The Reactionary Utopian
                     April 23, 2007

by Joe Sobran

     Even before they'd finished mopping up the blood at 
Virginia Tech, the WASHINGTON POST had some editorial 
counsel for Virginia: Adopt tougher gun control laws.

     Thanks for the free advice, guys! If we citizens of 
Jefferson's state adopt laws as strict as Washington's, 
maybe we can get our murder rate down -- possibly as low 
as Washington's!

     There is a danger that such editorials could feed an 
unfortunate stereotype: that liberals never learn, never 
take responsibility for the wreckage their policies 

     Liberals and their "progressive" cousins, socialists 
and the unlamented Marxists, have always had one great 
gift: the ability to start stampedes. A murder spree 
always sets them off on gun control. In between 
atrocities, they revert to their normal default panics 
about global warming or nuclear winter. Whatever.

     And let's not forget their furor over Don Imus's 
three-word atrocity. Leave it to Barack Obama, who has 
enjoyed his own liberal stampede, to liken Imus's "verbal 
violence" to a madman's murder spree. Obama is often 
described as "young," though he is a middle-aged man, 45 
years old; and I think I know why. He reminds you of the 
champion high-school orator, the bright, well-behaved boy 
who knows how to intone the platitudes the grownups love. 
He can see metaphorical violence everywhere except in 
skull-crushing late-term abortions.

     Every alleged crisis provokes the progressive-minded 
fadsters to call for a massive increase in state power: 
economic depression, poverty, racism, gun violence, you 
name it -- such evils must be not merely contained, but 
"eliminated," posthaste, along with their "root causes." 
(As far as I know, there is no such thing as a crisis 
that warrants hasty, or even eventual, government 

     And behold the results! Our inner cities look like 
war zones -- of the endless War on Poverty. This is only 
one of the myriad consequences of going progressive. The 
Great Society! And old folks may recall that striking 
down laws against abortion during the first trimester of 
pregnancy was going to make the horrid practice "safe, 
legal -- and rare." Today we have a million abortions a 
year, and the progressives who used to deplore it now 
insist that it's a "fundamental human and constitutional 
right" -- through all nine months.

     A century ago, the Catholic poet Charles Peguy made 
a profound and prescient observation: "We will never know 
how many acts of cowardice have been motivated by the 
fear of seeming not sufficiently progressive."

     Even supposed conservatives now adopt the 
progressive style: the first President Bush with his New 
World Order and War on Drugs, his son with his War on 
Terror and enormous expansion of the colossal centralized 
state. The latter speaks of "eliminating tyranny from the 
earth"; implanting democracy in the Middle East would be 
only the beginning, spreading "freedom" (undefined) 

     Both Bushes have left Americans themselves less free 
than before. And no wonder. Both look back with nostalgia 
to the worst war of all time, World War II, during which 
the United States fought side by side with Stalin and 
created the world's most terrible weapons of mass murder.

     Abortion and nuclear weapons have lost much of their 
power to horrify. Like Macbeth, we "have supped full with 
horrors," except that Macbeth still realizes what he has 
done and knows what should horrify him.

     The modern world's case is worse. When you 
habitually violate your principles, you don't just harden 
your conscience; you risk losing it altogether. You even 
wind up forgetting what your principles used to be.

     Within living memory (though just barely), nearly 
all Christians agreed that contraception was immoral. 
Then, in 1931, the conservative Church of England decided 
that, though it was wrong in principle, exceptions could 
be made, but only for (say) married couples who couldn't 
afford more children than they already had.

     The Anglicans tried to uphold the principle of 
chastity -- but with a few exceptions. But today, few 
Christians reject contraception. Only the Catholic 
Church, basically, still condemns it, but few Catholic 
priests dare to preach against it. That would seem "not 
sufficiently progressive." Few even remember why chastity 
was ever considered a virtue.

     It's not that most people have changed their minds. 
Most people seldom use their minds; they merely follow 
fashion. We are now seeing what happens a generation or 
two after a fad catches on and goes unopposed.

     You can call it progress. I prefer to call it 
amnesia. No wonder G.K. Chesterton said that "only the 
Catholic Church can save a man from the degraded slavery 
of being a child of his time."


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