Countless commentators have observed that the public square is polarized. Political speech has become barbed. The once sober mainstream media are often shrill. It’s a sure sign of the times that people on both left and right feel under assault. Religious Americans worry that, if given a chance, LGBT activists will shut down their churches and synagogues, while residents of Berkeley put up signs announcing their solidarity in resistance to a fascist takeover of our country. We can notice differences. The Obama administration drove the Little Sisters of the Poor to the courts to seek relief. The number of fringe white nationalists remains microscopic and politically insignificant. But the larger fact remains: People across the political spectrum are increasingly enflamed and on edge.
This anxious atmosphere reflects deeper problems and tensions in our society. A generation ago, married couples with steady jobs assumed their kids would flourish. Now they fear their families will be overcome by social dysfunction and moral degradation. At the same time, parents worry that their children will not find stable places in our globalized economy—and that they, too, may lose their footing.
Our political establishment is able to engage the economic aspects of today’s volatile political environment. There’s discussion of income inequality and job prospects for Middle Americans of middling education and talent. But six years after the publication of Charles Murray’s study of the moral disintegration of white working-class America, Coming Apart, there’s still no sustained discussion of the devastating consequences of the moral deregulation of American society over the last two generations.
The striking moral divide in America fuels populism just as surely as economic divisions. In my view, it’s more important. The press mocked the “Make America Great Again” slogan and derided the dark tone of Trump’s inaugural speech. This response reflects the very divide Murray documents. The rich and well-educated are insulated from the moral ugliness and spiritual darkness that many ordinary Americans worry will overwhelm them. This elite blindness characterizes both Republican and Democratic establishments. Facing the collapse of marriage norms and disintegrating communities, it’s not unreasonable for a person in Wheeling, West Virginia, to say, “Hey, wait, I don’t like the direction my country is going.” Yet those on the left announce that he’s a white nationalist, while those on the right treat him as an ignorant ingrate, a “taker” who lacks the get-up-and-go to thrive in our dynamic, globalized economy.
Another troubling sign: heightened rhetoric of racial tension and souring attitudes toward immigration. Polling shows that concerns about racial discrimination increased during Barack Obama’s presidency. Before the 2016 election I offered my explanation for why this has occurred (“Bigot-Baiting,” August/September 2016). Liberals have powerful political incentives to intensify racial and ethnic conflict. But the conservative establishment, too, accepts the basic premise of identity politics, which is that people vote in accord with tribal instincts. The so-called postmortem of the 2012 election commissioned by the Republican National Committee called for conservatives to adopt a moderate multicultural agenda. This recommendation rested on the false assumptions, central to identity politics, that people only accept leaders who look like them and that our fellow citizens have “identity interests” that outstrip their desire to sustain a strong national culture.
Talk of a “minority-majority nation” exemplifies the triumph of multicultural pessimism among the chattering class. The notion of a minority-majority nation makes little sense. A supermajority of those living in the United States are native-born. With good leadership, we can consolidate around a new majority consensus, as happened after the great migrations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The fact that so few political and cultural leaders can speak convincingly about how to achieve this new mode of American solidarity stokes voter anxiety and is a significant reason why immigration has become a hot-button issue.
More and more ordinary Americans recognize that our leadership class, right and left, has neither the inclination, vision, nor will to promote vigorous and effective cultural assimilation of newcomers. They prefer instead the managerial ethos of multiculturalism and diversity. This is an ideology suited for a technocratic empire, not a democracy.
Still another warning sign: Thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, voters are turning against American-led globalization. They see it undermining their prosperity and robbing them of political sovereignty. This rebellion is underway throughout the West. Populism exposes the profound divergence between elite and middle-class interests. Here in New York, my education and professional position give me access to an international network and create powerful incentives for me to treat America as a platform for global leadership rather than as my primary loyalty. These incentives also motivate my social class to denounce populism as ethnocentric nationalism or as a crypto-fascist perversion that stands in the way of a truly moral and forward-looking (and conveniently self-serving) vision of a more inclusive and more prosperous global future.
