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Monday, May 17, 2010

America Alone, by Mark Steyn: a Book Review

Mark Steyn's book "America Alone" originally came out in 2006, and if I remember correctly, that's the year I started reading it. In between reading other books, I've picked it back up and read a few pages at a time, determined at some point to finish it. And since 2006, we've moved from a Republican Bush presidency to a Democratic Obama presidency - a significant shift, considering the book revolves around the place of the U.S. government in international relations. Yet despite this and other changes, Steyn's book (which I've finally finished) still remains largely relevant to current events.

Steyn's thesis is essentially that Islam is a real threat to the Western world, and unless it is resisted, in particular by the United States, the formerly Christian West will become the new Islamic West. He discusses how Muslims, rather than taking over Europe first and foremost through acts of violence, have gradually moved into Europe, and simply outgrown native Europeans by having lots of children. In the meantime, native Europeans have decreased in population by failing to "be fruitful and multiply", a symptom of their post-Christian mindset. He does document, however, the numerous acts of violence that have been conducted by Muslims, and notes the practice of the Leftist Western media in generally covering up the peculiarly religious nature of this violence.

He goes on to discuss the failure of the democratic-socialist state in the West, and how it has amassed debt beyond what future generations can reasonably pay, particularly in light of his first point regarding population decline. And lastly, he discusses how the democratic-socialist state has created a sense of ennui in Western countries, making its older and largely childless citizens ripe for the picking by its idealistic and youthful counterparts found in Islam.

There are a number of positive points to Steyn's book. He highlights in no uncertain terms the fact that Islam at its heart is a violent, intolerant religion. While it's true that there are many Muslims in the world who would never think of harming their non-Muslim neighbors, for them to behave that way is inconsistent with their professed faith. The goal of Islam is world conquest, and while having babies is one good way of accomplishing this, so is violent jihad, as the Koran clearly teaches. Steyn convinced me that Islam is a genuine threat, and I believe his analysis of it is largely correct.

His three points, concerning population decline in the West, the incredible debt of the democratic-socialist state, and its failure to create energetic and motivated citizens, are right on target.

I do have a couple of caveats about his arguments, though. For one, Steyn is a bit more of a Neoconservative than I am. I am not so convinced to the degree he is that it is the United States' duty to police the world. I can see some argument for alliances with other countries, though I am hesitant about even that. And even so, there have been huge problems with the way the U. S. has gone about doing it in the past century. Ron Paul, in the collection of speeches found in his book "A Foreign Policy of Freedom", given before the U. S. House of Representatives between 1976 and 2006, has provided many illustrations of how the U. S. has repeatedly bumbled its involvement with those countries it has made treaties with, made evident once the bullets started flying. We have often found ourselves supplying troops to one side of a war, and supplying arms to the other side, all because we foolishly entered into treaties with both parties at some time prior to the war in question. We call this "keeping the world free" and "maintaining peace", and yet tyranny and warfare remain. Why the idea that it may be best to just get out of the way never occurs to us is beyond me. This said, I do not entirely know what approach the U. S. should take in driving back Islam, if any, in other countries throughout the world. I do know that I'm not as gung-ho about our intervention in other countries as Steyn is, as we have made more than our share of messes by this approach. So this is an ongoing question for me, and one which Steyn did not help resolve, as he provides relatively little in the way of positive solutions..

Secondly, while I appreciate Steyn's assessment of the condition of post-Christian Europe, I believe he leaves out a couple key factors in considering what may best stop the spread of Islam. Steyn's work is not theological in nature, so one can't exactly expect him to adequately address elements related to the Church. And yet the key cause of the failure of European society is the Church. Wherever the Church goes, the culture follows. When we obey God, then we are blessed, and, incidentally, so are those around us who are not Christians. Those who long for a non-religious State are simply fooling themselves. Everything is by nature religious, including the State. If the State doesn't make Christianity its religion, then some other religion will rush in to fill the vacuum. If the Church in Europe can recover itself, then perhaps Europe will not turn out to be as far gone as it might seem.

My last point relates to this, and that is to point out that Steyn does not take into account the Providence of God. He is the one ultimately Who raises up some nations and puts others down. He can turn whole people groups by His willing it alone. Now it is true that He normally works through the agency of man, and so the best way to assure that Europe be saved from utter disaster would be for Christian men everywhere to repent and return to God. And so the future of Europe as Steyn paints it isn't a foregone conclusion. We can still hold out hope that God will have mercy upon Europe (and the U. S.), and draw us all in repentance back to Himself.

All in all, this is a very good book. Steyn is a clever, witty, and engaging writer. And, all caveats to the side, it is well worth the read.

5 Comments:

Blogger Franklin said...

"Steyn's thesis is essentially that Islam is a real threat to the Western world, and unless it is resisted, in particular by the United States, the formerly Christian West will become the new Islamic West."

Actually, I'm not sure that is his thesis. America Alone, as Steyn himself is wont to say, is only superficially about Islam v the West, rather, it's really about us.

America Alone is more about the weakness of the West - demographically, yes, but more significantly, weakness of our culture. In this sense, the assertive Islamic radicalism and weakening demographics are really a symptom of the same disease - a lack of respect, even a revulsion toward our shared Western heritage.

Take another look at America Alone - if you're like me you'll have forgotten some of Steyn's lines anyway, so it shouldn't be entirely humorless the 2nd time around - and I think you'll see what I'm talking about.

- Franklin

4:20 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

You're far more familiar with Steyn than I am. I don't think I've read anything by him other than this, though I might have read a few snippets of articles by him. I see what you (and he) are saying about the book. Of course, he only paints Islam as the enemy. He speaks of the disintegration of Christian culture, but doesn't address other religions - such as Americanized Buddhism - which I see as equally a threat, though obviously not a violent threat. I'll have to go back and check the book out more carefully. He does tend to isolate Islam, though. And so to say it's about us, not about Islam vs. the West, seems to me to create a false dichotomy. I know, it's weird for me to be disagreeing with the author himself, but there it is.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Franklin said...

In one of my high school English classes, we read TS Eliot; our teacher was lecturing and pointing out all the various symbolisms in the poem and what they meant. One of my classmates asked the teacher how, exactly, he knew that that's what Eliot meant, since what he was literally saying was something totally different. Our teacher thought for a minute and then replied that it didn't matter what Eliot intended, because that's how he (the teacher) interpreted it.

I think it's a relevant anecdote here, because ultimately what you as a reader take from a book is what matters. If Steyn didn't sufficiently make his case to you in America Alone, then it doesn't really matter what he intended. Having said that, I do think that if you reread it with the cultural weakness theme in mind it will open up a whole new tree of thought about the book.

And I think you're right that it certainly helps to have read Steyn before reading America Alone - I was probably able to infer arguments and evidence that he has presented in other pieces but might not have been made explicit in America Alone.

In any case, thanks for your response and congratulations on being chosen Steyn's "Reader of the Day"!

Best,
Franklin

10:46 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Thanks for the thoughts. I got chosen as "reader of the day", huh? I had no clue. Which day? And where would I locate that? That would explain why the hits on this page jumped up so much in the past two days...

2:44 PM  
Blogger Dallas Jenkins said...

Test. My recent comment didn't go through because your email doesn't work...

2:42 AM  

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