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Two pivotal developments will transform the West. One is mass migration, which, in tandem with declining birthrates, is producing demographic change in Europe and North America. The other is the green transition and the massive amount of capital allocated to build a new economy. The first erodes the quality of life for ordinary people in the West. The second is likely to produce a lower standard of living. Both dynamics are overseen and ideologically justified by today’s elites. The dissatisfaction and disorder they will create will put great stress on our political and cultural establishments. In all likelihood, the coming years will see the West pivot toward a post-democratic era as elites clamp down on populist dissent and nullify electoral results that run counter to their plans.

On various occasions during the past decade, I’ve participated in debates about immigration. I’m not “anti-immigration” (although anyone who advocates reduction of the present influx is invariably called that). The ability to attract and assimilate immigrants has been a great American strength. But what has struck me in these debates is the obtuse mentality of those who oppose my calls for restraint on immigration. I point out that the non-native-born are reaching a historic high of nearly 15 percent of the total population, and that immigration rates are accelerating. At some point (20 percent? 25 percent?), won’t the country become culturally incoherent? In response, my interlocutors insist that the country is already multicultural, and imply that it would be better if it were even more diverse. They rarely allow that there can or should be any limits to how many can arrive. I point out that we should discriminate among those we welcome, partly on the basis of their potential for easy assimilation. One need only to look to France or Sweden to see that large-scale Muslim immigration presents more significant challenges than does the arrival of Christians from Latin America. Again, my interlocutors refuse to make such determinations, often saying (in so many words) that to do so amounts to a xenophobic sin.

This stance baffles me. Is it so difficult to see that cultural continuity and social unity are essential common goods? And that demographic change often threatens both? Cultural continuity and social unity are not the be-all and end-all for healthy society. We also cherish freedom, dynamism, and hospitality, which along with other goods can run against continuity and unity. But those in charge seem to have lost any sense of the trade-offs and of the need to correct course when things go awry.

In Return of the Strong Gods, I outlined the development of an “open society” consensus after World War II. In its initial stages, this consensus endorsed a proper balance of dynamism and stability, of individual freedom and communal belonging, of welcoming strangers and taking care of one’s own. But even then the “openness” imperative had the upper hand, and as time went on the balance was lost. The triumph of “openness” has become ever more evident over the past three decades, along with the punitive monitoring of dissent. Those in positions of cultural power never miss an opportunity to denounce “nativism” and “xenophobia.”

The openness-is-always-best mentality dominates our society. Politically speaking, the Biden administration has every reason to take firm measures to tighten the border with Mexico and curtail illegal crossings. Doing so would deprive Donald Trump of one of his leading issues and go a long way toward defusing populism. But the administration refuses. Nor will Britain and other European governments stop illegal migrant inflows, which are given the patina of legality under the infinitely elastic notion of “asylum,” which in practice accords nearly everyone who comes ashore the right to stay.

Contemporary Christian leaders baptize the openness-is-always-best mentality. Catholic social teaching states: “People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.” Like “asylum,” this “right” receives expansive interpretation, so much so that in the eyes of ecclesiastical eminences anyone from a poor country enjoys a “right” to go to a richer country. In a fashion typical of a great deal of recent Christian thinking about migrants, Pope Francis assimilates the vocation of the Church as a universal institution that welcomes all persons to the nature and purpose of the nation, which has a duty to promote the good of its own citizens first and foremost. As a result, Francis invariably urges a spirit of “welcome” and never acknowledges the need to restrict the influx of newcomers. Gaudium et Spes defines a right to one’s own culture. Apparently, that right does not apply to those in the West. The Catholic Church is by no means unique. Many Christian denominations endorse the functional equivalent of open borders.

Recently, the Sunak government in Great Britain negotiated to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. A panel of five judges on the UK supreme court unanimously struck down the agreement, the House of Lords signaled that it would block renewed attempts to implement the policy, and the BBC wailed about the grievous injustice of such a plan. No doubt an American president would face similar pushback in the form of lawsuits, judicial injunctions, and a storm of outrage from every corner of elite opinion.

