“A Republican marriage,” said a French actress of the 18th century, “is the sacrament of adultery.” This bon mot is recorded by Sir Walter Scott in the description of the French Revolution with which he begins his Life of Napoleon. In passing the first no-fault divorce law in Christendom, he concludes, the Jacobins

had reduced the union of marriage, the most sacred engagement which human beings can form, and the permanence of which leads most strongly to the consolidation of society, to the state of a mere civil contract of a transitory character, which any two persons might engage in, and cast loose at pleasure, when their taste was changed, or their appetite gratified. If fiends had set out to discover the most efficient way of destroying whatever is venerable, graceful, or permanent in domestic life, and of obtaining at the same time an assurance that the mischief which it was their object to create should be perpetuated from one generation to another, they could not have invented a more effectual plan than the degradation of marriage into a state of mere occasional cohabitation, or licensed concubinage.

The desecration was accomplished in September 1792, when the solemn Christian sacrament of marriage was replaced with a civil service consisting of a few formalities concluding with, “You are married.” In principle, at least, the Catholic marriage had been an indissoluble union, although it had taken the French Church nearly a millennium to civilize the Franks on this point. Under the new law, divorce was as easy as marriage, and for this new anti-sacrament, the procureur of Paris gave a little sermon to divorcing couples: “Young people whom a tender engagement had already united, the torches of Hymen are lit again for you on the altars of liberty; marriage is no longer a yoke, a heavy chain; it is no more than what it ought to be—the fulfilling of Nature’s grand designs, the payment of a pleasant debt which every citizen owes the Patrie.”

Children were also a debt to the Patrie, according to the French Republic’s pro-natalist propaganda, and in the juvenile literature and republican catechisms of the day, children were to describe themselves as children of the Patrie. According to St. Just, children belong to their mothers until the age of five, after that to the Republic until they die; actual progress on the nationalization of childrearing reforms was modest. The crises of wars, foreign and civil, and the disruptions of revolution prevented the Jacobins from doing anything beyond establishing a rudimentary state system of public schools, although some of them, at least, must have sympathized with the suggestion, made by the Société Populaire des Cultivateurs of Ecully, that political suspects (in practice anyone who might have a reason for opposing the regime) be deprived of the right to rear their own children.

Marriage and the rearing of children are natural activities and subject to natural duties. Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Chinese—all civilized people—have acknowledged the responsibilities entailed by the biological ties. Christians have gone furthest in seeing a supernatural dimension. Marriage is of “holy estate” and the marriage ceremony, for some Christians at least, has a sacramental character. In rearing their children, Christian parents also bear responsibility for seeing to their religious instruction, whether they carry it out themselves or turn some part of this task over to churches that provide instructions for confirmation. For Lutherans and Catholics, a child’s first communion is a solemn step on the road to manhood and womanhood, corresponding roughly to the Jewish boy’s Bar Mitzvah. By degrading marriage and assuming at least theoretical control over education, the Jacobins were striking at the roots of the natural social order, but they were also making war upon the sacramental character of Christian social life.

Far from limiting their attack to Christian social institutions, Robespierre and his friends dismantled the French Church. Not content with nationalizing church property, the Jacobins went on to outlaw Catholicism, to establish an opéra bouffe state religion, the worship of the Supreme Being, and to make a concerted effort to exterminate French Catholics in the Vendee.

Here then is the genesis of the modern democratic state, whose fundamental principle is the unreasoning hatred of all things Christian coupled with the rage to destroy every natural institution—marriage, the family, all the little communities—and replace them with scientifically designed simulacra that may look, at first sight, like the real thing but lack the substance. The social institutions of modern democracy—the suburban family sending its kids to public school, the YMCA, and Little League—is like the food they use on the stage: it is colored to look just like the genuine article, but the wine has no taste, the whiskey no kick, and the food no nutrition.

The United States were not established by Jacobins, and the government set up in the Constitution was no modern democracy, but over the past 130 years or so, the American ruling class has steadily evacuated the old institutions and traditions—the sovereignty of states, the liberty of individuals, the sacredness of families—of all meaning and vitality until like hollow trees they are ready to crack and topple in the first high wind.

Most reactionaries have understood these developments and opposed them. What they have not always grasped is the religious dimension of the revolution, except in those obvious cases where the Jacobins have made war on religion itself: in the Soviet Union, where churches were turned into museums; in Mexico, where priests were hounded and murdered; in Nazi Germany, where ministers were either co-opted or persecuted; in France and Italy, where religious orders were suppressed; and in the United States, where children are forbidden to pray or proselytize in the schools built, staffed, and operated on revenues from Christian parents.

