Commentary Magazine


The Horror Behind the Horror Stories

The U.S. Census Bureau released a report Wednesday on preliminary data for 2007 birth rates in the United States.  Among the statistics, as my colleague Kiki Bradley reported on Heritage’s Foundry, is the fact that we’ve reached a new high, or rather a new low: 39.7 percent of babies born in 2007 in America were born to unmarried women.

Not entirely coincidentally, the Guardian, on the same day in Britain, ran “A Portrait of 21st-Century Poverty.”  This was basically the same story it ran about child poverty last June, and, indeed, the same story it has been running for decades.  That’s not to say that it’s not heart-wrenching.  The victim — of an uncaring and hateful society, of course — is always a single mother, usually with more than one child, young, not obviously irresponsible, poorly educated, and not too angry in a way that would alienate readers.  Her emotions consist of fear for the future of her children, and a vague wistful sense that she and they deserve better.  This victim, Louise, checked every box.

And you know what? They do deserve better.  But as painful as these stories are, they are not quite tragic.  Tragedy requires its protagonist to have no real choice in the matter: Othello had to be Othello.  But the Guardian’s victims did have choices.  In this case, Louise left school at the age of 18 with “only a handful of Es, Fs and Gs at GCSE.”  In the British system, those are bad grades.  She left school because she got pregnant, though she claims this wasn’t irresponsible because the man she was dating at the time had a job.  He left her and she says she never wants a man in her life again, though the relationship didn’t end fast enough to prevent another child — a son — from arriving three years later.  Now she is 24 years old, with two children, no skills, no money, with no eligible man ever likely to materialize, and she barely scrapes by on a multitude of welfare payments.  She’s nonjudgmental about the women she knows who sell drugs or steal to support their children.

Of course, there is a tragic element.  Louise’s own mother was single and — according to her — entirely uneducated.  The tenement she lives in, though just like thousands of others across Britain, is vile, and the schools are dreadful, because no good teacher wants to work in an environment where most of the homes are broken and neither the children nor the parent — usually only one — place any value on education.  In a phrase that, more than any other, sums up Britain’s poor, Louise “take[s] life as it comes.”  Since her life is a sad testimony to the fact that, until her already meager income and circumstances were drastically reduced, she never planned ahead, she is probably right.

Now she is genuinely stuck, and her children will turn out like her, unless they are very lucky.  No amount of government funding can remedy this, because what are lacking are moral and educational, not financial, resources.  She would have been far, far better off in a traditional two-parent family, with a strong and rigorous school system, going to church, and being surrounded by a culture that taught her a duty to herself and society and taught her to improve herself and to provide for her own needs, that dependency was a sin, that failing to plan ahead was a form of dependency, and that she should have children only after marriage and only when she and her husband had the financial wherewithal to raise them in reasonable surroundings.

What is so hard about that?  What is wrong about it?  Why is it cruel?  Is it not in every way a more fulfilling, happier, self-directed, and liberal mode of life than the one she chose — and, of course, had chosen for her by the last 40 years of liberalism, under which the nonjudgmentalism was elevated into a religion and the breakdown of the family proceeded apace?

In Britain, the illegitimacy rate of the “Anglo-Saxons” is now just over 50%.  That’s only 10% ahead of the U.S.  As Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes admitted last summer, Britain is trying “to run up an escalator that’s going down” in its war on child poverty.  The only question the Guardian and Hughes need to answer is a simple one: why has spending so much money failed to make the down escalator go up?  One look at the Census Bureau’s statistics, or Louise, would answer it.  It’s not about money.  It’s about culture.

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