Consider these prominent European men and women, who are the major figureheads of the continent’s political landscape:
Emmanuel Macron, President of France.
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor.
Theresa May, British Prime Minister.
Paolo Gentiloni, Italian Prime Minister.
Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden.
Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s Prime Minister.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.
Yes they are all European leaders, obviously. Yes, they are big-government European political leaders who wield a lot of influence; we know that as well. But one thing stands out about each of these people’s personal lives, something that has not been picked up on by many.
I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with their family (or in this case lack thereof).
Each of these prominent European leaders does not have any children. Consider that for a second: not one of them has any offspring of their own. What’s up with that?
James McPherson noted this in an article for the Washington Examiner.
Macron is relatively young at 39, but the rest of the continent is run by childless Baby-Boomers.
But why is this trend happening? McPherson notes a famous essay called “The End of History” by Francis Fukuyama. In that essay, Fukuyama claims that with the fall of Communism, Western democratic ideals have won the day, and that the old world’s conflicts would give way to a new era of peace (we know this to be a false hypothesis though; it was disproved fully on September 11, 2001).
But what comes along with this perspective, according to McPherson? The philosophy of the “Me Decade.”
The Boomers first grabbed the reins of political power in the West in the 1990s, as Communism collapsed and Francis Fukuyama declared “The End of History.” The Boomers live like they believe it. If history is over, if all that is left is consumer capitalism in a liberal democracy, if the stream has stopped flowing, why not climb out?
The idea here is that if we do not have to consider the past or the future, why should we? My happiness is what matters. If having kids does not make me happy, why should I have them?
That attitude is reflected not merely anecdotally, but demographically as well.
It’s clear which side has political power now. But the demographics point to a different future. In 2009 Phillip Longman noted that in France (for example) a tiny minority of women are giving birth to over 50% of the children every year. These women are either practicing Catholics or immigrant Muslims.
Religious people tend to have more children, and that trend is becoming even more noticeable as the 21st century progresses. Non-religious people are often choosing not to have any kids, and it appears that these decisions are affecting public policy more than simple voting patterns or electoral results.
Political leaders without this experience of parenthood may be susceptible to the idea that people are blank-slates, interchangeable units of human capital. As a parent and a teacher, I have seen many brilliant and well-meaning parents and colleagues crash their will and intellect against the rock of a child’s independent nature. Now, scale such a hubristic paternalism to a nation. Or a continent.
What does this mean? McPherson believes that this may be the “the last gasp of secularism. The future is won by those who show up, and only the religiously orthodox are having children.”
Indeed, having children does affect a country’s politics. For those who have children growing up have a vested interest in seeing that country run well, so that their children may live in a good world.
As John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study
Painting and PoetryMathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
Adams believed that his children must have a life of peace, and he worked to ensure that they would. But what if Adams had no children? Would he have thought that? He may have, but not with such force and thoughtfulness, for he was writing of his own children’s future.
But these modern European leaders have no progeny to continue the family name. They have no children; legacy is their only child (H/T House of Cards).
But how does that bode for us in the future? Maybe McPherson is right, perhaps the future belongs to the religious by sheer numbers. If you would like that to be the case, I suggest you Christian couples get busy.