In the fall of 1985, I took a course in political philosophy that proved seminal. The professor was an orthodox Jew whose logic was rapier-sharp; his rhetoric had the fiery force of an Elijah. He argued persuasively that ideas like Goodness, Truth, and Beauty were dependent on a benevolent creator. He demonstrated that Western Civilization was built on Athens (classical philosophy) and Jerusalem (revelation). He showed us that we unquestioningly accepted many of the ideas of Nietzsche, Rousseau, and Freud without knowing where they came from. He showed us how Western Civilization seemed bent on self-destruction, having rejected the very things that made it great.
As we began to realize the full import of his critique, a classmate and I went to him and asked: "What can we do?" We wanted to slay the dragon, to save the West. To our disappointment, he said, "Get married and have lots of children." We thought he was being dismissive.
Now it’s clear that he was indeed an Elijah, and his answer was prophetic, for it seems that European culture has "evolved" (see Patrick Beeman’s article on page 24) to the point of freely chosen extinction.
In his article on page 6, Russell Shaw quotes Pope Benedict XVI’s warning that "Europe seems to be walking a path that could lead her to disappear from history." Shaw notes that falling birthrates are an enormous threat to the future of Europe. The economic implications alone are huge: Who will be the next generation of farmers, teachers, and grocers? (A question posed by Mary Jo Anderson in her article on page 12.) The answer appears to be that a large percentage of them will be non-European immigrants.
The U.K. Telegraph recently reported that there are 1,338 government-run schools in the U.K. in which native English speakers are a minority. In one London district, nine out of 10 schools have a majority of non-native speakers. The article also noted that one in five births in Britain is to an immigrant. Merry old England is turning into a barren and bitter old maid.
And the scepter’d isle is not alone. Why are Europeans not having children? Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia in Europa sees "the widespread fear of giving life to new children" as a symptom of Europe’s loss of Christianity, and therefore loss of hope:
[The] loss of Christian memory is accompanied by a kind of fear of the future. Tomorrow is often presented as something bleak and uncertain. . . .The signs and fruits of this existential anguish include, in particular, the diminishing number of births, the decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the difficulty, if not the outright refusal, to make lifelong commitments, including marriage. (8)
John Paul’s solution?
The Book of Revelation . . . calls on us to live in a way which rejects the recurring temptation to construct the city of man apart from God or even in opposition to him. For should this ever happen, human society itself would sooner or later meet with irreversible failure. (5)