Friday, June 26, 2009

America Alone

Mark Steyn is a very witty writer, with a great turn of phrase, so America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It is a very funny read. It is also a deeply depressing read, arguing that demography is dooming Europe as fertility rates collapse, the unfunded liabilities of welfare states mount and the Muslim percentage of the population (particularly the military-age population) increases. A thesis first advanced by Steyn in a magazine article.

The book is, however, not sourced. Steyn just asserts his demographic claims and his numbers seem to be somewhat off. Which Johann Hari in his review of the book has lots of fun with before moving into a sad segue that Steyn is actually all about race. (He’s not: while Hari himself is also too critical of tendencies within Islam for some.) Steyn has his supporters, and those who think the issues he raises matter.
The book has been a bestseller. The paperback version has on its cover “Soon to be banned in Canada”, a reference to the Human Rights (sic) Commission action against it (or, rather, an extract in the magazine Macleans). Steyn won, in a victory that looks to going to rebound against the use in Canada of such tribunals to police speech. The action itself has attracted a fair bit of comment.

Steyn is right in thinking demographics matter, which is why making unsupported demographic claims and then basing your argument on them is a fairly disabling problem. A pity, because there are serious issues buried under the wit and shonky numbers. Not least is the attempt to close down criticism of people within Islam, such as using libel laws and “hate speech” laws to do the same. Steyn has spoken on the issue of press freedom and jihad. The notion that a whole range of opinion is illegitimate, and can only be advanced from bad motives, ends up in "hate speech" laws, university regulations, Human Rights (sic) Commission Star Chambers and so on. And then gets picked up by folk who smell weakness and who have deeply noxious ambitions.

There are issues about the implications of Catholic Europe’s collapsing fertility rates (Anglo and Nordic Europe are doing somewhat better), whether the social democratic states of Europe can fund their future liabilities, what are the implications of deciding that your societies and civilisation are not worth defending. Indeed, can’t be defended without being “racist”: the triumph of Saidian “analysis”. And there certainly are implications in importing large numbers of people who are disproportionately likely to support (in increasing likelihood) homicidal family relations, violent politics, think gays should be killed or oppose equality for women. Especially as, in a massive failure of integration, are likely to be more intensively committed to such politics if they were born in the new country. These implications magnify if people then also fail to be upfront about such ambitions being beyond the pale. Indeed, get all snarky when a political leader says that.

But asserting yourself against your own society has long since become the high road to conspicuous virtue and—as women and gay issues become more mainstream—being nice to Muslims has been providing much bigger virtue-brownie-points. Not to mention requiring far less moral (and physical) courage than standing up against what would otherwise be denounced as the patriarchal bullying and violence it is—if it were not Muslim and so “multicultural”.

Steyn certainly covers these issues wittily. But, alas, not very factually reliably. Steyn also has, as Hari points out, not a good track record of prediction.* The pundit-tracking site Lying In Ponds lists some failed Steyn predictions. Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept (which I have previously reviewed) is a much better book on issues that do matter.

*I have had personal experience with this. Chatting with Steyn and others at an event in Melbourne prior to the 2006 US elections, I suggested that the Democrats were likely to take back Congress. Steyn demurred, saying that, while he thought the Republican Congress was “disgusting”, the Democrats were 60:40 on the wrong side of too many issues. Clearly, I was the better prognosticator on that occasion.


  1. It's too bad he tainted his assertions by using unsourced data. As Daniel Dennett once said, "There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear."

    BTW, your comment form forces me to choose one of a set of profiles, none of which I ever really use. Would be nice if I could just enter my name and URL.

  2. Nice Dennett quote.

    I have changed the comment settings.