From the Archive: Missing: The 'Right' Babies
Editor's Note: Kathryn Joyce's feature on the work of American right-wing extremists spreading US-style culture war to Europe was originally published in March 2008. We repost it here in the wake of the news that a manifesto written by the accused Norwegian shooter, Anders Behring Breivik, heavily referenced American writers who consider Islam a growing threat.
Steve Mosher is telling me about wolves returning to the streets of European towns. Not as part of some Vermont-model wildlife-recovery scenario but as emblems of a harsh comeuppance mankind is due--they're stalking out of the forests like an ancient judgment, coming to claim mankind's ceded land. We're sitting in a sunny Main Street cafe in Front Royal, Virginia--a beautifying ex-industrial town in the Shenandoah Valley that, as the far edge of DC's suburban sprawl, is lately home to a surprising number of conservative Christian ministries. Mosher, president of the Catholic anticontraception lobbyist group Population Research Institute (PRI), describes his grim vision of Europe's future: fields will lie fallow and economies will wither. A great depression will sink over the continent as it undergoes "a decline that Europe hasn't experienced since the Black Death." The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian-right "profamily" activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe. It's called the "demographic winter," a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, "Western Civilization" is laying itself down to die.
How so? Europe is failing to produce enough babies--the right babies--to replace its old and dying. It's "the baby bust," "the birth dearth," "the graying of the continent": modern euphemisms for old-fashioned race panic as low fertility among white "Western" couples coincides with an increasingly visible immigrant population across Europe. The real root of racial tensions in the Netherlands and France, America's culture warriors tell anxious Europeans, isn't ineffective methods of assimilating new citizens but, rather, decades of "antifamily" permissiveness--contraception, abortion, divorce, population control, women's liberation and careers, "selfish" secularism and gay rights--enabling "decadent" white couples to neglect their reproductive duties. Defying the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply," Europeans have failed to produce the magic number of 2.1 children per couple, the estimated "replacement-level fertility" for developed nations (and a figure repeated so frequently it becomes a near incantation). The white Christian West, in this telling, is in danger of forfeiting itself through sheer lack of numbers to an onslaught of Muslim immigrants and their purportedly numerous offspring. In other words, Mosher and his colleagues aren't really concerned about wolves.
Another profamily soldier banging the drum about demographic winter, Christine de Vollmer, head of the US-funded Latin American Alliance for the Family, says that thanks to "obstinate antifamily policies, the end of European civilization can be calculated in years." Such predictions are winning the ear of top US conservatives, with Mitt Romney taking time during his campaign exit speech on February 7 to warn that "Europe is facing a demographic disaster" due to its modernized, secular culture, particularly its "weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for human life and eroded morality." With this, the American Christian right has hit on a potent formula: grafting falling Western birthrates onto old morality arguments to craft a tidy cause-and-effect model that its members hope will provide their ideology an entry into European politics.
The imminent demise of Europe is a popular prediction these days, with books such as Catholic scholar George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral, Melanie Phillips's Londonistan, Bruce Bawer's While Europe Slept and Pat Buchanan's Death of the West all appearing since 2001. The 2006 film Children of Men sketched a sterile, dystopian world thrown into chaos for lack of babies (though with less blatant antiabortion implications than the Christian allegorical P.D. James novel on which it was based). The media increasingly sound the alarm as Eastern European countries register birthrates halved since the last generation. And on February 11, the Family First Foundation, a profamily group in the same movement circles as Mosher and de Vollmer, released a documentary dedicated to the threat: Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family.
What was a conservative drumbeat about Europe's death has become mainstream media shorthand, complementing ominous news items about Muslim riots in France; Muslim boycotts in London; Muslim "veil" debates in Denmark; and empty European churches transformed into mosques, with calls to prayer replacing church bells. Evangelical luminary Chuck Colson, head of the vast Prison Fellowship ministry and a close ally of George W. Bush, espoused a conspiracy theory in which he construed an Islamic Council of Europe handbook for Muslims trying to keep the faith abroad as a "soft terrorism" plot for takeover. The late Oriana Fallaci lambasted Europe's transformation into a Muslim colony, "Eurabia." And in a recent political match in Switzerland, a campaign poster depicted a flock of white sheep kicking a black sheep out of their pasture, "For Greater Security." The refrain is that the good-faith multicultural tolerance approach of the Netherlands has been tried and has failed, which is arguably a few polite steps from Mosher's summary of the problem: that Muslim immigrants are simply "too many and too culturally different from their new countries' populations to assimilate quickly.... They are contributing to the cultural suicide of these nations as they commit demographic suicide." Or, as he declared while rallying a gathering of profamily activists last spring in Poland, "I want to see more Poles!"
Or more Russians, or more Italians, as the case may be. The fever for more "European" babies is widespread. The last two popes have involved themselves in the debate, with John Paul II pronouncing a "crisis of births" in 2002 in an anomalous papal address to Italy's Parliament and Benedict XVI remarking on the "tragedy" of childless European couples and beatifying an Italian peasant woman for raising twelve children.
At the national level, in 2004 Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered a "baby bonus" of about $1,000 to parents who had a second child, and Russia, which has a history of pronatalist policies, including its 1980s-era "motherhood medals," sweetened the offer to its citizens with several birth initiatives for hesitant couples, including an $8,900 award to families who produce a second child and a stipend of 40 percent of salary to women who leave work to become stay-at-home moms. One Russian province made novelty news worldwide with its Day of Conception on September 12, when residents of Ulyanovsk got time off work to "conceive a patriot" for the country. Prizes for successful delivery nine months later include refrigerators and cars. The theme is present enough in the popular consciousness that a Swedish underwear company cashed in on the anxiety with a provocative ad campaign featuring a cast of Nordic men wearing EU-type lapel pins, commanding Swedes to Fuck for the Future and Drop Your Pants or Drop Dead.