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Polymath with a Pen

Yonoson Rosenblum

David Goldman, a. k. a. Spengler, is known the world over for his striking analysis of politics and culture. But he was well into his 30s before he found the true core of his self.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“One of those rare polymaths capable of startling observations in multiple fields — economics, demography, music theory, religion...” “A brilliant and contrarian analyst.” “Ever insightful.” Those are a few of the praises I’ve used to describe David Goldman (better known by his former nom de plume, Spengler, under which he developed an international readership in the millions). Over the past five years, there is no writer I’ve quoted more frequently, who has taught me more, or who has left a greater impact on my thinking. So when I received an invitation from the Kohelet Center in early January to hear him speak on the publication in Hebrew of his 2011 book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too), I rushed to attend. It was my lucky evening. In the largely Hebrew-speaking audience, there were few equally devoted fans, and I was able to pretty much corner Goldman for over 20 minutes or so. His manner — soft-spoken, even diffident — contrasted sharply with my mental image of someone who delivers his opinions in such a striking style and with so much confidence. Since that January night, we’ve been in e-mail contact and conducted a lengthy Skype conversation. I also walked out of that speech with a copy of How Civilizations Die. The ostensible subject of the book is demography — the collective decision by the people of the developed and developing world to stop having children — and the consequences of that decision for the viability of those nations. But the substrata on which the argument is based is one of religious sociology — an analysis of which religions are suited to confront modernity and why. In a 2009 essay entitled “Confessions of a Coward” in First Things, a journal of religious affairs, Goldman set forth his thesis, derived from the German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig, that the “response of nations to their own mortality is the key to understanding the great events of our time.”

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