Last week I explored the usefulness of calling people’s bluffs — that is, of swiftly testing whether the proponents of a given policy really mean what they say, by offering to grant them what they claim to want . . . and seeing if they will take it. If they will, then they might really be sincere in making their arguments, and I feel bound to take them seriously. More commonly, you will find that the “reasonable” proposals made by “reformers” are really a Trojan horse, stuffed full of still more radical, outrageous demands that will burst forth once you’ve opened the gates. If you’re rude enough to point this out, you will be dismissed as a crackpot prophet of doom. When events prove you right, no one will remember you — except perhaps in a footnote on Wikipedia.
Thus, the Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), which struck down laws against the use of birth control by married couples, was based on the plausible principle that couples were entitled to make such decisions as part of the right of “marital privacy.” While that right is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, there is precedent in common law for drawing a kind of magic circle around married couples where the state may not poke its nose — for instance, the “spousal privilege” that exempts spouses from testifying against each other, which I know all about from obsessively watched reruns of Law and Order.
Of course, once the sanctity of the marriage bed had served its purpose, it was tossed out like a bed-buggy mattress; in Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), proponents of birth control convinced the court that granting such “privacy” to married but not unmarried couples violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Hence, any restrictions on any couples were unconstitutional. (See how this sleight of mind works?) Within eight years, the “privacy” right — which, in Griswold, Justice William Douglas had found in the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Bill of Rights — had crawled out of the shadows and seized center stage: In Roe v. Wade, Justice Harry Blackmun used this newly minted “right” to overturn abortion laws throughout the country.
It’s hard to know at what point this grim reductio could have been halted, once it got started. Social conservatives who point to the dangerous implications of seemingly reasonable “reforms” invariably sound like dingbat alarmists, and even when events prove that they were right, they never get credit for being prescient. What is more, public opinion is so easy to manipulate that things which seemed outrageous ten years ago, once shoved down our throats by the courts, are choked down and digested — in a process that’s as hard to reverse as it is on Sunday morning to un-eat Friday night’s pizza.
Perhaps in my 46th year of precocious youth I’m becoming a grumpy gasbag, but I cannot reconcile myself to a long list of faits accomplis that have been foisted on my country by its courts, reinforced by its bureaucrats, enshrined in its laws, and rendered as sacred and unassailable as a woman’s “privacy” right to kill her nine-month fetus at will. Perhaps someone will explain to me why even the conservatives in this country glumly accept as irreversible:
Women in combat. Without in any way impugning the patriotism of all the fine women who yadda, yadda, yadda . . . women fighting and killing strikes me as an obscenity. (While our military still pretends to keep women out of front-line fighting, that ban has become little more than a desert-camo fig leaf.) Nearly every organized society of which we have any record made special efforts to protect the mothers of its next generation — aware that we men, rather like the little sperm for which we’re the donors, are more expendable. On a moral note, women take far greater risks to their health in bearing children; the very least we men can do is to spare them service on the battlefield — even if that means denying “career advancement” to women who shouldn’t be serving in the military in the first place, which isn’t rightly seen as a career anyway.
The same wholesome instinct that makes us retch even harder when Muslims strap women up as suicide bombers should lead us to insist on an all-male military. When Catholic activist Phyllis Schlafly warned us that laws like the Equal Rights Amendment would lead to women carrying rifles, she was scoffed at as a hysteric. As it turned out, she wasn’t hysterical enough. Americans turned down the ERA and still ended up with G. I. Jane.
Affirmative action for immigrants. Policies that we set up to benefit Americans descended from slaves whose ancestors suffered for another century from legalized segregation are now open to all non-whites, women, and every other “minority.” Only white males are explicitly left out of most anti-discrimination laws as a “non-protected” group—which means that they are pretty much the only employees one may fire with impunity. Newly arrived Latinos and Arabs, Maoris and Kazakhs, receive the same benefits as the grandchildren of chattel slaves. So nearly every illegal immigrant who would benefit from the mass amnesty favored by so many of our bishops could cash in on affirmative action, gaining a leg up in employment and college admissions over the impoverished sons of coalminers in West Virginia. Critics of mass immigration and affirmative action who point to this rank injustice are tarred, of course, as racists. As a Marxist speaker for the diocese of Baton Rouge explained at a sickeningly high-minded “diversity” event I once suffered through: since whites hold all the power in society, only whites are capable of racism. When non-whites discriminate, hate, or persecute, you have to call it something else. I guess the right word would be “progress.”
The lavish funding of aggressively secular, ineffective public schools run by entrenched leftist labor unions, with no provision for tax credits to benefit parents of private school students. In the past ten years, half the Catholic schools in my home diocese of Brooklyn have closed, mostly due to the sheer expense of keeping them alive. The same tragedy is playing itself out in diocese after diocese. Don’t blame this collapse on the drying up of vocations; laymen can teach school, too, if tax-burdened parents could afford to pay them a living wage. Indeed, lay Catholic teachers are by every account more effective than their better-paid secular colleagues at teaching even secular subjects to rich and poor alike. Grumpy, Thomist nuns were warning back in the 1930s that “progressive” education fostered by the likes of Stalin-duped John Dewey would dissolve not just moral but intellectual standards. They were laughed at by the elites at Columbia Teachers College — whose graduates today are now saddled with teaching multiculturalism to illiterates.
As more private schools close, more parents will be forced to choose between toxic, incompetent public schools and the daunting task of homeschooling. The harder you make it for people to raise kids decently, the harder it will be for Americans to have more than 2.1 of them per family. The fewer educational alternatives are available, the more uniformly secular our culture will become — witness Western Europe, where Church schools and charities have been choked off or seized by the State, taxes are cripplingly high, and the same Enlightenment gruel is spooned down the throats of nearly every pupil at government schools. Cultural critics call this homogenization of the culture at the hands of the state “soft totalitarianism” — but of course, they’re alarmist cranks.
I don’t expect the Tea Party movement will take up any of these lost causes. But insofar as the libertarian impulses of these freedom-loving citizens help to shrink, just a little, the secular state that is sucking up all the air in this country, they are the Church’s natural allies. Those American Catholics who imagine that a value-neutral secular state claiming almost half the national wealth, micromanaging the economy, and indoctrinating its citizens with Utilitarian values is somehow more truly “Christian” than the decentralized republic of this nation’s Founders are, in Lenin’s words, “useful idiots.”
Image: Troy © Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.