The existence of a vast and effective apparatus that nullifies efforts to stem immigration suggests that our power elite either wants mass immigration, or—and to my mind this is a major factor—its members fear being ranged among the “nativists.” As a result, elite-driven policies clash with the outlook of the general public and fuel populism. Polling in Europe and America suggests that voters want fewer newcomers. This desire runs counter to the “openness” consensus. That consensus regards the desire to restrict immigration as pathological, a sign of “xenophobia” and “fear of difference.” It would therefore be irresponsible and, indeed, immoral to acquiesce in the popular will.

Again, Christian leaders often baptize this nullification of the popular will. When Belarus cynically massed Muslim migrants on its border with the European Union, Jean-Claude Cardinal Hollerich denounced the Polish and Lithuanian decisions to close their borders. Hollerich repeated Pope Francis’s claim that EU borders were becoming “a huge cemetery.” In effect, the Vatican sides with Muslim migrants against the residents of formerly Christian Europe and echoes the rhetoric of the Rainbow Reich, for which open borders serve as a key dogma.

In The Strange Death of Europe, Douglas Murray recounts the history of immigration debates. In the late 1960s, polling indicated that a super-majority of British voters desired greater restrictions on immigration. Those restrictions never came about. Indeed, simply to call for them was denounced as racist. The pattern has been repeated in every decade, not only in Great Britain, but in most countries in the West. Voters want less demographic change; they always get more.

I don’t wish to gainsay the judgments of leaders who refrained from imposing limits on immigration. Without immigration over the past two generations, the low (now very low) birth rates among what one might call “legacy” Europeans might have caused severe labor shortages and economic decline. And without large-scale immigration perhaps the United States (which likewise now has low birthrates) would not have seen steady GDP growth. I’m willing to concede both possibilities. But of this I am certain: Happy talk about multiculturalism is mendacious. One does not need an advanced degree in sociology to recognize that wave after wave of newcomers puts a strain on social coherence and communal trust.

That strain falls on Fishtown (Charles Murray’s label for native-born, working-class America) rather than Belmont (home of the upper end of society, where one finds lawn signs announcing “No Human is Illegal”). A high concentration of recent immigrants undermines neighborhood solidarity, reduces school performance, and breaks down the already fragile political coalitions that serve the interests of non-rich American citizens. Meanwhile, those who endure these declines in quality of life are subjected to pious sermons about the wonderful benefits of “diversity,” a project that rarely includes them. (The Trump-supporting grandchild of a Mexican immigrant does not contribute to “diversity.”) And the children of those harmed by mass immigration are educated to believe that their country is inherently racist, nativist, and otherwise unworthy, while elites clothe themselves in the new virtues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, which are seen to provide legitimacy for wealth, power, and privilege.

Perhaps the ideology of multiculturalism has staying power. Anti-Western pedagogy is designed to reduce loyalty to the West, a necessary step to clear the way for the utopian dream of multiculturalism, a society without a center, a way of life with no unifying vision other than the rainbow promise. To a striking degree, median voters throughout the West have been docile before this enterprise. Nevertheless, it beggars belief that the great mass of citizens in Western countries will calmly accept the cultural (and therefore political) transformations of their societies under the relentless pressure of demographic change. The recent and dramatic electoral success of Geert Wilders (a figure reviled by Western elites for decades) in the Netherlands suggests that voters are turning against the openness-is-always-best mentality.

The Green Transition

A recent publication by Boston Consulting Group estimates that an investment of $37 trillion will be needed by 2030 to finance the green transition in energy production. That’s roughly the entire U.S. federal budget every year. With global GDP running at $100 trillion, the expenditure will amount to 6 percent of global output per annum.

