A Must Read: Mark Steyn’s ‘America Alone’

The best way to put the sad state of affairs here in Illinois in its proper context is to read Mark Steyn’s new book America Alone. Illinois might be a silly political backwater, but it’s nevertheless a small part of the larger front in the cultural challenge facing Western Civilization — yes, that’s right, the whole deal.

It’s a book for the ages — a forward looking, humorously written wake-up call to the beneficiaries of the best cultural inheritance ever. You won’t find a better analysis of the global threats facing the West, and you won’t find a better argument in support of limited government and self-reliance.

“America Alone” has the potential to rival Thomas Paine’s works “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis” in historical value. That’s a big statement, I know. I say it because the message the book contains — that current demographic reality and a weak will is a deadly combination — should be what we hear from our political leaders. Too bad most of them listen to themselves and political consulting hacks instead of serious thinkers and professional communicators.

When communism collapsed some saw the battle as over, the good guys victorious, and “the end of history.” The subtitle of Steyn’s book states his alternative view — that we’re facing instead “The End of the World As We Know It.”

The world our children and grandchildren will inherit “depends on whether America can summon the will to shape at least part of the emerging world.”

If not, then it’s also the end of the American moment, and the dawn of the new Dark Ages (if darkness can dawn): a planet on which much of the map is re-primitivized.

Why is the West facing peril? Steyn outlines the present day fact that the birth rates in most Western Countries are so low that much of Europe will cease to exist by the end of the century except as places on a map. Those who aren’t having babies (population decline) are at a disadvantage compared to those who are having babies (population increase) when it comes to “shaping the age we live in.”

Not everyone on the planet has decided against having children — in fact many of those who are reproducing are adherents to a strain of Islam that “has serious global ambitions.” Unfortunately this religion is indistinguishable from a political movement, and it consists of values that, to say the least, aren’t particularly favorable to today’s fashionable “multiculturalism.” In fact, it’s pretty clear these Muslims prefer uniculturalism: you’re a believer or you’re an infidel.

If this threat to the West sounds implausible to you, Steyn thought you might have that reaction. He uses many recent events to make his case that it is indeed quite plausible.

They know they can never win on the battlefield, but they figure there’s an excellent chance they can drag things out until Western Civilization collapses in on itself and Islam inherits by default.

Steyn provides plenty of examples about how the West, particularly western Europe, capitulates easily to the Muslim lobby or even to terrorism. The “cartoon jihad” is a good example of the former. The impact of the March 11, 2004 terrorist act in Spain is an example of the latter.

The crisis of will being faced throughout the West manifests not only in demographics, but also in their unwillingness to “get real” about their lavish social programs. Western Europe is the world’s leader in severing “its citizens from humanity’s primal instincts, not least the survival instinct.” How does government do that? Through programs that “corrode the citizen’s sense of self-reliance to a potentially fatal degree.”

Steyn is a Canadian, and uses that country’s “psychological makeover” as an example. In 1945, Canada —

  • had the third-largest surface fleet in the world,
  • had one of the most effective air forces in the world,
  • Canadians got the toughest beach on D-Day.

“But,” Steyn writes,

[I]n the space of two generations, a bunch of rough hombres were transformed into a thoroughly feminized culture that prioritizes the secondary impulses of society — rights and entitlements from cradle to grave — over all the primary ones.

Regarding those American conservatives who “still think the dragons are at the far fringes of the map,” Steyn says that globalization and technology means, “Everyone lives next door now.”

For those who “think the rest of the world can go hang but America will endure as a lonely candle of liberty in the new Dark Ages,” Steyn encourages them to think it through. Listing a multitude of current and realistically future problems around the world, he writes that:

[A] country that can’t even enforce its borders against two relatively benign states will somehow be able to hold the entire planet at bay? Dream on, ‘realists.’

You need to read this book. Steyn’s prescriptions are excellent. He’s not worried about Iraq — and explains why. He is worried about America’s will because, as President Bush said in his second inaugural speech, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” Steyn’s view:

If America won’t export its values—self-reliance, decentralization — others will export theirs.

Which brings us to Illinois. I think it’s a fair question to ask whether self-reliance and decentralization are really still American values. They should be, but the political party that should be trumpeting them hasn’t for several years. Steyn warns that it’s critical to constrain the size of government so there will be “enough space so that a nimble and innovative citizenry [doesn’t] degenerate into mere subjects of an overbearing state.”

The challenges on the world scene over the next few decades will be immense, but “In the end,” Steyn writes, hard wars are won on the hardest ground—at home.”

Part of that battle at home is here in Illinois — and in my view it’s an important one. Why? Because it’s a blue state that is only blue because of failed political leadership. Illinois once was red, and can be again if we fix the leadership problem.

Illinois’ leftward state-level policy lurch continues only because Illinois Republican elected leaders continue to prefer to imitate Democrats in their efforts to appease the tax-eaters.

Several phrases in Steyn’s book could be borrowed and applied directly to the Illinois policy scene, such as when he refers to those who continue to “live in defiance of economic reality” regarding unsustainable government spending levels. When confronted with the shrieks of those clamoring for excessive taxpayer funded pensions, our leaders have been “too squeamish” to “confront reality.” Instead, they surrender.

We’ve already seen news stories about Illinois Republican legislators who are “desperate to pretend” that the Illinois fiscal crisis “is just a managerial problem that can be finessed away with a few new laws and a bit of community outreach.” It’d be funny if it weren’t so pathetic — and so potentially damaging.

Steyn says Western Europe is already at the point where “social and fiscal policy are now a matter of national survival.” Illinois is charting a similar course for its little corner of the world. And the “political class and the media seem to serve as mutual reinforcers of their own obsolete illusions.”

Steyn writes that the “political establishments in Paris, Berlin, Brussels, et al. show no sign of producing leaders willing to confront it.” The challenge for Illinois conservatives is to find new leaders with that willingness.

Pick up a copy from the bookstore shelf and see if you’re not laughing after reading the first few paragraphs. Steyn’s genius is shown throughout — but never more clearly than in his Prologue: “To Be or Not to Be.” Read several pages into that and you’ll know it’s a must-buy/must-read.

There are a lot of good books out there but if your time is limited, start with this one. I can’t recommend it enough. You need to buy it and read it and underline passages and learn it like you were going to be tested on its contents. Because you are. And future generations will have to live with how well we did on the test.