Scott Yenor

What to expect when nobody is expecting: population decline and the birth dearth

Scott Yenor
By Scott Yenor
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March 5, 2013 (thePublicDiscourse) - All Western countries have birthrates below the replacement rates, suggesting that soon all countries will experience a graying of, and a decline in, population. Jonathan Last asks why this has happened in his new book, the cleverly titled What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, putting demographic decline in a broader context.

Before we get to Last’s argument, we should revisit a debate between two great Enlightenment philosophers: Montesquieu and David Hume. In Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu argues that ancient republics had more people than modern ones. Catastrophes aside, this lack of fecundity shows that a country is plagued with “internal vice and bad government.” The internal vices can range from a proud celibacy to a self-indulgent libertinism.

Montesquieu argued that population trajectory is partly the product of marriage laws. Ancient republics encouraged men and women to marry, and penalized bachelorhood. “Old Roman laws sought to induce the citizens to marry,” and censors were established to mind marriage mores. Roman law penalized parents without children and rewarded those with children with special honors and exemptions.

Hume accepts Montesquieu’s comparison of ancient and modern republics, but questions the reliability of the evidence from the ancient poets and historians. “In the flourishing age of the world,” he writes, “it may be expected, that the human species should possess greater vigour both of mind and body, more prosperous health, higher spirits, longer life, and a stronger inclination and power of generation.” Inventiveness and creativity and hope in a genuinely better future move human beings to live and generate. All things being equal, Hume contends, “it seems natural to expect, that, wherever there is most happiness and virtue, and the wisest institutions, there will also be the most people.”

Giving birth, much like educating students, requires some sort of faith or hope in the future, a belief that the human condition is worth experiencing, and a confidence that one can nurture a proper environment for the education of a new life. Welcoming new life reflects openness to the gifts of life, and appreciating these is itself confirmation of a life worth living.

Hume concludes that conditions in the modern world are much better than those of the ancient world. He observes that modern political communities oppose slavery, govern by the rule of law, establish commercial relations, encourage more consensual and relatively egalitarian sexual relations, afford general protection to private property, and encourage progress in the arts and sciences. All these factors make life freer and better, and all point to the steady growth of actions leading to an increase of population. With the numbers he has access to, Hume shows that modern communities are indeed much more populous than their ancient counterparts.

Interestingly, both Hume and Montesquieu argue that Christianity tends to suppress population growth. Neither blames Christianity directly for slow growth, but each equates it with a world-denying celibacy that did much to dampen sexual interest and fecundity in late Roman and post-Roman times; modern fecundity, they seem to suggest, comes in part from embracing a worldliness that the waning of Christianity, as they see it, allows.

Enter into this debate Jonathan Last. Last synthesizes scholarly research with an engaging blend of statistics, anecdotes, and judicious observations. His is very much a book for contemporary readers, as he sympathizes with many of the advances that have, in turn, fostered population decline. I imagine Last at a coffeehouse in a toney urban neighborhood, looking out at his mini-van and wondering if he and his wife should have more children. He appreciates the pull of post-family culture, but he is still a human being in the old sense of seeing himself as part of an intergenerational compact. Neither Cassandra nor fuddy-duddy, his tone is one of detachment from the conflicts in his soul and in the American soul.

Last makes two central claims. First, he argues that declining birthrates are longstanding. At one time, most places in the world had total fertility rates of well over five children born to the average woman, but that rate has been in almost inexorable decline for hundreds of years. In part this long-term trend is due to the salutary decline in infant mortality, but Last’s second claim is that the trend has now moved way beyond that.

Today’s total replacement rates are headed dangerously south, he argues, and population decline has turned into a birth dearth. The rates are below replacement in many countries: Singapore’s is 1.1; Japan and Poland’s 1.3; Germany, Austria, and Italy’s 1.4; Russia’s 1.6; France’s 2.08; the United States’ 1.9. The number of childless women has increased dramatically over the past forty years, while families with more than three children are increasingly rare. The global nature of falling birthrates means it defies easy characterization and cannot be explained with simple causal arrows. We have a dangerous fall (to below the replacement rate) within a much larger long-term decline. Are the two declines related? Is the birth dearth merely “finishing off” what the population decline has started, or is it a new phenomenon on top of population decline?

The urgency of addressing these questions becomes evident every time we consider the wealth of nations today. Declining populations are at the root of many of our policy and social problems, Last shows. The welfare states throughout the Western world are based on the idea that the young will fund the benefits for the old, but the dearth of the young means that as debts and deficits keep rising, something has to give. Either benefits will be trimmed, or the young will have to pay an even higher portion of their income to fund their older relatives.

