Two interesting articles at Foreign Policy:

In the first, Phillip Longman contends that those who oppose patriarchy as a system of values are actually breeding themselves out of existence, allowing patriarchy to reassume its throne as prevailing worldview.

Many childless, middle-aged people may regret the life choices that are leading to the extinction of their family lines, and yet they have no sons or daughters with whom to share their newfound wisdom. The plurality of citizens who have only one child may be able to invest lavishly in that child’s education, but a single child will only replace one parent, not both. Meanwhile, the descendants of parents who have three or more children will be hugely overrepresented in subsequent generations, and so will the values and ideas that led their parents to have large families.

One could argue that history, and particularly Western history, is full of revolts of children against parents. Couldn’t tomorrow’s Europeans, even if they are disproportionately raised in patriarchal, religiously minded households, turn out to be another generation of ’68?

The key difference is that during the post-World War II era, nearly all segments of modern societies married and had children. Some had more than others, but the disparity in family size between the religious and the secular was not so large, and childlessness was rare. Today, by contrast, childlessness is common, and even couples who have children typically have just one. Tomorrow’s children, therefore, unlike members of the postwar baby boom generation, will be for the most part descendants of a comparatively narrow and culturally conservative segment of society. To be sure, some members of the rising generation may reject their parents’ values, as always happens. But when they look around for fellow secularists and counterculturalists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born.

Advanced societies are growing more patriarchal, whether they like it or not. In addition to the greater fertility of conservative segments of society, the rollback of the welfare state forced by population aging and decline will give these elements an additional survival advantage, and therefore spur even higher fertility. As governments hand back functions they once appropriated from the family, notably support in old age, people will find that they need more children to insure their golden years, and they will seek to bind their children to them through inculcating traditional religious values akin to the Bible’s injunction to honor thy mother and father.

Societies that are today the most secular and the most generous with their underfunded welfare states will be the most prone to religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family. The absolute population of Europe and Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father.

Longman’s article is heavy on claims, light on arguments, but my hunch is that it’s a teaser to get us all to buy the book. It occurred to me, however, that Longman’s optimism for what James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal has called the “Roe effect” doesn’t take into account the fact that many modern youth that come from traditional families gain much of their training away from the protective cover of parents. This is particularly true of the modern university system, a system that is oft credited for “debunking” the traditional values students parents impart to them. The mobility of modern culture makes it easier for young people to isolate themselves from communities and parents, often mitigating their influence. This makes comparisons between modern society and societies like Rome and Athens significantly more difficult, and probably less illuminating. It also seems to cast a longer shadow of doubt on Pullman’s thesis and on the possibility of a vibrant return to patriarchy without immense difficulty and loss of economic growth.

In the second article, Martin Walker highlights the gender imbalance in Asia. The article is inconclusive, as predictions about what the effects of having lots of men and no women are guesswork. But it does include this interesting tidbit:

Brigham Young University political scientist Valerie Hudson—the leading scholar on the phenomenon of male overpopulation in Asia—sees historical evidence for these concerns. In 19th-century northern China, drought, famine, and locust invasions apparently provoked a rash of female infanticide. According to Hudson, the region reached a ratio of 129 men to every 100 women. Roving young men organized themselves into bandit gangs, built forts, and eventually came to rule an area of some 6 million people in what was known as the Nien Rebellion. No modern-day rebellion appears to be on the horizon, but China watchers are already seeing signs of growing criminality.

All men, no women. Bad news.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Matt,
    I blogged about this recently here. I think you’re overestimating the ability of conversion to bolster secularism’s ranks. Certainly it would be foolish to suggest that all children raised in religious backgrounds (or secular, for that matter) will maintain their beliefs throughout adulthood. But many will, and it seems unlikely to me that secularism can survive demographically on conversion alone. The recent upsurgence of evangelicalism in American politics looks to me like a foretaste of what is comming. And in Europe the situation is even bleaker for secularism. Only massive immigration (mostly from Muslim North Africa) will be able to keep their societies going. And if you think that those Muslim families are going to convert en masse to secularism just because they moved to Europe, I think you’ll find yourself to be very mistaken.

    In addition, the recent upsurge in Christian scholarship – especially in the realm of philosophy – is presenting a robust challenge to secularism in the university. We’ll have to see how Intelligent Design fares over the next 20 years or so, but I’m hopeful that it will also loosen materialism’s chokehold on the sciences. So I think that there’s good reason to think the universities will be less dangerous places for Christians in the years to come.


  2. Does Pullman say that a return of Patriarchy will come without a loss of economic growth? I don’t think he does… it seems like his only point is that most of the non-patriarchs will die off, leaving a society generally consisting of patriarchs (no matter how many of those there are).

    Also, those children of the patriarchs who go to modern universities and become non-patriarchs, while not carrying on the legacy of their parents, will not (Pullman assumes) reproduce and make more non-patriarchs. Thus, these new non-patriarchs will die out, leaving behind the patriarchs who did not go to modern universities. So all in all I don’t see how this shadow of doubt across Pullman’s thesis presents a real threat.


  3. Gabe,

    My comments were mainly directed at American education. Many evangelical schools are increasingly secularized and while we have made inroads in philosophy, it’s only 1/3-1/4 of philosophy departments and it hasn’t yet been extended as far in other disciplines (literature, for instance). Until those disciplines become more Christian, I think that we will continue to generate nominal Christians and functional naturalists or post-modernists. But it’s all guesswork and I’d be happy to be wrong!


    Great comments, both off them. Proof that the student can go past the teacher!


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