The Culture Wars
I am heartened that William Voegeli included treatment of my book, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, in his thoughtful and provocative essay on the tropes of what we now call liberalism (“That New-Time Religion,” Summer 2015). I am also encouraged that even though I make no bones about being a left partisan, Voegeli calls attention to the fact that my book “offers narrative and analysis with limited polemic.”
It is my hunch that some conservatives may appreciate my history of the culture wars because I rather agree with how they characterize the cultural history of the United States since the 1960s. Indeed Voegeli and I agree with Mark Lilla and Robert Bork that the ethos of the ’60s liberation movements—the ethos that has seemingly revolutionized American culture—was baked into the cake of American democracy. As Bork argued in rather heretical terms, the individual freedoms enshrined in the Declaration of Independence set into motion a society dedicated to permanent cultural revolution.
How does one set limits on the proposition that “all men are created equal”? Against the assumptions of those who signed the Declaration, “all men” eventually came to include, in fits and starts, non-property-holders; slaves and former slaves; blacks and other people of color; immigrants from strange lands; Catholics, Jews, and other non-Christians; atheists; women; gays; lesbians; the disabled. Viewed in this way, the ’60s liberation movements made manifest an ethos that dated to the nation’s founding.
So Voegeli and I agree in our description. We also both agree that it would be better to live in a society grounded in foundational norms that define what it means to be a “good person.” Where we disagree is in prescription. Voegeli implies that such norms can be found only in the moral certainties of the type of religious faith that dominated American culture for the good part of its history. I find this stance problematic in at least two ways.
First, to the millions of Americans who find the new dispensation more liberating than the old one, such a sensibility often has less to do with liberty in its narrowly individualistic sense and much more to do with the ways in which pre-1960s normative America was discriminatory. No amount of complaining about the undeniably shallow shaming proclivities of those who currently preach the anti-racist creed will change this fact. Thus the burden is on those who would return to a religiously infused normative America to prove that such a society would not once again be sadistic.
Second, if we are indeed to reconstitute American society on the basis of shared norms we must recognize that the most powerful antinomian force working against such an objective is capitalism. Even though conservative culture warriors often couched their critique of liberalism in anti-statist terms—such as when Christian Right leaders like Phyllis Schlafly contended that public schools and welfare agencies, in league with feminists, weakened the traditional family structure—it has become increasingly clear that capitalism has done more to pitilessly destroy the values they held dear. Mammon, more than Leviathan, has rendered tradition passé. Capitalism sopped up ’60s liberation and, in the process, helped dig the grave of normative America.
Thus I would argue that the two people who have the best handle on how to reconstruct shared values are Pope Francis and Senator Bernie Sanders. Their focus on the immorality of economic inequality shows that common ground can be found in timeless values like fairness and dignity. But given that Voegeli introduces his essay by celebrating the fact that the Right has the upper hand in economics even as it is losing the culture wars, and given that he counts the existence of the Tea Party as consoling, I am certain that we disagree on this matter.
Illinois State University
William Voegeli replies:
I feel that Andrew Hartman overstates the congruence between my essay’s arguments and his book’s. Setting limits on the proposition that all men are created equal is indeed a problem, but not setting limits on it is an even bigger one. The signers of the Declaration of Independence “did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects,” Abraham Lincoln said in 1857. “They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity.” The core of equality, he continued, is the belief that people are equally possessed of the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This interpretation argues that for the journey begun at Independence Hall to arrive at Woodstock Nation was more detour than destiny. If the happiness we pursue is understood as the satisfaction justly derived from a life well lived, one constructed in accordance with our natures, then the truth that all men are created equal excludes rather than validates the assertion that all lifestyles are created equal. It follows, contra John Rawls, that the adherents of each lifestyle are not equally entitled to receive material support and nonjudgmental encouragement from a just society.
