Life After Roe for Pro-Lifers

Monday, 08-01-2022


The pro-life movement has always promoted the well-being of mothers and children in general -- not just of children in the womb.  Even after the demise of Roe v. Wade, killing developing babies remains legal in many states, so protecting their lives is still crucial.  But in places where their lives are already protected, the spotlight will shift even more to helping mothers and children in general.

This change may unearth a latent faultline even among the ranks of the pro-life movement:  For how should the well-being of mothers and children be promoted?

Some pro-life folk may assume, like many politicians, that the best thing to do for women with children is to throw money and benefits at them.  Others, reasoning that it is in the best interests of women with children to marry the father rather than the government, and that a culture of dependency keeps people in poverty forever, may assume that the one thing necessary is to encourage sexual restraint, stable marriage, paid employment, responsible parenting, and loving family life.

Both sides are partly right.  The latter approach is obviously more fundamental; the sexual revolution has disordered families, impoverished women, and done grave injury to children, and the wrong kind of material incentives can generate further disorder.  But just as obviously, women in trouble need some material assistance.  Their children need doctors.  Deadbeat dads need to be traced and required to contribute support.  Mothers with small children should be free to care for them; they should not be expected to chuck them into daycare and go off to work themselves.

The difficulty is to distinguish between forms of “help” that help, and forms of “help” that hurt.

This may seem a purely sociological puzzle.  It isn’t.  What makes the problem difficult is that there are strong vested interests in favor of answering it the wrong way.

Corporations don’t want their employees to be distracted; they want women to be free from the competing responsibilities of family life.  Social work bureaucrats aren’t interested in working themselves out of their jobs; they want a permanent clientele.  If they see the poor at all, politicians see them as political dependents; they want voters who can be bribed.  And too many churches would rather give handouts than involve themselves in the messy business of bringing people into the community, bringing order to their lives, and helping them get on their feet.

To say these things isn’t cynical.  It’s just life.  If we really want to help people, we had better remember original sin.



On Getting What One Asks For

Monday, 07-25-2022


The Atlantic says pro-abortion protesters who chant “Hail Satan” aren’t really hailing Satan, but only mocking religious people.

The Atlantic is naïve.

To be sure, the chanters are baiting religious people, but they are not mocking them.  One mocks people by making their cause seem ridiculous.  One does not make their cause seem ridiculous by portraying one’s own cause as evil.

I haven’t the slightest doubt that not everyone who chants “Hail Satan” really thinks that he is hailing Satan.  Yet he is doing it.  If he is not adoring the prince of the powers of darkness, then he is saluting the supreme symbol of these powers.  He is celebrating the commission of evil to spite God.

Christians are sometimes told that they should be careful what they pray for, because they may get it.  This is good advice for abortion proponents too.  If they hail darkness, it will come to them.


Masculinity Isn’t Toxic to Women -- Feminism Is

Monday, 07-18-2022


Men are stronger and more aggressive than women, but the difference lies not just in faculty.  Men want to use their strength.  Bemoan the fact if you will, but if they don’t use it to protect others, they will probably use it to take advantage of them.

Given this fact, the obvious and natural way to keep men from taking advantage of women is to teach them chivalry.  Don’t suppress their manhood, ennoble it.  Don’t tell them not to act like men, tell them to act like proper men.  Teach them that the right use of strength is to cherish, protect, and assist the weaker sex.

The opposing theory thinks the problem isn’t debased masculinity, but masculinity.  To keep men from taking advantage of women, denature them.  Don’t ennoble their manhood, demean it.  Teach them that offering protection or assistance to women is insulting, regressive, and condescending.

This anti-chivalric regimen doesn’t keep men from taking advantage of women, but only makes them irresponsible louts.  It teaches them to view women not as ladies, but only as possible lays.  It replaces the culture of marriage and fatherhood with a  jungle of hookups, and tells women that if they don’t like it, there must be something wrong with them.

You don’t make men good men by telling them how poisonous they are for being men.



Interview with Tom Loarie of Mentors Radio

Saturday, 07-16-2022


G’day, folks.  Tom Loarie of The Mentors Radio interviewed me recently about my new book How and How Not to Be Happy, and the podcast has just been posted.  You can go straight to it, or you can see it in the menu of other talks and interviews on my Listen to Talks page.

The main audience of The Mentors is entrepreneurs, CEOs, and other business folks, but since the program emphasizes ethical leadership and management, which is pretty broad, he brings in guests to talk about all sorts of interesting topics, and this is one of them.


Incompetent, or Just Too Old?

