2004 March 15 Monday
Spengler Sees Demographic Decline Underlying Spain Election Result

The pseudonymous Spengler explains the Spanish election result and Spain's withdrawal of its from Iraq in demographic terms.

Spain's death-knell sounded long before the train bombings in Madrid, however. No country in the world is more determined to disappear. The country's fertility rate of 1.12 live births per female is the lowest in the world. As recently as 1975, at the death of strongman Francisco Franco, the fertility rate stood at 3 births per female in 1976. By 2050 Spain will have lost a quarter of its population. Germany and Italy, whose fertility rates fell earlier than Spain's, will lose a third, according to economist Anthony Scholefield.

Spengler argues that the defeat of Jose Maria Aznar's conservatives in Spain is a consequence of a popular intuitive understanding that the Spanish people, demographically speaking, have no future.

Socialist voters may not have worked out the arithmetic; Jose Zapatero's supporter in the street simply does not want to be burdened with America's distant wars, especially if they draw fire at home. It all amounts to the same thing. Countries too lazy to produce their next generation will not fight. Who will lay down his life for future generations when the future generations simply will not be there?

In an earlier essay Spengler argued that the Europeans see no point to life and therefore are failing to reproduce in adequate numbers.

Have the Europeans taken to heart existentialism's complaint that man is alone in a chaotic universe in which life has no ultimate meeting, and that man responds to the anxiety about death by embracing death?

Detest as I might the whole existentialist tribe, there is a grain of truth here, and it bears on a parallel development, that is, the death of European Christianity. Fifty-three percent of Americans say that religion is very important in their lives, compared with 16 percent, 14 percent and 13 percent respectively of the British, French and Germans, according to a 1997 University of Michigan survey.

This is a great analysis and unfortunately is likely at least part of the explanation for Europe's prevailing attitudes. In that latter essay Spengler explains Europe's resentment of the United States and Israel as fitting into this analysis as well.

Europe has produced so many ideas that have undermined its place in the world and caused it such massive disasters. The wars have been only the most dramatic manifestations of bad European ideas. Current European immgration policy is another slowly building disaster as is the birth dearth. While these latter disasters are, at least superficially, less dramatic and immediate they promise to be far more permanently damaging to European civilization.

Check out more great Spengler essays.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 March 15 01:38 PM  Civilizations Decay

A Berman said at March 16, 2004 10:13 AM:

Oswald Spengler is one of the great essayists of our time. I'm glad he's finally getting promoted around the blogosphere.

john d said at March 16, 2004 8:01 PM:

So according to Spengler Spain must absorb millions of Moslems to prevent the national pension system from going bankrupt:

"The demographic catastrophe of the past 30 years puts the pension system on a crash course toward bankruptcy, unless Spain attracts an army of immigrants. "

I have never understood this logic. What's wrong with letting the whole system go bankrupt. Considering the alternative is complete loss of a country's historic identity and culture it seems a reasonable price to pay.

And what expectation does Spengler have that these immigrants will actually cough up the dough to support relatively richer retirees in better circumstances than the immigrants themselves are living? How can these immigrants be expected to solve the ratio of dependents to workers when they will also have dependents in the form of their own children. Children aren't cheap. The immigrants are in effect being asked to support two sets of dependents. My guess is they will balk.

These children are also going to require resources to educate which will subtract from what is available to pay for retirement. And if the immigrant children don't find jobs because they've all been outsourced they will be a further drain on the society. In the crunch who will the Spanish government placate with scarce money: the stone throwing Moroccan youths demanding a rise in their unemployment allowance or the geriatric population of seniors demanding their rightful pensions.

Of course, everything might just work out right in the end but I doubt it.

Randall Parker said at March 16, 2004 8:19 PM:

john d, I certainly disagree with Spengler about the supposed necessity of immigration.

Certainly the rise in the average age is going to cause huge economic problems. But bringing in low-skilled and therefore low-productivity immigrants is not a solution. Also, bringing in Muslims who are going to be hostile to and reject the local culture is ridiculous folly.

It seems odd that Spengler can be so wrong about immigration when on other topics he manages to avoid automatically adopting the assumptions underlying the conventional wisdom.

My own out-of-the-box solution to the aging problem is accelerate research to cure aging. See my FuturePundit Aging Reversal archive for more on this idea.

jan said at March 17, 2004 9:01 AM:

Spengler is fascinating.

His essay on Spain and his more general essay on European demographics put one in mind of Fr. Sirico's criticism of Buchanan's "The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigration Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization". Indeed, the applicability of Sirico's criticisms to Spengler's essays is amazing, not the least because Sirico speaks of Spengler the original:

"In the tradition of Oswald Spengler (The Decline the West, 1929) and James Burnham (Suicide of the West, 1964), Patrick J. Buchanan seems to have set out to write a book that offers the reader not one piece of good news but instead paints a picture of utter hopelessness. He has succeeded. Never is heard an encouraging word, in this genre of nonfiction. The idea is postulate a titanic but overlooked shift in the course of the rise and decline of civilization itself. The tradition of thought at work here is that of G.W.F. Hegel, who saw human history made up of vast and impersonal forces.

