From the Archive: Missing: The 'Right' Babies | The Nation


From the Archive: Missing: The 'Right' Babies

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The nativist motivations for such campaigns move beyond the subliminal at times. Elizabeth Krause, an anthropologist and author of A Crisis of Births: Population Politics and Family-Making in Italy, tracked that country's population efforts over the past decade and found politicians demanding more babies "to keep away the armadas of immigrants from the southern shores of the Mediterranean" and priests calling for a "Christian dike against the Muslim invasion of Italy." The racial preferences behind Berlusconi's "baby bonus" came into embarrassing relief when immigrant parents were accidentally sent checks for their offspring and then asked to return the money: the Italian government hadn't meant to promote those births.

In this VideoNation report, Kathryn Joyce explains why the Christian right fears a "demographic winter." Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

About the Author

Kathryn Joyce
Kathryn Joyce is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption and Quiverfull:...

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In the documentary Demographic Winter, the imagery of a frosty End of Days, accompanied by a foreboding, skeletal piano score, is played for full effect over somber interviews with conservative scholars, activists and European politicians. "One of the most ominous events of modern history is quietly unfolding," the film promises. "We are headed toward a demographic winter, which threatens to have catastrophic social and economic consequences. The effects will be severe and long-lasting and are already becoming manifest in much of Europe."

As Allan Carlson, president of the Illinois profamily think tank the Howard Center, discusses the "demographic winter of Western societies," a flurry of snow covers the United States, then Europe and finally the rest of the world. Catholic activist de Vollmer talks about the intergenerational collapse family planning will bring: an echo of her charge that contraception, by splitting sexuality from procreation and rejecting potential offspring, leads to generations of damaged, alienated children "like Bucharest orphans," who will later refuse care to their own aged parents. As she describes a dysfunctional global family where the elderly are too many to care for and the young too few to run the trains, the camera cuts to a lonely street shot of pastel European row houses framing a desolate walkway, and a confused grandfather left untended and alone. As a Latvian legislator describes the devastating impact of demographic winter on countries with already small populations, a child playing on a swing set disappears and snowflakes start to fly.

Another commentator, Phillip Longman, is a deliberately counterintuitive face for demographic winter: a policy writer for the center-left Democratic Leadership Council and author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What To Do About It. Longman consistently aligns himself with the far right on population issues, which warns that Europe is becoming a continent of the elderly, with death rates exceeding birthrates on the scale of nuclear war. Words for extended family members, he warns--uncle, aunt, even sibling--will disappear as shrinking families render them obsolete. In the rosiest endgame he allows, Longman predicts that the fertile faithful will inherit the earth and that "those who remain will be committed to God." That is, committed to neo-orthodox profamily doctrines condemning contraception as an "abortifacient" and a rejection of God's greatest blessing, children: a theology gaining ground among all branches of Christianity. It's a point Carlson makes frequently, supplementing his "airtight" social science case for traditional values with praise for religious orthodoxy as the "yeast" that will make the family movement rise: compelling people to sacrifice their individual goals to raise large families. In this light, Carlson says, "Secularism is a societal death wish." Or, as Longman puts it, delivering a mournful cosmic punch line to gratified Christian-right audiences, "Your children won't grow up to be secular humanists."

As for those secular humanists--a "sterile" elite Longman sees as too self-absorbed to reproduce--he delivers an ominous ultimatum. Though it's tough for a generation educated to fear the population bomb and value women's rights, gay rights and environmentalism to accept these trends, unless they temper their 1970s notions of individual fulfillment, they'll be among the "certain kinds of human beings" who "are on their way to extinction." Just what the putatively liberal Longman intends by these threats seems to depend on the rationale behind his allegiance to the profamily/demographic winter coalition. While ostensibly he's warning liberals to get in line with "traditional" family morality or else, his presence at the helm of the movement seems targeted toward the conservative choir, reminding them that they have two foes in this battle, two enemies within: a tangible human population expanding within their borders and a sexually liberal frame of mind endemic to modern society.

As Rick Stout and Barry McLerran, producers of Demographic Winter, argue, "Only if the political incorrectness of talking about the natural family within policy circles is overcome will solutions begin to be found. These solutions will necessarily result in policy changes, changes that will support and promote the natural, intact family." The rhetoric of the "natural family" is significant. Stout, a Brigham Young University graduate, and McLerran, executive director of the Family First Foundation, a grant-making organization based in the aptly named Salt Lake City suburb of Bountiful, are among the hundreds of Mormon profamily activists who have made common cause with conservative Catholic and evangelical ideologues. In fact, it was the collaboration of Mormon and evangelical activists that birthed one of the guiding documents of the movement, The Natural Family Manifesto--a conservative call to arms co-written by Paul Mero, head of the Mormon think tank the Sutherland Institute, and Allan Carlson, the grandfatherly evangelical academic at the forefront of the cause.

Carlson is a compelling conservative historian who uses secular arguments to craft a social science rationale for the necessity of large patriarchal families, or the "natural family," as he calls it in his manifesto--a correction of Marx that aims to turn America and the Western world away from the perils of liberal modernity and back to the "natural family" model, where fathers lead and women honor their highest domestic calling by becoming "prolific mothers." In this scheme, families are the fundamental unit that society and government should be concerned with promoting, and individual rights are valued insofar as they correspond with pronatalist aims. Thus Carlson and Mero qualify their "wholehearted" support of women's rights: "Above all, we believe in rights that recognize women's unique gifts of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding."

The interdenominational alliance of Mormon, Catholic and evangelical "profamily" advocates, as well as the token link between this pan-Christian front and a handful of Orthodox Jewish and Muslim representatives, is the hallmark of Carlson's work, whether with the Howard Center, the Family First Foundation--of which he is also a director--or as secretary and co-founder of the World Congress of Families (WCF), an international, interfaith profamily conference. Carlson's influence is largely behind-the-scenes, writing policy for ultra-right Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska and, increasingly, spreading his "natural family" ideal through theories of a looming population crisis facing the West.

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