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This year’s 60th anniversary of the Anglo-American victory in World War II will call forth innumerable orations about the triumph of liberty. Ad nauseam, we will hear that the occupation of Germany and Japan as well as the fall of communism set a precedent for the birth of democracy in Iraq, leading to the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East. If the experience of World War II and the Cold War were any guide, the Middle East would be well advised to shun democracy at all costs.
That victory by the United States replaced German, Japanese and Russian tyranny with democracies is not in doubt. The problem is: where are the Germans, Japanese and Russians? If the United States had set out to exterminate its erstwhile enemies, it could not have done a more thorough job. Its adversaries of World War II and the Cold War are dying out. In the Islamic world, a breakup of traditional society might produce similar results. Tacitus’ famous dictum (“they made a desert and called it peace”) comes to mind. I insist on the point not because I think it should have been otherwise, but to admonish Americans to steel themselves for terrible times ahead.
The Dresden firestorm of February 1945, and the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of that year, killed more than the few hundred thousand people known to have died in those bombings. In a broader sense, those attacks killed all the Germans and Japanese who ever lived, and all the Germans and Japanese who ever would live. Animals breed by instinct, but faith in the future is a precondition for the reproduction of human society. Wounded animals crawl into a hole and die; humiliated cultures turn sterile and pass out of memory. Germany eschewed democracy for a reason, believing that its hope for survival lay in collective identity. In light of the facts, one might say that this belief was not incorrect, but merely evil and tragic. I do not believe that the Islamic world, either, will succumb to democratization along American lines without an upheaval on the scale of World War II.
I intend no criticism of Allied war methods. On the contrary: even the Jewish diarist Viktor Klemperer, with little access to information, knew that military logic made Dresden an inevitable target as German troops withdrew to Saxony from the east. Nuclear bombardment of Japan may have been a more humane alternative than a conventional invasion. The consequences of these actions were tragic in the true sense of the term, namely that they could not be avoided.
In any case, the former Axis powers and the former Soviet Union and its satellites occupy every one of the top positions on the death row of demographics. I refer to the United Nations’ report “World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision.”
At the top of the death list is Ukraine, whose population the UN projects to fall from 46 million to 26 million between 2005 and 2050. Democracy may have triumphed in Victor Yushchenko’s Orange Revolution, but a generation from now only half as many Ukrainians will be around to talk about it.
Given the rate at which Ukraine exports women of childbearing age, that may be a special case, but by 2050 Bulgaria will lose more than a third, and Russia itself more than a fifth of its population. Japan (-12%) and Germany (-5%) do not look quite as far along the road to extinction, but the following half-century will do for them. By 2100, Deutsche Bank projects, only 25 million Germans will remain of the 82 million alive today.
None of this would have surprised the Nazis, who believed with paranoid fervor that Germany’s national existence was in danger. One can hear the shade of Adolf Hitler saying, “You see, that is just what I anticipated and wanted to avoid! I warned the Germans that their national existence was in danger, and now you see that decadent democracy has finished us off.”
What the “decadent democracies” of the United States and England finished off was the delusion of German racial superiority and chosenness as a master race. Hitler wanted Germany to be a new Eternal People, as I have written elsewhere (What the Jews won’t tell you, November 4, 2003), and for that reason became obsessed with eliminating the Chosen People of Christian scripture, namely the Jews. The trouble is that Germany’s desire to reproduce died with its delusions.
No Jewish conspiracy endangered Germany’s national existence – German Jews won decorations for heroism at twice the rate of Christian Germans during World War I – but rather Germany’s own failure of heart. George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1904 (in Man and Superman) of Europe’s coming population crisis:
The day is coming when great nations will find their numbers dwindling from census to census; when the six-roomed villa will rise in price above the family mansion; when the viciously reckless poor and the stupidly pious rich will delay the extinction of the race only by degrading it; whilst the boldly prudent, the thriftily selfish and ambitious, the imaginative and poetic, the lovers of money and solid comfort, the worshippers of success, of art, and of love, will all oppose to the Force of Life the device of sterility.
In The Decline of the West (1918), Oswald Spengler quoted Shaw in predicting an “appalling depopulation” of Europe:
It becomes possible for a Shaw to say “that unless Woman repudiates her womanliness, her duty to her husband, to her children, to society, to the law, and to everyone but herself, she cannot emancipate herself.” The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood is included in that one word. But now emerges the Ibsen woman, the comrade, the heroine of a whole megalopolitan literature from Northern drama to Parisian novel. Instead of children, she has soul-conflicts; marriage is a craft-art for the achievement of “mutual understanding.” It is all the same whether the case against children is the American lady’s who would not miss a season for anything, or the Parisienne’s who fears that her lover would leave her, or an Ibsen heroine’s who “belongs to herself” – they all belong to themselves and they are all unfruitful …
Parenthetically, Henrik Ibsen’s “modern” dramas starting with A Doll’s House might be read as satire, a peevish warning of the consequences of modern sensibilities for society. Ibsen’s programmatic statement is found rather in Emperor and Galilean (1873), in which the Byzantine Emperor Julian the Apostate attempts to suppress Christianity and revive paganism. Upon Julian’s death, Ibsen has a counselor of Julian’s predict the eventual triumph of paganism:
Yours is a wasteful god, Galileans! He uses up many souls. Were you [Julian] not the chosen one this time either, sacrificed on the altar of Necessity? What is it worth, to have lived? Everything’s game and chance. To will is to have to will …The third empire shall come! The spirit of man shall reclaim its birthright.
