Why liberalism may be doomed
I’m reading a book by the British demographer Eric Kaufmann called Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? The book has a fascinating take on the long-term weaknesses of liberalism, and I’d like to share some quotes with you:
“When one considers the demographic deficit of liberalism, it is hard not to conclude that religious demography is its Achilles heel. Religious fundamentalism cannot conquer from the outside with guns blazing, but it can achieve power gradually, over generations, from within. Liberalism’s demographic contradiction—individualism leading to the choice not to reproduce—may well be the agent that destroys it.”
“In what follows, I hope to show how the demography of fundamentalism is beginning to transform the United States, Europe, Israel and the Muslim world. We are still in the early stages of the process, but once trends are in full swing, population momentum will carry them forward for generations. ‘If no solution is found,” warns Philip Longman in The Empty Cradle (2004), ‘the future will belong to those who reject markets, reject learning, reject modernity, and reject freedom. This will be the fundamentalist moment’. Our social environment is unlikely to change any time soon. Liberals are simply too committed to the ideal of presentist individualism for themselves and tolerance for others. In matters of demography, they insist on a politically correct laissez-faire. This redounds to the advantage of fundamentalists. Yet to do otherwise would be to act against liberal principles, selling one’s soil in order to win. Secular liberalism lies hoist on its own petard.”
Very thought-provoking. This is the seed of a long-term strategy much more satisfying than secession (although of course secession is a great idea in the short and mid term). Explicitly fight the liberals on the one battlefield where they are sure to lose: the maternity ward.
I think Kaufman greatly overstates the ignorance, the rejection of markets, and the rejection of freedom by traditional and religious families; oddly, he seems to look down on them even as he welcomes their future ascendancy. Yes, his description is true of Hasidic Jews, some Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals, and many Muslims. But there are many intelligent religious families in the United States who do not utterly reject modernity but function within it even as they maintain a traditionalist life. There are many such Christians, and also the modern Orthodox Jews,. I gather that modern orthodoxy is a growing movement in Israel.
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There are VFR readers, highly intelligent and articulate persons, who have large families. One even told me that he and his wife decided to have more children after he began to read VFR and became a traditionalist.
He wrote, in the “Letters from readers” thread:
You converted me to traditionalism. Traditionalism gave me hope and inspired me to have a large family. There are people (my younger children—future traditionalists!) who literally exist because of you!
That was pretty nice for a never-married, childless man to hear. Somehow I’ve made up for my own failure to marry and have a family.
And, by the way, if I had had a normal career, had married, and had a family, I never would have done the work I’ve done, never written the things I’ve written. I did not deliberately plan it out that way; I never said to myself, “In order to be a writer on forbidden topics, I must forego a normal life.” However, as I suddenly realized a couple of years ago when looking back at my life and talking with a friend about it, I had needed to be totally independent of the ordinary pressures of career and marriage in order to explore and develop and publish the ideas I’ve had. For example, with a wife, I never could have written what I’ve written about race. She would have opposed it every step of the way.
Jeff R. writes:
Your response to John C. in “Why Liberalism May Be Doomed” spurred me to write this e-mail. I’m a long time reader of VFR and a long time, self-identified traditional conservative. I just wanted to add to what others have told you with respect to the influence you have had through your writings. While I was a conservative before discovering VFR, what you have written has many times given me cause to think more carefully about what I believe. Just as importantly, however, it has also given me courage and hope in these very dark times. Thank you. Your work has been of great value to many who stand with you in the fight for Christian civilization, many who you perhaps have never heard from, or rarely heard from, such as myself. You are in my prayers, sir.
Bob L. writes:
“[T]here are many intelligent religious families in the United States who do not utterly reject modernity but function within it even as they maintain a traditionalist life.”
I am in my twenties, about to become an attorney, and I see my future along the lines you describe above. I do not have the temperament of an activist, but neither do I plan to conform to the norms of liberal society in my private life. This obviously will be difficult in a culture that seems to be going further and further into the liberal abyss but many contributors to your blog and to The Thinking Housewife have shown this is very much possible with sufficient will. (This is, of course, another way VFR differs from the ordinary political blog—one does not merely get a better sense of political developments, but one gains insight in how one can live the best possible life.)
I have been very open about my traditionalist views with the women I have dated (even though they have all been uniformly liberal, although not stridently so) because I want the woman I marry to be somebody who will be a partner in raising our children in the best traditions of Western civilization and of Judaism.
But while leading traditionalist lives while functioning in modernity may work in some cases, such as those of the readers you reference, and is a good per se. it does not strike me as a viable path to political victory. While conservatives may, to be vulgar, outbreed liberals, liberals are very good at converting the children of conservatives to their own. [LA replies: good point.]
At the elite university I attended, many of the most virulent liberals and atheists were raised in conservative, churchgoing families. Given the intellectual incoherence that pervades both Catholicism and Protestantism today (as opposed to, for example, the coherent expressions of Christianity we see on the Orthosphere), it is understandable that some such intelligent individuals would reject their upbringing. Similarly, the Republican Party and the conservative establishment are intellectually incoherent.
But I also believe it cannot be denied that liberalism’s promise of total freedom to define oneself is intensely alluring. And given that the dominant culture is liberal in almost all respects, liberalism’s allure is even greater. Individuals who were raised in conservative homes face an onslaught of pressure to accept liberalism—career pressure, pressure from potential spouses, and ordinary social pressure. In many parts of the country, there are limited opportunities to turn to like-minded people for community to resist these pressures.
