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Children of the Childless

A “factoid” was brought to my attention by the Italian journalist Giulio Meotti. It is that most of northwest Europe’s current political leaders are childless. This starts at the top with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, and works down through the prime ministers and chancellors including Germany’s Merkel, Holland’s Rutte, Sweden’s Löfven, and so forth. The new French president, Emmanuel Macron, joins their club.

Nicola Sturgeon, the separatist Scottish leader, is also of the tribe. I might have known this, had I looked it up myself, and yet the curious thing is that I didn’t have to. I just knew by looking.

Well, gentle reader must forgive me; I have uttered something politically incorrect. We aren’t supposed to know by looking at anything. And let me concede that my casual observations are often wrong. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough. Perhaps I didn’t read the face correctly. Perhaps faces may conceal more than they reveal. But they do reveal some things.

In the past, such judgments were commonplace. One thinks of Macduff in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, told that his wife and children have been savagely slaughtered. He isn’t taking it well. Malcolm tells him to forget grieving and think more positively; that he must “dispute it like a man.”

Macduff says of Malcolm: “He has no children.”

Well, neither has Macduff at this point in the play. But he had children, and it made a profound difference to his outlook on life.

“Children are our future,” the politicians used to say, back in the day when it was normal to have children. They add a certain prophetic quality to their parents’ lives. That is, one glimpses Eternity through them. There will be a future, even in this world; our children must live in that future; our children and their children, when we are dead and gone.

And seeing the future, one also sees the past, in a way that is changed by children. For we now recall that we were once small, and so on back through time. There is a continuity that one might dryly comprehend, so that intellectuals may smile at the simplicity of this statement. To have children is to feel it – not as an abstraction, but in one’s flesh and bones.

May I take the liberty of slicing off the reader’s right arm?

No, that would be unconscionable, and gratuitous, as we may never have met, and I offered no good reason. But then, it was only a passing suggestion, an abstraction, a mere idea.

I know a man who lost his right arm in an industrial accident. For him, it was not a turn of phrase. And so he does not talk about it. He went on, impressively, to resume his career as a plasterer, with his other arm. A pity for him he did not start left-handed.

I know a man who has lost a child; indeed I know several men and women who have had this experience; and for the most part, too, they don’t talk about it. But in their hearts is a large space – that will never be filled with conceits and abstractions.

A Copse, Evening, 1918 by A.Y Jackson [Canadian War Museum, Ottawa]

Perhaps I am unfair to the politicians. I have met a politician who tells me this is so. I have even met a university professor who told me that he found the average politician more honest and all-around morally clean than the average university professor. He would, generally speaking, trust a politician to raise an adopted child; there were many of his colleagues he wouldn’t trust.

The politicians, especially in Europe, only reflect their society, after all. They are legislating in the main for people who also don’t have children. Often they can say very glib things, without risk of contradiction. To people without children, it all sounds perfectly sane.

Let me give an example. A politician like Merkel explains that it is necessary to import millions of Muslim immigrants to replace the non-existent Germans and to remedy a falling birthrate. This makes economic sense. Someone must earn the wages and pay the taxes to support an aging population. And as the supply of people fleeing Islamic countries is marvelously plentiful, the plan should work smoothly.

As I mentioned above, she has no children.

But then, there are politicians in Germany and across Europe who embrace this “population replacement” logic, who do have children. I find this odd, but then, who am I to judge?

For instance, who am I to judge that class of persons who live in the “gated” neighborhoods, enjoy sinecure employment thanks to their connections, and send their kids, if any, to high-class private schools? And how can I expect them to understand the world that lies outside their bubble, where the consequences of their idealistic policies are endured?

Now I may sound like a populist, and perhaps I am one in some sense. I tend to identify, in my Catholic way, with those for whom a family, both nuclear and extended, is the tangible nexus of social being; and with that scheme of mutual dependency that is (or was) the opposite of the administrative welfare state.

Which is to say, I’m an old-fashioned, almost medieval sort of populist, who conceives of society as an organic whole, and not as a statistical construct; one who longs for the return of the human relationships that preceded the metastatic spread of bureaucracy.

“Organic,” I wrote, and what could be more organic than children? And with them, the filling of some small part of Earth with one’s own, in that strange and unaccountable way by which the generations precede and follow.

These thoughts are occasioned by the latest terror blast at the Manchester music hall, where the children of a confused generation went off to hear a pop musician who sings, it would seem, mostly about the joys of fornication.

Children of the childless, fed to Moloch, one might say.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.