As Hartman expects, I will also decline his invitation to join the ranks of capitalism’s opponents. For one thing, the weakening of shared norms about what it means to be a good person is a challenge not just for those who want to sustain capitalism, but also for those who want to reform or replace it. The final pages of Hartman’s recent book make this point explicitly. “[W]ithout a common culture, it is extremely hard to build the solidarity necessary for social democracy,” he writes. “Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that the modest American social welfare state—the New Deal state—was constructed during an era of unusual cultural stability.”
Others who would like to rely on markets less and government more have a similar lament. In the “presence of diversity,” sociologist Robert Putnam told an interviewer in 2006, “we hunker down. We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined.” The Bruce Springsteen song “We Take Care of Our Own” was played at the 2012 Democratic convention, and at campaign events for President Obama. Few noticed the implications: we don’t take care of those who aren’t our own; and we reserve the right to specify and apply the criteria that determine which people qualify as our own. Communitarians exhort us to fortify our communities’ interiors, but communities can’t have interiors unless they have exteriors. This boundary need not be defended sadistically, but it does need to be established clearly and resolutely.
There’s a second difficulty. Those who want to reform or replace capitalism need not only social solidarity, but also to offer a plausible alternative. Capitalism’s defenders, conversely, do not need to demonstrate that relying on markets is the best set of economic arrangements imaginable, just that it’s the best available. As one leftist philosopher, Richard Rorty, wrote in 1998, the Left has never settled or said “what, in the absence of markets, will set prices and regulate distribution.” The “voting public,” he argued, “wants to know how things are going to work after markets are put behind us,” and capitalism’s adversaries can’t or won’t answer this basic, legitimate question.
Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, who describe themselves as leftists, made the same point in their book, Nation of Rebels (2004). “The amount of intellectual energy that has been dedicated to the task of searching for an alternative to the market in the past century is staggering,” they write. “And yet no matter how you run the numbers, the answer always comes out the same. There are essentially two ways of organizing a modern economy: either a system of centralized, bureaucratic production (such as was found in the former Soviet Union), or else a decentralized system, in which producers coordinate their efforts through market exchange.” The policy alternatives that result from this dichotomy are constraining: “Central planning works fine for the military, or some other organization where members are willing to accept a standardized allotment of clothing, food rations, or housing and to be assigned specific jobs to perform. But in a society where individuals hope to pick and choose among a range of lifestyle opportunities, there is no getting around the need for a market.”
In fashioning a life, the gratifications we seek include holding a good opinion of ourselves with confidence. The desire to be among the elect—the redeemed—is as powerful in societies where religious attachments are weak as in ones where they’re strong. Holding and vigorously expressing the right political opinions and social attitudes becomes, for many, the outward sign of an inward grace. This is a more serious matter than what Hartman describes as “the undeniably shallow shaming proclivities of those who currently preach the anti-racist creed.” It’s a problem when the Left defines social justice in ways so exacting and urgent as to rule out the possibility that decent, reasonable people might be opposed to, or merely skeptical about, the leftist project. Better manners by the anti-racist creed’s preachers are unlikely to solve this problem.
But it’s also a problem for the Right when, as I noted in my essay, liberal democracy depends on cultural capital it consumes but does not replenish. If we assess this problem with maximal pessimism, we’ll follow Christopher Lasch and Daniel Bell in concluding that an irresolvable cultural contradiction besets modern, liberal, pluralist, secular democracies. We would expect such societies to collapse under the weight of this contradiction, even if no one offers a more appealing alternative set of arrangements.
I’ll conclude here, as I concluded the essay, with the suggestion that the situation may be serious rather than dire. This would be the case if the cultural contradiction were nothing more severe than a tension, challenging rather than dooming the American experiment. This possibility is consistent with the late Harry V. Jaffa’s belief that “the Founding…was dominated by an Aristotelian Locke—or a Lockean Aristotle.” If so, freedom and virtue fortify rather than attenuate one another, and properly constituted liberal societies are well disposed to the religious beliefs and practices that make freedom and virtue practically possible, and fundamentally grounded.