Put simply, solidarity has weakened dramatically over the last generation. The collective “we” has become remote and inaccessible. Instead of an invitation to membership, the “we” is now taken to represent a false unity, or even a source of oppression. Our politics is becoming rancorous because our American inheritance itself is increasingly a source of conflict. It is often the very issue under debate, often implicitly, though sometimes explicitly. In an age of migration, globalization, and ideologies of cosmopolitan universalism, we’re struggling with what it means to be a nation, to be a “we.”
The crisis of solidarity represents the greatest threat to the body politic in 2018. The threat is magnified by the blindness of our political establishment. It can only see threats to inclusion (left) or threats to freedom (right). Our task, therefore, should be to promote a politics of the common good, one that seeks to repair the fabric of our society. Here are some suggestions for how to frame it.
Strengthen marriage and family. We need to buttress family stability for all Americans, not just the rich and well-educated. We need to reconsider no-fault divorce and experiment with pro-marriage tax, welfare, and economic policies. In matters of education and moral formation, we need to empower parents to raise their children in accord with their beliefs.
Restore sensible regulation of public culture. We must protect the vulnerable from degrading influences. The push for drug legalization should be resisted. We need to find ways to restrict pornography and obscenity.
Support the religious character of the American people. For most of us, the essential human need for transcendence is satisfied by participation in religious communities. Our liberal tradition keeps government at arm’s length from theological questions, but even within that tradition, it is possible to encourage religiosity, and we should.
Renew local control of education and civic institutions. We need to encourage participation in common projects that are at once sources of solidarity and bulwarks against the remote, controlling, and infantilizing power of gigantic, centralized powers, whether cultural (Hollywood), corporate (Silicon Valley), or governmental (Washington, D.C.).
Encourage respect for our national inheritance. We have for too long cultivated a penitent patriotism quick to fix on racism, sexism, imperialism, and a raft of other sins. Our present political distempers stem from a lack of solidarity, not residual discrimination or exclusion. In this season of our common life, we need the patriotism of affirmation, not critique.
Shift immigration policy away from economic interests and toward the goal of civic unity. Who comes, and how many? We need to answer this question in a way that promises to renew national solidarity rather than satisfying business interests or feeding a utopian, multicultural ideology.
Put sober assessments of our national interest at the center of foreign policy, including trade policy. We need to restore a political culture in which it is clear that American leaders are America’s leaders, not the world’s leaders.
Defend the sanctity of life against the desires and convenience of the powerful. This is an imperative of justice. But it is also necessary to restore solidarity. Most Americans look away from the shocking reality of the unlimited abortion license. But it affects our collective consciousness, encouraging an anxiety that the same disregard awaits the unwanted and inconvenient in our midst. Is it an accident that our political elites, having made peace with the abortion license, ignore the catastrophic decline in the life expectancy of poorly educated white Americans?
Whatever one makes of these proposals, it should be possible to agree on the need to renew solidarity. This will not be easy. Powerful forces continue to defend a dying political consensus. The impulse to treat economic growth as all-important has a particularly strong grip on the contemporary conservative imagination. An expanding economy is good, but it is not supreme. A country can be very rich, and yet fragmented and divided. Our nation is a moral community, not a limited liability corporation with 330 million shareholders.
We need to resist the utopianism that imagines America to be the universal, missionary nation that will bring human rights, freedom, and democracy to the whole world—or that the whole world can immigrate here. Our Constitution and way of life are noble achievements. They are rooted in the soil of our unique history, however, and are not readily exported. Nor can they survive unlimited immigration that disrupts the transmission of our national identity from one generation to the next.
There is a mentality abroad that tells us we have no alternative to globalization and the ever-freer movement of capital, goods, and people. This is not true. We can make choices. The globalized economic and social realities of our time were not inevitable. They are the consequence of the determined political leadership of the postwar generation that constructed international institutions that still provide the framework for today’s global system. The same generation nurtured a political consensus that favors free trade, market liberalization, and an internationalist mindset. In 2018, we can reshape this legacy. This does not mean rejecting it. Instead, we need to have the courage to reassess, rethink, and reform the status quo, which we must do if we’re not to become globalization’s victims.
