Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at a disturbing trend in the West — the increasing age of adulthood. We expect less maturity from young adults and deny them the responsibility that helps them grow. They live down to our expectations. Both they and society are the losers from this.
By Martin van Creveld.
From his website, 20 March 2017.
Re-posted with his generous permission.
At fifteen, my grandfather left home and became an apprentice to a chicken-feed dealer (later he worked himself up until he became a very rich man, but that is beside the point). My father and I both happened to leave home at eighteen. Fast move forward. In the US between 2000 and 2011, the number of women aged 25-34 who lived with their parents went from 8.3 to 9.7%. The corresponding figures for men were 12.9 and 18.6%, a vast increase indeed. These changes have been accompanied by others, such as allowing people up to 26 years of age to join their parents’ health insurance (in the US, under Obamacare) and extending the licenses of “child psychologists” so as to enable them to treat 25-year olds (in Britain).
Crowning the process is the rise in the age at which people have their first child, which is now the highest in history. Even so, the above figures only form the tip of the iceberg. They are the last—for the time being, at any rate — stages in a process of compulsory infantilization that, in all Western countries, has been going on ever since the industrial revolution.
Some of the earliest moves were made in Britain during the middle decades of the nineteenth century when parliament first limited the number of hours young people could be put to work and then gradually prohibited them from working at all. Then as now, some of those involved in the efforts were true “philanthropists,” as the phrase went. Others, though, had less lofty motives in mind. Either they were trying to eliminate competition from small family-operated enterprises, as big business did; or else they hoped to increase wages, as trade unions did.
Today, things have reached the point where anyone who suggests — as, famously, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once did — that it might be good for teenagers to do some work will face a storm of disapproval. And yet, as thinkers as far apart as Aesop, St. Benedict, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud have recognized, working and earning one’s keep as one of the most important ways in which people can maintain their own self-respect and take up their place in society.
Meanwhile, youngsters who were not allowed to work had to be looked after. Traditionally doing so was the job of mothers. Especially middle-class ones who neither had the money to hire substitutes nor were compelled to work by economic necessity. Starting the 1960s, though, the advent of feminism led to a vast increase in the number of women who worked outside the home; meaning that they could no longer do as they used to.
Partly as a result, the school-leaving age was raised still further. Until, in many countries, it reached eighteen. Nor did graduation from high school necessarily end the confinement of young people. Increasingly, those of them who went on to college found the latter acting in loco parentis, supervising and chaperoning them as if they were unable to act responsibly. Linguistic usage reflected this fact. The phrase “college men” used to be standard but has been on the decline since its peak in the 1920s. By contrast, “college kids” has been steadily rising until, in 1996, the curves showing the frequency at which the two expression were used intersected.
Meanwhile, more and more children who used to walk or cycle to school are now either being “bused” there or driven by their parents. Statistics show that the maximum distance from home at which they are allowed to roam on their own has been falling. Instances when parents who allowed children aged ten or so to play, unsupervised, in a park near home were threatened with having their offspring taken away from them are on record. In many cities those under 16, or 17, or 18, now face a curfew; meaning that, unless they are accompanied by an adult, they are no longer allowed to be on the streets at night. Amidst all this the age of consent has been rising. The more years young people spend at school and the better educated they are, apparently, the less able there are to resist the appeal of sex and to handle it responsibly.
Briefly, young people are increasingly being treated as if they cannot look after themselves. Not in respect to work. Not in respect to study. Not in respect to freedom of movement, not in respect to drink — in the US and some other countries, one must be over 21 in order to enjoy it — and not in respect to having sex. All for their own, good, needless to say.
But that is not half of it. For as long as humans have existed, the moment at which young people of both sexes were separated from each other was considered a critical step on their way to adulthood. Normally this took place when they reached puberty or slightly earlier. Now we are told that, in Norway and Sweden, recent reforms in the military have led to male and female recruits being made to share the same bedrooms as if they were not yet twelve years old.
The ultimate insult to both men and women, I would say.
The data floods in showing that van Creveld is (as usual) correct
(1) A long brilliant essay, essential reading: “4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump” by Dale Beran at Medium. Excerpt, one of the many key points he makes…
“All the rules had a Lord of the Flies vibe to them, that is to say, they were very obviously created by a bullying and anarchic society of adolescent boys — or at least, men with the mindset of boys — particularly lonely, sex starved man-boys, who according to their own frequent jokes about the subject, lived in their parents’ basement. (Poole himself lived in his parents’ basement well after the initial success of the site.) They were obsessed with Japanese culture and, naturally enough, there was already a term for people like them in Japan, hikikomori — meaning “pulling inward, or being confined” — teens and adults who withdrew from society into fantasy worlds constructed by anime, video games, and now the internet. And of course, it’s relevant to note here the themes of Fight Club itself, a film about a male collective that regains its masculinity through extreme acts after it has been debased by modern corporate culture.”
