Salvo 02.03.2021 6 minutes

True Populism is Pro-Family


Hungary’s model shows how it’s done.

Things are looking up for the Hungarian people. 

Over the past ten years, the country has adopted a body of policies to promote a traditional conception of family life, relieve the economic pressures on young families, and boost national fertility. These include a litany of generous tax exemptions and family-first stipend and loan programs, including subsidies for minivans and home renovations, a family allowance for grandma, three years of maternity leave, as well as interest-free marriage loans of $36,000 for young couples to be cancelled once they have three children.

Though it could always be too soon to tell, vital rates point in a promising direction. Minister for Families Katalin Novák tweeted just last week that the period between 2010-2020 was a decade of demographic explosion for Hungary, during which the country’s fertility rate increased by 24% and the number of marriages nearly doubled.

Last year, Novák offered commentary on the reason behind the country’s radical choices: “The recent demographic figures speak for themselves. The number of marriages is at its 40-year high, [and] the fertility rate at its 20-year high, while the divorces haven’t been as low as last year in the last six decades.” She explicitly juxtaposed Hungary’s position on family policy with that of other European countries, highlighting that the Hungarian government favors family policies that grow the country’s population without relying on mass migration.

“The Hungarian point of view is that we have to rely on our internal resources, namely supporting families and enabling young couples to have children. The other approach says that there is overpopulation in one half of the world, while there is a population decline in the other, so let’s just simply balance the difference,” Novák said. “[We] are lectured and stigmatized simply because we took a path that is different from the mainstream…[and] exposed to continuous attacks for years, but facts are facts, our results are clear, and we also enjoy the support of the Hungarian people.”

Unshrinking cultural, political, and economic support of traditional family life has earned Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz (“Hungarian Civic Alliance”) Party the enduring support of the Hungarian people. One wonders if such a thing might be possible in America.

American Anti-Natalism

Alas, a toxic combination of conservative austerity and liberal feminism together have produced a situation in this country that, in comparison, bodes very poorly for young families.

In June of last year, Lyman Stone and Bradford Wilcox of American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies published an article in Newsweek entitled “Empty Cradles Mean a Bleaker Future.” They write:

Financial, educational and housing-related factors are major reasons why people don’t marry and have children in the United States today. That’s why we have written, testified and argued extensively in favor of practical proposals to provide reasonable financial support to families, remove obstacles to marriage and create a more family-friendly society. Birthrates are not too low because the economy or the public budget needs more babies—they are too low because people want more babies, but are prevented from having them by financial and policy obstacles that can and should be addressed.

In America, bootstraps break under the dream-crushing weight of hospital bills, housing, and student loans. Each of these is an opportunity area for legislators. Over the past decade, the story of family policy in this country has been, basically, an overproduced kabuki theatre show wherein the Left makes a show of leaning into paid parental leave, the Right dutifully winks at geriatric donors while flinching at anything that resembles “socialism,” and the issue goes no further. 

The Trump moment offered a brief reprieve for the people against the tired consensus. There was some action by Ivanka Trump to mandate parental leave for federal workers and provide universal state daycare for the rest. But, as I wrote in September, her logic was basically more of the same. Providing universal state daycare so that women can remain a clean 50% of the American workforce sounds like it was dreamt up in a Biden cabinet. The position ignores the fact that most women would rather be moms than girlbosses because, in fact, most women have jobs, not careers. Many moms, also, are rightfully mistrustful of day care. Of course, there is much more to family life than two breadwinners keeping their one point five children passively fed and entertained until they turn eighteen. 

But our elites don’t believe this. American technocrats see people and all of their most essential roles, from parent to citizen, as fungible. The most important thing that everyone fails to offer American families is a clear vision for what family is, and what role it and its members play in the broader political picture. Contrary to neoliberal consensus, it is not a training ground for the workforce. 

A Populism Worthy of the Name

Hungary’s approach is multidisciplinary, but policy is undergirded by an explicit proclamation of what family is, most essentially: the most important source of joy and meaning in a person’s life, and the spiritual foundation of man. The official Hungarian public diplomacy About Hungary site states: “The focus of policy is not just on reversing population decline, now an EU imperative. It’s not about ‘natalism’. It’s an expression of a deeper political and moral philosophy that seeks to enable women and young couples, if they wish, to marry and enjoy the experience of rearing their family.” 

Under this umbrella, policymakers then enjoy the freedom and creativity that a clear expression of purpose affords. Their policies are effective to the extent that they dovetail with one another toward unified ends, and, ultimately, because Novák and her peers do not regard the country as a petri dish for utopian social experimentation nor as an economy arbitrarily circumscribed by porous entrypoints for future workers. Instead, their family policy is designed to address the real needs of their own people— political theatre be damned. 

Self-identified American populists must prioritize the amelioration of economic pressure on young middle- and working-class families. Otherwise their self-identification is fraudulent. This probably means a near-moratorium on immigration, a reexamination of more generous fiscal policies for family, including but not limited to tax breaks, family allowances, and at the very least, some form of subsidized parental leave. 

But what if, beyond the practical help, it were perceived as the most honorable thing a person could do to have children and raise them well? What if we held women who sacrifice their salary to raise their own children in higher regard than those who outsource motherhood to keep their career? What if families, aside from financial concerns, also did not have to worry about being sneered at for their fertility? What if parents didn’t have to worry about predatory gender ideology or critical race theory robbing their children of sanity through public school? 

These what-ifs aren’t idle dreams. They’re realities treasured in the secret hearts of embattled, nearly abandoned citizens. Words alone don’t solve problems, but if our politicians made bold statements in support of a more wholesome way of life, they would rally millions and millions in support of even bolder policies.

The Hungarian government amended the Constitution last year to include the provision of “an education [for children] based on the values of the Christian culture of Hungary and guarantee the undisturbed development of the child according to their gender at birth.” The proposal states: “Hungary protects the right of children to self-identify according to their gender of birth and ensures education according to the values ​​based on the constitutional identity and Christian culture of our country.” It also explicitly specifies that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.”

American “conservatives” would never. And the fact that they would never reflects our facile neoliberal attitude toward family that will guarantee its demise. A multifront approach to the war on family has worked for our enemies, and in Hungary, it appears to be working in favor of our friends. Will the American Right ever have the temerity? Or will it wave away our despair and decay as just another “blessing of liberty”? 

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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