Nobody could accuse Scott Yenor of pulling his punches in “Sexual Counter-Revolution” (November 2021). His particular brand of reactionary conservatism is shared by many on the right in our moment. The general view of these conservatives is that the sexual revolution of the past fifty years is an unmitigated disaster. Encouraging contraception and abortion, this revolution has made women unhappy and men aimless. It has normalized homosexuality, other “alternative lifestyles,” and even same-sex marriage. The only solution to the problem is to take up arms against the ascendant revolutionaries and undertake a counter-revolution.
This is not my view. Nevertheless, I probably agree with the substance of most of the problems Yenor diagnoses. The issue I have with Yenor’s account is that it deals not with reality but with dichotomous and at times cartoonish stereotypes. In his view, the Old Wisdom of pre-1960—in which women stay at home and mind the family, while men act as breadwinners—is Good and should be praised in the name of restoring a “workable patriarchy.” The New Sexual Constitution—in which women alternately nag, cry, dominate, and control, and men are spineless and purposeless—is Bad and makes everyone miserable.
Worst of all, he thinks, is LGBT culture. But one has to wonder what exactly his sexual counter-revolution could change about current-day homosexual culture. Does anyone seriously think that conservatives could bring back the sodomy laws? If they did, would gays and lesbians then just stop being homosexual and commit to Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex?
Of course, I understand Yenor’s point that what we say and do publicly matters. I certainly don’t think it would be a bad idea to show more happy, intact “traditional” families as models, or to tell young women of the great satisfactions that come with embracing motherhood.
My more serious objection to Yenor’s account is this: All social change, whether we mostly like it or mostly don’t, yields situations that are complex and multifaceted, in which certain developments are advances and others are declines. In his telling, though, everything now is uniformly bad. This simply isn’t true. While sex differences are no doubt important, shared human characteristics are also important, and young women are currently free to develop their talents in the same way that young men have long been able to do. Both men and women desire to care for others, and especially for family, as well as to make the most of their unique, God-given capacities. These may include musical talent, abilities in the visual arts, business acumen, historical insight, facility with languages, athletic prowess, and much else besides. For some women, like Amy Coney Barrett, this will include serious professional aspirations, which might very well involve full-time work.
Although reactionary conservatives love to hate the word “choice,” I think choice is a blessing in matters like these. I don’t mean autonomous, unfettered, libertarian, essentially selfish choice. Instead I mean choices of self-understanding and self-enactment that may lead both women and men to hammer out compromises, to share and embrace parenting responsibilities, and to attempt some kind of relationship that supports the full flourishing of both man and woman. Should this be ideologically determined by the left, such that only a fifty-fifty distribution of parenting and work will satisfy? Of course not. But neither should it be determined by an ideologically rigid group of conservative counter-revolutionaries, who argue that one’s sex is the most important component of identity and that it should determine the course of all our lives.
Elizabeth C. Corey
Many years ago, a friend told me in all seriousness that feminism would make women unimportant. I was surprised. Second-wave feminism was rampant at the time and seemed to be making women very important, monumentally important, way out of proportion important.
But over time I could see his meaning. Female seems to be ascendant, but not the feminine. It’s not women per se, but womanhood that is downgraded. The main thing contemporary culture wants from women is what makes them the same as men. We’ve come to the point where biological femininity itself is denied by transgender theory (to which even some feminists object), and women are now called “birthing people” in official documents. Motherhood is de-emphasized and is even up for sale. Wombs are rented out in surrogacy, and college girls can sell their eggs for quick funds. The Democrat-controlled Congress has moved toward requiring girls to register for the draft.
Thanks to Betty Friedan’s feminism, women’s special relationship to home and family became irrelevant and even contemptible. Women who had dedicated themselves to home and family were objects of pity whose potential had been wasted in raising children—the same children who, once grown into feminist adulthood, felt no gratitude for their mothers’ sacrifices.
Second- and third-wave feminism rejected any sense of the specialness of women as women to culture and civilization or of the unique importance of mothers as homemakers and emotional centers. Instead, these became “rigid stereotypes” designed to keep women from their full humanity—that is, their identicalness to men.
Suddenly, we noticed the naked private square, so to speak: not enough moms around to check the creeping perversities in K-12 education that now plague us; not enough children even to replace ourselves.
Scott Yenor explains how we got here and points the way to recovering what we have lost. In a sea of linguistic obfuscation, he finds the plain and forceful language to describe the differences between male and female natures and to argue for a return to sexual complementarity—for both personal and societal benefit. He has planted good seeds, now we must water them.
new york, new york
Scott Yenor replies:
I do not quite understand Elizabeth Corey’s beef with my “Sexual Counter-Revolution.” Or rather, she straddles issues that require some clarity. She thinks “sex differences are no doubt important” but wants all to be able to “develop their talents in the same way.” I would like to know where and when sex differences are actually relevant to Corey. Alternatively, we should educate boys to be men and girls to be women—not humans to be humans, which Corey, following a radical feminist mantra, suggests.
Additionally, Corey seems to think all social reforms are mixed blessings, “complex and multifaceted.” I fail to see the bright side of abortion on demand or our public, prideful celebration of alternative lifestyles. There is no silver lining in feminism’s denigration of motherhood and monogamy—an element of the sexual revolution that Carol Iannone illustrates in her kind note.
The crux of the matter is that Corey confuses old institutions with Old Wisdom. Old Wisdom concerns the persistent differences between men and women, the difficulty of connecting men to family life, and other constants in our natures. Our old institutions accounted for Old Wisdom, while the institutions of the rolling revolution deny its existence and subtly shape people toward a new, less-marriageable future.
My critique of feminism need not send me careening toward reactionary patriarchy. Man is not free to be a crab, as Nietzsche writes. Any sexual counter-revolution must account for Old Wisdom under our new circumstances, recognizing that the sexual revolution’s principles cannot sustain healthy marriage and family life.
A counter-revolution must integrate the technological changes that make keeping house less than a full-time job—thus my embrace of a policy favoring part-time work. A counter-revolution must encourage manly pursuits so that men can more easily be providers—thus we should stop judging male-dominated professions against the standards of gender equity. Men will again be providers, but differently than in the past. Women will again be mothers and wives, but differently than in the past.
Much the same is true on homosexuality. Stopping the public celebration of homosexuality need not send anyone careening toward anti-sodomy laws: There are workable stopping points in between. Corey’s acceptance of the left’s framing of this issue is disappointing.
I thank her for the chance to clarify several crucial points.
Criticizing evangelical elites as a class was once a fixture of the “evangelical dark web,” as one author labeled it, but became mainstream only recently when Mark Galli (former editor at Christianity Today) and Carl Trueman acknowledged the existence of the evangelical elite and criticized them (“The Failure of Evangelical Elites,” November 2021). The response to these articles itself confirmed what has long been claimed about these elites, namely, that they are responsive only to fellow elites or to those they consider respectable. Non-elite criticism of evangelical elites as a class began at least as far back as 2016, and such criticism was roundly dismissed or ignored. Months after Biden’s victory, the time seemed right, apparently, to critique and self-reflect, albeit defensively and briefly.
Trueman is correct that evangelical elites “desire to appease religion’s cultured despisers” but he doesn’t clearly offer the mechanism or basis for this appeasement. Evangelical elites, in my view, behave this way because they are elite-adjacent, as Aaron Renn has argued. They are not elites, properly speaking, but nevertheless are in highly valued elite relational networks. It would be very costly or relationally damaging, even socially ostracizing, for them to unqualifiedly attack ideas or positions popular among the secular elite.
