Go to: => TOP Page; What's New? Page; ROAD MAP; Search Page; Emmaus Ministries Page
That sentiment has become a truism among social conservatives, who typically can't explain what they mean by it. Which is why it sounds like right-wing boilerplate to many contemporary ears.
The late Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman believed it was true, but he also knew why. In 1947, he wrote a massive book to explain why latter-day Western civilization was now living through the same family crisis that presaged the fall of classical Greece and Rome. His classic "Family and Civilization," which has just been republished in an edited version by ISI Press, is a chillingly prophetic volume that deserves a wide new audience.
In all civilizations, Zimmerman theorized, there are three basic family types. The "trustee" family is tribal and clannish, and predominates in agrarian societies. The "domestic" family model is a middle type centering on the nuclear family ensconced in fairly strong extended-family bonds; it's found in civilizations undergoing rapid development. The final model is the "atomistic" family, which features weak bonds between and within nuclear families; it's the type that emerges as normative in advanced civilizations.
When the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, the strong trustee families of the barbarian tribes replaced the weak, atomistic Roman families as the foundation of society.
Churchmen believed a social structure that broke up the ever-feuding clans and gave the individual more freedom would be better for society's stability and spent centuries reforming the European family toward domesticity. The natalist worldview advocated by churchmen knit tightly religious faith, family loyalty and child bearing. From the 10th century on, the domestic family model ruled Europe through its greatest cultural efflorescence. But then came the Reformation and the Enlightenment, shifting culture away from tradition and toward the individual. Thus, since the 18th century, the atomistic family has been the Western cultural norm.
Here's the problem: Societies ruled by the atomistic family model, with its loosening of constraints on its individual members, quit having enough children to carry on. They become focused on the pleasures of the present. Eventually, these societies expire from lack of manpower, which itself is a manifestation of a lack of the will to live.
It happened to ancient Greece. It happened to ancient Rome. And it's happening to the modern West. The sociological parallels are startling.
Why should expanding individual freedoms lead to demographic disaster? Because cultures that don't organize their collective lives around the family create policies and structures that privilege autonomous individuals at the family's expense.
In years to come, the state will attempt economic incentives, or something more draconian, to spur childbirth. Europe, which is falling off a demographic cliff, is already offering economic incentives, with scant success. Materialist measures only seem to help at the margins.
Why? Zimmerman was not religious, but he contended the core problem was a loss of faith. Religions that lack a strong pro-fertility component don't survive over time, he observed; nor do cultures that don't have a powerfully natalist religion.
Why should we read Zimmerman today? For one thing, the future isn't fated. We might learn from history and make choices that avert the calamities that overtook Greece and Rome.
Given current trends, that appears unlikely. Therefore, the wise will recognize that the subcultures that survive the demographic collapse will be those that sacrificially embrace natalist values over materialist ones — which is to say, those whose religious convictions inspire them to have relatively large families, despite the social and financial cost.
That doesn't mean most American Christians, who have accepted modernity's anti-natalism. No, that means traditionalist Catholics, "full-quiver" Protestants, ultra-Orthodox Jews, pious Muslims and other believers who reject modernity's premises.
Like it or not, the future belongs to the fecund faithful.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *