Editor’s note: This essay was adapted from remarks delivered on June 30, 2011, at a fundraiser for the Love and Fidelity Network and Grupo Solido, an Argentine project supporting marriage, chastity, and fidelity.
Thank you for asking me to speak this evening in support of the Love and Fidelity Network and Grupo Solido. I so admire the young people who have poured their hearts into this work, which is so important to the future of our two countries, and to the health of truly human culture everywhere. I am, I fear, a poor spokesman for the cause to which we are devoted here. By training and experience I am a political scientist, studying laws and institutions, courts and legislatures, political theories and constitutional frameworks. I am not a family sociologist, or a moral philosopher, or an expert in any of the half dozen other fields that have been represented at the annual intercollegiate conference put on by Love and Fidelity.
But perhaps from the perspective of my discipline I can say a few words about why the work of Grupo Solido and of Love and Fidelity is so important, and why the support and (we might now need to say) the restoration of marriage and family on a sound basis are inextricably bound up with the shape of our politics, and with its ultimate health or sickness.
The intersection of the family and politics is a major theme of Plato’s Republic. In Book V, Socrates introduces his young companions to the most revolutionary idea proposed in the dialogue: That in order to achieve their shared goal of designing (in theory anyway) the perfectly just political order, they must treat men and women as exact equals, denying that there is any meaningful difference between men and women.
With relentless irony, Socrates goes so far as to say that there is no more significant difference between a man and a woman than between a hairy man and a bald man. He calmly proposes that in the training of the city’s defenders, the young men and women should exercise on the same field together, clothed only in the virtue that the city’s educational program gives them. This is grimly comical, and is intended to open our eyes to the absurdity of all uncompromising attempts to mold the rough clay of human nature into some perfect shape according to a single principle.
The comedy turns in a tragic direction when Socrates goes on to prescribe complete political control of reproduction and childrearing. The family as his companions have known it—as we know it—must be destroyed, swept aside in favor of a politically directed breeding program. No man and woman can join in a lifelong union; their sexual couplings are ordered for eugenic purposes. Mother and child are separated at birth, and parents and children are deliberately made strangers to each other, as special nurseries take over the raising of the next generation of devoted citizens.
A second book I want to mention is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley’s book presents us with a future world—going Plato one better— in which sexuality is completely severed from reproduction. Children are both conceived and gestated in vitro, have no parents, and are raised by “professionals” in common nurseries. All citizens are assigned to one of several fixed social classes, their roles and functions in society eugenically predetermined.
Unlike Plato’s city, whose eugenic project must rely on procreation accomplished the old-fashioned way, Huxley’s World State has no need to harness sexual desire for its breeding program. But the sexual passion still exists. What then to do with it? The World State’s answer is to liberate it, indeed to require promiscuity. Men and women are expected to have many sexual partners, while undue attachment to one partner above others is severely frowned upon—and the State makes sure to prevent this by various social, psychological, and pharmaceutical measures.
Although Plato’s city looks draconian and severe and Huxley’s World State looks hedonistic and easy, what they have in common is their assault on nature in the name of some abstract notion of justice. Each in its own way is heedless of human embodiment—of the fact that the human person is this body, and that one, and that other one. Both political orders treat their denizens as denatured souls abstracted from their bodies, as creatures whose lives can be rationally planned for them without regard to the longings of their hearts for union with one another, and for families.
In these dystopian societies, everything about human sexuality, the complementarity of men and women, and the generation of offspring is broken to the yoke of the city, and made subservient to a single-minded politics of regimentation and control of human choice. And it all happens because a single political principle is pushed without limit until human nature itself is mowed down in its path.
But what has all this to do with us, and our situation?
Consider the messages that young people get today, from the colleges they attend, the media culture they swim about in, and even from the laws of the land and the words and deeds of high public officials. Here are fifteen such messages:
1. Sexual desire is something that can and should be gratified, not restrained. This gratification is known as “health.”
2. One’s sexual “orientation” or “identity”—even one’s “gender”—is a variable thing. Maybe genetics has something to do with it, maybe it comes down to freedom to choose—maybe a little of both. But wherever you wind up, it’s all good. Until you wind up somewhere else, and that’s good too.
3. Everyone is entitled to marry the person he loves (at this particular moment). Coming soon—marriage to the multiple persons one loves!
4. There is no significant difference between men and women with respect to any sexual matter. “Gender” and “identity” are “social constructs,” which we can accept or reject at will.
