Fabio Paolo Barbieri (fpb) wrote,
Fabio Paolo Barbieri

A plague on both your houses – part 6 – The inevitability of classical tragedy

The other conditioning feature of the American landscape, apart from the rise of the new aristocracy, has been the complex of events called the sexual revolution. The politically defining event of this process was the virtual coup d’état known as the Wade vs.Roe decision, with which the Supreme Court of the United States managed a quite spectacular amount of disastrous results in one blow. Bad in law, deficient on historical knowledge, deprived of logic, this sentence expressed nothing except the court’s resolution that abortion should, by hook or by crook, be made legal throughout the United States of America. By shamelessly rewriting the law and inventing a constitutional right to privacy that did not exist, it brutally encroached on the exclusive lawmaking powers of the federal and state congresses. And by placing no limits on abortion “rights”, it actually managed to create a situation in which the evil of abortion would be so obvious and visible that the settlement would remain in permanent danger from generation after generation of outraged consciences.

There are other reasons besides propriety why lawmaking from the Bench is forbidden in all law-abiding countries: and here is one. A judge on his bench is as uncontrolled as a tyrant at the head of his army. If he is in the service of the law, the law is the limit of his power; and even so, accounts of curious, capricious or perverse decisions by judges are part of the lore of legal professions throughout the free world. If, however, the law does not pose any effective limit to his decisions, then he acquires the worst features of a tyrant; and none worse than that his decisions are subject to no challenge, no debate, and no limitation. When the European states decided to legalize abortion, the process of parliamentary struggle and debate meant that the abortionist party, though ultimately victorious, was forced to place time limits and regulations. Abortion is allowed till the third month in most continental countries; in Britain, it is up to the twenty-seventh week, which was, when the law was passed, the limit at which a baby could be born and be viable. The logic of these restrictions is is not obvious, but they help silence all but the most sensitive consciences. On the other hand, the unchecked permission handed down outside Congress by the golpista judges means that the horrors of partial-birth abortion are legally unassailable; that no restriction can be placed on abortion – not in time, not by the mother’s age or mental condition, not by any restriction admitted in any other area of law.

The great advantage of democratic governance may be seen in this. It is a purely practical, voire non-moral one: that is, that the elected politicians are simply forced to keep real life considerations into account. No politician, however effectively committed to free abortion on demand, would ever have run the risk of delivering it in such a bald, violent and challenge-free form; for real life would have brought him or her slap-bang against electors who would not accept it. Elected politicians have to take opposing views into account, on pains of becoming irrelevant. And it follows that abortion as passed by various European legislatures does not offend the conscience as extensively and as visibly as the variety imposed on America by its tyrannical justices. In most of Europe, except for a few outlying Catholic communities (Ireland, Portugal, Malta), the stream of anti-abortion feeling, though never completely silenced, remains marginal enough – except, significantly, where the attempts of fanatical parties in government to extend it beyond the limits of ordinary compromise have awakened resisting consciences. (Spain is the most visible case.) In America, the stream of horror stories – children of twelve smuggled into abortion mills by social workers without their parents’ knowledge; abortion mills hiding evidence of rape and statutory rape from police forces and judges; babies surviving the obscene process only to be strangled outside the womb by abortionists; and always and everywhere the horror known as partial-birth abortion – produce anger and opposition as inevitably as fire will produce ashes. If I were, as I certainly am not, a supporter of abortion, I would recommend to my American friends to call an end to the Wade vs.Roe nonsense and start again on the basis of law enacted by Congress.

The case of abortion, incidentally, shows the limits of media power. The mass media certainly favour abortion throughout the free world; in America, Fox is scarcely less pro-abortion, in spite of its supposed conservative stance, than the other three networks. But the simple mechanism of having to sell news means that news that are shocking, obscene or in any way striking tend to get through even the screen of media Political Correctness. A newspaper holding a story of a twelve-year-old victim of statutory rape being smuggled into an abortion mill by her adult boyfriend, or even worse by a school employee, would have to be abnormally committed to the most savage standards of Political Correctness not to slam it on to page one. And once that story is there, a few of those who read it will become inflamed against abortion. European newspapers rarely have horror stories about abortion to tell, because the circumstances in which it takes place are rarely so extreme; and so the consciences of their readers remain untouched by this particular evil.

