Cherchez la femme

My first encounter with “demography is destiny” was as an adolescent, reading The Estate of Man, by Michael Roberts. This remarkable poet, mathematician, philosophical thinker, and mountaineer, died young, leaving the book as an uncompleted manuscript from which his (also remarkable) wife, Janet, salvaged seven chapters. It was intended as a general survey of planetary husbandry, and built upon his own earlier works, including The Recovery of the West, written in reply to general discussion of “the decline of Europe.” Roberts was a member of the Auden generation, in the 1930s — among the fashionable young Leftists in the decade before they all grew up and became reactionaries. But Roberts himself had a mind strangely unbefuddled by contemporary vogues, trends, and manias. He was able both to join and then get expelled from the British Communist Party during a single term at Cambridge — perhaps the record for quick learning. It is a pity we lost him, for he would likely have continued growing, into a fine complement for Christopher Dawson.

The statistics cited, from that antediluvian age, before the Baby Boom winked in the eye of the Blitz over London, seem oddly familiar today. Or rather, the trendlines are familiar, and public moaning in the ‘thirties about everything from falling European birthrates, to overpopulation elsewhere, the depletion of oil and coal reserves, the arms races, impending environmental ruin and the like, provide a useful reminder — that all statistical trends are Malthusian, and will show from any point in time that we are going irretrievably to hell. Roberts was an unusual public intellectual, for while he had an uncommon mastery of statistical methods and processes, he was not enslaved by them. Twenty years after his death, he became my teacher for the proposition that “all trends are reversible,” and for the insight that they tend to conceal rather than reveal their own causes. Most interesting, Roberts had a mind not only quick, but by disposition also faithful and chaste. Thus he was endowed with the power to see through momentary excitements and distractions.

He was beginning to see, like Dawson, the extraordinary role of faith itself in the sequences of history. Faith is the great life-giving force, and the loss of faith is death-dealing. By this we do not mean only Christian faith, for the same principle applies in all cultures, and has applied since time out of mind.

The classical example is “the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.” As the pagan Romans lost faith in their own civilization, they stopped having babies. They rehearsed almost all the features of our modern West in their own later decadence: the sophisticated rejection of religious observances; the confident smugness of the half-educated; the degradation of family life; the acceptance of public pornography, and openly perverse liaisons; couch-potato obsessions with circus and professionalized gladiatorial sports; the shift from pride in productivity, to a shameless consumerism; the aesthetic decline in all manufactures; the spread of dishonourable trade practices; the inflation of money, and in all other kinds; debt crises; the growing dependence upon immigrant slaves and other cheap labour for all unpleasant work, including everything required of the Roman armies; the appeasement of enemies, and extravagant buying off of the tribal savages, now being let inside their frontiers. In a word, “individualism,” or in another, “atomization.” Stage by stage, we watch the implosion, until finally we have that wonderful spectacle conveyed in the painting of Delacroix: “Attila the Hun, followed by his hordes, trample Italy and the Arts.”

A more careful historian would not present this decline as continuous, however. As we focus, we see the Roman hesitation. After taking steps back, they take steps forward. There were decades of recovery, when one could imagine the sage pundits of Rome saying, “What were we so worried about?” and boasting of the new Roman hyperpower after winning obscure bush wars. The sense of invincibility would seem to be returning, along with faith in Roman institutions. Then it falters again, because in prosperity the old Roman chests had been emptying out. They no longer believed in their own future, let alone in their gods. They had no mission any more, and could barely cope with even minor disasters. Still, they put off their fate for centuries, until the last legions scattered or ran home.

But here is the mystery of our human history, in which nothing is inevitable, except in retrospect. The modern West will not go the way of Rome. It will go some other way; perhaps even to a restoration of sense, and recovery of faith — in our own Lord, and by extension, in our own future as a civilization. For after all, not everyone has stopped having children, as the faithless diligently weed themselves out of the garden of genes. All the symptoms of decline are there, but also symptoms of the Western “exceptionalism.” The Catholic Church, for instance, is not dead in the West, by a long shot. (See the millions of kids at those papal “youth days.”) She wins converts regularly among the best-educated, and that regardless of what is done in Rome. In the balance the Church is wanting, but she has always been wanting, in a world that has always been in a mess.