5. The differentiation of male and female roles is a species of oppression. (Even if you choose the role? What happened to the freedom to choose your identity? Never mind, don’t ask such questions!)
6. “Hooking up” for casual sexual encounters without commitment is just what young people do if left to their own devices. And it is good so to leave them, as these serial relationships are normal and healthy.
7. “Safe sex”—that is, the use of contraception and disease-preventive measures—and consent are the only moral strictures that universally apply to sexual matters.
8. Virginity past one’s late teen years is, well, freakish.
9. Cohabitation before marriage is downright expected, and is a healthy trial run of a relationship.
10. Marriage is optional and certainly not permanent, nor need it be characterized by sexual exclusivity. “Until a loss of interest do us part.” Why should it be work?
11. Out-of-wedlock childbearing is normal and has no adverse consequences, anyway not for you.
12. Abortion is always available, always will be, and has no adverse consequences, anyway not for you. “It’s a woman’s right to choose.”
13. “A family” is whatever we say one is. Who are you to say different?
14. Where children are wanted and nature does not supply, science can make up the deficit at no moral or social cost (albeit considerable financial expense) by sperm donation, egg donation, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, etc.
15. Any child can have mommies and/or daddies in any number and combination, by blood, marriage, or adoption. There is no harm in any of these possibilities, for children are blank slates, fully adaptable to all adult choices.
Every one of these fifteen messages is a lie. No lie sustaining the preposterous political orders in Plato and Huxley is worse than any of these, and some are in fact exactly the same—about the sameness of the sexes, the dispensability of marriage, the malleability of children, and so on.
In Plato and Huxley these lies are recognized as such, and made to serve a particular purpose: the quest for perfect justice in Plato or the quest for perfect peace in Huxley. But our society considers these lies to be truths that are indispensable in the quest for perfect freedom. The record of broken communities, broken families, and broken human beings is apparently no deterrent to this quest.
Neither is the mounting evidence that neither freedom nor equality has been advanced, or put on a sounder footing, by the revolution in morals of the last two or three generations. Where is the gain to freedom in the coercive redefinition of marriage to include relationships that cannot properly be called marriages? Where is the gain to freedom when people of sincere religious faith, dissenting from this redefinition of marriage, are coerced to violate their consciences in order to go about their ordinary business in the marketplace, or even to serve their communities in ways they feel called to do? Where is the gain to freedom or equality in the contemporary abortion industry, which violates the very first of our human rights—the right to life—while lying to women about the consequences of “choice” in their own lives? Where is the gain to equality in our class-stratified culture of divorce, high illegitimate-birth rates, fatherless children, and minority poverty and imprisonment rates? Where is the gain to equality in a culture that, in the most elite colleges, encourages the best of our young women to behave like the worst of our young men?
In truth, the debauched notions of “freedom” and “equality,” run rampant in our politics, threaten the survival of authentic freedom and equality, by undermining the family and elevating the state. What Plato’s city and Huxley’s state did directly—sacrificing the individual to the collective—we now run the risk of doing indirectly, by way of a truncated anthropology that categorically misunderstands freedom and equality because it misunderstands nature. And it misunderstands the utter dependence of our free society, and our constitutional order, on the bedrock of the family, rightly understood.
What we are here tonight to celebrate and support are the efforts of some young people to stand against the elite culture’s pressures against chastity, fidelity, and family, and to push back hard against them. They are willing to contradict the falsehoods, in word and deed. They are willing to work to change minds and hearts, laws and policies, curricula and student-service bureaucracies. They are willing to live their faith in the future of the family, and to do so in the open, even at the risk of scorn from their peers and disdain from their teachers. After all my grim talk up until now, I turn to these young people and see hope of redemption. Their numbers are growing, and their determination is strong, but they need our help.
The Love and Fidelity Network, and its affiliate organizations such as the Anscombe Society at Princeton, and now the new Argentine start-up, Grupo Solido, represent courageous counter-revolutions “back to the future” of the family. It is so heartening that they are themselves the brainchildren of young people, young leaders who see, at ground level as it were, what passes for sexual ethics and integrity among too many of their own generation. Their generation was very ill-served by mine, which has left them with quite a mess to clean up. Devoutly should we pray that the next one is better served by theirs. I believe it will be, and I thank you all for being here tonight to support them generously in their work.
Matthew J. Franck is Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.