This process is altogether out of control in the United States. The more vocal and visible becomes the anti-abortion movement, the more the media are conditioned to offer stories that reflect negatively on abortion: such stories sell. The media do not change their own point of view, but the readers cannot all be brought back to a “reasonable” state of mind by emollient editorials and sob story articles about unwanted pregnancies. And as a mood against abortion takes hold of a considerable part of the population, a curious phenomenon arises: supporters of abortion begin – in spite of remaining the majority of the population; of ironclad legal protection; of the continuing support of the media, of most politicians, of all elites – to feel besieged. Strange things begin to happen on the ground: in large parts of the country, one by one, small abortion mills close or find it impossible to carry on. The immense corporate power of Planned Parenthood tends to take over, but that does not make up for failing local goodwill.

It is, indeed, possible that the radicalization of political struggle in America in the matter of abortion may be beginning to be exported. In the last few years, the European Union, the United Nations and a few other supranational bodies have begun to interfere quite heavily in the internal affairs of even very small countries. Malta and Nicaragua have come under severe pressure to adopt unrestrained abortion against the will of their peoples and in defiance of the supposedly central European principle of subsidiarity; and they are hardly the only countries where the pressure of international bodies keeps pushing matters in one direction and one direction alone. It does not seem to me unlikely that this increasing pressure has something to do with an increasing sense of urgency – the realization that in the world’s second-largest and most influential democracy, things may be going backwards as far as supporters of abortion are concerned. From the point of view of abortion supporters, it seems increasingly important to enshrine “reproductive rights” as a universally acknowledged “human right” before they are defeated in America. In turn, it seems quite likely that this increasing pressure, exerted as it is largely outside the realm of democratic politics, may in the long run work against its own purpose. In Europe, the governments of Spain, Sweden and Ireland have, in different ways, been breaking the compromise that had ruled across the continent for three or four decades; and, by doing so, have drawn attention to the issue and awakened opposition, still very limited, but, for the first time, visible.

However, abortion itself is only the inevitable result of the “sexual revolution” – a process that is still ongoing, and whose final results are not yet in. What is certain is that the “sexual revolution” begins with a complete falsification of the nature and purpose of sexual activity. The mere mechanics of sexual activity, of course, point to reproduction; and its emotional collateral points to life as a couple. However, the “sexual revolution” is based on a number of assumptions that are incompatible with them. Sex, it assumes, is a human need which must not be suppressed or denied. The important thing is not who to have it with, or for what purpose, but to have it. A central assumption that is enshrined in modern culture was expressed in incredibly stupid and vulgar terms by a fan in a comic-book convention. With the writer Neil Gaiman present, this person said as if making an incredibly clever comeback: “But you see, Neil, your comics are the only ones that are read by people who have sex regularly.” To the cretin in question, releasing sperm from his penis on a regular basis really was a demonstration of mental balance, sharpness and soundness. It was something that was a compliment to himself as a rounded human being, and, incidentally, to the unfortunate Mr.Gaiman (who deserves better than that), as someone who pleases such human beings.

Let me a bit forceful about this. This ridiculous doctrine, universal among ordinary people today, really does reduce all human beings to the level of addicts. The idea is that if you do not manage to regularly satisfy your sexual needs with one or more people, then you are in an unwholesomely reduced, even morbid condition. It is a primary need for mental balance that you should have sex regularly. Try and tell me that this does not reduce the dignity of human beings to the status of being dependent on pure physical satisfaction. Try and tell me that it does not reduce a man to boasting of a faculty in which a sow or a donkey are vastly our superiors.

