Timothy S. Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to “Helping Families Thrive.” Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
How World War I Changed America, 100 Years On
Timothy Goeglein is vice president of government and external relations at Focus on the Family in Washington, D.C. An excerpted version of this article appears in The Washington Times.
One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I.
The Great War’s centennial is especially poignant because of the massive sacrifice America made in both blood and treasure, mostly forgotten and faded now as so much mist over the ocean.
More than 53,000 Americans lost their lives on the battlefields in that horrific European conflagration. Disease alone added another 60,000 wartime deaths. More than 204,000 others were wounded, many of them maimed with terrible disfigurements.
Some 15 million people lost their lives in World War I.
The late entry of the United States into the war — it had been raging since 1914 — was a major inflection point in 20th-century history.
While America’s involvement in the war indisputably assured the Allied victory over Imperial Germany by November 1918, it left a road of ruination, blood, and destruction that even today is difficult to internalize.
Not only did those bloody battlefields soak up American lives en masse, but also they reminded a restive America that President Woodrow Wilson, who had been first elected in 1912, was not infallible.
Wilson’s Push for War: Despite an almost obsessive zeal, Wilson was unable to gain passage in the United States Senate of the Treaty of Versailles even as he was being lionized across Europe as a colossus of victory.
That failure in the Senate prevented the United States from entering the League of Nations, which the president viewed as his own legacy of international diplomacy and a fitting close to the war.
Wilson said he wanted “peace without victory,” and just as the war came to its close that November, congressional elections were underway.
The president appealed to the American people to support his global efforts and to return a Democratic Congress to the Hill. Republicans made up the new majority in both houses and Wilson soon found himself eager to lead with few willing to follow.
President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 after having kept the U.S. out of war for two years. Despite his dour congressional prospects, and against the best counsel of his closest advisers, Wilson traveled to the interminable Paris peace conference anyway, taking with him not a single Republican.
Everywhere he went he was the subject of standing ovations and sizeable crowds, an utter disjunction from how he was viewed at home. That discordant gap between military victory abroad and political despair at home was palpable.
Wilson returned to Washington and lobbied hard for the Versailles Treaty, which contained his vaunted idea of a League of Nations.
Almost all aspects of the treaty reflecting what became known as “Wilsonism” were eviscerated and the Senate twice rejected the act that would have formally ratified the treaty.
America on the World Stage: Wilson had supreme confidence that America needed to get into the European conflict and leverage the country’s strength to bring it all to a decisive and victorious close.
The United States’ population had reached 100 million people, much larger than any nation in Europe with the exception of Russia, which had surpassed 170 million. Just as America entered the war, the Russians withdrew amid revolution and revolt.
While the overwhelming majority of the American people believed that European wars were not the business of America, the United States retained its right to trade with any nation at war.
But when Germany violated the neutrality of Belgium and propelled itself into unrestricted submarine warfare, it was broadly viewed as a violation of international law.
In March 1917, Wilson was inaugurated for a second term, and less than a month later, he came to Capitol Hill on a drizzly night asking for the war resolution. He said, in essence, the war had already come to America because of Germany’s intransigence.
Just two days after his powerful speech to a joint session of Congress, in the early morning hours of Good Friday, 1917, the House of Representatives passed the resolution 373 to 50. Wilson signed the resolution, which would direct 50,000 Americans to their demise.
On June 26, 1917, the 1st Division landed on French soil; it began fighting four months later in October. Maj. Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing (1860-1948) led the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe.
Pershing issued a stark and stunning challenge: that America should have 1 million men in France no later than May 1918, and that the American Expeditionary Forces should grow as large as 4 million troops.
Wilson strongly supported a draft, and by the end of the war, nearly 5 million men had been taken into the service under the Selective Service Act.
All told, there were 93 American combat divisions, 42 of which ultimately reached Europe; 30 actually saw combat there. They were known as the doughboys.
One of the most important benchmarks was reached in August 1918, when plans were firmly in place to use the American First Army as a single unit.
This was important because, until that time, American troops were essentially used to fill yawning gaps when Allied armies broke down or were decimated as the Germans advanced.
Turning the Tide: The most important and famous battles of World War I with American participation soon followed: Cantigny in May of 2018; Chateau-Thierry shortly thereafter; and Belleau Wood, which raged across the entire month of June, rapidly becoming a household name everywhere in the country.
The Marine Brigade and the Army regiments of the 2nd Division made among the most heroic stands of the entire war.
By September, Pershing made the strategically important decision to use the American First Army as a single unit in a major offensive. Supported by French artillery, the Americans took Saint-Mihiel from the Germans who had held that salient since their very first drive into France four years earlier in 1914.
What followed was the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne, commencing in late September and lasting until Nov. 11, 1918. In those 47 days of fierce fighting, 29 American combat divisions had been used, pressing hard against the entire length of the German line from Verdun all the way to the English Channel.
It was a stellar American effort in which more than 1,200,000 Americans took part.
Not only was the human toll astonishing, but so was the financial cost. The American government allocated more money for World War I than it had for all government expenses combined from the 1790s until 1914.
At 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the Great War ended. The American air ace Eddie Rickenbacker flew his Spad over the American lines to see what was happening.
Fifty years later, he recalled the silence was deafening and of a sudden. What the historian Barbara Tuchman called “the guns of August” had gone silent.
“Never Such Innocence Again”: Armistice Day was considered a near-holy day for much of the 20th century with a flourish of parades and tolling of church bells. It was considered a near-religious duty to decorate the graves of veterans.
The historian Paul Fussell observed that the Great War “reversed the idea of progress.” An entire generation of men were irrevocably lost.
This centennial underscores that fraught relationship. Wilson and the Great War into which he led America are indelibly and ineluctably linked in time and memory. “Never such innocence again,” wrote the poet Philip Larkin.
In 1913, Wilson told a friend from Princeton that it would be a real irony if his administration had to deal in any significant manner with foreign affairs.
But during the Wilson presidency, the Great War had in part propelled and codified the upward trajectory of the United States of America as the most powerful and dominant nation in the world.
This is why the centennial we mark today matters. *
Justice Clarence Thomas: The Duty of Citizenship
Timothy S. Goeglein
Tim Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to “Helping Families Thrive.” Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com. This essay is adapted from a piece that appeared in Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine.
“Every right is married to a duty, every freedom owed a corresponding responsibility.” —Russell Kirk
Commencement addresses have become, on far too many American college campuses, predictably star-studded events with equally predictable patterns.
Steven Spielberg, James Franco, Oprah Winfrey, and other Hollywood grandees sweep onto elite universities, offer-up 20 to 30 minute addresses on “hot” trendy topics, and exit stage left to sometimes deafening applause.
In an age of celebrity, ask the typical graduate what they remember from the commencement address a mere two years later and it is common to receive blank stares. Speech after speech, too many commencement addresses leave students and parents alike hollow with superficial and banal rhetoric.
This is a shame and a waste. Commencement addresses should nourish young minds, hearts, and souls with something of the beautiful, the just, and the true.
In preparation for this article I went back through collegiate and academic history to read memorable commencement addresses. I was pleasantly surprised, for instance, that some U.S. presidents vividly recalled not only the commencement speeches but also how the ideas expressed indelibly impacted their lives and key decisions.
For instance, President George H. W. Bush, 50 years after his graduation from Andover, testified to the lasting influence his commencement speaker made on his life: What an example of the power for good of one well-composed speech — of one set of ideas — on the young mind of a future president!
It’s rare now, like finding a diamond in the rough, to witness or read such a commencement speech. Like witnessing Haley’s Comet — its luminosity makes the brilliance of the phenomenon valuable.
Such was the case with Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas’ clear and concise commencement address at Hillsdale College this past May. Titled “Freedom and Obligation,” it is a tour de force. It was the 164th such commencement at that small liberal arts college in Michigan, but it will be remembered as one of the finest. It is such an affecting speech, delivered with sincerity, warmth, and brio. It could become part of the curriculum or part of a course on citizenship.
Thomas asserts that the other side of freedom is responsibility — there is a relationship between duty and sacrifice and a thriving constitutional republic on the other. He says liberty comes with abiding obligations, the most important of which is to live with integrity expressed often in small and unrecognized ways.
He says individuals who are committed to responsibility are the glue that keeps a free society thriving.
Citizenship, Thomas says, is rarely flashy, but it is responsible for defending those first and unchanging principles that undergird our national institutions.
“Things that were considered firm have long since lost their vitality,” said Thomas,
“. . . and much that seemed inconceivable is now firmly and universally established. Hallmarks of my youth, such as patriotism and religion, seem more like outliers, if not afterthoughts.”
Throughout the speech, with characteristic insight and subtlety, Thomas weaves his observations with personal experience. He avoids an Olympian pose and chooses a humble approach, articulating what’s important to a self-governing society.
Although he does not mention his memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, one of the most self-revealing books written by a Supreme Court justice, Thomas does speak of the most impactful person in his life.
In the segregated South of his youth, he recalls his grandfather having an unwavering view of Biblically ordered relationships: “Being wronged by others did not justify reciprocal conduct. Right was right, and two wrongs did not make a right” —simple, elegant, bold.
“I resist what seems to be the formulaic or standard fare at commencement exercises — a broad complaint about societal injustice and an exhortation to the young graduates to go out and solve the problem and change the world. . . . Having been a young graduate myself, I think it is hard enough to solve your own problems, which can sometimes seem to defy solution.”
What makes this appealing is its recognition that we are all fallen and sinful people, and that we all have inherent limits as fallible men and women of what we can do to impact the world around us.
Instead of asking the graduates to form a utopian vision that is unattainable, Thomas encourages students to be self-reflective and to be accountable for their actions in their families, with friends and neighbors, and in the communities where they live and work. Such actions, he said, will have the net effect of widening the scope of freedom in the place where God has put us.
