A Wild Bach Composition
J. K. Rowling and the Sexual Revolution

Louise Perry On The Sexual Revolution

Louise Perry, a British woman whom I'll describe for lack of a better word as a journalist, has recently published a book called The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. I have not read it, and probably won't, not because I don't think it would be worthwhile but because I have other priorities for my reading. She has also published something which I have read: in First Things, a profound reflection on the significance of the sexual revolution (click here to read it) with the somewhat surprising title of "We Are Repaganizing."

I call it surprising because Perry is not a Christian (though First Things of course is a Christian publication), and the essay is a practical defense of Christian sexual ethics. That is, it does not appeal to certain moral principles because they are Christian, but because they produced, over the centuries, a moral revolution, or at least a shift, which Perry approves. She makes points which have been made repeatedly over the past century or two by Christians, but are generally not only not accepted but not even comprehensible to the modern secular mind. For instance, there is the point about abortion and infanticide:

It was the arrival of Christianity that disrupted the Romans’ favored methods of keeping reproduction in check, with laws against infanticide, and then abortion, imposed by Christian emperors from the late fourth century. Christians have always been unusually vehement in their disapproval of the killing of infants, whether born or unborn, and their legal regime prevailed until the mid-twentieth century when we experienced a religious shift that will probably be understood by future historians as a Second Reformation.

(The comparison to the Reformation is not very apt, but let that go.)

And the one about the status and treatment of women:

Paul’s prohibition of (to use the Greek term) porneia—that is, illicit sexual activity, including prostitution—upended an ethical system in which male access to the female body was unquestioned and unquestionable. Whereas the Romans regarded male chastity as profoundly unhealthy, Christians prized it and insisted on it. Early converts were disproportionately female because the Christian valorization of weakness offered obvious benefits to the weaker sex, who could—for the first time—demand sexual continence of men. Feminism is not opposed to Christianity: It is its descendant.

In general, as the title of the piece suggests, she sees modern Western culture as in the process of returning to something like the fundamental assumptions of those Romans who saw no reason why an unwanted infant should not be disposed of. (In passing: it's unusual and refreshing to hear a non-Christian use the word "pagan" in a negative sense.)

It's a somewhat lengthy (for online reading) and very rich statement, and I don't want to leave the impression that those snippets are sufficient. You really should read the whole thing, so here's the link again. One of its themes is the connection between sex and reproduction. The sexual revolution has pretty much destroyed the general sense of that connection. In that it's of a piece with many of our technological triumphs--and it is made possible and sustained by one of those triumphs--which have encouraged us to think that physical reality is not something by which we need be overly constrained. 

In this context I often remember a moment from the 1980s when I worked for a large technology company. Though I tried not to make a show of it, my co-workers knew that I was a Catholic and a "social conservative," as the unsatisfactory term has it. One co-worker who was somewhat younger than I questioned my opposition to abortion. "Why," he asked, "shouldn't I be able to have sex whenever I want to?"--and, implicitly, without caring about pregnancy. He wasn't attacking me. He was genuinely puzzled as to why there should be any limit on his sexual desires. He had completely absorbed the attitude of the sexual revolution--which, I must say, is the more or less natural attitude of the human male. The triumph of the sexual revolution is the extension of that attitude to the female. 

The most basic answer to his question, obviously, is not "Because it's wrong," much less "Because Christianity teaches that it's wrong," but "Because that's not the way sex works." In the normal course of things, there is some fairly strong probability that normal sex will result in conception. And if you aren't prepared to deal with that, you ought not to be engaging in the act. As Garrison Keillor has one of his Lake Woebegon characters say, "If you didn't want to go to Minneapolis, why did  you get on the bus?"

Most people--most women, anyway--in the industrialized world today do prepare to deal with it by means of contraception. But if they don't prepare, or if the plan fails, abortion is the absolutely necessary recourse, the "Plan B," which is the grimly appropriate term for abortifacient drugs. "Just get rid of it." One of the things Louise Perry does in the First Things piece, and presumably in her book, is to investigate that reality with an honesty and clarity rare for non-religious thinkers. Her treatment of abortion is especially strong, mainly by being especially honest.

If the sexual revolution is to be rolled back, if we are to stop thinking as my co-worker of 35  years ago thought, women will have to lead the way. Even setting aside the nature of the male, a man speaking out against that mentality is regarded by many men as a prude and a spoilsport, and by women as an agent of The Patriarchy who wants to return them to The Dark Ages. Or the 1950s, which is about as far back as many people can now stretch their imaginations. 

