Emmanuel Todd: “We are witnessing the final fall of the West”

World 15:30 17.01.2024

Ednews reports this recent interview of Emmanuel Todd, famous historian, anthropologist, demographer, sociologist and political scientist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, given by French Newspaper Le Figaro on the 12th of January 2024.

 

 

In his latest book, the historian and anthropologist diagnoses The Defeat of the West. In The Final Fall, published in 1976, the author correctly predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. We have to hope that this time “prophet” Todd is wrong.

LE FIGARO. – According to you, this book has as its starting point the interview you gave to Le Figaro just a year ago, entitled “The Third World War has begun”. You now see the defeat of the West. But the war is not over...

Emmanuel TODD. – The war is not over, but the West has emerged from the illusion of a possible Ukrainian victory. This was not yet clear to everyone when I wrote, but today, after the failure of the counter-offensive this summer, and the observation of the inability of the United States and the other NATO countries to supply sufficient weapons to Ukraine, the Pentagon would agree with me.

My assessment of the West’s defeat is based on three factors.

First, the industrial deficiency of the United States with the revelation of the fictitious nature of the American GDP. In my book, I deflate this GDP and show the deep-rooted causes of industrial decline: the inadequacy of engineering training and, more generally the decline of the level of education, which began in 1965 in the United States.

More profoundly, the disappearance of American Protestantism is the second factor in the fall of the West. My book is basically a sequel to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by Max Weber. He rightly thought, on the eve of the 1914 war, that the rise of the West was at its heart that of the Protestant world – England, the United States, Germany unified by Prussia, Scandinavia. France's good fortune was to be geographically close to the leading pack. Protestantism had produced a high educational level, unprecedented in human history, universal literacy, because it required that every faithful be able to read the Holy Scriptures themselves. In addition, the fear of damnation and the need to feel chosen by God induced a work ethic, a strong individual and collective morality. On the negative side, this led to some of the worst racism that has ever existed – anti-black in the United States or anti-Jew in Germany – since, with its chosen and its damned, Protestantism renounced the Catholic equality of men. Educational advances and the work ethic have produced a considerable economic and industrial advance.

Today, symmetrically, the recent collapse of Protestantism has triggered an intellectual decline, a disappearance of the work ethic and mass greed (official name: neoliberalism): ascendency turning into the fall of the West. This analysis of the religious element does not denote any nostalgia or moralizing lament in me: it is a historical observation. Moreover, the racism associated with Protestantism is also disappearing and the United States had its first black president, Obama. We can only congratulate ourselves on this.

 

And what is the third factor?

The third factor in the West’s defeat is the rest of the world's preference for Russia. It has discovered discreet economic allies everywhere. A new conservative (anti-LGBT) Russian soft power was in full swing as it became clear that Russia was holding the economic shock. Our cultural modernity indeed seems quite insane to the outside world, an observation made by an anthropologist, not a retro moralist. And what's more, as we live off the underpaid work of men, women and children from the former third world, our morality is not credible.

In this, my last book, I want to escape the emotion and permanent moral judgment that envelop us and offer a dispassionate analysis of the geopolitical situation. Beware of an intellectual coming out approaching: I am interested in my book in the deep and long-term causes of the Ukrainian war, I mourn the disappearance of my spiritual father in history, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and I admit everything: I am not an agent of the Kremlin, I am the last representative of the French historical school of the Annales!

 

Can we really talk about a world war? And did Russia really win? We are rather in a form of status quo…

The Americans will indeed seek a status quo which would allow them to hide their defeat. The Russians will not accept it. They are aware not only of their immediate industrial and military superiority, but also of their future demographic weakness. Putin certainly wants to achieve his war goals by economising manpower, and he is taking his time. He wants to preserve the achievements of the stabilization of Russian society. He does not want to remilitarize Russia and is keen to continue its economic development. But he also knows that demographically hollow classes are arriving and that military recruitment will be more difficult in a few years’ time (three, four, five?). Thus, the Russians must take down Ukraine and NATO now, without giving them any pause. Let us have no illusions. The Russian effort will intensify.

The Western refusal to consider Russian strategy in its logic, with its reasons, its strengths, its limitations, has resulted in general blindness. Words float in the fog. In military terms, the worst is to come for the Ukrainians and the West. Russia undoubtedly wants to recover 40% of Ukrainian territory, and a neutralized regime in Kiev. And on our television sets, at the very moment when Putin affirms that Odessa is a Russian city, we are still saying that the front is stabilizing...

 

To demonstrate the decline of the West, you focus on the infant mortality rate... How is this indicator revealing?

It was by observing the rise in Russian infant mortality between 1970 and 1974, and the fact that the Soviets stopped publishing statistics on the subject, that I judged that the regime had no future, in my book The Final Fall (1976). So, it's a tried and tested parameter. In this respect, the United States lags behind all other Western countries. The most advanced are Scandinavia and Japan, but Russia is also ahead. France is doing better than Russia, but we are beginning to see signs of an upturn. And, in any case, here we are behind Belarus. This simply means that what we are told about Russia is often wrong: we are presented with a failed country, with an emphasis on its authoritarian aspects, but we fail to see that it is in a phase of rapid restructuring. The fall was violent, but the rebound is astonishing.