However, children are now so steeped in this that the word “virgin” is an insult on playgrounds across the world; I have so heard it used by a bunch of twelve-year-old girls. It is seriously a matter for shame to be continent or even unlucky in love; and marriage itself is measured by its ability to serve these supposed physical needs. Hence the phrase “marital aids” for sex toys; it is seriously argued that such things, by stimulating performance, can make marriages last longer. Because, of course, once one partner is no longer driven to sexual excitement by the other, then farewell marriage!

It is amazing how simply saying out loud these things can show their immense, measureless, Marianas Trench-like absurdity. And yet we are dominated by these assumptions and live in terror of being judged by them.

Abortion is the place where this appalling pack of lies meets reality. The bases of the doctrine of sexual satisfaction had been laid for some 250 years or so before the Pill seemed to make it possible. Until about 1960, however much rebarbarative intellectuals and inferior philosophers may have liked to fantasize about the importance of sexual fulfilment, the mere mechanics of sex meant that only a few people, either rich or mad, ever tried to verify it in practice. Venereal disease, the other great terror (which underlies Thomas Mann’s masterpiece Doktor Faustus), had been more or less tamed, and by 1960 nobody died of it any more. The Pill added to this the hope of copulation that was not only free of fear, but also free of responsibility, and the dam burst. One of the great truths about sex is that people boast; they always have, from the stuffed phalluses of Aristophanes’ comedies to today’s sex surveys. So it is perfectly impossible to try and find out to what an extent sexual habits really changed in the sixties, from the supposed restraint of the previous decade to the supposed looseness of the closing years of the decade. Any statistic is sure to be full of individual lies, and roughly as reliable as entering a prison and asking how many of its inmates are victims of miscarriages of justice. Nor does it matter; for the real impact is in the realm of the mind. It is in what people expect and demand of life. Indeed, it is possible that in many cases, people who individually failed to achieve the fulfilment offered by the sexual revolution doctrine might, for that very reason, feel its claims much more keenly than people who have enough of it in their daily lives, and thus do not need to feel it. Either way, the claims of the sexual revolution doctrine become internalized, accepted as norms.

It is the expectations involved that are deadly. A young man and woman who performed the chief scene from Cider with Rosie in 1920 or 1930 would know that they were taking a serious risk, and that if things went, so to speak, wrong, they would in the ordinary way of things be obliged to marry and care for the life they had generated. They might feel angry or sad about this, they might even come to hate each other, but they would not feel hard-done-by; it was the way things were, and were understood to be. On the other hand, young people in the last forty or fifty years simply assume that pills and condoms would work. They must work, because they are not merely a piece of chemical or mechanical apparatus, but the instrument by which they achieve that famous fundamental need for sexual fulfilment. It is because being a virgin is bad, and having sex regularly is good, that contraceptives and abortifacients have to work. A young woman who follows the dictate of sexual fulfilment is not interested in babies at all; from the beginning, sexual activity has been presented to her as something that is important in itself, whose value lies in the fulfilment that it brings in itself. Babies ought to have the decency to wait until they are “wanted” (a ghastly notion which the “sexual revolution” borrowed from the allied but forgotten movement of Eugenics).

IN real life, of course, pregnancies are the absolutely inevitable effect of sexual liberation, with or without the Pill, with or without condoms. The most effective contraceptive is only effective, I think, 99% of the time. Work it out. Is there a couple in the world that is willing to say in public that they have sex less than one hundred times a year? Even if they did not, they would tell you they did. And every time they have sex they advance, with near-mathematical certainty, towards the moment when one of them (I am speaking of straight couples, of course) will, in spite of all the pills and condoms in the world, become impregnated.

But it is not this that makes abortion necessary: it is the expectation vested in condoms and pills. It is the poisonous doctrine of sexual satisfaction. The doctrine of sexual satisfaction carries a demand that birth-control devices should function. Since they will not, the doctrine itself cannot continue to be held unless abortion is set in place to clean up all the cases in which contraception fails. Unless child-bearing is decoupled from sex, not just in most cases, but in principle and always, unless it is admitted that men and women have an absolute right to couple as they please without suffering any reproductive consequences, the notion of sexual fulfilment is in danger from practical experience, both in that life would easily enough show that sex had an end other than fulfilment, and in that the purely practical demands of child-rearing would get in the way of what were once known as “conjugal rights.”