“Today, we rarely hear of our personal responsibilities in discussions of broad notions such as freedom or liberty. It is as though freedom and liberty exist wholly independent of anything we do, as if they are predestined . . . in addressing your own obligations and responsibilities in the right way, you actually do an important part on behalf of liberty and free government.”
He says personal responsibility and sacrifice is what the Founders of America believed in as they created the freest country in the world:
“There is always a relationship between responsibilities and benefits. . . . If you continue to run up charges on your credit card, at some point you reach your credit limit. If you continue to make withdrawals from your savings account, you eventually deplete your funds. Likewise, if we continue to consume the benefits of a free society without replenishing or nourishing that society, we will eventually deplete that as well. If we are content to let others do the work of replenishing and defending liberty while we consume the benefits, we will someday run out of other people’s willingness to sacrifice.”
Using that simple, graspable illustration, Thomas draws a parallel between liberty and obligation, between freedom and duty.
Near the close of the speech, Thomas personalizes this principle by sharing with the Hillsdale audience how he had gone to his grandfather to convey his frustration over the criticism and calumny hurled at him during one of the most difficult moments of his life in the early 1980s.
He said that his grandfather’s advice was singular, tender, and inspired: “Son, you have to stand up for what you believe in.” For Thomas this was a moment of duty. His grandfather communicated the necessity of empathy and fortitude, as the foundation for faith and grace, amidst his most trying time of life.
“As you go through life, try to be a person whose actions teach others how to be better people and better citizens. Reach out to the shy person who is not so popular. Stand up for others when they’re being treated unfairly. Take the time to listen to the friend who’s having a difficult time. Do not hide your faith and your beliefs under a bushel basket, especially in this world that seems to have gone mad with political correctness.”
What did all this add up to for the graduates and their families?
Thomas’ own tenure has been an example of this challenge — defined by the eminence of a statesman, a poise unflappable, and a tireless and relentless striving for justice.
On the same day I finished rereading parts of Thomas’ great speech, a friend had sent me an essay quoting the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Just so.
The clarity and brilliance of Justice Clarence Thomas’ Hillsdale commencement address is a reminder that freedom is not free; that by serving God and others first and ourselves last, there is a benefit to the community and the country; and that by better understanding the relationship between virtue and liberty, we come to understand that for freedom to flourish, we have to keep promises, and pursue excellence.
Justice Thomas, a keeper of the constitutional flame, whose life on the bench defines grace and intelligence, has shown us, by example, that by taking responsibility for our lives and by acting with courage we become the indispensable the citizen. *
What Has the Great Society Wrought? — Poverty and Broken Families
Timothy S. Goeglein
Tim Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to “Helping Families Thrive.” Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com. This essay is adapted from a piece that appeared in Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine.
Fifty years ago in 1966, there was a major revolution underway in American government that would have a massive impact on millions of families and marriages. It can all be traced back to one particular U.S. president and the unique circumstances that brought him to the Oval Office. It is a story being lionized in popular culture. But a half-century later, it is worth asking whether the celebratory tone is really an accurate reflection of what that revolution’s impact has actually been.
Earlier this year HBO transformed a hit Broadway play into a television special lauding President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s 1964 campaign and early term at the White House. The riveting narrative follows the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, the tragic event that catapulted Johnson from the vice presidency to commander in chief. The title of the program, “All the Way,” comes from one of the better-known pro-Johnson campaign slogans “All the way with LBJ” against Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
Similarly a play called “The Great Society,” which premiered in 2015 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and which title is taken from the name of Johnson’s most important domestic policy programs, will be heading to Broadway in 2017. The president plays a starring role in that production too.
The name of Johnson’s massive domestic agenda was taken from a now-forgotten British professor named Graham Wallas who in 1914 outlined a series of domestic reforms he called the Great Society. Wallas’ proposals have faded with time but the slogan he coined entered the American lexicon as one of the most famous names in politics and is inseparable from the Johnson legacy.
In 1964 Johnson went to the University of Michigan to deliver one of the most consequential speeches of his early presidency, unveiling the Great Society programs that would become the largest, most intrusive expansion of the federal government ever.
“The challenge of the next half-century is whether we have the wisdom to use wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization,” said Johnson in soaring tones. “For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.” “Upward” was the operative word.
The gigantism of the Great Society made President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, and the progressive era initiatives of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt of early 20th century, appear relatively modest by comparison.
The revolution Johnson launched that day in Ann Arbor was the most far-reaching legislative transformation in our nation. How did it actually happen? What are the ramifications of Johnson’s vast promises more than a half-century later? And is Johnson’s legacy — especially its impact on the most vulnerable American families and marriages — worth celebrating on HBO, on Broadway, and in popular culture?
Johnson and his staff lost no time after Kennedy’s murder, beavering away around the clock to design a series of new programs that would be financed by America’s post-World War II abundance of wealth and prosperity. “I am a Roosevelt New Dealer,” Johnson said the day after the assassination. “Kennedy was a little too conservative to suit my taste.”
When Johnson came to office, Americans overwhelmingly trusted the federal government to expand outward, upward, and across the continent. The war had given them outsized confidence in what Washington could achieve on a grandiose scale. The Johnson administration leveraged that confidence by radically altering the constitutional limits on legislation, regulation, and spending on a herculean scale.
The Johnson administration shifted the governance of the country from a constitutional republic rooted in localism to an opaque, vast regulatory state rooted inside the beltway. The sheer size and scope of government would grow exponentially during the Johnson era.
What the president outlined was a cornucopia of new programs and funding mechanisms that would seamlessly seep into almost every facet of life and with a special emphasis on urban America. Never before had the government deigned its solemn right and obligation to so deeply embed and inject itself into the lives of older Americans; into the education system at every level, from primary schooling to the higher learning; and perhaps most importantly, into the lives and personal decisions of the most vulnerable families in the country.
The relationship between the average citizen and the national government was altered forever.
Just as the affluence and suburbanization of middle class America was growing and expanding in ways that seemed boundless at the time, Johnson’s vision was to create an attendant kaleidoscopic role for Washington in a manner unparalleled since the Founding. The people would have less say in matters of governance; experts in the bureaucracy would have more.
Johnson cast his vision of the Great Society with strong support not only from most of his fellow Democratic Party members but also from large swaths of the Republican Party, including most prominently the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, Everett Dirksen of Illinois. Dirksen and the president became cohorts for big government.
The promises emanating from the nation’s capital were sometimes borderline mystical: Cities large and small would be built and rebuilt with the federal government as the grand marshal of the funding parade. Poverty would be nearly eradicated from the American scene all together. Racial discrimination would be placed on a pathway to the ash heap of history. The public schools would be gleaming and bright. Families would feel unprecedented stability because Uncle Sam was going to be the new center of its strength and future. The promises seemed endless.
Ironically, the liberals of his own party expressed the most initial misgivings about Johnson’s vision and pledges. But they soon climbed aboard what quickly became a proverbial gravy train of federal spending built upon the central promise of the Great Society: that if the government was not expanded, the alternative would be national chaos rooted in endless upheaval across the nation especially in the urban core. Racial tension had been building since the late 1950s.
The Great Society, Johnson and his allies promised, would be the antidote to this brewing national dysfunction.
As Robert Caro and Randall Woods have made crystalline in their definitive histories of the Johnson era, the president intimidated feckless members of Congress into supporting the new federal leviathan that he was rapidly and systematically creating. Johnson knew how the “game” on Capitol Hill was played because he had become its legendary master during a long tenure as one of the most powerful majority leaders in Senate history. Members of Congress buckled under as so many toy soldiers, acquiescing to Johnson’s seemingly never-ending demands and deals.
Nineteen sixty-four will be remembered as one of the most eventful and pivotal years for new legislation ever. It was propelled forward by the sheer political dynamism of Johnson’s personality and outsized ambition. It was rooted in an almost palpable intensity captured so brilliantly and evocatively in HBO’s “All the Way.”
It all began with the Economic Opportunity Act, which created Johnson’s “war on poverty” matrix of programs. It was swiftly passed and signed into law. So were the Civil Rights Act and a major tax cut that had been one of President Kennedy’s main economic goals. Even before the tax cut became law, America was experiencing a remarkable boom in the economy, growing at six percent in the years between 1963 and 1966.
That kind of sustained economic growth was both an elixir and catnip to the creators of the modern administrative state because their new government programs could enjoy a steady and large funding stream. Taxpayer dollars would flow into Washington coffers as never before.
Johnson sailed into victory over Goldwater in the ’64 presidential campaign, crushing him by winning an astonishing 61 percent of the vote. Goldwater only won six states. Johnson even surpassed his political hero Franklin Roosevelt’s highest vote totals. Johnson’s landslide election allowed the Democratic Party to dominate both the House and Senate. This massive victory created a political lever of new votes to pass many more of Johnson’s legislative initiatives, including the most far-reaching education bill ever.
A beaming Johnson signed into law both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act, federalizing public and private education in a manner simply unthinkable in the American experience until that time.
Following those victories, Johnson and his team were the architects of two new massive entitlement programs that would provide health care for older Americans and for the poor, Medicare and Medicaid. Never before had there existed a permanent, immovable role for Washington in Americans’ health care coverage.
Medicare had about 20 million people enrolled by 1966; there are 60 million today; there will be 80 million in less than 20 years. Medicaid began with 4 million beneficiaries; today, that number is 70 million.
Johnson didn’t stop there. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 followed, as did the Immigration and Nationality Act that for the first time removed the preference for immigrants from Europe and put into place new provisions favoring immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The goal was to change the ethnic composition of America.
On and on these new gargantuan programs and departments flowed into existence — food stamps, arts and humanities agencies, environmental edicts, a Department of Transportation, and a Department of Housing and Urban Development, to name but a few. The modern welfare state was underway in a mere six months of the new Johnson presidency. It was bewildering.