And as taxes rise, productivity declines. The modern economy depends on innovation and increased productivity, but, as Last argues, the few people being squeezed more and more are much less likely to take daring acts to improve our lives. There you have the contemporary American crisis of government in a nutshell.

We don’t have to travel too far to see these consequences playing out. Japan’s economic “lost decade” (still underway nearly twenty years later) is partly the result of its graying population and shrinking labor force. This same shrinkage is happening in many European countries and, probably, in the United States, where a larger proportion of our workforce is entering its post-creative years. The current “fiscal crisis” will be nothing in comparison to what it will be when our country is sustaining more retirees on fewer workers.

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Last makes a strong argument for seeing the population decline and birth dearth as intimately related. Since birth rates have been falling for at least two hundred years, we can’t simply say that innovations of the past fifty years (such as accessible contraception, legal abortion, or even the modern welfare state) are responsible. While China’s “One-Child” policy and Singapore’s feminist indoctrination programs have lowered birthrates more dramatically than American child safety seat laws (which make it harder for an average family to have lots of young children at the same time and still drive an affordable car) or the price of American homes, no particular explanation would seem to suffice if all nations are caught up in the same tide. There must be some general explanation if tyrannical control (China) and free choice (the United States) yield the same general population declines.

Last’s effort to explain this situation is provocative, especially in light of the Hume-Montesquieu debate. Whereas Hume believes modernity and its political customs foster population increase, Last blames modernity for population decline and the birth dearth. Recent population declines coincide with recent developments in family experience, loosely labeled the “decline of marriage.” As marriage rates and the marriage culture decline, divorce rates, cohabitation rates, and living-alone rates rise. There is a snowball effect as these alternatives become more attractive and marriage less normative. Childlessness is much more accepted than it once was, as are the alternatives to marriage. Birthrates are at their lowest in places where, generally, trends away from marriage are most pronounced.

This seems to be the modern tide. For Last, America’s fertility problem and the world’s fertility problem is “the result of an enormous, interconnected web of factors that constitute something like the entire framework of modern life.” Marriage and fertility are “pulled along by massive, invisible cultural undercurrents” and “disparate parts of modernity evolving independently.” Precisely what Last means by “modernity” is not clear, but while summarizing an argument from the late James Q. Wilson, he suggests that “when reason replaced religion and custom as the lodestars for human thinking, it became natural for the sacramental view of marriage to be replaced by the contractual view.”

Think of population decline and the birth dearth as aspects of this modern project. The “First Demographic Revolution,” Last shows, was one of modern science’s great accomplishments: Beginning in the 1750s, the mortality rate, and especially the infant mortality rate, started declining, a trajectory that accelerated through the 1800s. As more infants survived and life expectancy surpassed forty years, more people had longer “fertility” periods. This, as Hume observed, created what Last calls “demographic momentum,” as larger generations begat larger generations, even as each generation had, on the whole, fewer children. This, according to Last, is the population decline that most of today’s developing world is currently experiencing, as improvements in nutrition, sanitation, and medicine span the globe.

Is there a point when such birth rates level off? Is there a natural limit to thedeclines characteristic of this “First Demographic Transition”? Last’s answer is that the First Demographic Transition started a second, one directed at controlling birth instead of limiting death and reconstructing marriage to favor individual autonomy. Here, Last intimates, the modern project turned more than a little on itself and caused a genuine demographic problem; the First Transition was mostly salutary; the second caused a much more dangerous and destabilizing plunge.

Yet those demographic transitions are united in principle, as Last’s general comments suggest. His suggestive comments force us to understand with greater depth the meaning of modernity. The heart of the modern project lies in conquering nature, in making “nature” obey the creative wills of human beings. First in defying death. Second in controlling life and in redesigning marriage, the institution capable of generating life. Contraception (which asserts a power to control birth), abortion (which asserts a power to define life), the constructivist revolution afoot in marriage (which asserts a human power to define marriage or “relationships” as whatever we wish them to be) are thinkable only in a time when we are preoccupied with making ourselves, in Descartes’s phrase, “Lords and Masters of Nature.” The Transitions are united in their aim and understanding of the world and human power.

