A little over 30 years ago, I was attending a conference in a faraway place when disaster struck. I became sick, really sick—the sort of illness where one can barely crawl out of bed, let alone attend conference sessions. Lacking care of any sort, I lay in bed for two days, waiting for some semblance of recovery.
Monotony finally led me to switch on the television. Back then, HBO was the hot new form of entertainment—recent theatrical releases, broadcast without interruption! My hotel had access to this wonder, and so I watched, back to back, two films that first day. The effect was overwhelming.
The first of these was Quest for Fire (1981). Set in Paleolithic Europe, it tells the story of the Ulam tribe, a vaguely Homo sapiens group with somewhat sloping foreheads. They speak in grunts. Their social and sexual interaction is random and animal-like; parentage within the band is uncertain. What distinguishes this little tribe is the fact that it possesses a fabricated bone satchel in which it carries and maintains embers of fire, obtained originally from some natural source—lightning, perhaps. This is their great treasure. However, a brutal attack by another humanoid band, followed by an attack by wolves, drives the Ulam into a marsh. Their fire-tender stumbles, and the embers are doused, leaving them to die from exposure.
Desperate, the band’s chief sends three young men out on a quest for fire. One of these, Naoh—Noah, with vowels reversed—is a blond, hunky sort of guy, also with a sloped forehead. After being captured by flesh-eating Neanderthals, he escapes with another captive from a different tribe, named Ika. There is no slope to her forehead: She is a fine example of Cro-Magnon womanhood. Ika immediately takes to Naoh. Adventures follow, during which we learn that Ika holds two amazing secrets. First, she knows how to use sticks, dung, and dry grass to make fire. She teaches this amazing skill to Naoh.
When Naoh attempts to make passionate love to her, using the techniques of his people, she reveals her second and greater secret: She shifts them around and teaches him the missionary position—a bonding, face to face. Some weeks pass, and Ika reveals to Naoh that she is pregnant, carrying his child. In the closing scene, Naoh—with a head that seems less sloped now—caresses Ika tenderly, while they both gaze at a bright moon. Clearly, she has a white picket fence in mind, while Naoh is already planning some sort of Apollo lunar mission.
Human beings are now a species on the march. Human civilization has been born here, involving monogamous, permanent, procreative pair-bonding between men and women and the invention of social fatherhood, where men take responsibility for protecting their mate and rearing their children.
The second film that I watched that day on HBO was Victor Victoria (1982). Based on a German film produced at the nadir of Weimar decadence, the American version, directed by Blake Edwards, deliberately aimed at moral and sexual confusion. Set in the nightclubs of 1934 Paris and Chicago, it is the story of a woman pretending to be a man who pretends to be a woman (more specifically, a female impersonator). The casting itself was a direct broadside against American decency (or at least its Hollywood version). Playing Victoria Grant (and Count Victor Grazinski) was Julie Andrews, Maria of The Sound of Music and Disney’s Mary Poppins, the epitome of wholesomeness. Playing the gay, middle-aged queen “Toddy” was Robert Preston, the original Harold Hill of The Music Man, a celebration of small-town Iowa values. And playing the bodyguard “Squash” Bernstein was the iconic former lineman for the Detroit Lions, Alex Karras, who comes out of the closet and winds up in bed with Toddy.
The plot of the film is unimportant; the film’s incessant messages are what stand out. Those messages were as follows: There is no normal; sexual release is the highest value; there are no real lines between male and female; gender-bending is fun and the path to higher truths; sex has nothing to do with marriage and children, and to hell with moral codes that hold that it does.
Where Quest for Fire depicted the founding of civilization, resting on a heterosexual ordering of human society and involving permanent monogamy and social fatherhood, Victor Victoria depicted the end of that civilization through surrender to a sterile, sexual free-for-all. It was the whole human experience, condensed into four hours.
As that second film ended, I felt sicker but enlightened.
The remarkable thing is how accurate these two films have proved to be.
Quest for Fire was based on a 1911 novel published in Belgium, written by J.-H. Rosny. However, in the very year in which the film appeared, a lengthy article was published in Science that confirmed all of the basic arguments and inferences about the “Origin of Man” found in the film.
