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No Babies, Please, We’re Europeans

When you have to teach people why having babies is good, you're done as a society

European countries have been all about comprehensive sex education for some time. Now they’re doing it not to prevent pregnancy, but to make it happen. From the NYT:

It is all part of a not-so-subtle push in Europe to encourage people to have more babies. Denmark, like a number of European countries, is growing increasingly anxious about low birthrates. Those concerns have only been intensified by the region’s financial and economic crisis, with high unemployment rates among the young viewed as discouraging potential parents.

The Italian health minister described Italy as a “dying country” in February. Germany has spent heavily on family subsidies but has little to show for it. Greece’s depression has further stalled its birthrate. And in Denmark, the birthrate has been below the so-called replacement rate needed to keep a population from declining — just over two children per woman — since the early 1970s.

“For many, many years, we only talked about safe sex, how to prevent getting pregnant,” said Marianne Lomholt, the national director of Sex and Society. “Suddenly we just thought, maybe we should actually also tell them about how to get pregnant.”

The demographic shift is more pressing in Europe than almost any other major region, save Japan. There are an estimated 28 Europeans 65 or older for every 100 residents ages 20 to 64, almost twice the world average, according to the United Nations, and compared with 24.7 for the United States. By the end of the century, the United Nations expects the European figure to double.

Yeah, so good luck with that, Europe. When you have to have classes to convince people that they should have children, you’ve got much deeper problems than can be solved in a classroom. Here’s an excerpt from the Italy-is-dying story linked to in the NYT bit:

“We are very close to the threshold of non-renewal where the people dying are not replaced by new-borns. That means we are a dying country,” Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said.

“This situation has enormous implications for every sector: the economy, society, health, pensions, just to give a few examples,” Lorenzin said.

“We need a wake-up call and a real change of culture to turn the trend around in the coming years,” added the minister.

Developed countries the world over are counting the costs of an ageing population, such as rising pension payouts and healthcare costs, but Italy, mired in its third recession in six years, is particularly vulnerable.

Which do you think is more likely to happen: Europeans choosing to live without generous welfare state benefits and services, or Europeans opening the floodgates to immigrants?

Reader and frequent antagonist DF, who sent this item in, says:

To me, this signals an inadvertent admission that the secular project has been a disaster. In fact, Europe has pockets of high fertility: its Muslims, many of whom share decidedly different values of what life is for than white Europeans.

I would recommend to you also the reader’s comments which overwhelmingly supply economic advice or admonishments, not moral or religious. That is, when not having fits about “overpopulation.”

Would you like to make a bet that Europe’s campaign will be a failure? To bring back that kind of fertility culture, white Europeans will have to resurrect a moral order largely antithetical to modernism. Don’t hold your breath.

We have seen this before. From a column I wrote some years back:

Civilization depends on the health of the traditional family.

That sentiment has become a truism among social conservatives, who typically can’t explain what they mean by it. Which is why it sounds like right-wing boilerplate to many contemporary ears.

The late Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman believed it was true, but he also knew why. In 1947, he wrote a massive book to explain why latter-day Western civilization was now living through the same family crisis that presaged the fall of classical Greece and Rome. His classic “Family and Civilization,” which has just been republished in an edited version by ISI Press, is a chillingly prophetic volume that deserves a wide new audience.

In all civilizations, Zimmerman theorized, there are three basic family types. The “trustee” family is tribal and clannish, and predominates in agrarian societies. The “domestic” family model is a middle type centering on the nuclear family ensconced in fairly strong extended-family bonds; it’s found in civilizations undergoing rapid development. The final model is the “atomistic” family, which features weak bonds between and within nuclear families; it’s the type that emerges as normative in advanced civilizations.

When the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, the strong trustee families of the barbarian tribes replaced the weak, atomistic Roman families as the foundation of society.

Churchmen believed a social structure that broke up the ever-feuding clans and gave the individual more freedom would be better for society’s stability and spent centuries reforming the European family toward domesticity. The natalist worldview advocated by churchmen knit tightly religious faith, family loyalty and child bearing. From the 10th century on, the domestic family model ruled Europe through its greatest cultural efflorescence. But then came the Reformation and the Enlightenment, shifting culture away from tradition and toward the individual. Thus, since the 18th century, the atomistic family has been the Western cultural norm.

Here’s the problem: Societies ruled by the atomistic family model, with its loosening of constraints on its individual members, quit having enough children to carry on. They become focused on the pleasures of the present. Eventually, these societies expire from lack of manpower, which itself is a manifestation of a lack of the will to live.

It happened to ancient Greece. It happened to ancient Rome. And it’s happening to the modern West. The sociological parallels are startling.

Why should expanding individual freedoms lead to demographic disaster? Because cultures that don’t organize their collective lives around the family create policies and structures that privilege autonomous individuals at the family’s expense.

In years to come, the state will attempt economic incentives, or something more draconian, to spur childbirth. Europe, which is falling off a demographic cliff, is already offering economic incentives, with scant success. Materialist measures only seem to help at the margins.

Why? Zimmerman was not religious, but he contended the core problem was a loss of faith. Religions that lack a strong pro-fertility component don’t survive over time, he observed; nor do cultures that don’t have a powerfully natalist religion.

I commented in a blog post in which I offered some Burkean thoughts against same-sex marriage:

The radical transformation of our understanding of marriage in the West has been underway for at least a century, and has many sources, of which gay activism is only one, and a late addition at that. The atomization of the traditional family, and in turn individuals, under the ideology and dynamic culture of capitalism and individualism, continues, with serious effects. Divorce and single parenthood, as social scientists have determined over the last few decades since the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s got fully underway, has been a disaster for children. (Anecdotally, talking to my late sister about the children she taught in her sixth grade class, their poor performance in school had a lot to do with the emotional stress they were under because of unstable, single-parent situations at home.) Many of us grasp that as distorted as marriage has become in the past few decades, it still retained some connection, however tenuous, to its original purpose: to beget children and provide for a nurturing environment in which they can thrive. When marriage is seen not as an institution that shapes us, but rather as an institution we can shape at will, to suit our needs, and that exists as only, or at least primarily, as a statement of the love two people have for each other, then the bonds holding these unions together will dramatically weaken. To accept same-sex marriage would be to definitively break with the old view, and make it impossible to reform.

The future belongs to the fertile. And that means people who carry in their heads a very different set of ideas about the meaning of life, marriage, and childbearing than do most moderns. I was talking today to a friend of an earlier generation about how much better people of my generation have it today than they did in hers, regarding not having to be bound to miserable marriages. But we also agreed that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, such that people don’t have the same kind of social support (including in the form of culture-shaping ideas) for holding marriages together when stress tears at their bonds.

Anyway, if memory serves, in Family and Civilization, Zimmerman’s historiographical approach says that no government in history has been able to legislate fertility. Once people stop assuming that this having babies and raising families is what one does in life, it’s a downhill slide into disintegration.

The most important reason for my Benedict Option idea is to find a healthy way to preserve these cultural and religious truths, and to live them out in community while the rest of the world follows its own path to atomism and chaos. The modern way is not the path to life



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