IN 1951, the US Catholic Archbishop Fulton J Sheen foresaw the crisis about to befall the Western world. In his book Three to Get Married he wrote: ‘The State which respects the family unity as the basis of civilisation is much more unified than a civilisation which ignores it. A divorce-ridden civilisation is already in cause, a disrupted civilisation. It may take a few decades for the cracks in the family to become earthquakes in the political order, but one must not conclude, because its tombstone is not yet erected, that the civilisation is not already dead.’
Western civilisation might not be quite dead yet, but ‘cracks in the family’ and the ‘earthquakes in the political order’ are undeniably present. The birth rate in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest in two decades. In the rest of Europe, too, birth rates have declined dramatically over this period. In 2021, 4.09million babies were born in the EU, the second-lowest figure since 1960. The lowest was in 2020, with only 4.07million births.
Yet Europe’s political leaders, many childless themselves, remain blithely indifferent.
The prevailing assumption is that too many children are born, which might be the case in a minority of countries, but certainly is not globally, and most definitely not in Europe. Climate activists do their best to convince people that there are too many of us, and ‘experts’ welcome declining fertility rates.
But not all have fallen for this progressive narrative. The leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have spoken up and refuse to accept that immigration is the solution to declining birth rates.
The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, who is increasingly seen by conservatives worldwide as a figurehead in the fight against globalism, has followed his own path and his government’s radical family policies are working. While fertility in Hungary is still below replacement rate, it has been steadily increasing and is now higher than the EU average. It has proved an inspiration for others to follow.
At the weekend Orban hosted the fifth Budapest Demographic Summit to tackle Europe’s population decline. It brought together other like-minded international leaders – Giorgia Meloni, the Prime Minister of Italy, the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, and Tanzanian Vice President Philip Isdor Mpango – and Jordan Peterson, the thinker, academic, author and public speaker.
Peterson spoke about the broader role of marriage and family for the meaning it gives to life. ‘It is important,’ he said, ‘to submit ourselves to a higher goal.’
Raising children, he argued, is the kind of responsibility that gives people purpose and a sense of identity. ‘Indeed, families provide the necessary structure for the lives of individuals and serve as the foundation for harmonious communities.’ Monogamous, committed, child-centred relationships, he argued, promote good mental health and freedom from anxiety.
Viktor Orban argued that family life is also essential for freedom; freedom requires at least two people ‘because one person alone is not free but lonely’. He deplored Europe’s progressive liberal elite leadership, ‘busy with all kinds of nonsense’ instead of focusing on issues that matter. He likened the European Parliament’s 2021 resolution and lie that men can become pregnant to the Soviet Union’s ambition to reverse the flow of Siberian rivers. Both projects have sought to ‘override the created order of the world’. This loss of touch with reality, he went on, is ‘the most worrying development in the West in the past 70 years’ and he lamented how the real concerns of citizens are so ‘far down on the agenda in European politics’.
Defying feminists who view childbearing as oppressive, Giorgia Meloni, who has a young daughter, gave a moving testimony about the beauty of motherhood. She said it is wrong to think having a family is an alternative to a career, and cited as an example Hungarian women, whose birth and employment rates have risen in parallel. Drawing on her personal experience, she said ‘children are not a limit’ but rather the very reason women want to work hard in every area of life.
Hungarian president Katalin Novak, a mother of three, also underlined the importance of pro-family legislation to ensure women do not have to choose between work and family. She decried the current ‘demographic ice age’ in Europe, and the simultaneous weakening of the Christian ‘pillars’ on which European culture rests.
While much of the Western world is on a suicide mission, this congress in Budapest was a beacon of hope in the darkness. Whether others will follow where they lead and whether Europe’s demographic decline can be reversed is difficult to tell, but the policy decisions made now will be crucial in determining our civilisation’s longevity.