The author of this metastudy, paleoanthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy, argues that the survival and success of the human species did not derive from the growth of the cerebral cortex, as was previously supposed. Rather, humanity’s breakthrough—the reason Homo sapiens survived and thrived—resulted from “the unique sexual and reproductive behavior of man.” As Lovejoy summarizes, using a healthy dose of scientese,
both advances in material culture and the Pleistocene acceleration in brain development [follow after] an already established hominid character system, which included intensified parenting . . . relationships [the invention of social fatherhood], monogamous pair bonding [marriage], specialized sexual-reproductive behavior [men as protectors and breadwinners; women as nurturers] and bipedality [walking on two legs]. [This] implies that the nuclear family and human sexual behavior have their ultimate origin long before the dawn of the Pleistocene.
In short, Science tells us that our species made its great leap forward when “to be human” came to mean “to be conjugal.” While there are important differences in matters of timing, this scientific record also agrees with the first two chapters of Genesis: From our very origin as unique creatures on earth, man has been defined by heterosexual monogamy involving marriage in a father-mother-child household, and resting on the linkage of the reproductive and the economic, where two become one flesh.
The human record also shows that this social-sexual ordering of the human species can go bad quite quickly. That is the unintended message of Victor Victoria. From ancient days, we have the story of Sodom, where all the men of the city gathered and demanded that Lot turn over the two visiting angels, so that they might be gang-raped. In perhaps the first example of public-polling data, Abraham had already canvassed the citizens of Sodom, trying to find at least 50 righteous inhabitants; then 45; then 40; then a mere 30; then 20; then only 10. It was all for naught; the whole place was decadent.
Writing in the mid-1940’s, sociologist Carle Zimmerman feared that the Western world was on a similar track, fueled by a decay of family life bound to sexual disorder. As he explained in his great work, Family and Civilization, “children are the fundamental basis of familism. A decay in familism is a decay in the social system of biological reproduction. Consequently those societies in which familism has decayed are those that are themselves decaying—and very rapidly.”
What would such a society look like? According to Zimmerman,
Increased, rapid, and early “causeless” divorce . . .
Decreased number of children, population decay, and increased disrespect for parents and parenthood.
Elimination of the real meaning of the marriage ceremony. . . .
The spread of the antifamilism of the urbane and pseudointellectual classes to the very outer limits of the civilization.
Breaking down of most inhibitions against adultery;
Revolts of youth against parents so that parenthood becomes more and more difficult . . .
Common acceptance of all forms of sexual perversion.
Yes, a Harvard professor used the term “sexual perversion.”
In short, the society in decay would be the world of the nightclubs and cabarets of 1932 Berlin, Paris, and Chicago writ large.
Zimmerman predicted that the United States would reach the final phase of “a great family crisis” by the year 2000, one “identical in nature” to earlier crises that had shaken and destroyed ancient Greece and Rome. He added, “The results will be much more drastic in the United States because, being the most extreme and inexperienced of the aggregates of Western Civilization, it will take its first real ‘sickness’ most violently.”
So, how are we doing?
Our fertility rate has tumbled to a record low. Our girls and young women are pressured by educators and the arbiters of culture to be sexually promiscuous and sterile. We can now count ten million young men (and growing) who neither work nor relate to real women of their age, preferring video games and their digital girlfriends. Our marriage system is in shambles, while our divorce system thrives. Millions of married men and women flock to Ashley Madison for sexual adventuring. Our public sexual depravities called “Pride Parades” would awe the Sodomites. Our military has been turned over to feminist and LGBTQ activists, for transition into a New Model Army resting on gender theory and sexual identity. Federal decrees mandate that the most radical wing of the Sexual Revolution—transgenderism—guide bathroom policies and toilet access throughout the land: a “shining city on a hill” with transgendered cans. And virtually the whole of corporate America has enlisted in this radical sexual crusade. Some have done so openly—Target, Facebook, Google. But all the other publicly traded companies have done the same, albeit with less fanfare. Once again, Wall Street lines up against the values of Main Street.
It should come as no surprise that Wall Street aligns with the radical sexual agenda. Simply put, capitalism—at the most basic level—has a vested interest in family weakness.
Throughout history, strong, autonomous families have sought to be as self-sufficient as possible in their economic, educational, and cultural aspects. Most of the Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson, agreed on the need for and celebration of the yeoman farm family, where such independence—which they deemed essential to a functioning republic—could be most readily achieved.