We should not allow ourselves to be deterred by denunciations of “conservative social engineering.” It is a proper function of political leadership to safeguard moral norms and restore dignity to degraded communities. Our fellow citizens need a healthy culture and stable families. We owe it to them to use government power to meet that need. This must be done prudently and with due respect for the difficulty of restoring morality by political means. But we must try. Moral matters are integral to the common good. It is philosophically ignorant and politically disastrous to think otherwise. Can our democracy endure the collapse of marriage as society’s foundational institution? I don’t think so.
Let’s not allow ourselves to be seduced by the cynical, defeatist calculation that we must capitulate to an inevitable multicultural future. This mentality sells short our fellow citizens. In my experience, a man named Gonzalez desires to be part of a great nation just as much as a man named Jones. He is just as likely to wish for public decency and marital stability, just as likely to favor the national interest, and just as likely to treat his neighbors as fellow Americans no matter what their color or religion. His “ethnicity” is in all likelihood the one so widely shared in our society, that of being an American.
As we face the midterm elections and their aftermath, let’s not allow ourselves to be intimidated or demoralized. We all feel the vacuum of leadership. But we are free men and women, capable of striking out in new directions. We can use our freedom to reorient public life toward the common good.
Faith Amid Corruption
As of this writing, an embassy of American bishops to Rome has come back empty-handed. They wanted the pope’s approval for an apostolic visitation. Such an act would have created a canonical vehicle for a full investigation about who knew what and when about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. That request seems to have been rejected by the Vatican. As a consequence, no commission or investigation established by the American bishops will have the authority to require the release of key documents or compel testimony of important actors in the McCarrick drama.
Pope Francis seems to have decided that protecting his ecclesiastical allies is more important than an honest confrontation with the corruption in the Church. The stonewalling, the decision to look the other way, the clericalism that tolerates secrecy, double lives, and corruption among the princes of the Church continue at the highest levels. This can’t help but demoralize the faithful.
All is not darkness, however. Last month, a young Orthodox Jewish friend called from Israel. Although he did not say it in my terms, the spirit of his call was to let me know he was praying for me and for the well-being of the Catholic Church. Other non-Catholics have offered similar encouragement. I’ve come away from those encounters touched—and reminded of the spiritual importance of Catholicism in the West. Catholicism is an anchor, a witness to what is enduring. Even those who do not believe what the Church teaches are buoyed up by the church witness to the permanent truths of God and the created order. It’s shameful that Pope Francis and his allies chase after the fickle winds of political and moral fashion, undermining the Church as a visible sign of faith’s courage and constancy.
My Catholic friends have been more critical, often bitterly so. That’s understandable. All of us are failed Christians, trying to live in accord with teachings of Christ, but falling short. We know we cannot go it alone. It’s therefore anguishing and infuriating to discover that the Church upon which we depend for spiritual support is governed by failed leaders, not the least of whom sits at the very top of the hierarchy.
The present pontificate has sown confusion, division, and conflict. Francis is advancing a doctrinally suspect revision of the discipline for divorced and remarried Catholics. This affects a vanishingly small percentage of churchgoers. Yet he presses forward against objections, apparently because he wants to empower those who seek a wide-ranging concordat with the sexual revolution. Meanwhile, as he hails the inauguration of a more pastoral and inclusive Church, he spews invective and denounces critics. He seeks to influence the secular politics of capital punishment, immigration, and global warming while ignoring the theological poverty and spiritual corruption of the supernatural body of Christ. In all likelihood, Francis will precipitate a deep and destructive crisis in the Church. That’s been his modus operandi throughout his clerical career, evident during his tenure as Jesuit provincial in Argentina. Again, this is demoralizing.
One friend publicly announced his departure from the Catholic Church. Another friend tells me he won’t go to Mass in a church that protects the likes of McCarrick. Many others wonder how they can persevere as faithful Catholics when it’s increasingly clear that this pope is unworthy of their loyalty and respect.
