For children, the week’s news could hardly have been worse. Growing numbers of them are born into a world where adults decide after the fact, as Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin did, that “we’ll just remain friends for now,” as he said on “Good Morning America,” and “we’re both cool with that decision.”
Johnston and Palin are the Murphy Browns of this age, celebrities whose highly publicized choices signal acceptance of lifestyle decisions that are devastating to children born down the economic and social ladder. Liberals cite them as evidence that the culture is permanently recentered around the family model of the out-of-wedlock birth.
If so, weep.
The new data from the National Center for Health Statistics reveals an across-the-board tragedy. “All measures of childbearing by unmarried women rose to historic levels in 2007, with the number of births, birth rate, and proportion of births to unmarried women increasing by 3 [percent] to 5 percent,” the center’s statisticians reported. Altogether, nearly 40 percent of all children born in 2007 entered the world without a married mother and father in the home.
Among whites, it was 27.8 percent, up from 26.6 in 2006. Among blacks, it was 71.6 percent, up from 70.7 percent the year before. Among Hispanics, it was 51.3 percent, up from 49.9 the year before. By every measure, what you know instinctively is confirmed by academic studies. Children suffer throughout their lives because of the decision two adults make that the incidental creation of human life should not rush them into maturity or commitments.
Charles Murray, an author and scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, delivered the Irving Kristol Lecture almost two weeks ago. It’s a brilliant lecture on America’s drift — and now, push — toward Europe’s regulatory and social welfare system. The problem with the European model, he said, is that “it drains too much of the life from life, [a] statement that applies as much to the lives of janitors as … it does to the lives of CEOs.” Murray’s premise is that life has deeply satisfying meaning — or can — if what we’ve done with it is important, if it required a great deal of effort, and if we have been responsible for the consequences.
“There aren’t many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and a good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something — good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies.”
The institutions, therefore, that bring deep satisfactions are four: family, community, vocation and faith. There’s no hierarchy to the four, nor is it necessary to draw satisfactions from all, he said. Social policy should strengthen those institutions. “And that’s what’s wrong with the European model,” Murray said. “It doesn’t do that. It enfeebles every single one of them.”
The expansion of the welfare state here didn’t result in happier and healthier children. Instead, “we have seen growing legions of children raised in unimaginably awful circumstances, not because of marginal poverty but because of dysfunctional families.”
Meanwhile, the man who once drew deep satisfaction from his role as provider while working menial jobs and therefore “doing something authentically important” with his life is marginalized. “If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status [as a good provider] goes away.”
Work to support a family, instead of being a foundation for a deeply satisfying life, becomes “something that interferes with the higher good of leisure.” If we come to believe, Murray said, that “human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate” then “the purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.” Murray’s commentary is primarily to: “Do we want the United States to be like Europe?” Within that is, however, a warning: Government can displace men from the family, but it cannot replace them, no matter how vast its array of social programs. “It drains the life from life.”
I am of no doubt. We have a government, and now a culture, recentering on a dysfunctional family model that gives children material goods — and takes their daddies.