In looking for material for a piece I’m thinking of writing about Rick Perlstein’s Outlook article, I ran across an interesting Hoover Institution review of my brother’s book The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do about It.

Considering how much I disagree with my brother about politics, and also how defensive I am about people that criticize him, it certainly is fascinating to read a right-wing think tank like the Hoover Institute say the following:

In The Empty Cradle, Philip Longman takes a different view. Longman believes that runaway population decline may be halted, yet he understands that this can be accomplished only by way of fundamental cultural change. The emerging demographic crisis will call a wide range of postmodern ideologies into question. Longman writes as a secular liberal looking for ways to stabilize the population short of the traditionalist, religious renewal he fears the new demography will bring in its wake.

Given the roots of population decline in the core characteristics of postmodern life, Longman understands that the endless downward spiral cannot be reversed without a major social transformation. As he puts it, “If human population does not wither away in the future, it will be because of a mutation in human culture.” Longman draws parallels to the Victorian era and other periods when fears of population decline, cultural decadence, and fraying social safety nets intensified family solidarity and stigmatized abortion and birth control. Longman also notes that movements of the 1960s, such as feminism, environmentalism, and the sexual revolution, were buttressed by fears of a population explosion. Once it becomes evident that our real problem is the failure to reproduce, these movements and attitudes could weaken.

Longman’s greatest fear is a revival of fundamentalism, which he defines broadly as any movement that relies on ancient myth and legend, whether religious or not, “to oppose modern, liberal, and commercial values.” Religious traditionalists tend to have large families (relatively speaking). Secular modernists do not. Longman’s fear is that, over time, Western secular liberals will shrink as a portion of world population while, at home and abroad, traditionalists will flourish. To counter this, and to solve the larger demographic-economic crisis, Longman offers some very thoughtful proposals for encouraging Americans to have more children. Substantial tax relief for parents is the foundation of his plan.

Longman has thought this problem through very deeply. Yet, in some respects, his concerns seem odd and exaggerated. He lumps American evangelicals together with Nazis, racists, and Islamicists in the same supposed opposition to all things modern. This is more interesting as a specimen of liberal prejudice than as a balanced assessment of the relationship between Christianity and modernity. Moreover, the mere fact that religious conservatives have more children than secular liberals is no guarantee that those children will remain untouched by secular culture.

Still, Longman rightly sees that population decline cannot be reversed in the absence of major cultural change, and the prospects of a significant religious revival must not be dismissed. In a future shadowed by vastly disproportionate numbers of poor elderly citizens, and younger workers struggling with impossible tax burdens, the fundamental tenets of postmodern life might be called into question. Some will surely argue from a religious perspective that mankind, having discarded God’s injunctions to be fruitful and multiply, is suffering the consequences.

If ever there was a thinker that knew how to piss off (and challenge the established worldview of) left-leaning Baby Boomers, it’s my brother. Yet, he cannot be merely dismissed. As always, I solicit your feedback.

0 0 votes
Article Rating