Rethinking Due Process
I am puzzled by Michael M. Uhlmann’s review of Michael Stokes Paulsen’s and Luke Paulsen’s The Constitution: An Introduction (“Two Cheers for Originalism,” Summer 2015). After spending the first two-thirds of the review lauding the Paulsens for their originalist approach, he wraps up by telling them to knock it off and adopt an approach that gets better results. Writing in a conservative journal Uhlmann is a little cagey, but he seems to argue that conservatives should jettison originalism and join the liberals in their game of using substantive due process doctrine to transform our policy goals into constitutional mandates. There are two problems with this: it is immoral and it won’t work.
In The Tempting of America, Robert Bork described the temptation a judge feels to overstep his bounds and impose a policy choice under the guise of interpreting the Constitution:
[T]he moment of temptation is the moment of choice, when a judge realizes that in the case before him his strongly held view of justice, his political and moral imperative, is not embodied in a statute or in any provision of the Constitution. He must then choose between his version of justice and abiding by the American form of government.
If he chooses the former, the judge has abused his power, violated his oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and undermined the integrity of the system of which he is a guardian.
According to Uhlmann, we already have a blueprint for imposing our preferred economic policies on the people. All we have to do is resurrect Lochner v. New York. But Lochner was bad law. And Uhlmann doesn’t bother to say how the illegitimate use of constitutional law to achieve greater economic freedom in Lochner was better than the illegitimate use of constitutional law to achieve greater sexual freedom in Obergefell v. Hodges.
The Constitution does not fix stupid, and if a state’s legislature wants to succumb to rent-seeking parasites and impose economy-stifling economic regulations, nothing in the Constitution prevents it from doing so. The remedy, if there is to be one, is not judicial; it is political: the people can vote the rascals out. And if they fail to do so, they will deserve what they ultimately get.
Uhlmann is surely correct when he says that arguments about process have shown themselves to be of limited avail against the juggernaut of rights claims. His answer seems to be that conservatives should abandon principle and try to build their own juggernaut of rights claims, which brings me to the second problem with his suggestion: it simply will not work, because conservatives are vastly outnumbered in the law.
The overwhelming majority of law professors are progressives who take it for granted that the abandonment of the constitutional order established by the founders has been an unmitigated good, and they take it as their sacred duty to indoctrinate their impressionable charges with that narrative The law schools, especially the elite law schools, are saturated through and through with a progressive ethos, and to be a conservative law student (and later a conservative lawyer or judge), one must be willing to swim against a powerful cultural riptide for the rest of one’s career, and that is very hard to do. All judges are former lawyers, and simple math dictates that judges, having been drawn from a pool of mostly progressive lawyers, will also mostly be progressives. If we follow Uhlmann’s advice to jettison argument from constitutional principle and start playing our own numbers game, we are bound to lose for the simple reason that we do not have the numbers.
Barry K. Arrington
Arrington Law Firm
Michael M. Uhlmann replies:
Like many conservatives, Mr. Arrington believes that due process means “procedure only” all the way down. This is a respectable position, championed by my late friend and former colleague Robert Bork, and reiterated by many others, including members of the Supreme Court. Arrington also seems to think that any other opinion about due process is originalist heresy.
There are, however, many mansions in the house of originalism. Noteworthy in this regard is the extensive (and growing) revisionist literature on the meaning of due process, which takes the argument into territory not explored by Judge Bork and his allies. Mr. Arrington would profit, I think, by taking a look at recent scholarly work that casts doubt on the “procedure-only” approach he favors. I would particularly note the contributions of Justin Buckley Dyer and Hadley Arkes and, on the libertarian side, the work of David Bernstein and David Mayer—to name only four authors among many who have broadened our philosophical and historical understanding of due process.
If he does so, he will learn (among other things) that by the mid-19th century, due process had acquired a significant substantive component among many members of the bench and bar, one that roughly equated due process with the rule of law and fundamental fairness, whether or not explicitly stated in the constitutional text. He will also learn why “liberty of contract” was not an alien construct imported into constitutional discourse by judges seeking to impose their policy preferences.