(2) For those that like hard data, see this paper by the US Census: “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975-2016” by Jonathan Vespa, April 2017. Here is a NBC story about the report, adding some individuals’ stories.
“This report looks at changes in young adulthood over the last 40 years. It focuses on how the experiences of today’s young adults differ, in timing and degree, from what young adults experienced in the 1970s — how much longer they wait to start a family, how many have gone to college, and who are able to live independently of their parents.
“This report looks at a snapshot of the young adult population, defined here as 18 to 34 years old, and focuses on two periods: 1975 and today (using data covering 2012 to 2016 to reflect the contemporary period). Many of the milestones of young adulthood are reflected in the living arrangements of young people: when they move out of their parents’ home and when they form families. Because these milestones are tied to young adults’ economic security, the report also focuses on how education and work experience vary across young adult living arrangements.”
About the Author
Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.
The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW— preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.
Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war in the fascinating Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (see the chapters about modern gaming, wargames for the people).
Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.
He has written three books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force, and a biography of Moshe Dayan.
Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.
He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than ours!). Even more so are his books about western culture: Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, The Privileged Sex, and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West.
And perhaps most important for us, his magnum opus— the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describes the political order unfolding before our eyes. Also his latest book: More on War.
For More Information
If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see these posts about women and society, and especially these…
- The little-known dark side of Ender’s Game.
- How does The Hunger Games compare to other classic stories of children fighting children?
- Martin van Creveld asks: why do American kids kill?
Martin van Creveld’s first book about modern societies.
About Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West from the publisher…
“In the kingdom(s) of the West, something is rotten. Collectively, the countries of NATO are responsible for almost two thirds of global military spending. In terms of military technology, particularly electronics, communications and logistics, they have left the rest so far behind that it is no contest. Yet ever since the Korean War ended in 1953, almost every time they went abroad and fought non-Westerners they were defeated and had to withdraw. As happened, to cite but two recent cases, in Iraq and Afghanistan; and as may yet happen if and when Islamic terrorism spreads into Europe, as it is quite likely to do.
“What went wrong? How did the ferocious soldiers who, between 1492 and 1914, brought practically the entire world under their sway, become pussycats? The present study, unique of its kind, seeks to answer these questions.
- Chapter I, “Subduing the Young,” focuses on the way Western people raise their scanty offspring. Infantilizing them, depriving them of any kind of independence, and, in the words of a recent best-seller, turning them into “excellent sheep.”
- Chapter II, “Defanging the Troops,” shows how the same is happening in the military.
- Chapter III, “The War on Men,” examines the way in which the forces are being feminized affects, indeed infects, their fighting power.
- Chapter IV, “Constructing PTSD,” looks at the way returning soldiers are almost obliged to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Chapter V outlines the emergence of modern societies which, exalting rights and forgetting about duty, have come very close to delegitimizing war itself.
“The book is written in jargon-less language laymen can understand. It is also thoroughly documented. Readership should include anybody with an interest in national security, and then some.”
22 thoughts on “Martin van Creveld warns about the infantilization of our youth”
That’s a particularly large can of worms you just lifted the lid on…
I always put a lot of it down to a general shortage of children. You, me and Fabs are all boomers, there were so many of us kids around that no-one cared that much if a few went under the bus, we were expendable so to speak. Birth rates dropped and children became increasingly valuable, more single child families, more parents prepared to cluck and run around their one and only little package of genes.
Perhaps it also reflects the increasing affluence of parents and that many have enough time to devote to their child. Perhaps it’s the expression of an evolutionary response to low birth rates.
I can’t shake the picture of a bird rushing around to continually fill the beak of its permanently discontented and demanding offspring. In the UK we have a phrase “helicopter parenting”.
Speaking as a shiftless millenial, apparently, if one on the far end of the age range: It was strange to me because I always heard about the perils of helicopter parenting, participation ribbons, and so on when I was a child, yet I saw few examples of these things in practice.
I imagine rising affluence was a large part of it, more than anything. Probably also reactions to memories of the flaws in one’s own upbringing, perceived or actual.
“yet I saw few examples of these things in practice.”
Children are not ideal observers of their society. As an adult leader of Scouts for 15 years, I saw a lot of this.