These are huge numbers. Of course, “will be needed” and “will actually be allocated” are not the same thing. Many note that “net zero” (making the entire global economy carbon neutral) is a goal that cannot be achieved anytime soon, certainly not by 2030 or 2040. But it won’t be for lack of trying. To stimulate green energy investment, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act authorized an expansive tax credit scheme that researchers estimate will cost more than $1.2 trillion over the next eight years. California and other states have imposed draconian measures. (California will prohibit the sale of new internal-combustion-engine cars by 2035, Vermont by 2030.) Though these restrictions do not spend tax money, they impose huge costs that include increasing electricity supply and transmission capacity, and multiplying charging stations—in effect, building an entirely new energy infrastructure.

I could go on. In just a few years, the green transition machine has grown to gigantic proportions, and it grinds forward. But instead of itemizing the costs, let me make some straightforward observations.

We presently have an economy based largely on carbon molecules, which are super-efficient storage units for energy. Carbon-based energy is durable and does not degrade with time. Unaffected by heat and cold, it is easy to transport. Over nearly two centuries, we have built a system of energy production, distribution, and use based on carbon. Sunk costs are in the tens of trillions.

I do not dispute that carbon-based energy has negative “externalities,” as the technocrats say. Pollution is a problem, and perhaps the consumption of energy in this form causes climate change. I wish only to make two simple points: We have this system; it works very well. The green transition will not improve upon the carbon-based system; it will replace it.

The very best outcome, as far as I can tell, is that the new, carbon-neutral system will work as well as the old one. This means that, in the most optimistic scenario, over the course of a decade or more we will spend six percent of global GDP per year in order to get the efficiency, productivity, and consumer satisfaction that we presently have.

Count me among those who doubt that we will get the best outcome, or even an only slightly worse one. I get that wind is free. But batteries, transmission lines, transformers, and the rest of the non-carbon-based system are more complicated and less diversified than the elements of the system we currently have. The new system will be subject to more frequent failure, which means it will require expensive measures to ensure reliability. Moreover, every system has negative externalities. The disposal of batteries and toxic rare earth metals required for solar and wind energy may prove a far greater threat to public health than nuclear waste storage.

I’m not an economist. But my inexpert mind has difficulty seeing how spending trillions of dollars to create a new energy system that merely replaces what we have (perhaps with less convenience and reliability) won’t make everything more expensive. (Part of the green transition will be paid for by government subsidies, but energy consumers will bear most of the costs.) And as huge sums are spent in this effort, won’t the infrastructure we take for granted deteriorate due to underinvestment? In short: Aside from those who have their snouts in the trough of money being spent on the green transition, the entire effort, which we are told is a civilizational imperative, is very likely to cause a decline in the standard of living for those in the most developed and carbon-dependent part of the world. Which is to say, us.

As is the case with immigration, in matters of climate policy the Francis pontificate sides with elites. In Laudate Deum, a recent apostolic exhortation, the Holy Father dismisses dissent from today’s environmental orthodoxy, suggesting that doubts about the wisdom of the green transition reflect the West’s (and especially America’s) selfishness. To implement unpopular green policies, he calls for “more effective world organizations,” a notion that warms the hearts of oligarchs like Bill Gates, who are eager to impose “fact-based” solutions on a supposedly ignorant general population that can’t be trusted to vote in the right way. For all the talk about going “to the peripheries,” I’m convinced that historians will describe the Francis pontificate as an attempt to turn Rome into a chaplaincy for the global elite.

Demographic change has been ongoing, and the West has developed ideological explanations for why the challenges it poses are really blessings. (Diversity is our strength!) We’re only beginning to embark on the massive experiment of remaking the energy foundations of our economy. It is an endeavor that not only will be more expensive than present estimates say, but also is unlikely to attain its stated goals. It’s hard to imagine the degree of popular anger that will be caused by the toxic combination of declining living standards with constant calls for redoubled efforts requiring still more expenditure, regulation, and restriction. Meanwhile the targets will invariably be delayed. The great cause of carbon neutrality will be reframed and rebranded. The climate catastrophe never arrives, but as the non-elite citizens of the West face declining standards of living a political catastrophe very likely will.

