Most American conservatives find little in the various political ideas advanced a hundred years ago by Theodore Roosevelt worth salvaging, much less translating into present day policy. His agenda back then reads like a script worthy of a whole series of Glenn Beck programs. He was the poster-child for progressivism.
But he was—and remains—a fascinating character. And I’d like to think that if he were around today, his clearly conservative personal values would move him to the right. Just like I think that if John F. Kennedy had been around for the last decade, he wouldn’t have been a tax-cutting cold warrior, but would have likely drifted toward the views of a whole other Teddy.
In the words of that old Kenny Rogers’ song, Teddy Roosevelt knew when to “fold ‘em,” even if he didn’t get the part about walking—or running—away. Leaving the presidency in the hands of his handpicked successor William Howard Taft in 1909, TR went hunting, then toured Europe, dined with Kings (bored to tears by that part) and became “the most famous man in the world.”
George W. Bush joked with Oprah Winfrey recently about not being “dragged back into the swamp”—resisting the television host’s political questions. Theodore Roosevelt tried that for a while—a good while, actually—but eventually he entered the arena again. He was to politics at that time what a guy named Jim Jeffries was to boxing—someone who just couldn’t pull off the comeback.
And speaking of the arena—it is TR who made the political metaphor an enduring one with his famous quote about “The Man in the Arena.” It was part of a major address he delivered at The University of Paris (The Sorbonne) on April 23, 1910. While recently reading about the event in Edmund Morris’ new book, Colonel Roosevelt, I was struck by something else Teddy said that day.
The speech was titled “Citizenship In A Republic.” Roosevelt was at the pinnacle of his renown. One journalist wrote at the time, “When he appears, the windows shake for three miles around. He has the gift, nay the genius of being sensational.” He addressed a massive audience in the school’s grand amphitheater. The crowd included academicians, “ministers in court dress, army and navy officers in full uniform, nine hundred students,” and another 2,000 “ticket holders.”
The former President of the United States was introduced that day as “the greatest voice of the New World.”
Hiding in the shadows of his “in the arena” address was a rhetorical warning that has great relevance to all citizens of all true republics in our day and age:
“Finally, even more important than ability to work, even more important than ability to fight at need, is it to remember that chief of blessings for any nations is that it shall leave its seed to inherit the land. It was the crown of blessings in Biblical times and it is the crown of blessings now. The greatest of all curses is the curse of sterility, and the severest of all condemnations should be that visited upon willful sterility. The first essential in any civilization is that the man and women shall be father and mother of healthy children so that the [human] race shall increase and not decrease. If that is not so, if through no fault of the society there is failure to increase, it is a great misfortune. If the failure is due to the deliberate and willful fault, then it is not merely a misfortune, it is one of those crimes of ease and self-indulgence, of shrinking from pain and effort and risk, which in the long run Nature punishes more heavily than any other. If we of the great republics, if we, the free people who claim to have emancipated ourselves from the thralldom of wrong and error, bring down on our heads the curse that comes upon the willfully barren, then it will be an idle waste of breath to prattle of our achievements, to boast of all that we have done.”
That’s right. Theodore Roosevelt told the French that they needed to keep having babies. If only they had listened.
At the time of Roosevelt’s speech, France was a major world power. Today—not so much. There is enough blame for such decline in global influence to go around, but the increased secularism of Europe, with its penchant for socialized everything, has certainly played a role. The nation was decaying from within long before Paris was declared an open city as the Nazis approached in 1940. Now 70 years later, there is an even greater threat to their cherished way of life. If only the French today would rediscover Teddy’s advice and reverse the birthrate trend—they might have a fighting chance. But such is the mindset of secularism, it is all about self and “fulfillment.” Issues of family, not to mention progeny are secondary, if thought about at all. Marriage is deferred—even eschewed. Children are planned—or better, planned around. And over time the birth rate in Europe has fallen far short of what is needed to keep up with the various demands of the future. In other words, the nations are aging. There are fewer children, yet more grandparents—a trend that will continue and accelerate. It takes a fertility rate of 2.1 births per woman to keep a nation’s population stable. The United States is right about there, give or take. Canada has a rate of 1.48 and Europe as a whole weighs in at 1.38. What this means is that there is a Bernie Madoff moment coming for these nations (we’re seeing some of it now, with the riots, etc.). The money will run out, with not enough wage-earners at the bottom to support an older generation’s “entitlements.”
But even beyond that, the situation in France also reminds us of the opportunistic threat of Islamism. It’s just a matter of time and math before critical mass is reached and formerly great bastions of democratic republicanism morph into caliphates. The Times of London reported a year and a half ago that its nation’s Muslim population had grown from 500,000 to 2.4 million in just 4 years, “rising 10 times faster” than the rest of society. It’s the same in France, though raw numbers are harder to come by.
A while back, it came out that France’s fertility rate had risen slightly. Calling it a “robust reproduction rate”—one that is “bucking the trend”—the reasons for it were variously described as having to do with things like government programs for maternity leave, pre-school, stipends for in-home nannies, and similar government largesse. But another factor, hiding in plain sight, has to do with the fertility rate of the resident Muslim population.
In fact, all across Western Europe it’s the same. The cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam are on track to have Muslim majority populations within this decade. Bruce Bawer has written in his book, While Europe Slept—How Radical Islam Is Destroying The West From Within, “A T-shirt popular among young Muslims in Stockholm reads: ‘2030—then we take over.’”
I like what Britain’s chief Rabbi said last year. Lord Sacks decried Europe’s falling birthrate, blaming it on “a culture of consumerism and instant gratification.” “Europe is dying,” he said, “we are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change and no-one is talking about it.”
The Rabbi was right. So now I have raised my voice and in order to practice what I preach, I will send this column to all three of my daughters—seven grandchildren are not nearly enough. After all, the future of Western Civilization is at stake!