COVER STORY / POPULATION: The philosophical roots of 'Demographic Winter'
by Don Feder
News Weekly, April 17, 2010
Many years ago, economist Richard M. Weaver wrote a book with a title both prosaic and profound, Ideas Have Consequences.
Those three words hold the key to understanding all of the social trends and political movements that confound us. Nothing happens in a vacuum. In human experience, nothing occurs spontaneously or haphazardly. For every effect there is a cause.
Demographic Winter didn't just happen. Rather it is the culmination of societal acceptance of highly dubious ideas and policies.
The Japanese didn't wake up one day and say: "Hey, let's have the most rapidly ageing population in the world. In the course of 20 years, let's go from those over 60 representing 11.6 per cent of our population to 21.2 per cent."
The Russian people didn't suddenly decide to have a birth rate of 1.17, when 2.13 is needed just to replace current population. There has to be a reason - or reasons - why a country's population shrinks by 700,000 per annum.
In contemplating the fact that in the past 40 years, birth rates have fallen by more than 50 per cent - a startling statistic - the thoughtful person is compelled to ask: why?
All over the world, individuals, governments and societies have embraced a set of assumptions that have led inexorably to rapidly falling birthrates.
The roots of Demographic Winter lie in the 1960s. It's not a coincidence that this phenomenon first became noticeable in the late 1970s, about a decade after the Sixties, which resulted in the most profound social upheaval since the French Revolution.
The hallmark of the 1960s revolution was youth rejecting authority, especially parental and religious authority. Supposedly this was a sign of intellectual independence and sophistication. In reality, it was blind acceptance of a set of clichés and slogans in place of the time-tested wisdom of the ages.
Chief among these clichés was "do your own thing" - which roughly translates as "live for yourself". If you live according to this axiom, you become the centre of your own universe. Little wonder that my generation (the Sixties or Baby-Boom generation) - is known in the United States as the Me-Generation, in recognition of its innate selfishness.
My generation consists of largely self-absorbed consumers, who monitor their emotional state incessantly, and worry compulsively about whether they're getting enough love, recognition and emotional support from friends, family and society at large. We are dedicated consumers of mood-enhancing drugs, psychiatric services, self-help courses and 12-step programs.
Along with self-expression came a lessening of feelings of responsibility for the things that really matter. Curiously, we feel responsible for endangered species, the planet and the ozone layer (things largely beyond our control) - but not to our families, our nation or our people.
In the past, people didn't ask why have children - any more than they asked why eat or why breathe. It was such a natural part of existence that it needed no rationale.
You had children because you had an obligation to your parents (in recognition of the sacrifices they made for you) to give them grandchildren. You had a responsibility to your family to assure its continuation. You had a responsibility to your people - so that they would not go the way of the Babylonian and the Phoenician.
You had children because, in the act of procreation, humanity finds its future. You had children to share the joy you felt at being alive.
All of the movements and trends that started in the Sixties culminated in industrialised nations being plunged into the depths of Demographic Winter. There are currently 59 countries, with 44 per cent of the world's population, that have below-replacement birth rates.
In the United States, birth-control pills came into widespread use in the early 1960s. Today, for the first time in history, just under half the world's population of child-bearing age uses some form of contraception. In the United States, children as young as 12 are instructed in the proper use of condoms.
In America, abortion was legalised by judicial fiat in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. Other Western nations began allowing abortion at about the same time - Britain in 1967 and Sweden in 1974.
Like contraception, abortion is based on 1960s assumptions, chief among them that nothing should be allowed to interfere with your happiness (or what you've been told will make you happy), including children. In the United States today, there are cases of teen-aged girls having abortions because pregnancy would spoil the lines of their prom dress. In Russia each year, there are more abortions than live births. The Russian people are literally aborting their future.
Worldwide, there are approximately 115,000 abortions a day or 42 million abortions a year. We are allowing the slaughter of 42 million unborn children every year - each of whom has the complete genetic code of a human being, and who (if nature is allowed to take its course) will emerge from the womb fully formed in nine months. But, from the perspective of choice, all that matters is that we "choose" not to let a child (whose existence we are responsible for) stand in the way of our freedom, happiness, prosperity or tranquility.
Cohabitation also plays a significant part here. At its heart, the Sixties revolution was the Sexual Revolution. Once and for all, sex was divorced from marriage, commitment and morality. We've seen the initiation of sexual activity at an earlier and earlier age. Sex before marriage led to sex outside marriage, which led to multiple liaisons, divorce and what's been called serial polygamy.
