From Beyond the New Right

By John Gray
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 4, Number 4 (Summer 1994)
Issue theme: "The U.S. Congress and U.S. population growth"

Unlimited Population Growth

Is Not a 'Conservative' Policy

It is scarcely a conservative point of view to value the quantity of human beings in the world over the quality of their lives; to prefer a crowded world choked with noise and filth to a world of space and amenity that is peopled on a smaller scale; or to deny the human need for solitude and wilderness. All of these conservative considerations mandate a policy for population when, as now in most parts of the world, medical progress has removed natural constraints on overpopulation.

Immigration Undermines Stability

... a policy of laissez-faire in immigration, by undoing settled communities, mixing inassimilable cultures and thereby triggering dormant racisms, would serve only to undermine the political stability on which successful market institutions depend for their existence; yet such a policy continues to be advocated by fundamentalist liberals who cannot, or will not, perceive that labor is a factor of production which is categorically distinct from others, inasmuch as it is wholly constituted by human beings, whose relations with each other are not at all like those of different sorts of assets in a global portfolio.

Free Trade vs. Communities

Global free trade as envisaged, say, in recent GATT discussions, can often have disastrous effects on local and regional communities, wiping out entire ways of life while supplying no sustainable alternatives.

'Growth' Mania Not a Conservative Virtue

The prospect of open-ended growth in the quantity of goods, services and people is in any case hardly a conservative vision. Though the eradication of involuntary poverty remains a noble cause, the project of promoting maximal economic growth is, perhaps, the most vulgar ideal ever put before suffering humankind. The myth of open-ended progress is not an ennobling myth, and it should form no part of conservative philosophy. The task of conservative policy is not to spread the malady of infinite aspiration, to which our species is in any case all too prone, but to keep in good repair those institutions and practices whereby human beings come to be reconciled with their circumstances, and so can live and die in dignified and meaningful fashion, despite the imperfections of their condition. Chief among all of the objects of conservative policy, for this reason, is the replenishment of the common life; the shared environment in which, as members of communities and practitioners of a common culture, people can find enjoyment and consolation. ... It is a cardinal element in my argument for the consilience of conservative philosophy with Green thought that both reject the modernist myth of progress, and for very similar reasons.

On 'Growth'

Modernist political faiths which advocate the unlimited growth of population, production and knowledge - political religions such as Marxism and liberalism - are effectively in rebellion against every truth we have established about order in the natural world. Only a sort of secular, humanistic fideism - not any rational assessment of the human lot - could support the otherwise groundless conviction that our species is exempt from the natural constraints that govern every other species of which we have know-ledge. The idea of progress is rightly anathema to the most reflective Green thinkers, one of whom has stigmatized it as expressive of 'the anti-way', the way downwards, to entropic disorder and final extinction.

On 'Progress'

'Progress is movement for movement's sake.' No view of human life could be further from either Green thought or genuine conservative philosophy. The modern conception of progress is only one symptom of the hubristic humanism that is the real religion of our age. As against that debased faith, both conservative and Green thought have, as their ideal, peace and stability. They seek a form of society that is sufficiently at ease with itself that its legitimacy does not depend on the illusory promise of unending growth. ... Securing the legitimacy of political and economic institutions in a stationary-states society, which is without open-ended growth in population and production, is a hard and central problem for policy, which ought to concern Green thinkers as deeply as it should conservatives.

A Future of Migration Wars

Where the local religion puts a premium on large family size, and anathematizes contraception and abortion, as with some varieties both of Roman Catholicism and of Islam, we may expect the demographic transition to be slow and slight, or else indefinitely delayed - as appears to be the case in parts of Latin America and North Africa. Such differences in the rate of demographic transition will magnify existing disparities in population size. They will generate waves of illegal immigration - of the sort already occurring from the Maghreb in Africa to Southern and Western Europe - that are likely to have highly destabilizing effects on both the recipient societies and the societies subject to such hemorrhagings of population. It is not difficult to foresee major military conflicts occurring as a result of actual or prospective population movements of this sort.

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