Although Lochner is a close case about which intelligent differences of opinion can be entertained, it hardly merits the pejorative reputation it has acquired among progressives and many conservatives alike. For one thing, Justice Peckham’s opinion was not particularly controversial when it was handed down. The case is chiefly noteworthy for Justice Holmes’s biting (and disingenuous) dissent, which acquired traction only decades later, when New Dealers used it to prevent the judiciary from articulating legal objections against their revolution.
The striking phenomenon in recent decades has been the extent to which conservatives have internalized the radical positivism of Holmesian jurisprudence, thereby depriving themselves of the ability to counter, on constitutional grounds, the moral claims advanced by proponents of such things as abortion and gay marriage. Mr. Arrington can call that “Lochnerizing” if he likes, but I repeat what I noted in my review: what exactly has conservative aversion to substantive due process accomplished?
Our Corrupt Government
Thanks to Christopher DeMuth for a thoughtful review of my book, A Republic No More (“Our Corrupt Government,” Summer 2015). Since I circulated an early manuscript last summer, I have heard from several conservatives who have the same qualms DeMuth ably articulates. I would like to take an opportunity to address the most significant issue: the contested relationship between big government and corruption.
DeMuth chides me for not identifying large government per se as a cause of corruption. He suggests that once a state becomes so powerful, it must become corrupt. In a narrow sense, this is self-evidently true: a government limited to equal protection could not be corrupt, by definition. Beyond this restrictive construction, as he notes, I do not accept this assertion. Instead, I conclude that big government relates to corruption indirectly: today’s government exercises its expansive powers corruptly because it was never designed to wield them in the first place.
James Madison did not hold a fixed view of the proper scope of government power, either. He thought it depended on the circumstances of the situation. Having embraced so much of Madison’s philosophy, I find that conclusion less unpalatable than DeMuth does—for three reasons.
First, this involves federal authority on a very abstract level. I claim that since the American Founding, the government has acquired the power to develop the domestic economy, regulate it intimately, and provide social welfare. Is it controversial to claim that we could design a government to accomplish these purposes without generating intolerable corruption? I think not. Madison’s Virginia Plan would be a start. Alexander Hamilton’s proposal would further “induce the sacrifices of private affairs which an acceptance of public trust would require,” as he put it. Alternatively, we could reduce the scope of government to match the ratifying conventions’ understanding of the Constitution. Either way, my theory suggests we cashier many actual programs, as no self-respecting republic would tolerate them. Where I am silent is on whether we should build alternatives.
Second, there is widespread consensus among conservatives that the federal government should generally undertake these tasks. Our fight with liberals often involves a prudential argument about priorities, methodologies, and trade-offs. Consider Obamacare. Most conservatives want to repeal and replace it, which implies vast federal authority. The acclaimed welfare reform of 1996 entrenched the government’s power to provide social welfare. Similarly, few conservatives dispute government’s authority to ensure minimum working standards, but most dislike the minimum wage because of its overall harmful effects.
Third, DeMuth does not like my treatment of the bureaucracy, which is “a necessity of comprehensive busybody government, while lack of accountability is one of its inevitabilities.” This is true in large part, but my research on bureaucratic corruption points in surprising directions. In many instances, corruption develops because of a purposeful denial of regulatory power. One reason Medicare is such a morass is that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services lack the wherewithal to operate independently of medical service providers. This is by design. Similarly, Fannie Mae misbehaved because Congress knowingly created a toothless regulator. In other instances, corruption emanates from the bureaucracy because it is being accountable—to pressure groups with sway over politicians. In the 1930s, bureaucrats in the Agriculture Department mistreated black sharecroppers because they feared Southern Democrats.
Inevitably, my definition of corruption—“the maldistribution of federal resources”—will leave many feeling that the bureaucracy gets off too easy, appearing in the story mostly as a pass-through for congressional corruption. This is not to say that all is well, only that many of its maladies do not relate directly to my understanding of corruption (and I expressly admit that there are other ways to examine it). As Charles Murray argues in By the People, which DeMuth also reviewed, the bureaucracy uses ambiguous laws to pursue far-left visions of the public interest. This is a threat to republican government, but not my focus in A Republic No More.