Such families make for poor consumers of capitalism’s goods.
Capitalism grows as it takes over tasks and functions once performed by families or within closely knit communities, and reorganizes them on the industrial model. This process has no natural limits. It began with the production of yarn and clothing, then absorbed food processing, transportation, and the like. The state gleefully joined in the process, industrializing matters such as schooling and child welfare along lines compatible with capitalist goals. During the 1970’s the system expanded into fast food, infant and child care, and home cleaning. The result, in sociologist Pitirim Sorokin’s words, “is that the family home turns into a mere overnight parking place.”
Capitalism strongly prefers weak or nonexistent family bonds. Marriages, for example, get in the way of the efficient distribution of adult labor and limit growth in market consumption. However, a solid divorce rate drives up the Gross National Product, by creating two households (and thus the need to purchase twice the furnishings and consumer goods) where one had previously sufficed. Attempts to keep a mother at home for childcare purposes must also be suppressed: Capitalism hungers for the infusion of all adults into the labor market, all the better to keep wages low. In the short and middle run, pure capitalism also has little interest in children. Unless they can be employed in the mines or the factories, the cost to maintain them represents a drain of capital.
What about future consumers and workers? The capitalist does not worry, because the system can always be spread to new places with cheap potential labor. In recent decades, it has spread to Mexico, China, Vietnam. But what about the long run? Well, in the long run, the capitalist reasons, we are all dead. What does it matter?
This orientation explains why Wall Street welcomes both feminism and the LGBTQ agenda. Together, they strongly discourage fertility, in order to keep young women in the labor force. Together, they discourage the sort of marriage where the couple might seek partly to escape the market by (for example) raising a family garden, or keeping chickens, or starting a homeschool. Together, feminism and the LGBTQ movement open the prospects for ever new markets driven by sexual excess—from Viagra to Norplant. And together, they make it easy for corporate executives to appear “progressive” when they attend cocktail parties with their peers.
The raw incentives of capitalism can be restrained, limited, or controlled by other factors—religious belief, for example, which has sometimes favored payment of a “family wage” to men, so that they can support a wife and children at home; or a quest for what economist Wilhelm Röpke called “the Humane Economy,” which underscores the need for nonmarket activity (such as the family garden or the fishing hole) in order to fulfill natural human yearnings.
However, those restraints are most likely to be found among family-held or private companies. Such companies take the long view, looking to the success of future generations in the family, not just to the next stockholders’ meeting. In our day, such restraints are extremely rare among publicly held firms.
Even among family firms, though, the restless energy of capitalism presses steadily toward sexual liberation. In 1873, Samuel Colgate—head of his family’s soap and toothpaste business—joined with financier J. Pierpont Morgan, book publisher Alfred S. Barnes, copper magnate William Dodge, and other business leaders to create the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. This organization was a (successful) vehicle for the evangelical crusader Anthony Comstock to suppress abortion, birth control, and pornography. While serving as president of the society, Mr. Colgate was startled one day to see an ad in a New York newspaper suggesting that Vaseline Petroleum Jelly—his latest product—was effective in securing the “spacing of children”—code for contraception. This ad never appeared again. Nonetheless, the fact that it appeared at all shows how the drive to meet consumer demands—even illicit ones—is very hard to limit, requiring constant vigilance.
In our day, social conservatives are the ones who seek to defend the lives of infants before birth, to support traditional or natural families, to welcome procreation within marriage, to oppose the latest demands of feminists, and to defend orthodox Christian sexual values and behavior. Alas, social conservatives now find themselves in the Republican Party, sharing that political tent with the partisans—or denizens—of Wall Street. It is, to say the least, an awkward alliance. Since 1980, GOP platforms have tried to keep the views of each faction compartmentalized. Such compartmentalization can work in a written document to which no one pays attention. Yet at times, the divide among Republicans is awkwardly exposed.