I don’t have easy answers. I never have. Since my reception into the Church in 2004, people often ask what attracted me to Catholicism. My answer invariably dissatisfies: “Nothing.” By this I don’t mean that the Church possesses no charms. Instead, I’m reporting on my own spiritual poverty. When I entered the Church, I lacked any basis on which to weigh and measure the merits of Catholicism. I came to the Church naked, as it were, giving myself over to her care, trusting only that she is the prime substance of Christianity in the West. Catholicism is the font of nearly all Christian witness in our societies (Eastern Orthodoxy provides some exceptions). Some of that spiritual potency has spun out of the orbit of the Church of Rome, to be sure, but it carries her DNA. As John Henry Newman observed as an Anglican, Catholicism “has preoccupied the ground.”
When one is lost, it is wise to retrace one’s steps and return to the starting point and begin again. This is why we need always to return to Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, and to the apostolic fellowship that stretches from his Resurrection to the present in the continuous life of his bride, the Church. The more disoriented we are, the more we need to return to the original source of our faith, which in the West means drawing closer to the Roman Church. These are difficult times. But for precisely this reason, Catholicism is for me more essential. It is the source of consolation and strength amid our collective failures.
My counsel, therefore, is simple. In this season of corruptions revealed and teachings betrayed, we must not underestimate the sheer fact of the Church: the unceasing prayers of the faithful, the witness of her saints, and the reality of Christ present in the sacrifice of the Mass. The corporate body of Christ sustains us, even amid clerical betrayals, even in the face of our own doubts, mediocrity, and sin.
Hillsdale College invited me to contribute to their Constitution Day celebration in Washington, D.C. My assignment was to reflect on the relevance of libertarianism. As a political philosophy, libertarianism appeals to a small number, but they are influential. Simplicity and rigor make libertarians formidable debaters. It’s a philosophy that lends itself to ideological purity and ready answers, which can seem appealing in an uncertain world where it is difficult to make sound prudential judgments, the essence of political responsibility.
In my remarks, I observed that libertarianism also resonates in America because it taps into one of the main currents of our national culture. To be an American means prizing freedom. “Live free or die.” “Don’t tread on me.” Libertarianism focuses on the intrinsic value of the individual. We are not cogs in a machine or objects to be administered by remote bureaucracies. Thus, libertarianism serves as a voice of protest on behalf of the individual in our era of gigantic corporations, minute regulations, and an expansive state.
All that said, in 2018, libertarianism is irrelevant to the challenges we face—or worse, it’s part of the problem. The crisis of our time is one of loyalty, fraternity, and solidarity, not collectivism and totalitarianism. Among the most powerful forces in the West are economic globalization, human rights as a universalistic ideology, and mass migration. They tend to dissolve traditional communities, including the nation. European politics suggests that mass migration is likely to become a disruptive force of the twenty-first century. The ideology of human rights will hinder political efforts to minimize this disruption and the threats mass migration poses to the stability of the West.
Libertarianism came to prominence after World War II because it provided a pointed response to totalitarianism. But it offers no conceptual tools with which even to analyze the political-cultural nature of the dissolving forces that are now eroding solidarity. Much less does it tell us how to respond. As a philosophy that seeks to maximize individual freedom, it contributes to the deregulation of culture and the crisis of solidarity.
Politics in its most basic definition is the formulation of laws to establish, preserve, and transmit a way of life. As such, politics concerns the collective “we.” The American genius rests in making limited government (and thus limited politics) into our foundational collective act. Our Constitution identifies the political sovereign, “we, the people,” and then goes on to limit what “we, the people” can legislate and impose on individuals.
Libertarianism often confuses the result of our collective action as Americans—a system of government designed to protect freedom—with its source. In its most extreme forms, libertarianism rejects the “we” as a perennial threat to individual freedom. In its more moderate forms, libertarianism focuses on state power, saying that it should never be used to impose a moral, religious, or cultural consensus—the soul of the “we.” In this respect, libertarianism is like its Enlightenment sibling, communism. Both encourage a utopian anti-politics in which the perfect way of life is self-sustaining, thus dispensing with the ongoing political role of the “we.” Both seek the withering away of the state. Both look forward to a condition in which everyone can enjoy plenary personal freedom independent of the coercive, governing power of the “we.”
