Death of the West?

Posted: Feb 13, 2002 12:00 AM
It's easy to dismiss Patrick J. Buchanan's new book "The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization" as just another anti-immigrant rant. But it would be a mistake to do so. In his book, Buchanan raises some important issues about the future of Western culture. And while I don't agree with Buchanan's policy prescriptions, the problem he describes -- the dramatic decline in birth rates among Europeans and, to a lesser extent, native-born Americans -- is sobering. Buchanan describes a world in which whites are disappearing as a significant component of the world's population, even in Europe, where declining birth rates and increased Third-World immigration promise to make Europeans a minority in their own countries of origin. By the end of this century, Germany's native-born population will decline by more than 50 percent. Italy's birthrate has been falling for 25 years; by 2050, demographers predict Italy's 57 million will become 41 million. Spain, which has the lowest birthrate in all Europe -- 1.07 children per woman -- will lose one quarter of its population in the next 25 years. The United States' population continues to grow, but primarily because of immigration from Latin America and Asia. A civilization whose population does not replace itself in each generation will die -- and these statistics suggest the end of Western Civilization is coming sooner than we imagine. But the problem isn't one of race or color. It doesn't matter in any important way that there will be fewer fair-skinned, fair-haired people in the world of the future. What does matter is that Western culture -- which has been responsible for the greatest advances in science, literature, the arts, and, most importantly, human liberty -- may disappear as well. So who's to blame -- all those Chinese, Indians, Mexicans and others who keep having babies while those of European descent choose not to? Should we blame the immigrants who leave behind lives of poverty and repression in order to seek freedom and opportunity in the United States or Europe? Or should we blame ourselves, and if so, for what? Buchanan, to his credit, largely avoids blaming the immigrants: "Most of the people who leave their homelands to come to America, whether from Mexico or Mauritania, are good people, decent people. They seek the same better life our ancestors sought when they came," he writes. This a refreshing shift from the man who famously worried in 1991, "If we had to take a million immigrants in, say Zulus, next year, or Englishmen, and put them in Virginia, which group would be easier to assimilate and would cause less problems for the people of Virginia?" No, "the long-term threat to the West lies deep within, and whether the West survives is a question Western peoples will answer," Buchanan warns. Buchanan is short on answers to the dilemma he proposes, however, asserting "the prognosis is not good." But that kind of pessimism won't do much to reverse the cultural erosion he complains of. In fact, it sounds downright un- American. One of the defining characteristics of American culture has been its optimism and willingness to solve problems. "American exceptionalism" was born of the notion that we are different from every nation that has come before us. I'm not giving up hope that Western culture will survive, if only in America. If we have faith in ourselves and our culture, we can transmit it to the newcomers, no matter where they come from or what they look like. And we might even learn something from them in the process, including a renewed sense of self-sacrifice and belief in the future -- which is, after all, what motivates people to bring future generations into the world.