From "How Civilizations Die" (click hyperlink to read the whole thing):
To the processes of modernisation just noted must be added the profound impact of religion and secularisation, interacting in complex and previously misunderstood ways within societies. Secularisation, it appears, promotes infertility. As secularisation promotes and facilitates the supremacy of individual choice regarding reproduction within previously traditional societies it activates a “demographic contradiction—individualism leading to the choice not to reproduce—[that] may well be the agent that destroys” those societies, as the sociologist Eric Kaufmann suggests in Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? (2010).
This is not an argument against the liberalisation of tradition-bound societies or for the artificial preservation of obviously non-viable tribal communities. Rather, it is part of Goldman’s case that such liberalisation can have devastating demographic effects that can only be comprehended if adequate attention is given to the spiritual dimensions of human reproduction, and such attention has not been paid by most of the prominent commentators in the field. He believes that “secularism in all its forms fails to address the most fundamental human need”—the deeply embedded human desire to achieve some form of immortality for themselves and their loved ones. The world that secularism offers is a purely immanent world of the here-and-now, stripped of any sense of the transcendent or the eternal. It appears that people are increasingly choosing not to bring new life into such a world.
Religions, on the other hand, in their different ways, “offer the individual the means to transcend mortality, to survive the fragility of a mortal existence”. Life is experienced as a journey full of challenges, joys and disappointments, and new life is embraced as part of a shared voyage through various stages that ultimately stretch beyond this world. Goldman recognises that such claims will mean little to convinced secularists, and that communicating the existential force of religious faith to such persons would be akin to “describing being in love to someone who never has been in love”.
For example, traditional political science, Goldman points out, regards religion as just another belief system, an ideology like communism or fascism, and is therefore unable fully to comprehend the existential grip that the longing for some form of immortality has on human consciousness. Nonetheless, without a comprehension of the power of this spiritual force in human societies, Goldman believes it will be impossible to understand how entire societies can lose faith in the future, turn away from having children and choose instead to accept oblivion. For example, across a range of modern societies the lowest fertility rates in the industrial world are now found in the atheistic former Iron Curtain states of Eastern Europe, while the highest rates are registered in America and Israel, where religion continues to play a major role in people’s lives ...
Civil society is a central concept in Goldman’s analysis, as it is within this realm that family life unfolds and is sustained. It is also a realm whose historical vibrancy characterises Western societies, while its absence or rudimentary level of development is a central feature of Muslim societies. Here he derives insights from St Augustine in The City of God, which, he emphasises, was written as the Roman empire collapsed through demographic decline, and the author awaited the rampaging barbarians that would soon lay waste to his civilisation. Goldman contrasts Augustine’s recognition of the role of civil society with the focus on the state by the Roman philosopher Cicero: Augustine “looked through the state to the underlying civil society, and understood civil society as a congregation—a body bound together by common loves, as opposed to Cicero’s state founded only on common interests”.
It is the strength and vibrancy of civil society, bound together at the most intimate personal levels, that ensure the continuity of a civilisation, and not the exercise of power by the state in the pursuit of its own interests, whatever they might be and however much it may claim to rule on behalf of the people. A theocracy such as that of Iran, despite its pretensions to be implementing traditional religious values, actually operates like any other totalitarian or statist regime, destroying civil society by its domineering presence in the life of the people, and suppressing, suffocating and dissipating the very social and cultural dynamism that any civilisation depends upon if it is going to survive and flourish. (An excellent description of how this process destroyed civil society under the highly intrusive rule of the Soviet communist state is contained in Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia, 2007.)
Goldman’s analysis leads to what he calls a position of “Augustinian realism” in foreign policy, which focuses on those societies that both preserve civil society and nurture within it the values that resonate within American civil society. The calculation here is simple: the principle that “civil society precedes the character of a nation [means that while America] can ally with, cajole, or even crush other states … it cannot change the character of their civil society”, and consequently it is a chimerical pursuit to attempt to do so by military intervention or massive amounts of foreign aid.
It follows therefore that America should not waste its time seeking to democratically transform intrinsically ruinous states, but should focus instead on pursuing and nurturing alliances with “people who are linked to [American] civil society—our mother country England, for example, as well as the Christians in the global South”, including Australia.