Only the sky now seemed to be the limit for the propulsive expanse of government, and if it were not for the emergence of major political problems for the Johnson administration by the middle of 1965, one can only speculate what else the White House policy mandarins were planning, including more mandates and edicts from Washington.
What was becoming obvious after this blizzard of new legislation was that most of the funding projections for how much the Great Society would actually cost were not only wrong but wildly inaccurate. A half-century later, we know that the Great Society had cost American taxpayers a staggering $22 trillion. The annual cost of the entitlements alone, when coupled with Social Security and Obamacare, had helped contribute to a national debt surpassing $20 trillion and growing.
Fifty years after most of the Great Society programs were cemented into place and underway, it is almost impossible to measure the damage they inflicted on the most vulnerable marriages and families in the United States. This is perhaps the most dismal legacy of the Johnson years, and a sad testament to the vision of social planners who believed more government would mean stronger families and marriages.
In the Spring of 1965, a sociologist working in the Labor Department, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who would later become an advisor to presidents of both political parties in the White House and a U.S. Senator, shared with President Johnson and his team a report he had compiled on the condition of black families in America.
Moynihan concluded that poverty and urban stress were contributing to the fracturing of families, resulting in 25 percent of all black children being born illegitimately. Moynihan called it a crisis.
Johnson used Moynihan’s study as an important part of a speech he delivered at Howard University in Washington D.C. that year, suggesting that among the solutions to the problems of poor black families should be a guaranteed, government-provided income. Johnson and his policy team were convinced that expanding government funding for broken families would help save them.
Instead, by incentivizing government funding of single mothers who did not marry the fathers of their children, and by expanding the panoply of welfare state programs to Americans who were already experiencing serious stress and hardship, a series of significant problems became an unstoppable conflagration often referred to as a tangle of pathologies.
Millions of Americans were soon engulfed in permanent chaos and dysfunction. Major metropolitan areas were comprised of block upon block of victimized children, broken families, and shattered lives.
A plague of fatherlessness ensued, leading to nearly 72 percent of all American black children being born without married parents by 2015. Marriage had become a rare and distant thing.
Did it have to be this way? When Johnson came to office in late 1963, more than 90 percent of all American babies had married parents. The 1960 census showed that nearly 9 of every 10 children from birth to 18 years of age lived with two married parents.
In fact, between 1940 and 1965, illegitimately had grown from 4 percent to 8 percent, but in the 25 years that would follow, those numbers would dramatically jump to nearly 30 percent by 1990.
Today more than 40 percent of all Americans are born to unmarried mothers. More than 3 of every 10 children live in some arrangement other than a two-parent home. Cohabitation continues to climb, and has become the acceptable norm for millions of Americans. The most recent Census Bureau report says barely half of all American children are living with both married biological parents.
The rejection of marriage, rooted in the 1960s has real ramifications: never-married adults who are 34 years old or younger are now 46 percent of that demographic.
The Great Society produced a miserable society in some of America’s most difficult neighborhoods, and the nuclear family became entangled with a federal government too often engineered by unaccountable and distant bureaucrats. Unparalleled family breakdown in America’s toughest neighborhoods is, in part, the sad result of Lyndon Johnson’s miscalculations and unworkable solutions.
We are living through the collapse of the traditional family and marriage as the norm and expectation for millions of Americans, especially in low-income communities.
Writer Myron Magnet observed that the “dream” of the Great Society has in reality become a “nightmare” for the very people the Great Society was designed to help. Poverty and single-mother childbearing were both higher after the Great Society than before, and the number of intact families experienced significant decline.
President Ronald Reagan, who had been the governor of California during the Johnson years, observed: “In the ’60s, we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won.”
In a major analysis of Johnson’s war on poverty, the sociologist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute concluded:
The official poverty picture looks even worse the more closely one focuses . . . the poverty rate for all families was no lower in 2012 than in 1966. The poverty rate for American children under 18 is now higher than it was then. The poverty rate for the working-age population (18-64) is also higher now than back then. The poverty rate for whites is higher now than it was back then. Poverty rates for Hispanic Americans . . . likewise are higher today than back then.
The consequences of broken families and higher poverty are profound. Reliable sociologists and demographers, liberal and conservative alike, concur that children from broken family structures are far much more likely to become involved in crime as intergenerational dependence on government grows.
Since the launch of the War on Poverty, criminality in America has taken an unprecedented upward turn within our nation. Although reported rates of crime victimization — including murder and other violent crimes — have been falling for two decades, the percentage of Americans behind bars has continued to rise. . . . As of year-end 2010, more than 5 percent of all black men in their 40s and nearly 7 percent of those in their 30s were in state or federal prisons . . .
James Piereson, the President of the William Simon Foundation who has studied urban issues for decades and cogently analyzed the 1960s, has concluded:
The scores of burned-out, crime-ridden, and bankrupt cities in America today must be counted as part of the legacy of the Great Society.
Perhaps HBO and Broadway should consider producing sequels on Johnson that shift away from the florid rhetoric and pledges of his election in 1964 to the reality of what the Great Society’s social upheaval has inflicted on those families who, a half-century later, have experienced and suffered the misery, dislocation, decay, and collapse that ensues when government seeks to replace families, marriages, and parents.
What is needed more than ever in America’s national life, from its urban centers to its exurbs, is a national commitment to the regeneration and renewal of marriage and the family. This restoration would be rooted not in more government programs but rather in a civil society matrix of churches and private-sector local initiatives unencumbered by an overweening managerial elite directed from Washington.
The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector writes:
Able-bodied, non-elderly adult recipients in all federal welfare programs should be required to work, prepare for work, or at least look for a job as a condition of receiving benefits.
The largest historical question is whether we have the moral imagination and national commitment to such an American renaissance? I believe we do. A great nation deserves nothing less than our rededication to the smallest but most powerful civilization of all, the nuclear family. *
Remembering Scalia, Peer of the Founders
Timothy S. Goeglein
Tim Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to “Helping Families Thrive.” Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools . . . and he has not been disappointed. . . . If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world. — Justice Antonin Scalia, 2012
The most passionate, consistent, and intellectually irrepressible voice on the Supreme Court for religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, and marriage and family for the last three decades has gone silent. Justice Antonin Gregory Scalia, 79, died during a Texas hunting trip in February, a loss of almost incalculable proportions. He embodied limitless wisdom and virtue in nearly 30 years at the high court.
With Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and William F. Buckley Jr., Scalia was one of the most influential conservatives of the last century. He believed that while change was inevitable, it needed to unfold prudently with an especial eye toward the unintended consequences in the law. He saw the Constitution as the embodiment of eternal precepts and was therefore rightfully wary of how bad law and poor constitutional reasoning could lead the irretrievable loss of liberty.
From the moment Reagan nominated him to the high bench in 1986, where he won unanimous approval in the U.S. Senate, Scalia was a force of nature to be reckoned with and an exemplar for a kind of jurisprudence that was considered somewhat quirky at the time but has come to be widely accepted as the most important constitutionally orthodox manner of judging cases in America.
Scalia believed in “textualism” or “orginalism,” that believed the words of the United States Constitution’s text actually meant what they said when they were drafted and adopted by the Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The document’s fixed meaning was the lodestar for Scalia’s way of judging.
He averred there was no such thing as a “living Constitution,” by which he meant a legal document whose meaning and definitions changed over and through time. He believed such a view, which amounted to legislating from the bench by mysteriously discovering rights that could not be found in the Constitution, made the application of the law irregular, uneven, and asymmetrical — ultimately shaped by fads, current modes of fashionable thought, and what was considered stylish and new in American political and cultural life.
“If you think aficionados of a living Constitution want to bring you flexibility, think again,” he warned. He said that mode of interpreting the law was a pathway fraught with danger, a view that proved prophetic time and again during his 30 years on the bench. He once quipped:
What is a moderate interpretation of the text? Halfway between what it really means and what you’d like it to mean?
The problem with a living Constitution in a word is that somebody has to decide how it grows and when it is that new rights are – you know – come forth.
Instead, Scalia championed a consistency in the law, infused with unmistakable depth and clarity, that was of a piece with James Madison and the other principle architects of the Constitution.
He was particularly dubious about considering “legislative history” when deciding cases, arguing repeatedly and persuasively that it was not Congress’ duty, role, or obligation to federalize and impose the law, but rather to make good laws within the limited, clearly-defined boundaries of what the Constitution allowed. Scalia was eager and willing to strike down laws that were discordant with an objective, unwavering constitutional standard.
His singular impact has been so widely and deeply felt that no one in law school today on the Left or the Right believes that congressional mandates can be taken, ipso facto, at face value if they violate what is otherwise a state or local prerogative. Even those who are avowed “living constitutionalists” dare to ignore originalism at their own peril.
Scalia’s profound renewal and regeneration of federalism — the proper, constitutional balance between federal and state power — is almost all due to his morally courageous leadership. It was a Herculean achievement in American jurisprudence and probably his greatest legacy.
His consistent plea to return to the proper balance of power rooted in America’s founding era — restricting the national government to exercise powers only fully enumerated in the Constitution, with all other powers pushed away from Washington’s maw — was propelled and extended through Scalia’ energetic lifetime of writing, speaking, persuading, cajoling, and advocating for this Madisonian worldview.
He venerated the achievement and wisdom of the 55 signers of the Constitution, and he made that achievement his lifetime benchmark of excellence. The genius of checks and balances and the separation of powers was the heart of American liberty, he believed. Scalia was a gifted and remarkable steward of the world’s greatest legal document, and was particularly alarmed that the high court was often willing to enable the executive and legislative branches to extend their reach of power beyond constitutional limits.
It is one of the unhappy incidents of the federal system that a self-righteous Supreme Court, acting on its members’ personal view of what would make a “more perfect union” (a criterion only slightly more restrictive than a “more perfect world”) can impose on its own favored social and economic dispositions nationwide . . .
he once observed. He often used humor to say a serious thing in a funny way.