The Post-Democratic Future

A significant decline in fertility among the native-born combined with mass migration transforms a society. The green transition seeks to remake the economy of the developed world on a scale that would make Stalin blush. If someone had told me thirty years ago that the Best and the Brightest (as well as the Righteous and the Pious) were willing to embark on both projects at once, I’d have called that person mad. The trajectory of the West is all the more insane because these disruptive enterprises are taking place against the background of the severe erosion of social capital. Faith and family no longer provide reliable anchors. Social media short-circuit the old authorities that once formed public opinion. Anxiety and addiction are on the rise. Trust and steady habits of thrift and self-reliance are waning. Fewer forces exist to stabilize the body politic at a time when we’re certain to need them.

I’m not saying that we’re heading toward a populist uprising, the electoral success of Wilders and others notwithstanding. We are living in a paradoxical moment. Polling suggests widespread distrust of established institutions and dissatisfaction with the status quo. This unhappiness can take radical forms. Some on the left speak of “settler colonialism,” a notion that, like the 1619 Project, makes the United States a country without moral legitimacy. Some on the right argue that the “deep state” and other gears in the machine of governance are so thoroughly captive to progressive dogma and technocratic interests that we must contemplate the possibility of a “Red Caesar” who will restore popular control.

Yet for all the uproar, our politics remains stuck in deep ruts, epitomized by the prospect of another contest between Trump and Biden. There are legal tools that can be used to block populists. (Wilders has been prosecuted several times; in Germany, Alternative für Deutschland is under investigation and may be declared an illegal party; the day may come when the European Court of Human Rights declares unwanted election results a violation of human rights.) The technological methods of social control grow more powerful and more invisible—and more appealing to Western elites. During the pandemic, the general population submitted to radical measures dictated by technocrats, and they did so long after it was evident that these measures were as foolish as they were futile. And then there’s the demographic fact that very low fertility rates mean that the ranks of angry young men, the traditional bearers of pitchforks and other instruments of populist violence, are thin, and those who exist are numbed by drugs and demoralized by pornography. Electoral upsets are likely, but violent uprisings against the status quo are not. People seem content to register their anger in the polling booth rather than march in the streets. (The riots in Dublin in late November may indicate that I underestimate the likelihood of violence.)

Though I cannot predict future events, I’m reasonably confident that the next few years will not be easy. Today’s power elite is characterized by a curious combination of arrogance and fecklessness. The arrogance hides behind claims of necessity (We have only a few years left to avoid climate catastrophe!), as our leadership class plunges ahead with a massive transformation of the global economy. The fecklessness is disguised as idealism (Wir schaffen das!), which puts the sheen of righteousness on our elite’s failure to address the factors driving disruptive demographic change. (Space does not allow me to address the West’s obeisance to the Rainbow Reich and its ideology of infertility, a connection recognized by the Hungarian government, which has thereby brought upon itself the unending opprobrium of all the Good People in Brussels and Washington.)

This combination of self-sure technocracy and cowardly leadership is likely to cause Western elites to redouble their commitments to the green transition and multiculturalism, even as conditions worsen. Emergency after emergency will be declared. (See Russell A. Berman, “State of Emergency,” June/July 2022.) Dissent will be squelched, as was done during the Covid lockdowns. If past performance is any indication, Rome will support these measures, and progressive Christians will cheer them as paving the way for the realization of the Sermon on the Mount.

In my estimation, the West is poised to make a very different kind of transition than the one John Kerry urges upon us. This transition will take us into the post-democratic age in which men shorn of all belonging tremble before the uncertainties of life and an establishment of managers and therapists promises them safety, security, and affirmation, if they will but submit. We’re already partway to that destination. (See Matthew B. Crawford, “The Rise of Antihumanism,” August/September 2023.)

