03 Dec 2012

American Birthrate Plummets

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Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la décadence [Romans in the Period of Decadence], 1847, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

And even Ross Douthat begins to recognize in the distance the final stop at end of the rail line of progressive modernism.

It’s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility. …

American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered. Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that U.S. birthrates hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2011, with just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. (The rate was 71 per 1,000 in 1990.) For the first time in recent memory, Americans are having fewer babies than the French or British. …

Beneath… policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.

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The Romans were said to have welcomed the barbarian invasions with an anything- is-better-than-this attitude. Non-fecundity could be an ultimate denial, the ultimate “count me out,” of participation in a corrupt society, a perhaps unconscious biological version of Atlas Shrugged.

“How can I bring a child into the world when the chances are unacceptably high that they will only be turned into a wage-slave for others’ ends, or worse, a cookie-cutter collectivist living a with a strange parasitic pride you see so often today? Better nothing than this.”


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