Thursday, 07-14-2022


By dumping on Mr. Biden just for being too old, The New York Times has given the rest of the progressive media permission to join in.  Why now?  This isn’t about the president, but about the former president.  Mr. Biden is already toast.  But if the progressive media can establish the line that the problem with him isn’t his extremist policies, his general incompetence, or even his dementia, but simply his age, then the same line can be taken if his predecessor seeks to run again.  Mr. Trump does not seem to suffer cognitive decline, but he is certainly old.

Republicans who think that they are scoring a point against a dreadful incumbent by joining in on the Too Old chorus are naïve.  Think how many old Republican politicians there are.  Of course there are just as many old Democrat politicians, but the progressive media can be trusted to swing the mallet of senectitude selectively.

Age, per se, doesn’t matter.  Fitness does – both moral and mental.


So-Called Replacement Theory

Monday, 07-11-2022


Progressives like to say that a racist doctrine they call “replacement theory” is very big on the right.

I won’t say there is no such theory.  There is.  Actually, though, versions of the theory are held both on the farthest, farthest fringes of the right and – more quietly – among large, large sections of the left.

The right wing version is that immigrants, especially immigrants of color, outbreed people who were born in the country, so that descendants of the former will “replace” descendants of the latter.  This is supposed to be bad.

The left wing version is that immigrants, especially immigrants of color, trend more to the left than people who were born in the country, so that leftists will “replace” conservatives.  This is supposed to be good.

Both versions of the theory are nuts.

As to the former version:  If the country becomes browner in a few generations, so be it.  People who are too selfish to have children deserve to be “replaced” by people who love them.

As to the latter version:  Immigrants who are acquainted with the politics of the country are often quite conservative; they don’t want to lose what they’ve worked and suffered to attain.  So if left-wingers think immigration will lead to the “replacement” of conservatives by liberals, they may have it backwards.

We like to say that we are a nation of immigrants, and it is true.  The real question isn’t, or shouldn’t be, whether immigration is good, but whether chaotic immigration is good.  What is happening at the southern border is simply cruel.


What Is This Longing For?

Monday, 07-04-2022


What Is This Longing For?

From Life & Letters, the magazine of the College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, ed. Daniel Oppenheimer, 15 June 2022; adapted from J. Budziszewski, How and How Not to Be Happy (Regnery, 2022).

Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again.

In the midst of certain experiences there comes over me a certain longing.  It is a desire for a Far Something that neither fortune nor character can provide.  Often it stirs when I gaze into the face of the moon and starry sky; sometimes, when I look, really look, upon the face of another person.

I see, in retrospect, that I have experienced this longing since childhood.  The desire is not constant in strength, and at times I can almost forget it.  Yet it is profound and compelling.  Not everyone talks about this sort of thing, but probably most people have experienced it, whether while contemplating the celestial courts, like me -- or, say, while walking in a forest, hearing the call of a mourning dove, watching the intricate beauty of a dance, grasping a mathematical truth, or seeing the world reflected in a mirror.

Whittaker Chambers seems to have experienced it upon gazing at the convolutions of his newborn baby’s ear.  C.S. Lewis speaks of “that unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.”  Elsewhere he tells how upon reading the first lines of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, he “desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described.”  Longfellow himself describes it as “a feeling of sadness and longing that is not akin to pain.”

Now longing, like certain other passions, is directional.  Just as my anger is at someone, my longing is for something.  So what is this longing for?  To what is it trying to compel me?

Since it so often comes while I am gazing at the moon, is it a desire for the moon?  Surely not.  If title to the earth’s satellite could be signed over to me and I could keep the moon in my garage, the longing would not be satisfied.

What you want is to experience the moon’s beauty.  This most obvious suggestion can’t be right, because whenever I gaze at the moon, I am already beholding its beauty.  If what I wanted was to behold it, then I would be satisfied.

What you want is to go there.  I believed this when I was a boy, devouring stories of outer space and travel to the stars.  I have no doubt that setting foot on our silver sister would produce a sense of accomplishment and a temporary exultation.  But would it fulfill the longing that I felt and still feel in looking up at the moon?  I doubt it.

What you want is the sublime and the unattainable as such.  Now there is something to this theory.  Among other things, this is the whole basis of the romantic strategy of playing hard to get.  Yet what does it really explain?  To want something is to want to have it, and to pursue something is to want to catch it.  Who in his right mind would tell a thirsty man how lucky he was that whenever he reached for a drink the water was withdrawn?

What you want is to be united with the All.  I am happy to be in a universe with snails, tomatoes, garlic, thunderstorms, and galaxies, but who would wish to be united with the aggregate of all these things?  To suppose myself united with the aggregate, even if it is an interesting aggregate, is to suppose myself annihilated.

You are merely experiencing the sublimation of your longing for a woman.  People who have read too much Freud think every mysterious longing is a disguise for libido.  Having been married for 50 years, I have found love sweet, but I still experience the other longing too.

