The least woke leader of a major world power is not Theresa May in Britain or our own Donald Trump or even Russia's Vladimir Putin. It is President Emmanuel Macron of France, the infinitely meme-able, perfect hair-having enfant terrible who really, really wants women in Africa to stop having so many damn babies.
Speaking at last week's G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany, Macron suggested that increasing aid to African countries would be of no avail because the people of that continent, which he seems to conceive of in vague terms as a kind of homogenized mega-state, have "civilizational" problems — among them their seeming inability to stop having inconvenient offspring.
"When countries still have seven to eight children per woman, you can decide to spend billions of euros, but you will not stabilize anything," he said.
This is one of the oldest and nastiest tricks in the neoliberal playbook. Macron seems to be insinuating that Africa — not Niger or South Africa or Kenya, but this made-up mega-country that exists in the imaginations of people who don't read the "World" section of newspapers — is a nation of welfare queens. As belts tighten across the developed world, it is convenient to resort to racial stereotyping to justify reneging on our obligations to the poor abroad. The same thing happened in this country two decades ago as enthusiasm for the Great Society waned and our go-to examples of poverty shifted from images of deserving underfed white children in Appalachia to disgusting clichés about lazy oversexed African-American women in major cities.
Like "welfare queens," Macron's eight-children-having African women are a figment of the flushed racist imagination. Only Niger among African nations has a fertility rate of seven or more. Women in Botswana, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Namibia, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde, and South Africa have two children on average — just like French women.
But Macron's speech would be repulsive even if he were right about the demographics of all 54 African countries. His position would be disgusting even if the figures for Sierra Leone and Mozambique were 10 children per woman or 15. To treat human beings as numbers, as undifferentiated economic and civic inputs and — alas — biological outputs and to criticize them on the basis of how many children they are having or whether they are having children at all is wrong in itself.
To think of people this way is to be guilty of what L. Brent Bozell, Jr. — the ex-conservative-turned integralist Catholic magazine editor, not to be confused with his more famous and disreputable son — once called "the sin of head counts." Writing for The New York Times in 1971, he asked readers to imagine:
[A] boy in Bombay, a little fellow. His stomach is swollen. A single rag hangs about his loins. His face is drawn, well beyond his eight or nine years. He wanders, apparently aimlessly, through squalid streets. There is a greater supply of him than there is demand. He disturbs the ecological balance. He is socially inconvenient. The demographic mind eyes him and observes it would be better had his father been sterilized, or his mother aborted him — or, better still, had he never been conceived. He disagrees.
Consider more closely the boy in Bombay. Mr. McNamara and his banks, Mr. Rockefeller and his commissions, Time, Newsweek, National Review, New Republic, NBC, CBS, ABC, the United States government, the Indian government, the United Nations, the Planned Parenthood Federation, the Ford Foundation, the Hugh Moore Fund, the AMA, all the hired graphplotters and figure‐adders — the demographers — deplore him. What is more, they have the means — they are gods — to prevent more of him. [The New York Times]
This is as true now as it was then, and what is remarkable is how few — if any — of Bozell's names would have to be changed or removed. One could add any number of others now — Mr. and Mrs. Gates and their foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton and their global initiative, Vox, Jacobin, the EU, and of course, Macron himself — and yet still the boy lives, now perhaps in Niamey, and so does a girl, in — say — Guangzhou. Still, the gods have their means; but the boy and the girl still disagree.
As they well should. They are human beings made lovingly in the image of Almighty God, and God loves them more than they or any of us can possibly imagine, even if Macron doesn't. God does not consider them an obstacle to economic development (a subject He doesn't much care about, I'm afraid), and does not consider it a problem, "civilizational" or otherwise, that their mothers gave birth to them. God does not wish that there were not more like them because He knows that there can never be "more like them." They are the only boy and girl like them in the world, and there have never been others like them. Nor will there ever be.
Thank God for that.