Mark Steyn’s dishonest article on the European crisis

Several years ago Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard noted, almost in passing, that immigration was Hispanicizing California and that the state was therefore effectively lost to the Republican party. This was the first time to my knowledge that Barnes had ever said anything critical about immigration. Throughout the 1990s immigration restrictionists had been desperately calling for drastic cuts in Hispanic and other Third-World immigration, one of their concerns being the demise of the Republican party and of conservative politics in this country as a result of the liberalizing effect of huge Hispanic populations. Yet The Weekly Standard, of which Barnes is managing editor, had dismissed out of hand any worries about our mass immigration policies. The magazine had never published a single article about the size or the likely cultural and political effects of the post-1965 immigration or even treated it as a legitimate issue. Yet now Barnes was quietly admitting that immigration was a very big problem, dooming conservatism in the nation’s biggest state—while he added that it was now too late to do anything about this.

And this is the modus operandi of the neoconservatives. After years of saying that immigration is great and wonderful and that we must be optimistic about immigration because optimism is the essence of conservatism and that anyone who thinks immigrants will not perfectly assimilate in America is a doomsayer and a multiculturalist, the neocons suddenly turn on a dime and say that immigration is in fact causing irreversible and negative changes to our country, but that the negative changes have already occurred and so all we can do is adjust to them. In both stages of this bait and switch, the neocons, just as leftists do when pushing their progressive causes, do everything they can to silence any actual debate on the subject at the very moment when debate might have helped prevent these irreversible negative changes from occurring. And in the second stage, they don’t admit that they are reversing their previous position. They never take responsibility for their role in driving a policy that they now tacitly admit is a disaster.

The latest example of the neocon bait and switch is a long article by Mark Steyn in the January issue of The New Criterion, offensively entitled “It’s the demography, stupid” (also posted along with reader discussion at Free Republic). The first paragraph gives the gist:

Most people reading this have strong stomachs, so let me lay it out as baldly as I can: Much of what we loosely call the western world will survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most western European countries. There’ll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands—probably—just as in Istanbul there’s still a building called St. Sophia’s Cathedral. But it’s not a cathedral; it’s merely a designation for a piece of real estate. Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate. The challenge for those who reckon western civilization is on balance better than the alternatives is to figure out a way to save at least some parts of the west.

The rest of the article rehearses Steyn’s reasons why Europe is doomed, the main reason being low birth rates. He focuses on the supposedly irreversible low European fertility so as not to have to say anything about the actually reversible Muslim immigration; indeed, he only uses the words “immigration” or “immigrants” twice in this entire 6,300-word article. As in other columns of his that I’ve discussed, Steyn, the recent winner of the Claremont Institute’s Winston Churchill award, does not declare in Churchillian fashion that losing many or most European countries to Islam is totally unacceptable and that we must do whatever we can to prevent such an unimaginable calamity. No, more in the mode of Lord Halifax than of Churchill, he tells people it’s too late to stop it. The best he hopes for is to save some parts of the West, by which, based on his previous writings, he presumably means America. He has written off Western Europe.

Yet having written off the cradle of our civilization, Steyn then adds: “That’s what the war’s about: our lack of civilizational confidence.” So, in prophetic tones he tells the West that is doomed, then he scolds it for its lack of civilizational confidence! It doesn’t occur to Steyn that if the West started taking serious measures about the Muslims in its midst—stopping their immigration cold, deporting all Muslims who adhere to the Islamic political agenda, restricting their mosques, all of which would result in the beginning of the decline of the Muslim power and numbers in the West instead of their continuing increase—that such policies and results would bring back Western confidence and perhaps increase Western birthrates as well. Does he really expect people whose imminent doom he is continually and gleefully announcing to want to have lots of children?

