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Reuven Brenner reviews “How Civilizations Die” at Forbes Online

September 23rd, 2011 - 12:32 pm

Prof. Reuven Brenner of McGill University is one of the two or three smartest economists I know, and a deep thinker about big issues of history and the success and failure of societies. His review of my book How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam is Dying, Too) appears this morning in Forbes Online. It’s a serious appreciation, not uniformly positive (Brenner is not comfortable with my insistence on the central role of religion), but all in all, a great honor to have this sort of public dialogue with a scholar of Brenner’s stature.

Update: Brenner’s criticism hangs on his rejection of the link between faith and fertility. But this is an odd objection, because it is in fact the least controversial assertion in my book. During the past five years a great deal of new research by the professional demographers has affirmed that faith is the decisive factor in fertility after the transition from traditional society. The liberal secularists have thrown in the towel on this point in the person of Eric Kaufmann, whose book Will the Religious Inherit the Earth concedes that secularism is dying for lack of fertility. There are a number of studies by the Max Planck Demographics Institute in Germany that nail the case. The relevant material is cited in my book (and some of it is cited by Kaufmann).

Brenner is a brilliant economist, but he doesn’t know the recent demographic literature; instead of addressing facts which are no longer controversial, he spent the second half of his review offering an alternative theory which, in fact, is moot, because we know that the decisive issue is faith.

I don’t see the value of a debate over issues that are well resolved by research.

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