"You can try this at home. Decide first whether you want your dominant Hegelian historical force to consist of good trends or bad trends. Next pick up the daily newspaper. Clip all articles that fit with your preconception of these historical forces and toss any that contradict it in the trash. Repeat for 30 days. Assemble the results in a book form. If you are reporting good news, find an upbeat title. If you are reporting bad news, you'll need to find a very scary title that hasn't already been taken by some other discredited prophet of doom. Print....

"This is not to say that there is not good material in this book, although even the best material is excessively incendiary or dark to the point of absurdity. It is not a manifesto that any conservative Catholic ought to embrace. In fact, we might go farther and say that Buchananism poses a threat, certainly intellectual and possibly even political. Inadvertently, he himself explains why. Buchanan writes of the Marxist-influence Critical Theory: it "induces cultural pessimism‚ a sense of alienation, of hopelessness, of despair where, even though prosperous and free, a people comes to see its society and country as oppressive, evil, and unworthy of its loyalty and love. The new Marxists considered cultural pessimism a necessary precondition of revolutionary change" (p. 80). If true, Buchanan has done nothing more in this book than remake Critical Theory in his own image, and tried to package it as conservatism."


So, yeah, sure, he's on to something. As you say, "unfortunately [his points are] likely at least part of the explanation for Europe's prevailing attitudes". And he’s pretty funny. He’s a wit. Congratulations.

However, he has also written some ridiculous sentences. For example, "They [Europeans] have no ambition but to die quietly, no concerns except for those amusements which might reduce boredom and anxiety en route to the grave."

Really? All Europeans? Each one? No ambition whatsoever? Hmmm.

Essays should be re-read like math problems should be proofed. If you find such uncharitable and extreme comments as follows, you might want to review the work as a whole:

“The victorious General Francisco Franco kept Spain firmly in the Catholic fold until his death in 1975, after which Catholicism shriveled in Spain like a vampire exposed to the light of day. Along with church attendance, the birthrate fell from one of the highest to one of the lowest in the world. That already has been the fate of other Catholic strongholds, such as Canada's province of Quebec. There the fertility rate dropped from 4.95 children per woman in 1961 to 1.57 in 1996.

Catholicism compared to immortal blood-sucking murderers. Lovely.

“Old Europe's people, religion, culture and fighting mettle have imploded together. The Europeans are not so much defeatist as resigned to extinction.”

In other words, not so much cowards merely for disagreeing on strategy and tactics, but resigned, all of them, men, women, and children, to death. Ok.

And again: "They have no ambition but to die quietly, no concerns except for those amusements which might reduce boredom and anxiety en route to the grave. They have no passions except hatred born of envy….They will pass out of history unmourned even by themselves."

Sounds like me and my old roommates here in NYC!

One does not have to even go very far to find alternative, and possibly laudable reasons for European caution, if you will, regarding reproduction. (By the way, and correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t US reproduction flat when adjusted for net immigration? Oh, there are exceptions, like Mormons or other traditionalists? Ok, well, aren’t there exceptions in Europe, for instance Ireland?) Just page down to Parker’s Saturday post and you find an article on worldwide competition for oil. So maybe the Europeans are wisely wondering how the half billion of them are going to live in Europe as fossil fuels become more expensive? See, e.g., http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/001694.html#001694.

Neo-Spengler has an ax to grind: US good, Protestantism good, Europe bad, Catholicism bad. Once that is understood, his statements like, for instance, “Spain has no choice but to ask the Muslims to return and take possession of its land by stages” can be seen for what they are; propaganda.

I mean really, with Christian friends like Spengler, what Catholic needs a Muslim enemy?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Randall Parker said at March 17, 2004 9:59 AM:

jan, White reproduction in the United States is higher than that of any white population in Europe.

As for some of his quotes you dislike: It is called rhetoric. Buchanan is quite colorful and I wish I could write half as well. But is he right? Does demographic implosion lead to the decline of a civilization? I think it is hard to argue otherwise. Europe is becoming a shrinking fraction of total world population. It is also becoming less European. Surely this means that Europe's influence will decline. It seems hard to argue otherwise.

As for oil: No, Europeans are not making their reproductive decisions based on their perceptions of the future availability of oil.

As for Neo-Spengler's axe and what he's grinding it on: You offer no support for the idea that his goal for writing what he does is because he's against Catholicism and for Protestantism. I see no evidence that he wants to see Europe to decline or that he wants to see Catholic countries in Europe to decline.

Catholicism compared to immortal blood-sucking murderers? Me thinks you are overly sensitive and take offense too easily.

