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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
by Rev. Ben Johnson
This article was first published February 8, 2019, at Acton.org.
The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and Why The Church Was Right All Along
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D.
TAN Books, 2018. 406 pages.
Reviewed by Rev. Ben Johnson
Keen-eyed analysts have probed every ideological trend threatening liberty – from socialism and fascism to the Alt-Right – with one glaring exception: the revolt against personal responsibility. Jennifer Roback Morse, the founder of the Ruth Institute, capably fills this void in The Sexual State. Building on her previous book Love and Economics, Morse summarizes the sexual revolution in just a few propositions: It separates children from sexual activity and marriage, and eradicates all differences between men and women. This apparent personal freedom expands government by creating new avenues for regulation, increasing the need for means-tested welfare programs, and breaking down the “little society of the family.”
No public program can care for children as fully, selflessly, or naturally as two parents in a lifelong, committed union. From a social standpoint, Morse writes, the genius of marriage as a social institution is that its “extremely minimal legal structure” creates “a largely self-regulating, voluntary system of long-term cooperation between parents.”
Thus, we should not be surprised to learn that totalitarians of all stripes have sought to control the family. Inside the family, people develop loyalties to real people, not the Dear Leader. They develop habits that may not further the interests of the totalitarian State, with its all-embracing designs on every person. Inside the family, people may commit to ideas other than the state-sanctioned ideology.
The new ideology co-opted Marxism’s dialectic of inevitability, now known as standing on “the right side of history.” However, this ideology finds advocates across the political spectrum.
Certain factions of the liberty movement embrace the Liberationist Narrative – something she calls “the Walmart theory of sex” – which celebrates changes to family life for giving us greater choice and agency. “Under a no-fault legal regime, we are freer on the front end” of a divorce or paternity settlement, Morse writes. “But we are less free on the back end, as the State steps in to manage the consequences.” Divorce courts dictate the time and money parents spend on their children, the language spoken in the home, even such mundane decisions as a child’s prom dress. This degree of intrusion into an intact family would be “unthinkable.”
Family breakdown, whether through divorce or illegitimacy, strongly harms children and beckons the government to fill the void left by absent parents. “Increases in the likelihood of poverty, physical illness, mental illness, poor school performance, and crime have all been associated with being separated from a parent,” Morse writes. This elevated risk persists even in nations as committed to egalitarianism and progressive social values as Sweden. Such pathologies usher children into the welfare system where, once inside, a matrix of laws holds them in place. Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, and WIC eligibility guidelines disfavor marriage. The cost of family breakdown to the U.S. government alone totals an estimated $100 to $112 billion, Morse notes, adding that studies show the same phenomenon increases welfare spending in New Zealand, the UK, and Canada. “The ordinary tax-paying citizen faces a greater tax burden than otherwise would be the case as a direct result of what, by the Liberationist Narrative, is an increase in sexual freedom,” Morse writes.
Similarly, gender ideology “creates a separation between children and their parents and inserts the State between them,” as the “State sets itself up as the public enforcer of their new identities.” In Minnesota, a school district facilitated a minor’s gender transition without parental notification. Laws now police the permissible use of pronouns.
“Civil libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and open-minded liberals should all be troubled by the actual results as opposed to the supposed benefits of this ‘freedom,’” Morse writes.
References to “class warfare” and “class analysis” may lead some reviewers to caricature the book as a rejection of a free society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Morse, who highlights her “affiliations with all three of the major schools of free market economics,” ascribes changed cultural mores to excusing the libidinous excesses of “the managerial elite”: the nexus of academics, lobbyists, government bureaucrats, thought leaders, and mass media sharing the same narrative. Yet she defines the term by noting:
The managerial class goes beyond the purely class designation in this respect: it’s built upon the idea that society is something that needs to be managed. … Seldom have the privileged classes taken it upon themselves to “nudge” their neighbors and fellow citizens about their eating habits, sex lives, spending habits, personal safety, and even their thoughts. …
Legal historian Joseph Dellapenna observes that the rise of the managerial class was not unique to the United States in the twentieth century. “The managerial class rose to dominance in the U.S. with the New Deal in the 1930s, and has continued to dominate ever since. … Evidence of the transition to social domination by a managerial class can be traced back to the nineteenth century, particularly in England. Nor was this transition limited to western or capitalist nations. In a real sense, the rise of Communism and Socialism was nothing more or (less) than a rise of the managerial class.”
“Ponder that last sentence for a while,” Morse writes.
Somehow, an a historical breed of Christian – especially Roman Catholic – intellectual believes he will capture, sanctify, and redirect the vast apparatus of the State toward theologically approved ends. Assuming an entrenched bureaucracy will simply acknowledge defeat and implement an opposing viewpoint seems naïve, albeit less so than the notion that the State’s coercive power will forever remain in holy hands. Revolutionaries yearn to control the levers of power more than those who believe in natural law, if only because the State need not compel actions that occur naturally.
Morse roots her hope for the future in nature and culture. An entire chapter defends the notion that differences between men and women are real, biologically based, and ineradicable. Each section ends by presenting the relevant Catholic teaching, which she describes as “the common heritage of all Christians.” And she remembers the victims of the sexual revolution in each chapter, showing the very real toll that comes from shunning self-restraint and refusing to deny instant and perpetual gratification. True liberty rests on the foundation of personal responsibility or sinks into the quicksand of the paternal state.
Morse concludes with a 15-point “Manifesto for the Family,” two-thirds of which consists of asking the government to “stop doing things it never had any business doing in the first place.” Virtually unique in political literature, her last three proposals can be adopted only by individuals. Building a “civilization of love” literally begins in each human heart. That private sanctuary, the link between the individual conscience and the fiery flame of divine love, kept the spark of civilization alive after the barbarian sack of Rome, times of plague and pestilence, and through the dark night of atheistic Communism. That flame can outshine the strange fires of fallen passions and realign society according to its light again.