Given the impermanence of their relationship, cohabitating couples are more likely to be childless, or to have fewer children. In much of the Western world, marriage has become optional - a ceremony to mark a legal relationship, rather than an estate sanctified by faith and tradition. In France, last year, more people began living together outside wedlock than married.
Even with divorce, there is the perception that marriage will tie us down too much, limit our options. Hence marriage, once a central reality of existence, has become optional. We marry because we choose to, not because we are obliged to. Fewer marriages equal fewer children.
Same-sex marriage (so-called) - all the rage among Western elites - completely severs the connection between marriage and children. Some couples choose not to have children. Others are unable to have children. With "homosexual marriage", we're applying the label to couples which, by their very nature, are incapable of reproduction - thus further removing the institution from its highest calling: child-bearing and child-rearing.
Men and women who do marry are marrying later and later in life - which also reduces the number of children issuing from these unions. (After age 35, it becomes progressively harder for women to conceive. The ability of men to father children also declines with age.) Marrying and having children are things we choose to do, not things we should do. If marriage or children interfere with education, career or an active social life - things society tells us are really important - guess which gets sacrificed? That's a rhetorical question.
Then there's our attitude toward children. Increasingly, we live in anti-child cultures. From cinema, to news media, to public education and academia - children are presented as a burden and an annoyance, rather than a joy and a blessing.
The culture treats large families (today, defined as more than two children) as something freakish - the result of parental peculiarity or religious fundamentalism.
We are constantly reminded of the cost of children to society - in educational, medical and law enforcement expenditures.
What's usually overlooked is the other side of the ledger: that the children of today are the workers, the producers, the innovators, the care-givers and the taxpayers of tomorrow - those whose payments keep pension plans solvent, those who empty the bedpans in the nursing homes, operate factories and farms and keep the lights on all over the world. The family with four children helps to assure a comfortable old age to the voluntarily childless.
Ultimately, our culture of selfishness is based on a loss of faith. There is a direct relationship between religious observance and birth rates. Countries with high church attendance have above-replacement birth rates. The reverse is also true: empty churches equal empty cradles and empty hearts.
I've yet to encounter a family with more than three children that didn't have a firm foundation in faith - be it Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Judaism or Mormonism, etc. All of these faiths recognise the centrality of family. All stress the importance of having children. All support parental responsibility and authority. In other words, all are contra the ethic of our age.
Religion teaches responsibility to God and our fellow man. It makes individuals other- (outward) oriented. It teaches that our own lives aren't the sum total of human existence, that there's something higher - a grand scheme that tells us both who we are and why we are. In consequence, it provides the only real foundation for happiness.
There is a very simple formula to determine who's having large families and who isn't. Those who have faith in the future have children. Those who don't, don't. Where does faith in the future come from? It comes from faith.
The assault on procreation and families is led by the secular left. By putting these people in charge of our governments and our cultures, by allowing them to indoctrinate our children (in the guise of educating and entertaining them), by subconsciously assimilating their values (including radical autonomy, scepticism, secularism, environmentalism and population control), by closing our eyes to the reality and inevitable consequences of falling birth rates, we choose Demographic Winter.
"Choice" is the watchword of the anti-family left. The concept is more fitting than they could ever imagine. In thousands of ways, every day, humanity literally chooses its future - or non-future.
The wonderful thing about being human is that - unlike the animals - we can conceptualise. Besides conceiving children, we can also conceive ideas. By the application of reason, we can evaluate theories, accepting or rejecting them.
The ultimate test of an idea is its practicality. Does it work? The ideas that have led to the tragedy of rapidly falling birth rates are disastrously wrong and must give way to better ideas.
On the eve of the First World War, Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, sadly commented: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." Today, lamps are going out all over the world. Those lights are our children, who are being extinguished by the millions. If we don't rekindle them quickly, the world will be plunged into darkness the likes of which we have not seen since the fall of Rome.
Don Feder is an American conservative Jewish activist, lawyer, columnist and broadcaster. He is president of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, and wrote famous collection of polemical essays on the culture wars, under the title Who's Afraid of the Religious Right? (1966).
The above article is from an address Don Feder gave at the World Congress of Families, Amsterdam, in August 2009. The full-length version of his original speech can be found at: