Saturday, November 17, 2012

A future to outlast our lives

As Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler writes, “barren worldviews lead to barren wombs.” Nothing screams hopelessness in the future than disinterest in having and raising children. We invest in our progeny the values to carry forward the moral project that is our unique culture. Having fewer children betrays indifference to this project, a crisis of cultural confidence. Why waste the incredible effort of childrearing on perpetuating an unwanted legacy?

In Europe, a clean separation from the past has produced a hopeless, nihilistic future. Far degraded are the social institutions that used to bind the people together. Church attendance is way down. Work is seen as a necessary evil to fill the time between leisure activities (a Marxist attitude). Every year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants, most of them Muslim, discover a profound void where there should be a native culture to assimilate to. Naturally, they fill the void with that which they grew up with in their old countries. Europe, insofar as it still retains a distinct identity, is dying.

Such a people as the Europeans are ripe for the picking, willing to be led in new and likely terrible directions. People prone to stand up to usurpers of freedom and democracy are people whose voluntary bonds to each other are numerous and strong. On that score, by what country was French historian Alexis de Tocqueville so impressed in the 1830s?

Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions, constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds—religious, moral, serious, futile, extensive, or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found establishments for education, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; and in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools…Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

In postmodern Europe, freely entered into, “subjective” associations have come under attack, and, to a great extent, they have been replaced by more “objective” means of directing resources to solve society’s wants. Those means are centralized bureaucracies, which coddle, cajole, and smother freedom, seen as selfish, disorganized, and misdirected. Initially the people may object, but eventually they rest easy knowing they are being taken care of. The nanny state is aptly titled: Feeble, incontinent people who can’t change their own diapers have nannies do it for them.

Of this, de Tocqueville adds: “A despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do not love each other.” And George Will says:

This is what the progressive state does. It tries to break all the institutions of civil society, all the institutions that mediate between the individual and the state. They have to break them to the saddle of the state.

America reproduces at a rate of 1.9 children per woman (not much below the replacement level rate of 2.1 children per woman). Europe reproduces at a rate of 1.3 children per woman, what Mark Steyn calls a “demographic time bomb,” wherein the native-born population shrinks to parity with the immigrant population in a generation.

As far as I’m concerned, the crisis facing the Western world isn’t demographics, it’s culture. Fix the culture, and people will invest their resources in a future that will outlast their lives. They will start having babies again. As Charles Murray writes:

Families with children are the core around which American communities must be organized—must, because families with children have always been, and still are, the engine that makes American communities work.

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