In short, the inherent allure of liberalism, the failure of the Jewish and Christian establishment and of the right-wing political establishment to offer coherent intellectual alternatives, the lack of a developed traditionalist community, and various social and economic pressures combine to draw away the children of conservatives away from what would be most natural to them.
Thus, as much as I would like Kaufman to be right, I remain pessimistic.
At the current juncture, we do not have much choice—for many of us, we will just have to figure out a way to adhere as closely to our principles as possible while functioning in the liberal world and leave the rest in God’s hands. But conservatives ought to be wary of those who gives promises of easy victory (let us remember those who would shriek “Obama at 43%, he is doomed!”), and those who say that demographics alone will result in a new conservative ascendancy fall into that category. Unless the culture is changed, conservative fertility will be undone by the liberal success at converting the children of conservatives.
Larry, I continue to pray for your health and for the Lord to give you as many tolerable and productive days as possible.
Thank you very much for this superb comment.
Personally I always doubt and intellectually disrespect writers who attribute either bad or good things solely to demographic determinism, whether it’s Patrick Buchanan declaring that the West is doomed by low birthrates, whether it’s Mark Steyn saying that Europe is doomed by high Muslim birthrates (see his silly, deeply dishonest and cowardly, and wildly overpraised 2006 article, “It’s the demography, stupid,” anatomized and excoriated by me here), or whether it’s Eric Kaufman saying that liberalism is doomed and conservatism is destined to dominate due to birthrates. This is simplistic, lazy thinking which claims to have some higher insight into the workings of the world.
Eric Kaufman’s work is noted several times in this article. Interesting, many liberal intellectuals seem to be aware of the demographic potential for a resurgence of conservative Christianity, and are worried about it.
My guess is that liberalism will have lots of staying power even in the face of this alleged demographic decline. First, as has been pointed out, liberals will gain numbers through conversion. They control the educational curriculum, the university system, and are often gate-keepers into lucrative private sector professions. So let’s say that Joe and Jane secularist have their one designer baby at 38. John and Mary traditionalist have six kids, and send four of them to college. Two of them defect to liberalism under the intense social and intellectual pressure. Ceteris paribus, over the long term, that doesn’t look like a demographic landslide to me.
Further, I would not be surprised if the liberal establishment starts to take more draconian measures in order to preserve its hegemony, such as banning homeschooling, mandating liberal curricula in parochial and religious schools, and so forth. If this takes place, the only place left for traditionalists to go is to completely disengage from the wider culture in a way similar to the Amish.
John C. writes:
I’m afraid that, in trying to be brief, I may have confused your readers about the content of Kaufmann’s book. Kaufmann is a sober academic demographer, and is well aware of the issue that Bob L. raises about religious children being converted to liberalism. That is the standard rejoinder to his thesis, but it is based on a misunderstanding. The ascendent religious groups of the future will not be ordinary religious conservatives. They will be religious fundamentalists—more specifically, what Kaufmann calls “endogenous growth sects.” These are sects which “segregate themselves from the society, and grow their own.” They include the Hutterites, Amish, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, Salafist Muslims and American Mormons. These hard-line groups are not losing followers, and in fact are growing at eye-popping rates due to high fertility. For example, here are his remarks on the Haredim (Haredi Jews):
“At the end of the Second World War, the Haredim looked to be a fading relic. The new state of Israel and the wider Jewish diaspora indulged their needs, largely out of pity and nostalgia. Then in the 1950s, the Haredim began to cordon themselves off and their fertility advantage over other Jews increased. With increasing retention of members and three times the birth rate of other Jews, their share of world Jewry began to skyrocket. In Britain, they constitute only 17 percent of Jews but account for 75 percent of Jewish births. In Israel, they have increased from a few percent of Jewish schoolchildren in 1950 to a third of all Jewish pupils. In both places, the majority of Jews may be Haredi by 2050 and certainly by 2100.”
In short, I would strongly encourage your readers to read the book before they dismiss it. As Kaufmann suggests, endogenous growth sects are forms of religion which survive and thrive despite application of liberal DDT. They are a very stimulating and thought-provoking model for those of us interested in restoring traditionalism.
Steve N. writes:
Bob L. writes:
Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 04, 2013 07:27 PM | Send
“But while leading traditionalist lives while functioning in modernity may work in some cases, such as those of the readers you reference, and is a good per se. it does not strike me as a viable path to political victory. While conservatives may, to be vulgar, outbreed liberals, liberals are very good at converting the children of conservatives to their own.”
I think Bob and perhaps others may be missing a key aspect to traditionalism: You MUST homeschool. All the other great ideas of traditionalism (e.g., killing your TV, taking care of children’s choice of friends, avoiding “dating,” being self-reliant) take a back seat to this. I am the father of eight, so far unliberalized, children (aged 21 thru 3). We were homeschoolers before we were traditionalists. I think the inherently reactionary nature of homeschooling probably helped lead us down the path toward stauncher, and by now irreformable, traditionalism (as well as the path to have eight or more children).
Yes, the schools are acidic to traditionalism of any kind, even the Christian (and especially “Catholic”) schools. The educational system from pre-K all the way to PhD are a wholly owned subsidiary arm of the Liberal left, which is itself a fundamentally religious institution. It is their intent to convert your kids. It is your duty not to let them.
The Hasidim and the Amish don’t homeschool much, but have their own carefully controlled K-12 (or eight in the case of the Amish) system, which largely insulates them against the general corrosivity of modern “culture.” Christian traditionalists don’t really have too good of options on this front. Therefore, homeschool. And you’ll be pleased with the results.