An incredible, yet symptomatic feature is that now impregnation is a frequent feature of pornographic fiction. It has been made so shameful that it has actually entered the realm of vulgar and hidden things.

The sexual revolution, therefore, imposes abortion with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, And, as I have shown, abortion generated opposition. The effect on American politics has been radicalizing and brutalizing. On both sides, Wade vs. Roe is not only the casus belli of partisan struggle, but the totem of both parties. As I pointed out, supporters of abortion would in the long run be wiser to let this disastrous decision be overwritten and go back to the situation where the states were allowed to write their own laws. Sure, a good few states would outlaw abortion outright; but then, many of them would not, and it would not be too hard for a woman in “trouble” to cross over into a state where she could dispose of said trouble. But all these things are compromises; and, by the nature of the emotion which is vested in this struggle on the abortionist side, compromise must sound degrading. Of course, a compromise of sorts has been mostly successful across most of Europe; but the reason why abortion is a necessary concomitant of the sexual revolution is an absolute reason. Childbearing must be decoupled from sexual activity, not partially, but completely. And so, while the American absolutism of Wade vs. Roe is, as I have shown, more inherently unstable than the European compromises, more apt to create its own opposition, it is also more satisfying to anyone who uncritically accepts the sexual revolution doctrine. A woman who places her sense of self-worth in her sexual fulfilment cannot but regard any restriction in the danger-free, responsibility-free condition of sex as a direct threat, not just to her living standards, but to her self-worth. The same is of course true of a man, with perhaps a certain extra amount of more conscious selfishness. To people whose support of abortion arises from the doctrine of sexual fulfilment, any criticism of Wade vs. Roe, any attempt to place any kind of restriction on abortion, is not a matter for debate or discussion, but a vicious threat to their own self-worth. It is from this that the rage that is all too evident on the “liberal” side arises. “You want to enslave us, you want to reduce us to barefoot pregnant waifs being slaughtered by backstreet abortionists…” It is clear that with people so eaten up with emotion and rage there is no point having any argument. Argument threatens them.

The cumulative growth of the anti-abortion movement and the growing revelation of the emotional rage of its opponents has had deep and singular effects on American politics. To the huge and displacing social change implied in the growth of an aristocracy that tends to occupy existing permanent sources of income, and which generates rage from everyone who recognizes its importance, another source of burning indignation on one side, and terrible defensive anger on the other, is added. And as this is a matter of morality on one side, of self-respect on the other, no compromise is possible.

The Democratic Party became the party of abortion at the same time as it became the party of the intelligentsia; an unpredictable development indeed, since its roots were in the Catholic Church in the north, in the Baptists and other evangelical bodies in the south – the two bodies which became, almost by default, the core of the opposition to abortion. And even so, the party allegiance of these two great ecclesiastic bodies – the two largest churches in the United States – were so strong that for a while the issue was in doubt. In the early seventies, most of the American Catholic Church was for all practical purposes in rebellion against Rome – a rebellion that had begun, or at least come into the open, with the furious reception of Pope Paul VI’s trenchant condemnation of contraception, Humanae Vitae. As for the Southern Baptists, their leadership in the early seventies – of which President Carter was a fairly typical member – was positively in favour of abortion and Wade vs. Roe. The movement against abortion only asserted itself in the two Churches against formidable opponents, entirely from below among the Baptists, largely so among Catholics. There was a time when the only real opponents of abortion in the Catholic Church could be said to be the Pope and a disorganized minority of laypersons.

