Mulieri quoque dixit: multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos: in dolore paries filios . . .
“To the woman also He said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt though bring forth children . . .” (Gen. 3:16)
As long as we’re on earth, we’ll have problems. That’s one of the penalties for Original Sin that God did not see fit to remove when He sent His Son into the world. Since Utopia is not an option, it seems to me that we should strive to have the right problems. Some problems are totally appropriate for a person to have. To give a vivid example, puberty is a time when hormones run riot. While chastity and purity are necessary virtues, a young man who does not struggle with lust would be odd. It’s healthy at that time in life to have physical urges that force the soul to grow and mature if you’re ever going to restrain these urges.
Likewise, a soldier who is never tempted by anger, or a businessman who is never tempted by greed, might be a very virtuous person. Or, he might not have the necessary appetites — and aptitudes — for those professions.
These considerations bring me to the topic of this piece: Malthusianism. Malthusianism is an idea or set of ideas developed by a man named Malthus. Malthus was an Anglican (=Protestant) clergyman who came up with a notion, apparently debunked, that population growth exceeds economic growth. The excess population (to use Dickens’ expression) leads to famines and wars and human misery. Malthus proposed moral means to curb population growth, namely marriage late in life and sexual continence. However, his followers very quickly rationalized unnatural contraception and, later, abortion as the means to curb population growth. This later, immoral application of Malthus’ ideas is called Neo-Malthusianism.*
In opposition to Malthusianism, some Catholics propose an idea or set of ideas called natalism: population growth is good. Economically, politically, culturally, demographically — population growth is good. They point to the increasingly sclerotic, dystopian social-welfare states of Western Europe as the primary example. The people didn’t have children, the native populations were replaced by immigrants, and now they’re using euthanasia to kill off the unsupportable old people, who are a drain on the too few young people who are left. Higher growth rates in the native population would have prevented this.
Well and good — so far. But this argument focuses on the down side of demographic stability and/or decline and ignores the down side of demographic growth. I don’t mean the Chicken Little environmental catastrophes we’ve had beaten into our heads since the 1960s, and still have beaten into us via the obnoxious myth of global warming. I mean the social and political instability that comes with rapid population growth.
Consider a few countries that grew quickly in the modern era: Germany, Italy, and Japan. As their populations grew, all three struggled to maintain the level of prosperity that their people were accustomed to. For awhile, Italy and Germany were able to send forth emigrants to colonize other areas of the world. Hence the large numbers of Italian-Americans and German-Americans, the latter including some of my own ancestors here in the Driftless Area. But these options became fewer. Constrained by limited options and ideology, the leaders of these countries chose the path of imperialism, which led to war, and famine, and human misery. Just as Malthus proposed.
The sudden demographic explosions of the modern world** also gave rise to economic strife that had never been seen before. Socialism and leftism arose in economies where people and then classes competed for resources. Little wonder that some world leaders of a “Rightist” persuasion — “conservatives,” or perhaps better Hobbesians — took a dimmer view of population growth. Under Pres. Nixon, the United States government began to fund draconian population control campaigns in the Third World to stem the growth of these countries.*** It was the United States, not the Soviet Union, that imposed this particular misery on the world. The U.S. Govt. perhaps rightly (hah!) feared that “unsustainable” (i.e. unregulated) population growth would lead to political and economic instability that leftists could exploit. How could the West maintain its control over the resources of its former colonies if those colonies were too busy consuming their own resources or sending them to allies of their own choosing?****
And now we turn to the “unregulated” population growth in today’s Third World. While Catholics rightly celebrate the expansion of Catholicism across Sub-Saharan Africa, some thinkers on the Right (notably Steve Sailer*****) want Africans to turn to family planning to curb their growth. These thinkers warn that the continued African population growth will lead to a “Camp of the Saints” scenario where the native populations of Europe will be replaced. When these thinkers speak of family planning, some of the things they have in mind might be good — the banning of polygamy, ending promiscuity and prostitution, curtailing social aid programs that subsidize populations living in areas that can’t support large numbers of people, etc. A Catholic would, or might, agree with this. But almost certainly any “effective” campaign meant to curb African population growth would rely on unnatural contraception and on abortion. The argument boils down to, “For us to have more, or at least keep what we have, there must be fewer of you.”
