Those dying generations 21

In a Townhall article today, David Stokes comments on a Time magazine cover story titled  “The Child Free Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children.”  The theme is interesting to us – the scarcity of children in most of the First World, particularly in Europe.

The author recalls a speech President Theodore Roosevelt gave in France:

Finally, even more important than ability to work, even more important than ability to fight at need, is it to remember that chief of blessings for any nations is that it shall leave its seed to inherit the land. It was the crown of blessings in Biblical times and it is the crown of blessings now. The greatest of all curses is the curse of sterility, and the severest of all condemnations should be that visited upon willful sterility. The first essential in any civilization is that the man and women shall be father and mother of healthy children so that the [human] race shall increase and not decrease. If that is not so, if through no fault of the society there is failure to increase, it is a great misfortune. If the failure is due to the deliberate and willful fault, then it is not merely a misfortune, it is one of those crimes of ease and self-indulgence, of shrinking from pain and effort and risk, which in the long run Nature punishes more heavily than any other. If we of the great republics, if we, the free people who claim to have emancipated ourselves from the thralldom of wrong and error, bring down on our heads the curse that comes upon the willfully barren, then it will be an idle waste of breath to prattle of our achievements, to boast of all that we have done.

That’s right. Theodore Roosevelt told the French that they needed to keep having babies.

At the time of Roosevelt’s speech, France was a major world power. Today—not so much.

And he ascribes a reason for the numerical decline of the French nation:

There is enough blame for such decline in global influence to go around, but the increased secularism of Europe, with its penchant for socialized everything, has certainly played a role.

By “secularism” David Stokes clearly means the increasing absence of religious belief in states that have long – if not always – been secular. It  is the absence or fading of religious belief that he blames (at least in part) for the dying out of Western nations.

Now more than 100 years later, there is an even greater threat to their cherished way of life. If only the French today would rediscover Teddy’s advice and reverse the birthrate trend—they might have a fighting chance. But such is the mindset of secularism, it is all about self and “fulfillment.” Issues of family, not to mention progeny are secondary, if thought about at all. Marriage is deferred—even eschewed. Children are planned—or better, planned around. And over time the birth rate in Europe has fallen far short of what is needed to keep up with the various demands of the future. In other words, the nations are aging. There are fewer children, yet more grandparents—a trend that will continue and accelerate.

All he says about the trend is true, but is he right about the cause?

He goes on, factually correct:

It takes a fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman to keep a nation’s population stable. The United States is drifting away from that. Canada has a rate of 1.48 and Europe as a whole weighs in at 1.38. What this means is that the money will run out, with not enough wage-earners at the bottom to support an older generation’s “entitlements.”

But even beyond that, the situation in France also reminds us of the opportunistic threat of Islamism. It is just a matter of time before critical mass is reached and formerly great bastions of democratic republicanism morph into caliphates. In the United Kingdom the Muslim population is growing 10 times faster than the rest of society. In fact, all across Western Europe it’s the same. The cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam are on track to have Muslim majority populations in a decade or two. A T-shirt that can be seen on occasion in Stockholm reads: “2030—Then We Take Over.”

And he concludes:

A few years ago, Britain’s chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, decried Europe’s falling birthrate, blaming it on “a culture of consumerism and instant gratification”. 

“Europe is dying,” he said, “we are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change and no one is talking about it.”

The Rabbi was right, and so was Teddy.

Was the Rabbi right?

Why are the indigenous peoples of Europe and other parts of the First World dying out?

Why are the Europeans willing to let the Muslims take over their countries?

Is it because of socialism? 

On the one hand it can be argued that socialism discourages you from having children because the state – you believe  – will look after you in your old age. It will care for you if you fall ill. It will make it easy for you to house and feed yourself because, if you don’t want to work, it will give you money. No need for more wage-earners in the family.

And there is a strong streak of anti-human life in the ideology of the far left. Among environmentalists in particular. They say that there are too many people on the planet  – and angrily deny that the numbers are declining. Some even want there to be no people on the earth at all. They maintain that the absence of human beings would be better for shrimps and reptiles.