The most respectable reason for undertaking this project is, as Last thinks, to allow individuals to actualize themselves or experience the conscious making of their own lives and life plans, which Last sees as the hallmark of the “Second Demographic Transition.” Yet the demographic collapse suggests that our mastery of our situation is not as complete as we think, which should suggest to Last the limits of modernity. Our search for autonomy and mastery over nature has led to a species of revenge from nature. Or, perhaps, our attempt to design and “control” birth can only be successful if we also must rely on nature (i.e., the natural desire for procreation), and nature in this respect seems to be letting us down, as Pierre Manent has argued. This is a problem of technology and its way of thinking; its prominence in our way of thinking is the most compelling reason to see the birth dearth as a consequence of modernity’s general population decline.

Last’s provocative book raises questions about what can be done about population decline and the birth dearth. Initial findings on efforts across the Western world to raise birthrates suggest that there is little we can do to move the needle. The most promising developments in this respect are connecting fecundity with the revitalization of faithful religious practice, as seen in Last’s fascinating discussion of the former Soviet land of Georgia. Swimming against the modern tide seems to require embracing institutions appreciative of such limits.

Scott Yenor is the department chair and a professor in the Department of Political Science at Boise State University. He is author of Family Politics: The Idea of Marriage in Modern Political Thought (Baylor University Press, 2011). This article reprinted with permission from The Public Discourse

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Wendy Davis facing trouble in Democratic stronghold over radical abortion stance

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By Dustin Siggins

State Senator Wendy Davis' outspoken support for late-term abortion made her a national figure, but it may have so turned off Hispanic voters that it could cost her, and her party, the votes of a Democratic-stronghold.

According to The Texas Tribune, Davis has a tremendous advantage in the Rio Grande Valley, a strongly Hispanic part of the state. Hidalgo County has not elected a Republican to a countywide post in "the modern era," the paper noted.

But her Republican challenger, Attorney General Greg Abbott, is looking to change that, targeting the area and the Hispanic vote with a new ad campaign.

According to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-TX, pro-life Democrats will find it more difficult to vote for Davis because of her abortion position. And the region, which is very Catholic, tends to send pro-life Democrats to the polls.

Even as Davis faces risks among Hispanic Catholics, Abbott is making a major push to the minority population, which is expected to become a plurality of the state's population by 2020. Abbott has launched ads in Spanish, and spoken about how his wife will be the first Hispanic First Lady of Texas. He has also brought volunteers in for a ground campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, reminiscent of the 1998 George W. Bush gubernatorial campaign.

Bush was considered a popular Republican among Hispanics, winning 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2004 president re-election campaign. While Abbott has a 12 to 13-point advantage in many polls over Davis, and an enormous financial advantage, his efforts are seen as looking to the GOP's future in Texas.

Davis, meanwhile, has struggled with all voting blocs. She is losing to opponent Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott by 12 to 13 points -- including women, according to an April 2014 poll. Democrats have largely written off the race, especially with control of the U.S. Senate taking up enormous media and financial resources.

Since her filibuster, Davis has attempted to walk a tightrope on her abortion position in order to win more moderate voters. She has called herself "pro-life" because of her support for certain education policies, and indicated that she supports limitations on abortions done after the first trimester. However, she has also recently published a book describing how she aborted a child in 1997 to prevent the child from "suffering."

That claim has drawn enormous media coverage for Davis, who was in New York for a book signing, was on the Rachel Maddow show, and generally had her abortion claims widely covered in innumerable national media outlets.

The book has also brought new life to abortion's importance in the gubernatorial race. In the Davis-Abbott debate last week, the first between the candidates, Davis indicated she supported no restrictions on abortion. She was asked "What do you see as fair regulations on abortion?"
Davis responded that she has "always believed that women should be able to make this most personal and difficult of decisions themselves, guided by their faith and their family and with their doctor."
"I stood on the Senate floor for 13 hours to ensure that this most private of decisions could be made by women," Davis said, before attacking Abbott for, among other things, allegedly opposing abortion in cases of "brutal rape" and incest.

At no point did Davis indicate support for any "regulations on abortion."

In his response, Abbott said that he is "pro-life" and Catholic. He said that "all life is sacred," and said that "Texas is ensuring that we protect more life and do a better job of protecting the health care of women by providing that women still have five months to make a very difficult decision, but after that time the state has an interest in protecting innocent life."

When asked by Houston-area TV station KHOU whether he would sign a bill that would ban abortions for reasons of rape and incest, however, Abbott did not answer the question. Instead, he described his support for the lives of the unborn and women, and his support for HB2.

HB2 is the legislation that Davis filibustered last year.

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Abbott faces his own difficulties -- he favors border enforcement and has made comments about corruption in the Rio Grande Valley. University of Texas-Pan American political scientist Jerry Polinard told the Tribune that he expects Davis to pull at least 55 percent of Democratic voters in Hidalgo, Texas – simply because "this is the bluest part of a red state." 

