Friday, March 01, 2013

Hesitating at the brink?

It's rare for liberals to recognise the negative consequences of a liberal culture. So I was interested to read an article from The Daily Beast/Newsweek in which the decline of the traditional family is presented as a looming problem (hat tip: Elusive Wapiti).

The gist of the article is that the U.S. is now beginning to follow the pattern in Europe of having below replacement levels of fertility. The authors seem to recognise that liberalism is spawning a postfamilial culture in which the creative classes in the big cities are beginning to choose solo living over a commitment to family.
Amid this shift, the childless and even the partnerless life has gained something of a cultural cachet, with some suggesting they represent not just a legitimate choice but a superior one. It’s a burgeoning movement that’s joined cultural tastemakers, academics, neo-Malthusians, greens, feminists, Democratic politicians, urban planners, and big developers. Unlike families, whose members, after all, are often stuck with one another, University of Santa Barbara psychology professor Bella De Paulo praises singles as enjoying “intentional communities” and being more likely “to think about human connectedness in a way that is far-reaching and less predictable.”

In his provocative 2012 book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, Eric Klinenberg writes that for the hip urban professionals who make up the so-called creative class, living alone represents a “more desirable state,” even “a sign of success and a mark of distinction, a way to gain freedom and experience the anonymity that can make city life so exhilarating.” Certainly, the number of singletons has skyrocketed: more than half of all adults today are single (a group that includes divorcées and widows and widowers), up from about one in five in 1950.
That's hardly surprising. If you buy into liberal ideology, you'll believe that the primary good in life is individual autonomy. And if you want to maximise your autonomy then you won't want to commit to fixed relationships and responsibilities that come with marriage and children; nor will you want to make individual sacrifices to uphold the larger traditions you belong to; nor will you want to follow a "pre-ordained" path of family and children rather than your own unique, self-determining lifestyle.

You can see such thoughts in various comments in the article. For instance, the psychology professor quoted above praises singles as creating "intentional communities" and "less predictable" forms of connection with each other. The implication is that those who marry and have children are just following a predetermined script (and therefore lose status as autonomous beings), in contrast to the deliberate, consciously made relationships made by singles.

Similarly, one of the single women rejected the idea of pregnancy because she didn't want to relinquish "sole ownership of one’s own body." Another one reacted badly to her friends marrying and moving to the suburbs because it seemed too much like a set, pre-ordained life path: “It’s very orderly, like if you put them in different clothes, it could be the 1950s.”

The authors do note that this single woman constituency is a good thing for leftist politics in the sense that it creates a voting bloc for the Democrats. But they worry that if fertility rates fall that the U.S. will be stuck in the same position as the European countries, in having a welfare state saddled with higher costs and a smaller tax base. They also worry that by not having children liberals will be a declining force in the U.S.:
But if singletons are swelling as a voting bloc and interest group now, the demographics of childlessness mean that they’re likely to lose out in the long term...

In the long run, notes Eric Kaufmann, the author of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, high birthrates among such conservative, religious populations as Mormons and evangelical Christians will slant our politics against the secular young, childless voting bloc as well. Even among generally liberal groups like Jews, the most religious are vastly out-birthing their secular counterparts; by some estimates roughly two in five New York Jews are Orthodox—as are three in four of the city’s Jewish children. If these trends continue, and if these children share their parents’ politics—two big ifs, to be sure—even the Democratic stronghold of Gotham will be pulled rightward.

This prospect would pose dangers to our society as a whole, and singletons in particular, including a potential reversion to a more rigidly traditionalist worldview. But perhaps most damaging would be declining markets and a hobbled economy in which governments are forced to tax the shrinking workforce to pay for the soaring retirement and health expenses of an increasingly doddering population

...In the coming decades, success will accrue to those cultures that preserve the family’s place, not as the exclusive social unit but as one that is truly indispensable. It’s a case we need to make as a society, rather than counting on nature to take its course.
I suspect that the real reason why the liberal writers of the article are hesitant to take the leap into a postfamilial culture is the argument I bolded - they understand at some level that such a culture has no future. But what can they do about it? They mostly propose more liberalism as a solution to a problem created by liberalism in the first place. If they were serious about the issue they would have to rethink aspects of liberal ideology and culture. As The Elusive Wapiti puts it:
The problem lays in the attitudes of the millions of men and women who share Ms. Jordan's attitudes. Attitudes that produce billions of perfectly rational self-interested choices subsequent to those attitudes. Try as they may, liberalists cannot deny the effects of dynamiting the family, erasing gender differences, consecrating individual autonomy as the acme of human values, and making children a fashion accessory (that are permitted to enter into this world unmurdered only if they're wanted). As a result, we have a society where "family" and "marriage" are defined so broadly as to be near-meaningless, "men" and "women" are legally interchangeable, sub-replacement fertility, and acting as though "it's all about me" isn't the acme of narcissism but a commonly accepted social norm.