I write to correct a misstatement in your review of my book, Saving Congress from Itself, for which I am solely responsible; namely that “Buckley approves of Helvering [v. Davis] and thinks it draws the right line between federal and state jurisdictions.”
Helvering rejected the 150-year-old understanding that Congress’s authority to spend money under the Constitution’s Spending Clause (which authorizes the expenditure of funds “to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States”) was limited to the purposes enumerated in the Constitution. That case found the Social Security program constitutional on the basis that the Clause’s reference to the “general welfare” entitled Congress to expend funds for any benevolent purpose that is “plainly national in area and dimensions” and that “laws of the separate states cannot deal with…effectively.”
I believe, but in my book failed to state, that Helvering’s effective nullification of the enumerated powers was a disaster. We are, however, stuck with it. What I cited with approval was its distinction between purposes that can only be addressed by a central government (such as control of pollution that spills over state boundaries) and those that are within the acknowledged competence of the states, such as the grants-in-aid programs for state and local governments, for which Washington is now spending over $640 billion a year. In Steward Machine Co. v. Davis (which I attack in my book), the Supreme Court found those grants permissible because state participation in those programs is technically voluntary. My book argues, however, that they have proven in practice to be coercive, and therefore do not fall even within the limits of what Helvering found acceptable.
James L. Buckley
Christopher DeMuth, Sr., replies:
I am grateful to Jay Cost and James Buckley for reading my review and responding with elaborations on their fine books. Following their lead, here is an elaboration of my own.
It is of course possible to describe a system of government lacking those features of our actual government that are prone to corruption and other departures from public-spirited policy. Let us suppose, however, that the framers in 1787 had adopted something like Madison’s original Virginia Plan, or that the Supreme Court in 1937 had limited federal spending and regulation to purposes that can only be addressed by a central government. Would our government today look fundamentally different?
Perhaps not—because our political history has been dominated by the spirit of democracy and popular sovereignty, and a passion for egalitarianism. Public officials (including judges) would have been obliged to accede to popular sentiments one way or the other, sooner or later, if necessary by constitutional amendments such as the 17th. In today’s wealthy, mobile, egalitarian, intensely interconnected nation, the federal government would have found the ways and means of involving itself in myriad local and private matters because the electorate would have insisted on it. The federal bureaucracies would be highly porous and vulnerable to interest-group manipulation—in contrast to the bureaucratic autonomy that Woodrow Wilson imagined, and that Jay Cost sees as being resistant to the forms of corruption he documents—because the democratic spirit would have demanded participatory regulation.
I think this view holds considerable truth but not the whole truth. Events, decisions, leaders, and institutions can shape political culture as well as being shaped by it. The two forms of historical explanation are not exclusive or conflicting but rather joint and several. A plausible example of decisions shaping culture is Americans’ exceptional tolerance of highly offensive public speech and demonstrations. This appears to be mainly an adaptation to the Supreme Court’s unbending interpretation of the First Amendment, in a long string of decisions that individually could have gone one way or the other.
It follows that identifying wrong turns (or right turns) in our history is valuable not so much for deploring (or celebrating) the deeds of our forebears as for understanding how they seized or resisted the pressures of the circumstances they found themselves in, and with what results. This understanding should assist us in our own moments of decision. We are stuck with the Connecticut Plan and the Helvering and Steward Machinery decisions, but occasions will arise when we can undo some of their untoward consequences with reforms adapted to contemporary conditions. When they do arise, democracy and equality will be in the clay with which we are working. These are not vices but rather problematic virtues, which have served us well on many occasions—and, properly tempered, they may do so again. In the Court’s First Amendment decisions in the Buckley v. Valeo through Citizens United v. FEC line, the spirit of democracy helped sustain an essential constitutional provision against powerful, persistent assaults by political elites.
I conclude that we should not expect proposals for institutional reform such as those propounded by Judge Buckley and Jay Cost to succeed on their own, by sheer force of argument. Rather they are additions to our stockpile of ideas, to be held at the ready for the day the man in the arena may seize upon them to resolve a crisis or other matter that arrives by surprise.