Conservatives are correct when they speak of today’s multiculturalism as “cultural Marxism.” Its unifying logic is anti-traditional. Multiculturalism seeks to break down the power of inherited accounts of collective identity—the “we”—so that no one “identity” has power over the others, thus eliminating the source of oppression, at least in theory. Western culture, America’s history, even the natural family become structures of oppression from which we must be liberated. Of course, it’s easy to interpret multiculturalism as cultural libertarianism, too. It’s a therapy of critique that frees the individual from traditional norms and binding social ties, allowing him to make up his own mind about how to live. Gay rights offer an obvious example of where Marxist-inspired critiques of “heteronormativity” dovetail with libertarian arguments.
Few people are hard-core Foucauldians or strict libertarians. The former requires the specialized vocabulary that comes with university-based indoctrination, while the latter remains an acquired taste cultivated by long hours devoted to online debates. But we all participate in the anti-politics of these very modern and utopian ways of thinking, at least to some degree. The political culture of the West has become economistic and utilitarian, as if public life could be reduced to technical policy debates and calculations of utility. These technocratic tendencies drain the life out of politics. At the same time, we’re attracted to a moralistic and absolutist way of thinking. The ascendancy of human rights is one example, and the fixation of guilt and reparation is another. These moralistic tendencies sacralize politics, which is another way of destroying it.
As Samuel Huntington recognized at the end of his life, the most important question we face is fundamentally political: Who are we? What is our way of life? What do we share? What do we love, together? No nation is constituted by political processes or enumerated rights. Yes, we have a system of checks and balances established by the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But there is a cultural system of checks and balances that is more important still. The deep loyalties that bind us together in religious and civic institutions check the power of government. Because we are bound together in patriotic ardor, we can control our government and discipline our political establishment at the polls. Most important of all, marriage and the household prevent the tendency of the state to invade and colonize every aspect of life.
It is the commitments that choose us—my family, my country, my God—not the ones we choose, that give us the strength to be free. Libertarianism is largely blind to this truth about freedom. It can recognize that I am, in a sense, “chosen” in my individuality. I can only lead my own life, not many lives. This is why my freedom is so precious. It is the means by which I honor what has been given to me: the one course of life that is mine to run. But it can’t see the full basis of freedom, which thrives amid binding loves, not limitless options. As the example of St. Thomas More teaches, it is what we love and will not betray that liberates us.
We live in a time of shocking conformism and punitive political correctness. Yet at the same time, we enjoy unprecedented personal freedom. Next to nothing is obligatory in 2018—other than the obligation to refrain from making anything obligatory.
Today’s combination of bondage and permission is paradoxical but not contradictory. Freedom begins with the capacity to say “no,” and we can only say “no” insofar as we are formed in accord with deep loves reinforced by the communion of others united in these loves. For this reason, our American culture of freedom requires solidarity. Independence must be won anew in every generation, and securing freedom is a political undertaking that depends upon the strength of the “we.” Three hundred thirty million individuals will never be able to sustain a culture of liberty. Three hundred thirty million Americans can.
while we’re at it
♦ In October, a synod of bishops will meet to discuss the Church’s ministry to young people. In the ordinary course of affairs, these regular synods pass without comment. But in the Francis pontificate, they have arrested the attention of many Catholics, because they have become occasions for Francis and his allies to press forward revisions of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. The last synod (2015) focused on the family. Pope Francis and his allies used it to promote a “pastoral” approach that loosens up the Church’s theology and discipline on divorce and remarriage. At the 2018 synod on the young, revisionists are sure to press for the same approach to sex, especially homosexual sex. In the Francis pontificate, “pastoral” means “empowering” us to make our own “discernments.” Given how thoroughly we are formed by secular culture, this almost always leads us to the same conclusions as the dominant class in the West. A more “pastoral” Church is thus more bourgeois, more elite-oriented, and more therapeutic. This reconfiguration of the Church around the elite consensus in the West is especially obvious in the fixation on gay sex, the signature “social justice” issue of the rich. (See Darel E. Paul, “Culture War as Class War,” August/September 2018.)
