Not without controversy, Buchanan's new book raises some good points about Americans' failure to have children. And looking at my graduating class, I'd have to say he's not far off the mark.
Review of The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization, by Patrick J. Buchanan.
After reading Patrick Buchanan’s dire warning about the perils of America’s declining birth rate, I decided to perform a little experiment, checking out the case histories of my undergraduate cohort of about 1600 classmates from Stanford University (class of ’96). I usually pay little attention to the "class notes" in the back of my alumni magazine — it’s really depressing reading about the towering achievements of all those heroic Rhodes scholars, Harvard law and Harvard med school graduates, super-rich entrepreneurs and investment bankers — and so I honestly had no idea how many students from my year were getting married or having children.
The magic of the internet being what it is, I was able to download all the class notes going back to graduation. Here’s a sampling of what I learned (aside from the fact that I missed my five-year reunion last year — oops!): almost nobody got hitched until about three years after graduation. The trickle of wedding announcements didn’t really turn into a steady stream until year five, when nearly ten alums tied the knot. In all, fewer than 20 of my classmates have reported marriages to date, nearly six years after we left school — or about one-in-80. Of these hopefully happy couples, meanwhile, only two have announced births.
Since these reports are entirely voluntary, this was hardly a scientific survey of my classmates’ group behavior. Still, marriage and birth announcements are generally the kind of thing one is proud of — surely at least as likely to be reported by alums as an acceptance letter from grad school or a job promotion. So even if not all marriages and births are being reported, it is still striking that these announcements come in so rarely. (And even when they do, I sometimes don’t know what of make of them. What exactly is a "commitment ceremony," which was reported to have been performed for two classmates of mine "at their home in Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage"? Is this a wedding, or some kind of eco-veggie séance?)
Clearly, most of my classmates (like me, I’m sad to admit) have chosen to throw their energies more into postgraduate study and high-powered careers than into the mysteries of courtship or the responsibilities of parenthood. In this, we are entirely representative of the post-1960s campus culture Buchanan decries in this book. Long gone are the days when niversities handed out the "Mrs." degree for bright young girls hoping to find a worthy father for raising a family. Today men and women alike go to college to ascend the social ladder, which almost as a matter of course requires that we put off marriage and children, lest they distract us from our higher ambitions.
This is all clearly well and good for America's GDP, but as Buchanan tries to remind us, there is more to national life than productivity and economic growth statistics. And a mere glance at the demographic shift beginning to overwhelm this country should be enough to shock us out of our complacent reluctance to have children. If current immigration and fertility trends continue, white Americans of European descent, who as recently as the 1950s made up nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population, will soon be a minority in their own country. (A note here: Buchanan, following the labels used by the U.S. census and other government agencies, counts Hispanics among the "nonwhites" who will soon be in the majority). In Europe, the situation is even more dire: demographic projections see the current native population of over 700 million dropping to 200 million by century's end, virtually disappearing off the map.
What has happened? Since the baby boom ended in the early 1960s, it's as if Americans decided to call a moratorium on reproduction, while simultaneously opening our borders to millions of Third World immigrants let in merely by virtue of their superior fertility. You've heard all the refrains about why we "need" unfettered immigration of unskilled workers -- "they take the unpleasant jobs Americans won't bother doing," "the labor market needs it," "without them the GDP would stop growing," etc. But only courageous cranks like Buchanan have bothered to ask: why did we stop reproducing in the first place? And doesn't anyone care that America will soon no longer be remotely the same country it recently was, culturally, historically, even racially?
Unfortunately, Buchanan's controversial treatment of the race question is going to turn off even otherwise sympathetic readers of this book. He devotes a lot of ink to the problem of illegal Mexican migration, warning, for example, that quite a few Mexican politicians and U.S.- based "Chicano" activists are already openly advocating a reconquista of the American Southwest. And it’s true that many Spanish-language television and radio stations, along with a burgeoning Latino press, are already beginning to forge a kind of separate Latino cultural sphere in huge states such as Texas, California and Florida. But surely we can recognize Latinos as fellow Christians, descended from the "common European culture" Buchanan holds up as crucial to the glue of our national character. And what about the millions of recent Asian immigrants, who, though neither European nor white, have undoubtedly assimilated into mainstream American culture in large numbers?
