Subscribe via RSS Feed

Well, That’s the End of That Argument

[ 89 ] December 6, 2012 |

As with Naomi Wolf’s latest entryVagina: All Women Are, Or At Least Should, Be Exactly Like Me In Every Respect, Ross Douthat’s musings about “decadent” women who believe that breeding shouldn’t be their sole life priority have inspired many critiques far more interesting than the original text. Katha Pollitt is the latest to step up:

Douthat is vaguely aware that it’s not enough to lecture women to lie back and think of George Washington. He acknowledges that US government policy does little to help family stability, and mentions France and Sweden as countries where policies have raised birthrates (slightly). Maybe, he suggests, we could try some of that over here: “a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college.”

Would you have an extra baby if you got a bigger tax deduction for it? If your boss let you work ten hours a day four days a week or one afternoon at home? If college was a little less expensive? (And how is that supposed to happen, I wonder, without massive government subsidies? See above: “tax cuts.”) I doubt it. France and Sweden have massive, comprehensive, well-thought-out programs to make motherhood less onerous: generous parental leave (in Sweden the father must take part of it), national healthcare that covers birth control and abortion care, good schools, excellent daycare and preschool, a panoply of family subsidies and worker protections. Higher education is basically free. For the working-class people Douthat focuses on, life is just better. Single mothers—yes, sluts—can manage well. Those countries acknowledge that mothers work, and want to work, and that all children deserve a decent upbringing. According to UNICEF, in France the child poverty rate is 8.8 percent; in Sweden it’s 7.3 percent. In the United States, by contrast, it’s a staggering 23.1 percent.

You know where else support for working mothers and children meant more kids? The Soviet Union and East Germany, both now in severe population decline, thanks to the wonders of capitalism. You know where the birthrate is lowest? Patriarchal countries where having a baby means you stay home forever: Italy, Spain, Greece, Japan, Singapore and that jewel in the crown of Roman Catholicism, Poland. How would you like to be a Japanese or Polish or Italian housewife, Ross Douthat? I thought not.

It’s all that good.

Two more excellent points:

But I’m not sure I have it in me to slog through all of the latest round of this, especially now that others (Katha Pollitt, etc.) have done so. There are two issues with natalism. First is the obvious – does the world need more people? More as in any additional people (yes) or as in a greater number than we’ve got now (not necessarily, perhaps the opposite)? Obviously if humans were not making more humans, if Keanu-bots had replaced human men, rendering the sperm-producing variety obsolete, and our species were really grinding to a halt, there would be cause for alarm. But that does not seem imminent. Natalism is never about the species, but whichever subset whichever thinker/politician wants to make more (or fewer – we’re talking pro-natalism, and I believe natalism’s the shorthand) of. In this case, Douthat wants more Americans.


There are, in other words, a handful of ways to increase the birthrate that don’t involve asking/ordering women to have more children, but once you go down the road of MORE BABIES, routes inoffensive or even beneficial to women are the exception. Instead, maybe you’ll restrict family planning. If it’s difficult to track down birth control and illegal to get an abortion, then guess what, you’re more likely to procreate. Natalism’s immorality comes from the fact that it’s about prioritizing non-existent beings over ones who already exist, namely women. Not fetuses, who are or are not babies depending your views on this. Entirely theoretical offspring of people who went out on a date this one time and didn’t really click but by putting their own preferences over immediate procreation revealed their profound, selfish decadence. Reproductive decisions arguably make the biggest impact of any such decisions in a person’s life, especially if that person is a woman. Individuals’ decisions should not come down to whichever minuscule (and dubious) benefit for the country an additional child would confer.


Comments (89)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. DrDick says:

    Logic and facts cannot coexist with conservatism, which requires you to believe at least a dozen mutually contradictory impossibilities simultaneously.

  2. sharculese says:

    How would you like to be a Japanese or Polish or Italian housewife, Ross Douthat?

    I don’t think she understands. Divine providence put Ross in the good half of the population. It’s someone else’s job to suffer these sorts of indignities.

  3. Bitter Scribe says:

    Every vestige and trace of this so-called underpopulation problem could be obliterated instantly by a sane immigration policy–which Douthat and his kind would never, ever consider for a second.

  4. cpinva says:

    i believe you underestimate mr. douthat:

    Well, That’s the End of That Argument

    certainly, he will rise to the challenge, scribing even more nonsense, lest anyone think he’s fallen from his perch, as one of the west’s biggest douchebags.

  5. dollared says:

    We really must never, ever forget that the New York Times gave this man one of the most coveted thought leadership platforms on Earth.

    Long live the Meritocracy!

    • Sherm says:

      At least he’s more entertaining to mock than than Kristol.

      • Snarki, child of Loki says:

        Yeah, but they should put him on the page with the Crossword, with a “spot the errors of fact and logic!” header.

        On the other hand, never mind. The NYT crossword is far to prestigious to be in Douthat’s company.

