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."
All this is symptomatic of a pervasive hedonism that permeates the West, "a complete philosophy of pleasure," according to Allan Carlson, president of The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.
"Everywhere in the European Community and Anglo-America, real attention focuses on the consumption of food (alternately rich and fat-free), frequent sex, and raucous fun," Carlson says. "Relatively few are pestered these days by children. Fertile young adults rely on mechanical devices and chemical agents to thwart the designs of nature. In places as culturally different as Spain, Italy, Denmark and Germany, the sexual experimentation starts early, but hardly anyone brings forth a child."
Despite efforts on the part of some European nations to increase the desire of adults to have children -- such as tax breaks or cash incentives -- some experts think the pursuit of personal fulfillment will triumph.
Joseph Chamie, director of the U.N. Population Division, says, "No demographers believe birth rates will rebound. How much will it take to convince a woman to have four children? People are concerned about their appearances, their education, their careers."
What's ironic, however, is that this pursuit of personal pleasure and personal wealth may result in economic ruin.
"When it comes to forecasting the future, the birthrate is the nearest thing to hard numbers," Steyn argues. "If only a million babies are born in 2006, it's hard to have two million adults enter the workforce in 2026 ...."
Veith lists but a few of the ramifications of population decline. "Citizens are not just consumers but producers," he says. "Having fewer people can wreak havoc on an economy, creating both a labor shortage and a shortage of buyers. A government with a shrinking population faces a smaller military and fewer taxpayers. Dwindling populations have always signaled cultural decline, with less creativity, energy, and vitality on every level of society."
These explanations do not go far enough to suit culture critic and columnist Don Feder, who sees Europe's abandonment of its Christian heritage as the true root cause of its population problems.
"It's no coincidence that central to the new Europe ... is a refusal to acknowledge the continent's origins," says Feder, who is Jewish. "The proposed constitution for the European Union (a document of over 70,000 words) contains not a single reference to Christianity. Thus more than a millennium of European history is effectively erased."
The abandonment of Christianity in most European countries has been well-documented. For example, author and journalist James P. Gannon says that in five key European countries -- France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy -- over the last 30 years regular church attendance has fallen from roughly 40% of the population to about 20%." As Weigel says, Western Europe has become a "post-Christian society."
Feder believes there is a clear link between a lack of faith and the loss of that sense of duty to the future that leads people to conceive and bear children. "Having lost their faith and embraced an ethic of radical autonomy," he says, "Europeans stopped going to church, stopped taking the Bible seriously, stopped believing in the future and stopped having children."
Maria Burani, president of the Parliamentary Commission for the Family and Infancy in Rome, told Citizen magazine that faith is a foundation for the kind of lifestyle that parenting requires. "If you don't have inside your head great religious and ethical principles," she insists, "you're just not going to want to go and have these kids because it's a sacrifice."
Beyond that, of course, is the fact that religious principles also restrain the often selfish behavior that grows out of the "radical autonomy" that permeates Europe. "Among the consequences of Europe's abandonment of its religious roots and the moral code that derives therefrom is a plunge in its birth rates to below the replacement level," says Gannon. "Abortion, birth control, acceptance of gay marriage and casual sex are driving the trend."
Islamification of Europe
However, the prognosis for Europe gets even worse because many of the nations there have chosen a risky path for making up for their population shortfalls: immigration. Because North Africa and the Middle East represent a relatively convenient source of cheap labor, millions of Muslim immigrants have been flooding the continent for a half century.
"Western Europe has gone from a Muslim population of 250,000, 50 years ago, to 20 million today," says Feder.
Unlike Westerners, however, Muslims typically have large families. According to Robert S. Leiken, director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center, higher Muslim birthrates combined with Muslim immigration have led the U.S. National Intelligence Council to project that Europe's Muslim population will double by 2025.
As a result, Colson says flatly, "[d]emographics may bring about what the Moors and Ottoman Empire couldn't: a Muslim Europe."
But so what? Isn't such hand-wringing about Muslim immigrants nothing more than utter bigotry?
Hardly, say concerned Westerners. The Islamification of Europe would bring incredible cultural changes to Europe. "In 50 to 100 years, the Europe of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo, the Europe of Rembrandt and Bach, the Europe of Churchill and Karol Wojtyla will exist only in textbooks and museums," Feder says. "Or, perhaps the remnants of Christian Europe will be subjected to the fate of Afghanistan's Buddhist statues, demolished by the Taliban regime."
Political changes would also be inevitable, Steyn insists. "Can a society become increasingly Islamic in its demographic character without becoming increasingly Islamic in its political character?"
It is a rhetorical question, of course, and Steyn predicts that by 2050 many European nations will be forced to apply Sharia -- Muslim law -- to Muslim communities. He notes the results of a 2004 poll that found that over 60 percent of British Muslims want to live under Muslim law -- while living in the United Kingdom.
At first, most European governments would probably resist the demands of an increasingly assertive Muslim population. But in response, it would not be surprising to see an escalation of what has already begun to transpire: terrorist bombings in London and Madrid; the 2002 assassination of conservative Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who campaigned on a platform of limiting Muslim immigration; the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 for allegedly insulting Islam; rioting by Muslim youths throughout France in 2005; and rioting this year in response to political cartoons that were deemed offensive to Muslim sensibilities.
Steyn thinks Europe will see more such unrest -- and soon. "It seems more likely that within the next couple of European election cycles, the internal contradictions of the [European Union] will manifest themselves in the usual way," he says, "and that by 2010 we'll be watching burning buildings, street riots and assassinations on American network news every night."
In any case, Carlson says, "the Great Party [of Western hedonism] will not last much longer. There is an iron law in history: the future belongs to the fertile. Just as the clan-centered, child-rich barbarian tribes of the Germans swept away the sensuous and sterile Western Roman Empire, so shall new barbarians arise."
Scripture teaches that God rules over the nations, and the future of Europe looks increasingly like that of Israel when its prophets warned of impending chastisement and judgment. Are we on the brink of God's chastisement of Europe, even after a century of wars and other atrocities failed to bring the continent back to Christianity?
How ironic it would be that a European culture that demanded unlimited personal freedom might wind up living under the repressive heel of Muslim totalitarianism. Or that a culture that rejected its Christian heritage might, instead, be subjected to Islamic fundamentalism.
Cultures have disappeared before. Just ask the Etruscans. If you can find one.