For once, instead of just hawking a new push-up bra, a press release landed in the Broadsheet in box and got me thinking. A preview of the March/April issue of Foreign Policy magazine describes the magazine's upcoming cover story, an article by Phillip Longman titled "The Return of Patriarchy." Though I've yet to get my hands on the full essay, according to the release, the crux of Longman's argument is that a growing population of "children from a small, culturally conservative segment of society" is poised to "transform society and usher in a return of old-fashioned family values."
Longman roots his case in logic, arguing that since members of the feminist and countercultural movements are disproportionately likely to choose small families or to be child-free, as time passes a growing portion of the world's population will be from backgrounds in which their "conservative views led them to raise larger families." This trend, Longman adds, was already glimpsed during the 2004 elections -- when fertility rates in states that voted for Bush were 12 percent higher than in those that voted for Kerry.
So what's the bottom line? Longman is blunt. "Some members of the rising generation may reject [patriarchal] values," he writes. "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 As has happened many times before in history, it is a transformation that occurs as secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce. People adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default."
Yikes. So what's a good liberal to do -- go forth and procreate? It's hard to argue with Longman's elegant logic, but like many polemics, his argument's weakness seems to be in its very single-mindedness. Is human history really so cut and dried? Are children of conservatives bound to be cardboard cutouts of their clans? If the conservative boom really is a natural cycle that has happened "many times before," is a backlash also preprogrammed? And, finally, if politics are just tied up with birthrates and fertility in the end, is there any use in even trying to work for change?
It's enough to make your head spin. But it's also a fascinating and provocative -- if depressing -- way to contemplate the future. Until I get a copy of Longman's entire essay, I'm going to have to keep puzzling it out. But we'd love to hear what you think. Is Longman on to something?