Tuesday, December 07, 2004

David Brooks, in today's New York Times:

There is a little-known movement sweeping across the United States. The movement is "natalism."

All across the industrialized world, birthrates are falling - in Western Europe, in Canada and in many regions of the United States. People are marrying later and having fewer kids. But spread around this country, and concentrated in certain areas, the natalists defy these trends.

They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal identity is defined by parenthood.... Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling.

Did you catch the unexpected word in there? These people haven't given up going to movies, they've given up going to sophisticated movies. Because, of course, you can get any old baby sitter to take the kids off your hands if you want to see Christmas with the Kranks, but you have to go to a big-city nanny agency and put yourself on a waiting list for a trilingual Sorbonne-graduate au pair if you want to see the new Almodóvar film.

(Which, presumably, is just what a liberal would do.)

This is Brooks being just what I warned you he'd be when he got the Times op-ed gig:

...he sees a world out of balance, a world in which flabby, effete coastal moral relativists lord it over upright real Americans with a clear, God-given sense of right and wrong. In other words, he holds a lot of us in utter contempt....

He sure does -- and he proves it in what he writes today:

Young families move away from what they perceive as disorder, vulgarity and danger and move to places like Douglas County in Colorado (which is the fastest-growing county in the country and has one of the highest concentrations of kids)....

If you wanted a one-sentence explanation for the explosive growth of far-flung suburbs, it would be that when people get money, one of the first things they do is use it to try to protect their children from bad influences....

The people who are having big families are explicitly rejecting materialistic incentives and hyperindividualism. It costs a middle-class family upward of $200,000 to raise a child. These people are saying money and ambition will not be their gods.

See, if you want to bash and demonize, you don't have to crank your rhetoric to eleven, like Ann Coulter -- you can be soft-spoken and cuddly like David Brooks and still damn all urbane people as fifth columnists of cultural rot. Brooks first hedges by saying that natalists perceive "disorder, vulgarity and danger" in cities and suburbs, but then he abandons the hedge and describes the natalists' worldview as objective reality: on the one hand, the natalist value system; arrayed against it, blue-staters' pursuit of "materialistic incentives and hyperindividualism," with money and ambition our "gods."

Obviously, David Brooks hasn't seen my apartment.

Brooks insists, over and over, that nothing political is going on here:

Politicians will try to pander to this group. They should know this is a spiritual movement, not a political one....

Natalists are associated with red America, but they're not launching a jihad. The differences between them and people on the other side of the cultural or political divide are differences of degree, not kind....

What they cherish, like most Americans, is the self-sacrificial love shown by parents. People who have enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a culture war.

If that's the case, someone needs to explain it to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, religious conservatives I wrote about a couple of days ago who are now on their 15th kid and who own a van with the bumper sticker "Evolution is a Lie: Save America Please." And if it's the case, why does Brooks cite statistics correlating fertility and support for Bush?

I think people in this country are forever being encouraged to choose sides: We're herded into market segments all the time and told that our lifestyle choices, whatever they may be, align us with the good guys -- and I think this herding bleeds from commerce into politics and religion (three areas that, needless to say, can't always be separated). I think a lot of people have big families just because they want to have big families, and I think a lot of people move their families to exurbia simply because homes there are affordable. But I think other people gain a sense of team identity by (in their view) defying the dominant values of the culture with a big gaggle of kids and a remote one-paycheck household (where, quite possibly, home-schooling takes place). There are quite a few preachers and radio hosts and pundits who regularly try to persuade people that if they live this way they're hurting us and our culture.

Brooks does this too, even though his writing is meant to reach an audience of sophisticates. His tone is can't-we-all-get-along?, but he loathes what he sees as the values of the culture he lives in, he implies that the worst excesses of the sophisticated world are representative rather than anomalous, and he spreads this message of disgust to as much of the country as he can. I don't really think anyone is planning to have a tenth child because of a David Brooks column, but I think if something like that did happen, it would please him quite a bit.


UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online posts an e-mail he received about the Brooks column (and says he's received several similar e-mails):

As a prolife pro-big-family conservative, I assure you, it's not, as Brooks suggests, that we are "too busy to fight the culture wars". We do our part every day. It just doesn't make the evening news.

What WE DON'T DO is carve out time from work and school to take our kids to ridiculous protest marches, bang bongo drums in the streets, wear stupid contumes, chant silly slogans, and disrupt other people's businesses and schedules.

Or is that what Brooks really means when he refers to being "active in the culture wars"??

The e-mailer has to understand that Brooks divides the world into good people and evil people; to Brooks, good people are always politically and culturally conservative but never contentious or divisive. Last week Brooks tried to force the decidedly non-round John Stott into this round hole; this week it's the natalists.

(NRO link via Instapundit.)

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