Right or Wrong?
On contraception, it may be time for a reality check. Contraception has gained nearly universal acceptance among Catholics, as well as others, as a moral alternative — the private choice of each individual. A new book, however, should make us think about the terminal social consequences of the contraceptive ethic.
Patrick Buchanan may not be very popular on this campus. But his book, "The Death of the West," exposes an undeniable reality: The first world, including not only Europe and North America but also Japan and Russia, is dying. For example, Muslim Albania is the only one of 47 European nations that has a birthrate that will replenish its population.
"At present birthrates," Buchanan notes, "Europe must bring in 169 million immigrants by 2050 if it wishes to keep its population aged 15 to 64 at today's level. But if Europe wishes to keep its present ratio of 4.8 workers for every senior, Europe must bring in 1.4 billion immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Put another way: Either Europe raises taxes and radically downsizes pensions and health benefits for the elderly, or Europe becomes a third world continent. There is no third way."
In 1995 the populations of Europe (including Russia) and Africa were equal. In 2050 Africans are likely to outnumber Europeans by more than 3 to 1. Islam has replaced Judaism as the second religion of Europe. In 2000, for the first time, there were more Muslims in the world than Catholics.
This country is in a similar fix. The fertility rate in the United States has been almost continuously below the replacement level of 2.1 for two decades. One-child families are the fastest growing family unit, from 9 percent of all families in the 1970s to more than 20 percent today. College-educated white women in the United States have a fertility rate of about 1.6. College-educated black women have an even lower rate, at 1.5. The Hispanic birth rate, fortunately, remains strong. Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment, with 6.4 percent of the U.S. population in 1980, 9 percent in 1990 and over 12 percent in 2000.
Buchanan analyzes cultural influences that have caused the West to refuse to renew itself, principally including the dominance of a self-centered and secular ethic. "The new gospel has as its governing axioms: there is no God; there are no absolute values ...; the supernatural is superstition."
The defining reality is that "`we are creating,' in the words of Czech president Vaclav Havel, `the first atheistic civilization in the history of mankind.'"
Buchanan offers debatable policy proposals, including major restrictions on immigration. While immigration laws are in need of revision, Americans of European origin are losing their dominance, not because of immigration, but because they practice the "race suicide" of the contraceptive ethic. They have no right to exclude unjustifiably people of other backgrounds who share the right to the universal destination of the earth as of other goods. "The immigration of so many people from the South into our part of the Americas," said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, "may be the salvation of the Church in the United States, because they bring with them a spirit and a soul and a deep kind of faith that will ... re-enliven the faith of the churches of the North."
The point of this essay is not to analyze Buchanan's policy proposals, but to note the demographic handwriting on the wall. As Australian demographer Peter McDonald explains, "the problem with low fertility is that it reduces population size not at all ages but only among the young. Low fertility produces an age structure that creates a momentum for future population decline, a situation that must be stopped at some point if the population is to be demographically sustainable. Also, populations with low fertility can fall in size at an extremely rapid rate. The longer low fertility is maintained, the harder it becomes to reverse population decline."
That is one reason why contraception must be reconsidered. Until the Anglican Lambeth Conference in 1930, no Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be objectively right. The Catholic Church maintains that unbroken teaching. Discussion of contraception in detail must await another day. Suffice it to say here that the contraceptive ethic is predictably a suicide pact. Any group that refuses to reproduce itself will disappear.
Notre Dame rightly prides itself on the social activism of its students, which, we hope, they will continue to practice throughout their lives. But the demographics indicate that the most enduring future contribution those students can make to society is to cooperate in the procreation of new persons who will enrich that society and who, not incidentally, will live forever. Whatever your view, the Buchanan book will make you think.
Prof. Rice is on the Law School faculty. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be contacted at Plawecki.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, February 12, 2002