Bullies have a right to protest, but that right doesn’t extend to dragooning others into untruths—including the untruth that people who join a hateful mob have any intention of listening to a speaker in the first place. They don’t . . .
—Mary Eberstadt, The Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2023
The thing that hath been, it is the thing which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.
We must get something straight about the shout-downs and hate-fests singeing if not engulfing American institutions like Furman University in South Carolina, where a vicious cadre of students caused author-scholar Mary Eberstadt to cancel a scheduled speech concerning her book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics.
The thing—the proposition—the point—we need to get straight is that we are living—in America and much of the West—through a social revolution.
The word revolution in our talkative time has suffered degradation and abuse. Daily it sails by our heads. We barely notice. There’s a new one every day: for instance, AI technology; earlier, there was social media. “Revolution” connotes turning existing arrangements inside out and backwards: a very good idea, sometimes. But the revolution that ensnared Mrs. Eberstadt (wife of the distinguished demographer Nick Eberstadt) and her projected audience at Furman affects the way we think and talk, rather than what we buy and sell. Specifically, it affects the way we think about ourselves. And how accordingly, we live.
Modern revolutionaries don’t like the way too many of us think about ourselves. It’s the way, basically, our forebears thought about themselves. Today’s cultural revolutionaries—don’t call ’em progressives; their definition of progress is When Everyone Thinks the Way I Do—have it in mind to turn Western Civilization upside down and give it a good shaking. Doesn’t matter how many broken eggs their omelet contains. It’s for Our Good, don’t you see?
Mrs. Eberstadt came in for it with her denigrators at Furman on account of affirming—with right reason and statistics—the value and worth of historic norms that run counter to the I-centered notions on display in all our institutions today. She writes in her latest book Adam and Eve after the Pill: Revisited: “What is happening in America is an excruciatingly painful truth that life without father, Father, and filial piety toward country are not the socially neutral options that contemporary liberalism holds them to be. The sinkhole into which all three have collapsed is now a public hazard.”
Sounds like a Madison Avenue-less revolution to me. Let’s call it by its right name: not just to lament or to excite anxious thought pieces about suppression of free speech. Suppression of a larger, daily variety is what the angry wish to work on us—as they worked it on Mrs. Eberstadt. If they can’t drive away those old ideals, the holders of same can be made at least to keep ’em out of sight. Cut out this business about God: the furry old father figure we now know him to be. And don’t tell us that the humans he supposedly made can’t remake themselves in any form they like: be anything, do anything. Whee! Whoopee! (“Easy is the descent to hell” won’t cut it these days, buster.)
The eponymous Preacher of Ecclesiastes (in common with the best thinkers of his time and those of later times) had 20/20 cultural vision. If a thing happened, back it would come at some point to re-happen. The continuity of human experience—amid various revolutions of one kind or another—should make this plain. Read something besides Facebook some time. Read a history book—maybe two of three of them. Duh!
We know dead people are dead and cold. Not so the instincts we have come to know as the heritage of the human race—engrained in our DNA. Thank you, Adam. Thank you, Eve. We’re never satisfied. We don’t know how to be. And it shows.
Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Heard it before? Translation: Get out of the way; we’re coming through.
America’s cultural revolution is not so new as we sometimes reckon. Before sexual freedom—a longtime bete noire in Mrs. Eberstadt’s justly honored writing about our imperiled civilization—there had to be the idea that sexual freedom didn’t exist. But should.
Why was one sex (ah, that quaint word, shepherded away to make room for “gender”) given all the dispositive power? The entirely rational and reasonable desire of both sexes to raise the lot of Negroes (another old word put subsequently out to pasture) made liberation, in the large sense, an element of modern American thought and desire. There followed thereupon a swelling desire to liberate other oppressed classes—women first, then homosexuals and lesbians, then those disclaiming a steady or birth-bestowed gender. It turns out of late that, yes, non-women can (miraculously, I imagine) give birth: the abiding goal, I’m sure, of most males.
Revolutions begin when the generally well-intended adopt the revolutionary mode: to wit, “Lookyhere, fella, you’re not telling me, I’m telling you!” Emmeline Pankhurst, the eminent English campaigner for women’s suffrage, gave it out in 1912 that “The argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics.”
Which is pretty much the point to which time and events have transported America’s difficult but generally friendly and honorable culture. A lot of stuff is going around—at Furman, Stanford Law School, The New York Times; in churches, in the entertainment industry, etc. Mary Eberstadt is far from the first victim. Or the last.
Liberation from idiocy, from fanaticism—liberation of the kind rightful and necessary for genuine civilization to flourish—will come, I predict, but not before grave damage is inflicted on our abused ability to understand and appropriate the ancient truths at stake. The time to look around, to measure with the eye and the ear, is now; to measure, resist, and shove back—with whatever civilized dignity and generosity may still be vouchsafed us.