  1. Lefty politics is basicaly like a religion unto itself. Belief in anti-racism, feminism, environmentalism, anti-capitalism and all the rest of it... I do hope for the day we see a backlash against this trash.

  2. Nice conclusion. They are proposing more liberalism as a solution for a problem caused by liberalism.

    That's like giving more gas to a house that is burning down. lol

    If these trends continue, and if these children share their parents’ politics—two big ifs, to be sure

    It's not "two big ifs".

    Roughly 8 out of 10 (or most of them) retain their family's religion.

  3. Elizabeth -- I think they are a bit more clever than you are giving them credit for being. They are not *quite* proposing full-on liberalism as it presently exists. What we are witnessing is much like a mutation among a population of pathogenic disease agents. This particular parasite is gaining self-consciousness; it now realizes that it must find a formula by which to moderate its behavior, or else the host body dies.

    This, of course, does not mean it wishes to cease its life as a parasite. To put it bluntly, they are trying to figure out how best to keep *enough* of us around so as to harvest our children.

  4. it now realizes that it must find a formula by which to moderate its behavior, or else the host body dies.

    That seems to be it in the most general sense. They seem to have connected the dots between no babies = decline. There's even a suggestion that they've connected the dots between "creative urban class not having babies = decline".

    They do suggest tax incentives for couples having children - and that can have at least some positive effect. But a lot of their suggestions come back to the idea of men taking over the motherhood role from women - which suggests that rather than motherhood being a fulfilment for a woman that it's a burden or an injustice that men should share equally.

    It's difficult to see family life resisting such a negative view of motherhood in the long run.

    (I should say at this point that in the outer suburbs where I live and work a lot of women seem to have a much more traditionalist view of motherhood as being a highly significant event in their lives - so the liberal view hasn't triumphed everywhere.)

  5. To put it bluntly, they are trying to figure out how best to keep *enough* of us around so as to harvest our children.

    We are segregating and practicing separation, so we won't indulge them that much.

    Unless of course they start banning segregation, separation and homeschooling/home businesses and even home births.

  6. They do suggest tax incentives for couples having children - and that can have at least some positive effect.

    Countries like Germany, Sweden and France have these tax breaks and incentives and the positive effects have been minimal. The often triumphed "native birth rates rising" is about a movement from say 1.3 or 1.6 to barely replacement level (think 1.9) in France. Birth rates haven't risen in Northern European countries.

    In the USA who takes advantage of these incentives (e.g. tax breaks) are usually single mothers, though it's more like welfare, daycare, etc.

    Japan has problems with birthrates but I think it's mostly because of pornography and low sexual libidos, plus perversity everywhere. That and high prices in urban locales.

  7. A lot of them are giving out cash prizes for couples who have 3-4 kids but most of them still have 2 kids only.

  8. Like I said, single mommies are the ones who truly take advantage of these incentives and their birth rates are pushed up through heavy long-term big government interference.

    IVF use is soaring but most of it is unsuccessful in the long-term. Most women don't get pregnant through IVF.

  9. I'd like to add one other factor to the formula: the average age of the mother when she first gives birth. Generally this favors groups with high rates of teen pregnancy, but it also affects the relative fertility of conservatives and liberals. Let's say the average conservative woman has her first child at age 24, and the average liberal woman has her first child at age 30. The next generation of conservative children will be 12 years old when the next generation of liberal children is born, and in just under a century the conservative group is one generation ahead of the liberal group. This, along with differential fertility, makes the future bleak for liberals assuming conservatives successfully transmit their attitudes to their children.

    Elizabeth Smith is correct that religious and political attitudes are presently transmitted from generation to generation with a high rate of success, but I also agree with Aaron S. when she says that strategies to harvest the children of fecund groups will become more aggressive in future. There will almost certainly be a campaign to end home schooling, and there already is a campaign to push almost all young people through the re-education camps known as colleges. Maybe there will be a government-run youth program along the lines of the Young Pioneers or Hitler Youth.

    But such institutions are merely instruments to deliver the message of liberalism, which is that almost all checks on desire are illegitimate and every human being ought to be autonomous. The blandishments of liberalism are attractive, particularly to young people, particularly because it tells them precisely what they want to hear about chastity.

    The blandishments of liberalism exactly fit Kenneth Minogue's description of seduction. Minogue is a British academic, and native Australian, who wrote that the essence of seduction was to (a) make the person feel the burden of their religious, moral, or political convictions by showing them the delights they are foregoing because of these convictions; and (b) provide high-minded reasons why it would be more honorable to repudiate these convictions than respect them. That's what will happen (is happening) in liberal reeducation programs.

  10. No, JMSmith: Kenneth Minogue, although Australian-domiciled during his youth and for many years a London School of Economics professor, was in fact New-Zealand-born.