Ha’aretz denounces my book “How Civilizations Die” without mentioning my core argument

When How Civilizations Die (and Islam is Dying, Too) appeared in late 2011, most of the conservative media reviewed the book, and in most cases positively; the liberal media considered it an anti-social gesture and ignored it. A Hebrew edition appeared in late 2013, and was well-reviewed in the Israeli press, including Israel Hayom and the Jerusalem Post, with a major exception, the liberal daily Ha’aretz. Now Dan Tamir offers a notice in Ha’aretz (along with a review of Salomon Wald’s “The Rise and Fall of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People”). For the most part Tamir offers a coherent summary of my argument accompanied by quibbles, and accuses me of writing the book to justify a attack on Iran. That is not the only (or the main reason) I wrote the book, but Tamir has a fair point: the most urgent strategic conclusion of “Civilizations” is that the United States does not have the power to fix countries that are intent on destroying themselves (and a good deal else around them). What Andreas Lubitz was to commercial aviation, Iran is to the Middle East: a nation engaged in collective suicide, but in such a way as to threaten the existence of its neighbors, including the Sunni Gulf States as well as Israel.

We need strategists who can add and subtract, as well as read and write. Mr. Tamir may abhor my conclusions, but neither he nor anyone else has had offered a word of refutation of my presentation of the simple demographic facts of the matter. No-one has accused me of manipulating or misinterpreting the numbers; my critics simply have ignored the elephant in the parlor, namely Iran’s catastrophic demographic decline.

Iran has an apocalyptic regime with a great deal to be apocalyptic about. As I have argued in these pages since 2005, no poor country in the entire troubled history of the world has seen its fertility rate plunge from 7 children per female just one generation ago to only 1.6 children per female today. There is no explanation for mass rejection of a nation’s demographic future except for deep cultural pessimism. Islamism, whether of the Sunni variety propounded by Sayyid Qutb or the Shia version of Ayatollah Khomeini, rejects modernity, which it views as corrosive of Muslim society. Iran had the misfortune to be the most modernized Muslim nation (thanks to the Shah’s commitment to universal female literacy), as well as the most backward in ideology under the Islamic Republic. Its unsuccessful engagement with modernity has left a childless country plagued by social pathologies, including some of the world’s highest rates of opium addiction, venereal disease, and prostitution.

As a matter of arithmetic, Iran will have an elderly dependent ratio worse than Europe or the United States one generation from now, with one-tenth the per capital GDP. Demographic problems which barely are soluble in rich countries are a death sentence for a poor country. This is a train wreck that cannot be averted. Even in the unlikely event that Iran were to raise its fertility rate through incentives to families (as it recently proposed to do), it will have negligible impact on the rapid aging of its population and the ensuing collapse of its economy. The chart below uses the constant fertility projections of the United Nations Population Prospects, which readers can generate for themselves here.

Population Over 60, Iran vs. the United States

Population Over 60, Iran vs. the United States

As a matter of arithmetic, Iran can sustain a third of its population as elderly dependents only by acquiring the wealth of its neighbors, for example, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, which has a Shia majority, and where Iran already is attempting to subvert the Saudi monarchy. That is why Iran is aggressive, and why no negotiation will contain it.

Ha’aretz, I presume, got around to attacking my book 14 months after the Hebrew edition appeared because it has had some influence in Israel. I do not make recommendations to the Israeli goverment; I am an American, not an Israeli, and I make recommendations to my own government. My recommendation to the American government since 2006 is the same as the one that former UN Ambassador John Bolton made in the New York Times March 26: destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity through air strikes. Reasonable people may disagree with this conclusion. But I still would like to hear someone disagree with my arithmetic.

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Categories: Middle East, Spengler

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