The Financial Crisis
As a great admirer of James Grant, I was more than a little disappointed in his review of my book, Hidden in Plain Sight: What Caused the World’s Worst Financial Crisis and Why It Could Happen Again (“The Subprime Directive,” Summer 2015). Critical reviews are to be expected, but this one seemed to raise questions about Grant’s attachment to the philosophy I had supposed he and I shared.
He argues in his review that my monocausal view of the crisis—that it was caused by government housing policies and not insufficient regulation of the financial sector or other irresponsibility and greed on Wall Street—failed to note that “[i]t was obvious that house prices were much too high, that the securities fashioned from subprime mortgages were anything but creditworthy, and that some of the biggest Wall Street banks and brokerage houses were wobbling on their high stilts of debt.” In other words, the members of the private sector bear a significant share of the blame for the crisis because they had irresponsibly allowed these things to develop.
I had always thought of Grant as a believer in markets—as am I—but this statement is troubling. If all these things were so “obvious,” why were they not arbitraged away? Where were the short-sellers and naysayers who would profit from the “obvious” opportunity to bet against the foolish followers of conventional wisdom? Either markets work or they don’t, and if they can’t process and respond to information—especially obvious information—we had better rethink our attachment to market discipline as a way to control risk-taking.
The answer for me was that what Grant thinks was obvious now was not obvious then. I have no doubt that the deservedly esteemed and widely read Grant’s Interest Rate Observer said in 2006 that a crisis was on the way; so did many others. But apparently the data was not there, or at least not enough to persuade a substantial portion of the short-seller community to act. As part of the research for my book, I scoured the internet for anyone who—before 2008—actually came close to understanding how many subprime and other weak and risky mortgages were in the financial system. I found no analyst, economist, or financial pundit—no one—who had any specific “actionable data,” as they say in the intelligence community.
Now, however, after the government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) became insolvent and more data has become available, we know that there were 31 million such low quality and risky loans—a majority of all mortgages—of which 76% were on the books of government agencies, principally Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Fed, which has a vast staff of economists and more information about the financial economy than any other government agency, believed both before and after the crisis that there were about 7 million subprime mortgages (mortgages to people with low credit scores) outstanding in 2008. At the time, however, there were probably 18 million. The rest were what is known as Alt-A—mortgages with low down payments, limited documentation, no amortization, or other deficiencies. The Fed’s lack of information was why Fed chair Ben Bernanke was telling Congress and stating publicly in 2007 that the subprime mortgage problem was “contained,” and why the Fed did not even discuss the issue at the meeting the day before BNP Paribas shook the world’s financial markets in August 2007 by suspending redemptions on several of its funds.
In the book, I included a number of possible explanations for the failure of analysts, rating agencies, housing economists, regulators, and others to understand the extent of the deterioration that had occurred in mortgage quality, but the principal one, as Grant noted, was that Fannie and Freddie had never disclosed that they had reduced their underwriting standards in order to comply with the affordable housing goals. Taking the position that a “subprime” mortgage was only a loan that they acquired from a subprime lender—not (as the bank regulators had decreed in 2001) a mortgage made to a borrower with a credit score less than 660—Fannie and Freddie had routinely stated in their Securities and Exchange Commission filings that their exposure to subprime loans was “minimal” or “less than 1 percent.” It was not until, insolvent, they had been taken over by a government conservator that they began to publish information suggesting the real scope of their exposure to these low quality loans. For example, in 2009, Fannie reported for the first time that in 2008 it was exposed to a total of over $830 billion in subprime and Alt-A loans, of which over $300 billion were subprime, and that these loans accounted for over 80% of the losses that drove them into insolvency.
Incidentally, as I note in the book, this startling information, which was available in 2009, was never included in the 2011 report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC), from which I dissented. Famously and shockingly, the FCIC concluded that Fannie and Freddie were only “marginal” in their contribution to the crisis.
