Suppose a wife is dying or has been lying for years in a coma: Who has ultimate authority to decide what medical treatments will be used to prolong or not to prolong her life? Suppose a child of divorced parents is taken out of the country by his mother, who then dies, leaving the child with her family: To whom does the child belong—the father, or the grandparents? Suppose a teenage boy is running wild, and his school does nothing to prevent him from leaving the campus or from taking drugs during lunch break: Should the parents be held liable for his truancy? Or, if they tie him to his bed at night, should they be prosecuted for child abuse? Suppose a married woman gets the religion of individual fulfillment and leaves her faithful husband: Who should get the kids? And, if the answer is the wife, is the husband responsible for alimony or child support?
Suppose a 16-year-old girl is found pregnant by her boyfriend: Who (in a society that has legalized prenatal infanticide) should have the power to decide whether or not to end the pregnancy—the mother, the grandparents, a doctor, or the state? Suppose an infertile couple has tried various forms of artificial procreation before getting divorced, and both frozen sperm and embryos remain: Who decides on the disposition of either or both? Suppose two lesbians have arranged for one of them to be impregnated by the other’s brother: In the event of a separation, should the pseudo-father (that is, the aunt) have visitation rights?
Each of these instances is based on a somewhat simplified version of a case that has been widely reported in the news. Each raises a number of questions about the nature of marriage and the relationship of family members to one another and to the state. In the old, pre-revolutionary world, the answer to each would have been transparent. In the last case, the Old World had a simple answer: A lesbian aunt would only have the right to be punished for her perversity. Wrong has no rights.
The case of the frozen embryos is more complex, since the technology is new. Nonetheless, there is a clear answer. In any Christian society, all forms of artificial procreation (and contraception) would be illicit, and divorce would be restricted to a very few extreme cases. However, in a divorce case, authority over children belonged almost automatically to the father as head of the family. The case of the minor daughter wanting an abortion is simpler: As her parents’ dependent, her marriage would be arranged by them, and, as long as she was single, she remained subject to their authority. Of course, abortion was illegal, but no medical procedure would have been performed on a dependent child without permission of her parents.
Parents, before the revolution, were responsible for their children’s misdemeanors and torts, but they had the corresponding power to decide what form of education and punishment they received. A father’s authority over his children trumped all others, and, since man and wife were one in the eyes of the law, he alone had the moral and legal authority to make important decisions about his wife. Although medical technology has made great strides since the revolution, the basic moral facts have not changed. In the old, pre-revolutionary world, lines of authority had to be clear, because any ambiguity in the law invites the officers of the state—judges, social workers, legislators—to make decisions for which they (unlike the family members) will pay no consequences. (For corroborative details, you will have to read my next book.)
The choice in each of these cases is not really between man and wife, parent and child, husband and in-laws, but between the family and the state. Today, the vast host of problems once settled within families are now resolved by judges. From the pre-revolutionary point of view, it hardly matters whether such cases are judged fairly or sensibly, because the wrong parties have been empowered to make the decision.
The sexual revolution is coming to an end, and it is clear that the revolutionaries have won. Naturally, there are a few pockets of resistance here and there, but the clerical sex-abuse scandal—some of it manufactured by the media—is finishing off whatever residual power the Church had to discipline the morals of hedonist Americans, while, judging by their books, movies, and TV shows, conservative Protestants, even as they are repudiating secular humanism, are rushing to embrace the modern world. Many evangelicals express their capitulation every week, dancing in the aisles before the god of the big screen, and no serious Christian who has watched the Trinity Broadcasting Network, with its fake news shows, its phony history and just-so theology (to say nothing of Jan the big-haired Barbie with a Medusa grin carved onto her enameled face) can expect to find allies among the sentimentalized and pop-addled members of its viewing audience.
The evidence of our defeat is all around us and hardly needs statistical documentation on rates of divorce, illegitimacy, abortion, contraception, and artificial procreation. However, there are more dismal facts that can only be gathered anecdotally. Of the conservative Christian families we know, what proportion of their children are lost to the revolution? A fourth? A third? Half? In some cases, it is more than half. Until we have grown children ourselves, we may be tempted to blame the parents. When my college roommate, whom I have not seen in decades, and I were recently swapping family anecdotes, he opined that one sane kid out of four, in this world, is not a bad fraction.
The revolution that made us who we are began during the great revolt against Christianity known as the Renaissance, and it entered an acute phase with the French Revolution. Although it has taken many forms and aimed at so varied a set of targets—monarchy, aristocracy, the Catholic Church (then all Christianity), classical education, political liberty, and free enterprise—that it was hard to discern a pattern, the revolution has hardly ever deviated from its most basic goal: the liberation of what one of the most virulent revolutionaries termed the libido. From the erotic escapades of Lorenzo de Medici to the orgies in the Palais Royal in 18th-century Paris to the efforts of D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley to tear down the last barriers, sexual revolutionaries have devoted themselves to destroying Christian marriage.
Some of the rebels (e.g., Lorenzo) thought they were reviving the pagan morality of the ancient world, which they mistakenly regarded as a golden age of sexual license; for others (Rousseau and the French orgiasts), it was a return to the natural innocence of primitive society. Marx and Engels went further, arguing that the family, just as much as private property and the state, was the result of a patriarchal coup d’état. And while Engels talked the talk (as author of The Family, Private Property, and the State), Marx walked the walk, siring bastards he persuaded Engels to acknowledge.
