The perils of a secular state: fewer kids, growth

It is now eminently clear that the European model of governance simply does not work. One by one, each of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) will eventually pay the piper. The Germans won’t be there to bail them out this time, and if Bret Stephens of the Wallstreet Journal has any foresight, “the riots of Athens will become those of Milan, Madrid and Marseilles.”

But the crisis in Europe is not merely economic, but spiritual as well. One does not have to look further than the riots in Athens or London to observe the soul-rotting effects of the welfare state.

In London, contrary to the preconceived notion that the riots were stirred up by inequality or lack of education, the looters were largely from mixed backgrounds. “Shockingly, among those in the dock accused of looting are a millionaire’s grammar school daughter, a ballet student and an organic chef. A law student, university graduate, a musician and an opera steward also said to have taken part. They are just some of the youngsters from comfortable middle-class backgrounds who have been charged with criminality,” the U.K. Daily Mail reports.

Not long before the riots began, a British member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, lamented over the effects of the welfare state during an interview with Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge.

“The real problem with the growth of welfare is not that it retards economic growth, although it does… The real malignancy is the way it frays the bonds that used to tie society together. It makes us less virtuous as individual citizens,” Hannan said.

He continued by pointing out the connection between the welfare state and the growth of secularism in society: “When the state expands, it squeezes out the private sphere,” most notably, the church. Hannan added that, “there was a time not so very long ago when we all had to look out for our elderly neighbors and make sure they were collecting their milk every morning. That is now seen as social services.”

The welfare state takes on responsibilities that used to fall to citizens and turns them into state functions. The result is an infantilized populace, one that is incapable of dealing with the rigors adulthood.

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The most obvious responsibility associated with adulthood, is of course parenting, and one which Europe has practically abandoned altogether.

There is a common belief that the strongest correlation to a nation’s birthrate is its wealth. Apart from the U.S., the wealthiest countries in the world tend to also have incredibly low birthrates; but upon a closer examination, the stronger corollary is religiosity.

Countries where religion plays an important role in the lives of its citizenry tend to have higher birth rates. This is no mystery considering Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all highly value childrearing.

One can even observe this within the United States itself. States in the south tend to have high birth rates as well as high church attendance in comparison to their neighbors in the north.

The dismal birthrate of Europe and the declining birthrate of the United States have real and serious effects. The most apparent is that Europe is now producing below the replacement rate at 1.5 children per female. In order to produce enough children to replace a population, there must be at least 2.1 children per female. Because Europe falls below replacement levels, every generation is smaller than the last; which means less economic activity; thus, fewer workers to pay into their elaborate social programs.

Social security in the United States is a good comparison to the mess across the Atlantic. The program isn’t a fund that is stored away someplace then withdrawn after retirement, but one that must be continuously paid into by new workers. Today’s recipients of social security are being paid by today’s workers, which is why a declining population means less people paying into the system. That is what critics of social security mean when they say the program is unsustainable.

Somewhere, sometime, down the line, things will have to change. Either the payments will have to be cut across the board, wealthier recipients barred, or what is more likely, is that the retirement age will have to be increased.

What is most perplexing is that there are still people in the United States who want to continue expanding these and other programs, replacing private charities and religious organizations.

It cannot be emphasized enough, that when the state grows, the individual shrinks, and with then individual goes the church. In Europe, Christianity has been replaced by government. The great English writer G.K. Chesterton was only too right to observe that, “Once abolish the God and the government becomes the God.”

The rioters in London are not suffering from a lack of material goods, but from spiritual emptiness. It must be understood that their behavior is the logical outcome of society that has abandoned Judeo-Christian morality in favor of secularism, which gives no objective basis determining right from wrong.