Book Review: How Civilisations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too) by David P. Goldman

I've written repeatedly about my belief that Islam is ascendant over the (nominally- and barely at that) Christian West. I've also written at some length about the way in which the West could win the Long War. All of my arguments and ideas are predicated upon the assumption that Islamic societies will continue to out-breed the infertile, economically moribund nations of the West. And indeed, if this assumption is correct, then my logical deductions from this starting point, combined with my knowledge of what Islam is (and more importantly, what it is not) are also correct.

As it turns out, my basic assumption might need some revision.

David P. Goldman is better known online as the conservative columnist "Spengler", whose work is read and published and commented upon by newspapers, magazines, and intelligence agencies around the world. It would appear that this particular book was written with the express intention of exposing and destroying certain myths about Islam's potential future growth. And judging by the way he managed to change my mind about the demographic future of the Islamic world, I'd say he bloody well succeeded.

The basic point that Goldman is trying to make here is that Islam is facing a population crisis that is beyond anything ever before seen or understood in human history. He lays out copious evidence in defence of this thesis, and puts together a coherent and very interesting argument that the Islamic world will soon face a demographic decline so steep, and so severe, that it will prompt desperate measures and desperate actions among Islamist leaders. Indeed, as Goldman points out repeatedly, this is already happening.

Scattered throughout the book are Spengler's Universal Laws, a highly entertaining series of epigrams that inform and structure the content of the book such that it reads in a coherent fashion. It is a testament to Goldman's skill as a writer that he is able to take a rather dreary and uninteresting subject like population demographics, weld it together with erudite and rather cutting commentary about Islam, and present a finished product that is not only a highly enjoyable read, but a very informative one at that.

Spengler's book starts off by arguing that Islam's demographics show that Islamic societies around the world are not actually in expansion mode- far from it, in fact. They are in fact primed for an implosion- and we are already staring down the barrel of that implosion right now. He further argues that Islamic leaders around the world- starting with Iran and Saudi Arabia- are fully aware of what is happening, and are reacting in ways that show that they truly understand that their civilisations are dying. He warns his readers, and policy-makers, not to expect rational action from a civilisation facing extinction, which is why he argues against the idea that aggressively expansionist Islamist societies cannot be bought off, negotiated with, or handled in any manner other than open confrontation.

His prescription for dealing with potential Islamic rogue states like Iran is fascinating. He argues that, instead of trying to appease Iran- an act of cowardice in the face of an irrational and angry opponent- the United States should outright intimidate the nation. His idea makes more sense than my description of it might imply. He draws explicit comparisons between Hitler's irrational fears of the death of the Aryan nation and Ahmedinejad's rather less irrational fears about the death of Persian culture. And he points out what historians have now known for years- that in 1936, Hitler's Germany was a paper tiger. If the British and French had had the nerve to post so much as a marching band in front of Hitler's divisions as they marched into the Rhineland, Hitler's generals would have deposed him in a coup and WWII might never have happened. He then points out that Iran is in an even weaker position- crippled economically and demographically from within, crippled by sanctions and sectarian rifts from without. The best way to deal with a state like Iran, he argues, is to send over a couple of carrier groups into the Persian Gulf and make it perfectly clear that the USA will turn the entire country into a parking lot in under 72 hours if Iran so much as blinks the wrong way.

The book then goes into a recounting of population crises faced by humanity in the past 5,000 years or so, and uses the causes and consequences of those crises to build a powerful case that civilisations with faith in a higher power will almost always outstrip and outbreed those without such faith. He points out repeatedly that population crises over the past thousand years or so were almost entirely man-made, with the very notable exceptions of the Black Death and a few other disease-related incidents. And he forcefully states that whenever a society has lost faith, it has lost vigour as a direct consequence. He uses examples ranging from ancient Rome to the French Revolution to make his case.