Non-elites, however, are often absent from evangelical elites’ relational networks, or at least they occupy a lower rung of concern. For example, commenting on evangelical support for Trump, Galli in 2018 wrote the following: “Most evangelical Christians like me exclaimed, ‘Who are these people? I know hardly anyone, let alone any evangelical Christian, who voted for Trump.’ I describe people like me as ‘elite’ evangelicals.” In May 2021, Collin Hansen (editor at The Gospel Coalition), in a podcast on “Christian nationalism,” opened the episode with “I don’t know anyone who self-identifies as a Christian nationalist” and then proceeded to discuss (with two guests) the “heresy” of Christian nationalism, calling it a “threat to the gospel.”
Evangelical elites appease the cultured despisers because secular elites are valued members of their relational networks. And to appease such people and maintain that network, they must set their sights on non-elites. Hence, evangelical elites almost always punch down and right. Functionally speaking, evangelical elites are “elites” not because they are the elite class in evangelicalism but because they are the evangelical arm of the ruling class. As such, wittingly or not, they actively work to render evangelicalism harmless to the secular elite.
princeton, new jersey
Carl Trueman’s bracing and challenging article on evangelical intellectual elites points at a basic intellectual failure: Evangelical elites in universities were not able to sustain their own intellectual tradition. Faculty and institutions like Calvin University and Wheaton are often heavily invested in not merely deconstructing the so-called “evangelical intellectual legacy,” but in rejecting it altogether. I’m tempted to ask—like Trueman and others have—if there is any such unitary intellectual tradition at all. But in as much as there is an evangelical intellectual tradition, it seems to have been largely wedded to a broad affirmation of the post-Protestant neoliberal American order. Trueman is right to point out that Noll and Marsden never offered scholarship that challenged the presumptions of late twentieth- or early twenty-first-century cultural and social orthodoxies. And maybe they didn’t need to. They were a “faithful presence,” to quote James Davison Hunter.
But it seems fair to ask to what extent their presence was actually faithful. Is mere soteriological orthodoxy enough to constitute a substantive intellectual presence in colleges, universities, government, scientific pursuit, and so on? The example of Francis Collins is instructive. I have every reason to believe that Francis Collins believes in the virgin birth and the Resurrection, but that does not mean his presence at the NIH constitutes a faithful reflection of Christian ethics in the face of some of the more brutish scientific practices of our era. Likewise, in the humanities evangelical scholars are increasingly assuming the mantle of critics of their own tradition, usually in self-conscious emulation, or even affirmation, of modern Christianity’s secular despisers. This seems less a faithful presence than a sort of socio-intellectual pleading.
Where I do think evangelicals and Protestants have learned to be a truly faithful presence is in the identity of self-conscious minorities. This will scare Baptists and evangelicals because it sounds like a call to their benighted, anti-intellectual, fundamentalist past, which many current evangelical scholars have some anecdotal or personal experience with and are looking to escape. But there are other groups—Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Old School Presbyterians like Trueman—that have succeeded as intellectually confident self-conscious minorities. It seems that evangelicals’ concerns about being present have to some extent overridden concerns about being faithful. If I have to make the choice, I’d rather be faithful than present at the socio-cultural table.
Miles Smith IV
Carl Trueman replies:
I am grateful to Stephen Wolfe and Miles Smith for their thoughtful responses to my article, and I find nothing of any substance in their letters with which I disagree. Wolfe’s comment that evangelical elites are elite-adjacent seems to me to be most plausible. The broader reaction of the evangelical leadership class to my article would seem to bear this out, especially as dismissal of my argument (“disgustingly ignorant,” as one critic expressed it) has been accompanied with further unctuous fawning over Francis Collins, even as yet more details have emerged of the ghoulish and racist experiments which took place under the aegis of the NIH during his tenure at the top. Then there are those who lazily dismiss any critics of critical race theory as ignoramuses and yet who refuse to answer the rather important question of how the hermeneutics of CRT can be accepted by Christians while those of queer theory are rejected. The impression I have now is of a thin-skinned elite caste who for some reason cannot reflect with any self-awareness on the failure of their project and the moral vacuousness of their poster boys; and who, in their desperation to distance themselves from the Great Evangelical Unwashed, will do the progressives’ dirty work for them, no matter what insults they have to throw at their fellow believers. These elites may have a point about the simplistic moral compromises made too easily by many Trump supporters, but the latter clearly have no monopoly on that. Perhaps elite-adjacent is just another term for useful idiocy? If so, Wolfe’s point is well made.
