Among American conservatives, there has been a great deal of pessimism, disappointment and anger over Obama’s re-election. While some of the immediate consequences will be negative, Obama’s policies will neither destroy the American economy nor cause a collapse in national security. America will go on, but faces a potential shift towards a far more European model, which raises the spectre of a lengthy decline.
While conservatives need to continue to fight the good fight in the political realm, it is necessary to reconcile ourselves to a rearguard action for the time being. We can recognize that same-sex marriage will continue to advance; and it is not necessary to turn every battle into Custer’s last stand. The tendency of political campaigns is to rhetorically ever-increase the stakes. We are constantly told that salvation from liberalism will be political, and that liberalism will be death. We need to ratchet down the rhetoric, and mock a liberalism which continues to promise salvation from economic uncertainty and from the scary “religious right”.
The principal long-term danger Europe faces is a continuous demographic decline. All European nations currently have fertility rates below 2.1 (the replacement rate), most by a significant margin. The consequences are aging populations with a concomitant increase in demand for public services (health care, pensions). As societies become older and the greater government outlays are needed to sustain retirees, higher taxes on the shrinking working population are needed, eroding the capacity for young people to marry early and raise large families, further exacerbating the demographic problem. We are already seeing America slide towards Europe’s fertility crisis. Five years ago, America had an above-replacement fertility rate at 2.13; it is now at 1.89 and heading lower. Continuing economic weakness, and an ever-increasing cry from the left on the good of avoiding children through contraception and abortion will drive fertility lower. As taxes rise, the ability of young people to form families early and to have children will become increasingly difficult. Lower fertility will speed the aging of American society, and as more of the economy is engaged in the largely non-entrepreneurial and non-innovative sector of health care, economic dynamism will be further eroded. These shifts are self-reinforcing, and the future, if these trends are not interrupted, will be one of eroding economic, military and cultural power. Ultimately, national decline leaves societies vulnerable to military conquest or internal demographic takeovers by non-integrated groups.
Thankfully, there are successful models for demographic strength within wealthy societies even where communities have limited financial resources. In Israel, the demographic future is with the ultra-Orthodox, the Haredim. In America, there is the example of the Amish. In Catholic parishes the few large families are rarely among the wealthiest. What is common is a strong religious identity, community cohesion and commitment to family as a strong good that drives an increased fertility.
It is time for Christians, whether in the United States or elsewhere to “put not our trust in politics” and place our faith communities in the central place that the political realm has occupied. We do not need greater wealth, and we can even endure the assaults on religious freedom that have begun and are likely to increase. And, like those who seek happiness are not those who find it, but those who seek virtue; so too will faithful Christians find political success when they seek to strengthen their own communities. One of the principal means by which conservatism will find ultimate success will be demographic success- in the United States, liberal states have fewer children than conservative states, and conservatives (and most of all, religious conservatives) have even more children than their secular counterparts. Even so, much of the Christian west has lost the traditional emphasis on the goodness of the family, the blessing of children, and have accommodated themselves to standards of worldly success and appearance which has led them to accept smaller families as a means of permitting greater wealth, avoiding “standing out” from their socio-economic peers, and avoiding challenging the feminist model of female empowerment. We need to become a creative minority and not an embittered and depressed minority: and the most creative thing we can do is to have plenty of children, to raise them in strong communities with the love of God and love of their fellow man, to educate them in the truth, and support them when it comes time for them to form new families. This means financial support to enable our youth to marry fairly early, consistent teaching on the proper good of the family and of having children, and perhaps a renewed critical view of the larger culture.