Being childless is not uncommon, but a recent spate of global leaders have ascended to their positions without also having had families. In addition to France's President Emmanuel Macron, a Washington Examiner article by James McPherson points out the other childless global leaders:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also has no children. British prime minister Theresa May has no children. Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni has no children. Holland's Mark Rutte has no children. Sweden's Stefan Löfven has no biological children. Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel has no children. Scotland's Nicola Sturgeon has no children. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, has no children.
In other words, the sheer number of European leaders without children is too much of a trend to ignore, especially if you think of the psychological effect children have on one's perspective. McPherson points out that most of these leaders are of a certain age. Though Macron is only 39, the rest are Baby Boomers, a generation that has not been characterized by generosity. According to Tom Wolfe, they're characterized by their incredible self-focus:
Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, "I have only one life to live." Instead they have lived as if they are living their ancestors' lives and their offspring's lives and perhaps their neighbors' lives as well. They have seen themselves as inseparable from the great tide of chromosomes of which they are created and which they pass on. The mere fact that you were only going to be here a short time and would be dead soon enough did not give you the license to try to climb out of the stream and change the natural order of things.
If you combine that cultural trend toward selfishness with childlessness, there could possibly be an effect in political decision-making. McPherson explains that having children is a daily lesson in the way human beings act. "One of the benefits of parenthood is the daily confrontation with free will—a human nature. Parents may have their child's life, career, and happiness planned out, but a child has other ideas -constantly," he wrote. "Love, patience, teaching, negotiating, scolding—nurture—can help direct the child, but the overwhelming otherness of the child is undeniable. They are not blank slates upon whom the parent exercises his will."
So, if these global leaders aren't learning those lessons, are there political ramifications? McPherson believes so:
Political leaders without this experience of parenthood may be susceptible to the idea that people are blank-slates, interchangeable units of human capital. As a parent and a teacher, I have seen many brilliant and well-meaning parents and colleagues crash their will and intellect against the rock of a child's independent nature. Now, scale such a hubristic paternalism to a nation. Or a continent.
Contemporary childless leaders, however ascendant they feel today, may be the last gasp of secularism. The future is won by those who show up, and only the religiously orthodox are having children.
Those still swimming in the ancient streams of Faith and Culture in France will have the observant offspring of two rival religions living within the borders of one nation. The second Battle of Tours, (or Vienna, or Lepanto) might be extra bloody due to the policies of today, but the authors of those policies will not be around because they will be dead, and their offspring will not be around, because they do not exist.
The Founding Fathers of the United States established the Constitution to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity", posterity being their offspring. Looking out for one's posterity, having a long-term vision, is necessary for the good of society, according to Harvard Political Scientist James Wilson. Do childless political leaders have skin in the game long-term?
In Europe today, those without progeny are enacting policies that impact the posterity of others.
Of course, simply being a parent doesn't make one more qualified for leadership. George Washington famously didn't have any children. However, our Founding Fathers wrote about governing with an eye to the future, and it seems these childless leaders -- and Europe itself -- might benefit from a longer-term perspective.
Image Credit: By OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Armin Linnartz [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons