Dying nations are usually defined as those with fertility rates of 1.5 or lower. By that measure, 30 European countries are either dying today or — like France — seeing their cultures and populations transformed by growing ethnic and religious minorities.
Europe is shrinking just as the population in Islamic, African and Asian countries is exploding. In 2020, there will be one billion “fighting-age” men (ages 15-29) world-wide; only 65 million will be Europeans. At the same time, the Muslim world will have 300 million males, often with limited opportunities at home.
Little can be done to reverse Europe’s demographic fate. Germany’s 80 million inhabitants would need 750,000 skilled immigrants every year up to 2050 to offset the declining fertility rate that started in 1975. Even if such an unrealistic immigration level could somehow be achieved (only 10,000 skilled immigrants a year are arriving now), Germany’s median age would still jump to 52 from 42 while ethnic Germans would become a minority in their own country.
This isn’t the first time Europe has found itself tottering on the edge of extinction. Throughout the 1400s, outbreaks of bubonic plague and pressure from conquering Muslim armies reduced Europe’s population to 40 million from 70 million. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII responded to the crisis by decreeing the death penalty for “persons of both sexes who by accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offenses, slay infants yet in the mother’s womb (or who) hinder women from conceiving.” Midwives, who were also experts in birth control and abortion, were prosecuted and killed.
The results were immediate, producing fertility rates as high as in Gaza or Niger today. By 1510, the number of male births in England had almost doubled. After 1500 and right up to 1914, West European women raised on average about six children, twice as many as during the Middle Ages.
The European economy couldn’t keep up. Because a father’s land went to his oldest son, the younger brothers were often left to fend for themselves. They quickly found an outlet. In the 16th century, Spain called its young conquistadors “Secundones,” second sons, those who don’t inherit. Starting with Columbus’ second voyage (1493), Europe’s surplus males (representing about 10% of the world’s fighting-age males at the time) began the conquest of the world. And despite their wars around the globe and the 80 million who died in Europe’s domestic wars and genocides, their population rose tenfold to 400 million. The original population bomb was a weapon made in Europe. Over the next few centuries, Europeans took control of 90% of the globe.
Who was to be master in Europe? In the early 1800s, France, West Europe’s most populous nation for 800 years, made its last bid. At the time of Waterloo, France was able to draw on 5% of the world’s males of fighting age. It took an alliance of Great Britain (10 million people) and Prussia (also 10 million) to prevail over France’s 27 million. After 1861, Germany passed France’s population and shortly afterwards defeated its neighbor across the Rhine. At the beginning of the 20th century, Europe’s share of fighting age males had grown to 35%, with 10% belonging to the empires of Berlin and Vienna alone. In 1914 these two behemoths used their population advantage to make a bid for world supremacy. But their campaign to capture Eurasia’s land mass failed to take account of a newcomer to the world stage. Though separated by an ocean, the U.S. commanded about the same demographic and industrial potential.
Japan, Italy and Germany became the last great powers that tried — and failed — to take territories away from other leading powers. After 1945 Europe lost every war it fought, from Indochina, to Algeria to Timor. Euphemisms such as “emancipation of the colonies” hide the true causes behind this chain of defeats. If Europeans had continued to multiply like in its imperialistic prime, the world would still tremble before their armies. In just 100 years, Muslim countries have duplicated the tenfold growth that Europe experienced between 1500-1900. In the last century, the Muslim population skyrocketed to 1.4 billion from 140 million.
If Europe had merely matched the fourfold increase of the United States (to 300 million from 75 million between 1900-2006), the continent’s 1.6 billion would still dwarf China (1.3 billion) and India (1.1 billion). Yet, Europe’s share of the world’s fighting-age males, which stood at 27% in 1914, is lower today (9%) than it was in 1500 (11%). Thus, the new clothes of European “pacifism” and “soft power” conceal its naked weakness.
With a fertility rate at the 2.1 replacement level, the U.S. is still defendable. But how many times can America send out their only sons to prevent all those second, third or fourth sons from engaging in acts of violence abroad? In some ways, the faster Europe collapses the better it will be for the U.S., whose chances of defeating global terrorism would improve by a panic-driven influx of the Old World’s best, brightest and bravest ready to strengthen it economically and militarily.
The alternative to the terrorism of the Islamist secundones will not be peace but — as it was for their “Christianist” predecessors in Peru, Mexico and India — conquest. Terror is merely conquest’s little brother.
Mr. Heinsohn is professor of sociology at Bremen University and founder and president of the Raphael-Lemkin-Institut.