Repeatedly in his questioning of the lawyers during oral arguments, and in his subsequent masterful legal opinions, he would assert there should be one unchangeable benchmark for considering and deciding cases: Did the Constitution allow it or not?
This view of judging often made him highly unpopular on major issues when he was in the minority. But he refused to substitute emotion for thought despite the vicissitudes of constitutional drift. He had an innate distaste for conventional wisdom, nostalgia, and fashion. This took moral courage.
Subsequently he became famous for the elegance, clarity, biting wit, precision, and crystalline touch of his many fiery and well-reasoned dissents in some of the most important cases considered during his lifetime. His willingness to go it alone also made him a bulwark for constitutionally protected freedoms, even as some of his eight fellow justices were willing to compromise liberty for more governmental control and the imposition of their personal views on the rest of the country.
This was especially evident in social and cultural areas about which the Framers intended the federal government to be mostly silent.
In 1989, when his fellow justice Sandra Day O’Connor used dubious and anodyne reasoning to defend her pro-abortion position, Scalia bluntly wrote that her hubristic rationale “cannot be taken seriously.” Where the Constitution did not allow the high court to rule, Scalia believed, it was a matter for the states and not nine unelected lawyers. He referred to such reasoning as a “whatever-it-takes pro-abortion jurisprudence.”
In 2003, when he dissented from the court’s decision to legalize sodomy, thereby opening a pathway for marriage between people of the same sex, Scalia wrote forcefully about how cultural trends and tides too often impacted the law:
Today’s opinion is the product of a court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.
Scalia asserted in that case, Lawrence v. Texas, that the court’s legislating from the bench would eventually be used to justify a new, transgressive definition of marriage. Twelve years later, in 2015, in a major dissent from the court’s decision establishing a new right to homosexual marriage, Scalia derided the ignominious majority opinion of Justice Anthony Kennedy, concluding that it was “couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic.”
To allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation. . . . The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges, answering the legal question whether the American people had ever ratified a constitutional provision that was understood to proscribe the traditional definition of marriage.
Repeatedly Scalia warned in his characteristically incisive, persuasive, and sophisticated manner that we are a government of, by, and for the people and not a government to be led by self-styled, self-appointed elites who are interested in making law without the consent of the governed. He warned that the impact of the centralization of power in Washington was essentially creating a new constitution more like a national regulatory state and less like the constitutional republic which the Framers intended. He said:
If we’re picking people to draw out of their own conscience and experience a “new” Constitution, we should not look principally for good lawyers. We should look to people who agree with us. When we are in that mode, you realize we have rendered the Constitution useless . . .
There were few things that bothered Scalia more than when his detractors suggested that the primary reason he had come to some of his important legal decisions on social issues was because of the primacy of his Christianity.
This was best illustrated in 2007 when a former colleague of his at the University of Chicago asserted that Scalia was in the majority upholding the ban on partial birth abortion because he was Catholic, suggesting that he was incapable of constitutional reasoning apart from his faith. Scalia subsequently told a reporter that the comment was untrue and unfair, and he vowed never again to appear at that university until the professor had left.
Yet he utterly dismissed the concept that there should be religious neutrality in the public square. He gave a speech earlier this year in which he said ours is a religious republic and that faith is a central part of our national life and constitutional understanding. He said God had been generous to the United States because Americans had always honored Him.
God has been very good to us. That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway [following the terrible defeat of Pearl Harbor] was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke His name, we do Him honor. . . . There is nothing wrong with that and do not let anybody tell you that there is anything wrong with that.
Scalia’s views were in sync with those of another great constitutionalist, John Adams, who wrote that our Constitution was made “only for a moral and religious people and is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Like Adams, Scalia believed the maintenance of freedom required the cultivation of virtue. In the American experience, both men believed virtue was nurtured by faith that provided the sustenance of liberty. Scalia abided by Adams’ formulation that the ultimate standard was “rule by law, and not by men.”
I had gotten to know Justice Scalia during the ten years I worked in the United States Senate, during the nearly eight years I worked at the White House, and in my current role with Focus on the Family in Washington. I visited with him in his chambers in 2014, and he shared a story I shall never forget, told in his charming, effecting, convivial, and gregarious style.
He had attended Georgetown University as an undergraduate, majoring in history. At the end of his senior year, before leaving for Harvard Law School where he would become Editor of the Law Review, Scalia had to appear before a small committee of the department to give an oral defense of his senior thesis.
He told me the session went marvelously until the final question. The chairman asked him, “Mr. Scalia, what is the most important event of world history?” Scalia said he didn’t remember the answer he gave because when he was done, the chairman looked at him solemnly and said:
Mr. Scalia, Georgetown has failed you if we didn’t teach you that the most important event of world history is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Scalia told me he never forgot the answer to that timeless question.
Nor did he have doubts about the existence of evil in the world, once telling a magazine reporter he firmly believed in the devil.
When the august English writer and thinker Dr. Samuel Johnson died — he was the leading literary figure of 18th century London — his most famous eulogist said that Johnson’s greatness was so uncontested and undisputed that although he would be succeeded he could never be replaced.
In our American legal firmament, Scalia will eventually be succeeded but can never be replaced. He was a colossus.
He was the most important and influential Constitutionalist and jurist of his era. His vibrant legal reasoning and inimitable writing style were defined by their regal grace and stature. God gave him a beautiful mind and probing intellect. His categorical and clear-eyed defense of marriage, life, and conscience in the public square were matchless.
Scalia lived those principles in a long and happy marriage to Maureen, the love of his life; with their nine children and thirty-six grandchildren, whom he adored; and through his impact on legions of law clerks whom he credentialed to help extend the constitutional legal renaissance he started. We shall not see his like anytime soon.
How fitting then that he died just two days before our national holiday celebrating George Washington’s birthday. It was somehow right that the federal government closed the Monday after Scalia’s death, almost as if we were mourning yet honoring the passing of a great man.
He and Washington were peers of character, leadership, and a noble generosity of spirit that wreathed their consequential lives. Requiescat in pace. *
Whither the American Family?
Tim Goeglein is vice president of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
This triangle of truisms of father, mother, and child cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it - G.K. Chesterton.
A generation ago, a cultural consensus said that the traditional family was worthy of our support. There was widespread understanding and agreement that the nuclear family - a husband and wife committed to each other and devoted to the raising and nurturing of their children - was a powerful force for the common good.
Of course families have always experienced divorce, brokenness, and other trials just as they do today, and just as they have throughout recorded history. Nevertheless, in earlier times the traditional family was considered of paramount importance to the well-being of both individuals and society as a whole.
But that is not the case today. The word family has all but lost its original meaning in our modern landscape. You don't have to look far to see the fallout. Divorce is the norm. An increasing number of children are growing up in homes where at least one parent is absent. Broken families are the root cause of so many of our social problems, from abuse and addiction to poverty and crime.
Our attempts to redefine and reimagine the family only make these problems worse, not better. Somehow, we've lost our way. We live in a media-saturated culture that thrives on sound bites but rarely takes the time to dig deeper into the issues. When it comes to the institution of the family, though, we can't afford to skim the surface. We need to have a deep, well-rounded understanding of the family in order to truly grasp its importance.
Each and every one of us came into this world as part of some family. Most of us go on to start families of our own. Like the air we breathe, family is something we can't live without. But family is so natural, so omnipresent, and so fundamental to life that we tend to take it for granted. We assume it will always be there. That assumption could turn out to be one of the greatest threats facing the world today. For the family, like the earth's natural resources, can be polluted, damaged, or impaired if we don't try to understand what it is, why it is important, and how it can be preserved.
The first thing to understand is that the family is not just some modern, Western, or exclusively Christian idea. It is God's idea. The family is the natural and inevitable outcome of marriage and parenting, which were the first very assignments God gave to mankind in the Garden of Eden, to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." Hence it's no surprise that wherever we go in the world, at any time in human history we find socially approved, encouraged, and protected groupings of people that most of us would recognize as families. Marriage has always existed, and predates the earliest historical records.
Edward Westermarck, one of the most systematic and thorough of anthropologists, who has dedicated his life to the study of marriage throughout many of the world's cultures at various ages, has written:
Marriage . . . is the husband's duty . . . to support his wife and children. . . . That the functions of the husband and father in the family are not merely of the sexual and procreative kind, but involve the duty of protecting the wife and children is testified by an array of facts relating to peoples in all quarters of the world and in all stages of civilization. . . . As for the origin of the institution of marriage, I consider it probable that it has developed out of a primeval habit.
Marriage is the way all societies tie men to their children and to the mothers of their children. What this tells us is that marriage and parenting are both natural - that is, rooted in creation - and learned. In other words, the family is something we need to foster, nurture, and encourage with great care. Even though our physical environment is natural, it still needs to be cared for and protected. The same is true for the human ecology of family.
All cultures at all times must make a purposeful and intentional decision that family matters. Why is this? Because the well-being of the family and the welfare of society go hand in hand. If we ignore this connection, there's a high price to be paid for our negligence - a price we can measure in dollars and cents.
A major university study on the fiscal aspects of the problem has revealed that family decline and fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers more than $112 billion every year, or more than $1 trillion a decade. These figures likely understate the actual costs that arise from an increased need for anti-poverty and welfare programs, criminal justice, school nutrition programs, special education, etc.
Beyond economics, unhealthy families result in a tragic loss of benefits to adults, children, and society. Clearly, where the family declines, individuals and communities suffer in significant ways. This has been well-documented in a diversity of reputable research for the last five decades.
Society is composed of individuals whose character is shaped and fostered in the home. That's why the commitment to the nurturing and defending of the family is such a central and urgent mission. Humanity itself cannot survive without it. Family is utterly basic to the very meaning of humanity; Christians and Jews believe that God created us in His very image - a visible, tangible, understandable representation of who He is and what He is like. And that's not all.