The drift of the anti-abortion Christians to the Republican party was barely more welcome there than among the Democrats. Religious enthusiasm and anything that sounded politically extreme had always been alien to the party of the respectable High Protestant bourgeoisie, whose instincts from of old would have been for an European-type compromise on abortion, and which was already suffering a great deal of displacing shocks that left much of the old establishment feeling high and dry. To say that the Republican Party is today a conservative party is a considerable understatement. It is an uneasy alliance of some three or four highly ideological and largely separate positions, held together by the need of some for votes and the despair of others at what the Democratic Party has become.

One kind of conservatism is the “paleo-con” world of Pat Buchanan and Alexander Cockburn. These people are little regarded today, and their position is ruined by an idiotic and irrelevant anti-Judaism, and, in Buchanan’s case, by a foolish and ultimately mistaken belief in cynicism that leads him to affirm that the US would have done better to leave Britain to her own devices in World War Two. Yet these people manage what is by far the most trenchant and unblinded criticism of current American delusions in foreign policy. When they point out the increasing overstretch of the American armed forces, the decreasing American power in the world, and the strategically dangerous dispersion of formerly American manufacture to potentially hostile Third World countries, they are wholly in the right. And they are, incidentally, the only true heirs of the old Republican traditions, in a party that has not only forgotten but largely reversed what it used to stand for. Through most of its history, the Republican Party looked askance at foreign entanglements and long-term overseas ventures; and it was – incredibly for those who watch Republican politics today – the implacable opponent of Free Trade. I remember my astonishment at reading in the Union general Logan’s account of the Civil War, that Protection was “the great American and Republican principle” and that the Democrats showed their poor attitude to the country by their support of Free Trade. Unfortunately, Buchanan and Cockburn’s willingness to support historical but unpopular attitudes extends to Jew-baiting, which may be historical and unpopular, but is none the less wrong for that. Their stupid and disgusting adhesion to this wholly unnecessary freak weakens their position within the conservative world, and makes them nothing more than an object of ignorant ridicule to anyone outside.

The aristocratic component of the party I have already described at some length. They are probably the central part of the party as it is. They regard Buchanan and his likes with a somewhat ignorant contempt – I doubt whether many of them are aware of how much closer he is than they are to historical Republicanism. They do not feel Buchanan and his followers as any thread, and once allowed him to run for President on his own without any great concern. Their attitude to the Christians driven to the Republican Party by growing democrat hostility is different: they flatter the Christians among them to their faces, but stab them in the back and stomp on them as often as they can; they know they need their votes to go on being a party of any weight, but they do not have to like the disruptive emphasis on abortion and general distaste for compromise that these refugees bring with them. And perhaps there is a deeper underlying problem. It has been said that a neo-con (a description which covers most of the Christian refugees) is always a former leftist who takes to the conservative world the classic leftist’s itch to change the world; and from another point of view, C.S.Lewis pointed out that a properly Christian party would be profoundly conservative in matters of sexual and family morals, but fairly left-wing in matters of property and business law; and that was in fact, so long as they existed, a good description of Europe’s old Christian Democrat parties, now shattered or perverted beyond description. It is not impossible that the aristocratic wing of the Republican party may feel, with distaste, a dangerous populist vibration among redneck Baptist preachers and Catholic priests working in barrios and jails.

The incoherence of the modern Republican Party is mirrored in the incoherence of President Bush II’s policies. His domestic policy is designed, as I pointed out, to encourage the aristocracy, ignore the paleo-cons, and appease the Christian right just as much as is consistent with doing nothing serious about abortion or other issues. His foreign policy is incoherent with his domestic policy in that he committed himself to expensive foreign wars while cutting tax at home; but it is also incoherent with itself in that it has a dash of the crusading neo-con and Christian spirit in its unrealistic commitment to bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, yet shows the mark of the compromising aristocratic spirit wherever Condoleeza Rice’s instinct for talk at all costs prevails, and is not without a paleo-con spice in its enduring distaste for supranational entities such as the World Court and in Rumsfeld’s outspoken (and politically disastrous) contempt for “Old Europe”. In short, its political action was not and could not be cohesive, and therefore its success depended on luck.
Tags: abortion, american history, american politics, history, politics, sexual revolution
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