The Religious Right Goes Global with “Demographic Winter”

If the culture wars have taught America anything over the past 30 years, perhaps it’s that the religious right are savvy marketers, engaged in an ongoing shell game over the various, but uniformly horrible, consequences they imagine for the sinful, secular culture they see around them. Liberalized sexual attitudes and rights, they’ve warned for decades, must lead automatically to the breakdown of the family. The stakes in that equation have been raised again. The new threat, according to the religious right, is “demographic winter”: that is, the breakdown of the global family as the white, Christian “West” goes extinct—or is supplanted by other populations—for lack of enough offspring.

It’s an idea being floated by the pro-family movement: an interdenominational coalition of largely orthodox Christians that is striving to establish an international presence, aided by appeals to European countries anxious about their growing Muslim immigrant populations.

The pro-family solution to these cultural growing pains is succinct, and a logical extreme for a movement focused on conservative sexual morality: white, Christian Europeans need to have more babies, they say, and reinvent their modern societies to encourage this end. They propose a continent-wide revival: of orthodox religion, pro-natalist policies, and government incentives for mothers staying in the home and raising large families of children.

I’ve just written an article, “Missing: The ‘Right’ Babies,” published in the current edition of The Nation on this supposed threat, the coalition promoting it, and the implications of such arguments across Europe. Here’s an excerpt, or you can read the entire article here:

Steve Mosher is telling me about wolves returning to the streets of European towns. Not as part of some Vermont-model wildlife-recovery scenario but as emblems of a harsh comeuppance mankind is due—they’re stalking out of the forests like an ancient judgment, coming to claim mankind’s ceded land. We’re sitting in a sunny Main Street cafe in Front Royal, Virginia—a beautifying ex-industrial town in the Shenandoah Valley that, as the far edge of DC’s suburban sprawl, is lately home to a surprising number of conservative Christian ministries. Mosher, president of the Catholic anti-contraception lobbyist group Population Research Institute (PRI), describes his grim vision of Europe’s future: fields will lie fallow and economies will wither. A great depression will sink over the continent as it undergoes “a decline that Europe hasn’t experienced since the Black Death.” The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian-right “pro-family” activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe. It’s called the “demographic winter,” a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, “Western Civilization” is laying itself down to die. How so? Europe is failing to produce enough babies—the right babies—to replace its old and dying. It’s “the baby bust,” “the birth dearth,” “the graying of the continent”: modern euphemisms for old-fashioned race panic as low fertility among white “Western” couples coincides with an increasingly visible immigrant population across Europe. The real root of racial tensions in the Netherlands and France, America’s culture warriors tell anxious Europeans, isn’t ineffective methods of assimilating new citizens but, rather, decades of “anti-family” permissiveness—contraception, abortion, divorce, population control, women’s liberation and careers, “selfish” secularism, and gay rights—enabling “decadent” white couples to neglect their reproductive duties. Defying the biblical command to “be fruitful and multiply,” Europeans have failed to produce the magic number of 2.1 children per couple, the estimated “replacement-level fertility” for developed nations (and a figure repeated so frequently it becomes a near incantation). The white Christian West, in this telling, is in danger of forfeiting itself through sheer lack of numbers to an onslaught of Muslim immigrants and their purportedly numerous offspring. In other words, Mosher and his colleagues aren’t really concerned about wolves.