Later this fall I have an essay coming out in The European Conservative titled “How to be a counter-revolutionary,” detailing how I think social conservatives can position themselves in a post-Christian world. I see Scott Yenor has a long essay on the same subject in the November edition of First Things, detailing the ways the sexual constitution of our society has been broken and remade, from marriage to homosexuality to gender roles. The whole thing is well worth your time, but I wanted to draw particular attention to Yenor’s proposed solutions to this civilizational crack-up:
Public symbols are powerful. They express and reinforce what our public honors. March is Women’s History Month. June is Pride Month. April should be declared Marriage Month. We need to celebrate enduring, fruitful marriages, and we should honor parents who have raised children to responsible adulthood. And in Marriage Month we need a marriage flag and powerful symbols around which to rally.
Some conservative advocates for family life champion the Polish and Hungarian family policies. These policies may be effective, but I counsel caution. Economic incentives for family life are less powerful than a public consensus that honors enduring, fruitful marriage. Advertisements that emphasize happy couples (and unhappy loners), happy mothers, and responsible fathers are often seen on TV and billboards in Hungary. Compare this to America, where entertainment features strong women, homosexuals, and gender-bending models. Those of us committed to building a new constitution, one that guides men and women toward greater happiness, must boycott media that promote the rolling revolution. And we must support media that have the courage to be counterrevolutionary.
The counterrevolution we need requires more than public symbols and media support. I can only offer additional preliminary thoughts about how it should proceed. First, the institution of marriage is collapsing among those without college degrees, contributing to degeneracy and despair among our fellow citizens, which in turn erodes middle-class life. Our new sexual constitution actively dishonors marriage, accelerating this erosion. We must be forceful and unrelenting in our promotion of marriage and heterosexual responsibility. Legislators should propose laws that make divorce more difficult to obtain. Immediate measures, such as making fathers the default parents in custody battles, would encourage women into sobering second thoughts about filing for divorce. Perhaps legislators should impose a “sin tax” on divorce, just as we tax other socially harmful behaviors. The churches need to lead the way by reinvigorating taboos against divorce and cohabitation.
Second, the connections between sex, procreation, marriage, and parental responsibility need to be rebuilt. Prohibiting abortion is an important step in this direction. Renewing cultural stigmas concerning contraception is another step. As feminists recognize, abortion and contraception guarantee freedom for the independent woman because they sever the tie between sex and procreation. In social policy, we need to stop funding pre-K and other surrogates for family life. Parents must be encouraged to accept primary responsibility for their children. Financial support should be provided through government payments made directly to parents, not to programs that function as parental surrogates.
Third, we need a new gender ideology, one that restores a workable patriarchy. We cannot go back in time to the old constitution, but family life and marriage can be recovered on new grounds. Many sense the damage done by the new sexual constitution but are anxious not to seem judgmental. They shy away from enforcing the sexual taboos arising from the Old Wisdom. This needs to stop. The sexual revolution rolls over those who object feebly. We must wage an open counterrevolution, a way of life that dares to speak its name.
Feminists portray patriarchy as oppressive. But anyone who sees the world before 1960 as merely and simply harmful to women is a dishonest enemy of mankind. The decline of the old constitution has led to many miserable women and purposeless men. We need a counterrevolution that works for men and women, guiding natural differences toward expressions that are conducive to male-female cooperation and mutual support. Educational institutions, often abetted by overeager parents, cheerlead for female professional success. This needs to stop. Schooling should emphasize a balanced view of work and domestic life, a fitting ideal for boys as well as girls. We should consider mandatory training in military schools for boys from broken homes so that they have a better chance of becoming marriageable men.
The new sexual constitution deems heretical policies that encourage women to work part-time. But being charged with heresy is a good sign when one seeks to foment a counterrevolution. Part-time work allows women to prioritize family life during important years when they feel most acutely their calling as mothers. Three out of four women with children still in the home desire the flexibility to spend more time with them. Promoting part-time work for mothers also means re-emphasizing the role of husbands as providers and instituting economic policies that support them in that role.
We tend to think that men and women will always desire one another. But pornography and now sex robots—two leading edges of the new sexual constitution—may be curing men and women of that desire. We must find ways to keep cheap sex from turning into sexlessness. Easy access to pornography must be stopped, and sex robots should be proscribed.
But we will need still deeper changes in the long term.
We need to sustain what remains of the censuring power of the old sexual constitution. Churches that cleave to biblical teaching are the last institutional holdouts against the rolling revolution in the progressive West. We all must work to stiffen the spines of church leaders on crucial doctrinal matters. Stigmatizing the censure of homosexual acts has played a central role in discrediting the Old Wisdom and ushering in the new sexual constitution. We have no hope of restoring dignity to intimate life and stability to domestic life if we do not insist that our churches sustain traditional prohibitions of homosexual acts.
The rolling revolution has overturned every aspect of gender roles, marriage, and family that our great-grandparents took for granted. It seems unstoppable. But this is to misjudge history. The sexual revolution was born in the imaginations of those who raged against what they perceived as inhumane moral prohibitions and stultifying social expectations. Now that their revolution has remade our world, we can see that it ruthlessly reorders female socialization to accord with the desires of elite women, leaves men poorly formed, undermines marital stability, damages children, disorients young people with the promotion of homosexuality, and immiserates men and women alike. A counterrevolution must destroy this new constitution. The cause is righteous and our indignation just.
Yenor’s analysis of the sexual revolution is not particularly new in that he is not the first one to make these observations (although he makes them particularly eloquently.) But in his proposed solutions, he is taking the robust stance that a faction of social conservatives has adopted of late. At this late hour in our post-Christian culture, there are an increasing number of voices—Sohrab Ahmari and being the loudest of them in his debates with David French—calling for an actual takeover of the public square, rather than a belief in libertarian neutrality. This is also the stated goal of National Conservatism, launched two years ago in Washington, D.C.
It is an ambitious project and one I obviously support. I am less optimistic about the end result due to my faith in people’s ability to bunker down in a state of denial. A couple of generations out from the sexual revolution, and I wonder if people still know how to be married and raise large (or even medium-sized) families without parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts to model it for them. How do you start building communities from scratch when to do so demands a certain level of knowledge?
Perhaps I am wrong. People are very unhappy, and that is obvious to anyone who interacts regularly with the public (as we do in the pro-life movement.) The sexual revolution has not made anyone happy, because it turns out that when you make sex about pleasure rather than happiness, you eventually end up with neither. Perhaps, as Dan Hitchens theorized, we really are at the brink of a great backlash. I certainly hope so.