The Asia Times columnist is one of the more interesting of the pseudonymous foreign policy commentators that have appeared in the Internet Age -- not quite as good as the War Nerd, but better than Wretchard of Belmont Club, who specializes in discerning in every single thing that George W. Bush does some unbelievably complex triple-bankshot strategy that Bush couldn't even understand, much less conceive.
Spengler is clever and has original ideas, some of which might even be true. I'd like Spengler better if he'd use words like "perhaps" and "possibly" more. His absolute self-confidence, though, gets on my nerves, and drives me to search out evidence that he's really not the all-knowing seer he seems to think he is. This is unfortunate because my looking for reasons to think the Spengler glass is half empty gets in the way of recognizing that the Spengler glass is also half full.
For example, back in May he wrote on the paradox of how popular Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is in an America that isn't lacking in Christian faith. Spengler hasn't actually read it or seen the movie version, but that doesn't stop him from opining about it at some length. (Having seen and read it, I won't hold that against him -- he's got better things to do than trudge through Brown's 839 one-page chapters.)
After some interesting speculations about his ostensible subject, he's suddenly off to the races and is laying out his Grand Unified Theory of the Divided European Soul that is way too profound (or wrong -- I can't tell which) for me to wrap my tired brain around. So, resentfully, I start looking for reasons to believe he doesn't know what he's so confidently talking about. And, rather like in Dan Brown's bestseller, they show up:
"That is why the Renaissance offered such a short burst of creative output before the Counter-Reformation put the artists in their place and brought forth an era of religious orthodoxy and artistic mediocrity."
This seems to be close to exactly backward. The Counter-Reformation inspired, subsidized, and unleashed the Catholic geniuses of Baroque art: Caravaggio, Rubens, Borromini, and, most of all, Bernini. One of the new Pope Urban VIII's first audiences in 1623 was with the 25-year-old Bernini, to whom the Pope said:
"It is your great good luck, Cavaliere, to see Maffeo Barberini pope. But we are even luckier in that the Cavaliere Bernini lives at the time of our pontificate."
The big problem with the populist Counter-Reformation was that, instead, it (eventually) put scientists in their place, such as Galilelo.
The same combination of grandiosity and dubiousness characterizes what now appears to be Spengler's most famous theory -- that Iran must go on the warpath now to head off a demographic crisis that it will face in, oh, say, forty years. See, Iran's birthrate, which used to be quite high, dropped sharply in the 1990s and is now below America's total fertility rate. So, when all those people born in the 1970s and 1980s get ready to retire several decades from now, there won't be enough young workers to pay their pensions. Thus, it is historically inevitable that the mullahs will immediately set out to create an Iranian empire in greater Middle East right now so that the retirees of 2046 will have some plunder to retire upon.
I know that sounds ridiculous, but every few days I get an email from somebody with one of Spengler's columns on the subject. For example, he said:
"All that matters is the coming confrontation between the United States and Iran. Iran's own demographic future resembles that of Europe more than it does the United States. By mid-century, Iran's aged will compose nearly a third of its population, and its population pyramid will invert. Social and economic catastrophe threatens Iran, persuading its present leaders to establish a regional empire while they still have the opportunity."
One obvious question is: So why did the mullahs pass a family planning law in 1993 that encouraged smaller families?
And who in the world would fight a war now (and against the strongest military in the world!) to head off a pension problem in 40 years? The longest lead time I've ever heard of was the German General Staff's 1914 forecast that Russia would be stronger than Germany in 20 to 25 years, so they should fight them now. And how'd that work out for Germany?
And Muslims aren't Germans when it comes to worrying about the far future. That's why Arabs are always saying "Inshallah" -- If Allah wills it. Fate. Kismet.
Moreover, there's a general pattern of governmental decadence around the globe that is making the world more peaceful on the macro-scale as the competence of militaries declines. After the great European wars of the first half of the 20th Century and the global collapse of empires in the second half, the world is finally settling down. Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy is coming ever more into play:
"Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representative who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions."
The Iranian Revolution is now 27 years old. It was never all that dynamic when it was young and it's pretty old now.