You are merely experiencing a genetically programmed response to the sight of faraway things and open spaces.  So-called evolutionary psychologists try to explain our sense of beauty in terms of adaption to the wide-open spaces of the savannah.   Tell me the adaptive value of being moved to tears by Bach’s Air on the String of G.

You want to experience not just something beautiful, but the ideal of beauty that lies beyond beautiful things.  Here I think we come closer to the truth, though it depends on the meaning of “ideal.”  Loveliness is such a massive and bewitching reality that at times it threatens to undo us.

And here is the thing about loveliness: It seems to point beyond itself.  The perishable sings to us of imperishability:

Question the beautiful earth; question the beautiful sea; question the beautiful air, diffused and spread abroad; question the beautiful heavens; question the arrangement of the constellations; question the sun brightening the day by its effulgence; question the moon, tempering by its splendor the darkness of the ensuing night; question the living creatures that move about in the water, those that remain on land, and those that flit through the air ... question all these things and all will answer: “Behold and see!  We are beautiful.”  Their beauty is their confession.

The word “confession” at the end of this passage is meant literally, for Augustine, its author, views beautiful things as wordless, poignant witnesses.  He asks, “Who made these beautiful transitory things unless it be the unchanging Beauty?”  Let us put off trying to answer his rhetorical question for now.  At the moment I am not concerned to say whether these beautiful transitory things really do confess something beyond themselves; it is enough for the argument that they seem to.  Just for now, consider it an illusion if you wish.

For because of this inescapable seeming—whether or not it is grounded in reality—these beautiful things will never be enough for us no matter how much of them we have.  The greater the beauty, the greater the sense of a still greater beauty beyond, behind, or above them.

I can spend all day looking at the beautiful earth and sea, until I no longer want to.  I can tire myself out feeling the breath of the beautiful air, diffused and spread abroad.  I can take in so much of the arrangement of the constellations that I need to go indoors and catch my breath.  Yet the longing for that something more will follow me inside.  It may hide itself from me for days on end, and then strike me like a blow.

I hope I am not misleading anyone by speaking so much about the face of the moon.  The mysterious longing for something more can be stirred by all sorts of things, like the intricacy of a baby’s ear or the face of the beloved.  In fact, it can be stirred by almost anything.  In certain moods, the sense of the significance of a grain of dust can hit like the blow of a hammer.

In every one of these cases, we suffer a tendency to mistaken identification, a confusion between some ordinary desire, on one hand, and on the other what we may call the transcendental thirst.  I may be moved to my depths by contemplating the miracle of water, but although taking a sip may quench my physical thirst, it will not quench my transcendental thirst.  I may be transported by the sight of great works of art, and while I may have joy in possessing them -- a joy, by the way, that fades -- I will still be haunted by that astringent longing for something that I first thought must be the works themselves, or at least the beauty of them, but is really something else.  The desire for each thing can be satisfied by that thing, yet the desire of which I speak will persist.

I do not say that everyone will recognize this experience.  I do think that everyone has it— whether or not he accepts where the argument is going.

For the argument is going somewhere, and I may not want to go there.  I may tell myself that my problem lies only in not yet having enough of whatever I want.  For example, if the inexpressible desire is inflamed in me by great works of art, I may think my problem is that I don’t want merely an object of beauty, or even a houseful of objects of beauty -- but all beauty!  And “all beauty” is a pretty good description of the transcendental longing, at least as some people experience it.  But I will not have “all beauty” even if I do possess every beautiful thing that there is.  Beauty isn’t an aggregate.  It isn’t an agglomeration.  It isn’t an attribute of a heap.

If beauty doesn’t move you, think of what does.  The mistake that the aesthete makes about having all beauty, some rich men make about having all wealth; some tyrants make about having all power; some wantons make about having all women (or all men); some scientists and philosophers make about having all knowledge of laws and of principles.

But it doesn’t matter how much in this world we possess, or what we possess.  It is never enough.  It cannot be enough.  Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not merely saying that desire is infinite, as some economists say.  It is closer to the truth to say that what we desire is The Infinite -- and even this is misleading if “The Infinite” is taken to mean merely “more and more and more.”

The problem is not just that however much I have of what I want, I want still more of it—in fact, not everyone does have that problem!  Rather it is that whatever I have and however much I have, I want something else, something in some sense beyond, something that by its very nature lacks the limitations of the goods we meet in the ordinary course of life.  But if this is true, then nothing in our natural experience can make us fully happy.  Not even virtue plus “everything else” can lull all desire, for while things that are this can refract the strange longing for that and fan it into flame, they can never quench it.  Things in this world cannot be more than they are.  No creature of nature, no fruit of our minds, no work of our hands will suffice.  If there is no beyond, if it is all a delusion, then we are just out of luck.