In a recent article for AlterNet Bill Berkowitz describes the fear of European population decline — so-called “birth dearth” or, as used to evoke the horrors of nuclear winter, “demographic winter” — “as a catchphrase for turning the discussion [about declining birth rates and rising population age in the West] into another battle in the culture war. For many on the Right, demographic winter describes a future of economic catastrophes, the decline of Western Civilization, and the destruction of the “natural” family.”
The decline of Western birthrates is a convenient, if misused, handle on which those who oppose contraception, feminism, abortion and same-sex marriage can hang their advocacy — and alarm. Berkowitz accounts the contributors to the concern, like Pat Buchanan who wrote the 2002 book, Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil our Country and Civilization; Family Research Council which presented an event last week titled, “The Roots of Demographic Winter and the Global Economic Crisis”; and The Ruth Institute, a project of Maggie Gallagher’s National Organization for Marriage. He writes:
In a document titled “Ruth Institute – Strategic Plan 2010-2013,” a statement affirms that the Institute “aims to work hand-in-hand with other organizations in the marriage movement to: Decrease the divorce rate; Increase the marriage rate; Decrease the cohabitation rate; Increase the number of children who grow up with both married parents; Reduce the lag time between the age of sexual initiation and the age of first marriage; Maintain at least a replacement-level birth rate, so that the devastation of a European-style ‘demographic winter’ is avoided.”
In 2008, Family First Foundation produced the film, Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family, an apocalypse-tinged plea for more Western babies. Its sequel, Demographic Bomb, was released on July 1 and traces the history of “the plan” to depopulate the world, with a dose of conspiracy theory thrown in. While racism remains a subtext in most of the rhetoric, fear of declining populations has allowed American proponents of the natural family to make alliances with European conservatives.
Berkowitz’ article gives us occasion to point readers to the article former Revealer managing editor, Kathryn Joyce, wrote for The Nation in February of 2008, “Missing: The “Right” Babies”:
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.