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Paul Huff, 66, and Tom Wojtowick, 73, were “married” in Seattle in May 2013. Wojtowick was an organist at the parish, while Paul sang in the choir. Video screenshot
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Bishop stands by priest who removed ‘married’ homosexual couple from parish ministry

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By Lisa Bourne
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'This is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage,' said Bishop Warfel.

A Montana bishop is standing by one of his priests after the priest told a homosexual couple in his parish that they cannot receive Communion or participate in Church ministry due to the fact that they have contracted a civil “marriage.”

Paul Huff, 66, and Tom Wojtowick, 73, have reportedly been together for more than 30 years and were “married” in Seattle in May 2013, according to the Associated Press.

The men told the local ABC-FOX affiliate that Father Samuel Spiering approached them shortly after beginning his assignment as administrator of St. Leo the Great and asked if the rumor he’d heard of them being “married” was true. When they affirmed it was, he asked if he could meet with them the following day.

Father Spiering informed them the next day that they have broken Cannon Law, and that they would not be able to receive communion or continue in ministry.

Canon 915 holds that those persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.

Both men sang in the choir and Wojtowick was an organist.

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The men agreed to write a restoration statement that, in part, would uphold the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman, during an August 25 conference call with Father Spiering, Bishop Warfel and other diocesan officials. They said they did not intend to challenge the Church’s concept of marriage with their union, rather they just wanted civil protection.

However, the statement also included a timeline for the two men to cease living together and divorce, which they would not agree to.

In an interview with the Billings Gazette last week Bishop Warfel said he knows Wojtowick and Huff “to be good people.”

“This is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage,” Bishop Warfel said. “A lot of people put those two together, and obviously there’s a connection, but it’s not the same thing.”

After meeting with parishioners on Sunday, the bishop said that he would like to “effect healing” at the parish, but pointed out that he also has to uphold Catholic teaching.

The bishop also confirmed for ABC-FOX-Montana on Saturday that Huff and Wojtowick could not receive Communion.

While Bishop Warfel acknowledged growing support for homosexual “marriage” when speaking with the Billings Gazette, he said the fact remains that it stands in conflict with Catholic teachings.

“As a Catholic bishop I have a responsibility to uphold our teaching of marriage between one man and one woman,” said Bishop Warfel. “And I think there’s very solid scriptural teaching on it and our sacred tradition is very strong on it.”

Those teachings leave him little choice, he continued.

“Either I uphold what Catholic teachings are or, by ignoring it or permitting it, I’m saying I disagree with what I’m ordained to uphold,” the bishop said.

“Everyone is welcome to the journey of conversion,” said Bishop Warfel. “But there are certain convictions, beliefs or behaviors that are in direct contradiction to what we believe and teach, and this would be one of them.”

Father Spiering has declined to speak publicly and there has not been an official diocesan statement on the issue since the meeting at the parish on Saturday.
 

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New archbishops in Chicago and Madrid: Ratzingerians out, ‘inclusiveness’ in

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Chicago's Archbishop-elect, Blase Cupich

Pope Francis announced Saturday that he is appointing as archbishop of Chicago a prelate best known in pro-life circles as the man who ordered his priests in 2011 not to participate in local 40 Days for Life prayer vigils. The media and Church watchers describe him as “progressive,” “inclusive,” and “left-of-center.”

The appointment of Bishop Blase Cupich, current head of the Spokane diocese in Washington, to America’s third most prominent see – an appointment which Vatican watchers predicted would signal the pope’s priorities for the direction of the U.S. Church – has been widely praised by liberal Catholics and opponents of Church teaching but met with concern by many Catholic activists.

The archbishop-elect gave a sense of his approach to the U.S. “culture war” in an interview Sunday with Chicago’s CBS affiliate, in which he suggested he would be open to giving Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians and a person wearing a button in favour of same-sex “marriage.”

“As long as they’re in church, are willing to hear the word of God, be open to Christ’s call of conversion for each one of us, then I think that that’s sufficient for me,” he said. “We cannot politicize the Communion rail and I just don’t think that that works in the long run.”

Cupich will replace the ailing Cardinal Francis George, known in the US as a “Ratzingerian” for his strong defense of Catholic orthodoxy, particularly on issues of sexual morality, but who is suffering from cancer and is overdue for retirement at age 77. The archbishop of Chicago is also normally granted the “red hat” and made a cardinal, which would make Cupich eligible to vote in upcoming papal conclaves. Cupich is scheduled to be installed in Chicago November 18.

