Most of What You Know About the Modern World is Wrong

The things that make good headlines attract our attention because they are on the surface of the stream of life, and they distract our attention from the slower, impalpable, imponderable movements that work below the surface and penetrate to the depths. But of course it is really these deeper, slower movements that, in the end, make history, and it is they that stand out huge in retrospect, when the sensational passing events have dwindled, in perspective, to their true proportions. — Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial (Longman, Foreword)

Do you remember the alarmist forecasts and doomsday scares of the 1970s? Global cooling, overpopulation, food, water and energy shortages, the limit of resources, global famine. They were exemplified by the Club of Rome’s famous 1972 book The Limits to Growth, and by the 1968 worldwide best seller The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich. Ehrlich and his associate John Holdren, President Obama’s advisor and “Czar” on Science and Technology, were leading advocates of population control and forced fertility decline and both are still considered “experts” despite the fact that they have been consistently wrong in their forecasts (see Simon-Ehrlich wager).

It appears that the ideas introduced by experts and pundits, and accepted as true by the public —what John Kenneth Galbraith called “conventional wisdom”— remain at the forefront, unexamined and unchallenged, long after they have been proved wrong. As recently as last week, Nicholas Kristof was calling in the New York Times for a global “birth control solution” to the problem of overpopulation because, I guess, he has spent his entire life looking at the left side of the graph below (Goldman, 18).

Fertility and Religion

Ben Wattenberg was not a demographer, but he became a pioneer in the mid-1980s when he discovered a glitch in the UN’s biennial demographic report, World Population Prospects. At the time, the total fertility rate (TFR) of the developed world had sunk to 1.8 children per woman, about 14% below the 2.1 replacement value. And it had been falling steadily for thirty-five years. In Europe and Japan, their 1.8 children per woman in the 1980s dropped to 1.3 in 2005, that is, in a single generation. No serious demographer would plausibly have predicted such a sharp decline even a decade earlier. But almost as important, Wattenberg noted that the TFR in the Third World had dropped from 6 children in the 1960s to 4 in the early 1980s and then had fallen dramatically to 2.9 children in the 1990s. That’s a drop of about 85% of the way toward replacement-level fertility. Meanwhile, the UN Population Division was projecting that “European and Japanese TFR would drift back up to replacement level over the course of the next half century. This projection was based on absolutely no evidence” (Wattenberg, 8-11, my emphases). Similarly, the shallow recovery beginning in 2040 in the graph above is pure UN wishful thinking based on zero evidence; in fact, the evidence points to an even more precipitous decline.

The fall of fertility rates operates in the entire world: among countries and within countries, cultures, and religions. The more secular societies have the lowest fertility rates; the more religious societies have the highest fertility rates. There is only one exception to the general fall in fertility: Israel. Alone among the modern world, Israel’s TFR is above 3, with modern Orthodox Jews raising three or four children per family, and the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), seven or eight.

The rationalistic causes of low fertility are: modernization of traditional societies, urbanization, education for women, abortion, contraception and divorce. But rationalism can’t explain the permanence of religion in the modern world. For example, Jews have a common gene pool by reason of intermarriage, but they are either very secular or very religious, and the very fertile Mormons are wealthier and more educated than the average American.

“Mortal existence is intolerable without the promise of immortality. Animals breed and foster their young out of instinct; humankind does so in the hope that something of our mortal existence will survive us in the continuation of our culture and the remembrance of our children. Religion in the broad sense means hope of immortality. By reducing culture to a hedonist’s shopping basket of amusements, modernity destroys the individual’s hope for immortality, and with it his incentive to create a new generation of humans” (Spengler). “To talk of ‘man’s search for meaning’ trivializes the problem. What humankind requires is meaning that transcends death. This explains a great deal of human behavior that otherwise might seem irrational” (Goldman, xv-xx). “The weakest link in the secular account of human nature is that it fails to account for people’s powerful desire to seek immortality for themselves and their loved ones” (Kaufmann, 19).

Cultural and Political Wars

Seattle and San Francisco have been called “childless cities.” A correspondent proclaims New York the “one-child-family capital of the United States.” “In secular Seattle there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In conservative, Mormon Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs” (Kaufmann, 99). “Liberalism’s demographic contradiction —individualism leading to the choice not to reproduce— may well be the agent that destroys it” (Kaufmann, xx). “Demographics is destiny, said August Comte, and the demographics of ‘blue’ America closely resemble those of Europe, with which the ‘blues’ identify. ‘Red’ America, characterized first of all by evangelical Christianity, is thriving.”

What this means is that the difference in fertility rates between the secular and the religious in the United States will be immensely important in the future, because the opposite sides are becoming solid blocks, and because changes in fertility over several generations are nothing short of revolutionary:

“Ideology is now nearly as stable an attitude as partisanship. So, political demographers can credibly speak of liberal and conservative ‘populations’, each with their own demography … The combination of ideological mobilisation, growing partisanship and residential segregation locks in political stasis. In a polarized country, few are converted to the other side of the culture war, so the game becomes a demographic one of growing your own” (Kaufmann, 102-104). “In the 1970s, conservative women … had fewer children than liberal women. By the 1980s, however, conservative women had acquired a 13% fertility edge over liberals, increasing to 19% in the 1990s and 28% in the 2000s” (Kaufmann, 101).

“Even small fertility premiums can lead to impressive gains if maintained over generations. The Mormons should have been a shrinking minority in Utah by now. However, they increased their share of the state’s population from 60% in 1920 to 75% by the end of the century in the teeth of considerable non-Mormon immigration. Across the United States, the more numerous evangelicals grew from one-third to two-thirds of white Protestants during the twentieth century. In both cases, fundamentalists enjoyed no more than a one-child advantage over others, but maintained this over a century” (Kaufmann, xii).

