Hip. Suave. Chic.” These are not the words from a car commercial. They are what Princeton student Christian Say wants to pop into people’s heads when they think of the Princeton Anscombe Society. Named after the late British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, the Princeton Anscombe Society was started by Cassandra L. Hough and other Princeton undergrads in 2005 as a reform-minded reaction to the fact that on campus casual sex had become the norm. They chose Anscombe as their inspiration because, while bearing the trappings of an independent modern woman with her cigars and monocle, she defended so well Christian Sexual Ethics to secular audiences through reason alone. Likewise, the PAS sought to provide a rational voice for sexual integrity, conjugal marriage, and the significance of the family. Eventually, Mrs. Hough and others began receiving emails and letters from students across the country asking for advice on how to establish their own chapters. Thus the Love and Fidelity Network (LFN) was created.
When I first heard of Anscombe Societies, I recalled another generation of students: the ’60s counterculture student radicals. What formed their habits was a warlike refusal of silence. The dominant university culture of their time consisted of a form of technocratic liberalism. The students called it “The Establishment,” and denounced it as bourgeois and utilitarian, racist and sexist. They drew direct lines between their professors, labeled “New Mandarins,” and the experts running the war in Vietnam. Their reaction to the Establishment wasn’t reasoned protest, however. Instead, they acted adversarially, rejecting not just bourgeois values, but academic ones as well. They adopted bohemian lifestyles and behaviors (sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll . . .) added a splash of anarchy (taking over the dean’s office), and demanded that the elders respect them for it.
Needless to say, their success was swift and thorough. Today, the whole set-up is reversed. The counterculture of the 1960s is the culture of the 2010s. In 1951, Bill Buckley complained that Yale professors did not sufficiently revere individualism and God. Today the ’60s counterculture has long marched beyond that through collegiate institutions. Sexual liberation, Irving Kristol writes, “is always near the top of a countercultural agenda,” whose real object “is to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.” The university administration gave in to the student radicals and authorized adversarial, anti-traditional attitudes for good. Many of them stayed on campus and became what Roger Kimball calls “tenured radicals.” Sexual liberation thrived in the dorms and keg parties, and the ’60s counterculture became the culture of the college establishment. Now, on campus, casual sex is as commonplace as intramurals, and it has only one rule and moral restraint: consent. Like tennis, all one needs is at least one willing partner and a net.
Today’s counterculture speaks with the voice of tradition, virtue, and religious commitment. There are now more than thirty LFN student groups from colleges across the United States (and Mexico). They uphold the idea that sex comes after marriage, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that the natural family is the irreducible foundation of all civil societal associations. Like the ’60s radicals, they refuse to keep quiet. Yet unlike the ’60s radicals, they refuse with civility. They carry themselves with decorum and respect. The manner of their actions corresponds to the content of their ideas: unabashedly witnessing to the truth of marriage, sex, and the family.
I know from personal experience that being countercultural means dealing with insults, contempt, exclusion. My peers prod and jeer, and the authorities regard as troublesome. They act on the underlying cultural assumption at public universities, which is, “You’re innocent until proven conservative.”
When I once said something favorable about traditional marriage, one friend said to me, “Get out of your patriarchal circle,” while another terminated the conversation because my “very existence offends” her. I remember attending a university performance of vignettes whose subject had to do with sex (reflecting the level of wit among my peers), with one skit about students at a school known as “Our Lady of Perpetual Repression.” It felt like some quasi-religious ceremony in which a phantom group of social conservatives were displayed like Guy Fawkes puppets to be burned in effigy.
Last spring, a tidy illustration of the new counterculture versus the established sexual libertinism transpired at Stanford University. The Stanford Anscombe Society (SAS) led by Judy Romea and other persevering students tried to host a conference on the family and values at Stanford. They succeeded, but at a cost. The Council of Student Government defunded the event after some LGBTQ students said they felt “threatened” by Ryan T. Anderson and other speakers. The University charged SAS over six thousand dollars as a security fee, which was later dropped due to the administration having “found” the money. The Stanford Anscombe Society no longer receives any funding by Stanford. Search the Student Organizations List and you will not find the word “Anscombe” listed among the 650+ groups, but you one will find over twenty LGBT groups. How very inclusive. Nevertheless, the Society plans a conference on “The Legacy of the Sexual Revolution” for next year. The revolution rolls on.