On the other hand, the socialist welfare state pays people to have children. In America, for instance, millions of women can have children without having a husband or wage-earner to help keep them because with every baby they get more money from the state. And the state also pays for the children’s education.

But then again, socialist economics don’t work. Sooner or later socialism brings an economy to disaster. Is it anticipation of dire poverty that keeps people from breeding? About half the voters in most western countries regularly vote for socialism, so that can’t be a compelling reason.

All this considered, the argument that socialism is to blame for the suicide of the West is not convincing. It may account for an eventual death by inanition, but not for the slow suicide.

Is it because of “consumerism”?

Perhaps. But what proof is there? Do anecdotes about individuals and couples saying they prefer to use their money for a high standard of living – cars, travel and so on – rather than on raising children, prove the case? Not unless they reflect the decisions of a majority, and who has collected and counted them?

By “consumerism” (the preferred term now for what they used to call “materialism” or “conspicuous consumption”) its critics mean comfortable living, good cars, travel and so on. In other words, they ascribe the fall in the birth-rate to prosperity.

Did prosperous people in past times not have children, or choose to have only a few? Not as far as we know. In Victorian times most families, rich as well as poor, were large. And since those who owned much had much to pass on and keep in the family, wealth may have positively stimulated reproduction.

But of course in the days when wealthy families were large, parents had servants to look after their children. Most people now, even if they can afford live-in servants, do not have them. So perhaps it’s not so much the desire for more luxurious living but the desire not to be “tied down” by children. Having to stay in with them at night. Not being able to go on holiday when you choose because of their school schedule. Not being able easily to part from their other parent when you’re sick of him or her.

Implied by the word “consumerism”  is another word: “capitalism”. Though not all who condemn consumerism may be aware that the one word is haunted by the other. As David Stokes’s column appears at Townhall, we may reasonably assume that he’s a conservative. American conservatives are not consciously against capitalism; they are against socialism, as we are. But too many of them are religious. Too many of them are Christians. It is Christian puritanism that inspires the strange prejudice  – if  not against prosperity as such, against the signs of it: high living standards, costly cars, expensive travel and so on. Only in theory, we observe. We confidently expect that most religious critics of “consumerism” have – or aspire to have – a high standard of living for themselves, own costly cars, and jet to their summer vacation on a cruise-ship or a multi-starred hotel. They are seldom in fact less materialistic or less self-indulgent than the “secularists” they scorn. And they are not against having children. The American fertility-rate – which is the measure of population stability, or increase, or decrease – has until very recently been stable while Europe’s declined.

But what of religion? Is its absence the cause we are looking for?

Is it because of “secularism”?

By “secularism” David Stokes clearly means the fading of religious belief in states that have long – if not always – been secular. And it is the absence or fading of religious belief that he blames for the dying out of Western nations.

Such is the mindset of secularism, it is all about self and “fulfillment.” 

Is there no self-fulfillment in having children? Don’t many feel that having a child is more self-fulfilling than anything else?

It does seem to be the case that fewer people are religious, or most people are less religious in Europe now. How did religion formerly keep the birth-rate up?

The mainly Catholic countries used to have  bigger families because birth control was forbidden by their Church. So perhaps now that the Roman Church has lost much of its power, more Catholics use contraception. But that explanation doesn’t affect the traditionally Protestant countries of northern Europe, and there too the indigenous  populations are shrinking. (And one thing Christians who bemoan the dearth of children seem to forget is that St Paul recommended celibacy. Marry if you must, he taught, but it is better to remain unmarried and chaste like him and Jesus Christ. Not a formula for re-populating Europe.)

The bible states that Jehovah enjoins the Jews to be fruitful, to multiply. And  Israel is one of the few Western countries where the population is increasing – although Israel is a secular state. Perhaps the old religious injunction continues to have a subliminal effect.

So if socialism is not the reason why the people of the West are ever more unwilling to have children, nor “consumerism”, nor “secularism” – what is?

We don’t know. Nobody does.

But if the suicide of the West means the loss of our civilization – which it very well may – it will be a great tragedy. One of the greatest tragedies of history.


Jillian Becker   August 11, 2013