At a time when the financial system—and the world itself—seems so complex and impenetrable, it is certainly out of style to say that there was one single factor that dwarfs all others as a cause of something as historically consequential as the financial crisis. Surely, there were other contributing elements. But government housing policies were so important as a cause—and so obscured or denied in the works of the Left—that I have no problem saying that without these policies there never would have been a financial crisis. If that means to some that I’ve absolved Wall Street, well, so be it.
Peter J. Wallison
American Enterprise Institute
Making Gay Okay
Justin Buckley Dyer’s “Marriage License” article in the Summer 2015 Claremont Review of Books contains a good analytical overview of the homosexual “marriage” debate. It is also supposed to be a review of my book, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything. I do appreciate his kind remarks about it, but have some reservations. Dyer accurately states part of my thesis and part of my conclusion, but he nowhere mentions how I got from the one to the other. So I hope I may include a few essential things that the reader of Dyer’s essay would be unaware are contained in the book.
Dyer finds the title, Making Gay Okay, silly, but nowhere reflects on the far more serious subtitle, How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything, or what it might mean. The dynamo operating throughout the book is powered by Aristotle’s moral psychology—how individual moral failure can be tolerated only by creating a rationalization to justify it, and why this rationalization must ultimately be enforced on society as a whole for it to succeed. (Voilà, homosexual “marriage” as a new civil right!) This unmentioned matter is central to the book.
Also, I don’t so much claim, as Dyer says, that “our abandonment of traditional sexual ethics portends dire consequences” (emphasis added), as show exactly how the dire consequences already wrought in U.S. foreign policy, the courts, the military, science, and education were produced through and by the rationalization for homosexual misbehavior. What about, for instance, the revelations on how the American Psychiatric Association fraudulently changed its diagnostic evaluation of homosexuality? Mention of this is missing, as is the fact that the longest chapter is a critical philosophical analysis of the court decisions that led to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Obergefell ruling on same-sex “marriage.”
Dyer’s response to my main objection—that he neglects to mention how I got from A to B—might be that the “traditional teaching” he presents is, in fact, from my book. Were that the case, he needed to tell the reader this. Also, he amply represents the arguments from a pro-homosexual “marriage” book (paired with mine in his review essay), and then gives intelligent rejoinders to them. Ought he not to have said whether my book addresses these same arguments? He doesn’t, but it does.
As mentioned at the beginning, Dyer gives a generally good overview of the contested subject matter, and there is little doubt where his sympathies lie, but there are a couple of points worth raising. It is odd for Dyer to suggest that the “persuasiveness (and relevance)” of the argument that “heterosexual unions are essentially procreative” is weak because “people who haven’t already adopted a classical Aristotelian metaphysic” would be hard to persuade. Yet every civilization of recorded history knew this about heterosexual unions, and the majority of them were without Aristotelian metaphysics. Anyone open to reality should be able to figure it out. Aristotelian metaphysics was developed as a reflection upon this reality. The homosexual movement is not so much a rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics, as it is a rejection of reality itself and an attempted reconstitution of a new reality based upon a lie.
Dyer presents the pro-homosexual position as saying that “the unitive function of sex can stand on its own.” Indeed, a case could be made that it can. However, he fails to point out that a homosexual could not make the case, for the simple reason that homosexual relations are not, and could not be, unitive in any sense of the word. The parts are not matched and do not fit, and the attempt to make them fit is hygienically compromised. And since Dyer raises the issue of empirical evidence, I wonder why he fails to mention the chapter and appendix in my book that point to the overwhelming empirical evidence that male-on-male sexual relations is literally sickening and often lethal.
One last point. Dyer asks, “Is Reilly correct to warn that if this issue is lost, all will be lost? Perhaps, but, if so, it will be lost gradually and not overnight.” However, it has not happened gradually because, in historical terms, the 50 years since the Sexual Revolution began in the 1960s is “overnight.” Now with the Obergefell decision, we have entered warp speed. Fasten your seatbelt, Professor Dyer.
Robert R. Reilly