Britain's Chief Rabbi Warns of Fall of Europe due to Demographic Collapse

by John-Henry Westen

LONDON, November 24, 2009 ( – Speaking at the Annual Theos Lecture in London on November 4, Britain’s Chief Rabbi Johnathan Sacks, warned that Europe was bound to meet the same fate as ancient Greece due to its abysmal failure to inspire larger families.

“Parenthood involves massive sacrifice: of money, attention, time and emotional energy,” he said.  “Where today, in European culture with its consumerism and its instant gratification ‘because you’re worth it,’ in that culture, where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?”

Rabbi Johnathan Sacks

Rabbi Johnathan Sacks

He observed that sincere religious belief is able to overcome the cultural impediments to having children. “Wherever you turn today anywhere in the world, and whether you look at the Jewish or Christian or Muslim communities, you will find the more religious the community, the larger, on average, are its families,” he said.

Rabbi Sacks cited the alarming demographics in Europe, stating: “Europe today is the only region in the world which is experiencing population decline. As you know, zero population growth – a stable population – requires an average of 2.1 children for every woman of child-bearing age in the population. Not one European country has anything like that rate today. Here are the 2004 figures: In the United Kingdom: 1.74, in the Netherlands: 1.73, Germany: 1.37, Italy: 1.33, Spain: 1.32 and Greece: 1.29.”

He added: “Europe, at least the indigenous population of Europe, is dying, exactly as Polybius said about ancient Greece in the third pre-Christian century. The century that is intellectually the closest to our own – the century of the sceptics and the epicureans and the cynics.”

Quoting Polybius he stated: “The fact is, that the people of Hellas had entered upon the false path of ostentation, avarice and laziness, and were therefore becoming unwilling to marry, or if they did marry, to bring up the children born to them; the majority were only willing to bring up at most one or two.”

Rabbi Sacks, who was recently admitted to the House of Lords, concluded, “That is why Greece died. That is where Europe is today.”

He called this “one of the un-sayable truths of our time.”

A philosopher by background, Sacks added: “Albert Camus once said that the only serious philosophical question is ‘Why should I not commit suicide?’ I think he was wrong. The only serious philosophical question is ‘Why should I have a child?’ And our culture is not giving a very easy answer to that question.”

Read the full lecture.