Special Report

Is Demography Destiny?

An interview with Mark Steyn, superstar.

By 5.31.07

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Mark Steyn earned his place in the pantheon of magnificent conservative writers due to his personal ability, skill, and God-given wit -- which turns out to be a highly unusual method for establishing oneself nowadays. After beginning as a theatre and film critic, he progressed to political commentary where he has become among the liveliest, most irreverent, and original of conservative voices. A former "Culture Vultures" columnist for The American Spectator and North American correspondent (and movie reviewer) for the Spectator of London, he now writes regularly for the Chicago Sun-Times and National Review. His books include the brilliantly original Broadway Babies Say Goodnight: Musicals Then and Now (1999) and, most recently, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.

BC: Mr. Steyn, congratulations on the success of America Alone. Sales remain strong seven months the book's release. What in its message so captivates readers? Does it appeal to non-conservatives?

Mark Steyn: I think my book repositions the war on terror within a broader context, which is exactly what a lot of people are looking for. The immediate visceral anger after September 11th has now dissipated; one simply can't remain angry for five years straight. The Afghan campaign and fall of Saddam Hussein have receded in our minds. America Alone places those situations within the broader context of a weakened Western world and a resurgent Islam. It's the big picture. My book ties together the present state of the Western world, Islamic fundamentalism, and the way in which those trends intersect. That's what makes it appealing.

As for the left, in large part they are in denial about what's happening in the world. I would have welcomed a thorough liberal criticism of my book as the pointing out of its flaws would have been appreciated, but that isn't what happened. The New York Times declined to review it. When it began appearing on their best-seller list they described it with the words, "a conservative columnist argues," which alerts readers that they shouldn't buy it. A Globe and Mail reviewer said it was the most vulgar book ever written, so that gave him the excuse of finding it too aesthetically repugnant to bother with. I'm staggered at the way the left denies what is obvious to everyone else in the world today.

Clearly, the West shows all the classic signs of exhaustion. Americans are part of a continuous trend afflicting Western Europe. It's these subtler incremental changes that are of biggest concern as opposed to the guys flying planes into buildings. If you said on 9/11 that Islam was the principal issue no one would argue with you, but back on 9/11/2000, journalists didn't even know the names of the terrorist organizations or the men who led them. Whether or not Muslims are a statistical majority within society is not the major issue. They only need to make up 20 percent of the population for the nature of our society to be entirely changed.

BC: Why does demographic change equate with political change? Also, what would you say to those who believe that majority Islam is not synonymous with fundamentalist Islam?

Mark Steyn: Fundamentalist is a term we use rather carelessly. Very few people take the trouble to become suicide bombers and that's good news, but the reality is that substantial numbers of Muslims agree with the aims of the Jihadists even if they don't choose to blow themselves up. When Muslims in the West are polled, 40 to 60 percent wish to live under Sharia and wish to reside in the United Kingdom and the United States as opposed to Saudi Arabia. They may disagree with the means but they entirely support the ends. The goal is an Islamic republic in the UK, the U.S. or the Netherlands, and that provides the radicals with a lot of cushion. Remember, the running of a community is mostly done by its most aggressive, extremist elements.

BC: How much is the soft-socialism of the welfare state to blame for the West's reproductive failure? Why does the general public remain so baffled by the incompetent nature of the state?

Mark Steyn: Well, I do believe that eventually the nanny state turns us all into children so when grown ups become children then it is not astonishing for them to become disinterested in having children of their own. One of the striking features of the modern socialist state is the prolonged adolescence of its citizens. I was in Australia and a demographer put up slides of the country's past and future demographics. It was remarkable, because in the 19th century a 14-year-old who farmed was considered basically an adult because he was doing at that age what he'd be doing for the rest of his life. The average boy in 1873 didn't have the luxury of being preoccupied with iPods or entertaining himself. Nowadays we live much longer than we used to, but prolonged adolescence is the result. One of the results of this mindset is a collapsing birthrate, but those communities who think differently from us are the ones who will shape the future. Is there any denying that the future belongs to the people who show up for it? Utopian societies are not self-sustaining and never have been.

BC: How soon before America becomes as socialistic as Europe?

Mark Steyn: I think half of America is there already. Half of the nation thinks the ideal destination of a civilized society is Scandinavia and that the United States is taking too long to get there. While I think that socialism is a blinkered and terrible idea, that doesn't prevent the rest of the country from embracing it. Look at the early presidential platforms: those candidates think there's no limit to what government should do for us. That's the last thing I want. I'm a minimalist who wants government to be as limited as possible. The way we talk about state-funded programs is totally wrong anyway. Even if they didn't increase the deficit and Bill Gates wrote checks to cover their annual outlays, the programs would still be misguided. The belief that when there's a problem government must act is in fact the real problem. Down in New Orleans, FEMA did not perform well. So what? This should not have surprised anyone. When catastrophe strikes they eventually arrive, but the real issue is what is the community's backup plan when government isn't around. A government that can be everywhere at once is not a government to be desired; it is one to be feared.

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About the Author

Bernard Chapin is a writer and psychologist living in Chicago and the author of Escape from Gangsta Island. He is currently at work on a book concerning women.