What are we to conclude? Well, who are “we”? I speak for myself, and perhaps some of you:
a.) I am a Catholic first. Man and woman we were created, with a mandate to reproduce our species. Artificial contraception and abortion are immoral — horribly so.
b.) That said, when God punished Eve for her role in Original Sin, He said He would multiply her conceptions and make childbearing painful (mulieri quoque dixit: multiplicabo aerumnas tuas et conceptus tuos: in dolore paries filios . . . Gen. 3:16). That population increase would involve pain and struggle, at least on a local level, does not surprise me.
c.) I am a resident of an affluent Western country, of “legacy” (white European) stock. I am wary of the demographic collapse of Europe, and I am wary of the demographic replacement of “legacy” populations across the West.
d.) That said, it would be immoral to impose artificial contraception and abortion on other populations that seek to take advantage of the opulence and decadence of the West. This truly is lifestyle imperialism.
How to square the circle? Here’s an attempt at a beginning:
1.) Population growth is a blessing but also a cross, as all worthy undertakings in life are. Yes, having many children means that more are likely to live in poverty and must struggle harder to survive. But God has said many times that poverty is a virtue and a beatitude.
2.) Therefore, the admitted problems of population growth are preferable to the benefits of immoral population restriction. Growth is a better problem than decline.
3.) If the spoiled nations of the West are to merit their survival, they must breed again. Whatever interim strategies these nations adopt to defend their own demographic positions on their native soil, these strategies must not include Neo-Malthusian warfare upon other populations in the struggle. The strategies might be unpleasant, but they must not be immoral.
The petulant armchair Rightists and reactionaries and, yes, racists who worry about the excess population of the Global South must remember that it was when the West bred its own lower classes — its own “excess population” — that they sent forth colonies and built empires. If that was the Golden Age — if it was — then it’s necessary to dismantle the artificially “stable,” bureaucratically managed social-welfare****** regimes that lure in migrants while imposing a harsh punishment for taking them in. Choose the problems of your own population growth. Choose the right problems.
*One of the great secrets of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Age — one of the “secret channels” of cultural and ideological subversion — is the spread of Neo-Malthusianism, both theoretical and applied. Put another way, contraception goes hand in hand with Utilitarianism, Liberalism, Radicalism, and, later, the Eugenics movement and Social Darwinism. To see how, go read “A Diabolical Place: A Secret of the Enlightenment” (http://www.unz.org/Pub/Encounter-1990may-00009?View=PDF) by the late great David Stove (R.I.P.). By the way, the author’s son R.J. Stove is a Catholic writer who has written some good stuff on the Internet.
**So much for natalists who idealize the pre-industrial world. If we’re talking raw numbers, man flourished more in the Industrial Age than before.
****I am certain that there are natalists out there who would put an optimistic spin on population growth under any and all circumstances. They would likely turn to untried aspects of Catholic Social Teaching to claim how absolutely every one of the fears of the anti-natalists is unfounded and how every single instance of immoral imperialism and aggression that has happened in the modern world happened because no one implemented Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno (except the late lamented Dollfuß). For the purpose of this article, I am more interested in conceding the arguments that population growth causes problems because . . . it causes problems. And it’s Utopian to think that all people everywhere will respond to all problems correctly. If that were so, the “Catholic” Middle Ages wouldn’t have been the nightmare of war and bloodshed and strife and avarice that they so often were.
*****http://www.unz.com/isteve/the-african-population-bomb-this-too-shall-pass/. While I am singling out Sailer here, I don’t want the reader to think I am a critic of Sailer across the board, or that all of his proposals for the demographic crisis are negative. He himself is something of a pro-natalist within the American context. For example, Sailer has done good work promoting affordable family formation as both a winning public policy and, speaking to what American politicians actually care about, a winning electoral strategy (http://www.vdare.com/posts/affordable-family-formation-the-neglected-key-to-gops-future).
******This term isn’t all it should be in this context. It implies that population control is solely a Big Government/socialist phenomenon, as though the private financial sector has no role. Plutocrats like George Soros certainly favor the current stability. However, insofar as managed social welfare requires some degree of predictability, it will effectively set quotas on the growth of the population that the bureaucracy must serve. Perhaps the term “managerial regime” would be better.