What was the cause of the Baby Boom? The standard answer is, it came from the War: that after a good war, the population is restocking. There is some truth in this, and after the First World War I think the birthrate rose a bit. But not for long, and as I learnt from Michael Roberts, in countries like France it fell and fell. After the Second World War it kept rising — a phenomenon that extended into the early 1960s. And then it reversed itself, at the very height of our post-War prosperity, and has continued falling, mostly, since. What can explain this?

From what I am able to understand, faith explains it. There was a remarkable revival of Christian faith, and of all the trappings of it (including “family values”), which began in the horror of that last War, and persisted right through the ‘fifties. The phenomena are of course statistically complex, and cannot be reduced to some smooth curve. Nevertheless, a trend was reversing that had reversed before; and for centuries now Christianity in the West has been on its way out, and then improbably returning. The Catholic Church has, by now, been beaten into the prospect of extinction many times. The obituaries for her were being written a hundred years ago, and throughout the 18th century, and at key moments in the 17th and 16th as well. In the United States, evangelical revivals have been a repeating surprise. And today we have the unprecedented luxury of watching Christian converts from Africa and Asia, returning as missionaries to the countries from which missionaries once proceeded.

All trends are reversible, and I do not think the West can be counted out. Without the Christianity that formed it, and gives it meaning, it is of course stone dead. But we have, itching under our skin, a religion that is better than we are, and for all evidence to the contrary it will not simply go away. We evict Christ by the front door, but our servants keep letting him in the back. And in our hearts, and our worst misfortunes, we still instinctively reach for Him. Secretly, we don’t want to die.

Demography is not destiny, because the trends can change. In some parts of Europe the birthrate is such (Hungary for example, now below one child per woman) that a nation must surely go down the plug hole; in other parts, the numbers are beginning to rise again. As David Goldman (also known as “Spengler”) elaborately explains, something worse than what has happened in Europe is happening all around Europe. The birthrates in the Islamic countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran, &c) have plummeted to below Europe’s. In a single generation, Iran for instance has gone from 6.0 to 1.6 children per woman, and that birthrate is still falling. Similar drops may be tracked elsewhere in the “third world,” and in the “tiger economies” of the Far East. The demographic sepuku of Japan is stunning; but also through China and South-east Asia populations must fall; India is now following them onto the slide. By its comparatively gradual decline, Europe has been holding up relatively well, and over here in North America, we have held up a little better.

What was the cause? The explanation I will give is from my own experience as a traveller, and my habitual efforts to keep informed about the countries I have visited. It is, to my mind, a loss of faith: but a more profound loss than in the West. The particulars are of course different from location to location, but as a general rule, the alternatives to Christian faith have been found much less capable of surviving the onslaught of our so-called “secular humanism.” The raw materialism of capitalism and socialism has, even more spectacularly than in the West, hollowed out religious traditions everywhere. And this to such a degree, that the exceptions prove the rule: for wherever we find what looks like a revival, it is of a de-spiritualized religion, politicized in ethnic rivalries — almost entirely, from both sides, along what Samuel Huntington infamously (but accurately) called, “Islam’s bloody borders.”

Similarly, the violence within the Islamic world — proximately caused by “Islamism” — is the product of civilizational despair. That is, loss of faith. As I have written elsewhere, the cross-section of a Muslim terrorist displays religious fanatic on the outside, but atheist within. He is not killing people because he believes, but because he has nothing left to live for, having become inwardly convinced that his own civilization really is done for: that it has been badly beaten in a competition with the West that centuries ago it seemed to be winning, and that main force is all that remains. My clue in this has been, all along, the very calling of the suicide bomber. Traditional Islam in every sect condemned suicide unambiguously; condemned murder unambiguously. The people who claim to defend Islam by murder-suicide, cannot possibly believe its actual teachings. But it is not just them. The collapsing birthrates, in cultures that were intensely child-friendly, everywhere proclaim this abandonment of hope.

