Luxury, Fertility, and Demographic Suicide

Luxury in the fair sex, while it inflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

The demographic collapse in advanced modern countries, coupled with overpopulation in poor countries, has a precedent in classical antiquity. Two types of problem should be distinguished: (1) differential fertility within a society, nation, or race, in which the intelligent and successful breed less then the poor and improvident, and (2) subreplacement fertility, leading to a collapse of population across the board.

The latter occurred in third century B.C. Greece, in the years leading up to the Roman conquest. As Polybius wrote:

In our own time the whole of Greece has been subject to a low birth rate and a general decrease of the population, owing to which cities have become deserted and the land has ceased to yield fruit, although there have neither been continuous wars nor epidemics …. For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew.*

Luxury and self-indulgence led to the neglect of child rearing. The Boeotians in particular exemplified this trend:

Childless men, when they died, did not leave their property to their nearest heirs, as had formerly been the custom there, but disposed of it for purposes of junketing and banqueting and made it the common property of their friends. Even many who had families distributed the greater part of their fortune among their clubs, so that there were many Boeotians who had more feasts to attend each month than there were days in it.

Nor were the ill effects of luxury confined to fertility. Luxury also led to intellectual impoverishment – “abandoning themselves to good cheer and strong drink sapped the energy not only of their bodies but of their minds” – and submission to a foreign power. Polybius states that the cause of the indolence of the Boeotians was the welfare state. His description of the corrupting effects of the welfare state serves as well today as it did then.

public affairs in Boeotia had fallen into such a state of disorder that for nearly twenty-five years justice, both civil and criminal, had ceased to be administered there, the magistrates by issuing orders, some of them for the dispatch of garrisons and others for general campaigns, always contriving to abolish legal proceedings. Certain strategoi [literally, generals – but in this period, the strategoi were more politicians than military leaders] even provided pay out of the public funds for the indigent, the populace thus learning to court and invest with power those men who would help them to escape the legal consequences of their crimes and debts and even in addition to get something out of the public funds as a favour from the magistrates. The chief abettor of these abuses was Opheltas, who was constantly contriving some scheme apparently calculated to benefit the populace for the moment, but perfectly sure to ruin everyone at the end. Incident upon all this was another most unfortunate mania. [the passage quoted above follows]

Parallel events can be observed in ancient Rome. While there is some evidence that Roman population did decline in the latter empire, before the barbarian tribes overran it, this is hard to document. Better evidence exists for the former type of problem – low upper-class fertility. We have seen Juvenal, writing in the second century, assert that rich women were disinclined to bear children.

These poor women, however, endure the perils of child-birth, and all the troubles of nursing to which their lot condemns them; but how often does a gilded bed contain a woman that is lying in? So great is the skill, so powerful the drugs, of the abortionist, paid to murder mankind within the womb.

The Julian law, established by Augustus Caeser in 18 B.C., was an attempt to deal with the decline in Patrician fertility that threatened the Roman elite. Men were required to marry, and bachelors taxed. The problem of low fertility among rich women went back to the second century B.C., luxury having gained a secure foothold in Rome only after the Second Punic war, when the example of Scipio Africanus began to weaken the traditional mos maiorum. Augustus introduced the Julian law by quoting a speech given by Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, once a consul and then a censor, in 131 B.C., in which he said

If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do without that nuisance; but since nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather than for our temporary pleasure.

We are in the same position today. The world will be peopled. If we want it to be peopled by our kindred, by people who will preserve our history and all we hold most holy, and want thereby to attain a kind of immortality** – if we want this, we must produce those people ourselves. Neither magic nor prayers will avail us.

—————–

* The context of the passage is significant. Polybius is making the point that we are responsible for our fates, and that demographic collapse ought to be fought by marrying, rearing many children, and passing laws to ensure that

For my part, in finding fault with those who ascribe public events and incidents in private life to Fate and Chance, I now wish to state my opinion on this subject as far as it is admissible to do so in a strictly historical work. Now indeed as regards things the causes of which it is impossible or difficult for a mere man to understand, we may perhaps be justified in getting out of the difficulty by setting them down to the action of a god or of chance, I mean such things as exceptionally heavy and continuous rain or snow, or on the other hand the destruction of crops by severe drought or frost, or a persistent outbreak of plague or other similar things of which it is not easy to detect the cause. So in regard to such matters we naturally bow to popular opinion, as we cannot make out why they happen, and attempting by prayer and sacrifice to appease the heavenly powers, we send to ask the gods what we must do and say, to set things right and cause the evil that afflicts us to cease. But as for matters the efficient and final cause of which it is possible to discover we should not, I think, put them down to divine action. For instance, take the following case. In our own time the whole of Greece has been subject to a low birth-rate and a general decrease of the population, owing to which cities have become deserted and the land has ceased to yield fruit, although there have neither been continuous wars nor epidemics. If, then, any one had advised us to send and ask the gods about this, and find out what we ought to say or do, to increase in number and make our cities more populous, would it not seem absurd, the cause of the evil being evident and the remedy being in our own hands? For as men had fallen into such a state of pretentiousness, avarice, and indolence that they did not wish to marry, or if they married to rear the children born to them, or at most as a rule but one or two of them, so as to leave these in affluence and bring them up to waste their substance, the evil rapidly and insensibly grew. For in cases where of one or two children the one was carried off by war and the other by sickness, it is evident that the houses must have been left unoccupied, and as in the case of swarms of bees, so by small degrees cities became resourceless and feeble. About this it was of no use at all to ask the gods to suggest a means of deliverance from such an evil. For any ordinary man will tell you that the most effectual cure had to be men’s own action, in either striving after other objects, or if not, in passing laws making it compulsory to rear children. Neither prophets nor magic were here of any service.

** Many times Man lives and dies / between his two eternities / that of Race and that of Soul

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About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
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2 Responses to Luxury, Fertility, and Demographic Suicide

  1. Ryu says:

    My, my. You are very respectable. I myself am not. You are refering how the white population is decreasing while the low IQ Mexian and negros are breeding like flies, especially in third world. There’s no need to tap dance around it.

  2. Pechorin says:

    Of course I’m referring to demographic trends. That’s a given. The purpose of these posts was to identify the role of one factor – luxury – in causing (through its role in cultural transformation) the current deplorable white birth rate, by examining a parallel case in the history of the first great civilization our race created. One need not accept the general validity of the Spenglerian civilizational model to see the value of the comparison in this case.

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