An advisor to three prior presidents and the Reform Party’s candidate for President in 2000, Pat Buchanan has written a new book that holds a high place on the New York Times Bestseller list. It is, as one would expect, coherent and well-written but also unnecessarily doom-ridden, at least in the eyes of this older, liberal reviewer.
One suspects that, in order to gain intellectual respectability, Mr. Buchanan adapted the title of his book from Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, which was published in the late 1920s. Spengler believed in a cyclical pattern for societies. He concluded that Europe had crested and self-indulgence would sink it. The advent of Hitler seemed to confirm his thesis. Buchanan omits the generalized theory but bemoans an even more horrible fate now for much the same set of reasons.
Whatever the title’s origin, the word “West” for the area under discussion is inappropriate. Buchanan includes Russia (which completes a circle of the globe), as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, in the group of countries whose “death” he predicts. What he means is The Death of the Developed World. This more accurate title doesn’t trip as lightly on the tongue, but does provide a clue to a strategy that would avoid the barbarian takeover he foretells.
Buchanan bases his book on birthrate declines historically recorded and forecast by the UN. These statistics show that all Europe (except for Muslim Albania), the United States, Russia, Japan, and the Antipodes do not give birth to replacements for citizens when they die. Buchanan claims that national success, even survival, depends on growing. Population declines lead to timidity, retreat, and eventual conquest by more thrusting peoples.
Two remedies immediately come to mind. One is technology. Queen Victoria maintained her empire with the Maxim machine gun and the breech-loading rifle. We recently defeated the armed forces of Serbia and Afghanistan by surgical bombing from fifteen thousand feet. If the developed world has the stomach, it can keep the unwashed masses from its shores with advanced military technology.
Another solution to the perils of a fall off in national numbers is permitted migration. That, indeed, is what keeps the U.S. population growing today. The influx is largely Hispanic and Christian. This religious compatibility doesn’t ease Mr. Buchanan’s dislike of the phenomenon, however. There is the matter of melting pot capacity.
A moderate solution would be some combination of the two strategies. We could relieve the environment by becoming smaller behind technological defenses while allowing in only preplanned numbers of immigrants. Wouldn’t fewer crowds be wonderful?
Buchanan believes, however, that we must let in an indigestible number of foreigners to pay for the social security of people like this reviewer. Otherwise, the developed world will default on government promises to the aged and uncivil war result. However, technology may come to the rescue again. We can hope that a continuation in the historic growth of productivity that we’ve seen in the last hundred years, along with strategic replacements through immigration, will make up for cuts in numbers of workers. Of course, such a strategy will require an increase in individual taxes from the productivity delta, something abhorrent to a conservative. But a bigger slice for the elderly removed from a much bigger pie may seem not too burdensome.
A liberal reply to the danger from the undeveloped world, of course, is to develop more of the world. Let’s all decline in population together! So much, then, for pollution and global warming! Buchanan should support foreign aid in family planning instead of fearing foreigners.
His answer is not that, of course, but instead he calls for a roll back in the causes of the falling birthrates. Return to the mores of the 1950s! Contraception, abortion, and feminism have badly wounded the nuclear family. A splinter of the Communist Party took on Christianity and the results have perverted our institutions. The revisionism and political correctness movements that started in the 1960s have weakened the integument that holds together our nations.
In The Death of the West, Buchanan calls readers to the barricades in order to mount a “cultural counterrevolution.” Rather sadly, however, he seems to accept his recent political defeat as proving the inevitability of everything he deplores. He settles by mourning our inevitable comeuppance. Pat Buchanan is comforting reading for liberals like this reviewer who are not so sure of our victory.