Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wishful Thinking by Gene Edward Veith

The French sociologist Emmanuel Todd was one of the few experts to predict the fall of the Soviet Union. Now he is predicting the fall of the United States.

His book After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order has been a bestseller in Europe. It plays into many Europeans' sentiments against the Iraq war and their belief that America has become an evil empire. But his book offers encouragement to America - phobes: far from being an invincible hyperpower, according to Mr. Todd, the United States is really weak, decadent, and falling apart.

America's current war mongering, in his view, is its last ditch effort to be relevant in the new global environment that doesn't need it anymore. America's vaunted military is actually weak, only capable of picking on tiny countries. Even though America liberated his country, Mr. Todd insists the U.S. military was not so great even in World War II. Russia won the war, he claims, not America.

Isn't radical Islam a threat to the world? Not at all, says Mr. Todd. All cultures go through a revolution as they enter modernity. Islamic revolutionaries frame their ideology in religious terms. But so did the English revolutionaries when the Puritans beheaded the king and established the modern principle of parliamentary supremacy. So did the American revolutionaries. But the religiosity soon fades away once the revolution ushers in modernity. All revolutions are violent. Today's jihadist revolutions are just Islamic societies entering the modern world.

Isn't American democracy the beacon of the world? No. While the rest of the world is indeed becoming more democratic, America is losing its democracy. Mr. Todd points to the gap between the rich and the poor and the rise of powerful corporate elites. He maintains that America is becoming an oligarchy, in which only the rich and the powerful truly rule. Mr. Todd sounds like a Democrat in his critique of the U.S. economy. America is actually dependent on the rest of the world for its investment capital, labor, and products. Pointing to the trade imbalance and the budget deficits, Mr. Todd says that America is no longer capable of production. All we know how to do is consume. And once the world stops subsidizing the American economy, our standard of living will collapse.

Into the vacuum left by the demise of America will rush the unified Europe. Contrary to the common assumption, he says, Americans and Europeans do not have the same civilization. America is still backwardly religious. Europeans, though, have embraced modern secularism. Europeans have nothing against Muslims. European economies are proudly protectionist, their foreign policies peaceful, and their governments truly democratic.

Mr. Todd predicted the fall of the Soviet Union by applying his crackpot theory that social liberation is a function of high education and low birthrates. Russia's birthrate fell so precipitously largely from abortions, that Mr. Todd felt freedom was at hand. He guessed the outcome but surely missed the reasons. Mr. Todd is optimistic about Europe mainly because birthrates have fallen below replacement level, which he considers to be a good thing. Never mind the economists panicked about the labor crisis that awaits the next generation or the historians who see such low birthrates as a mark of a civilization in decline or the political observers who see the Islamification of Europe and the end of its secularism as Muslim immigrants outpopulate native Europeans and vote themselves into power.

Today, Mr. Todd's boasts ring hollow. The statist European economies are stagnating, with unemployment as much as 10 percent and overregulated businesses unable to compete globally. Muslim terrorists are now striking the tolerant Europeans. And now Europeans, even the French, are voting against the constitution of the European Union.

Mr. Todd's projections are a mix of leftist ideology, the postmodernist construction of alternative truths, and, above all, wishful thinking.

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