July-August 2012

Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics.  Edited by Susan Yoshihara and Douglas A. Sylva. Potomac Books (P.O. Box 605, Herndon, VA 20172-0605; 800-775-2518). 287 pages. $35.

The population-control ideology of “fewer is better” so dominates modern discourse that most people fail to realize that population decline entails myriad negative effects. The demographic implosions of Russia and Japan are mentioned in passing, and certain Europeans realize that they’re next, but the hysteria of overpopulation crowds out the concept of a large-scale fertility freefall causing or aggravating severe problems. In many nations, life expectancy is rising rapidly, which, when combined with a birth dearth, results in a “graying” population. This demographic transition — a shift to lower fertility and mortality rates — has already occurred in most of the developed world, and is being promoted in the developing world, as certain experts believe that the change will make these nations more stable and peaceable. This so-called geriatric peace and other concepts that fit the overall “fewer is better” scheme are attractive but rely on unprecedented demographic changes — and no small amount of wishful thinking.

Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics argues that demographic decline is fueling shifts in the balance of world power, with resulting scenarios that aren’t always peaceful or stable. The book focuses on national-security strategy and takes a clear stance in favor of strong military power but at the same time challenges established population-control dogma. This collection of essays is edited by scholars from the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), whose personnel has fought pro-life battles at major U.N. policy conferences since 1997 and has gained experience at going against conventional wisdom. The essayists see turbulence within transatlantic alliance politics and instability in Asia stoked by population decline. They offer analyses of Russia, Europe, Japan, India, China, and the U.S. to back their arguments. They point out that manpower still fuels greatness, and great population die-offs, whether coerced or enacted voluntarily, have serious unintended military and economic consequences.

In 1950 the wealthy developed countries accounted for most of the world’s populous nations. By 2050 only the U.S. will remain in that category. Affluent Europe’s low fertility looks to continue, with immigrants minimally upholding current social structures while adding social instability. A “demographic decline adaptation strategy” pursued by Europe (and called “audacious in the extreme” by Sylva) is to make conventional wars fought with conventional armies obsolete; European countries, along with Russia and Japan, are counting on their leadership roles in the international system organized around the U.N. to maintain power. But again, too few births comes back to haunt them. Graying populations may force military spending to be swapped out in favor of social spending — notably care for the elderly — and trading “guns for canes” may irreversibly weaken their influence at the U.N. and in regional alliances like NATO. Good intentions and big ideas only go so far when backed by little money and few boots on the ground.

In societies dominated by single-child families — a paradigm increasingly followed even by Europe’s immigrants — militaries face the difficulty of building armies composed of “only sons,” with greater popular resistance to service and intolerance of casualties. Some see this as progress toward “warless­ness,” which, like geriatric peace, is desirable, but then there are countries like Iran and North Korea that spoil the party. As graying nations fret over their loss of power, there is a temptation to put faith in technology as a “military force multiplier.” But will drones really work in the context of a hot war? And Japan, for example, could consider developing its own nuclear arsenal in order to shore up its defense. Toshi Yoshihara points out that certain Japanese analysts have already begun to explore “nuclear options that were once considered taboo.” Along with a transfer of the center of the world economy from the Atlantic to the Pacific comes the rise of a second nuclear age in Asia.

China, the much-touted leader of the next century, is riding high for now but is due to hit a serious population-bust roadblock. Once its population begins to contract, it may experience troubles like Europe and Japan, but in fast-forward motion. Further instability is expected to result from China’s abnormal sex ratios: Males outnumber females by a whopping 51.3 million. Officials seem determined to cling to the one-child policy, even though some demographers describe China’s excess males as “part of a set of ‘time-bomb factors’” that threaten stability. [See the May 2011 New Oxford Note “Rise of the Asian Frankenstein” for an in-depth look into this problem — Ed.]

Although India is the object of disapproval for its politically incorrect breeding habits, it is also a font of great optimism regarding its rising economy and stature on the world scene. India’s “youth bulge” promises to happen at the same time that China finds its population graying. India and China may well become peer competitors, and India, the world’s largest democracy, will spread influence and, according to the U.S. Defense Department, be a “net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.” With half its population under the age of 25, India is facing a potential “demographic dividend,” which occurs when a country’s working-age population grows and the number of dependents lessens. Its youthful population is anticipated to be an asset in the nation’s rise, provided India can quickly make education a priority for all citizens. Although India produces the second largest number of engineers in the world every year, a quarter of its population is still illiterate. India, like China, suffers a population imbalance between the sexes due to female feticide, which is reaching epidemic proportions and could impede economic and democratic development and jeopardize internal stability.

The U.S., “youngest” of the developed nations, also has reason for optimism. “Relatively robust fertility and immigration” has helped the U.S. avoid the near-term economic crisis that demographic decline effects elsewhere. Mexican immigrants have done their part to keep us afloat, but we may soon encounter a decreasing supply: Mexico’s fertility rate has dropped below replacement, similar to Puerto Rico, which no longer provides a net flow of immigrants to the U.S. mainland. In order to fill the role of defender of Western civilization — to maintain U.S. economic and military power — an optimistic encouragement of human capital (read: births) is imperative. A U.S.-India alliance is the next big thing, as India must increasingly project power beyond its borders to balance the Chinese. “Rabbit politics,” wherein sheer numbers translate into staying power, are as relevant as ever.