I do not know if either Marx or Engels believed in the potted paleohistory they had borrowed from L.H. Morgan, but they saw the utility of such a myth. If society, such as it still survived in the Victorian era, was to be broken down and reconstituted, the loyalties engendered in family life presented the greatest obstacle, and, of those loyalties, the most troublesome—for socialists and sexual rebels alike—is the bond of Christian marriage. Although Victorian morals were by no means as strict as the queen would have liked, marriage was serious business, in both England and the United States, and divorce was difficult. In antebellum South Carolina, to take one example, divorce was virtually impossible, and, although the Reconstruction government passed a very liberal divorce law, the state, very soon after recovering self-government in 1876, restored the old law.
In this age when a wife may repudiate her husband on the grounds of boredom and children are treated as wards of the state, it may be difficult to understand the Marxist animosity toward the family. In the early years of the Soviet Union, however, Alexandra Kollontai realized that traditional marriage and the autonomous family were adamantine barriers against the revolutionary state. As a shrewd feminist, she understood well that the state subsidies for maternity and child-rearing being introduced in bourgeois European states were a first step toward the ultimate goal: “the transfer of the task of caring for the new generation, so precious to mankind, from the shoulders of private, individual parents to the whole community.”
For all her drippy talk of women’s liberation and taste for bad fiction, Kollontai had a clear head, and she realized that liberalized marriage laws were undermining bourgeois society:
The attempt by the middle-class intelligentsia to replace indissoluble marriage by the freer, more easily broken ties of civil marriage destroys the essential basis of the social stability of the bourgeoisie. It destroys the monogamous, property-orientated family. On the other hand, a greater fluidity in relationships between the sexes coincides with and is even the indirect result of one of the basic tasks of the working class. The rejection of the element of “submission” in marriage is going to destroy the last artificial ties of the bourgeois family.
Although she was rarely bold enough to hold up the fornicating female as an ideal, her advocacy of female equality in all spheres of life was an implicit argument for sexual freedom, and her fiction, though far from pornographic, can be read as an anthem to sex without ties or tears. Though Lenin himself advocated freedom of love—though not the freedom to wallow in the erotic gutter—Kollontai’s movement of sexual liberation antagonized the unenlightened Russian peasants. It was also an invitation to a perpetual cultural revolution that threatened the power structure of the dictatorship he worked so hard to establish. Lenin and Stalin contented themselves with destroying the power of extended families and relied on the nuclear family to carry out the basic functions of nursing, feeding, and clothing children, preparing them for the state institutions that would make them subservient little communists. Kollontai grudgingly acquiesced, but, as a potentially dangerous “left-communist,” she was forced to spend her later years outside the Soviet Union. Officially, she was a diplomat, though her position more resembled that of an exile.
Conservative Christians, waxing hysterical on the subject of Kollontai as a communist sexual revolutionary, have missed her significance. While it is all too true that sexual morality collapsed in the communist world, it was only in the West that she could openly preach the sexual revolution, and it is in the West where the revolution has scored its greatest triumphs: In the East, Christians knew the state was the enemy of their Faith and of their families. Here in the United States, conservative Christians continue to look to their government to defend their religion and support their families. This was abundantly clear in the sad case of Mrs. Schiavo.
Perhaps, before the autopsy, there was some room for doubt about her prospects (though no competent physician who examined her thought so), and there was good reason to suspect the motives of Mr. Schiavo, but the continuing campaign to use this poor dead woman as a symbol is disgraceful. As conservatives are casting the argument, Mrs. Schiavo was the victim of judges and politicians who promote euthanasia, and her death represents a failure to protect the civil rights of disabled Americans. Well, which is it? They cannot in good conscience denounce the power of judges and politicians and, at the same time, demand an increase in the government’s power to interfere in family life.
The phrase most commonly used by Christian activists is that we should not let Mrs. Schiavo “die in vain.” We hear the same sort of language from the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq. I can well understand a Marxist revolutionary talking this way—he has no hope of a better life to come—but it is, surely, strange language for Christians to use. Who are we to judge who has lived, much less died, in vain? Do we die in vain if we cannot serve as poster child for global democracy or the rights of the disabled? Is there no other (not to say higher) dimension to human life but politics? If “dying in vain” means going to the grave without accomplishing much or attracting public attention, nearly everybody who does not win an Oscar, a Grammy, or a Super Bowl ring dies in vain. Do these people know what they are saying? Do they care?
Hard cases do not inevitably make bad law, but when ordinary people, ignorant of their own traditions, turn to government as the final arbiter of problems within the family, they are acting out the scenario scripted by sexual revolutionaries such as Alexandra Kollontai, for whom fornication was only a means to an end, and the end was a socialist state in which the family was only a holding pen for the working cattle. Conservatives, distracted by the pornographic ripples on the pond’s surface, fail to see the more dangerous beasts swimming in the depths. The Devil cannot enter the house without an invitation, and, in denigrating the traditional authority of husbands and fathers and betraying it to the post-Christian state, they have invited a whole legion of devils to possess what is left of the Christian family.