Whether in West or East, however, the mechanism of societal disintegration is the same. It could be described in one phrase as “the liberation of women.” The modern economy lures women away from home and family with (ludicrously false) promises of wealth, pleasure, and freedom. Industry required a more docile labour force, the State required revenues from double-income taxation. At a level more fundamental than economics, the times have offered atomizing ideologies — the promise of “democracy” in which everyone will be treated the same, whether man, woman, or some other thing. As Goldman has rather plainly shown (and Roberts showed long before him), we must cherchez la femme.

For women are, as they have always been, the bedrock of both family and religion. Men have, and will be by nature (whether this is recognized or not) the hunters and gatherers and bread winners. There is no point in debating this, for either one gets it or one is wilfully obtuse. A certain minority of talented women have always flourished outside the home, and perhaps a like proportion of men not flourished in the absence of any marketable skills — but the case is straightforward in the main. What we have been enduring, for a century now, is an attempt to change the order of the world by social and sometimes genetic engineering; with results clearly visible all around us, to say nothing of the grief and loneliness and self-pity that each of us is carrying inside.

Curiously enough, Goldman homes in on a statistical fact that Roberts elided. It is that a sharply increasing female literacy rate is a more or less infallible predictor of demographic collapse, in all non-Western countries. Or as I mischievously put it, on Twitter only last night, “statistically and objectively, the quickest way to destroy a nation is to teach their women to read.”

This remark would invite several gallant qualifications. The modern emancipation of women began in the West, where Christian teaching had always accorded women the greatest respect. The social changes were therefore slower and easier to assimilate, here. It is when what happened more gradually in the West, happens more suddenly in the East, that the transformation becomes catastrophic. The whole ancestral order of society comes down, in one generation rather than four or five. And they haven’t seen the worst of it yet, for the West had accumulated reserves of wealth, with which to pay some pensions and geriatric bills. The East will face a more dramatically ageing population, without the reserves.

It makes no sense to gloat, that “the other” is now perishing faster than we are. It should behove us instead to help him if we can. As prudent creatures, we should consider how.

Trying to think this question through, I have come to only one conclusion. Our attempts to export “democracy,” or “free markets,” or “socialism,” or our agnostic materialism whatever it is called — along the paths of rapine scythed by our ancestors — should cease forthwith. Our “secular humanism” has done nothing but undermine and smash, wherever it has landed in foreign cultures, at terrible cost in human souls. Carrying with ourselves a priceless treasure, we sold them what instead? And instead now of hoping we can buy it back, and somehow retrieve our old prosperity and domination, we should take stock of all we have achieved: Nothing. The virus of Christianity spread largely on its own: a few faithful priests tagging along with thousands of compromised traders and raiders; true Christian evangelists, often more repugnant to the colonial authorities than to the natives they first encountered. But that era is over, will not come again, and the circumstances now demand from us a new way of thinking.

Under these new circumstances we should, I think, throw all our resources, material as spiritual, first into re-Christianizing ourselves. And then, where any chance arises, throw what remains into helping our neighbours to Christianize themselves, against all the false promises of this world. For in my settled opinion, only Christ can help us; and at this point so late in the day, only Christ can help them.


And again, it strikes me, cherchez la femme. A woman comes into this in the figure of Mary, commonly venerated by the grace of God not only through what remains of Christendom, but also what remains of the Dar al-Islam. I think on Fatima, but more especially upon Our Lady of Zeitoun (near Cairo, 2nd April 1968, and multiple subsequent apparitions, before immense crowds, photographed and video-recorded from so many angles and by so many cameras as to obviate any possibility of a hoax). It is she, above all, in her own light as “Our Lady of Light,” upon the roof of her own church at Zeitoun — along with those “bursts of diamonds” and “explosions of incense” to which hundreds of thousands of witnesses attested — who calls upon this world. Before Muslim and Christian alike, she was seen standing, and kneeling, alone; then again and again, presenting the Child, cradled in her arms. It is she, to us all, who, I believe, points the only viable way forward.