This figure can be explained, but first of all it means that we have to accept a reality other than the one conveyed by our media. Russia is certainly an authoritarian democracy (which does not protect its minorities) with a conservative ideology, but its society is changing, becoming highly technological with more and more elements that work perfectly. Saying this defines me as a serious historian and not a Putinophile. Any responsible Putinophobe should have taken the measure of his adversary. Moreover, I am constantly pointing out that Russia has a demographic problem, just like the West, which it thought was decadent. Russia's anti-LGBT legislation, while probably appealing to the rest of the world, is not leading Russians to have more children than us. Russia has not escaped the general crisis of modernity. There is no Russian counter-model.

However, it is not impossible that the West's general hostility is structuring and giving weapons to the Russian system, by arousing a rallying patriotism. The sanctions have enabled the Russian regime to launch a policy of protectionist substitution on a vast scale, which it would never have been able to impose on the Russians alone, and which will give their economy a considerable advantage over that of the EU. The war has strengthened their social solidity, but the individualist crisis also exists in Russia, with the remnants of a communitarian family structure acting only as a moderator. Individualism mutating fully into narcissism only develops in countries where the nuclear family reigned, especially in the Anglo-American world. Let us dare use a neologism: Russia is a society of controlled individualism, like Japan or Germany.

My book offers a description of Russian stability, then, moving westwards, it analyses the enigma of a decomposing Ukrainian society that has found a meaning to its life in war. It then moves on to the paradoxical nature of the new Russophobia of the former popular democracies, then to the crisis of the EU, and finally to the crisis of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries. This westward march takes us step by step to the heart of the world's instability. It is a plunge into a black hole. Anglo-American Protestantism has reached the zero stage of religion, beyond the zombie stage, and produced this black hole. In the United States, at the start of the third millennium, the fear of emptiness is mutating into the deification of nothing, into nihilism.

 

Isn't talking about Russia as an authoritarian democracy a bit too flattering?

We need to get away from the opposition between liberal democracy and crazy autocracy. The former is more like liberal oligarchies, with an elite disconnected from the population - nobody outside the media cares about the reshuffle at Matignon. On the other hand, we need to use another concept to replace those of autocracy or neo-Stalinism. In Russia, the majority of the population supports the regime, but minorities - be they gay, ethnic or oligarchs - are not protected: it is an authoritarian democracy, nourished by the remnants of the Russian communitarian temperament that produced communism. For me, the term 'authoritarian' carries as much weight as the term 'democracy'.

 

Given your criticism of the decadence of "liberal oligarchies", one might think that you envy the second model...

Absolutely not. I'm an anthropologist: by studying the diversity of family structures and political temperaments, I've come to accept the diversity of the world. But I'm a Westerner, and I've never aspired to be anything else. My maternal family fled to the United States during the war, and I was trained in research in England, where I discovered that I am French and nothing else. Why do you want to deport me to Russia? I feel this kind of accusation is a threat to my French citizenship, all the more so because, I apologise, born into the intellectual establishment, I am, in a modest, non-financial sense, part of the oligarchy: before me, my grandfather had published with Gallimard before the war.

 

You link the decline of the West to the disappearance of religion - Protestantism in particular - and you date this disappearance to the laws on gay marriage...

I have given no personal opinion on this societal subject. I am simply a sociologist of religion, only too happy to have a precise indicator to situate the passage of religion from a zombie state to a state of zero. In my previous books, I introduced the concept of a zombie state of religion: belief has disappeared but the mores, values and capacity for collective action inherited from religion remain, often translated into ideological language - national, socialist or communist. At the start of the third millennium, however, religion has reached a state of zero (a new concept), which I understand in terms of three indicators - I'm always looking for statistical indicators to evaluate phenomena that are both moral and social: I'm a fan of Durkheim, the founder of quantitative sociology, even more than I am of Weber.

In the zombie state, people no longer go to mass, but they still have their children baptised; the disappearance of baptism is obvious today, stage zero has been reached. In the zombie state, we still bury the dead, thus obeying the Church's rejection of cremation; today, the massive spread of cremation is becoming the most widespread, practical and inexpensive practice, stage zero reached. Finally, the civil marriage of the zombie period had all the characteristics of the old religious marriage - one man, one woman, children to be brought up. With same-sex marriage, which makes no sense from a religious point of view, we're out of the zombie state, and thanks to the laws on marriage for all, we can date religion's new state zero.

 

Over time, haven't you become a bit of a reactionary?

I was brought up by a grandmother who told me that, sexually speaking, all tastes are part of nature, and I'm faithful to my ancestors. So, LGB, welcome. For T, the trans issue is something else. The individuals concerned must of course be protected. But the fixation of the Western middle classes on this ultra-minority issue raises a sociological and historical question. To establish as a social horizon the idea that a man can really become a woman and a woman a man is to assert something that is biologically impossible, it is to deny the reality of the world, it is to assert the false.

Trans ideology is therefore, in my opinion, one of the flags of this nihilism that now defines the West, this drive to destroy not just things and people but reality. But, once again, I am in no way overwhelmed here by indignation or emotion. This ideology exists and I have to integrate it into a historical model. In the age of the metaverse, I can't say whether my attachment to reality makes me a reactionary.

 

By Alexandre Devecchio, Le Figaro, 12.01.24

Translation provided by Ednews

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