Random thoughts on Buchanan`s The Death of the West

  • Buchanan`s
    book
    is certainly a worthy competitor in the Big Picture
    Sweepstakes along with Francis Fukuyama`s
    End of
    History

    and Samuel Huntington`s
    Clash Of Civilizations
    (One
    of these days, I`m going to write my own entry in the
    Deep-Think-About-the-21st-Century genre, which I`ve
    tentatively entitled The Age of Resentment. Hey,
    you publishers offering six-figure advances – please
    stop jostling and form an orderly line!). It`s obvious
    that the reduction of peoples of European-origin from
    one-fourth of the world`s population in 1960 to a U.N.
    projected one-tenth in 2050 is an event of
    world-historical importance. Susan "The white race is
    the cancer of human history" Sontag must be pleased. But
    others might greet the news with trepidation.

  • There`s
    an ironic paradox here that no one has noticed. Buchanan
    is more respectful of Third World peoples than are his
    numerous critics, who tend to be tacitly condescending
    toward non-Westerners. Buchanan presumes that Muslims,
    for instance, like being Muslims and would prefer to
    bring their culture with them as they move into
    historically-Christian lands. In contrast, most white
    liberal intellectuals assume – consciously or not – that
    population shifts don`t matter because what the rest of
    the world really wants to be is a white liberal
    intellectual. Similarly, Buchanan asserts that when the
    ratio of Third Worlders to Westerners climbs
    dramatically, the current Western domination of the
    world will be threatened. In contrast, his
    neoconservative and neoliberal critics, who weekly call
    for the military to go punch out some Third World nation
    that has aroused their ire, assume that Western
    superiority is so overwhelming and eternal that raw
    numbers will never matter. To paraphrase Hillaire
    Belloc`s acid tribute to the Maxim Gun as the foundation
    of the British Empire, the neos presume, "Whatever
    happens/ We have got / Stealth technology / And they do
    not."

  • I would
    have liked to have seen Buchanan include more chapters
    exploring demographic trends in even greater detail. For
    example, birthrates in much of the 3rd World are going
    down (the Arabian peninsula being a notable exception).
    This is often said to negate Buchanan`s worries.
    However, "demographic
    momentum
    " means these countries will keep growing
    for decades even after they hit 2.1 children per woman.
    Unfortunately, "demographic momentum" is a difficult
    concept to grasp, and it`s unfortunate that a superb
    explainer like Buchanan skipped over it. After 2050, or
    so, the Third World may also be shrinking rapidly, but
    that`s a long way into the future to forecast.
    Buchanan`s forecasts, which mostly come from the U.N.,
    are fairly certain for the next quarter century.

  • Demographers` forecasts generally assume that in the
    long run, every group`s fertility will converge at the
    replacement level of 2.1 babies per woman. They believe
    this for the scientific reason that, well, uh … well, it
    would be nice if that turned out to be true.
    Unfortunately, as physicist turned evolutionary theorist
    Gregory M. Cochran keeps pointing out, there`s no
    particular reason to assume that post-modern cultures
    will ever get back to replacement-level
    reproduction. That doesn`t mean the human race will go
    extinct. As Jim Chapin of UPI has pointed out,
    post-modern cultures might well be eventually pushed
    aside by whichever groups of religious fundamentalists –
    Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Wahhabi Islamists – best succeed
    in motivating their followers to have lots of children.
    This suggests an especially amusing irony. In this
    fundamentalist future, Buchanan would be looked back
    upon not as a reactionary, but as a liberal relic who
    offered some suggestions for raising the birthrate in an
    attempt to defend the old non-fundamentalist world.

  • Buchanan
    focuses mainly on Europe. (My column on how to raise the
    European birthrate is here.) The birthrate trends in the U.S. are less
    dire. According to

    data released today
    , in the economic boom year of
    2000, the total fertility of women residing in America
    (2.13 babies per woman) exceeded the replacement rate
    for the first time since 1971. The fertility rate of
    women who were American citizens, however, was below
    replacement. Non-Hispanic white fertility stood at a
    recent high of 1.88 – much better than the European
    average, but still below replacement. Hispanic women in
    general averaged 3.11 (the highest figure seen since at
    least the 1980s) and women of Mexican descent 3.27. (The
    fertility of women of Mexican descent is higher in the
    U.S. than in Mexico, and shows no clear signs of
    declining any time soon.) That`s 74% higher than the
    non-Hispanic white rate, but the effective difference is
    even larger because women of Mexican origin tend to give
    birth at younger ages, so their generation length is
    shorter.

  • Buchanan
    suggests that below-replacement birthrates are a result
    of the culture war that began in the 1960s. He uses this
    theory to justify his positions on a host of issues –
    such as Southern state flags – that seem at first glance
    (and sometimes at second) only tenuously related to
    birthrates. One could caricature Buchanan as not so much
    a man with a hammer to whom everything looks like a
    nail, but more as a man with a lot of pre-existing nails
    who has found in birthrates what he hopes is the
    all-purpose hammer. Still, he makes a decent case that
    cultural demoralization plays a big role in this trend.
    He could have strengthened it by comparing birthrates
    among Americans on different sides of the culture war:
    for example, as I pointed out a couple of years ago, the white
    conservative state of Utah has a dramatically higher
    birth rate (2.76 per woman across all races in 2000)
    than the white liberal state of Vermont (1.57).

  • I had
    forgotten that Buchanan is such a master of polemical
    prose. For example, compare his three paragraphs on GOP
    electoral strategy on pp. 221-222 to the
    VDARE columns of mine that he`s obviously
    condensing. I worked hard on
    my essays (such as
    this one). Yet, Buchanan`s rewrite not only reads
    better, it can be understood by readers farther to
    the left on the IQ Bell Curve. You have to be
    awfully smart to write as simply as Buchanan.

  • In an
    age of identity politics, it`s hard to criticize
    Buchanan for speaking out for the white working class.
    It`s certainly courageous – not just the "white" part,
    but also the "working class" part. God knows there are
    plenty of pundits promoting the economic and cultural
    interests of the white upper-middle class. Further, no
    one has ever explained to me a universal moral principle
    under which it`s hugely admirable to be, say, a black or
    Jewish spokesman, but execrable to speak out for the
    white working class. Still,
    I`ve long argued that the proper way to evaluate
    policies is not by focusing on race but on the legal
    category of American citizenship – does, say, our
    current immigration system optimally promote the general
    welfare of American citizens? (When phrased in those
    terms, the answer is obvious: No.)

  • Unfortunately, I fear that Buchanan`s Death of the
    West
    is one of those books – like Herrnstein &
    Murray`s
    The Bell Curve

    and Brimelow`s

    Alien Nation
    – that are too powerfully argued
    for the good of the cause they espouse. You`ll notice
    that in the wake of The Bell Curve, it has become
    practically illegal to mention the social effects of IQ.
    That`s not because the book was refuted. Precisely the
    opposite has happened. It made such an overwhelming case
    that the entire topic had to be driven out of public
    discourse.

In Buchanan`s case,
see Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard`s

curious review in the New York Times
. Caldwell makes
clear that he doesn`t want to be associated with
Buchanan. But he has almost nothing to say about the
vast demographic change Buchanan has called to his
attention, other than that it is "broad historical
trend." (Thanks, Chris; never would have figured that
out without your help!)

Within a year, I
suspect, anyone who dares to mention global demographic
changes will be shouted down as a "Buchananite."


[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and


movie critic
for


The American Conservative
.
His website


www.iSteve.blogspot.com
features his daily
blog.]

February 12, 2002