        “18 Across: Example of Cranio-rectal inversion. 7 letters, starts with ‘D'”

    • UserGoogol says:

      I feel like portraying a regular column for the New York Times op ed page as “one of the most coveted thought leadership platforms on Earth” is massively overstating things. It’s certainly a damned nice job if you can get it, and you’ll get a relatively wide readership and be invited onto talk shows. But op eds don’t really drive the overall political zeitgeist all that much. If David Brooks was one of the most influential Republicans in America, the GOP would be a tad different.

  6. Warren Terra says:

    Is thre any evidence that anyone in the world gives a procreative act what Douthat says about anything, except for the people on our side who find some entertainment value in documenting his autodefenstrations?

    I mean, I love Katha Politt, and she did yeoman work here – but the target seems rather like a waste of her efforts, and that’s even if it hadn’t already been shredded by at least half a dozen major bloggers just counting posts made here and linked from here.

  7. Kalil says:

    I do think that Ross Douthat is given short shrift in the blogosphere. He’s treated as a respectably conservative religious nut, when the unifying theme in everything I’ve read of his is an exquisitely couched racism. As she says in her article, “Douthat is too savvy to mention as a special concern the fact that white American women have a fertility rate of 1.8, way down there with the women of Old Europe.” His screeds against multiculturalism and for american exceptionalism also carefully step around the racial issues that lie at the heart of them. He is the most highly refined racist/nativist in the modern political sphere, the extreme evolution of Lee Atwater’s ‘N*****, N*****, N*****’ progression.

    • Really? Mostly what I get from his stuff is “slutty-slutty slut slut!”

    • David Nieporent says:

      As long as you rewrite everything Douthat wrote to apply only to women, he’s sexist! And as long as you pretend he said something about race, he’s racist, too!

      Katha Pollit is too savvy to mention that she enjoys kicking puppies, but it’s clear from her words that she really means it.

      Why oh why can’t there be anyone intelligent on the left who can respond to actual arguments rather than screaming race or sex?

      • Warren Terra says:

        You’re totally right. When Douthat writes that wealthy people are neglecting their responsibility to bear children, it’s unfair to think he only means women. When he attempts to impose his own beliefs about contraception and abortion, it’s people of both genders that he is condemning to forced, inescapable pregnancy.

        • David Nieporent says:

          Do you think Douthat is advocating that single women have lots of children? Or do you think Douthat wants couples to have more children?

          Do your ideas about children really focus solely on a brief nine-month period of their lives and ignore the 18 years beyond that, when “people of both genders” are “condemned” [sic — as if being pregnant and having children is punishment] to having and raising kids?

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Yes, because after the burdens of pregnancy raising children in our society clearly places precisely equal burden on both parents.

            Also, when Douthat advocates that the state coerce people to remain pregnant, this applies equally to men and women. Also, the majestic equality of the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.

          • rea says:

            Do you think Douthat is advocating that single women have lots of children?

            I think he thinks all those single woment ought to marry and have lots of children, or get themselves to a nunnery.

          • Lyanna says:

            Do your ideas about children really focus solely on a brief nine-month period of their lives

            A “brief nine-month period” that has powerful long-lasting effects on one’s physical health and financial security.

            Also, if you have more than child, it becomes an 18-month period, or a 27-month period. I don’t need to ask if you’d be so callous about 2 years of a man’s life. I know you wouldn’t. I’ve never seen anyone do so.

        • JL says:

          Well, he’s imposing those beliefs on trans men too, but somehow I bet he hasn’t even though of that.

      • mark f says:


      • Sherm says:

        Well, kicking puppies is about as challenging as critiquing Douthat, so you might be on to something.

      • sharculese says:

        I just want to say I get a huge kick out the raging indignation you affect whenever anyone has the temerity to accurately assess the subtext of you and the gaggle of half-bright bullies you reflexively defend.

        It is life affirming.

      • sharculese says:


        Why oh why can’t there be anyone intelligent on the left who can respond to actual arguments rather than screaming race or sex?

        Because then what would you tantrum about?

        • Malaclypse says:

          David’s libertarian – he’ll always have something to tantrum about.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I would like to maintain that “libertarian” should not be the label applied to people who strongly support spending trillions of dollars to attack countries that pose no threat to the United States.

            • sharculese says:

              It shouldn’t apply to members of the forced birth caucus either. But I think the farther conservative libertarians get from anything actually libertarian, the better.

              It’s thoughtful of them to do the work of discrediting themselves for us.

            • Malaclypse says:

              So, you’re arguing that libertarian basically means Henley, Balko, and our own Brad Potts?

              I mean, I get you in theory. But just like you keep saying that people who say the Democrats are “really” center-right are ignoring reality, I’d argue that saying libertarians are “really” anti-aggression amounts to the same thing.

              And if you disagree, I believe Jane Galt has a two-by-four for you.

              • DrDick says:

                This. We have a quantum assload of Libertarians here in Montana (they even ran candidates for senator and governor) and they are all like David. Libertarians is as the folks that call themselves that and run for office as such does.

