America Alone by Mark Steyn
America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It
by Mark Steyn
Regnery. 256 pp. $27.95
Mark Steyn is phenomenal—no other word will quite do. Sometimes it seems that you can pick up almost any English-language newspaper and find either one of his regular columns or a disobliging comment about him by someone else. Though he describes himself as something of a recluse, at home in the backwoods of New Hampshire, he writes with knowledge and insight about American and international politics, about social trends, about movies and theater and popular culture, and about much else besides. It is hard to say which is the more impressive, his range or his journalistic energy.
What makes the performance all the more unusual is that Steyn is a political conservative, with a strongly held belief in as much individual freedom as possible and a foreign policy that defends this freedom. Moreover, far from being defensive about what almost everyone else in today’s journalistic pack would consider repeated lapses of intellect and manners, he revels in them. “Redneck,” “fascist,” “Islamophobe,” “neocon warmonger” are among the derogatory labels he happily hangs around his own neck, to save his critics the time and effort. Emotionally, he is a cheerful pessimist—a hybrid often found among conservatives. Four-hundred years ago, the English writer Nicholas Breton earned immortality by coining the phrase, “A Mad World, My Masters.” Steyn sees things that way, too.
America Alone is, however, a fundamentally serious book, built out of the themes of Steyn’s columns over the past five years. Like virtually everyone, he was surprised by 9/11. But he quickly understood it not as some freakish act of criminal violence but as a new stage in the millenarian struggle between Islam and the West. His bedrock purpose has been to warn that Islamism is not only a genuine challenge but one that the West is ill-prepared to meet, and whose reality many in the West are therefore pretending to deny. Europe in particular has abandoned its post in the struggle, simultaneously obliging America to undertake the heavy work and complaining shrilly when it does so.
For a while after 9/11, the rest of the world did seem to take the side of the United States; Steyn confesses here that he never expected to find his work in the “Doom-Mongering” section of the bookstore. But that moment was brief. By now, he writes, the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have come to be interpreted by enlightened circles in Europe (and the U.S.) as outrages against Muslims rather than as acts of self-defense against Islamists. He points a finger at such British fence-sitters as Simon Schama (now a professor at Columbia University in New York) and Timothy Garton Ash, as well as at such outright America-haters as the economic journalist Will Hutton and the novelist Margaret Drabble (“My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease”).
The opinions of such people may not matter much in themselves, but, according to Steyn, they are symptoms of a decline that now grips the countries of Western Europe. Large forces are in play, prominently including demographic trends that suggest the possibility of outright societal collapse. In 1970, the developed nations’ share of the global population was twice that of the Muslim world; by 2000, the two were at parity, each with about 20 percent of the total.
Europeans have ceased to reproduce themselves at a rate sufficient to sustain their populations; as native populations dwindle, Italy, Greece, Spain, Russia, and the whole of Scandinavia will lose their historic character and become mere geographical entities. Germany’s population is set to fall by over half, prompting Steyn to fantasize that, one day, German will be spoken only at Hitler’s weekly card game in hell.
As if this were not dire enough, an equally threatening cultural shadow looms over Europe. “We are living through a rare moment,” Steyn writes: “the self-extinction of the civilization which, for good or ill, shaped the age we live in.” Among the complex causes of this phenomenon is the political experiment known as the European Union, which has already locked into place a gigantic welfare state as heavily regulated as it is increasingly unaffordable. Steyn calls it, derisively, Eutopia.
Run by unaccountable bureaucrats, essentially undemocratic, Eutopia is a soft-totalitarian construct for whose sake nobody is prepared to make sacrifices, let alone to defend it with his life: in this connection, Steyn unearths the proclamation of a Finnish prime minister that the EU “must become a great power that will not take up arms at any occasion in order to defend its own.” Everywhere, he sees stagnation, cultural disintegration, and the replacement of European Christianity by what he labels de-humanism, a “multiculti mood music that makes [out of] lefty pieties one long soothing express elevator to cloud-cuckoo land.”
Defenders of Eutopia may counter, with some justice, that all extrapolations from present demographic statistics are notoriously untrustworthy. Besides, they may continue, there are already roughly 20 million Muslims in Eutopia, and it will take only another 50 million or so immigrants to replace the missing or impotent natives. But this, Steyn underlines, is a cure that cannot fail to aggravate the disease. Muslims in Europe already form communities that show little or no interest in integration with others. By the middle of the century, the continent could well have become bi-cultural. Evidence suggests that in France alone a third of all births are Muslim.
And after that? Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi is only one among many to be heard rejoicing that “without guns, without conquest,” Europe may be turned into a Muslim continent. To Steyn, indeed, the biggest globalization success of recent years is not McDonald’s or Microsoft but Islamism, under whose impact Eutopia is already morphing into its next incarnation: namely, Eurabia (a term he borrows from the historian Bat Ye’or). Escape from this long Eurabian night could involve truly violent convulsions.
Woe, woe, crieth the preacher. What makes Mark Steyn unique among contemporary preachers is that, in his case, the deadly seriousness of the message is obscured by the dazzling inventiveness of the prose. Humor, often dark and uproarious, is the means by which he gets his message across. When it comes to jokes, word-play, zany allusions, far-fetched language, exaggeration, satirical mockery, scathing ribaldry, he displays so little respect for conventions of every kind as to elude almost any known literary category.
Only Steyn would invite readers to guess what he means by this: “Starts with an I, ends with a slam. As in: slam dunk.” Only Steyn would have the nerve to write: “Yes, yes, I know Islam is very varied, and Riyadh has a vibrant gay scene, and the Khartoum Feminist Publishing Collective now has so many members they’ve rented lavish new off ices above the clitorectomy clinic.” The characters to whom he introduces us include President Ahmageddonout-tahere, President Sy Kottik of Wackistan, and a terrorist who wakes up in Baghdad early Monday morning, “straps on the old explosives, and toddles off to blow up some infidels at the gate to the Green Zone, dreaming of getting at least a couple of virgins in before lunch.”
Seeming to owe nothing to others, Steyn’s is a voice that nevertheless speaks to, and for, the age. Turki al-Faisal, a member of the Saudi ruling family and its ambassador to Washington, does not like it one bit. He has said: “The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds.” This unintended but very meaningful compliment is quoted as an endorsement on the book’s dust-jacket.
But what is the purpose of making grim predictions if not to help prevent them from coming true? The conclusion that Steyn himself draws is that the West is not going to destroy radical Islam, but neither will radical Islam destroy the West. This is where his book’s title comes in. America, he asserts, has a population of 300 million that is healthily continuing to reproduce itself, retains a core belief in both individualism and patriotism, and has the will and the means to promote its interests and values.
True, America’s shouldering of the defense of Europe has had the unforeseen consequence of indulging Eutopia while generating ungrateful anti-Americanism. Yet Steyn is almost certainly right to conclude that eventually, and with the help of America, even Europe’s culturally and morally degraded people will refuse to bow their necks to Islamism. Meanwhile, the last best hope is that Islam will reform itself. Admittedly, that is a tall order, which means that for some indefinite time the mad world is going to stay mad, and pretty nasty too. All the more comforting, then, to have with us the flow of Mark Steyn’s informed and earthy prose.