Carl Djerassi fled with his mother from Nazi persecution in Austria and flourished in the United States as a chemist and a writer, an entrepreneur and a teacher. In early 1950s he was one of three scientists whose work on synthetic progestagen laid the foundation for the first oral contraceptive pill, which the Federal Drug Administration approved for use in in 1960. Forty-nine years later (2009), the 85-year-old professor emeritus from Stanford University wrote of his achievement for the Austrian newspaper, Der Standard.
The Pill is partially responsible for the population decline in Europe that Prof. Djerassi characterized as a “horror scenario” and a “catastrophe.”
“(There is now) no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction.” Focusing on the land of his birth, he continuted, “This divide in Catholic Austria, a country which has on average 1.4 children per family, is now complete.” Prof. Djerassi described families choosing against reproduction as “wanting to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it,” and predicted national suicide because young Austrians refuse to have children.
To be partially responsible implies there must be other factors to blame. I’d like to be the first to point my finger at good will.
Imagine living in almost any 19th Century European city–Victorian London for example–or in New World counterparts. Big families are the norm. In the landed, merchant and artisan classes, the overwhelming majority of household breadwinners are men who can support their issue. At the advantaged end of familial life, there is often an inheritance. At the poorer end, there is just enough left from wages to provide a modicum of education for the children.
But among the lowest classes, life yo-yos between a tenuous grasp on barest necessities and a Dickensian nightmare. Children are forced into sweatshops, into the streets, and into theft and prostitution. Many of their parents can’t afford weddings, making illegitimacy a fact of survival.
In the better parts of town, sexual propriety is stricter. Girls who get pregnant out of wedlock are made to feel ashamed. They are expected to isolate themselves from the reproving eyes of their neighbors. At times they are cast from the affection of their families.
It is easy looking at all this to make two assumptions. One is that poverty is either the root cause of- or contributes greatly to- the misery seen round about. Hence people of good will support laws to abolish child labor, curtail working hours, mandate wages and improved working conditions. They donate to foundling homes, do volunteer work for aid societies and involve themselves in political reform.
The other assumption is connected to the first. The unbridled production of children contributes greatly to poverty. A readily available means of effective birth control would result in fewer children and thereby free household income from mere subsistence.
Equally important, girls of all classes who succumb to temptation could be saved from the consequences. How beneficial this would be when a applied to a poor girl! She is far more useful to society cleaning someone’s house than taking care of a snot-nosed brat.
As we know from our perspective today, political and labor reform advanced to the point where people of good will largely gave up private beneficence and let government take over, allowing more good to be done for more people, and for good people to have more time to kick back and enjoy themselves. To some degree, every country in the West is a welfare state that assures a minimal standard of living for all citizens, or at the very least, attempts to make sure that the poorest of the poor don’t starve and that addicts have clean needles when they want to curl up in the parks.
The notion of birth control was a trickier proposition to sell to the public and then turn over to government. For the first half of the 20th Century, voters in the western democracies didn’t think government should interfere with the consequences of sexual behavior. Nowadays, of course, it is taken for granted that tax money is set aside to fund abortions, to pass out condoms and to support unwed mothers so that the state, in effect, becomes an old fashioned, bread-winning papa.
Before these matters became politically normative, there were people who didn’t want you to fool around under any circumstances, making condoms a moot point and in some localities illegal to buy. In progressive folklore these people were Christians mainly of the Catholic persuasion. Although there were (and continue to be) nutters of that persuasion, it is more precise to say that the Church taught reverence:
Sexual intercourse is to the glory of God. It must be restricted to heterosexuals bound in holy matrimony. Its primary purpose is procreation, fulfilling God’s first command to mankind, “Go forth and multiply.” God bless you if you find the process pleasurable, but engage in the pleasure only with a willing spouse and the knowledge that children could result.
The Church still teaches those precepts. But as Prof. Djerassi indicated, Catholics aren’t listening.
Protestants, having spent approximately 500 years as Catholics, brought some of those precepts with them when they split off. My-mother-in law, a devout Protestant who bore six children, gave my wife a book of sexual advice before we were married. A member of the Church of England authored it, offering to the public council given to young Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her marriage. The basic message was enjoy sex and let children come as they may.
It was an old book.
By the time Protestants got to the part of the 20th Century when I came of age, they increasingly bought condoms, diaphragms, spermicidal jellies, the Pill and abortion to remove the chanciness of will power, sudden withdrawal and the rhythm method. Today the most successful aspect of ecumenicalism is between nominal Catholics and secular Protestants on sexual matters. They don’t follow the bible or care what the Pope says. They are encouraged by scores of priests and ministers seduced by modernity and/or someone in the choir. Liberal Jews love them, and they all zealously believe they are motivated by good will.
So did the founder of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Margret Sanger advocated birth control in order to clean up the population. She was convinced cleansing could be done by weeding out Negroes. By her lights, it would be a good thing to prevent them from producing “human waste.”
“We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.”
Just as everyone else, Planned Parenthood evolved from its beginnings, becoming something quite different than what was intended. These days it doesn’t pretend to make a religious appeal to any segment of the population.
Nor do politicians who hop aboard the bandwagon of reproductive freedom.
This lack of moral influence is the crux of the matter. If good will is not founded on absolutes, it is subject to the whims of fashion and ultimately succumbs to what anyone feels at any give moment. Moral relativism always means chaos. Tolerance becomes tyranny. History doesn’t matter. Self-absorption is the national pastime. Pleasure is the highest virtue.
The Pill could never contribute to reproductive suicide without a tidal shift in values. The teen angel longed for plaintively in Mark Dinning’s 1960 song had to become a promiscuous bitch. Religion had to be mocked. Marriage had to become like divorce, just another piece of paper. Children had to become disposable. They had to become optional. They had to become inconvenient.
They had to be thought of as human waste.
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