What do the Roman Empire, the prehistoric Greek civilization of Mycenae and the Egyptian Empire all have in common? Extinction. The book How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) by David P. Goldman offers an appealing insight into possible causes for the extinction of many great and ancient societies as well as an interesting analysis into what the author thinks may represent the end of Western Civilization, in its current form.
The author, David P. Goldman, economist and music critic, best known for his series of online essays in the Asia Times under the pseudonym “Spengler” approaches the subject matter from a Judeo- Christian perspective. This book is centered on economic and demographic factors, as well as historical precedents and predictions.
A novel element is brought into discussion with the analysis of the decline of Islamic civilization. This may surprise the reader, as traditional religious cultures are usually known for their strength and endurance over the ages, and, Islam’s weakening has not been very often recognized or talked about.
Goldman’s book is organized into three main parts entitled: “The Decline of the East,” “Theopolitics” and “Why It Won’t Be a Post-American World.”
The first part of the book is comprised of seven chapters, which focus on the analysis of the Islamic world and its problems, from low birth rates among educated Muslim women to the decadence, which has apparently started to take hold of Islamic society just as rapidly and vehemently as it is known to have taken over the Occident a while ago. This first part also gives the reader insight into the possible future of Muslim nations and the reaction these nations could have, on a global scale, to their own extinction.
The second part of the book dedicates five chapters to the investigation of the probable reasons for civilizations dying, what the current rate and trends of national self-destruction are and an evaluation of Christianity and Islam on a cultural, psychological and religious level. “We know of Three Great Extinctions that cleared the earth of most of the cultures of the past,” author David P. Goldman writes. “Islam has had the misfortune to be caught in the Fourth Great Extinction.” From this starting point, the reader is transported into a world of clear arguments and solid information regarding the problems civilizations face.
The third and final part of the book, entitled “Why It Won’t Be a Post-American World” and structured in four chapters, investigates what the author considers to be possibilities for the United States’ and Europe’s future. In this sense, the author talks about the decline of the religious sentiment in Western Europe and the majority of religious people still living in the United States to this day. He also analyzes American democracy and the concept of its application elsewhere in the world.
One of the many noteworthy chapters in Part One, entitled “The End of Traditional Muslim Society,” elaborates on what the author calls ”the ultimate form of nihilism,” that is to say, “abnegation of child baring,” which seems to have become more than noticeable in the Muslim world. Goldman talks about the fact that, even though many have thought Islam is going through a rebirth or “awakening,” this may be, in fact, the “final act of the end of a civilization” as more and more Muslim women, after having gotten an education refuse to bring as high a number of children into the world as the generations before them had done, endangering, therefore, the population sustainability of Muslim countries. Also, the “wife beating religious practice” is analyzed and condemned by the author as well as honor killings, genital mutilation and cousin marriages. All of these elements, Goldman believes, are pushing this religion to the brink of extinction. He proclaims it is zero hour for Islam in the age of modernity. And the lack of criticism of the Koran, the author believes, does not help, but rather hinders the development and indeed the survival of Islamic culture. Koranic criticism is identified by Goldman as “theology’s most dangerous minefield.” The author gives the reader reason for reflection. If no criticism is allowed, can it really keep being blindly followed and truly stand the test of time?
Another notable chapter, “The Morality of Self-Interest” brings into discussion, among other things, Augustinian realism. The author draws the distinction between “successful states” and “failing states.” “States fail, Augustine argued, because peoples fail, and peoples fail because they love the wrong things. A nation defines itself by what it loves, and the wrong sort of love condemns it to eventual ruin,” Goldman explains. He also adds that “if the American Republic is an assembly of people held together by a common law and a common love, then America’s self-interest lies in alliances with countries that share our common love.” This seems an important piece of indirect advice reserved for American culture in general. “America has no obligation toward states and peoples who have no part in our civic love,” he concludes.
Using the Augustinian observation that “civil society precedes the character of a nation,” Goldman insists the state should not try to do what it cannot, in this sense ally itself with nations which are so very different in the values they hold that their civil society’s character can never be engaged, nor for that matter, changed.
David P. Goldman’s book How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) seems to sum up the author’s sentiment about a future for the United States which, even though it may be “the leper with the most fingers,” it will still be able to have sustainable population growth and keep itself afloat in an ever-shifting world. Also, it encourages the reader to take into account social dynamics that may have generally been overlooked or unknown, like the possible extinction of a culture that was generally known to be flourishing: Islamic culture.
Although the theme of the book is centered on a negative reality, the general spirit and style of it is one that does offer a glimmer of hope, in the sense that, once one knows the truth, there are still steps that can be taken to ensure that past tragedies do not repeat themselves. The book also offers an extensive bibliography and well organized index.
On a fairly small critical note, the United Nations Population Division table (in Chapter 15) includes Romania and several other nations in Central and Eastern Europe as liberated by the United States. However, the reality is more complex, for most of Eastern Europe, especially Romania, did not transition from communism to freedom, but from communism to post-communism. And, while the United States did indeed fight and win the war against communism on the global stage, Eastern Europe’s transition was done without U.S. intervention. In fact, Washington pursued a policy of stability above all. Also, the constant references to Europe (in the context of only Western Europe), as a land of dying religion, miss the point that Europe is comprised of both its eastern and western “lungs.” And, most countries in Eastern Europe are facing the religious crisis the Occident is now grappling with to a much lesser degree.
So, in the end, why do civilizations die? Is there anything that can be done to not let the past repeat itself? What might the future bring, if the current state of affairs remains unchanged?
How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too) by David P. Goldman manages to clearly and logically give potential answers to these and other vitally important questions from a subjective yet well informed, organized viewpoint. It is an imperative read for those who want to not only know about the social and religious subtleties of the past and the present but also to get a slightly different perspective on what the future may bring. Whether you want to do extensive research on the matters presented or you are just interested in grasping basic up-to-date information on social dynamics, this book is a step you need to take in the right direction.
Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied European, International and Romanian law. Her thesis on the UN and global governance was completed at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest. She is currently a Masters candidate for International and European Law at the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.