“The National Survey of Family Growth discovered that evangelical Protestant women aged 35 to 49 averaged 2.5 children per couple in 2002, against 2 for mainline Protestants and 1.5 for those without religion … Based on these rates, in a population evenly divided between secular and evangelical Protestants, with no net conversions, the proportion of evangelicals would increase from 50 to 62.5% in one generation. The following generation would be 73.5% evangelical, rising to 99.4% by the tenth generation” (Kaufmann, 100). “Evangelicals could be 61% of the population of the USA one generation from now” (Spengler).


The global geostrategic situation changes dramatically, and some consequences come to mind:

  • With falling fertility rates and population implosion, the welfare state in Europe and Japan becomes unsustainable. In the next 50 years, half of the population of Europe and two-thirds of Japan will be elderly dependents, and there will be very few young, productive people supporting them.
  • France, Germany, Italy and Spain will become theme parks and museums 200 years from now, just like Sparta became a theme park for Roman tourists. “If present fertility rates hold, the number of Germans will fall by 98% over the next two centuries” (Goldman, ix). “French and German will be spoken exclusively in Hell and, like it happens today with Pindar, “no one but bored schoolboys will read Goethe two centuries hence” (Spengler).
  • “Fertility rates are falling faster in the Middle East than anywhere else on Earth.” (Longman, 8). Muslims will stabilize at around a fifth of the West European population in 2100. They might be the last custodians of the European museums until they form part of it.
  • China will not replace the USA as the next superpower, no matter what almost every pundit tells you. In 1965, China had a TFR of 6.06 children per woman. It is now at 1.4, and the biggest Chinese cities are at 1.0 or just above. This is a free-fall compounded by China’s One-Child policy, a worse disaster for the country than Mao’s Great Leap Forward and perhaps the best example ever of the unintended consequences of social engineering, because of the colossal scale.
  • “Christianity is winning the battle for souls in Africa … and it is possible that China may become the world’s largest Christian nation” (Goldman, 224).
  • Russia, as well as Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus, are dying a rather quick demographic death. They will become empty lands ready for the taking. In the coming centuries the vast empty spaces of Eastern Europe and Asia will perhaps be colonized by African Christians, in a curious recurrence of the original “out of Africa” expansion of Homo Sapiens 100,000 years ago.
  • American liberals are winning Pyrrhic cultural and political battles but at the end they will lose the war. “Blue” states, like the Europe they love, are slowly dying, while “Red” states thrive. This is the result of the demographic contraction of secularism, liberal Christianity and liberal Judaism, and the demographic expansion of Mormonism, conservative Christianity, and Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
  • Liberalism’s promise of heaven on earth cannot and will not be fulfilled. Secularism can only give us superficial and immediate pleasures. When they are consumed, what’s left is emptiness, boredom and death.

Vladimir Dorta, 11/12/2011 (updated on 09/04/2016)


Wattenberg, Ben J., Fewer, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2004

Longman, Phillip, The Empty Cradle, Basic Books, New York, 2004

Kaufmann, Eric, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, Profile Books, London, 2010

Goldman, David P., How Civilizations Die, Regnery, Washington, D.C., 2011

David P. Goldman’s “Spengler” articles about demography in Asia Times.

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Val-e-diction is a web log dedicated to expressing my beliefs and concerns regarding political, economic and social matters in the USA. I was born in Venezuela, a country famous by the proverbial beauty of its women that is a result of its racial and ethnic melting pot. At the present time Venezuela is suffering its gravest political and economic calamity in a century. Simply, socialism doesn’t work. I emigrated legally to the USA in 1979. I had studied here when young and fell in love with the country, a feeling that never faltered until I could make it my and my family’s home. I am proud of being a citizen of the United States of America, the shining city on a hill of Winthrop and Reagan, the beacon of freedom and hope for millions, the astonishing product of the only successful revolution in history. May God keep its institutions, traditions and culture strong forever. My humble contributions will try to push in the same direction.

2 thoughts on “Most of What You Know About the Modern World is Wrong”

  1. Hi, VDorta. I came here at your invitation on Lion’s site! Thanks. Interesting essay. Blue states won’t die if they’re inundated by Southling immigrants who have more babies than the Redstate evangelicals do, though, will they? They’ll morph into something strange, but won’t die. And that guess that the Muslim-population of Europe will stabilize at 1/5 — wasn’t it published before the current immigration superwave and doesn’t it fail to account of the possibility of mass-conversions by native Europeans, as in the Houllecq novel SUBMISSION? But these are just details; I agree with your general thesis. Can I pursue the discussion we began on Lion about the no-religion-no-babies connection? You seemed to suggest that the turn away from the Eternal was a turn TOWARD “modernity’s temptations”. I understand that by “modernity” you mean the whole movement from the Enlightenment to the present, so that these temptations wouldn’t be limited to technologically-based entertainments. So, maybe the temptations you mean would include anything that might seem to constitute some sort of private “self-fulfillment”. My response, still, is that (perhaps; I’m not sure) the turn away from the Eternal is a movement that precedes modernity. First there is the resulting confrontation with emptiness, and then the clutching at modern things to fill the void. The turn away from the Eternal might have initially been experienced as an intensification of religious experience — the fervor and ardor of the Reformers, of Lurianic mysticism, of Quietism and Hassidism, and finally of Pantheistic/Romantic Idealism. But this is the intensity of a fever-state leading to a final disintegration and emptiness. And then one seeks to fill the void with art-making, novel-writing, tourism and sexual “affairs”.


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