The XX Factor

Ross Douthat Wants You To Have More Babies, So Get to Work

Empty cribs, the product of your empty soul.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

To exactly no one’s surprise, Ross Douthat used his weekend New York Times column to sound the alarm about a new report on declining U.S. birth rates and beg the women of America to make, as per his headline, “More Babies, Please.” 

Conservative men have always had an obsession with starting ‘em young and keeping ‘em knocked up, which protects a way of life these men have grown accustomed to: lotsa babymaking makes it difficult for women to compete with men economically, increasing female dependency on men while at the same time sticking it to liberals who worry about boring things like providing education and a clean environment to the children we do have.

Douthat half-heartedly acknowledges evidence that demonstrates that government policies his fellow conservatives denounce as “socialism” lead to higher birth rates, but he really gets a head of steam over the fact that you people have become slaves to your kinky fetish for marrying without necessarily procreating.

Finally, there’s been a broader cultural shift away from a child-centric understanding of romance and marriage. In 1990, 65 percent of Americans told Pew that children were “very important” to a successful marriage; in 2007, just before the current baby bust, only 41 percent agreed.

Douthat has plenty of blame to go around, from the immigrants his party hates who are no longer reliable baby factories to the gays, who, with their gay gay marriage have “formally sever[ed] wedlock from sex differences and procreation.” Personally, I blame Marvin Gaye for tossing out his original draft of “Let’s Get It On (For Jesus and the Flag)” that said, “If the duty moves you, let me impregnate you.” But it’s really not a classic Douthat moral panic unless he blasts the contraceptin’ masses for spending their weekends at coke-laced orgies.

The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.

Douthat is clearly irritated at his countrymen and especially his countrywomen for their persnickety desire to enjoy life rather than see it as a dutiful trudge to the grave. While I do enjoy a lecture on sacrifice from someone who will never push a baby out of his genitals and whose gender conveniently sidesteps the career setbacks associated with having children, I’m afraid that all the fun ended when I came to the phrase “privileges the present over the future.”

Douthat may imagine that those who have few or no children are just too busy screwing around to make babies, but the reality is that most people have their eye on the long term—on the future—when it comes to deciding to have a smaller family. Right-wingers may be busy tallying the number of babies born, but the rest of us are actually worried about taking care of them when they get here. Unless you’re Mitt Romney, having lots of kids usually means each child has fewer parental resources to draw on. In addition, many of us worry about handing over this planet to younger generations, especially in light of how much exponential population growth over the past century contributed to the global warming crisis.

With his history of making apologies for climate change denialists and his insistence that we do nothing about it, Douthat seems to be indifferent to the very real concerns about the future of the children he wants born. Given a choice between puritanical moralizing about other people’s lives and pushing for a genuinely better world, Douthat will pick the former every time, making a mockery out of his feigned concern for the futures of the children he insists that we get to making.