Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Demographic Winter

Kathryn Joyce's article in the Nation magazine tells us about a conservative war you may not that often think about: the war of the wombs. The soldiers in this war are, surprisingly, women, and the Muslim women are winning over the non-Muslim European white women, because the former have more children than the latter. Indeed, the white women have refused to be proper baby warriors and must be persuaded back into that role very fast indeed. Otherwise Europe will die and turn either into a wasteland with an eternal winter or into something that looks very much like Saudi Arabia.

Or this is the story told by some in the American religious right:

Steve Mosher is telling me about wolves returning to the streets of European towns. Not as part of some Vermont-model wildlife-recovery scenario but as emblems of a harsh comeuppance mankind is due--they're stalking out of the forests like an ancient judgment, coming to claim mankind's ceded land. We're sitting in a sunny Main Street cafe in Front Royal, Virginia--a beautifying ex-industrial town in the Shenandoah Valley that, as the far edge of DC's suburban sprawl, is lately home to a surprising number of conservative Christian ministries. Mosher, president of the Catholic anticontraception lobbyist group Population Research Institute (PRI), describes his grim vision of Europe's future: fields will lie fallow and economies will wither. A great depression will sink over the continent as it undergoes "a decline that Europe hasn't experienced since the Black Death." The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian-right "profamily" activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe. It's called the "demographic winter," a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, "Western Civilization" is laying itself down to die.

How so? Europe is failing to produce enough babies--the right babies--to replace its old and dying. It's "the baby bust," "the birth dearth," "the graying of the continent": modern euphemisms for old-fashioned race panic as low fertility among white "Western" couples coincides with an increasingly visible immigrant population across Europe. The real root of racial tensions in the Netherlands and France, America's culture warriors tell anxious Europeans, isn't ineffective methods of assimilating new citizens but, rather, decades of "antifamily" permissiveness--contraception, abortion, divorce, population control, women's liberation and careers, "selfish" secularism and gay rights--enabling "decadent" white couples to neglect their reproductive duties. Defying the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply," Europeans have failed to produce the magic number of 2.1 children per couple, the estimated "replacement-level fertility" for developed nations (and a figure repeated so frequently it becomes a near incantation). The white Christian West, in this telling, is in danger of forfeiting itself through sheer lack of numbers to an onslaught of Muslim immigrants and their purportedly numerous offspring. In other words, Mosher and his colleagues aren't really concerned about wolves.

Scary, is it not? And what's to be done about this? These religious men have a solution:

Carlson is a compelling conservative historian who uses secular arguments to craft a social science rationale for the necessity of large patriarchal families, or the "natural family," as he calls it in his manifesto--a correction of Marx that aims to turn America and the Western world away from the perils of liberal modernity and back to the "natural family" model, where fathers lead and women honor their highest domestic calling by becoming "prolific mothers." In this scheme, families are the fundamental unit that society and government should be concerned with promoting, and individual rights are valued insofar as they correspond with pronatalist aims. Thus Carlson and Mero qualify their "wholehearted" support of women's rights: "Above all, we believe in rights that recognize women's unique gifts of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding."

Ok. So let's see if I have this right. Not only must European Christian or secular women have many more babies, but they must do that while staying at home and while being subservient to a man. If the women refuse to do this, well, then Islam will win and the women will have to stay at home and have lots of babies whether they want them or not. Sounds like a lose-lose plan for any woman who wouldn't choose that particular lifestyle, not to mention that most people can't afford to support large families with just one paycheck except in poverty.

Where did all those additional conditions come from? How come aren't these religious guys eager to stay at home themselves, taking care of as many white babies as they can possibly find? It would seem to me to make more sense and might assuage their obsession with this particular topic. Besides, good childcare is both expensive and hard to find, so they should have a ready-made market for those services.

Well, Joyce does suggest that the movement isn't really as interested in the question of providing more white babies in Europe as it is in getting its patriarchal values adopted in Europe. Poland is supposed to be the foothold from which to launch the Great Patriarchal Attack (via the wombs, though):

The fourth conference of the WCF, in Warsaw last May, provided much of the commentary for the Demographic Winter film. And little wonder: besides Carlson, Family First Foundation's board of directors is composed entirely of WCF leaders and speakers, all of whom gathered in Warsaw's grand Palace of Culture and Science, the old Polish Communist Party headquarters, with more than 3,000 other religious conservatives, to hear predictions about Europe as a sinking ship, a Titanic nearly lost to the repercussions of the sexual revolution. But for the first time in a long time, the "natural family" has a white knight in Europe: brave Poland, the anti-Sweden. Following Pope John Paul II's philosophy that particular countries can change the course of Europe, Poland has been heralded in US profamily literature as the likely salvation of the continent: a heavily Catholic bastion of conservatism amid the gay-friendly EU. Under the leadership of the Kaczynski brothers--extremist twins in office as president and prime minister--the country has shifted far to the right, embracing a social conservatism that aggressively targets gays, Jews, women's rights and foreigners, and that in 2006 went so far as to propose that Jesus be named honorary king of Poland.

To Carlson, this proves Poland is "an island of profamily values" amid the tides of "Christo-phobic" "population-control types" who dominate the rest of the continent. Poland, he says, could provide an important counterbalance to European modernity and become a launching point for "a profamily resistance," and thereby "save Europe again": a not-so-coded reference to the Battle of Vienna in 1683, where Polish King John III Sobieski led a "Holy League" army of Christian soldiers against the Ottoman Empire, culminating in a decisive victory for Christendom over the invading Muslim troops. The profamily movement's bald reference to this ancient holy war informs new conservative foot soldiers who see today's immigration conflicts as "a new phase of a very old war." And so the WCF chose Poland as the site of last spring's massing of the troops, drawing thousands of leaders from across the spectrum of religious-right activism: from US evangelical and Catholic nonprofits to Eastern European Catholic and orthodox antiabortion and anti-gay rights groups, to bureaucrats from European, EU and US governments, taking policy notes to bring back home.

Poland! It's not just a member in the Coalition of the Willing!

At this point of reading the article I looked up the birth and death rates for Poland, Sweden and Finland, the last two picked for comparison purposes as fairly feminist countries. Finland also has a very small immigrant population so the birth rates there should be really low, right? To reflect those white feminist anti-family women?

Well, it turns out that Poland's birth and death rates in 2007 were both 9.94 per 1000 people, which means that the country was not losing population. The corresponding figures for Sweden were 10.2 and 10.27 and those for Finland 10.42 and 9.93. These figures mean that Sweden had a slight decrease in population and Finland an increase. Confusing, is it not? Certainly not quite as dire as the "natural family" folk would like us to believe.

I've often wondered what it would be like to have the gall of, say, Pat Buchanan: To have produced exactly zero children (or at least zero known children) to boost this great white race of ours and to still feel completely entitled to tell women that they should turn their wombs into production lines.

Indeed, the extreme clerics on both sides of the womb wars view women less as soldiers and more as mules, to be whipped into obedience. Or perhaps not even as mules, given that mules get the occasional carrot, too.