Silencing the Prigs

Perhaps it might not be such a bad idea for the prigs of the planet to spare us their opinions, especially as they’re really not all that impressive.

Might there be more than a touch of Tartuffe, I wonder, among the current opinion makers and trendsetters of the Progressive Left? While they piously invoke the right of free speech for everyone, their efforts to suppress dissent from woke orthodoxy continue unabated on all fronts, including nearly every media outlet in the land.

But for a certain pesky billionaire named Elon Musk, their capture of Twitter land might have gone on forever. So, unless you’ve been hiding out in a cave somewhere, you will not have missed the note of shrill moralism ricocheting from sea to shining sea, reminding us that woke humbuggery is here to stay.

I once heard a prig described as someone who doesn’t mind making you a present of his own opinions, the more preposterously self-serving the better. Imagine the character Tartuffe, in other words, his voice dripping with extreme unction as he aspires to become the perfect imposter. You’d think he’d been laying down the Law and the Prophets all his life. You positively marvel at this seeming triumph of vice disguised as virtue.

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Not until the very end of the play, when the King’s representative at last calls him out, will you see his sham piety fall to pieces. “He (the King) honors righteous men of every kind,” says Moliere in handing down final judgment:   

And yet his zeal for virtue is not blind,
Nor does his love of piety numb his wits.
And make him tolerant of hypocrites.

What undoes the humbug every time, of course, is the sly imputation that only he should be exempt from having to follow the strictures he sweepingly imposes upon others—rather like sending undocumented aliens to Texas and Arizona but never to Martha’s Vineyard or Delaware. Or flying off to climate conferences in private jets in order to castigate others for depleting the ozone level.

Perhaps it might not be such a bad idea for the prigs of the planet to spare us their opinions, especially as they’re really not all that impressive. Or even sane. It is just that they think so, owing to their insufferable self-regard in foisting them upon the rest of us. They’re really no better than Tartuffe, after all, a mere con artist peddling ideas only crazy people would care to adopt.    Perhaps it might not be such a bad idea for the prigs of the planet to spare us their opinions, especially as they’re really not all that impressive. Or even sane. Tweet This

Like defunding the police, for instance, in the middle of a violent crime surge. Or keeping children out of school to stop the spread of a disease they are the least likely to get. Or refusing to protect the border because they’ve told us so often that it’s racist to do so. Or that only a bigot would dare object to gender-affirming therapy. These ideas, which are completely crackers, are endlessly repeated in the most annoyingly smug way, too, which makes it all the harder for us mere mortals to bear. No wonder virtue-signaling has become so obnoxious.

And is anyone ever convinced by any of this? Whatever happened to the standards for deciding these things? The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, a man of mostly nihilist opinion—which made him rich and famous among the very bourgeois he despised—was once asked by Albert Camus about the sincerity of his celebrated revolt against the absurdity of the world. Surely, said Camus, such frequent and bellicose insistence on the matter suggests something which you, Monsieur Sartre, do not believe for a moment to be absurd, namely your standard for judging everything else absurd. Until that is heard from, maybe the decent thing might be to, well, simply shut up for a while.

Alas, poor Sartre could do no such thing. Neither, for that matter, could Camus, the flow of whose opinions remained impassioned and unremitting right up to the moment he died in a fiery car crash in 1957. Afterward, even his closest disciples were unsure what exactly his first principles were.

In fairness to Camus, however, no opinion he ever held included becoming a shill for the Soviet Union when, as was so often the case, they sent tanks into places like Budapest and Prague to crush the opinions of others; probably the only time in Sartre’s ever so noisy life when even that irrepressible stem-winder kept his mouth conspicuously shut.

Keeping quiet about one’s first principles, notwithstanding how suspect they may be when seen in the light of day, is the fuel that keeps the opinions going; and, unfortunately, it is not peculiar to professional prigs only. 

Years ago, when we lived in Rome, in a neighborhood surrounded by working class folk, we noticed that not a few of them would not hesitate at all in making a present of their opinions, most especially on the subject of how many children we ought to have. They seemed to be amazingly expert on the matter. And, as you may well imagine, the two we then had placed us right at the permissible limit, beyond which we mustn’t go lest we court great civil and domestic ruin.

Anytime I’d go out to the corner store to buy milk, it seemed, the nice lady who smilingly sold it to me, gushing in her wonderful Mediterranean way over our two little cherubs would, as often as not, sternly remind me of the evils of having too many. The problem was not language, I’m afraid, as I certainly knew enough street Italian to unpuzzle the meaning of basta, which is their word for enough. And concerning the inexplicit premise behind its frequent use, I certainly had had enough.

So, what was the premise behind it all? It was the conviction, priggishly clung to among so many, and not just in Italy, that babies are actually a menace to a way of life whose vaunted material comforts will conveniently permit only one or two. Yes, by all means be generous to the two you’ve sensibly conceived already, lavishing them with lots of expensive toys; just don’t get careless and irresponsible by giving them brothers and sisters to play with. That would be anti-social and benighted, leading to that most dire consequence of all, the catastrophe of too many children.

We needed to cut back on production, you see, as if we’d just enrolled in a class on animal husbandry. But what was really going on behind the not-so-subtle social tyranny practiced by our neighbors was a deep underwater current of a very ancient heresy called Manicheanism, a word which hardly anyone uses anymore but which has diffused its poison everywhere.

It is the mentality of unwanting life, of disdaining not only the risks of marital love, but all the splendid fruitfulness and joy when it comes time to welcome new life into the world. It is the mentality of despising that which, from the very loins of human love, God himself had raised up for his own delight and for our salvation. “Because God is good,” exulted Augustine, “we are. And inasmuch as God is, we are good.”

Such a sadness to see, among a people once prized for its overflowing family life, that it should so slavishly imitate the worst contraceptive idiocies of a dying world. And that in the face of so vast a cultural and demographic sea change, no one seemed willing to confront the underlying premise, which is that it is no longer better to be than not to be.

No more direct frontal assault upon the once common Christian standard—one which anchored the ground of all good in truth, and both together in being—could scarcely be imagined. It is the denial, now more widespread than ever, of the deepest certitude of all, which is that we have all been loved into existence by God as creatures of sheer, unsurpassed good.  

But such has become the prevailing opinion of today’s prig, who minds not at all in making you a present of his own death wish. Why should it matter that it may lead to the extinction of the race? He certainly won’t be around when it happens.

  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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