On the way forward, Smith surely points us in the right direction. If the terms of recognition in the elite echelons of society are increasingly antithetical to Christian ethics and beliefs, we have no choice but to realize our identity as a pilgrim people. That might be hard for those who enjoy the plaudits of the intellectual establishment, but the New Testament gives no hint that faithful Christian witness would be easy.
The next few years are going to be decisive. Whether people find my argument compelling or not is of little personal significance to me. The verdict does not lie in the hands of the evangelical elites or with those whom they despise. And we shall soon know what that verdict is.
I am grateful for Nathan Pinkoski’s review of my book (“The Necessity of Nationalism,” November 2021). In particular, I am glad that Pinkoski recognized my intention in blending historical interpretation with theoretical argument. Debates about concepts quickly become stale. When discussing nationalism, or anything else, we need to be specific about the phenomena at issue.
That said, I am perplexed by his comparison of my defense of “constitutional patriotism” with the ideas of Charles Maurras and Action française. These ideas included endorsements of political, and in certain respects cultural, decentralization, which I share. But the role of anti-Semitism, anti-Protestantism, and anti-capitalism—and consequent enthusiasm for the Vichy regime (despite nationalist objections to German influence)—make it difficult for me see the parallel.
More generally, I do not share Pinkoski’s expectations for convergence between American and European politics. To the contrary, I expect the United States to continue its drift away from the classic, implicitly European nation-state, which no degree of admiration has been able to sustain here. That does not mean appeals to shared purpose or obligation will necessarily fall on deaf ears. In order to succeed, though, they must invoke another—and doubtless very different—nationalism.
george washington university
Nathan Pinkoski replies:
In 1968, Hannah Arendt described the trajectory of American politics as follows:
Just when centralisation, under the impact of bigness, turned out to be counterproductive in its own terms, this country, founded, according to the federal principle, on the division of powers and powerful so long as this division was respected, threw itself headlong, to the unanimous applause of all ‘progressive’ forces, into the new, for America, experiment of centralised administration—the federal government overpowering state powers and executive power eroding congressional powers. It is as though this most successful European colony wished to share the fate of the mother countries in their decline, repeating in great haste the very errors the framers of the Constitution had set out to correct and to eliminate.
It is hard to disagree with Arendt’s diagnosis. Since the 1960s, America has set out to imitate the Europe it left behind. Save perhaps for one concerted, heroic effort in Nixon’s second term, the transformation of American government has never been rolled back.
Progressives habitually describe this project as an attempt to replicate Europe’s nation-states. They justify monstrous spending and socially transformative administrative projects because they would build European-style welfare programs in the U.S. In practice, progressives take two models of European centralization and nationalism, the Prussian and Jacobin models, and redesign American institutions in these terms. The long march of this project takes Americans down roads Europeans have already tread. But that presents an opportunity to learn from Europe’s history.
In comparing Samuel Goldman to Maurras, my point was to show how Goldman’s openness to nationalism—in spite of the argument of the book—admits of not one but many iterations. If we take nationalism’s history seriously and aspire to blend this with theoretical argument, then we should inspect these iterations and consider their relevance.
Finally, Goldman should note that Action française was also anti-masonic. There were not three but four “states within a state.” We do not have space here to weigh whether this problem is analogous to the contemporary political problem of the “deep state,” found in both Europe and the United States.