Of course, Steyn would say that he’s not evading the issue of the actual presence of Muslims in Europe, because Muslims per se are not the issue. He writes: “The progressive agenda —lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism—is collectively the real suicide bomb.” Notice what’s missing from that list: Muslim immigration, high Muslim birthrates, and the expanding Muslim population. In Steyn’s view, the numbers of the Europeans are the decisive factor, while the numbers of the Muslims are irrelevant. The Muslim population is greatly increasing, Steyn warns, and Europe is being lost to Muslims, but Muslims are not the cause that Europe is being lost to Muslims. The cause is multiculturalism, secularism, low white fertility, etc. Fix those things, and the Muslim threat would also be fixed. It is essentailly a re-hash of the neoconservatives’ defense of immigration from the ‘90s: all the problems stemming from immigration are really stemming from the West’s leftist policies and culture, not from immigration and the increasing numbers of the immigrants. So immigration (not to mention its cure, out-migration) remains off the table. It’s as though Churchill in the summer of 1940 rallied the British against the British Labor Party instead of against the Luftwaffe. Yet many conservative readers think that this is a wonderful conservative message and they coo and warble about their hero Steyn.

Picking up again on the theme of confidence, Steyn writes:

Terror groups persist because of a lack of confidence on the part of their targets … The Islamists have figured similarly…. the Islamists view the whole world the way the IRA view the bogs of Fermanagh: they want it and they’ve calculated that our entire civilization lacks the will to see them off.

But here’s the question. If the West regained the confidence that Steyn says it now fatally lacks, what would the West then do about Islam? He doesn’t say. Most of the article is devoted to Steyn’s usual easy attacks on leftist elites who refuse to stand up against Islam. But Steyn himself is not proposing that the West stand up against Islam. So his entire argument is an escape from the real threat, Islam, into his standard litany of the idiocies of political correctness. To the extent that he has any discernible position, it comes down to saying, if we stopped being leftist and PC, and if we increased our birthrates, the Muslim threat would (somehow) go away. The argument is transparently false. Suppose that Europeans had maintained for the last 35 years a replacement fertility rate of 2.1. Would the millions of Muslims who are now in Europe not have come in the first place? Some of them wouldn’t have come, but a great many would have. Obviously the vast Muslim communities in France living on welfare are not in that country to fill a labor shortage created by a low native birth rate. The same with the Muslims who continue to be admitted into Britain as asylees. But let’s ask the question a different way. Suppose that the Europeans today had a dramatic turnaround in their values and lifestyle and began producing three childen per woman, a very healthy birth rate. How would that lessen the menace presented by the Muslims in Europe? Would their angry demands and their jihadism and their support for Osama bin Laden suddenly vanish? Would they themselves suddenly vanish? Obviously, even if the white European population stopped decreasing and began to increase, the same millions of Muslims would still be in Europe, and would still be increasing in numbers. Thus a few seconds of thought reveals how insubstantial and escapist Steyn’s demographic argument really is. Reversing Europe’s demographic nose dive is essential to Europe’s own survival, but it is not the solution to the Muslim problem.

Indeed, at the end of the article, Steyn himself reverses his previous argument. Earlier he had said that the “real suicide bomb” in Europe is not the Muslims, but Europe’s own “progressive agenda—lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism.” But now Steyn admits the possibility that Muslims cannot be assimilated into Western democracy society, in which case the expanding millions of Muslims in Europe certainly would be a problem, wouldn’t they? He writes in his culminating passage:

Since the President unveiled the so-called Bush Doctrine—the plan to promote liberty throughout the Arab world—innumerable “progressives” have routinely asserted that there’s no evidence Muslims want liberty and, indeed, Islam is incompatible with democracy. [Note that Steyn says nothing about conservatives who have said that Islam is incompatible with democracy; for neocons, positions to the right of neoconservatism simply don’t exist.] If that’s true, it’s a problem not for the Middle East today but for Europe the day after tomorrow. According to a poll taken in 2004, over 60 percent of British Muslims want to live under sharia—in the United Kingdom. If a population “at odds with the modern world” is the fastest-breeding group on the planet—if there are more Muslim nations, more fundamentalist Muslims within those nations, more and more Muslims within non-Muslim nations, and more and more Muslims represented in more and more transnational institutions—how safe a bet is the survival of the “modern world”?

Not good.

