What happens when our nation’s fundamental principles or standards are rejected? Jennifer Roback Morse’s new book, The Sexual State, is a lively and forceful examination of where we came from, where we are now, and where we ought to be on matters of human life…
Genesis tells us that man was created “male and female.” The Sixth Commandment forbids adultery. Not all men and women beget children but all children have two parents, one a father and the other a mother. Both the family and the state are “natural” institutions logically flowing out of man’s nature. Christ told the disciples to let the little children come unto him. Human Life International estimates that, in the last 40 years, the world has witnessed 1.72 billion abortions of human children. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What happens when these fundamental principles or standards are rejected? As a direct consequence, we have witnessed a logical declination from the original good into a parody of it that is anything but good.
Jennifer Roback Morse’s new book, The Sexual State, is a lively and forceful examination of where we came from, where we are now, and where we ought to be on matters of human life. The book presents a complete argument, based on empirical evidence, about how divorce, contraception, abortion, the gay lifestyle, and gender neutrality fit together in a descending sequence of laws and practices that, enforced by the state, have set an elite class against the normal good of normal human beings.
Dr. Morse’s Ruth Institute maintains one of the most thorough and insightful web sites in political and cultural affairs about all issues that concern family life. Her two previous books, Smart Sex and Love & Economics, have already demonstrated Dr. Morse’s mastery of the economic, moral, and spiritual sides of womanhood, of the needs of children, and of what the state can and cannot do. Dr. Morse writes with verve, often with justifiable anger, with a wealth of personal experience about all sides of family life. She is herself married with two children (one is adopted), has a doctorate in economics, is a debater, and a speaker on college campuses and at legislative hearings. The book is replete with examples of what she has in mind. The reader soon realizes that she knows what she is talking about, the good as well as the awful.
The book details the step-by-step overturning of the classical Judeo-Christian view of man, woman, child, and family. Though she does not cite them, her study is reminiscent of Chesterton’s two books, Eugenics and Other Evils and What’s Wrong with the World, wherein elite intellectuals used coercive state power to impose a completely distorted view of man, woman, and child on unsuspecting citizens. The title of her book, The Sexual State, emphasizes the role that government force played in imposing a distorted view of human sexuality onto all phases of human life.
The book is divided into three parts: the Contraceptive Ideology, the Divorce Ideology, and the Gender Ideology. Alongside these ideologies, Dr. Morse presents the alternative Catholic view on each of these three topics. As such, the Church’s position has proved to be the only one that can protect individuals and families from the radical reconstruction of sex and family that has been imposed upon us, although Dr. Morse is aware that many Catholics in practice are in agreement with the activities of the Sexual State.
Dr. Morse argues, correctly, that we should begin our analysis with the needs of children, not with the autonomous adult who has been the focus of modern analysis. A child does not come into the world with an immediate ability to fend for itself. A marriage of one man to one woman is the best context in which a child should come into the world and be cared for as it develops. Each child needs his own father and mother. The child’s well-being depends on the integrity of this parental relationship. The first question to be asked of legislation and of marriage itself is not what adults need but what the child needs. The ongoing physical existence of mankind depends on the begetting of future generations.
The first step in undermining family life was the undermining of the marriage union. Dr. Morse pays a good deal of attention to how divorce affects the welfare of children. Modern no-fault divorce laws have failed to take into consideration the effect of the divorce on the children of the couple. Wealthy men favored no-fault divorce since they could easily afford the cost of separation. For women, divorce has usually meant poverty even though they initiate divorce more often than men. But for the children it has meant an undermining of their world, and of their confidence in who they are. The notion that children of divorced parents will not suffer is simply false.
The second step in undermining the family is contraception. Divorce separated husband and wife. Contraception separates sex and children. Safe sex meant, or was intended to mean, that we could indulge in sexual acts without worrying about pregnancy. It turned out, in practice, that contraceptives did not prevent births but in many cases caused an increase, especially in births to the unmarried. The separation of sex and children made it possible to think that children did not need their specific parents, i.e., a father and a mother. The campaign to make same-sex “marriage” equivalent to that between a husband and wife ignored the child’s need for his own parents.
Gender ideology is the third source of separation. Here, our souls are separated from our bodies: We are not bound by what sex we had at birth or by its relation to the other sex; we could, it is claimed, have a female spirit in a male body. It is our right, not nature’s or God’s, to decide what we are; if I, though male, want to be female, it is up to the state and everyone else to enable me to be what I make myself to be; the body that we possess at conception and birth has no relation to what we are; and we need to be liberated from the idea that what we are points us in the direction of what we ought to be.
The main burden of this book is to show how these separations worked their way into the public order and from there into the lives of every person. Dr. Morse maintains that an interested class, in conjunction with the state’s offices and the courts’ coercive powers, imposed these deviant ideas on human beings. The cost in terms of both money and human wellbeing has been enormous. Knowing how these ideas have victimized people, Dr. Morse offers a manifesto of proposals on how we might return to normalcy. Basically, it is to undo the damage by getting the government out of the family.
I am not sure that class analysis is the best framework in which to propose a return to a more healthy family relation. Aristotle’s virtue ethics and the corresponding political institutions in the state seem to be a better context. What Dr. Morse calls class is really what Aristotle called oligarchy. In any case, the state support of these aberrant ideas about the family has resulted in a thorough undermining of what is the best way to deal with our children and the parents who beget them.
The book carefully outlines the history and development of these ideas that subvert healthy family life. This book, along with Leon Kass’s Leading a Worthy Life and Robert Reilly’s Making Gay Okay, form a basic trilogy to explain the causes and origins of the deviation from the good that we see everywhere in modern life, both public and private. One cannot go away from the Morse book without a deep concern that the Church itself is no longer fully reliable in defending the needs of families in the modern world. Even so, the book is enormously helpful in how the issues we must face are carefully laid out. There will be no change for the better until we see why change is both necessary and possible. The Sexual State offers an unsurpassed analysis of how we arrived where we are and how we can begin to reverse course.
Republished with gracious permission from Crisis Magazine (November 2018).
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