Genesis teaches us plainly that mankind fulfills this role by being both male and female. The first humans were created as a couple, and it's precisely as man and woman together that they mirror God's very nature. It's primarily as lover and beloved in a relationship of mutual give and take that Adam and Eve reveal the nature of God. Adam and Eve, in other words, reflect this beautiful and mysterious relational nature even more perfectly when, through becoming "one flesh" they participate with God in creating a third and distinct person when they beget and bear children.
It is through the family - this new human community of husband, wife, and child -that mankind most clearly shows forth the nature of God and the laws of nature. There is, of course, an infinite difference between the eternal mystery of love and creativity of God, and the physical manner in which male and female generate new life in the human family. After all, God is spirit, not flesh. Nevertheless, in the biblical vision, human sexuality reflects something - or is intended to reflect something - of the eternal exchange of life-giving love found in God.
Theologian Michael Downey made this observation, which is prescient:
The human person is not an individual, not a self-contained being who at some stage in life chooses or elects to be in relationship with another and others. . . . From our origin we are related to others. We are from others, by others, toward others, for others, just as it is in God to exist in the relations of interpersonal love.
This is not just sentimental imagery. It speaks deeply and beautifully of the nature of God, our destiny, and just how important marriage, parenting, and family are within the scheme of Providence's grand and overarching plan. Family, then, is integral not only to human nature, but also to the very nature of God. This side of heaven, marriage and family is the best and most accurate representation we have of the intimate, relational, and loving character of Providence Himself.
Yet there are no perfect families. To be human is flawed. The writer Midge Decter once averred that God puts us into families not to be happy but to be human. There is much truth to that indeed, reflecting and echoing Tolstoy's famous observation: "All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Does this mean that the family is in a hopeless situation? Thankfully not. Redemption is real, and so is renewal.
Excellent research suggests some qualities that seem to characterize successful families. The first is that members of successful families realize that the meaning of family is bigger than themselves. This helps us to see our families and those around us in the proper, larger perspective. Living this kind of "big picture" is healthy and realistic.
Secondly, thriving families are committed to the long haul in marriage and parenting. They make family a top priority, putting it above their personal want and desires. They know that love is more than just an emotion.
Third, a healthy family demonstrates mutual respect, honor, care, and concern for all family members. It emphasizes affirmation and encouragement and downplays criticism.
Fourth, no family can survive if its members are not willing to bend and flex with one another. Grace, forgiveness, and a sense of safety are absolutely essential to smoothly functioning family relationships.
Fifth, balanced parents expect obedience from their children, but they also encourage individuality. They realize that love, and not rigid adherence to rules, is the key to healthy human development.
Sixth, thriving families intentionally create an atmosphere of joy. They laugh together, play together, and delight in one another. But they avoid making jokes at someone's expense.
Finally, balanced families care about the world around them. They take seriously the idea that the world will be a poorer place if they don't do their part to serve others.
We are living in and through an incredibly difficult time for families, marriages, and parenting. The pace of modern life, the practical implications of technological advancement, changes in social attitudes due to major cultural shifts - these and many other factors have combined in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to undermine the quality of family relationships today.
The cultural, public policy, and legal arcs are sometimes discouraging and often against us. Yet amidst this sometimes bleak landscape of familial breakdown, I believe there is genuine reason for hope. That home comes from God's sacred and remarkable model for the family. His design works.
Why focus on families amid all the other areas of life where we could be concentrating? Because the solution to so many of our society's problems can be found in a wholehearted investment in stable, healthy families. Glimmers of eternal truth flash out to us from the heart of everyday family life. Healthy families, marriages, and parenting are both fundamental and foundational.
The business done in the home is nothing less than the shaping of the bodies and souls of humanity. The family is the factory that manufactures mankind.
Good marriages and families are beneficial for everyone. They're good for individuals, both inside and outside the family structure. They're also good for society as a whole.
We must see these immutable, eternal principles more clearly; we owe it to our country, our culture, our civilization. Healthy, thriving families are something the world desperately needs. *
The Moynihan Report at 50
Tim Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
For most of the 1990s, I was privileged to work in the United States Senate for one of the best men in American public life, Dan Coats of Indiana. I began as his deputy press secretary, and later became his communications manager and press secretary. It was a joyous professional ride over nearly a decade, and I was honored to cross over with some of the largest personalities in the history of that august institution: Bob Dole of Kansas, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Robert Byrd of West Virginia. With only one exception, Dole, who is 91, they are all dead now, their legacies the subject for the history books.
But in my time as a staffer, there was no man, other than Coats himself, for whom I garnered more respect than a senator whose worldview, in elemental ways, was almost exactly the opposite of my own: Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. Even before coming to the senate, he had enjoyed an illustrious career, working for U.S. presidents of both political parties, and serving twice as a U.S. ambassador - first in India, and then famously as America's representative to the United Nations. His tenure at the latter accorded him the honorific as perhaps the most effective person the United States has ever sent to that global institution on the East River in Manhattan. Moynihan was fleet of foot and silver of tongue in an otherwise tangled international arena - lithe, eloquent, an orator of gifted, if eccentric, locution.
During my tenure in the Senate, I made it a special point to follow Moynihan's career closely because he seemed to me the rarest thing in the American political arena: a public intellectual who earnestly valued the contest of ideas and welcomed the often spirited and unpredictable thrust and parry that comes with it. Though a liberal Democrat who had made his peace with large government, he also acknowledged the limits of political power.
Also, Moynihan always seemed to find the right balance between constituent services and watching out for New York on the one hand, while on the other hand finding a way to become a central player in the public policy realm far beyond his home state. He would regularly author and publish important, scholarly articles in small journals and magazines that ended up having a national and international impact, and often on topics and policies involving the American family. He had a gift for spotting domestic trends, for good and for ill, and galvanizing others to take special interest in what he had found, and none more so than in family concerns.
He had been raised in Hell's Kitchen in New York City, a tough and gritty part of town; he had made his way toward a Ph.D. in sociology, and eventually became a noted and famous professor at Harvard. He was a supple, elegant, and gifted thinker and writer, drawing from empirical evidence the most astonishing and even prophetic conclusions based on data that others were not researching or had overlooked.
But the most controversial study he ever wrote, the one that propelled him to national attention, happened exactly 50 years ago this year - an event worth recalling because it focused, with diamond-like intensity, on the direction of the American black family and the conditions under which children were being raised. His research would eventually elucidate the reasons for the heady breakdown of much of the nuclear family and marriages in the five decades to follow.
He wrote in 1965 that:
The fundamental problem is that of family structure. The evidence - not final but powerfully persuasive - is that the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling.
On the day his report was released, about one-quarter of black kids were living only with their mothers. Moynihan called this a crisis, as indeed it was, but 50 years on, the numbers are nothing short of astonishing: Between 70 and 75 percent of all black Americans are now born out of wedlock, a tripling of the trend Moynihan had spotted. More than half of Hispanic children are born out of wedlock now while more than third of white babies are born to unmarried mothers.
The goal of the Moynihan Report, he said, had been to begin a serious national conversation about the implications of those sizable numbers of out of wedlock births and what they said about the condition of the family and marriage going forward. In the intervening years, this avowed liberal Democrat, who adored Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John Kennedy, was denounced as a racist with a hidden agenda, which was categorically untrue and even absurd.
His fellow liberals believed that the social and cultural pathologies and problems Moynihan had identified could be effectively addressed by a major, historic expansion of the federal government. President Johnson's War on Poverty, launched in 1964, was defined, in part, as a series of programs that would effectively intervene with family and marriage breakdown, helping to arrest, reverse, and eventually nearly eradicate the problems that Moynihan had identified.
But Moynihan was skeptical, and with good reason. Government, he reasoned, could not tuck a child into bed at night; government could not save a marriage; government could not help a broken family fall in love again. These were, he said, primarily cultural problems and not economic or political problems, an insightful assertion in an era when trust in large government was broadly embraced by members of both political parties.
The Manhattan Institute's Jason Riley, who has researched and written about the historic relevance of The Moynihan Report, says Johnson's Great Society programs began a devastating pattern in America:
Marriage was penalized and single parenting was subsidized. In effect, the government paid mothers to keep fathers out of the home - and paid them well. For decades, research has shown that the likelihood of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, dropping out of school, and many other social problems grew dramatically when fathers were absent.
Riley cites a 2002 study done by researchers William Comanor and Llad Phillips of The University of California, Santa Barbara. Their conclusions are succinct and sobering:
. . . the most critical factor affecting the prospect that a male youth will encounter the criminal justice system is the presence of his father in the home.
The tragedy of the Great Society is the manner in which it helped catalyze the destruction of much of the family. In almost all categories that Riley researched:
. . . including income, academic achievement, and employment [black American families have] stagnated or lost ground over the past half-century.
Some 51 years after The War on Poverty was launched with great fanfare, American taxpayers have spent $22 trillion - $920 billion in the last fiscal year alone, according to The Heritage Foundation - yet the results speak of near-failure in many areas of major federal expenditure.
For instance, the poverty rate for African Americans is about 30 percent, and four of every ten black children are raised by single moms living at or below the poverty line. Statistics are dramatically different for black Americans who are married: the poverty rate is below ten percent. Yet millions of kids are experiencing shattered lives because they are growing up in broken homes, and almost all of them without their biological dads.
Lest there be any debate that these trends have only adversely impacted black people, nothing could be further from the truth. According to the 2010 census, for the first time in American history, more than half of all babies born to American women 30 years of age and under were born out of wedlock. The Centers for Disease Control in March found that 25 percent of all American babies born since 2010 were to cohabitating couples, the highest ever in any American governmental study, and twice as high as just ten years ago. A Wall Street Journal analysis put those numbers in stark terms: "Cohabiting parents now account for a clear majority - 59 percent - of all births outside marriage."