The Chicago appointment mirrors that of another outside the US in recent weeks. Rome announced August 28 that Carlos Osoro Sierra, 69, will be installed as the new archbishop of Madrid, Spain’s capital city and largest archdiocese. But the story in Madrid has less to do with the new appointee and more to do with the would-be appointee who was demoted.

Until just before the appointment, most Vatican watchers expected the prominent post to be given to 68-year-old Vatican Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, dubbed the “little Ratzinger” for his orthodoxy in line with Pope Benedict XVI.  When LifeSiteNews interviewed Cardinal Cañizares in 2009 at the time of his appointment as prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, he noted that denying communion to pro-abortion politicians was a charitable act.

Leaving his Vatican post, he was considered a natural for the Madrid spot. But instead it went to the archbishop of Valencia, and Cañizares is to fill that vacancy instead.

The former archbishop of Valencia is known for his strong “liberal” leanings and he will be replacing Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, 78, who, like Cañizares, is also known for following the lead of the retired Pope Benedict XVI.

El Pais wrote of the new appointee that Catholics of the Madrid archdiocese, accustomed to the “hieratic” Varela, will be seeing “an entirely different model.”

“Shortly after the announcement of his appointment, the most repeated words to define his figure were ‘dialogue’ and ‘moderation.’”

“During the 12 years he has been the head of the Catholic Church [in Madrid], Rouco Varela has too often mixed faith and politics, with an overdose of intransigence. Defending the (exclusively traditional) family and attacking laws that recognize the right of women to abortion are the main workhorses.”

Catholic News Agency’s Vatican-watcher, Andrea Gagliarducci, wrote that the appointment marks a “new course for Spain’s bishops.” He is described in the Spanish press as “affable,” “friendly,” and “extremely gregarious.” 

As for Cupich, David Gibson of Religion News Service described him as “a prelate closely identified with the Catholic Church’s progressive wing.”

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Vatican watcher Rocco Palmo, author of the “Whispers in the Loggia” blog, wrote that the appointment is “the most shocking major move the American hierarchy has seen in the last decade and a half.” Another Vatican veteran, John Allen Jr., wrote for the US Catholic online magazine Crux that Cupich so closely mirrors Pope Francis’ theology and style that he could be called the “American Pope Francis in Chicago.”

On his blog, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, known for his icy relations with the pro-life movement, shared his excitement over the “new breeze” brought by Cupich’s appointment. The bishop noted that Cupich “admires deeply the ecclesiology and vision” of leftist prelates such as former San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn and former Galveston-Houston Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza.

The news of Cupich’s appointment was met with praise in the mainstream press. According to The New York Times Francis has “set the tone” for US appointments by “replacing a combative conservative with a prelate whose pastoral approach to upholding church doctrine is more in keeping with the pope’s inclusive tone.”

It has also been praised by dissident Catholic groups such as the homosexual activist group New Ways Ministries. Last year, the group issued a roundup of evaluations of the various leading members of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops who were set to elect a new president. New Ways praised Cupich for his intervention in the 2012 debate leading up to a referendum on “gay marriage” in Washington State. Cupich’s only intervention was a pastoral letter in which he asked voters to uphold traditional marriage, but also called for a “more civil and honest conversation about Catholic positions on equality.”

“I also want to be very clear that in stating our position, the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility toward homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity,” Cupich wrote.

Cupich stood out from his fellow US bishops in his response to the abortion-funding Obamacare. Though he joined his other bishops in condemning the Obama administration’s mandate that Catholic employers cover abortifacients and contraceptives, he encouraged Catholic Charities in his diocese to act as an Obamacare navigator and help people sign up for coverage that could fund the destruction of unborn life.

He also condemned the line of other US bishops when they threatened to shut down Catholic social services. “These kind of scare tactics and worse-case scenario predictions are uncalled for,” Cupich wrote in a letter to diocesan employees. “I am confident we can find a way to move forward.”

Today the anti-Catholic organization Call to Action issued a press release saying they are “relieved” at the appointment. “At a time when numerous U.S. Bishops are choosing to fight ideological battles, Pope Francis’ selection of Cupich demonstrates a desire for a humbler, more pastoral church.”  

Call to Action, like New Ways Ministries, works to overturn Catholic doctrine, particularly on sexual matters, from within the Church, and has received the censure of the US bishops for their activities. They wrote, “The choice of Cupich shows promise for a church which can be closer to the people. Catholics in Chicago and beyond yearn for a faith rooted in the Gospel call of love and justice over rigid orthodoxy.”

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