Europe’s Demographic Suicide
The title above is as it appeared atop the main opinion piece in the May 25-31 Arlington Catholic Herald, the weekly newspaper of the Arlington, Virginia, diocese. The Denver Catholic had a slightly different title, but it’s the same article that was also doubtless in Roman Catholic newspapers around the country. The article delivered a good deal less than its title promised, and because of that and because of some other shortcomings in the piece, I had a strong urge to write a letter to the editor. Then I thought of my experience 17 years ago when I wrote a letter to the same newspaper about an article by the same author and they didn’t see fit to publish it. I had to resort to putting it on my own web site, which some years later I reposted with the title, “The Brazen Duplicity of George Weigel.” Well, here we go again.
Anyone following world events knows that most of the countries of Europe are staring a major demographic problem in the face. Most have low and declining birth rates and they are being swamped by immigrants, a large percentage of whom are refugees from wars and chaos in the Middle East and North Africa, which, in turn resulted from the military action of the United States and its European allies. This war-induced immigration and Europe’s low birth rate are the twin elements of what one might call Europe’s looming demographic disaster, and because the war policies have by-and-large been supported by Europe’s leaders and because many of those same leaders, with Germany’s Angela Merkel in the forefront, have welcomed the resulting refugees with open arms, the “demographic suicide” charge might well apply to both elements. Because the largely Muslim immigrants typically have a much higher birth rate than do the natives of Europe and because they are particularly hard to assimilate, the immigration element might well be the stronger of the contributors to Europe’s “demographic suicide.” With that fact in mind, let’s have a look at how Weigel, with his usual lofty tone, begins his article:
Ten years ago, after my meditation on Europe, The Cube and the Cathedral, had appeared in several languages, I was invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels. There, I pointed out what seemed three rather obvious points.
(1) Europe is committing demographic suicide, systematically depopulating itself in what British historian Niall Ferguson has called “the greatest sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death in the 14th century.”
(2) This unwillingness to create the future in the most elemental sense, by creating new generations, is at the root of many of Europe’s problems, including its difficulties assimilating immigrants and its fiscal distress.
(3) When an entire continent—healthier, wealthier, and more secure than ever before—deliberately chooses sterility, the most basic cause for that must lie in the realm of the human spirit, in a certain souring about the very mystery of being.
First, he makes it apparent that he’s just going to address the low-birth-rate side of the problem, although we can’t see at this point how poorly he is going to do even that.
Second, of all the people who might speak to Europeans about their demographic problem, I can hardly think of a person with less moral authority than Weigel. The extremely pro-Israel U.S. war policies that he has been a cheerleader for, after all, are a major cause of the wave of immigration that is overwhelming Europe.
Third, I don’t see how he can use the word “obvious” in describing his points two and three, considering the muddiness of the exposition. What could Europe’s low birth rate have to do with its problem in assimilating immigrants? Isn’t the basic problem simply that Europe increasingly has too many immigrants and that these immigrants are hard to assimilate because they don’t want to be assimilated? And anyone capable of spinning out the words, “a certain souring about the very mystery of being,” to my mind, is simply best ignored (although I must admit to having written the expression “mystery of being” once in a poem). It’s that sort of murky prose, along with his apparent complete lack of anything resembling a sense of humor, however, that affords him the opportunity to bask so much in the adjective, “intellectual.”
Later in the article he makes one brief nod of recognition of the Muslim-immigration elephant in the room, only to dismiss it in the larger scheme of things “[as] a Catholic.”
The members of the American commentariat most attuned to this plague of Euro-childlessness tend to discuss its impacts in terms of the rapidly growing Muslim population in Europe and the difficulties so many European states seem to have in assimilating immigrants from a different civilizational orbit. Those problems are real enough. But for a Catholic, Europe’s demographic winter bespeaks, first and foremost, a colossal evangelical failure. Acknowledging that also sheds light on the contemporary Catholic situation in Europe.
Once again, please note, the only immigration problem that Weigel acknowledges is the puzzling inability of European countries to assimilate the immigrants rather than with the wave of virtually inassimilable migrants that is inundating them. His primary focus, though, is on the failure of Catholic values as exhibited by people not having children.
Real Evidence of Eroding Christian Values
If this “Catholic intellectual” had wanted to make some cogent observations about the decline of Catholic values, he could have found a number of better indicators. For starters, take a look at Table 4 on births to unmarried women as a percentage of all live births for 12 countries over the period 1980-2000 in the Monthly Labor Review (MLR) article “Families and Work in Transition in 12 Countries.” The increases are stunning. In the Netherlands it went from 4.1% to 24.9%, in France it rose from 11.4% to 42.6%, and in the United Kingdom from 11.5% to 39.5%. And in what used to be three very Catholic countries, this indicator shows which of them seems to be losing its Catholic values most rapidly. In Italy, births to unwed mothers grew over the period from 4.3% to 9.6%, in Spain from 3.9% to 17.0%, and in Ireland from 5.0% to a whopping 31.8%, and that’s just over a 20-year period.
