In “America Alone,” Mark Steyn attempts one of the more interesting analyses of the threat posed by Islamic imperialism that I’ve seen—one that dispenses with much analysis of the Islamic imperialists themselves.
That sounds like more of a criticism than it actually is, since Steyn’s main point is that radical Islam would present little threat to any society that was not already in the throes of collapse and self-destruction. Most of Steyn’s ruminations on the struggle thus dwell not upon the enemy, but upon us—the broad “us” of all the European-derived nations. Given the title of the book, I trust I am not giving too much away when I say that Steyn holds out little hope for most of the nations of that assemblage. America remains the last best hope for Western democracy, Steyn (a Canadian living in New Hampshire) believes, simply because it is the least worst dope among the Western democracies. Inspiring.
Vulnerable to Defeat
But reality is what it is—regardless of whether it is inspiring or foreboding—so the true measure of Steyn’s thesis is not whether it leaves one feeling all warm and sleepy, cuddled up behind his vision of the probable future, but whether the vision is supported by the facts and likely trends.
At the least, Steyn makes a compelling case with a litany of anecdotes, figures and extrapolations. But the central tenet of his argument is so self-evident that it needs very little evidence to ring true: Western culture is vulnerable to eventual defeat by Imperial Islam mostly because it has lost all confidence in itself and, with that, the will to survive.
With its elites adrift in a philosophy of self-loathing, post-Christian multiculturalism and its citizenry numbed by the narcotics of hedonism, entitlement and perpetual adolescence, the West has every means to fight back—and even conquer—but lacks the will to do so. Who will defend societies, he asks, run by those who detest their own cultural inheritance and peopled by those who believe their culture consists primarily of the right to “free” stuff from the government and the freedom to engage in personal consumption unmolested by the grand forces of history? No one, it would seem.
Apparently, Hottentot history month, paid leave, prescription drug benefits, gay marriage and Coldplay haven’t nearly the power to inspire men to take up arms and risk death as does belief in things as passé and primitive as God and Country and a conviction in the superiority of one’s own culture.
Only in America (within the West) does any sizeable portion of the population still believe in such things—albeit a declining portion. America alone then, Steyn posits, has any real potential to emerge intact from the current century. The other nations will succumb to their internal pathologies and be assimilated into more confident cultures, primarily globalized Islam.
Steyn argues that this process of Islamic assimilation will be aided above all by demographic forces, especially the modern collapse of European birth rates. This factor is not unrelated to the collapse of cultural confidence. Declining birth rates (and the concomitant dependence on large scale immigration), Steyn proposes, are merely symptoms of the loss of will brought on by anti-nationalism and the eternal childhood of life in the welfare state.
Sick Men of Europe
As someone who has argued that history is simply demographics punctuated by chase scenes, I found the large part of the book dedicated to demographic analysis of the conflict with “Islamofascism” and its vibrant host population quite interesting. But I often felt that Steyn gives America more credit than it deserves for being different than Europe. A birth rate merely at replacement levels, a creeping dependence on statism and entitlements, and a population of 300 million who cannot endure even 3,000 deaths in a relatively small war do not do much to recommend us as the last reserve of cultural confidence and will in the Western world. Although, in fairness, Steyn does admit that it is primarily by comparison to the sick men of Europe that America looks healthy.
Overall, the book is a very enjoyable read. Steyn’s wit and sarcasm make the end of the world as we know it almost funny—when it is not simply sad. The book is also remarkable for the sheer number of theater references made while the author addresses the decline of civilization, which I’ve always believed somehow related to Broadway, to be honest. If “Cats” and “Rent” are not signs that the opening of the seventh seal is just days away, what is? Of course, the arcane musical references probably have more to do with Steyn’s having begun his career as the last heterosexual theater critic in North America than with my hypothesized connection to the Book of Revelation.
Steyn’s work would have been more enjoyable still, had it not been for two small annoyances. The first was a tendency toward repetition of his arguments, in which he would sometimes repeat arguments, making the same arguments more than once, and then repeating them. It’s not annoying when I do it, but it bugs me in others.
The second was his Anglo-Canuck habit of excessively using foreign terms and phrases, that are either not translated for readers (if rare) or for which there are perfectly good English equivalents (if common). As Steve Martin once said, “Those French—they have a word for everything!” But then so do we, and I am sure this is not quite as big a marvel to them. I, of course, am so smart that I either already know or can deduce all such “terms du foreign” (for example, “fromage” would appear to be the French word for “provenance”—or, perhaps, “cheese”). But still, it gets old, if done mucho beaucoup, as the Italians say.
Regardless of such trifling criticisms, “America Alone” is Mark Steyn at his best: funny and irreverent, even while assembling well-reasoned and complex arguments in support of serious insights.
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