♦ In preparation for synods, the Vatican prepares a working document (instrumentum). The one produced for the upcoming synod could be entered as Exhibit A in support of Michael Hanby’s searing condemnation of church leadership that unwittingly (and in some cases wittingly) defaults to sociology, psychology, and other immanent, anti-metaphysical modes of analysis. The instrumentum is not lacking in good material, but its dominant concepts are drawn from the social sciences, not the Church’s theological and philosophical tradition. It betokens the general tendency Hanby identifies: unilateral disarmament in the face of the world, one that makes capitulation to secular morality in all matters very nearly a foregone conclusion.
♦ For example, at one point the instrumentum expresses worry about the effects of “early sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, digital pornography, exhibiting bodies online and sexual tourism.” Important concerns, but the harms done are framed as “disfiguring the beauty and depth of affective and sex life,” not as wounds to the soul. Elsewhere the instrumentum urges the Church to produce “responsible citizens,” not mentioning the spiritual imperative of encouraging a desire for sanctity and service to God. The transcendent dimension is not denied, but for the most part it is neglected. Our secular ways of thinking meet little resistance. It is too easy to conclude that what matters are the affairs of this world (a healthy sexual culture and responsible citizenship), not our destiny in the next.
♦ During the synod on the young, firstthings.com will feature the daily analysis, reflection, and musing of the mysterious Xavier Rynne II, who will report from the Vatican. We’ll also publish special features about synod topics written by our regular (and less elusive) authors.
♦ Naz Shah, the British Labour party’s shadow minister for women and equalities, announced that her party supports a ban on early prenatal blood tests for determining a child’s sex. According to Shah, early DNA testing should be used only to screen for abnormalities such as Down syndrome, allowing those children to be aborted, but not for sex, which she fears can lead to aborting girls. “The government needs to look into this exploitative practice and enforce appropriate restrictions.” I, too, regard it as a horror that girls are being aborted. But it’s a sign of the moral myopia of our age that so-called progressives regard only sex-selective abortion to be “exploitative.”
♦ When I wax nostalgic, some friends grumble that we can’t live in the past. True enough: We can’t march to the beat of an antique drum, as T. S. Eliot noted. But we’re foolish not to tarry and listen, enriching our political imaginations with something other than the truisms of our time. We must vote and legislate in the present. In so doing, a lively engagement with the past can inform our judgments and guard against presentism. Moreover, nostalgia does not entail a restorationist mentality. I can entertain regret that we’ve lost the strong sense of civic unity that characterized the 1950s without wanting to return to the inequalities of that era. Nostalgia brings forward lost or diminished goods in our minds, encouraging us to think about how to restore or renew them in ways that make sense in our own time.
♦ 7/29/18 Washington Post crossword – Clue: “Creation myth figure.” Answer: “God.”
♦ I was recently rereading Jacques Maritain’s response to the Second Vatican Council, The Peasant of the Garonne. One theme arrested my attention: his claim that we live in a state of emergency. Writing in the mid-1960s, Maritain saw mankind on a precipice, at once under threat of global destruction in a nuclear war and also, for the first time in human history, capable of intercultural cooperation. The evocation of “emergency” has been a condition of the West for over a century: 1914, Auschwitz, the looming nuclear holocaust, the 1960s, “crisis of the youth,” 9/11, Ebola, global warming, and more. Many of these were real challenges, but it has always been so. It is the human condition to be in crisis. Death is always nipping at our heels. But because the secular West no longer believes that the hand of Providence governs from above, our trials become world-historical emergencies. We see it happening today. Populism evokes the language of emergency—“fascism” and “authoritarianism.” Hitler is returning! Racism is ascendant! The rhetoric of emergency muddles our thinking, tempting us to rush to the barricades when what’s needed is sober reflection based on steady first principles.
