Anyone know where we can find some Etruscans? You know, members of the Etruscan civilization that existed in ancient Italy, predating even Rome?

Well, there aren't any. The Etruscans were absorbed by the Roman civilization and ceased to exist as a distinct people.

Ominously, if a growing number of experts and cultural observers are right, it's entirely possible that the same question may be asked 100 years from now -- only about Italians or Spaniards or Russians.

As writer Mark Steyn glumly put it in The New Criterion, "Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries."

A Birth Dearth

What could possibly cause such a cataclysm? Another world war? A nuclear confrontation? The devastation of a plague, similar to that caused by the Black Death in the 14th century? Nothing quite so dramatic, say the experts. Rather, Europe is slowly dying simply by refusing to have enough children to replace the people who die each year.

Catholic scholar George Weigel, a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of The Cube and The Cathedral, says Europe is "committing demographic suicide, systematically depopulating itself."

For any population to remain stable, it must maintain a birthrate of 2.1 births per woman. That rate provides a replacement for both mother and father, while the .1 covers infant and child mortality. When the birthrate falls below that number, a population goes into decline -- unless it invites in large numbers of immigrants.

"The 'birth dearth' is what demographers call plummeting birth rates in most of the industrialized world," says culture critic Chuck Colson. "Throughout Western Europe and East Asia, the birth rate is well below 2.1 births per woman ...."

Sociologist Ben Wattenberg, author of Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future, puts this birth dearth in historical perspective. "Never in the last 650 years, since the time of the Black Plague, have birth and fertility rates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for so long, in so many places."

According to U.N. figures and other projections, Patrick Buchanan states in The Death of the West that by 2050 Europe (from Iceland to Russia) will see its population drop from 728 million (in 2000) to 600 million -- and perhaps 556 million. And if current trends continue, by the end of the century Europe's population will stand at 207 million.

Collapse of Family Values

Why has this happened? As it turns out, a variety of factors and trends have combined to create, as it were, the "perfect storm."

World magazine's Gene Edward Veith sums it up this way: "Why the population decline? The worldwide collapse of what are, literally, family values. Thanks to contraceptive technology, sex has become separated from childbearing. With women pursuing careers of their own and men getting sex without the responsibility of marriage, why bother with children? For many women and men, pregnancy has become an unpleasant side effect, something to prevent with contraceptives or easily treated with a trip to the abortion clinic."

Abortion comes in for particular blame in Veith's view. "The dirty little secret of the population implosion, one seldom mentioned by demographers, is that the world is aborting its future generations," he says.

Pro-family groups in the U.S., for example, rightly bemoan the abortion rate here, where Veith says one-third to one-fifth of all pregnancies end in abortion. Some European nations are far worse, however. "In Russia, the average woman may have as many as four abortions in her lifetime," he says. "There are two abortions for every live birth. That is to say, Russians kill two-thirds of their children before they are born."