“I imagine rising affluence was a large part of it”
That implies that this was previously common in upper middle class families, and so became more common as more families entered into those income levels. It wasn’t. As children Boomers routinely did things that are considered child neglect today.
Describing a phenomenon, as MvC does, is the relatively easy part. “Why” is usually the most difficult question to answer.
“Perhaps it also reflects the increasing affluence of parents”
That implies that this was previously common in upper middle class families, and so became more common as more families entered into those income levels. It wasn’t.
“Perhaps it’s the expression of an evolutionary response to low birth rates.”
That’s a provocative explanation. But birth rates have often been low among the rich (e.g., the British aristocracy), yet they were famously detached from their children — the opposite of helicopter parenting.
“I can’t shake the picture of a bird rushing around to continually fill the beak of its permanently discontented and demanding offspring.”
It’s not a demand-side phenomenon. As a Boy Scout leader for 15 years, I saw that kids hated the absurdly tight apron strings — the tight supervision, the limited freedom.
“In the UK we have a phrase helicopter parenting”
In the US, also. It’s an old term. Wikipedia says the first mention in recorded print is a 1969 book.
Hi Mr Crook and all,
What I’m disturbed about is how this gets institutionalized (US perspective and what I can infer from MvC and elsewhere). Child labor laws need to be rethought. I have two teenage nephews, one who works, and one who desperately wants to, but can’t because he’s too young. No, he doesn’t want to be a powder monkey on a ship of the line and no he doesn’t want to hop in a Dickens novel and have to say thank you sir may I please have another.
He wants to work in a small, family owned business, with a community of customers and a never ending diversity of pass-through/tourist customers (think the banana stand in Arrested Development, but run well, popular, and not lined with the family fortune, and you won’t go too far wrong). He wants to make money, that’s part of it. But it’s also life for many of the people he lives with. It’s also how the world actually works.
But he can’t. It’s illegal.
This isn’t just counterproductive, it’s borderline evil.
Some of my best memories are working when I was a kid (single and low two digit). Fixing split rail fences in Wyoming, driving tractors around, breaking for “dinner” which we had a noon together as the crew…
Much of this is over my pay grade. But I know some of the history.
Automation has created waves of excess labor. Unions, stay-at-home wives (working only in home for much of their adult life), and child labor laws are all attempts to rebalance this, so that equilibrium wages are at middle class levels for most of the US workforce. So I suggest some respect for the efforts that made America more stable and prosperous than most of the world for over a century.
All solutions have limitations and create new problems. But without divine intervention we do the best we can.
That history is essential to know today because another wave of automation is beginning, inevitably destroying jobs for a large fraction of the workforce (we can only guess how many today). While this increased productivity has the potential to make us rich, history shows that the immediate effect is poverty for the new unemployed — and social instability as these pissed-off people respond.
So recommendations that we increase the labor force with millions of low-wage workers (who don’t need to pay for food and housing, or health care insurance) should not be made lightly.
Parenting styles have changed across the globe and I feel it can’t be coincidence that the valuing of children has increased as the birth rate has decreased.
That said, these things are never due to a single cause. I can think of several other potential contributing factors. Awareness of paedophiles and ‘stranger danger’, increase in road traffic, more single parent families, Dr Spock and associated child psychologists, medicalisation of bad behaviour, pressure to do well in exams.
The advent of the internet and mobile phones has simply pushed things even further giving parents even more to worry about.
All true. “Why” is usually the most difficult of questions to answer.
A lot of these seem like economic trends more than cultural ones; as he notes, one of the motives was to protect jobs for adult men. And in general there are fewer and fewer jobs to go around. I know a lot of the time when I hear someone start arguing in favor of child/teen labor, it comes off as “I’d really like to pay less for labor, so I’m going to slap some high-minded statements about the inherent virtue of generating profit for me.” Organized and structured activity can be terribly important and beneficial, of course, but that’s not the same as “sweep the floors to pay your tuition.”
That said, his last example with the Swedish/Norwegian military recruits baffles me because it seems like the complete reverse of what he’s saying: it seems that these recruits are expected to live in close quarters with each other without sexual abuse. How is this infantilizing? Or is this more about masculinity than maturity?
McC says that the forced co-ed living as seeing children as non-sexual beings. It’s not the interpretation that I would have chosen. But he’s written to shock people into awareness so that they see things around them that they prefer not to see.
Timely. Someone sent me an Article of this Study referred to after Martin’s piece. My comments to this were it is both Economic and Societal. And today I would add it will become even more difficult with the onrushing joblessness from AI etc. Perhaps the signature of life in the West is exalting the individual so they can mature and are preparing to care for themselves and then gradually can even start to care about and for the Other. The frustration and even maybe despair of Twenty something’s today must be hard for them to even communicate! Another bad trend for sure.