America is experiencing both a plague of fatherlessness and a collapse of marriage among a key demographic. The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector writes:
In 1964, 7 percent of U.S. children were born outside marriage. Today, that number is 41 percent. Society is dividing into two castes. In the top half, children are raised by married couples with college education; in the bottom half, children are raised by single mothers with a high school degree or less.
Rector says there are more than 80 federal government welfare programs and almost all have one thing in common: they "provide very real financial incentives for couples to remain separate and unmarried."
Moynihan once observed that the principal difference between liberals and conservatives was that liberals believed if you wanted to impact the course of American culture, you had to impact politics first; conservatives believed, he said, that if you wanted to impact politics, you had to impact culture first. That is a probing, relevant insight into how we are to address and attempt to solve some of the most important, and seemingly intractable, social problems America faces today.
One important lesson of the past half century is that counterproductive cultural habits can hurt a group more than political clout can help it,
Riley writes. "Moynihan was right about that too."
Indeed he was, and devastatingly so. As a nation, we cannot continue on this present course of family fracture and marriage upheaval. It would seem to be an unsustainable course.
In 1995, looking back at his four decades in public life, Moynihan was asked what had been the biggest transformation he had observed:
The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.
So how to think about the moral revolution we are living through a half-century after Moynihan published his famous analysis? One thing is crystalline: The cultural crisis will never be fixed by money alone. The family is foundational, and a bulwark against further erosion. It seems to me that culture still leads, and is upstream from what is happening in American politics of either party. Moynihan was right to assert that there is a direct tie between the decline of family and the social pathologies of the nation.
The Manhattan Institute's Heather MacDonald has eloquently echoed Moynihan, advocating for a father-centric prescription:
The disintegration of the two-parent family is the greatest long-term threat to American prosperity and cultural health. . . . But more consequential than the risks to individual children is the cultural pathology of regarding fathers as an optional appendage for childrearing. A society that fails to teach its young males that they are unambiguously responsible for their offspring will have a hard time inculcating other fundamental duties. Unfortunately, family breakdown isn't amenable to public-policy solutions, since it results from something more profound than misguided tax structure or welfare rules . . . the biggest culprit is feminism's devaluing of males and the conceit that "strong women" can do it all. . . . Family decline will be stemmed only when it is widely understood that care provided by both biological parents is the most powerful social and economic advantage that any child can enjoy.
Morals and manners - more than government or legislation - primarily shape the direction, scope, and currents of great nations. Any hope for renewal and regeneration will likely arise from our families with active and involved dads, churches that foster family cohesiveness, and various ministries and non-profits that make strong, nuclear families a priority.
The legacy of The Moynihan Report 50 years later confirms what his great friend George Will said about "the ecology of a nation," namely that "the most important business of [this] generation is the raising of the next generation." *
Whither Free Speech?
Tim Goeglein is Vice President of External Relations for Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
There is a growing awareness among Americans that religious freedom in our country has come under sustained pressures. In the public square where freedom of religion meets public policy, it becomes clearer all the time that there is a high price to be paid for being true to one's conscience. - Matthew J. Franck
The autumn arrives, and with it millions of Americans have flocked to college campuses for the new academic year. The leaves may be changing all around our beloved republic, but what seems to be unchanging - and in fact, is becoming tiresomely predictable - is a kind of new intolerance on campuses aimed at the expression of one's faith and free speech in general.
The ivy so long associated with some of our most beautiful colleges and universities is, increasingly, poisoned with speech zones and political correctness codes aimed at men and women of faith. Christians in particular are feeling this new intolerance's serrated edges, but such is the scope of the problem that its tentacles are putting a squeeze on our most basic and foundational liberties.
This has important ramifications for what it means to be a citizen of unchanging moral convictions in the realms of higher learning.
At Swarthmore in Pennsylvania earlier this year, a student expressed opposition to a pending speech by Princeton's Robert George, one of the few well-known and highly-regarded Christians and conservatives in the Ivy League. The student wrote:
What really bothered me is, the whole idea is that at a liberal arts college, we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.
Not to be outdone or outshone, the campus newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, editorialized that academic freedom - once so highly and categorically guarded as the ideal of the protection of speech rights - should be replaced by something the editorialist called "academic justice" which to most readers of fair mind is defined as the abolition of other views and opinions. The writer targeted one of the only conservatives at Harvard, the longtime professor of government Harvey Mansfield. One of his colleagues called it "the closing of the collegiate mind." Just so.
But it is not only elite northeast campuses which are increasingly uncomfortable with free speech rights but also Midwestern, highly regarded institutions such as Oberlin College in Ohio, which was seriously considering (and wisely rejected) the use of something called "trigger warnings" for faculty preparing their students to read great literature.
The trigger warnings would read something like this: "Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression."
For those who have never heard of "cissexism" it means bias against people who are transgendered or "transsexual."
While those trigger warnings may seem odd and off the wall to those who spend little or no time on campuses, the spirit of what they represent are actually becoming standard operating procedure in the humanities and in the study of the great books. So-called "gender identification" has now deeply embedded itself in both the liberal arts and in the teaching of science and mathematics.
The writer Norman Podhoertz observes that college campuses are increasingly an "island of repression in a sea of freedom." That is not hyperbole or an exaggeration.
At the University of Colorado in Boulder, one professor explains:
Even the gender-defining community is having a hard time keeping up . . . the standard shorthand is LGBTQ (for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered, and Queer); at Bowdoin College in Maine, it's LGBTQUIA (adding Intersex and Asexual); while down the road at Bates College [also in Maine] it's LGBTIQQ (the second Q for Questioning).
The response to his comments from another professor only deepened this toxic and growing divide over speech. His colleague said those observations were "bordering on . . . hate speech" and that perhaps a censure should follow.
Quite apart from that incident, it is as if men and women of faith are now viewed as contemporary Bull Connors for articulating their most deeply held moral and religious principles - their consciences - in at atmosphere that is supposed to foster and not hinder dialogue, conversation, and the general exchange of ideas which might not always conform to the aggressively secular environment that has beset and bedeviled our citadels of higher education.
This culture of intolerance leaves one both semi-speechless and categorically transfixed. Orwellian might be the better term. Where does it all lead, and where will it all end? In Orwell's phrase, will we see the emergence of a "Ministry of Truth" to arbitrate what can and cannot be said or thought?
For Christians, it is not an exaggeration to say that, in the history of our beloved country, there has never been an era on campus more oppressive than now. The suppression of free speech is increasingly taken as a given.
The writer Herbert London is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of a marvelous book The Transformational Decade, in which he thinks deeply about free expression in this new century.
In a recent essay, he observed:
This is the time for an awakening that recognizes our strengths, the residual resilience that still exists in some quarters. And it is time to challenge the bold revolution that is now conventional wisdom with a counter-cultural revolution based on kindness, traditional principles, and a belief in a higher authority. It is asking for a lot, but then where is the present road we are on taking us?
That last question should be ringing in our ears, and it begs an even deeper one: Whither the fate and state of freedom in America?
If this rising generation of young men and women of faith will not contest the new intolerance that is being foisted upon them, and thereby take their place as a new counter-culture rooted in the hope and confidence of all that God teaches us about the common good and the healthy society, then what really is next for our country, culture, and civilization?
Can we remain a land of liberty if our God-given religious freedoms and speech rights are so categorically and routinely usurped and denied?
The good news is that hope is real, and that in the fullness of time, Providence provides a way forward for those seeking civilizational renewal, regeneration, and revival. The largest historical question is whether we will have the moral courage to stand athwart the civilizational slide we find ourselves in the midst of.
The time to enlighten young hearts and minds is now upon us. *
God, America, and the Public Square
Tim Goeglein is Vice President, External Relations, of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
Freedom sees in religion the companion of its struggles and its triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, the divine source of its rights. It considers religion as the safeguard of mores; and mores as the guarantee of laws and the pledge of its duration. -Alexis de Tocqueville, on faith in the United States.
There is not a shadow of right in the General Government to intermeddle with religion. The Subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled. The government has no jurisdiction over it. - James Madison, principal architect, the U.S. Constitution.
One of the joys of my professional life is getting out into the country and meeting thousands of people each year on behalf of Focus on the Family. At almost every stop, the idea of how our Christian faith and the public square either coheres or doesn't comes up. I always find it a little surprising at how deeply in despair many of my fellow men and women really are these days. The four most recurring comments I hear are:
I feel like we are losing our country.
I am concerned for my children and grandchildren.
I don't know that to do.
I feel discouraged about the direction of things in the United States.
I think it is fair to say that many men and women of faith, and not a few others, feel that America's best days are behind us, that nations have life cycles and that history teaches us rise and decline are inevitable. The reasons for decline are various: materialism and extravagant wealth; moral and social decay; a loss of a strong culture of marriage and family; a decadent culture; the surrender of the elites; a collapse of confident American exceptionalism; but above all, and perhaps without peer, a collapse of faith.
I am decidedly not in this declinist camp because I believe decline is a choice in a nation, just as I believe incline is a choice. Yet I also believe it is important to flesh out more fully the taproot of my hope for the future. I believe and have faith that an American renaissance is possible, and even likely. But it is important to take stock of the health or illness of our country, culture, and civilization, and to attempt to see it whole, as it really is in its reality.
The British writer George Orwell wrote the first duty of an intelligent person is "the restatement of the obvious." What seems most obvious to me, as a Christian privileged to live in this remarkable nation, is that liberty grows from virtue. It naturally follows that we can have no freedom, and therefore no flourishing country, without moral excellence in both our leaders and in our citizens.
This kind of ordered liberty is our most cherished national credo because it understands that our country cannot thrive in freedom in the truest sense without the morals and manners that provide the underpinning of our great republic. These morals and manners have given our country a civil society and way of life defined by continuity and stability that are derived from that unique blend of individual freedom and personal responsibility.