First, notice that Steyn is no longer making Western decadence, statism, PC, and lack of confidence the source of the crisis. Now he’s saying that Muslims themselves, opposed to the modern world, and expanding rapidly both in their home countries and in the West (“the fastest-breeding group on the planet”) are enough to destroy our civilization. And he’s saying that there’s nothing we can do about this, unless he means to suggest that the only way we can survive the Muslim challenge is not by merely restoring a healthy native fertility level, but by surpassing the Muslims’ extremely high fertility rate and becoming the “fastest-breeding” group on the planet ourselves. Since the idea of Westerners breeding like Muslims is absurd, Steyn’s argument comes down, once again, to pure defeatism.

Second, regarding his admission that large numbers of Muslims in the West want to live under sharia and therefore are at odds with our civilization, Steyn doesn’t conclude, as an honest and responsible person would, “Muslim immigration to the West was favored all along on the assumption that Muslims would adapt to Western ways. If this assumption was incorrect, then the open immigration policy was terribly wrong and we must admit this fact and reverse the policy.” No, instead he speaks detachedly of the odds that this catastrophic error dooms the West. It is as though he were a spectator making bets at a football match, instead of a member of the West whose very survival is now in question. And that again is so typical of the neocons. They approach the West, not as citizens of this civilization, but as children playing with a toy. “We let all these Muslims into the West, and now most of the West is doomed? Whoops! Well, let’s go on to the next game.”

Further thoughts

In the original posting of this entry, I didn’t say anything about the strange last paragraph in Steyn’s article, perhaps because I couldn’t make sense out of it. But it’s worth thinking about, perhaps for that very reason. Steyn writes:

“What do you leave behind?” asked Tony Blair. There will only be very few and very old ethnic Germans and French and Italians by the midpoint of this century. What will they leave behind? Territories that happen to bear their names and keep up some of the old buildings? Or will the dying European races understand that the only legacy that matters is whether the peoples who will live in those lands after them are reconciled to pluralist, liberal democracy? It’s the demography, stupid. And, if they can’t muster the will to change course, then “what do you leave behind?” is the only question that matters.

First he says that Europeans are demographically doomed, and that the only hope for the survival of European culture is that the Muslims who follow the Europeans will somehow have assimilated into Europe even as Europe is dying . This is a ludicrous expectation—and not backed up by anything else in the article. Also, it is immediately thrown into confusion by the next sentence: “It’s the demography, stupid.” He’s just said that it’s not the demography, it’s the culture—that even if Europeans themselves die out, they can pass on their culture to the Muslims. So the statement, “It’s the demography, stupid,” is not only wrong in itself (since, as I showed earlier, the declining European population is not the cause of the Muslim ascendancy, and a reversal in the European demographic decline would not by itself reverse the Muslim ascendancy); it also flat-out contradicts the sentence that precedes it. So, is it the demography, stupid, or is it the culture, stupid? It’s evident that Steyn, stupid, has no idea, and is trying to have it every which way he can. Such is the intellectual poverty and confusion of this article, which intelligent people are calling “brilliant.”

Also, in the final sentence, what does Steyn mean by the “will to change course”? That Europeans must have the will to have more children? Or the will to renounce PC? Or what? We have to guess, especially as he’s never actually called for any course change, he’s only said that the course Europe is on leads to doom. However, if I were to guess what Steyn intends to say here, it would be this:

If Europeans cannot muster the will to have more babies [which, as I’ve shown, won’t solve the Muslim problem) or to reject PC [which also won’t solve the Muslim problem, since the problem is the Muslim problem, not PC], then the only thing left for Europeans to think about is how they are going to pass on what’s left of their civilization to the Muslims.

As indicated above, the notion that the dying-out and retreating Europeans would be in a position to preserve their culture and somehow bestow it on the triumphant Musulmans is too ridiculous for words. However, perhaps Steyn is inchoately glimpsing, not the assimilation of the Muslims into a somehow still intact European culture, but an image from deeper in the past and outside our own civilization, namely that the surviving whites of Europe, having converted to Islam, will offer the use of their skills and knowledge to the Muslim rulers, just as Christian and Jewish converts serving under the Abbasid Caliphate provided it with many of its cultural and scientific works. In any case, it is an embrace of doom to which this “conservative” pied piper is leading his readers.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 01, 2006 10:26 PM | Send

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