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Jewish World Review June 15, 1999 /2 Tamuz, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Unraveling of social
order not limted to U.S. -- FRANCIS FUKUYAMA likes to take on big issues, as he did with his first book, The End of History and the Last Man, an analysis of the post-Cold War world published soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Now this George Mason University professor and former RAND Corp. social scientist has taken on an even more ambitious project in his latest book, The Great Disruption, trying to explain why social order seems to be unraveling in the last half of the twentieth century -- and not just in the United States.

Fukuyama describes three indicators of the great disruption that have occurred throughout most Western countries in an amazingly short time span, roughly since 1960: rising crime, the breakdown of the family and diminishing trust. By now, most Americans are wearily familiar with statistics about violent crime in the United States, which began skyrocketing in the late '60s and peaked in the early '90s. Throughout this period, the United States experienced homicide rates at far higher levels than any other Western nation, but the phenomenon of rising crime was not unique to this country. Indeed, crime rose consistently during the same period in most of Europe as well, so that by 1992 the usually copasetic Swedes had a total violent crime rate nearly equal to Americans'.

Property crimes during this period increased just as dramatically, especially in Europe, where the theft rate actually exceeds that of the United States by a fairly wide margin. In 1990, the theft rate in England and Wales was about 60 percent higher than here, while in Sweden, the theft rate was about twice as high. Only in the most developed nations of Asia -- namely, Japan and South Korea -- were these trends reversed. Japan actually experienced a significant decline in violent crime from 1960 to the present.

Perhaps more disturbing than rising crime has been the precipitous decline in the formation of families throughout most of the West, which Fukuyama describes in great detail. Marriage rates are down, and divorce rates are up, a of all children -- and more than two thirds of all black children -- are now born out of wedlock, but these rates pale in comparison to those of the Swedes, where nearly 70 percent of all births now occur outside marriage. Indeed, marriage as an institution is in such disrepute in Sweden that divorce rates for that nation are nearly meaningless, so few couple bother to marry in the first place.

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But the most surprising -- and portentous -- evidence of the great disruption Fukuyama presents has to do with declining fertility. Illegitimacy may be up throughout the West, but births overall are down -- dramatically. "Although it sounds silly to state a point so obvious," Fukuyama writes, "social capital cannot exist without people, and Western societies are failing to produce enough of them to sustain themselves." Birthrates are so low in Italy, Spain and Japan that the populations of those nations will experience a 30 percent decline in each successive generation. Europe is losing population at the rate of about 1 percent per year and will be a fraction of its current size by the end of the 21st Century unless current trends reverse. And even the United States would stop growing were it not for the infusion of so many immigrants from nations with high fertility rates, such as Mexico.

What these lower fertility rates mean is that fewer people will spend major portions of their lives living in families. Already, half of all Scandinavians live alone, as do one third of the Swiss and one quarter of Americans. "In a couple generations, " Fukuyama points out, "most Europeans and Japanese may be related only to their ancestors." In other words, the family as the basic unit of society will virtually cease to exist in these nations. And it is not clear that any other social arrangement will ever be able to take its place.

Despite the evidence of social dissolution he amasses, Fukuyama remains relatively sanguine about the future. With another presidential campaign gearing up -- and the inevitable discussion of family values that each election brings -- "The Great Disruption" ought to be required reading among both parties' candidates.


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8/25/98: Only consistency about Prez's anti-terrorism policy: its inconsistency
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7/15/98: Will 'neonaticide' become the new buzzword?
7/07/98: Urge to mega-merge, stopped in time
6/30/98: Why take responsibility if
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6/10/98: We have a ways to go in the bilingual war
6/3/98: Tyson's triumph over tragedy
5/28/98: Why Univision's Perenchio is out to hurt his fellow Hispanics
5/20/98: Sometimes Buba actually tells the truth ... as he sees it
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5/8/98: The revolution is just about over
4/28/98: Let's face it: both parties are full of hypocrites
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4/14/98: One down, many to go
4/7/98: Mexican mayhem?
3/31/98: Of death and details
3/25/98: Americans are unaware of NATO expansion
3/18/98: Intellectual-ghettoes in the name of diversity
3/11/98: Be careful what you wish for ...
3/4/98: The Press' Learning-disability
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2/4/98: Faith and the movies
1/28/98: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Politics Vs. Principle
1/21/98: Movement on the Abortion Front
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12/24/97: Affirmative alternatives: New initiatives for equal opportunity are out there
12/17/97: Opening a window of opportunity (a way out of bilingual education for California's Hispanic kids)

©1999, Creators Syndicate