Wednesday June 16, 2010

Prince Charles’ Population Control Speech Backfires with References to Chesterton, C.S. Lewis

By John Jalsevac

June 14, 2010 ( – The Prince of Wales has come under fire after using a speech on Islam and environmentalism as an opportunity to call for a reduction in the world’s birth rate, especially among Muslims.

But what has drawn the ire of some commentators is that moments after making his controversial remarks, the prince went on to quote famed Christian writers C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton in support of the thesis of his address.

Dr. Dave Beresford, an expert on G.K. Chesterton who writes for the Chesterton Society’s Gilbert Magazine, told that, “To quote Chesterton in support of any population control program is entirely misleading.” In fact, said Beresford, Chesterton’s writings are chock-full of compelling arguments against population control, a fact of which Prince Charles seems to have been wholly unaware.

The prince conspicuously placed his treatment of population issues at the end of his hour-long speech, which marked the 25th anniversary of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, of which he is the patron.

The general thrust of the address was a call for a return to “tradition.” Such a move was presented as a means of combating the West’s “rapacious desire for continuous economic growth” and the “mechanistic and reductionist approach to our scientific understanding of the world around us.”

But before wrapping up the speech the prince said there was “one final issue I have to mention.”

“Wherever you look, the world’s population is increasing fast,” he said. “It goes up by the equivalent of the entire population of the United Kingdom every year. Which means that this poor planet of ours, which already struggles to sustain 6.8 billion people, will somehow have to support over 9 billion people within fifty years.”

The prince told his audience that it must “face up to the fact more honestly than we do that one of the biggest causes of high birth rates remains cultural” – an apparent reference to the high birth rate amongst Muslims.

Then, while concluding his address, the Prince of Wales quoted Chesterton as saying that “real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them as a root.” He also mentioned C.S. Lewis’ famous statement in Mere Christianity, that “sometimes you do have to turn the clock back if it is telling the wrong time” and “going back can sometimes be the quickest way forward.”

But not everyone is impressed by the prince’s message or by the illustrious intellectual company he is keeping. When asked for comment specifically about the prince’s remarks on birth rate, Steve Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute and an expert on demographic issues, simply quipped, “Prince Charles should stick to matters that he’s good at, like handing out awards at cricket and polo matches.”

Beresford, however, specifically took issue with the prince’s use of Chesterton, telling that the early 20th century English writer would have been appalled to be invoked in a speech that advocated population control.

“Chesterton’s major contribution to social criticism is his argument against population control. That is possibly his most significant contribution,” said Beresford.

In 1925 Chesterton wrote an introduction to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which he said that “The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him, whether he is part of the surplus population; or if not, how he knows he is not.”

Elsewhere, in an essay titled “Social Reform vs. Birth Control,” Chesterton argued that it is typically the wealthy elite who are interested in promoting population control as a solution to poverty, often simply as a means of avoiding dealing with the more difficult root problems that lead to poverty.

“If [the Birth-Controller] can prevent his servants from having families, he need not support those families. Why the devil should he?” wrote Chesterton. “The landlord or the employer says in his hearty and handsome fashion: ‘You really cannot expect me to deprive myself of my money. But I will make a sacrifice. I will deprive myself of your children.’”

Beresford reiterated that “Chesterton dedicated his entire literary output to celebrating the goodness of life and to fighting against ideas such as population control.”

In reference to Prince Charles’ remarks, he said, “It’s unfortunate that one of the chief beneficiaries of a modern industrial economy and thus one of the wealthiest people in the world has recourse to an old-fashioned trick of blaming the poor for all the world’s ills.”