Abortion advocates were defeated at this June’s U.N. Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. A coalition of countries led by the Holy See stopped the insertion of “reproductive rights” language into U.N. documents, rejecting propaganda that says fewer is always better. Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics supplies necessary warnings that across-the-board population decline isn’t necessarily the path to peace and security it’s often made out to be.

- Barbara E. Rose



The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God: The Story of Ruth Pakaluk, Convert, Mother, and Pro-Life Activist.  Edited by Michael Pakaluk. Ignatius Press. 272 pages. $16.95.

Appalling Strangeness starts off with a short biography of Ruth Pakaluk, a saintly mother of six and a passionate pro-lifer who died of cancer at age 41, and consists mostly of her letters and “selected talks.” The curious title, taken from Graham Greene, was one of her “all-time favorite lines from literature.”

Ruth met Michael when they were students at Harvard. They read the Bible together, prayed, joined the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and were married in 1978, right before their senior year. What first attracted Ruth to Catholicism was the Church’s unwavering stand on abortion. After converting in 1980 she joined the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, helped found its Harvard-Radcliffe and Cambridge branches, and started a Teens for Life group. With quasi-superhuman vigor, she raised six children, worked part-time, and engaged in pro-life activism, all the while remaining faithful to daily Mass and rosary. Until the year she died she continued giving pro-life talks to local Catholic youngsters and attending the March for Life.

Ruth’s breast cancer was first diagnosed and treated in 1991, two years before she gave birth to her sixth child. After treatments destroyed her ovaries, she confided, “The one thing I most frequently regret about my current situation is not having another baby.” She believed that her highest calling was “to be a homemaker.” In another letter penned the same year, she wrote, “If you are given the gift of empathy, you can imagine how painful it must be for us pro-lifers…to see women viewing their own offspring as adversaries to be destroyed, throwing away the priceless gift God has lavished upon them to love and by whom to be loved. As Mother Teresa says, the greatest evil of abortion is the death of love in those who participate in it.”

In her letters Ruth often defends with clarity, passion, and conviction the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, and in vitro fertilization. In 1987 she describes the Supreme Court as comprised of men who “just want to enable women to kill off inconvenient offspring, no matter what principles of law or logic have to be sacrificed.” Later she confesses her great disappointment with the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision: “People who are not brain dead realize that the opportunity to reverse Roe has come and gone. Casey should have been the opportunity to reverse Roe. Unfortunately, Anthony Kennedy did not do what he was expected to do, so we still have Roe. (I would not want to be in his shoes on Judgment Day.)” At the 1994 March for Life, she refers to the “startlingly white” Capitol buildings and exclaims, “What a shame such beauty should give rise to such evil.” Like Walker Percy, she sees American culture as having a “death wish” at its “core.”

Informed in 1994 that her cancer has spread, Ruth replies that “the prospect of dying does not bother me that much. I really do believe that whatever God wants is going to turn out best.” Two years later she rejoices that she has become “much more abandoned to God’s will” and “happier than I have ever been in my life.” In a letter to support a ban on partial-birth abortion, she writes that there is no evidence that the birth of her last child caused the recurrence of her cancer, adding, “It pains me to think of women who have killed their unborn children in a vain attempt to preserve their own lives…. How much easier it is to face death with a clean conscience.” Standing on the brink of eternity in 1998, she wrote her six most riveting letters, one to each of her children. She confides to her eldest son that she was selfish in her youth, and so, without the Catholic faith, “I doubt very much I would have had six children, I doubt I would have stayed home full time” or “had the patience and forgiveness to stay married to Dad.” On the verge of death, she writes, “I am even just a little bit impatient to see heaven…. I figure if the fallen world is this pleasant, what could heaven be but irresistible?”

The last section of the book contains several of her talks. On the Eucharist, she asks, “Why does God bend Himself so low, wait so patiently, and make Himself so accessible and helpless?” It’s because we wouldn’t “dare approach Him if we could see Him in His glory.” In “The Plan of Life,” she speaks of falling in love as only the first step: “The love God is really looking for, the love that is true and that counts, is the love of ten thousand mornings of getting up, being cheerful, listening to the kids when they come in from school like a thundering herd of elephants, and smiling at the husband when he comes in from work…. It is these countless, repeated acts of self-denial that makes love deepen and grow.” The book concludes with two of her talks on abortion. In the first she speaks of the Supreme Court as influenced in Roe by four ideologies: population control, eugenics, feminism, and sexual licentiousness. In the second she observes that abortion has “done immeasurable harm to the cause of true equality for women” because it has forced them to adopt “male patterns of sexual behavior” and act as “pseudo-men.”

Ruth Pakaluk is a heroine for our times, a defender of marriage and the family, which are under all-out assault. She took the name of Teresa of Avila at her confirmation, regarded Thomas More as one of her “great heroes,” and was devoted to St. Joseph as “that saint of the ordinary working person.” Ruth embodied the virtues of each of these saints — in her interior life, in her fight against the culture of death, and in her gift of herself to her family in humble tasks.

- Anne Barbeau Gardiner





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