Will the Muslims inherit Western Europe? "If [Western people] don't do something, probably," replies Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Senior Fellow in Economics at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. "That's a very probable outcome. The West doesn't believe in itself."
After decades of overpopulation hysteria, the realization has firmly dawned on almost everyone paying attention that global birthrates have fallen fast and far, and that Western European nations' are suicidally lower than replacement level-though their increasingly radical Muslim immigrants' fertility is high. It hasn't dawned on quite everyone, or perhaps British diplomats don't pay attention to such matters, since the UK's ambassador to the Holy See dismissed demographic concerns at a recent conference on the family and Centesimus Annus sponsored in Rome by the Acton Institute. Possibly heralding a new emphasis on the issue, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council on the Family and keynote speaker at the conference, admonished Amb. Francis Campbell about collapsed European birthrates when the latter said that birthrates are cyclical, and that therefore there is nothing to worry about.
Cardinal Trujillo has spoken about Europe's fertility decline before, but it is rare for a Vatican cardinal to intervene so firmly at a public event like Acton's "The Family in the New Economy: Reflections on the Margins on Centesimus Annus," held January 21 at the North American College. Trujillo is thought to be especially close to Pope Benedict XVI, who intends to make the meta-problem of modern Europe's rootlessness and self-destruction a central theme of his papacy.
Morse gave a presentation on Europeans' low fertility. The estimated total fertility rate, i.e. the average number of children born per woman over the course of her lifetime, in 2005 of the European Union was 1.5, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. Morse suggested a link between Europe's rapid trend toward fewer and illegitimate births to family-replacing social welfare states. After she spoke, Morse said in an interview, "Amb. Campbell got up and addressed his remarks primarily to me." Campbell argued that neither the welfare state nor low birthrates were problems in the United Kingdom. "I didn't want to fight," said Morse, but "Cardinal Trujillo hopped in. He said we've been tracking these demographic trends for a long time." Trujillo said that Europeans' low birthrates were a genuine and severe problem. The reaction of leftists, ever intent on their bizarre fantasies instead of reality, was typical. The lefty "Catholic" British magazine The Tablet called Trujillo "the way backwards" for agreeing with Morse on Europe's "alleged population crisis."
"There's nothing progressive about ignoring population decline," said Morse. "Western Europe's birthrates are what demographers call not just low, but very low. I don't know how you can deny there's a problem." As Morse noted, there is no serious disagreement on the fertility numbers among demographic experts. "One thing the ambassador said is that we have seen population fluctuations before, and we've bounced back," she said.
"This is different. Previous population declines were caused by increases in the death rate, such as during the Black Death. This is voluntary extinction." And it shows no signs of reversing itself for now. Morse reported that Trujillo argued against the contemporary individualistic conception of society, instead saying that the family needed social recognition as a unit. He noted that psychologists believe that a child first becomes aware of his own separate existence only through a relationship, the one with his mother. Perhaps, he suggested, it would be more accurate to say, instead of "I think, therefore I am," that "I am loved, therefore I am."
It's a bit of a puzzle why the lowest birthrates in the world outside of Japan are to be found among the traditionally Catholic peoples of Italy, Spain, and France (France's relatively high birthrate of 1.7 is due to her very large Muslim population). Morse offered a possible hypothesis. "Catholic women are much less willing to become unmarried mothers, to do the Swedish thing of having the state as the father," she said.
In a January 25 article "A Catholic Alternative to Europe's Social Model," Morse wrote, "Although some aspects of the Western European model originally claimed Christian inspiration and objective, it is now clear that the modern Western European welfare-state is collapsing. And while many modern countries share some of the problems loosely categorized under the 'European social model,' it is Europe that most desperately needs a genuinely Catholic alternative." One example of the statist European model problems: "The European social model provides high wages and excellent benefits--for the few who have jobs. The system excludes those who are not skilled enough to be economically productive. But everyone begins their lives being not very economically productive. In practice, this means that the young are kept out of the labor market precisely at the time they are most biologically suited to begin forming families."
John Allen, the Rome reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, attended the Acton conference and took note of what Trujillo had to say. "We are realizing the worst prophecies of aging and demographic implosion, and European politicians are seeing this with alarm," Trujillo said according to Allen. "The myth of over-population has collapsed." Asked why Muslims have such drive and energy while Westerners don't, Morse said, "Secularism is a compromise, and no one wants to die for a compromise." Or have enough children to keep their compromised civilization going. Cardinal Trujillo, at least, seems to understand this.
Joseph A. D'Agostino is Vice President for Communications at the Population Research Institute.
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