January 10, 2024 - 1:00pm

Western decline can be attributed to the “vaporisation” of Protestantism, according to the leading French historian and public intellectual Emmanuel Todd. Speaking to French centre-right magazine Le Point last week, Todd highlighted the “values of work and social discipline” inherent to the Christian branch, which he appraised as central to the rise of the “Anglo-American world”. 

Todd, whose 1976 book The Final Fall predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and who last year notably claimed that a third world war has already begun, was promoting his new book, titled La Défaite de l’Occident (The Defeat of the West), which is published in France today. He told Le Point that “the vaporisation of Protestantism in the United States, in England and throughout the Protestant world has caused the disappearance of what constituted the strength and specificity of the West.” 

The historian added that we have passed the “active stage” and the “zombie stage”, and are now approaching “stage zero”, whereby religious belief loses all influence within the Western world. He cited the passage of laws relating to same-sex marriage as the “ultimate indicator” of the transition from the “zombie” to “zero” stage. 

Within this theory, the “zombie stage” incorporates much of the US rise to prominence during the first half of the 20th century — what Todd calls “Great America, from [Theodore] Roosevelt to Eisenhower”. This was “an America that retained all the positive values ​​of Protestantism, its educational effectiveness, its relationship to work, its capacity for integrating the individual into the community”. Ultimately, the historian suggested, “the Protestant matrix has disappeared at the height of American power”, not least because of the Catholic faith of incumbent President Joe Biden.

In Todd’s view, this religious and cultural decline is paired with Anglo-American economic defeat. “Globalisation has made not the West in general but specifically the United States unable to produce the weapons necessary for Ukraine,” he told the magazine. “The Americans sent the Ukrainians into disaster during the summer offensive with insufficient equipment.”

Todd has previously been described as an “anti-American” thinker, particularly following the publication of his 2001 book After the Empire, which focused on the United States’ waning status as a global superpower. When challenged on this by Le Point, he argued that America “is falling into nihilism and the deification of nothing”. He defined this nihilism as “the desire for destruction, but also of the negation of reality. There are no longer any traces of religion, but the human being is still there.” This mindset has been the catalyst, in Todd’s opinion, for American escalation of foreign wars, with the Gaza conflict being the most recent example. 

Criticised in the Le Point interview for an alleged sympathy towards Moscow’s present leadership, including referring to Russia’s “authoritarian democracy”, Todd reiterated that he does not think that Putin has won total victory in Ukraine, but found parallels between the country’s cultural history and Western Protestantism. “What is common to Protestantism and Communism is the obsession with education,” he said. “Communism established in Eastern Europe developed new middle classes. And it was these middle classes who then decreed that they were liberal democracy in action and that the Russians were monsters.”

Todd sees another declining world power as a precursor to America’s fall. “England is even less powerful than France. The English don’t really have nuclear weapons. They are not even capable of making themselves hated in Africa, like us,” he told the magazine. “The English ruling classes were a model for the American ruling classes. The current warmongering madness of the English has certainly had a very bad influence on the Americans.” 

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.