Consider income-tax policy, where rival agendas often collide. Most social conservatives favor the Child Tax Credit, created in 1996. There is a special joy for eligible parents who, after calculating their tax obligation, can deduct $1,000 for each of their children. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal favors eliminating completely the income tax on corporate income, while routinely denouncing the Child Tax Credit as a “tax freebie” that “does nothing to increase economic growth.” Indeed, given the frequency of this attack (several full editorials in 2016), one could conclude that a bit of tax relief for struggling families is—by the lights of the Journal—one of the greatest threats to the republic’s continued existence.
American political coalitions were not always like this. Modern social conservatism first emerged about a century ago, in the wake of a falling birthrate and the emergence of feminism as a political force. With the vote for women having been secured by the 19th Amendment, equity feminists moved in a more radical direction. In 1923, the National Woman’s Party first proposed their Equal Rights Amendment, which would abolish all legal sexual distinctions. All of the leading congressional sponsors were pro-business Republicans. Indeed, there is some circumstantial evidence that the radical NWP received generous (albeit secret) financial support from the National Association of Manufacturers. Around that time, the wives of Wall Street executives were signing up with Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control League. In short, the Republican Party was the party of the feminists and Planned Parenthood.
At the same time, women who promoted special political protections for motherhood and children were known as maternalists. They favored “family wages” for fathers—a mirror image of the equity-feminist view. From 1920 to 1968, proponents of maternalism were happy in the Democratic Party. Even the social policies of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal assumed and reinforced the maternalist agenda: protection of infants and the unborn; prohibitions on birth control and abortion; “family wages” for fathers; the social protection of mothers.
Thus, social conservatives—Southern evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and maternalists—found their home in the party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.
Between 1965 and 1980, these alignments fell apart. For reasons still not well and fully explained, the Democrats became the party of radical feminism and the Sexual Revolution—champions of the Equal Rights Amendment, birth control, abortion, and the emerging “gay rights” movement. Driven out of the party were social conservatives of all types. Coming together as a battered band of political refugees, they were led by such figures as Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Weyrich, and Jerry Falwell into the Republican Party. Rallying to another former Democrat (who always claimed that he had not left the party, but the party had left him), these social conservatives became Reagan Democrats.
Today, the Republican coalition is unstable, far more so than the coalitions that prevailed from 1920 to 1968. In a curious way, the primary season of 2015-16 and Donald Trump’s candidacy brought these cracks and fissures into the stark light of day. With scattered exceptions, the Reagan coalition has worked only as social conservatives remained content with words and platforms, leaving true policymaking to Wall Street (regarding taxation and economics) and the neoconservatives (regarding foreign policy and war). Pro-life and pro-family Republicans have commonly been treated as the idiot children of the GOP, confined to the canvas attic of the so-called Big Tent.
Now is the time for social conservatives to climb down from that attic, assert their numbers, and politely but firmly show the Wall Streeters the back door of the tent.
We would actually be doing these folks a favor. Their hearts, small as they might be, were plighted for years to Hillary Clinton, the well-paid darling of and speaker at their closed-door conferences. In addition, their monetary gifts already go in considerable degree to the party of the social-sexual left. Indeed, an alliance between the partisans of economic “creative destruction” and the partisans of moral destruction makes real sense.
With the Wall Streeters gone, the Republicans could become a true populist party. No longer bound to defend the indefensible tax and regulatory breaks reserved for the great public corporations, the GOP could reform these laws to favor family-held companies, small businesses of all kinds, and family-scale farms. It could bring a legal end to prevailing cultures of abortion, antinatalism, and divorce. It could create the policy infrastructure to recover the familism described by Zimmerman as the foundation of every healthy civilization.
We already have a real, working model of this approach. Last year, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán declared that his government’s first priority for 2016 would be to create a “family-friendly country.” By this he does not mean a Clintonesque advocacy for state daycare and free contraceptives. Rather, Orbán hopes that “people who decide to have children and who envisage their lives within a family can feel that not only are they doing everything they can for their country, but that for its part their country is also doing everything it can for them.” Orbán’s political coalition has also approved a series of laws that protect infant life, encourage the family economy, and protect children from the sexual left.
As Zimmerman argued, moral implosions and civilizational collapse have happened before, and they have always been followed by periods of renewal. People stumble their way back to the “fundamental mother-source” of civilizational strength: familism. Under the guidance of conservative, Christian leadership, Hungary has taken steps to encourage and defend the natural family of father, mother, and their flock of children. If we want to make America great again, we must do the same.