The final part of the book concerns Goldman's predictions for the future. He argues that we are looking at truly catastrophic declines in population across the globe within the next hundred years- not just in the West, but in the East as well. He predicts massive population-related crises in China and Japan (unsurprising), a reduction by up to 90 percent of the populations of certain Eastern European nations (also not surprising, given the well-known results of 70 years of Communist barbarity), and most significantly, the collapse of most major Islamist societies due to their unique combinations of a greying population and lousy economics (very surprising- I hadn't realised things were that bad). He also argues that it is the evangelical strains of the Christian faith which are growing the fastest, both in America and the rest of the world (particularly in Africa), while the more mainstream and less confrontational versions of that faith- Anglicanism, in particular- are dying out in their home countries. And again, there is considerable evidence presented within the book to support his thesis.

Despite all of this good stuff, there is one massive problem that I have with this book.

There is a theme, repeated throughout the entire book, that the United States of America is unique, immune to the vicissitudes of population dynamics due to its unusual combination of a highly faithful populace and a highly diverse racial and ethnic composition. I believe that this is a huge mistake, the same one that I keep seeing American conservatives making. They keep thinking that America is exceptional (and it is), and that because America is a unique idea never before tried in world history (which is not quite true), it will therefore by definition always and everywhere persevere regardless of the nature of the crisis it faces.

I do not agree at all with this conclusion. America is currently being pulled apart into three or four distinct political ideologies. The first, which is presently dominant, is the ideology of the progressive- a highly parasitical, r-selected, completely unproductive ideology that believes in taking from those who produce to give to those who do not. It is unsustainable in every way and will eventually collapse in on itself. That is, unfortunately, the exact same ideology that the majority of Hispanics- the fastest growing minority in the US- subscribe to, and it is the same ideology that has been bought into wholesale by blacks. Urban white Americans have largely done the same. The second ideology is that of the wolf- a productive, fecund, K-selected ideology that believes in strong and healthy competition, freedom to the maximum extent consistent with law and order, and minimum government intrusion. This ideology sounds great on paper, but unfortunately very few Americans appear willing to actually take on the responsibilities that come with the rights that this ideology confers. The third ideology is that of the Churchian, and this is by far the worst and most poisonous of them all- it uses morally warped arguments from Scripture to push for redistribution of income and wealth, while destroying real faith and real virtue, and yet also insists on using Scripture to dictate to men how they must behave, without ever demonstrating why such behaviour is right.

These three ideologies are pulling America apart, and I can only agree with Vox Day when he argues that America will eventually split into three, perhaps four, distinct political entities, as early as 2040. The argument that Goldman makes just doesn't make any sense to me- even though he points out that white Americans of European descent who also are highly religious are breeding as fast as, if not faster than, Hispanics. There just aren't enough of them to stave off what is coming.

Overall, this is a great book- it is thought-provoking, engaging, well-written, meticulously researched, and highly entertaining. Despite my disagreements with some of its more bold conclusions, I think that it is well worth reading.

Didact's Verdict: 4/5, excellent and fast read that will definitely cause you to rethink some basic assumptions.

Buy/download How Civilisations Die here.


  1. Interesting. I'll have to see if the library has a copy.

    The idea of eternal, straight-line progress is a conceit of our modern age, found nowhere in nature, and in my opinion to think that any people or nation can be free of the civilisational cycle is pretty much hubris. As they saying goes, the taller they are, the harder they fall.

    I'm not surprised at Goldman's claims, to be honest. Iran's birth rate is currently hovering at about 2, and education has been defined as a "right" now - resulting in a hullabaloo a couple of years back when there was an effort made to restrict women from some STEM fields, despite the fact that in the majority of cases the restriction numbers were more than the applicants. I've also heard things coming out of Saudi Arabia regarding how men and women are behaving towards each other, so...yeah. It seems the rot is global.

    1. Yes, it's a rather good book in a lot of ways, but that conceit about America being able to pull through what is coming just rings hollow to me.

      Goldman's arguments about Iran surprised me because I didn't realise how low Iran's current birth rate really is. The really interesting part is actually the fact that the birth rate went from 6-8 children per woman, down to 1-2, in the space of a single generation. That's a decline that is virtually unheard of in human history. And it's interesting to see this story being repeated across the Muslim world; one of Goldman's ancillary arguments concerns the failure of Islam to deal with modernity, mostly because a tribalist ideology born in 7th Century Arabia simply doesn't have the tools needed to handle modern scientific progress.


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