I often read of population problems in the western world of formerly Christian democracies (not to mention Japan, China’s one-child policy, sex-selection abortions in India, etc.). I don’t quite as often read of fundamental and growing problems in this regard in the Islamic world. Sometimes therefore I have a vague impression of western Europe on the decline in any number of ways and of the Islamic world growing in influence, money, people, religious fervor, and power. It was with interest then that I recently read a book by David Goldman entitled How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too).
His basic premise is that civilizations die when they lose the will to live—and this shows itself when they fail to reproduce, i.e., when they fail to have children and to care for them. Contraception, abortion, and homosexuality all contribute to this. He cites much historical evidence for this going back to the fall of Greece and Rome. Aristotle already diagnoses that Sparta declined and was “ruined for want of men”--and this was partly due to their acceptance of homosexuality, specifically pederasty.(Goldman, p. 121) Yet Aristotle himself opens the door to Athen’s decline in a similar way in teaching that deformed children should be left to die and allowing for abortion in some circumstances when too many children are had (Politics, VII, 16). Not only Sparta and Athens but also the rest of Greece suffered from this lack of children. Goldman quotes the Greek general Polybius (p.129) on this decline (and more fundamental reasons for it), and for Greece being taken by Rome:
In our time all Greece was visited by a dearth of children and generally a decay of population, owing to which the cities were denuded of inhabitants, and a failure of productiveness resulted, though there were no long-continued wars or serious pestilences among us…. For this evil grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion for show and money and the pleasures of an idle life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or, if they did marry, refusing to rear the children that were born, or at most one or two out of a great number, for the sake of leaving them well off or bringing them up in extravagant luxury. (Polybius, The Histories, Vol. II, p. 511)
This lack of children also contributed to the fall of Rome. Already in the first century B.C., the emperor Augustus was concerned about plunging fertility among the Romans and passed laws punishing childlessness, divorce, and adultery among the nobility.(p.131)
Now we all know that the western democracies are suffering from a similar lack of children. While mere replacement of population requires 2.1 children, most western countries are reproducing at only two-thirds that requirement or less. (Goldman cites the USA and Israel as the only exceptions.) But what is not so well known is that this is a crisis that is also engulfing the Muslim world, despite appearances to the contrary. Population decline can be seen coming on the horizon by a few, while the many continue in indifference. As Polybius writes above, “this evil grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting attention.” Once it hits, however, it is too late to reverse. The western media ignore this crisis in favor of the phantom problem of overpopulation, but the leaders of Muslim nations are shouting out their concerns. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan “predicts national destruction by the year 2038.”(p. 53) Similarly, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad also predicts national extinction due to the country’s collapsing birth rate. In 2010 he stated:
“Two children” is a formula for the extinction of a nation, not the survival of a nation…. The most recent data showing that there are only 18 children for every 10 Iranian couples should raise an alarm among the present generation…. This is what is wrong with the West. Negative population growth will cause the extinction of our identity and culture. The fact that we have accepted this places us on the wrong path. To want to consume more rather than having children is an act of genocide.(pp. 8-9)
What is unique about the problem in the Muslim world is that the change has occurred in less than one generation, i.e., in the last 20 years. In the west, the process has been more gradual so the shock is not so immediate. But, as one study (of Iran) concludes, “A decline in the TFR (total fertility rate) of more than 5.0 in roughly two decades [i.e. from over 7 to under 2] is a world record in fertility decline." [my brackets added]
Moreover, while many (though not all, e.g., Turkey and Egypt) Muslim countries are rich on oil revenue, those riches are concentrated in the hands of a few, the oil production is running down, and increasing competition in oil is coming on-line from other parts of the world. Thus these countries will have much less resources to deal with the coming crisis of a dearth of the young and a plethora of the old.
One of Goldman’s warnings is that this coming decline makes the Muslim countries now more volatile and dangerous, since their leaders see that they are at the height of their power and influence at the present time and will only be weakened in the future.
What is the main fundamental cause of such fertility decline? While Goldman studies many contributing secondary causes, he opines that lack of a genuinely lived faith, transcendent to this world and putting “this world” in perspective, is the deepest cause—including among Muslims. (More on this in a follow-up post.)
In general, the book is a very interesting read. At least two points of qualification. First, the author is very quick and easy in his history of the Christianization of Europe; second, he is a bit too optimistic about the USA, in my opinion—perhaps depending on whether the coming election has a chance of turning things around.