In one of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, a character identifies the two ways he went bankrupt: “gradually and then suddenly.” For decades, pro-lifers have been raising the alarm about the gradual, subtle, but ultimately disastrous effects that the legal acceptance of pre-natal infanticide has on culture, all under the spurious banner of “choice.” Pregnant mothers in dire situations are deprived of the ability to make any other choice when abortion is an option: they, indeed, have no choice but to choose a barbaric practice which was unspeakable in polite society a half-century ago. Nor is the corrosive and coercive pressure that subverts freedom limited to these extreme situations; rather this pressure seeps into the water-table, polluting attitudes towards children in every sphere. Crime, for example, becomes an after-effect of unaborted assailants who unfortunately avoided in utero capital punishment; the category of “unwanted children” quickly extends far beyond the womb. But the ultimate consequence of abortion is the contraceptive mentality which it fosters, an attitude which sees no connection between sexual intimacy, permanent partnership, and human propagation. It takes no great prophetic gift to see that the breakdown of fruitful marriage – the institution on which society ultimately depends for its very existence and renewal – follows ineluctably from this disconnection; nor does it require an especially pessimistic disposition to connect this attitude to its inevitable and fatal consequences.
The early warning signs are already here. Earlier this year, the famous children’s retail chain, Toys ‘R’ Us, announced it would shutter or sell its last remaining stores and it correctly identified shrinking birthrates as a major factor in its own decline. While this news story could read another consequence of the rise of online shopping or the changing tastes of children, the demographic connection made by the toy retailer itself is the most telling. In a world with more children, the company would have survived, regardless of shifting preferences and shopping habits. If the birth rate in North America makes our current business models unsustainable, how will all of the other institutions which were founded on the same assumptions about population growth – from social security to our health care system – survive? Today it is a threat to a retailer that caters to children, tomorrow it is the viability of the pension system.
Aside from news stories like this one, the problems produced by our culture’s gradual slide into reproductive insolvency do not seem readily apparent. Instead, we are consumed by debates about income inequality, immigration, and a host of other issues. But why shouldn’t these, too, be read as the consequences of a world of low population growth? The blame for income inequality, for instance, is laid on nebulous economic systems and structures. But what if both the situation itself and our keen awareness of it were consequences of unprecedented childlessness? A generation which suddenly breaks the dynastic continuum of wealth, time, resources, and, above all, love and, instead, hordes all of its money to spend only on itself will precipitate precisely the kind of inequality we now notice. In real terms, the ripples from a sudden spike in disposable income would have a wide array of effects: in the housing market, for instance, richer buyers would bid up prices for smaller domiciles. But, in a world without children, our very awareness of income inequality itself would change. The linear thinking forward across generations down one’s own family lines would give way to a horizontal perspective which scrutinizes the relative wealth of neighbour in comparison to one’s own. It is no accident that envy, both material and sexual, is proscribed in the commandments of the Decalogue because this outward-looking vice threatens the foundation of the family, and the isolating circle of love which draws the focus of life inward and forward. The family, the school of love, produces citizens with full hearts which are resistant to envy’s sting. Yet we are consumed by questions that assume this attitude from the outset: with no future, our view is limited only to the present; without children, our neighbors become nothing but competitors.
An inverted pyramid is the image of our own intergenerational crisis, an unsound structure produced by abortion and the perspectives which it fosters. The collapse of birthrates across the developed world, from North America to Europe to Japan will precipitate a crisis unlike the world has ever seen, which makes the shape of the disaster impossible to forecast. What is guaranteed, however, is that the demographic imbalance of the West has made the collapse of our teetering culture inevitable unless drastic, immediate, and unpopular measures are taken. But who, in our world, would believe that social conservative policies are also the most prosperous, protective, and pragmatic ones? Who would believe that the culture wars are actually a war for culture itself? This will likely be acknowledged, only in passing, when things are too late, as the speed of our society’s collapse accelerates from gradual to sudden.