Man has got to take charge of man. That means, remember, that some men have got to take charge of the rest.C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
The twentieth century poses many questions on which the future will depend, and not the least of these is the origins of the reawakened yearning for life in the collective dominated by a tyranny, hard or soft. Why is the idea of freedom foreign to the East and episodic in the West? Why did crowds line the streets, dewy-eyed, to cheer as Hitler rode by? Why could Mussolini routinely fill Piazza Venezia with hysterically cheering Italians? Why is Stalin the second most popular man in Russia? Why did the prisoners in the Gulag weep when Stalin died? Why does modernity have a particular taste for tyranny?
In different ways the Jews and the Greeks had begun the long march toward freedom. Pericles argued that Athens was great because Athens was not Sparta; its citizens were free. The heroes of the Old Testament were men who would not bend the knee to tyrants because a higher loyalty to God had made them free: Daniel, the Three Children, Mattathias.
The freedom we have enjoyed began in the collapse of the most successful secularism the world has known, the Empire of Augustus. Like ours, it was a great secular system that delivered benefits which obscured its real character. It was brought down by a combination of its own internal failures and the rise of the religion of the Greeks and Jews, which it saw instinctively as its mortal enemy. But Christ won, the old empire ended, transformed by belief in God who was not Caesar.
These men and civilizations, Pericles justifying what might be called Athenian exceptionalism, Judas Maccabeus, enraged, attacking a Hellenized idolater, believed in God, or at least the gods and hence in freedom. For God is the only guarantor of human freedom. A godless culture will be a servile culture. I am not thinking of the godlessness represented by the facts that now every movie must be to some degree pornographic or that the language is daily degraded. I am thinking of the fundamental fact of the absence of belief in God. Other civilizations have been wicked—it comes easily to us humans—but few have been godless. The English Restoration is said to have been especially wicked, as was the court of Louis xvi, but while hypocrisy may have been rampant, these were not godless moments. Even the French revolutionaries found they could not do without the idea of God, although the deity they proposed was blasphemy. But we as a culture are now hostile to God–we are his enemies. And pray do not be deceived by the fact that if you poll Americans exiting the amc six, ninety-something percent will say they believe in God. What God does for many of those who say they believe is unclear; in any event seldom does this god influence life beyond the margins of sentimentality.
Whatever caused us to become Godless, whether it was the culture of comfort or the substitution of virtual life for real life, Godlessness is the inevitable concomitant of tyranny, or, stated differently, belief in God challenges the absolute sovereignty of the state while unbelief opens the way to its dominance and hence to some kind of totalitarianism. Chesterton said that if men do not believe in God they will believe in anything. But there is more. If they do not believe in God the anything they are likely to believe in will be themselves, and if they believe in themselves they will become slaves to other men, and government will become tyranny. Politicians speak of reconciling the increasingly combative politics of the Unites States, but there will be no reconciliation because the issue is not resolvable; to talk of moderation is nonsense because all issues are manifestations of one issue: Do men belong to other men or to God?
Abortion is the sacrament of tyranny, and for a reason. It is in a profound sense the only moral issue, for from it flows the great political conclusion that determines the landscape of life. This grisly practice establishes in the mind of members of the abortion-based culture the proposition that persons belong to other persons. I am not thinking here of what may or may not be sin on the part of a frightened girl, perhaps urged on by a boyfriend or parents, who may genuinely believe her action is justifiable; nor presently of the grave injustice to the child whose life is taken. With due regard for the fact that the life of every unborn child must be fought for through witness and counsel and political effort, if the fight for that life is lost, God will care for that child in his mercy. I am rather speaking here of what the abortion culture does to the civilization that permits or encourages it, and pointing out the relevant fact that the toleration and encouragement of the destruction of some persons by others marks the beginning of the passage of a civilization into tyranny, and indeed into barbarism.
The choice to abort is a personal sin and a violent tragedy, but state sponsorship of abortion is also a political act of far-reaching significance. Of course it destroys, but in another way it educates, leading inevitably to political tyranny, and it does so because its message is the proposition that some persons belong by right and absolutely to other persons. It is the cause and the result of atheism, for if men believe that others as much as themselves are God’s good creatures, they will hesitate, but if they do not believe that they and other men and women belong to God their Creator, they will believe that they belong to themselves, and once it is established in imagination that life is purely a human matter, life will pass from the domain of every-man-his-own-master into the domain of the state, where some men will be the masters of others.
Statism, collectivism, and tyranny—and the abortion culture—are inseparable partners. China is the poster culture. There has been in modern times only one totalitarian state that did not overtly encourage the abortion culture: Italy from 1921 to 1943, and that was because Mussolini knew that while the Italian people might be lured into his fantasy of faux grandeur, they would never take to a practice that so clearly contradicted their inherited faith. And, yes, it is true that National Socialism in Germany rewarded the mothers of large families—true because soldiers were needed—but these persons belonged to the Fatherland, and on another day Hitler would have ordered those same persons destroyed, as he did millions. For persons belonged to the state, and whether there were to be few or many, that the state would decide.
The political class in the United States now enthusiastically sponsors the abortion culture. In recent weeks a new regime, in its first days, has funded abortion in China (often forced abortion), has removed the prohibition that would prevent a physician from cracking the skull of a newborn who had survived abortion. It has made motions to remove the clause that allowed medical persons who opposed abortion to decline to participate in it or recommend for it. It has appointed a council on women and girls consisting unanimously of abortion advocates. It has appointed a chief legal counsel to the Federal government who has written that pregnancy is slavery. Abortion is sponsored zealously, not reluctantly, by a chief magistrate who voted repeatedly that a child who survived his or her attempted murder should still be killed by medical persons whose sensibilities Nazi doctors would have approved.
What this tells us is that at its heart the political class is insistent that persons belong to other persons and therefore ultimately to the state. Not even in the American South, the poster child for wickedness because of its history in this matter, not even in darkest Mississippi, was it ever maintained that one person had an unqualified, arbitrary right to deprive any other person, even one in bondage, of life.
We are all tottering toward bondage now, and for the most part happily. The route we have traveled to this new Egypt is not unknown: two hundred years of increasingly corrupt education, two hundred years of the increasing inability of the political class to provide moral leadership, two hundred years of the accommodation of the Church to the culture. Slowly at first, then gaining momentum as technology transformed culture, then crashing down like an alpine avalanche after the technology of birth prevention was perfected. And now, at last, triumphant.
The abortion culture must be a statist culture. The enemy of the statist culture is the free, acting person, who, while he may, in the words of the New Testament, honor the king and render unto Caesar, knows that there is a King of Kings who created and loves, judges, rewards, and punishes. This free person also knows that no other person is his possession. The fact that the political class is not simply permissive but is zealous for abortion and contraception suggests that they know its value as political theater. The political class knows that abortion (and contraception, its presupposition) is not merely one, but the best and most essential instrument of political propaganda, calculated to inure the population to the normalcy of man’s control over man. A chief executive who will persistently defend the right of a doctor to take in hand the head of a new-born, crush it open, and suck out the brains, has made the decision that man belongs to man. Conversely, the defense of life and the defense of natural procreation are the cornerstones of freedom because they are the signs that God, not man, governs mankind. This the enemy knows well.
The greatest political act a free citizen can commit is to leave the birth of children in the hands of God and to decline to kill even the inconvenient because men do not belong to other men but to the Lord.