I don’t wish to demoralize readers. In the first place, I could be wrong in my assessments of demographic change and the green transition. And perhaps populist politicians will succeed in winning elections and provide sane, responsible leadership. I do not pretend to be a prophet. Moreover, even if I am correct, we need to remember that the Lord never promised auspicious economic, cultural, or political circumstances. Rather, he created and sustains a world that is resplendent with a beauty that transcends our foibles and pratfalls. And he gave us hearts capable of great loves that both uplift and console.


♦ Tyler Austin Harper is a young comp-lit professor at Bates College, and (no surprise) a leftist. Here’s what he has to say about recent decisions by the University Board of Governors at the University of North Carolina.

This is what we’re witnessing—the dismantling of public higher ed in conservative states—and we’ve created the conditions for what’s going on at UNC. How did anyone think we could get away with being nakedly ideological for years without any chickens coming home to roost?
Universities have always been tacitly left-leaning and faculty have always been openly so, but institutions have never been this transparently, officially political. Almost every single job ad in my field [and] related fields this year has some kind of brazenly politicized language.
An example. Here’s language from a current lit job ad: “We see this position as building on recent hiring in the English department in decolonial and anti-racist pedagogies and practices as well as a recent cluster hire in research related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Imagine if a public university job ad instead read: “We see this position as building on recent hiring in the English department in traditionalist pedagogies and practices as well as a recent cluster hire in research related to pro-life ethics, nationalism, and family values.”
If you lived in a blue state and your public universities were advertising jobs seeking scholars who promote family values and nationalist pedagogies, you would *rightly* be having a meltdown and demanding representatives fix it!

♦ In 2020, Black Lives Matter protests and riots induced panic in America’s ruling class. Support for police receded; solicitude for criminals surged. We can now weigh the costs. Homicide rates increased significantly in 2020. They’ve peaked and fallen a bit since 2021. But that’s not the full story. As Aaron Chalfin and Brandon del Pozo report in Vital City (“When City Streets Really Are War Zones”), young male residents of the poorest urban neighborhoods are two hundred and fifty times more likely to die of gunshot wounds than is the average American. Perhaps anxious to avoid today’s political landmines, Chalfin and del Pozo avoid telling readers that these victims are overwhelmingly young black men. They focus on Garfield Park, Chicago (70 percent black), where a young man is three times more likely to die by firearm homicide than soldiers deployed in Afghanistan were to die in combat. Things are just as bad in the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods of Philadelphia, New Orleans, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, Memphis, and Kansas City. The virtue signaling of the upper-income white people who put BLM signs in their windows was a luxury that is still being paid for by the blood of poor blacks. Beware becoming the object of progressive solicitude.

♦ In his regular column in the New Criterion, “The media,” James Bowman conveys a startling insight made by Helen Joyce, author of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, which she articulated in an interview with Peter Boghossian:

Something you may not have thought of is that there are a lot of people who can’t move on from [transgender ideology]. And that’s the people who have transitioned their own children. So those people are going to be like the Japanese soldiers who were on Pacific Islands and didn’t know the war was over. They’ve got to fight forever. This is another reason why this is the worst, worst, worst social contagion that we’ll ever have experienced. A lot of people have done what is the worst thing you could do, which is to harm their children irrevocably, because of [transgender ideology]. Those people will have to believe that they did the right thing for the rest of their lives, for their own sanity, and for their own self-respect. So they’ll still be fighting, and each one of those people destroys entire organizations and entire friendship groups.

♦ Sacred Architecture Journal is a publication of the Institute for Sacred Architecture. A recent issue (Vol. 44) surveys Spanish-influenced churches in the Americas. It includes the recently completed Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine in Oklahoma City, designed in the Spanish Baroque style, as well as other newly constructed churches. Yes, Virginia, beautiful churches can be built in our own time. If you serve on a building committee, aspire to be the benefactor of new construction, or just like lovely churches, take out a subscription to Sacred Architecture.

