to hang your hat on for the inevitablity of European surival.

Posted by: miguelsanches at March 25, 2007 05:55 PM
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