Wednesday, March 08, 2006

'The Death of the West': Pat Buchanan Raises a Demographic Alarum [CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL]

Through a syndicated column, a long career as a CNN pundit and three quixotic presidential campaigns, the former Republican presidential aide Patrick J. Buchanan has established himself as the country's most prominent foe of immigration. In his tirade ''The Death of the West,'' he makes clear that he sees newcomers as only part of the problem. Braiding two separate complaints, he argues, first, that plummeting birthrates will make white people a minority in much of the West; and, second, that an intolerant liberal elite has transformed America's culture, wrecking its most precious traditions -- which happen to be its bulwark against getting swamped by foreigners.
Buchanan's demographic alarum marks the re-emergence of a genre of racial-doom books not seen (for reasons that are obvious enough) since before World War II. In 1960 a quarter of humanity was of European descent, Buchanan notes; today whites make up just a sixth of the human race, and they're aging. The American birthrate is below replacement level for the first time since the Depression. Of the 22 countries with the world's lowest birthrates, 20 are in Europe, and Spain's median age will be 55 in a few decades. Barbarians will soon be at the gates. Only 8 million Russians will be living in the mineral- and oil-rich lands east of the Urals, irresistible lebensraum for a Chinese population rising toward 1.5 billion. Europe's generous welfare states, viable in a society that has 5 workers per retiree, will buckle once that ratio falls to 2. Short on labor, Europe must choose either penury for its elderly or a huge immigration from Africa and a ''second great Islamic wave.''
Buchanan's explanation of what sent our own country to hell in a handbasket is the standard-issue cultural-conservative one. Abortion, pornography, euthanasia, gun control and political correctness are the crimes; feminists, liberal judges and Marxisant scholars are the perpetrators. Americans of different stripes will agree with at least some of Buchanan's assertions: that racial activism has taken on aspects of a religion in the hands of the hard left, that international prosecutors pursue rightists like Augusto Pinochet with far more zeal than leftists like Fidel Castro, that the ideology of ''human rights'' was put to the service of imperialism in Kosovo, that ''hate crimes'' legislation has less to do with justice than with ideological special pleading, that political correctness -- the punctiliousness that Americans bring to matters of race, gender and sexual orientation -- maintains a tenacious hold on public life, chilling free discussion. Future historians will snicker at it, as we do at Victorian prudery; but they will also shudder, as we do at McCarthyite persecution.
Still, just as there were real perverts in Victoria's day and real Stalinists in McCarthy's, there are real segregationists in our own. Buchanan focuses to the point of obsession on the crusade against symbols of the Confederacy, from Virginia's abolition of Confederate History Month to the vandalism of a statue in Selma of the Confederate general and Klansman Nathan Bedford Forrest. While claiming to reject ''the blood-and-soil idea of a nation,'' he does not recognize a difference between ''civilization'' on the one hand and race on the other. You can tell this by the way he flings around the term ''third world'' as a synonym for ''nonwhite.'' California, he says, ''is on its way to becoming a predominantly third world state'' (which will surely be news to the English biochemists and French stockbrokers queued up to enter it).
Much of this provocation is surely ladled out just to rile the bien-pensants. Buchanan loves ideological dust-ups (''The pill and condom have become the hammer and sickle of the cultural revolution'') and purple oratory (''Western women are terminating their pregnancies at a rate that represents autogenocide for peoples of European ancestry''). His signal debating trick is a cheap one, ever beloved of rabble-rousers -- to take a broad historical trend and find someone to scapegoat for it. Thus, Republicans are fleeing social issues not because they cost votes but because ''the media have whispered in Republican ears.'' The 20 years after World War II were a ''golden age of marriage,'' but this superb modus vivendi ''fell apart in the 1960's, when feminists managed to add 'sex' to the discriminations forbidden by the sweeping Civil Rights Act of 1964.'' And Americans, in his reading, were duped out of their ancestral faiths by a few wily atheistic savants from the Frankfurt School, Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse chief among them.
Buchanan is now reflexively hostile to any evidence that the United States retains any strong points at all. He deplores the fact that no top college has an American history requirement. But clearly universities are doing something right, for in what other country does the biography of a hitherto little-studied 18th-century politician spend months on the best-seller list, as David McCullough's ''John Adams'' has done? Buchanan also detects, quoting James Burnham, a ''deepening loss, among the leaders of the West, of confidence in themselves and in the unique quality of their own civilization.'' This is a bizarre complaint from one who rails at the International Monetary Fund and at the ''braggadocio'' of those who declare the United States the world's only superpower. Western leaders, in fact, are self-confident as never before -- and the central pillar of that self-confidence is their belief that, to some extent, all cultures are becoming Western ones.
In 1992, Buchanan electrified the Republican National Convention with a declaration that Americans were locked in a ''religious war'' and a ''cultural war'' for the nation's soul. What distinguishes ''The Death of the West'' from his lament then is that today he considers that war decisively lost. ''A new generation has now grown up,'' he writes, ''for whom the cultural revolution is not a revolution at all, but the culture they were born into and have known all their lives.'' Far from coming to an accommodation with this new order, he is past even wishing the country well: cultural revolutionaries ''have replaced the good country we grew up in with a cultural wasteland and a moral sewer that are not worth living in and not worth fighting for -- their country, not ours.'' Having spent years fighting what he took to be a dangerous faction in American life, Pat Buchanan has come to realize that what he has been fighting is America itself. He has decided he prefers the fight to the country.


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