♦ The political upheavals in Europe are being caused by the fact that people still regard the nation and peoplehood as things to be cherished and defended for their own sake. Anxious to prevent a return of destructive nationalism, the post–World War II political culture of the West is paralyzed. It cannot renew nation covenants, the “we” to be cherished for its own sake. By and large, leaders resort to affirmations of human rights and the dignity of the individual. In many contexts, these commitments are compelling. But they do not formulate the distinct value of being French or English or Italian. As a consequence, the mainstream leadership of the West can neither do justice to popular feelings nor guard against temptations toward blood-and-soil idolatries. This is not an “emergency.” It’s a problem that needs to be grappled with intelligently and in a way informed by older, pre-modern visions of political order, which means non-liberal, non-utilitarian, and non-materialist. We need to stop listening to those who, evoking the specter of emergency, insist that it is irresponsible to do so. The opposite is true.
♦ Last month I noted a new study showing that heterosexual men and women are overwhelmingly disinclined to enter into sexual relations with a transgendered person. A trans activist writing about the study concluded, “These results clearly indicate that although the visibility of transgender people is on the rise, we still have a long way to go to reach trans equality.” Which means trans equality won’t come until nearly everybody does what trans people do, which is to repudiate systematically the realities of human nature. Getting there will require Maoist struggle sessions. In fact, we already have them. They’re called freshman orientation.
♦ The struggle sessions aren’t likely to be limited to transgenderism. A recent study published by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics (“The Effects of Sexism on American Women: The Role of Norms vs. Discrimination”) purports to show that traditional social norms about the roles of men and women negatively affect women’s professional status and income. A woman from a background that has a high percentage of people who believe in traditional sex roles is statistically likely to have lower wages and a lower likelihood of workforce participation than a woman from a background with a low percentage of those who hold traditional views. She is also more likely to get married and have her first child sooner, thus lowering her status as measured in terms of professional standing and income.
Although the results are presented with the usual dry terms of social scientific objectivity, the course of action is implied. A true liberalism concerned to promote not only the equality of women but also their freedom must actively suppress communities that propagate traditional beliefs about the differences between men and women. Of course, this active suppression already takes place in many contexts. It is called political correctness. But we need to recognize that in accord with liberal principles, the true liberal must become more proactive still, using the power of government to suppress traditional communities, which this study shows are harming women—with harm defined in liberal terms as preventing an independent, self-directed life. This suppression of traditional views, even if coercive, will not be illiberal. As John Stuart Mill teaches, we should all be free to do and believe as we please, unless our doing and believing harms others, in which case our freedom is rightly curtailed.
Thus goes the logic by which liberalism will seek (indeed, already seeks) to eradicate traditional beliefs about men and women—for the sake of freedom and equality. The ease with which I can formulate the liberal rationale for using the power of the state to stamp out unwanted views about men and women is sobering.
♦ I regret to announce that our poetry editor, Paul Lake, has stepped down from his longtime role at First Things. Under his stewardship, First Things was a leading publisher of contemporary poetry. I’m very grateful for Paul’s service, not just to the mission of First Things, but within the greater domain of the Muses.
♦ I am delighted to announce that A. M. Juster will serve as our new poetry editor. He is a leading figure in the New Formalist movement and an accomplished translator of Latin verse. The tradition of poetic excellence at First Things is in good hands.
♦ Under Paul Lake’s editorship, we launched the annual poetry reading, which takes place the Sunday evening before our annual Erasmus Lecture. This year marks our fourth, with James Matthew Wilson providing a reading at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manhattan (124 East 88th Street) on Sunday, October 28, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
♦ The 2018 Erasmus Lecture will be delivered by Rémi Brague on Monday, October 29, at 6 p.m. at the Union League Club of New York (38 East 37th Street). His theme: “God as a Gentleman.” I hope you will join us.
♦ Christopher Lough of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, would like to form a ROFTERS group. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.