American law does not compel us; virtue is rooted in duty and obligation. Historically high levels of personal and moral integrity in our citizens have given our nation high levels of liberty. This is not in any way to denigrate the foundational importance of the law, which flows directly from revelation. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers believed this in the deepest recesses of their marrow and DNA.
This connection was captured powerfully by the influential British legal scholar William Blackstone, who had an outsized influence on those who framed our Constitution and drafted our Declaration of Independence.
Blackstone famously observed:
When the Supreme Being formed the universe and created matter out of nothing, He impressed certain principles upon the matter from which it can never depart without which it would cease to be. . . . Man considered as a creature must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator. . . . It is necessary that he should in all points conform to His maker's will. . . . This will of his Maker is called the law of Nature. . . . Hence it follows that the first and primary end of human laws is to maintain these absolute [God-given] rights to individuals.
Human freedom and flourishing, which have found such a welcome home in America, find their taproot in moral excellence, which is virtue, and which in the American experience derives from the Holy Scriptures. High character at every level of American life is the source of the confidence necessary to produce a great, free, and prosperous country.
In America, such virtue - even from before our country's formal Founding in the mid-eighteenth century - always found its genesis in that Judeo-Christian tradition's greatest contribution to Western civilization, the Holy Bible, which is the very Word of God.
The Scriptures were and are the ancient and lasting moral code for the overwhelming majority of Americans then and now. This makes us, as Christians living in America, fundamentally distinct from our European allies and most of the rest of the developed world. They have largely snuffed out the candle light of Jesus Christ as a reality in the public square and common life. That is decidedly not the case in America, where millions of men and women of faith continue to navigate their personal and professional lives according to a decidedly Biblical worldview. In this reality is powerful hope for the future.
Even Pew, which conducts the most rigorous polling of America's faith life, concludes that while 20 percent of Americans say they are without faith, only 6 percent decidedly call themselves agnostics or atheists. That is a remarkably low number for the most powerful nation on earth, having endured an historic and unparalleled aggressive secularism during the course of the last half century. Despite this unrelenting onslaught, genuine faith has endured in peerlessly high numbers in America. At one remove, this is nothing short of miraculous.
The dissenting Protestants who founded and built America believed the King James Version of the Bible was the greatest expression of Christian truth in the English language, and they organized our young, constitutional republic in accord with it. The moral code of the Bible is the greatest ethical contribution of our patrimony as a nation, and its reality has shaped, formed, and impacted the destiny of America.
From the foundations of faith grew our government, our legal structure and code, our schools and universities, our military, and all the institutions that comprise the uniquely American way of life. From the beginning no institutions were more important or more necessary or more foundational to American greatness than the unquestioned sanctity of marriage, family, and parish/church/temple life. These provided the faithful sustenance for our flourishing. They still do.
These were the three indispensable supports that nourished the "little platoons," in the words of Edmund Burke, upon which America grew rapidly and fanned out from the East Coast across a large and geographically diverse continent. Each American family was and is a little civilization.
Freedom and Christianity go together, not only in the lives of believers but also in the lives of nations. This is what the Gospel writer John meant when he wrote, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." The faithful soul is free and unshackled. It is true in the life of great nations too.
In America, there exists from our Founding an inseparable relationship between revelation and government. Politics cannot be drained of faith because they have, at one important remove, grown from that faith, though belief and politics - which is a branch of ethics - are decidedly not the same thing. This natural, organic, and even deep unity between America's robust public square and the life of a transcendent moral order precedes our nation's Founding, and its bond continues into our own era.
In order for the United States to remain vital in this still-young new century, we need both a thriving realm of faith and thriving realm of limited government that makes ample room for the flourishing practice of that faith. Does revealed religion consecrate a country like ours? Yes, I believe it does, and I believe it will continue to be the source of our dynamism and our strength in the years ahead - difficult though this present era is for all we believe about the nuclear family, human life, and religious liberty.
Ours is a God of redemption, regeneration, and renewal. He works His will in the lives of individuals. But He is also alive and at work in the very heart of nations that seek to perpetuate both righteousness and humility in the public square. These are immutable, timeless, and unchanging first principles rooted in our Founding. These principles are more timely and relevant now than ever in our history.
The "reality of the unseen" - a God who is alive and active not dead or dormant - remains at the center of the American experience. Our very best days may well be ahead of us. That is our profoundest hope. It was Thomas Jefferson's as well, who wrote in the midst of another deeply troubled American era that "An Angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm." He does indeed. *
The Centennial of a Cataclysm: One Life, One Family
Tim Goeglein is Vice President, External Relations, of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com
To you from failing hands we throw
The Torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. -John McCrae, "In Flanders Fields," 1915
One hundred summers ago, one of the greatest calamities in all of history commenced in Europe.
On June 28, 1914, in the Balkan city of Sarajevo, now located in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, were assassinated. Their murders, in the back of an open touring car which had made a wrong turn, lit a torch that set off an inglorious chain of events which would come to include almost every country on that continent and well beyond.
The ineffable cataclysm that became World War I would lead to what one poet and literary critic would aptly call "the suicide of Europe."
The worldwide conflagration set off by those two killings would set Europe aflame for the next four years.
The writer Theodore Dalrymple evocatively wrote of World War I:
The war smashed up European civilization and sapped Europe's belief in itself: For if the wages of its civilization was such a war, bloody and muddy carnage on so unimaginable a scale, what price its civilization?
The brutality of the war, replete with the first use of tanks, poison gas, and guns that could kill on an unprecedented scale, is almost beyond our imagination now.
In all of the centennial reflections of World War I, I wonder how many will actually focus on the most personal impact of that brutal implosion: The impact it had on the families who had to endure the deaths and maiming of their loved ones on a nearly matchless trajectory? In all the reams and tomes ever written about what became known as "The Great War," why is there comparatively such little attention paid to the average mother and father, brother and sister, grandparent, aunt and uncle, niece and nephew, and how they reacted, responded, and indeed coped with the deeply acute sense of loss and despair that is always war's aide-de-camp?
This all came to mind when I read an important review in The Wall Street Journal of a biography on one of the most important young poets to emerge during the war, Wilfred Owen. Born in 1893 in Wales to a lower-middle class family - his father was a train stationmaster - he spent his boyhood in three towns: Liverpool, Shrewsbury, and little Oswestry surrounded by low mountains. Like so many great poets, he was preternaturally shy despite impressive literary gifts which emerged early in his young life. He attended not one of the great British universities, like Oxford or Cambridge, but rather Reading, which was mostly undistinguished and without an international reputation.
Like many children of middle class backgrounds, Owen's parents had great aspirations for their talented son, and his parents nourished these abilities tirelessly and from the start. His father was an amateur but lustrous operatic tenor, and his mother had an artistic bent, taking her young son with her to art galleries and museums to deepen his love of beautiful things. Their attentive parenting had an impact. Those who knew Owen best said he had an obvious love of life, what the French call a joie de vivre. He once wrote of himself "you would not know me for the poet of sorrows."
Embedded deeply with this artistic ability was an equally powerful sense of duty. His parents taught their son that attainment without responsibility was hollow and lacking depth; that character trumped intellectual achievement. It was a set of principles he would take with him to the battlefields of France and ultimately to his grave.
This constant parental nourishing of this natural joy of life paid off. In 1915, just before he joined the army, Owen wrote: "I know I have lived more than my twenty-one years, many more; and so have a start of most lives." What a remarkably self-reflective comment for a young man. This was not a statement of bravado but rather one of appreciation and confidence - precisely the traits he was trained to embody in his Welsh upbringing. His life was not unlike that of another famous British poet whom Owen revered and read with alacrity, devotion, and verve, John Keats.
Yet unlike Keats, Owen willingly enlisted for what would become his death knell, proving to be a widely admired and talented Army officer, but with a literary lan. His lyrical flair and probity, all these years later, helps convey to us, in our own era, the sheer horror and catastrophe of war and its impact on one life and one family.
While stationed near what became known as "No Man's Land" - those barren, desolate pieces of bombed-out ground between the trenches of the British and the French on one side and their enemies the Germans on the other - Owen's poems and letters resonate across the years a brokenness, desperation, and an otherworldly almost phantasmagoric futility of war.
He wrote from France:
I suppose I can endure cold, and fatigue, and the face-to-face death, as well as another; but extra for me there is the universal pervasion of Ugliness. Hideous landscapes, vile noises, foul language, and nothing but foul, even from one's own mouth (for all are devil ridden), everything unnatural, broken, blasted; the distortion of the dead, whose unburiable bodies sit outside the dug-outs all day, all night, the most execrable sights on earth. In poetry we call them the most glorious.
He served for two long years, a period of time alternately defined by selflessness, service, sorrow, achievement, disaster, and then death. Those 24 months witnessed Owen being mercilessly bombarded near the French town of Saint Quentin in early 1917 and sent home with shellshock. Then, almost inexplicably, he returned to France where he was engaged in yet another brutal hand-to-hand battle near the town of Joncourt, for which he was awarded the Military Cross. Finally, on November 4, 1918, he met his denouement - he was killed while leading his company through the Ors Canal despite the ceaseless shelling and gunfire that accompanied his and his men's heroic struggle forward to shelter.
It is nearly impossible now to read Owen's prose without weeping and feeling a kind of leaden sorrow for the promise of life cut short.
In the midst of battle, he wrote to his mother:
All one day we could not move from a small trench, though hour-by-hour the wounded were groaning just outside. Three stretcher-bearers who got up were hit, one by one. I had to order no one to show himself after that, but remembering my own duty, and remembering also my forefathers the agile Welshmen of the mountains I scrambled out myself and felt an exhilaration in baffling the Machine Guns by quick bounds from cover to cover. After the shells we had been through, and the gas, bullets were like the gentle rain from heaven.
