A Paper by Francisco S. Tatad, Special Counsel on International Affairs to the Vice-President of the Philippines, delivered at the Opening Plenary Session of the 10th Rhodes Forum
My first words are to congratulate the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” on its 10th anniversary and to sincerely thank Dr. Vladimir Yakunin, its Founding President, and his distinguished colleagues for the honor of our being invited and so warmly welcomed here.
Coming to this Forum for the first time, I hope the historic beauty and grandeur of Rhodes and the purport and purview of our explorations could help to soften some of the shadows which global conditions have pressed upon this beautiful country and the Continent to which it belongs.
What brings us together here is a common desire to create a new intercivilizational order based on our noblest aspirations and highest possibilities as men and women in a highly technological consumerist world, where excessive wealth and power in the hands of a few have led to so much inequality and loss of human dignity on the part of so many, and the effort to satisfy all sensual appetites threatens to banish everything sacred to some distant planet and leave the spirit homeless, hungry and cold.
The global crisis of our times naturally provokes the most serious attention to the big global players - governments, the United Nations, multinational and multilateral institutions, civil society, and the private sector. It compels us to take a much deeper look at the various political economic systems, to see what really works and what doesn’t.
I would humbly submit that we take an even much closer look at the natural family, which remains the basic unit of society, the parent-seed, and the least common denominator of all civilizations. Leaders of nations and groups of nations tend to give scant attention to the family when discussing global, regional or even national concerns. The family hardly figures in their political and economic calculations.
But far from being the last, the family is the first genuine actor in addressing any crisis of civilization. True human progress will not be attained until the family is given its proper place in the natural order of things, and our best commentators are able to speak no longer of the “Rise of the West” or the “Rise of the Rest” but rather of the “Rise of the Least.”
With your consent, I propose to examine here the future of the family and its twin institution (marriage) in the face of challenges posed by certain ideological movements acting through the consumerist market, through multinational and multilateral institutions, and, in particular, through the new, deceptively self-contradictory concept of the “totalitarian-democratic state.”
Can these two natural institutions, so essential to our remaining genuinely human even in the face of what Francis Fukuyama calls a “Posthuman Future”, overcome these challenges? In a world in which the plainest words and the plainest concepts are reinterpreted to acquire new meanings so distant from, and often the opposite of, the original meanings that have informed them from the very beginning, how will these two institutions stand?
How will the family, marriage and humanity itself bear up to the growing tendency of the increasingly powerful state and multinational and multilateral institutions to decide among themselves what the truth is not only in politics, but above all in the private personal lives of men and women?
From the very beginning, mankind has defended the family and marriage as physical, moral and spiritual goods. But over time governments, individuals and institutions have tried to control the family and marriage for their own ends.
The United Nations, whose original objective was to promote peace, amity and cooperation between and among nations, now increasingly legislates on family and personal relations, not always in conformity with their constitutions, cultures or moral traditions.
Powerful nations have invaded weaker nations to execute “despots” and free “oppressed minorities” from human rights violations only to inflict the most grievous human rights offence on the family and marriage by legalizing the killing of the unborn and “genderless marriage”, and coercing other governments to do the same.
Vast areas of human behavior have been removed from any form of moral regulation, and increasingly the law is used as a blunt instrument of power rather than as an ordinance of reason. How then can the family and marriage demand and receive that which is truly due them?
In my country the constitution speaks of the “sanctity of family life” and commits the state to the strengthening of “the family as a basic autonomous social institution.” It recognizes “the family as the foundation of the nation,” and “marriage as the foundation of the family” and as an “inviolable social institution.”
That language is stronger than that of Universal Declaration of Human Rights or any other legal document that talks of the same subject. But everywhere in the world marriage and the family are under siege, and in my own country, certain political forces, taking their direction from outside, have joined that siege, undeterred by the clearest and supposedly “inviolate” constitutional provisions.
In such a situation, where the state or groups of states have become the source of the problem, families must forge themselves on the anvil of a common faith into both a sword and a shield to thwart and counter the assault. This cannot be an armed combat, and no thermonuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction can be involved, but it will have to be a fight to the very end for the ultimate human values - the highest in the hierarchy of what Dr. Yakunin calls “civilizational constants” or what Pope Benedict XVI invokes as things that are always right and legally binding, things that precede every majority decision and which every majority decision must respect.
In Samuel Huntington’s famous “Clash of Civilizations,” we are warned that future world conflicts would be fought along cultural fault lines. Christianity, Judaism and Islam, among others, have to defend their respective sides of the fault line. I fear though that the final Clash of Civilizations will be fought in the trenches of the human family, along the great fault line that divides the defenders of human life and human dignity from the dark apostles of apostasy, death and nihilism.
The real Armageddon could be spiritual, and this could be it.
And this may have begun. The globalization of apostasy, as one distinguished European colleague puts it, has loosed upon the world an unseeing madness determined to turn every cradle into a grave, even as the most severe demographic winter threatens to cover a huge part of the planet from Singapore through Japan, Korea, Western Europe, all the way up to the Caucasus and beyond.
In the developed countries, the average woman today will bear not more than 1.66 children during her lifetime, 35 percent below what is needed to sustain population over time. The number of children age 0-14 is 60.6 million less in the developed world than it was nearly 50 years ago.
The UN estimates that over the next 40 years 58 percent of world population growth will come from people over 60 years while only 6 percent will come from people under 30. As the Moscow Declaration of 2011 points out, 42 percent of all humankind live in countries where the old generation is no longer being replaced.
The founder of Singapore left nothing to chance when he recently told his fellow Singaporeans that unless they started reproducing again, Singapore could simply fold up. It is a message not just for Singapore but for the entire planet. The population recession is the real recession in the world. We need more procreative families, more childbearing mothers, more children and less intrusive state and non-state institutions to end it.
For this reason, the Protocol recently adopted at the Demographic Summit in the Russian region of Ulyanovsk to improve fertility, support children and strengthen the natural family provides a good model for others. More family-friendly policies in support of marriage, fertility increase and responsible parenthood should be put in place.
But at various levels of community life, there must be a vigorous effort, as proposed by the Russian Federation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, to reinvigorate mankind’s appreciation and respect for its own traditional values.
The United Nations should return to its original mandate. Huge population control funds should be redirected to support the strengthening of family life, instead of supporting the war on population in poor countries. Every effort must be exerted within the political, intellectual, moral and religious spheres to help people rediscover a higher purpose in life, higher than the satisfaction of the senses.
Sheer techniques alone will not end the crisis. If this winter is ever to be followed by spring again, men and women must learn to be truly human again. They must learn to love again. They must learn to love the family, marriage, children, and the hard and virtuous life that love entails - all over again.
They must learn to reject life of pleasure without pain. And they must learn to pray again. While reaching for the stars, they must learn to accept the fact that regardless of all their marvelous achievements in science, they are not gods but men, and that they are nothing without Him.
Only then can they use the riches of the past and the gifts of the present to build a much brighter and happier future for man.