“When life becomes an extended picnic, with nothing of importance to do,” writes Charles Murray in In Our Hands, “ideas of greatness become an irritant. Such is the nature of the Europe syndrome.” The Continent has embraced a spiritual death long before the demographic one. In those 17 Europeans countries which have fallen into “lowest-low fertility”, where are the children? In a way, you’re looking at them: the guy sipping espresso at a sidewalk café listening to his iPod. Free citizens of advanced western democracies are increasingly the world’s wrinkliest teenagers: the state makes the grown-up decisions and we spend our pocket money on our record collection. Hilaire Belloc, incidentally, foresaw this very clearly in his book The Servile State in 1912 – before teenagers or record collections had been invented. He understood that the long-term cost of a softened state is the infantilization of the population. The populations of wealthy democratic societies expect to be able to choose from dozens of breakfast cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies at the video store, and millions of porn sites on the Internet, yet think it perfectly to demand that the state take care of their elderly parents and their young children while they’re working – to, in effect, surrender what most previous societies would have regarded as all the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s a curious inversion of citizenship to demand control over peripheral leisure activities but to contract out the big life-changing stuff to the government. And it’s hard to come up with a wake-up call for a society as dedicated as latterday Europe to the belief that life is about sleeping in.
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