Suicide of the West?

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
PRI Weekly Briefing
17 November 2006
Vol. 8, No. 45
Reproduced with Permission

It is said that civilizations die more often by suicide than by murder. Decades ago, James Burnham wrote Suicide of the West about the nature of liberalism which, with its refusal to value any substantive thing over any other, is the ideology of suicide. He wrote the book in the context of the struggle against Communism, a struggle which, contrary to what many believe, far from over. Today, the Christian-descended world again faces a massive struggle against a more ancient enemy, Islam. With overwhelming military, economic, and organizational might on its side, the West should win this war easily yet the suicidal ideology of liberalism puts the contest in doubt. Yet Muslims are not the greatest threat to the West today.

Remove the threat of Islam, remove the threat of Marxism, even remove the threat posed by the process of cultural breakdown per se, and the West is still on a rapid course to suicide. It's a very simple biological reality: Western people are not having enough children. All Western nations are currently headed for extinction. Societal suicide couldn't be any simpler than that short of a country nuking itself.

Earlier this year, I traveled to the spiritual heart of the West, Rome, where I met separately with two Vatican prelates. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo is President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and Bishop Elio Sgreccia is President of the Pontifical Academy for Life. They spoke of the challenges facing Western societies that increasing refuse to reproduce, particularly in Europe, the continent that for centuries, and until recently in history, was the most vital source of spiritual and material uplift and innovation for the entire world.

"In the Western culture, we have been witnessing a society model of extreme liberalism rooted in moral relativism," said Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, "refusing the traditional family model based on marriage between a man and a woman, and thus other types of unions have been put forward such as civil unions, de facto unions, and even unions of persons of the same sex. This has resulted in the exaltation of individualistic models with a profusion of rights but a refusal to assume the corresponding responsibilities." Of course, those responsibilities used to include raising children, but that has become purely optional these days.

The result? "That the fertility rate of 1.47 babies per woman is low, according to the 2005 estimates for the European Union as a whole, is a well-known fact," said the cardinal. A rate of about 2.1 in a stable society is considered necessary to keep that society's population constant in the long-term.

No better proof of societal ennui could exist than the voluntary refusal of people to produce the next generation of Italians, Frenchmen, Englishmen, and etc. Some argue that birthrates in Europe will begin to rise again, but so far there is little evidence of that. Others say that immigrants will renew Europe's populations as if the majority Muslim and unassimilated masses that Europe has imported over the past 30 years will magically become acculturated. On the contrary, surveys consistently show that the children and grandchildren of immigrants hate their host countries even more than the original immigrants themselves.

As His Eminence emphasized, Western people have been accumulating more and more "rights" in their own minds while discarding more and more of their duties. These rights always work against new life. "Among the rights that have been diffused have been those of abortion and of reproductive health, bringing about a change in mentality," he said. "Also, the creation of a welfare state in Europe has aggravated the problem by imposing high taxes and perverse incentives. Young people are faced with high taxes and a high rate of unemployment, which also contributes to delaying the time of marriage and in limiting the size of the family."

So what is being done about this problem? People must have noticed, right? "Thus far, there are very few concrete examples of solutions," he said. "However, to take an example, France is one of the very few European countries where the family has had a tendency over the past few years to be slightly more numerous than in other states of the same continent. It has been found that stimulating economic policies in favor of the family has had the most positive effect." Of course, the fertility rate of France, despite having the largest Muslim community in Western Europe, is still below replacement level.

Traditional Catholic countries have now entered the vanguard of the demographic winter, with some of the lowest birthrates in the world. "Italy, Spain, Greece, have been late in taking the road of the family and sexual revolution that had begun long before in the countries of Northern Europe and in France," said Bishop Sgreccia. "These were, until recently, countries of large families, with high birthrates, countries of emigration. Things have been changing very quickly in both of these countries [Italy and Spain], especially in Spain, leading to a kind of negative reaction from younger people, against the model of family which was predominant in their grandparents' and parents' times. Young women especially want to take their place at the university, in business, economics, law or medicine. For that reason, they want fewer children, and later. In both Spain and Italy, private economic preoccupations seem also to predominate, for the time being, against the desire for children."

Cardinal Lopez Trujillo quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying in May, "Vast areas of the world are entering the so-called 'demographic winter,' resulting in a more aged population; families thus appear seized by the fear of life, of paternity and maternity. Courage must be instilled into them, so that they may continue to achieve their noble mission to procreate in love."

With rampant divorce, rapidly rising expenses, and a popular culture dedicated to the corruption of youth, no wonder young people today fear marriage and child-bearing especially when they are indoctrinated into the belief that money and pleasure will provide them the most fulfillment. And the media, prompted by governmental agencies and international organizations, spread anti-life messages every day.

"Powerful multinational lobby groups and international organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation" are partly responsible "for eroding family values and responsibilities," said Cardinal Lopez Trujillo. "They attempt to introduce in some countries 'sexual education' in primary and high schools, often without the consent or at least the support of the parents, teaching the use of masturbation, contraception, 'safe sex,' and condoms. . . ."

Those who worry about Muslims, or Marxism, or too many immigrants are right to do so. Yet these same people, usually politically and even socially conservative, generally ignore the fundamental biological threat facing all Western nations, especially European ones. (In fact, Europe, broadly defined to include Eastern Europe and Russia, is already shrinking in population.) Without a return to family values, we can honestly say the suicide of the West is inevitable.