Julian was Ibsen’s hero; his Nora was a horrible example of the consequences of individualist sensibilities, as Shaw and later Oswald Spengler recognized. Emperor and Galilean persuades me that Ibsen was something of a proto-fascist.
In the cited passage, Oswald Spengler continues:
At this level all Civilizations enter upon a stage, which lasts for centuries, of appalling depopulation. The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world-cities, then the provincial forms, and finally the land itself, whose best blood has incontinently poured into the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile. At the last, only the primitive blood remains, alive, but robbed of its strongest and most promising elements. This residue is the Fellah type.
Failure to breed first overtook France, whose generals demanded an early war against Germany for fear that France could not put enough young men in the field one generation hence (The sacred heart of darkness, February 11, 2003). Hitler saw monsters encircling Germany in his paranoid delusion, but the monster sat in Germany’s own breast and fed on her heart. Friedrich Nietzsche, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, and Hitler hallucinated a new Aryan heroism anchored in the barbarian past as a remedy for decadence and decline.
Oswald Spengler himself was an unspeakable racist, fretful that the colored races would overwhelm the whites. He wrote in Decline, “The apparent increase of the white population all over the world, little as it is in comparison with the volume of the colored increase, rests upon a temporary illusion: the number of children grows ever smaller, and only the number of adults increases, not because there are more of them, but because they live longer.” To the end he insisted that man was a “beast of prey.” Nonetheless he recoiled in horror at the Nazi solution. He wrote of “brave pessimism” and the “tragic” courage to sacrifice for greatness, but does not appear to have considered that the tragic conclusion was destined for him and everyone like him.
Those who seem to think that such provocations as the murder of Theo van Gogh by terrorists will revive Europe’s will to live, eg Victor Davis Hanson, sadly misestimate the depth to which Europe has sunk. After World War I, I wrote two years ago, “no shred of credibility was left in the Christian idea of souls called out of the nations for salvation beyond the grave. In 1914 Europe’s soldiers still fought under the illusion of a God that favored their nation. Germany fought World War II under the banner of revived paganism. For today’s Europeans, there is no consolation, neither the old pagan continuity of national culture, nor the Christian continuity into the hereafter” (Why Europe chooses extinction, April 8, 2003). Europe will offer no resistance to Islam, which will triumph in that continent no later than 2100, according to Bernard Lewis.
Even if Washington succeeded in establishing friendly regimes in most of the Middle East, an eventual Arab majority in Europe will confront America with a hydra-headed beast that cannot easily be thwarted.
For what Spengler called “Faustian culture,” an appropriate epitaph is the one that Mephistopheles offered at the grave of Faust:
Vorbei! ein dummes Wort. Warum vorbei?
Vorbei und reines Nicht: vollkommnes Einerlei! …
“Da ists vorbei!” Was ist daran zu lesen?
Es ist so gut, als waer es nicht gewesen.
(“It’s over? A stupid expression. Why, “It’s past?” Past and pure nothing – perfect sameness? “It’s over” – how should one understand that? It is just as good as if it never existed.) Nowhere is it written that all cultures should exist forever. Some of them are quite unpleasant, and we are well rid of some of them. No one misses the passing of German culture more than I – no longer is it possible to hear a straightforward rendering of the dramas of Gotthold Lessing or Friedrich von Schiller – but there is nothing to be done for it. Thomas Mann explained why in Dr. Faustus.
US President George W. Bush fell wide of the mark when he declared in his second Inaugural Address, “We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.” Human beings do not first of all wish to be free, but to be remembered, that is, to have lives that are significant. US democracy depends upon a religious foundation; the individual first must assume the yoke of responsibility (to God, country, family and so forth) in order to exercise freedom. In the vast majority of other instances human beings prefer a collective identity as a source of meaning; that was the message of the most prestigious of 20th-century philosophers, the abominable Martin Heidegger.
One can destroy collective identity by main force, as US occupiers did in the former Axis countries, or batter it down by external pressure, as in the case of the Cold War. Whether the adversary society resists to the end, as in the case of Germany, or gives up without a shot, as in the case of the Soviet Union, is a matter of happenstance. In either case the result has been to push these societies down the road to extinction.
The United States has sufficient power to persuade Iraq’s religious and tribal leaders to march their people to the polls as a condition for sharing power in a new government (The dotage of Iraq’s democracy, February 2), or for that matter to extort a gesture toward multi-party elections out of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. But I do not believe that the Islamic world will abandon its long-developed sense of collective identity in favor of US-style democracy without tragic consequences.