APRIL 23, 2012 9:10PM

Be Fruitful and Multiply (as the 28th Amendment)

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            Yo, social conservatives! I've got a proposal for you.

            This isn't an ironic "Modest Proposal," but I do have an agenda. I understand how clarity isn't always a good thing — if we really understood one another, we may get even angrier — but US "hot-button" issues could use clarification.

            So here's an exercise: "The Pronatalism Amendment."

            I propose that US social/religious conservatives propose the 28th amendment to the US Constitution.

            You might not want an explicit "Whereas" clause, but the "whereas" would be the premise that "It is essential for the economic and national-security interests of the United States to encourage the birth into stable families of as many children as possible."

            This is the "pronatalist" (or just "natalist") assumption, and it's traditional. The idea that "People are the riches of a nation" was standard by the early 18th century, and the military importance of population was recognized by Pharaoh in the Exodus story (Exodus 1.8-22) from over 3000 years old.

            The operative language of the amendment would provide that, in furtherance of the natalist necessity, and "notwithstanding the rights of the people to privacy, free speech, and free association, the Congress and the legislatures of the several states may establish laws to channel sexuality among citizens and residents toward reproductive intercourse between married people."

            That's "Congress may," not shall, and the legislators would need to work out the specifics. The upshot is that it will be Constitutionally legitimate on secular grounds to have the Federal and state governments enforce the most rigorous sexual prohibitions of the Western religions.

            We could have laws that would roll back the changes of the 20th century and recriminalize or at least discourage abortion, contraception, bastardy, sodomy (i.e., for the last, the sorts of things guys of my generation called "Penthouse Variations").

            If you want to make sense — generally — of "The Abominations of Leviticus" — what is made taboo for Jews most explicitly in that book of Torah — you need a sophisticated historical reading such as Mary Douglas's 1966 Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo.

            To make sense of the sex rules in the Bible, and in the following puritan tradition; to understand why it is that some emphatically non-Jewish societies would come to follow rules suitable for "a kingdom of priests and a holy people" (Exodus 19.6): for that, simple pronatalism is most of the explanation.

            Not everyone, but most post-pubescent humans, most of the time, like sex. All sorts of sex. People also like babies, but the desire for babies is not so widespread and reliable. To ensure lots of babies, babies raised to be upstanding citizens (and potential fighters) requires sex to be reproductive, and limited as much as possible to the sort of people likely to raise non-troublesome kids.

            "But surely," it should be objected, "surely such laws can never be highly effective!" Surely, indeed; but such laws don't have to be highly effective or even moderately effective: just effective enough to ensure young workers to power the economy and support old people — and enough healthy youngsters to supply the military.

            Pronatalism is a policy that so unJewish, unChristian a ruler as a Pharaoh can understand — or Caesar Augustus or Ho Chi Minh — and it doesn't require an establishment of religion to enforce it.

            Just authoritarianism. And when push comes to shove, a lot of Americans prefer authoritarianism to liberalism or what they see as libertinism.

            "Libertine" is still an insult, and "Liberal" nowadays is rarely a term of endearment. If I ran for Congress, I'd be attacked as a card-holding life-member of the American Civil Liberties Union (which I am), and popular movies and TV shows often celebrate the forces of law and order and attack those who want less power for cops and more respect from cops for citizens.

            Additionally, pronatalist policies reinforce the patriarchal family: under strict sex laws, Mom might not necessarily be barefoot or in the kitchen, but she will frequently be pregnant.

            Let's get down to it, people. Outside of the non-drug economy, authority is popular among conservatives, and the social/religious Right can afford to get serious about rollback — and you don't need to diminish your support by basing the program (explicitly) in religion.

            Indeed, there are religious objections to a rigorous pronatalist policy. God commanded Noah and his family and humankind universally to "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it […]" (Genesis 9.1-2, 1.28). We've done that, and we should ratchet down the filling and subduing business before we ruin the planet: we are stewards of the Earth, keepers of what's left of the Garden (Genesis 2.14); we should not ruin our world through overpopulation.

            It's about time liberals, libertarians, and even libertines defend ourselves more vigorously against those who are "righteous overmuch" (Ecclesiastes 7.16) and militantly pure.

            A case can be made that big armies are passé and that nowadays "speed kills" and "maneuver has replaced mass" — but unless you're a war-wonk, your eyes glazed over reading that sentence. Social Leftists should concentrate on the sex part of the argument and support contraception and condom use as a matter of public health. We can support slowing population growth on grounds of saving the planet — and avoiding violent conflicts over resources.

            People in the Center, on the Left, and much of the Right can argue for the central human "right to be left alone" by the state, and, so long as adults harm no one else, the right to be left (mostly) alone even by society.

            So, social conservatives: Go for it; try for a 28th-Amendment rollback of 20th-century sexual immorality.

            America is not in a culture war — talk to a combat veteran about what war means — but we are in a serious competition for cultural hegemony: whose rules apply. Let's get the stakes clarified. 

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Interesting argument.