September 18, 2008

These days, the issue of family size can be controversial -- just ask any couple with several children.  Large families are often seen as oddities and treated as an imposition.  Why would anyone willingly have so many kids?  Don't they know about birth control?

Few comments reveal as much about our times as these.  Those with even the slightest historical awareness would know that large families were the norm throughout human history, and for good reason.  In the Bible, large families are seen as a sign of God's blessing and children are celebrated as God's gifts.  Only with the development of modern birth control and the transformations of values and worldviews that followed, does any other view of large families make sense.

The pill changed everything.  In addition, concerns about human overpopulation and an ecological crisis led some to see large families as expensive and inefficient hobbies, or worse.  Social planners held out the example of the two-child family, and some ideologues wanted to define "normal" as one child per couple. By the early twenty-first century, reproduction rates were falling around the world.  Some European nations were facing a demographic crisis of low birthrates and not a single major European nation was reproducing at even the replacement rate.

The same would be true of America, were it not for the higher reproduction rates found among recent immigrants.

Now, within the span of just a few months, two major figures have called for putting a stop to large families -- and at least one has suggested making large families illegal.

One of those calling for an end to large families is the Duke of Edinburgh, Britain's Prince Philip.  In an interview broadcast on British television this past spring, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II spoke his mind on a number of issues, including family size.

As The Times [London] reports,

Prince Philip emerges in a television interview this week as the model royal “eco-warrior” who believes overpopulation has contributed to the pressures on the world and that anyone who believes in God should go green.

The duke hints that curbing family sizes may be the best means of keeping the soaring cost of staple food products, such as bread and rice, in check.

He continued by arguing that rising food prices should be blamed on large families.  “Everyone thinks it’s to do with not enough food, but it’s really that demand is too great – too many people," the duke asserted.  "Basically, it’s a little embarrassing for everybody. No one quite knows how to handle it. Nobody wants their family life to be interfered with by the government.”

Just taking that argument at face value, the duke states that the problem is not that there is not enough food, but that there are "too many people."  Speaking as delicately as those words allow, that argument is stunningly stupid.  If food was in abundance, would the duke argue that people are too few?  How does he arrive at the "right" number of people?

Of course, Prince Philip and his wife, the Queen, have four (amazingly maladjusted) children, we might note.  This is far above the level Prince Philip wants others to have.  Perhaps there is a Windsor dynasty exception to his proposal.

The interview was conducted by Sir Trevor McDonald, who evidently saw the duke's comments as rather . . . surprising.  Nevertheless, as Sir Trevor explained of the duke, "If he launches into a flow, it is not proper to interrupt."

In The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor, A. N. Wilson describes the awkwardness British citizens feel when Prince Philip and his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, speak in public.  Wilson writes of the sense that there is "something extremely embarrassing about men of clear intellectual limitations attempting to form sentences which would impress the average newspaper reader."