♦ One omission from the survey of Spanish-influenced churches: Saint Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska. Designed by Omaha architect Thomas Rogers Kimball and built in the early decades of the twentieth century, the cathedral takes its inspiration from El Escorial, the vast sixteenth-century complex erected by Philip II in the foothills outside of Madrid.

♦ Late Friday night, November 3, in Indianapolis, Ruba Awni Almaghtheh rammed her vehicle into a building with a Star of David emblazoned on its front door. Arrested by police, she confessed, “Yes, I did it on purpose,” and went on to say that her motive was to defend “her people back in Palestine.” One problem: The building houses a local congregation of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a sect that rejects white Jews as agents of Satan. Ah, the ironies of a multicultural society.

♦ Bishop Robert Barron participated in the Synod on Synodality. He made some thoughtful observations about his experience on his teaching ministry’s website, Word on Fire. The following caught my attention:

The primary mission of the Church is to declare the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and to invite people to place themselves under his Lordship. This discipleship, to be sure, has implications for the way we live in the world, and it certainly should lead us to work for justice, but we must keep our priorities straight. The supernatural should never be reduced to the natural; rather, the natural order should be transfigured by its relationship to the supernatural order.

Bishop Barron ends his reflections with strong criticism of the notion that we know more about sexuality than did our forebears and that these purported advances “require an evolution in moral teaching.” In my years as an Episcopalian I encountered this non sequitur many times: handwaving about science in order to justify moral revisions that alter Christian norms to accommodate the sexual revolution.

♦ I foresee that the Francis pontificate will continue to host voices that urge relaxation of sexual norms, especially norms concerning homosexuality. For an explanation of why this is likely to be the case, readers can return to “A New Concordat?,” my January 2015 Public Square. In that column I observed that in the 1930s the Church was unable to maintain a clear witness against Nazism. The pressures to accommodate and collaborate were too powerful. The same holds for the sexual revolution and today’s ascendant Rainbow Reich, which demands compliance with its “inclusive” dictates. Pope Francis is an enigmatic and often unpredictable character. Nevertheless, I predict that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Western Europe (and, perhaps, in the United States, although to a lesser extent) will accommodate itself to the Rainbow Reich in more open ways than it currently does. The LGBTQ vocabulary will be adopted. Collaborationists such as Fr. James Martin will be championed and rewarded. Those who resist the Rainbow Reich (data show that younger clergy in America are solidly orthodox on this and other issues) will be censured as “backward-looking” and “preoccupied with sexual issues” at the expense of social justice. This prospect fills me with sadness. The Rainbow Reich has profoundly disordered the male–female dance. It is a regime of infertility and loneliness that seeks spiritual consolation in a never-ending campaign to topple taboos and liberate desire. A generation from now, intelligent people will look back and condemn the churches for their complicity.

♦ The Center for Christian Studies provides ongoing theological formation for pastors and laity. We work with director Keith Stanglin and his staff to put on an annual lecture in Austin, Texas. The Center also hosts seminars and classes. This winter’s offering, “Understanding Our Christian Neighbors,” takes up ecumenical questions. What divides our churches? What unites them? The seven-week class (in-person for those living near Austin and by Zoom for others) starts on January 8 and runs through February 19. The Center is offering a discount for First Things subscribers (a $100 fee rather than the regular $150 fee). Sign up at

♦   Rene Nevarez of El Paso, Texas, wishes to form a ROFTers group. Get in touch to join: nevarez77[at]

     In Toledo, Ohio, James Coffey is issuing a call to local readers to form a ROFTers group. Contact him at jcoff162[at]

     The ROFTers group in St. Louis, Missouri would like to add new members. Contact Demetrios Tsikalas for details: demetrios.tsikalas[at]

R. R. Reno is editor of First Things. 

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