                • Murc says:

                  I dunno, DrDick.

                  I have a certain amount of sympathy for people who don’t want their terms defined out from under them.

                  There have been any number of vile autocracies that define themselves as ‘Democratic Republics’, for example, but we don’t just abandon those terms to their use.

                  I don’t always agree with Balko and Henley (especially on economics, where they’re both neo-feudalists) but I don’t feel comfortable defining guys who genuinely do believe in reining in the police state, robust civil rights and liberties, and an end to foreign adventurism as ‘not libertarians’ just because it’s become a convenient label for conservative reactionaries to wear.

                • Anonymous says:

                  Murc –

                  I am not saying that those people are not libertarians, only that they are not the only libertarians. People who run for office on the Libertarian Party ticket are, by definition, Libertarians.

      • witless chum says:

        David, why is he maundering on about underpopulation, pretending it’s an issue on a planet of seven billion when it’s really only sort of an issue for Europeon and American white people? Something not to do with race? Like ice cream prices?

    • Kalil says:

      Ack, I’m mentally conflating him with Dinesh D’Souza. Still, I stand by my point about carefully concealed racism…

  8. Deggjr says:

    I think the NY Times has cast Douthat in the same role that Alan Colmes played on Fox: pinata. Douthat writes something and the Internet gets a day off through an effortless response.

    Even the NY Times readers get the chance to participate and generally get the to core of the matter in the first few comments.

  9. Bruce Baugh says:

    I realize there’s an element of stereotyping here, but when I see a guy with no or few children oing on quite so much about the joys and duties of reproduction, my admittedly erratic gaydar starts flickering. It’s really not going to surprise me if Douthat is found with a boy prostitute, likely Hispanic or African-American.

  10. Dilan Esper says:

    Scott is totally right about this, especially the final paragraph.

  11. Bob says:

    Ross need only to study the example of Romania under Ceausescu for the model he’s seeking. There is no reason such policies couldn’t work as well here as they did there.

  12. Logistics says:

    Ross does a yeoman’s work at the Times: someone has to send up the weather balloons for white patriarchal America’s revanchism. It doesn’t matter that it falls apart upon cursory examination; it only matters that it obscures. His policy preferences are clear and internally consistent.

  13. teraz kurwa my says:

    You know where else support for working mothers and children meant more kids? The Soviet Union and East Germany, both now in severe population decline, thanks to the wonders of capitalism. You know where the birthrate is lowest? Patriarchal countries where having a baby means you stay home forever: Italy, Spain, Greece, Japan, Singapore and that jewel in the crown of Roman Catholicism, Poland. How would you like to be a Japanese or Polish or Italian housewife, Ross Douthat? I thought not.

    Pollit seems rather clueless on the communist era. Most of the communist bloc saw birthrates plunge in the seventies in eighties, just like western Europe. Poland was somewhat of an exception, especially in the first half of the eighties (martial law, curfew, and a burst of religious traditionalism following the naming of JPII seem to be the main causes)

    • Walt says:

      Politt has this right. The lowest yearly fertility rate for Russia before the end of communism was 1.88. After the end of communism, this fell as low as 1.16.

  14. Patrick says:

    Why are you taking Douthat at his word that he wants more Americans? Last I checked he was a fundamentalist Catholic. Last I checked Catholicism was explicitly pro natalist. It teaches that it is morally wrong to have fewer children than you can. In developed countries it lets practitioners decide for themselves what “can” means based on their individual circumstances, but if you’re a married Catholic woman who isn’t pregnant, whether you “can” handle another child is the standard for whether you’re behaving immorally and selfishly.

    So it’s not a surprise that he would write an article about pro natalism, and suggest that a failure to have children is a moral failing. Rotten fruit falls from rotten trees.

  15. J.W. Hamner says:

    What exactly the problem that “more babies” is supposed to solve? I mean besides the obvious racist ones. Is there an economic argument that GDP can’t grow without consistent population growth?

  16. Linda says:

    I’m sure somebody said this before, just because it’s so obvious: if for-profit companies refrained from useful work–like creating affordable housing, or creating drugs that cured chronic diseases rather than relieving symptoms–Douthan would be appalled to see leftists shame-blaming them with words like “decadence.” He would urge incentives as the ONLY useful way to encourage the private sector to do good. But that’s because the private sector doesn’t have a vag. Therefore, it has some rights, and deserves some respect.

  17. parsimon says:

    Am I the only one to whom it seems that Pollitt’s rebuttal actually *grants* the role of women as breeders? The discussion seems to be about which policies best support mothers/families — and clearly there are things to said about Douthat’s prescription — but his premise seems to remain standing.

    This with the caveat that I’ve read only the excepts posted here, not the original Pollitt .. which I will do.

  18. […] Guns and Money is properly critical (1, 2) of Ross Douthat’s argument that the lakc of high fertility rates indicates decadence; […]

  19. Eli Rabett says:

    If all women are vaginas, all men are pricks. The latter appears more likely based on Mr. Douthat

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.