What, then, to think of the conflagration of emotions that must have stirred the soul of his parents when, on the very day that the war's armistice was declared, and as the bells in their small Welsh village were tolling, they learned by telegram that their 25-year-old son, their eldest child, had lost his life? Owen was the same age as Keats.
In one of his most solemn, powerful poems, Owen wrote of the World War I generation:
What passing-bells for those who
Die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
As the centennial of "The Great War" approaches - the conflict President Woodrow Wilson said was a "war to end all wars" - it is easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer impersonal, empirical data of it all: 65 million men worldwide served in that war; 8 million lost their lives; 21 million were wounded. Five million Americans served and 100,000 died in the trenches, hospitals, and shell holes of Europe. It was an implosive war that would be only a prologue to a much longer, deadlier one on the same continent just a few years later.
We have a moral obligation, it seems to me, not to lose sight of the fact that, giant numbers though those are, each was a unique person made in the very image of God - someone's son, husband, grandson, nephew, friend.
A famous Quaker once presciently observed: "You do not have a soul; you are a soul. You have a body."
A century hence, through the mists of time, we must never forget who they were or what they did. Each of them; every soul. *
"The Conservative Mind" Turns Sixty
Tim Goeglein is Vice President, External Relations, of Focus on the Family, an organization dedicated to "Helping Families Thrive." Its web site is at www.focusonthefamily.com.
One of the foundational texts of the conservative movement, Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, has just hit a milestone: It was published 60 years ago.
His magnus opus remains widely regarded as one of the seminal tomes of mid-century American conservatism, in the same iconic pantheon as Frederich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, William F. Buckley Jr.'s God and Man at Yale, published in 1951, and Whittaker Chambers' Witness, published in 1952.
The Conservative Mind, published in 1953 by the Henry Regnery Publishing Company of Chicago, instantly became one of the most unlikely overnight publishing sensations of the latter half of the 20th century, not unlike Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind nearly 35 years later.
Kirk's original title, The Conservative Rout, was slightly altered by Regnery himself, giving the book a new if less dour name. Kirk had written the book as his doctorate of humane letters thesis at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 1952. It had been accepted by a major New York publishing house, but when one of the chief editors demanded that the young author cut significant portions from the manuscript, Kirk demurred, looked elsewhere, and inked a deal with Regnery, commencing a lifelong friendship.
Kirk's first book mirrored the author himself: high principles, a probing intelligence, and an integrity of ideas that was unimpeachable and unassailable. There would be no wistful sentiments or misty nostalgia conveyed about the central figures and ideas of conservatism.
The Conservative Mind achieved a kind of minor-classic status almost from the beginning, and it launched the young Kirk into a spotlight that shone for the rest of his long life. Time magazine devoted its entire book review section to Kirk's tome, Henry Luce having been personally smitten by its erudition, scholarship, and popular appeal.
The book was widely reviewed and roundly praised even by most of the major liberal publications in mid-century America. The president of Kenyan College, Gordon Keith Chalmers, reviewed the book in The New York Times, calling it "very readable, brilliant, even eloquent."
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Lionel Trilling, and Daniel Boorstin acknowledged the significance of Kirk's central thesis even if they did not give full ascent to its rightness or youthful confidence. Great writers themselves, they knew Kirk abhorred formulaic rhetoric, spectacle, and above all, ideology. He was canny and talented, personifying permanence and excellence in a century that had known chaos and alienation after two world wars.
The center of the book was Kirk's path-breaking assertion that there existed an Anglo-American conservative intellectual tradition that was distinct from its better-known liberal counterpart. This bold thesis contradicted the regnant left-wing narrative that had come to dominate most of American scholarship, and much of college and university campus life by the early 1950s.
The Conservative Mind was a tour-de-force - lyrical in its lucidity, alluring in its assertions, and rooted in a kind of soulful intensity and ethical depth. Kirk was eager about evoking and reintroducing for a new era a host of political and intellectual worthies, many of whom had been forgotten in the mists of time. Kirk saw them as vital, timely, and relevant for a new era.
With precision and finesse, Kirk poignantly illustrated that, beginning with the Irish parliamentarian Edmund Burke in the 18th century, there was an identifiable, unique, and manifestly conservative tradition in the arts, letters, morals, manners, and politics that was, if not ideologically consistent, singular in its own excellence of shared first principles.
He showed how this tradition was separate from what was roundly viewed as the Whig view of history - the natural, inevitable progress toward centralization and consolidation in a variety of spheres, not the least of which was government. He said this conservative tradition had its own intellectual and imaginative architecture, borne of ardor and brilliant writing and thought. Its seedbed was natural law, a combination of variety and mystery, hierarchy and order, the close association between property and liberty, custom, and prudent change that favored reform to rebellion or revolution.
Kirk's compelling narrative echoed one of his conservative icons, the British poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge: That every country, culture, and civilization had a kind of philosophical personality. The liberal worldview was comfortable with theory and speculation and tended toward secularity while the conservative counterpart found greater comfort in experience, practice, and a religious and spiritual sensibility. The former was litigious and legislative in its natural development while the latter was inclined more toward morals, manners, and habituated virtue.
The Conservative Mind, which has never been out of print, has gone through seven editions. In the same way a great painter might add a finishing brush stroke from his palette or a poet might craft an extra stanza, Kirk continued to revise his original manuscript throughout his lifetime of wide reading and thinking. In some instances, there were significant changes. He extended the conservative sensibility well into the mid-20th century, culminating with the poetry and literary/social observations of his friend T. S. Eliot, with whom Kirk had developed an important epistolary friendship across the Atlantic.
Kirk was particular in choosing his canon, selecting as the greatest conservative minds not only Burke, Coleridge, and Eliot but also a veritable cavalcade of worthies: John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Walter Scott, Alexis de Tocqueville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Henry Newman, James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Johnson, and two now-obscure Harvard professors, Paul Elmer More and Irving Babbitt, whose influence on students in the next two generations would read like a Who's Who of American political and literary leadership, not the least of whom was Eliot himself, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Kirk etches finely wrought mini-biographies of all these great men with a special emphasis on their ideas.
The Conservative Mind made deep impressions, conveying a conservatism imbued with moral purpose and alive to modernity. Kirk's flinty intensity and heart animated a prodigious life, and he worked with an almost monkish energy. He wrote a regular column for National Review for the next 25 years called "From the Academy"; he was a widely sought speaker on every major campus in the United States and abroad, speaking at nearly 500 universities and colleges; Barry Goldwater actively cultivated his support and counsel in his run for the presidency in 1964; and Kirk's weekly newspaper column for The Los Angeles Times syndicate was among the most popular in the country.
Thirty more books and hundreds of reviews, essays, and short stories would flow from Kirk's typewriter in the little Michigan village of Mecosta across the next 40 years. His oeuvre is animated by a tone and style of humility and gratitude, confidence and joy. He was a commanding prose stylist in an antiquarian sort of way - his commitment to design and craft is everywhere present on the page.
His exquisite writing after The Conservative Mind developed with more depth and probity Burke's central assertion that healthy civilizations are defined by the strength and courage of what Eliot called "the permanent things" - religious faith, the natural family, the centrality of mystery and transcendence, duties and obligations, and the ability of each succeeding generation to cohere confidently in defense of liberty, the free society, and the foundations of private property and free enterprise.
Kirk received the Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan, and at a dinner honoring the distinguished thinker and writer, the president said:
Dr. Kirk helped renew a generation's interest and knowledge of "permanent things," which are the underpinnings and the intellectual infrastructure of the conservative revival of our country.
In a famous 1966 essay written for The New York Times, Kirk had deftly predicted that Reagan's election as governor of California would usher in a conservative era in American politics which indeed came to fruition when Reagan was elected President of the United States in 1980. The Reagan years were conservatism's political and intellectual apotheosis, and Kirk's gentility, humility, and well-bred manner played no small role in that traditional resurgence.
He was a man of culture and deep piety, subtle and serene by temperament, yet astonishingly prolific. Kirk's big book was viewed as both a catechesis and a colossus of the American conservative movement, evoking the intersection of past and present. A veritable gem, The Conservative Mind proved that conservatism and intellectual elegance were not incompatible and could be of a piece. Its author was a cultivated and formidable writer, and the book's power and appeal confirmed philosopher Richard Weaver's view that "Ideas have consequences."
The book was so central to the burgeoning conservative movement, and its coming clash with the Left, that it further defined for the rest of the century the idea of what it meant to be an American conservative. Kirk's esthetic, religious, and moral principles were elemental to his Burkean worldview, and with great suppleness and dexterity, he defended them with a hopeful conviction that negated despair at almost every important turn of history. His was a sublime, elevating view, and his great book was a kind of bravura celebration of what conservatism was and could be for a new epoch of post-war Western culture.
The conservative . . . is concerned, first of all, for the regeneration of spirit and character - with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest.
The Conservative Mind is evergreen, animated by stylistic grace and eloquent poignancy. Sixty years on, Kirk's sparkling masterwork abides, its cadences of rich prose and deep learning as refreshing as ever.
The following are cogent quotes from The Conservative Mind:
Nothing is but thinking makes it so. If men of affairs can rise to the summons of the poets, the norms of culture and politics may endure despite the follies of the time. The individual is foolish; but the species is wise; and so the thinking conservative appeals to what Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead." Against the hubris of the ruthless innovator, the conservative of imagination pronounces Cupid's curse: "They that do change old love for new, Pray gods they change for worse."
The conservative is concerned with the recovery of true community, local energies and co-operation; with what Orestes Brownson called "territorial democracy," voluntary endeavor, a social order distinguished by multiplicity and diversity. Free community is the alternative to compulsive collectivism. It is from the decay of community, particularly at the level of the "little platoon," that crime and violence shoot up. In this realm, misguided "liberal" measures have worked mischief that may not be undone for decades or generations, especially in the United States. *