Here's a thought experiment; I call it that because there is no chance of it ever actual being anything more than a thought. Suppose there were a law requiring that every pornographic film be followed by a scene of a woman giving birth--a realistic scene. I am tempted to answer my own obvious questions about how such a thing could be implemented, but since it is only a thought experiment I'll leave it at that. 

*

Louise Perry was also a participant in a debate staged by The Free Press: "Has the Sexual Revolution Failed?" I've been meaning to mention The Free Press for a while. It was founded by a disgruntled New York Times writer, Bari Weiss. She is what was until fairly recently a more or less conventional liberal, but was appalled by the closed-minded and authoritarian progressives who were effectively controlling the Times. I'm not sure whether she left the Times entirely of her own volition or was pushed out, but at any rate she left, and The Free Press began as a Substack called "Honestly." That pretty much sums up her sense of her mission: to stand up for journalistic honesty in both reporting and opinion. In today's climate, that requires an unusual independence of mind, and The Free Press shows that. Its basic orientation is still what I would describe as formerly-conventional secular liberalism (Weiss is legally married to a woman). Obviously I have many disagreements with that mind-set, but the publication is genuinely open-minded and publishes all sorts of people and views. I subscribe to it in spite of those disagreements because I haven't entirely given up hope that our classical liberal order can be salvaged, and this is a worthwhile effort.

If it's not subscriber-only, you can watch the debate at the Free Press site: click here. The video seems to be hosted there, not on YouTube. I just watched the first couple of minutes which sort of disheartened me: it consists of news clips from the '70s and '80s featuring various unpleasant feminists. 

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~~"Why," he asked, "shouldn't I be able to have sex whenever I want to?"--and, implicitly, without caring about pregnancy.~~

I have sometimes flipped this idea back and asked the person if they feel the same way about eating. The two drives aren't the same, but modern people think they are, with the difference being that sex can be indulged in without consequence. They're wrong there, but it's tough to get them to see it. Comparing it to hunger can be a bit of a bridge to get them thinking about it (in some cases). Are there any "drives" you can think of that are healthy to indulge in in an unlimited sense? Why would sex be different? This isn't a slam dunk refutation, but a starting point for possible reconsideration.

I’ve made exactly the same analogy. Why shouldn’t I be able to eat pizza every night, with ice cream for dessert, and not gain weight? One can go on and on with examples. Drinking, smoking. I think eating is the best one, though, because it’s a drive that everyone has, and yet requires some restraint, at least in a society where over-eating is even possible.

I, however, am sure that the West and its culture can’t be saved, and there is no point in trying to save it. It’s been down hill since the French Revolution. Every attempt since then to put the genie back in the bottle has failed. The only way out of this mess is to let it fall apart completely and then pick up the pieces. Yes, I know I sound like Rod Dreher, but great minds think alike.

Of course I know you are a great mind, but I'm not so sure that's the right word for Dreher. :-) Interesting, certainly. I look at his Substack every few days to see if there's a free post. I'm really tempted to subscribe but I'm trying hard to spend less time on sky-is-falling talk. It certainly seems to be falling but there's nothing I can do about it.

I can argue "Can this culture be saved?" either way. I'm certainly pessimistic. But I'm also certain that nobody's scheme for installing a better system is going to happen. If the liberal order breaks down beyond any repair, we're most likely looking at a couple of really bad centuries. I got enough in the '80s of bookish Catholics going on and on about specifications for a Catholic system.

And anyway I quite like having to worry about eating too much rather than not having enough to eat.

Speaking of Rod Dreher, I just came across this discussion he had with Louise Perry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYf7aHe_GT0

I haven't watched it -- also trying to avoid "sky-is-falling talk" -- so have no idea if it's worth a look.

Chesterton said something to the effect of original sin being the only Christian dogma that is empirically demonstrable. I think traditional Christian sexual ethics is another. All it takes is a few weeks of reading Reddit advice threads.

Ugh. I can imagine.

Thanks for that link, Marianne. I just watched the first ten minutes and it’s good. I don’t generally have the patience to watch things like this but I’ve somehow injured a foot and am trying to stay off of it, so maybe I’ll finish it.

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