The name Clare Boothe Luce should not be absent from the minds of contemporary Catholics. While she may not have been a saint, she understood well that in times of crisis saints are what we need. In 1952, Luce edited a classic anthology of essays entitled Saints for Now. Twenty distinguished authors (mostly Catholic) profiled their favorite saints, describing how much these servants of God meant to the times in which they lived. In her introduction, she made the following comment:
We live in an intellectual climate of ambiguity, of multiple and conflicting “truths,” of exclusive and warring “freedoms.” In a world where truth is relative, where one man’s “truth” is another man’s “lie,” and his definition of “freedom” is his neighbor’s definition of “slavery,” plainly the burden of carrying the argument . . . must fall on an appeal not to the mind, but to the emotions. Advertising, propaganda—the sophisticated tools of irrationalism—supersede fact, persuasion and logic, the tools of reason.
Phyllis McGinley, a once well-known writer and Pulitzer Prize winner, reiterated the point in 1969 in her popular appreciation Saint-Watching, when she stated that “Ours is an age of violence and disbelief. But in spite of that, or because of it, the earth’s interest in virtuous accomplishment is stronger now than it has been at any time since the Age of Reason began ousting religion from its seat of authority.”
The “now” that Luce described better than six decades ago, and McGinley lamented seventeen years later, seems an apt description of the present-day “now.” (The more things change, the more they stay the same). Three questions leap to mind: Are cultures always confused and divided? Is it futile to insist on reason and logic? Where are the saints of today who will rescue our culture from ruin? McGinley believed “They may well be rising among us now, preparing to lead us out of the onrushing night which so threateningly descends.” “Now” is prevented from passing into oblivion by connecting it with what is timeless. This is the office of the saint.
Clare Luce, who was led into the Church by Bishop Fulton Sheen, was often referred to as America’s most famous Catholic convert. Her talents were various and prodigious. She was a novelist, playwright, editor, essayist, and philanthropist, as well as a member of Congress, diplomat, and Ambassador to both Italy and Brazil. The opening night of her play Margin for Error—an all-out attack on the Nazi’s racist philosophy—was attended by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. Several of her plays, including The Women, the one for which she is perhaps best known, were adapted to the screen. In 1983 President Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was the first member of Congress to receive this award.
Luce was a critic of her time (and, prophetically, of our time as well). Yet she understood how difficult it could be to shed one’s prejudices and think objectively and rationally. On one occasion, she confronted her house guest, the renowned philosopher Mortimer Adler, who, staring blankly at his feet, seemed bored. Was there something he would like to do, she asked him. He told her he was doing something already. And then, noting her “puzzlement,” he explained: “I’m thinking. And that’s the hardest work in the world, because you see, when you really want to think a question through, you’ve got to begin by laying all your own prejudices on the table. And that’s the toughest thing for anyone to do, even for a philosopher.”
Mrs. Luce deplored the fact that supporters of abortion had virtually nothing to say in defense of their position. In a 1977 essay for the Human Life Review she wrote that she thought the most dismaying thing about the abortion controversy might be that “many intelligent people go intellectually to pieces when confronted with the core question: Is an unborn child a human being?” She went on to observe that “no Supreme Court ruling is considered infallible . . . historically the Court has been prone to reflect the political mood (and emotional prejudices) of the public, and as the mood changed or new facts emerged, the Court has often reversed itself . . . as in the case of the Dred Scott decision, the Court’s decision has been reversed by amendment to the Constitution when it ceased to reflect a public consensus.”
In “A Letter to the Women’s Lobby” (reprinted in the Spring 1978 Human Life Review) she opposed the feminist campaign against pro-life political candidates. This statement, which she italicized in her letter, could not have been more forceful or more definitive: “There is no logical process of thought by which the unnatural act of induced abortion and the destruction of the unborn child in the womb can be deemed to be a natural right of all women.”
Clare Boothe Luce, who passed away on October 9, 1987, was a Woman among women. She once remarked that “Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.” There can be no sanctity without courage, including the courage to stand against contemporary prejudices and hold firm to what is true. Moreover, there can be no virtue without courage, and a culture without virtue is indeed destitute. And what is sanctity? It is, as Phyllis McGinley avers, and Mrs. Luce would most certainly endorse, “the world’s strangest and highest form of genius.”