One can’t take comfort that these are births to people who are in a consensual union, essentially informally married and acting as proper parents. In Table 6 we see that single-parent households as a percent of all households with children rose in the Netherlands from 9.6 in 1988 to 13.0 in 2000, in France 11.9 to 17.1 over the same short period, while in the UK it rose from 13.9 in 1981 to 20.7 in 2001. Once again, the biggest jump up was in Ireland, where single parent households made up 7.2% of households with children in 1981 and 16.7 % of households with children in 2002.
In contrast to these truly disturbing trends, Table 5 shows that there is hardly any trend at all toward what Weigel calls “the plague of Euro-childlessness,” as we can see reflected in the percentage of total households made up by married couple households without children. In France, in fact, there was even a slight decline in that percentage from 1982 to 2001. Weigel’s entire basis for assuming that there is such a plague is that at this moment in time several European leaders for one reason or another happen to be childless. From that he jumps to general “Euro-childlessness,” and thence to demographic suicide. If that’s the scholarship of an intellectual, I’d prefer not to be called one.
Seeing Population Decline More Clearly
He could have made his demographic point much better by simply referencing fertility statistics, but then he couldn’t wring his hands so much over the “certain souring about the very mystery of being.” Table 1 of the MLR article shows that of the 12 countries covered only the United States had a fertility rate as of 2001 that would lead to a natural rate of population increase. To hold steady, the fertility rate would have to be at 2.1 per female of childbearing age. Italy was at 1.24, Spain at 1.25, and Germany at 1.29. There, in a nutshell, is the depopulation of Europe that the historian Ferguson was talking about.
Referencing the fertility rate tables of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to bring the numbers up to date, we can detect in many instances either an arrest in the rate of fertility decline or a small reversal in the downward direction in the rate. But, as explained in the text of the MLR article, the main reason at that time for the U.S. fertility rate being higher was that its immigration rate was higher and immigrant women, with their higher fertility rate, had bumped the national fertility rate up. Now, no doubt, we see that same phenomenon beginning to show in Europe. From a social cohesion standpoint and from a “demographic suicide” standpoint native Europeans can take cold comfort in whatever small rise there might be now in the gross fertility statistics.
Homicide, Not Suicide
My strongest charge against Weigel in my previous abortive letter to the editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald was that he was deceitful. Now I think he’s at it again. What’s really going on demographically—and particularly culturally—with respect to old Europe is more like a homicide than a suicide, and the Jewish dominated neocon crowd to which Weigel belongs is the primary guilty party. Weigel focuses upon the population decline of Europe and couches it in censorious moral tones, in effect blaming the victim. In reality, what we see going on is the result of quite rational economic decisions by the majority of married couples to limit their number of children to no more than two. There’s no good reason to describe this development in demographic-winter, apocalyptical terms. The continent could probably use a little less crowding and could get along quite well with fewer people, what with the growing use of automation. And one really has to question the long-term implications of the implicit Weigel economic model, requiring as it does endless population growth.
Concerning Weigel’s personal guilt for the cultural-demographic homicide of Europe, see this quote from my earlier article:
1997, Weigel and a host of prominent neoconservatives
and hardline foreign policy wonks added their names to the founding statement
of principles of PNAC, a group that helped champion a new post-Cold War agenda
guided by a "Reaganite" foreign policy and
served as a key rallying point for supporters of an Iraq war in the wake of the
9/11 terrorist attacks.
Weigel endeavored to develop a Christian justification for the invasion of Iraq and for the use of preemptive military force. In opposition to the arguments of many leading Catholics, Weigel stated that the Catholic just-war tradition "lives more vigorously ... at the higher levels of the Pentagon than ... in certain offices at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops."
That quote was taken from the web site, Right Web: Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy. Their Weigel page has since been updated, and, as they document with numerous references, a greater warmonger than Weigel is hard to imagine. But for the fact that he presumably takes regular communion, he might as well be William Kristol, with perhaps an admixture of Professor Irwin Corey thrown in.
There is some evidence that the attempted cultural homicide of Europe is premeditated, and that it is the work of the same people for whom Weigel is an evident hireling, and not just an incidental byproduct of the bloody-minded foreign policy that he so eagerly champions. Here we have it in the words of Barbara Lerner Spectre, the American-born founding director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden:
I think there’s a resurgence of anti-Semitism because at this point in time Europe has not yet learned how to be multicultural, and I think we’re going be part of the throes of that transformation, which must take place.
Europe is not going to be the monolithic societies [sic] that they once were in the last century. Jews are going to be at the center of that. It’s a huge transformation for Europe to make.
They are now going into a multicultural mode, and Jews will be resented because of our leading role.
Indeed, and why shouldn’t they be? The larger question, though, is why this transformation to multiculturalism is something that “must take place” and why Jews would want to be at the center of it. It is certainly not what she would advocate for Israel, quite the opposite I would imagine. One can’t help but suspect that it is part of a larger, longstanding campaign against Christianity and is of a piece with the ongoing propaganda campaign to vilify the most monolithically Christian region of the United States, the American South.
Another question that needs to be asked is why someone like George Weigel would have a regular platform in American Catholic publications to promote his poisonous views in his devious manner.
June 1, 2017