Although I agree with Buchanan that some sort of halt to unrestricted immigration must soon be called so that we can "Americanize" the tens of millions of foreign-born already here, I am more optimistic that non-whites can be members of the national community, so long as they are given a chance to prosper. I think the problem here is less racial than cultural: fewer immigrants are fully assimilating today than in earlier immigrant waves in large part because the multiculturalist orthodoxy all but forbids them from doing so. From the "bilingual education" lobby to the obnoxious racial classifications of government survey forms to the quotas of affirmative action to the politically correct media promotion of "diversity," our society's elites are willfully trying to balkanize an already ethnically fragmented society. Let's work to change these divisive policies, instead of closing our hearts and minds to foreigners who may very well prefer a return to the expectation of universal assimilation.
His questionable treatment of the race issue aside, Buchanan's bitter jeremiad is the great story not told of the second half of the 20th century. Through systematic assaults on the Church and family values, the liberal media and education establishments have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of radical visionaries in destroying traditional American civilization. Animated neither by pride and self-confidence in the democratic way of life (now regarded by our textbooks as "chauvinism" or "racism"), nor by the Christian injunction to "be fruitful and multiply" (which is now seen as sexist and homophobic), Americans have literally stopped reproducing their own civilization.
Meanwhile, our civilizational rivals, such as Muslims, though failing to prosper as we have economically and politically, somehow retain what we have lost: "a desire to have children and the will to carry on their civilization, culture and faith." Their resentment of our prosperity and easy lives reflects a burning contempt for our decadence. As bin Laden never failed to tell his followers in the lead-up to Sept. 11, America’s is a "dying civilization."
But does it have to be this way? Will immigrants inevitably overrun us, just as the arbarians gradually overwhelmed ancient Rome? Outside our borders, hundreds of millions of potential immigrants look in enviously at our riches and freedoms, often with little understanding of — much less respect for — the values of western civilization which gave rise to our prosperity. Unless we learn again to reproduce our own civilization — to have children and to teach them how to be moral citizens of a great republic — these immigrants will happily take our places at the banquet table, having a hearty laugh at our expense. After all, they didn’t even need to tell us to commit cultural suicide: we are doing it to ourselves.
Buchanan’s warning really hits home, if you, like me and most of my Stanford classmates, are in your late 20s and haven’t even come close to tying the knot or having children. When I briefly considered the marriage question for the first time with my girlfriend last year, many of friends thought I was crazy for even thinking about marriage — at age 27! (What would it do to your career plans? I was asked by nearly everyone — as if that were the most important consideration in life).
If everyone in my generation waits as long as I have to get married, and even longer to have children, then the outlook isn’t good. Buchanan has some intriguing ideas to "get us going," so to speak — everything from enacting pro-child tax policies to advocating a return to the "family wage," under which fathers are paid more than single female workers, so as to allow more mothers to stay in the home and care for children.
But Buchanan knows perfectly well that America’s cultural suicide will not be reversed by dollars-and-cents incentives. If we’re going to fight for the future of this country, we have to capture the hearts and minds of the young, taking back the schools and universities from the multiculturalists and the blame-America crowd. Spread the word around campus about the dangers posed to America’s fragile civilization by declining fertility and uncontrolled immigration. And above all, have children!
In the end, though, I’m just not sure that any of this will be enough to stem the tide of the West’s unwinding self-destruction. Even if the de-Christianization of the schools is reversed, even if a long-overdue moratorium on immigration is called (and don’t hold your breath for that), the demographic catastrophe overtaking us may still run its course.
But that’s no reason not to go down swinging. Despite all her many flaws and the depth of her current cultural malaise, America is, in Buchanan’s words, "still a country worth fighting for and the last best hope on earth." Let’s all of us do our part to make sure this great country doesn’t vanish into the dustbin of history.
Copyright 2002 Sean McMeekin. All rights reserved.