upper-left-hand quadrant; the United States has the second-highest fertility
rate and one of the lowest suicide rates.
Israel and the United States share another distinction: they are the world's
principal venues for entrepreneurship. As Professor Reuven Brenner of McGill
University writes in the February issue
of First Things:
Today Israelís venture-capital industry still raises
more funds than any other venue except the United States. In 2006 alone, 402
Israeli high-tech companies raised over $1.62 billion [US] - the highest amount
in the past five years. That same year, Israel had 80 active venture-capital
funds and over $10 billion under management, invested in over 1,000 Israeli
start-ups. By 2007, with 71 companies listed on NASDAQ, Israel had become
second only to the United States, having leapfrogged now-third-place Canada.
There is a deep affinity among love of life, risk-friendliness,
entrepreneurship and religious faith. To misquote G K Chesterton, if you cease
to believe in God, you will believe in everything. Spengler's corollary to
Chesterton's doctrine states that if you cease to fear God, you will fear
everything. Why should we take risk to begin with? Life is not only risky, but
by definition it is a losing proposition, because it will end in failure
(namely death) despite our best efforts to the contrary. Life, moreover, is
uncertain at the best of times. As Bertolt Brecht wrote in his marvelous ditty
"The Song of the Inadequacy of Human Striving",
Da mach dir einen Plan
Sei nur ein Grosses Licht
Denn mach dir einen Zweiten Plan
Gehen tun die Beide nicht.
("Make yourself a plan
Just be a shining light
Then make yourself a second plan
Neither of them will work").
If anything can happen (and it usually does), nemesis may strike at any moment,
and everything is a prospective source of terror. The pagan, as Etienne Gilson
put it, lived in a god-infested world; modern neo-pagans live in a world
infested by demons.
People of faith believe that although God's purpose is unknowable to human
reason, a plan of salvation for mankind somehow underlies the seemingly random
procession of triumphs and disasters that constitutes life. Life is risky -
fleeting, or hevel in the word of Ecclesiastes - and we are better off
if we cast our bread upon the waters.
No mainstream current of Christianity or Judaism promises that the prayers of
the pious always will be answered. The Book of Job is there to instruct
Christian and Jew that God's purposes are so obscure to us as to make pointless
the attempt to justify them. But the belief that there exists an ultimate
purpose is high motivation to take a chance on the strength of our own efforts.
If we do not see God's purpose in our isolated corner of the battlefield, our
children will, or our children's children. Even if death closes out our part in
the drama, God will redeem us from death. People of faith tend to have
children; those who are persuaded of the randomness of existence tend not to. I
cannot prove the validity of the point of view of faith, but it is instructive
to consider the alternatives.
The most onerous expression of idolatry in the modern era was the communist
conceit that the scientific ordering of society can eliminate uncertainty.
Scientific socialism was supposed to eliminate economic crises and war;
instead, it brought about 100 million deaths and reduced once-prosperous
countries to penury. Seventy years after its founding, the entire value of the
industrial plant of the Soviet Union and its satellites was less than its scrap
value, taking into account the costs of environmental cleanup. The life
expectancy of Russian men has fallen to only 55 years, and the most frequent
cause of death is alcoholism. Russia and its former satellites have such low
fertility that their populations will fall by between one-third and one-half by
mid-century. Europe's nanny-state version of social democracy is a low-grade
version of the same infection.
J W Goethe's fictional devil, Mephistopheles, declaimed a fitting epitaph for
communism when he admonished God for giving man "the spark of heaven's light he
calls reason", which "he uses only to be beastlier than any beast". Whether
Goethe compares to Dante as a poet is beside the point; his masterwork Faust,
written at the turn of the 19th century, speaks to the central concern of the
age of sovereign individual choice. Offered anything he wants, modern man in
his freedom will tend to choose - nothing. As God instructs Mephistopheles in
the drama's Prologue in Heaven, "All too easily, human activity simply goes to
sleep/Man first of all will choose unconditional rest." That, God explains, is
why he has given man a Devil for a companion: to provoke him out of his torpor.
The Devil is a nihilist. He is the same devil of the Hebrew Bible who tormented
Job, but with this difference: whereas Satan tortured ancient man by taking
away what he required, he tortures modern man by offering him whatever he
wants. I compared Faust and Job in a recent
essay for First Things. He offers Faust his choice of pleasures -
women, fame, money, and so forth. Faust rejects these; he wants to embrace life
in all of its dimensions. At this the Devil expresses astonishment: life, he
tells Faust, simply isn't designed for human beings.
Believe me, who for
Has chewed on this hard crust:
From cradle to the grave
No man ever has been able to digest this sourdough!
Believe our kind: this whole
Was made only for a God!
He basks in light eternal.
Us he brought down into darkness,
While all you get is - day and night.
course, vows to fight the Devil to the end. All his endeavors fail, but he dies
saved, with this motto on his lips: "I am wholly dedicate to this purpose/Which
is the final conclusion of wisdom:/Only he deserves freedom as well as life/Who
must conquer them every day!"
Not so the little people who inhabit the barrows of the state monopolies.
Oswald Spengler, who characterized Western culture as "Faustian", would have
been astonished to see today's Europeans nod in assent with Mephistopheles'
refutation of life. Dante might have expanded his tour of the Inferno with
something like the following (pardon a scenario without terza rima):
The Boiling Pots of the Slothful: Dante and Virgil enter an enormous cavern in
Hell containing hundreds of boiling pots of pitch. In each pot are thousands of
tortured souls writhing in unspeakable agony. Around each pot is a legion of
devils with pitchforks. From time to time, a soul will attempt to crawl out of
the pitch, and the nearest devil pokes him back into the pot.
"Who are these souls who suppurate in boiling pitch, O Master?" Dante inquires.
"These are the slothful, who bathed in indolence during their lifetime, and for
eternity must bathe in foul and stinging pitch."
Dante notices one pot in the corner boiling along by itself, with no devils
surrounding it. "Why, O Master," he asks, "is that pitch-pot over there
"Oh, that's France Telecom," Virgil replies. "When one of them tries to crawl
out, the others pull him back in." Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman,
senior editor at First Things (www.firstthings.com).