A Catholic Father of 9 said at March 17, 2004 3:00 PM:

I do think he has some interesting points to make. I've read a number of his articles and ,when one compensates for rhetorical excess, agree with him on the demographic issues. It's a pity one has to wade through the silly (and offensive) anti -Catholicism to get to the good points. He obviously has an impressive intellect; the vampire allusion diminishes him.

I tend to be more optimistic than he is in his various articles concerning the War on Terror. Although the recent happenings in Spain represent a genuine setback, things certainly aren't anywhere near as bleak for our side as during the Cold War circa 1975-1980. No reasonable person in 1975 would have prediced the fall of the Soviet Union, but look what happened. Fanaticism, whether of the Marxist or Islamic variety, is vulnerable to disillusionment, which can cause it to crumble suddenly.

Randall Parker said at March 17, 2004 3:21 PM:

Catholic Father, The vampire allusion: Again, it just strikes me as rhetorical flourish. Besides, even good vampires like Angel and later Spike can be vanquished by the sunlight. However, it is hard to argue that the loss of religious faith is leading to a decline in the rate of reproduction in the West. Meanwhile, religious Muslims are popping out the babies. This does not bode well for us.

As for disillusionment: It is a lot harder to disprove a religious ideology than it is to disprove a secular ideology. Communism's goals were worldly. When communism failed in this world and did so dramatically enough and for a long enough time while capitalistic countries did much better then people lost faith in communism. This is why I think the Bush Administration is amking a major mistake by not aggressively attempting to reach the North Korean people with information about the rest of the world. Their ideology has failed but most North Koreans do not know just how badly it has failed since they lack sufficient information about the rest of the world.

By contrast, it is far harder to prove to Muslims that their religious ideology is wrong because they are not judging the correctness of it chiefly by how their societies are doing today. They look to otherworldly sources (or at least what they believe to be otherworldly sources) and to ancient history for proof of the correctness of their beliefs. So I expect the fight against Islamic fundamentalism to take many dangerous decades. During those decades technological advances will make what even less educated people can do with technology something truly frightening.

Catholic Father of 9 said at March 17, 2004 3:45 PM:

Actually, I think that Muslims do look at success in war as an indicator of God's support. This is one explanation often given for the rise of militant Islam after the disaster in the 6 Day War. Secular Arab Nationalism failed to dislodge the perceived invader and was thus discredited in the eyes of Arab Muslims. No one talks about forming a United Arab Republic anymore. Even Qaddafi recently gave up on being Arab and prefers to think of himself as African instead. The New York Times had a very good article the Sunday before last on a disillioned Saudi Jihadi who developed more secular tastes after a stint in prison. Not everyone will be disillusioned, but it's clearly something that can occur.

Finally, Religious disillusionment has occurred in Europe. Very few fanatical Catholics (or Protestants) are planning to storm Mecca any time soon. Perhaps the mechanisms by which such shifts occur bear further study. Once again I concur that the demographics aren't good. My wife and I are doing the best we can; feel free to make your own contributions. Cheers.

Larry said at April 19, 2005 11:35 AM:

The comments I take exception to are Spengler's equation of European unwillingness to support America's crime of attacking a country (Iraq) that was not at all provoking them and was absolutely no threat to America whatsoever, as laziness and cowardice. This is insane. Greece did not send troops to help Hitler invade Poland, so does that make them "cowards" and "lazy" for not being an accessory to international crime?? Far from it, when the Italians attacked Greece they fought like lions, and it was only when massive German forces invaded to help the failing Italians that Greece, exhausted, collapsed but not without a fight. For a good example of REAL cowardice, how about the cowardly Americans, the only country in the world who felt "threatened" by Iraq? How about the way they are so quick to bludgeon a country that they think won't fight back, while simultaneously cowering from the North Korean threat and the Iranian threat? Where's the sabre-rattling belligerency regarding them?? Oh, then it's talking nothing but "diplomacy" when it knows if it tried to cross the DMZ into North Korea it would get the arse-kicking of a lifetime. America picks on little third-world countries crippled after years of sanctions and practically defenceless but shrinks and cowers from trying to spread its [per]version of "democracy" and "freedom" to countries that it knows would give them a hell of a fight. And it has the combined stupidity and temerity to accuse OTHER countries of "cowardice"??!! This is the psychological defence-mechanism called "projecting", where someone tries to project their own failings and shame onto others.
Why is the "world's only superpower" going around hat in hand literally begging for European troops to interpose their bodies between Americans and the insurgency they've caused? What's the matter, America, can't handle a REAL war?? The world's biggest SUPERCOWARD America had better go back to picking on Panama or Grenada, as that's about all it can handle.

Bill said at July 22, 2006 4:40 PM:

I'm afraid Spengler is wrong when it to what groups constitute the majority of Spain's immigrants. It's not muslims. In fact, there's almost as many Ecuadorians as Moroccans. And when you consider that many immigrants are coming from Bolivia, Colombia and some as well from Argentina, latin americans definitely make up the largest immigrant group in Spain. They are followed by europeans (mostly Romanians). Third come african immigrants, mostly north african muslims.

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