Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Jewlicious, the other blog I write for, has a natalist streak which I periodically speak out against, only to receive strings of comments to my posts along the lines of, "But we need more Jewish babies." I must, as we say in academia, problematize this demand. Natalism--the belief that a given group must increase its population, not through immigration or conversion, but through reproduction--is hardly a Jew-specific phenomenon. Fears that there aren't enough Americans, or non-Muslim Europeans, or who knows which other groups, are also plenty popular, and my response works for all of these:

1) Reality: women are still far more responsible for child-rearing than are men. Asking for more babies of any given race or nationality is asking men and women of that group to pair off with fellow members; it is asking the women, above all, to take the time and make the physical committment to producing and raising these children. Earnest concerns about "our numbers" have historically led to restrictions on female reproductive rights.

2) Natalism dismisses as insignificant all contributions to society, other than that of babies, of women between the ages of, say, 18 to 40. The implication is that women do more for the good of (in this case) the Jewish people by making more Jewish people than by studying Jewish subjects, serving in the Israeli army or government, working in Jewish journalism, and so on. While women may certainly have careers and children, a philosophy of "the more, the better" leaves little time for much else. Would the Jewish people be better off with more of us but with half of us left back in the home?

3) Natalism is a creepy and unpleasant alternative to other methods of what is the quite reasonable goal of spreading ideas and practices you believe in to increasing numbers of people. Better conversion and immigration policies could "make" more Jews and Americans, respectively. If we look at Europe's divides as being about ideas, not some ridiculous notion of inborn tendencies to be progressive or backwards, then education and tolerance, not "more white babies," is the answer.

4) Any discussion of natalism has a way of getting personal. Commenters on Jewlicious have a) suggested I marry someone calling himself "Nathan," who'd left an earlier comment (this commenter asks if Nathan is single; my relationship status is apparently irrelevant), and b) referred to how young Jewish women do not want to have babies. Nowhere did I say that I am available to be married off to this Nathan, nor that I intend to remain childless. It's entirely consistent to be anti-natalist AND to have or hope to have children. Natalism isn't about having babies, but about having babies of a certain type, for a certain cause.

5) Asking that more of a certain type of baby be produced is wrong, but not nearly as wrong as asking that those of other groups be eliminated through sterilization or murder. Obviously. Thinking in terms of racial or national groups is necessary to a certain extent, insofar as one has a sense of reality, and insofar as people are often oppressed as members of racial or national groups by those on the outside, but such thinking should be kept to a minimum. More on that later--French-related duties await...


Alexander said...

Oh yes, and if you have a young baby you can get out of military service. I wonder if that could work anywhere else?

Anonymous said...

An insightful and intelligent post. Nathan doesn't deserve you.
-- JM

VJ said...

This is a very long & complex argument Phoebe. It's also a fairly old one too You've just touched on some of the most obvious points that may be personally felt by many. Natalism is typically a trope for the right, and policies of 'pro natalism' are currently promopted within the law in the US. The neo-cons & old line cons have been on this issue for decades by now, with childless Pat Buchanan leading the way. Neo Con & AEI Fellow Ben Wattenburg has written no less than 2 books on the topic. His latest is here: "Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future", 2004.


Cheers, 'VJ'

VJ said...

More pro natalist policies noted by Katha Pollitt:


My feelings about commenting here are that it would be encouraged if the responses to the posts went up on a timely basis. So my conclusion is that you really can't be bothered and really don't seek any sort of 'conversation'. That's fine, it's your blog. Yeah, I know academics & students can be real busy too. This is why none of them answer email anymore too. Cheers, 'VJ' [See you next week!]

Phoebe said...

Who is VJ and why will s/he see me next week???

As for why comments take forever, before I checked them before publishing them, my entire archives were suddenly filled with pornographic spam... in French.

VJ said...

I had suspected that the posts might be closed down for the weekend etc. But thanks for posting them Phoebe. And no, you don't know me from anywhere other than my posts. We could not have crossed paths in Chicago as I was visiting years ahead of your tenure there. I was visiting with these folks at the time BTW: [Http://www.anl.gov].

But this 'pro-natalist' stuff has a very long history, as you may (or may not) have suspected. I imagine the French porn spam may mean that your studies are going well enough that someone suspects you're a native. Cheers, 'VJ'