But, quite apart from these more obvious manifestations of anti-Christian sentiment, the broad social revolution being perpetrated by latter-day Jacobins in both political parties and by both so-called liberals and so-called conservatives, is a movement to liberate Western man not just from Christian traditions and institutions but from the Christ Himself. The modern state, and the liberal philosophy that justifies it, is nothing less than the anti-Christ that has been foretold. We make the mistake of trying to find the anti-Christ in an evil dictator or a false prophet, when the anti-Christ is all around us, holding power today in government, setting the agenda in our schools. preaching sermons from the pulpit, directing the lame-brained activities of conservative causes, inside our head thinking the thoughts we think are ours. We can never entirely free ourselves from allegiance to him, because we belong to a society that has become one great temple where he is praised and worshipped. When Catholic bishops speak the language of greed and envy, calling for social justice, welfare assistance, and wealth redistribution, he is writing their speeches; when conservatives call for empowerment, equality, and a recognition of diversity, they do his bidding; when schoolchildren praise the President for taking decisive action in killing Iraqi civilians to teach Saddam a lesson, he is sucking nourishment from the patriotic gore; when politicians defend their policies on the grounds of jobs-creation and individual opportunity, he is smiling over their shoulder; and, just as we are laughing up our sleeves at all these deluded fools, he—and the master he serves—is laughing with us, proud of our damned pride and conceit.

There is grave danger in overestimating the strength of mankind’s great enemy, but the greatest service we can do the powers of evil is to pretend they do not exist. The sunny optimism of the 18th century is a painted theater curtain draped over the infernal darkness that was enveloping the European soul. The current form of this self-induced delusion is the conviction that ours is a “Christian nation” whose only problems are caused by bad leadership. The heart of the people is good and true, we say, and as soon as businessmen and politicians realize that the country is being destroyed by the “unintended consequences” of their actions, a new Warren Harding or Ronald Reagan will ride up in a Japanese car and restore us to normalcy. This, friends and readers, is never going to happen, because if anyone does come riding up to save the day, it will not be one of the usual confidence men like Ross Perot or Ralph Reed; it will be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, come to teach us the hard lessons, to give us the wisdom—as Aeschylus would tell us—that comes from suffering, the grace that comes by force.

I invoke a pagan (not for the first time) because we need the wisdom of pagans to survive in this anti-Christian world where Christian presumptions are perilous. By this I do not mean that we should no longer live and think as Christians, but that we cannot presume that the institutions of American life, that governments in particular are working on any recognizably Christian principles. If, on the contrary, our schools and legislatures are antagonistic to Christendom, then we cannot make common cause with them except in the sense that we can join together with anyone, even people who hate and despise us, to accomplish some good thing—to teach mathematics or sweep the streets. What we cannot expect of government is to teach Christian theology or repress sodomy, any more than we can ask the IRS to collect tithes for the support of our churches.

In conceding the validity of this argument, most Christians believers—and some non-believing conservatives, as well—will experience a wrench. The comfortable old way of thinking about America, the carefully constructed images of mom and dad in the 50’s with the kids in Scouts saying the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, the hope that we could some day restore the everyday decency of a country where “god” was not the everyday prefix for damn, and “mother” was not part of the routine obscenity that makes up half of the urban street dialect—from all this and more we must liberate ourselves. We cannot assume either that the police are our friends or that laws exist to protect the innocent, when the forces of both law and order are used primarily to strengthen the Jacobin regime whose existence depends upon the destruction of Christendom.

It also means that all the rituals and sacraments of Christian life from the baptism of babies to the unction and comfort given the dying are outside a system that is busily constructing a series of anti-sacraments every bit as ludicrous and pernicious as the Festival of Reason. To counter baptism, in which God’s love for his human creatures is revealed, the state promotes the slaughter of the innocent; to undermine the efforts of Christian educators and confirmation teachers, the public schools inculcate a toleration of vice and perversity and a hatred of all the achievements of Christendom; the most solemn of sacraments—the communion of saints—is mocked every day in a thousand forms of artificial communities that hook our spirits into a Worldwide Web of disembodied intelligence; confession and penance are degraded into mere counseling, and the sick and dying are eased conveniently into the next world by greedy relatives and physicians who no longer have to swear to the Hippocratic Oath; and they have reduced marriage, “the most sacred engagement which human beings can form, and the permanence of which leads most strongly to the consolidation of society, to the state of a mere civil contract of a transitory character.”

What is now called “family values” conservatism relies almost exclusively upon the use of state power to redefine marriage, to restrict divorce, and to clean out the nests of obscenity and pornography that have been established in the public media. On the surface, the bill going through Congress looks harmless enough: it would do nothing more than enable states to refuse to recognize same-sex liaisons, even if they were legalized in Hawaii. To some Republicans, this sounds like an affirmation of states’ rights, but they are the same Republicans who think that “federalism” means redistributing some fraction of federal tax dollars back to the states, while reserving all real power to the national government.

