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Right-Wing Groups Use Decline of White Birthrates to Stoke Fear of Homosexuality, Feminism and Abortion

Right-wing groups warn that Western civilization is facing a ‘demographic winter,’ risking the destruction of what they call the natural family.

If you’ve been following the debate over population growth, you’re probably familiar with the argument that it is economically unfeasible for the earth to sustain an unlimited population. You might subscribe to that argument, or you might believe that it isn’t so much a problem of population growth but rather of the inequitable worldwide distribution of resources. Or you might see the two as interrelated.

In recent years, a new wrinkle has been introduced into the debate; a concept called “demographic winter.”   

Unlike the term “nuclear winter,” “demographic winter” is relatively new and lesser known. Demographer Philip Longman, a researcher at the New America Foundation, says, "The ongoing global decline in human birthrates is the single most powerful force affecting the fate of nations and the future of society in the 21st century."   

Declining birth rates -- and aging populations -- is a phenomenon that is of concern to countries around the globe. Conservatives have taken to using “demographic winter” as a catchphrase for turning the discussion into another battle in the culture war. For many on the Right, demographic winter describes a future of economic catastrophes, the decline of Western Civilization, and the destruction of the “natural” family. Embedded within the concept is an argument for a return to adherence to “natural law,” which one conservative writer pointed out “reflects the will of Him whom the Founders referred to obliquely in the Declaration of Independence as ‘Nature’s God.’”  

For many conservatives, demographic winter -- or “birth dearth” as it is sometimes called -- is the ultimate culture war battle, rooted in the rise of feminism, legalized abortion, the acceptance of homosexuality, illegal immigration, and the growth of minority populations. All of this is supposedly the result of a multi-decade campaign by liberals to undermine “natural law” and the “natural” family.

According to Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, an organization that has long tracked and exposed right-wing movements, "Demographic winter is a relatively new phrase that describes the old alarmist ‘birth dearth’ concept -- the idea that we're facing declining birthrates which is supposed to portend all sorts of cataclysmic events.” 

“One particular strand of dearthers,” Burghart told AlterNet, “led by folks like Pat Buchanan, focus particularly on the supposed danger of declining birthrates among white people in the United States and Europe, which they argue is leading us toward the impending demise of Western Civilization. Buchanan details the argument in his 2002 book, Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil our Country and Civilization . The concept melds nativism and Islamophobia together with the Christian Right's infatuation with procreation and heterosexuality.”

Burghart also pointed out that “The dearthers also often clash with environmentalists and population control advocates, like Paul and Ann Ehrlich, who've been arguing for decades that population growth is one of our biggest potential problems.”  

Rachel Tabachnick, an independent researcher who specializes in End Times narratives, told AlterNet that in the context of her work, she’s found that the conceit “is sometimes used to attack gays, feminists, birth control, etc., because of the role they play in reducing birth rates. Some use it in arguments claiming that Islam will take over Europe and other parts of the globe because Muslims are reproducing faster than Christians.”

Another strand in the demographic winter debate was outlined by Stephen Baskerville, a political scientist at Patrick Henry College, a conservative evangelical Christian institute, and the author of Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family. In a February 2009 article titled, “ The Dangerous Rise of Sexual Politics,” published in The Family in America , a journal of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, Baskerville maintained that “women’s liberation, the boldest social experiment ever undertaken in the Western democracies,” is responsible for “a massive restructuring of the social order [and] demographic trends that threaten the very survival of Western civilization….”

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