Without children, politics is childish
Catholic Herald column from May 4, 2012
Television historian Lucy Worsley recently said that she has “been educated out of the natural reproductive function” and that as a result “I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy”.
Worsley, who has a degree from Oxford and has written several books on the aristocracy, said that she had “become the poster girl for opting out of reproduction”.
She is certainly not the only woman too bright to breed. In Germany up to 50 per cent of women with degrees remain childless, and the figures in Britain and the United States are not far behind. This is not entirely new; among the first generation of women allowed to study at Oxbridge up to a third remained unmarried, but today it is far more widespread.
A huge cultural shift has occurred in just one generation, with very large numbers of men and women now feeling that their lives are complete without children. This is, historically, an unprecedented state of affairs marking out educated westerners as unique among mankind.
And taking aside the economic, cultural or even biological impact on future generations, childlessness may have changed the political culture of the country. People’s attitudes and priorities change – drastically – when they have children, and their political priorities change too. Having spent a great deal of time researching the impact of mass immigration on British society for an upcoming book, I have noticed how many advocates are childless (or if not, wealthy); when one has children what seems “vibrant” suddenly appears frightening, and the presence of alien languages around not only gives the area a colourful, holiday-like feel but also bodes ill for your child’s school.
I’ve noticed that many anti-faith school campaigners are childless, too, a point that those who think men should be locked out of the abortion debate fail to comment on. Becoming a parent makes one more concerned about the long term and in what academics call “moral capital”, the extent to which people in any society trust each other. If child-rearing becomes a minority activity among the politically active classes, then politics starts to gain a somewhat adolescent air.
It is not a coincidence, in my view, that the 1960s generation for whom “life is not a dress rehearsal” saddled their successors with the biggest debt in peace-time history. In the long term we’re all dead, as they say.
Religion, of course, is a major factor in demography, and as we have become less religious political morality has taken on roles previously performed by faith.
In his recently published The Righteous Mind evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt looked at the importance of religion in creating communities with high moral capital. One of the arguments of Haidt’s fascinating book is that so many secular viewpoints depend on the same “irrational” instincts that drive religious belief. Haidt, a pro-choice atheist, suggests abortion as an area where people fool themselves into thinking themselves rational. “Once you sacralise women as victims,” as campaigners in the 1960s did, and he suggests it was right at the time, then “you have to take a position on abortion and so become blind to the development of the foetus. So you have to say an abortion in the sixth month is not a moral issue, there’s nothing there. That is crazy.”
Haidt admits that he was once hostile to religion but has developed a great respect for believers, not the least because, as his own research at the University of Virginia has shown, people who claim that their politics and morals are based on “reason” are suffering from the biggest delusion of all.
It must have come as little surprise to most people to learn last week that children were leaving school with almost no knowledge of British history.
Think-tank Politeia found that Britain was unique in Europe in allowing its pupils to be entirely ignorant of national history, with children typically learning only little chunks of Tudor history, the industrial revolution and (of course) Nazi Germany.
The root of the problem is that some time ago history began to be taught in a more critical manner, the aim being to teach children that history is full of myths and political narratives. The result was that by the time I went to school the subject was unimaginably dull. It is also impossible to teach without a narrative because history is by definition a story.
This illustrates the problem England has dealing with post-Protestantism. All countries have a national narrative, and England’s was a Whiggish Protestant one: shorn of that it has lost the plot; or the country’s history becomes one long march towards multiculturalism, gender equality or European unity.
Politeia suggested a list of 37 events that everybody should be taught, most of which are obvious and necessary. Missing, unsurprisingly, is the Battle of Towton (1461), yet having read George Goodwin’s recently published Fatal Colours, I wonder if it should be included. The largest battle fought on English soil, Towton dwarfed Hastings and resulted in 28,000 deaths, yet it has disappeared down a historical wormhole.
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