If the state is given the power to define marriage, a temporary conservative majority in Congress may well refuse to include same-sex liaisons, but in doing so they will have established the power to regulate the most basic facts of life. A few years later, a leftist majority will guarantee the rights of homosexuals, and even if they do not, the Supreme Court—dominated by Republican appointees—will decree that any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Back in the 1970’s, when Senator Sam Ervin was campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment, he used to insist that the chief beneficiaries would be homosexuals: if a man has the “right” to marry a woman, it would be discriminatory to deny that same right to a woman. It is today a truism to point out that while the ERA was defeated, its provisions have been enacted into state and federal laws and imposed by court decisions. Short of a social and cultural revolution that would wrest the institutions of our common life away from the Jacobins, there is no practical way to resist the course of progress. The more we fight, the more energy we invest into the struggle—energy that only adds to the growing power of the state.

In the fight to preserve the decency of marriage, there is something more fundamental than the American Constitution or political liberty basic at stake; marriage is an institution that antedates not only the United States but all states. For as long as men have been human, they have been marrying. Typically, the arrangement was contracted between families which had an interest in the welfare of their grandchildren. The purpose of marriage is not companionship or “good times together” or “caring and sharing.” The primary purpose for marriage, the purpose for which it exists, is the procreation and rearing of children. Everything else is secondary. Of course there are childless couples, just as there are one-legged men, but who in his right mind would even consider anything like a permanent union with a stranger, unless it were for some purpose beyond his own immediate pleasure?

The Greeks, as we know all too well, were ambivalent on the subject of buggery. In some circumstances, at some ages, in some cities, it was more or less openly tolerated—although this toleration was by no means as universal as the “gay” lobby would have us believe. But even if it were, and even if we accept at face value the few stories of mock-weddings between male lovers, no Greek city—not even Sodom and Gomorrah—failed to distinguish between marriage, whose purpose was procreation, and any of the fantastic surrogates that degenerate human beings, straight and non-straight, have devised.

Marriages at Rome were arrangements between families. For a marriage to be valid, the parties had to be eligible (one could not, for example, marry a slave or even an alien who did not possess the right of connubium), and they had to live together with the intention of being husband and wife. Their children would be legitimate heirs, presumptively entitled to a certain portion of the estate. The Republic became involved, where there was some problem, as in cases of divorce or a disputed inheritance. Men and women being what they are, divorce could be a messy business, but the basic rules were dictated by custom: the wife’s dowry had to be restored, and custody of the children was automatically with the father. Under most circumstances of everyday life, however, the state had no representation in any matter between husband and wife.

Although the Christians took a more serious view of marriage than many of their pagan contemporaries (although nothing could be more serious than early Roman and Greek marriages), they did not, in the beginning, depart from the marriage customs of their pagan ancestors. Little by little, however, it became customary to invite a priest to bless the union. What regulation was to be done, in prohibiting incest or keeping records, was done by the church. In England, at least, from which we draw our legal traditions, the church, even after the Reformation, maintained a nominal authority over marriage.

A commonwealth’s principal interest in marriage was in determining the legitimacy of children. This concern was particularly acute, wherever (as was common) there were rules restricting the rights of bastards to inherit property or exercise the rights of citizens. What possible claim could be made by a modern commonwealth, where kept women may sue for “palimony,” where bastards demand the rights of legitimate offspring and get themselves elected President of the United States, where homosexuals claim special privileges as a victimized minority?

Any federal law on marriage is a step in the wrong direction. In fact, it is time to turn our backs on even the states claiming a right to license an institution that many Christians regard as a sacrament. Why not license communion, by either denying or guaranteeing the rights of homosexuals to participate?

In the long run, it would not matter which position the government took on communion or baptism, because either way it would be intruding into an area of life where it has no jurisdiction—which is exactly the case regarding marriage. This year. Dole and Clinton—neither one of whom knows what marriage is—will decide that states do not have to recognize gay marriages; next year, they will say the states must recognize them, and before the decade is finished, they will be telling the churches whom they may and may not marry, ordain, baptize, confirm, and bury. Who will stop them? Certainly not the conservatives who are rushing in where angels—and Christians—fear to tread.

I am tempted to conclude at this point, leaving it (as is my wont) to my readers to find their own way out of the Slough of Despond into which I have led them. Just this once, however, I am willing to sketch out a rough set of directions. In turning our backs on the state, we must then turn to ourselves and our own Christian institutions that are so sadly in need of reform. If marriage is, indeed, a natural union sanctified in faith, then we should begin by repudiating the government’s claim to regulate it. Weddings should either be private or ecclesial, and we should refuse to recognize the legitimacy of any mock marriage jury-rigged by a justice of the peace. Priests and ministers should refuse to demand proof that an engaged couple has gone to city hall for the requisite dog license, and if, to protect ourselves and our children, we go through the official forms, we should treat it with the anger and contempt we reserve for any tyrannical invasion of our individual and religious liberty.

Christian marriage needs William Tells, who will refuse to worship the Emperor’s hat, and when our children are put at risk by the Emperor’s flunkies, we should remember why Tell kept the second arrow in his quiver.