One of the things I like most about this blog is that Fab himself does not seem to substantially blame us younger folks as, like, “a class” the way a lot of other media do.
Just one of many symptoms of the decay and damage caused by a materialistically oriented consumer society IMO. Our institutions evolve to serve the system not the kids, certainly not to create people of exceptional character and autonomy. Our value in the society we have is mostly as passive consumers. Decision making is automated and industrialised for optimum efficiency, idenpendent adults would mess that up, cut into growth, to make a decision in this society it must support the bottom line. So naive baby boomers by into false narratives of the progress of this arrangement and find myriad ways to fool themselves into thinking there pampering is creating a new kind of adult, when in fact by design its no longer really allowed or needed we have algorithms and machines PHDs and business execs that decide what will or will not create growth the rest of us must follow.
Wow. You see people of the West as passive — lacking agency (and therefore responsibility), perhaps like animals. That’s a depressing view. Dangerous too, since it leads by short steps to advocacy of tyranny.
We live in an automated facade and as a result too few understand the guts of the machine. Critical decisions are extremely concentrated. Politics is just a firewall and distraction from discussing anything of real consequence to this machine we are in. So in that sense yes we are mostly passive consumer cows already in a form of structural tyranny. On many other less consequential levels we have freedom and agency.
IMO we need a truly independent and relatively self reliant class to emerge and exert counterbalancing influence. Everybody is financially coerced or seduced to toe the line right now and it has long ago poisoned our thinking and politics.
Your view is the equivalent hammering fetters on ourselves. But your view is extremely common, appearing in the comments of almost every post I write about political reform. I suspect because it justifies apathy and passivity. We are just helpless children, so all I can do is sit on my butt and watch TV and do drugs/booze.
As I have said so many times, we are the weak link in the Republic. Until that changes, nothing changes for the good. Change starts with individuals asserting their agency — their independence of action and responsibility for America. “Classes” don’t “emerge.” Individuals make decisions.
Pingback: Why are Today’s Young So Juvenile? | al fin next level
Individuals asserting agency isn’t going to reverse deep structurally embedded problems, particularly when its so unclear how to proceed.
On a more personal note I suspect you and I are looking at america from very different places. I am precariously employed barely out of debt millennial. I spent my formative adult years trying for 6 years post college to land a professional job. After never finding any job of substance I grew to despise that system and certainly wasn’t willing to go back and subject myself to more debt to get more education to get a job in a system I grew to abhore. Consequentially I have never owned a home, have rented in slummy dives and in fact I’ve lived large chunks out of a vehicle so as to save up. I have very little faith in reforming what seems to me to be a broken system, nor even if I was inclined do I have the time and resources to step up and help with reform. My situation obviously is not isolated or rare and I bring it up because I think it adds relevant context to this post.
Many millennials are in effect priced out of becoming adults, if they have any reason they know they can not have a family in their situation, nor ability to learn the ropes of adulthood through managing a household. Apathy has paradoxically become a political tool as it amasses more drop out millennials who are not interested in fixing the system but subconsciously or consciously interested in facilitating its failure and perhaps hoping to find better opportunities in its descent.
I think FM has pretty reliably said the solution is to exercise this agency in an organized way with other citizens, not to just express your sovereign will like an Ayn Rand character. It’s probably a sign of the times that the very idea feels kind of alien, doesn’t it?
I remember reading old magazines from the 70s at someone’s lake house and seeing similar remarks to your last paragraph, but in regards to the Baby Boomers. We’ve seen where that goes.
Hi FM and all,
FM> So recommendations that we increase the labor force with millions of low-wage workers (who don’t need to pay for food and housing, or health care insurance) should not be made lightly.
Please let my quote stand for your entire reply.
This is the crux of it, isn’t it.
You are, of course, absolutely right. Not made lightly.
How do we reconcile with a world where we actually need to forbid some people from working with people who want to work?
How do we distinguish the wealth that the society creates from the wealth to whom it accrues?
The black or white, my side or your side, world in which we live is not acculturated to subtle thinking. I have friends who get angry at /questions/.
Even though it’s comments on a blog, it’s conversation, critical, but civil.
With kind regards,
Interesting that those living with their parents in their 20’s tend to be men – women presumably are finding mates at a younger age ?
Why is this a problem? Does this point to less self-sufficiency among the next batch of working-age adults? Or to less desire to accept the options offered by the job market that would pay for moving out without a significant downshift in class?
Pingback: Whither adulthood? – A True Progressive