By Bryce J. Christensen and William C. Duncan
Some who would like to appropriate the term “conservative” for their schemes of social engineering invoke Edmund Burke. They argue that their attempt to prevent any change to the status quo (usually imposed by courts or other legal elites) on issues like abortion or family life would be supported by the great British statesman because, in their account, he only wanted to slow the pace of change a bit.
This reading of Burke does not, however, accord with reality. In fact, far from favoring only a more gradual filling of the tumbrels, Burke was adamant in his advocacy for reversal (not accommodation) of the French Revolutionary project. Near the end of his life, he said:
Never succumb to the enemy; it is a struggle for your existence as a nation; and if you must die, die with the sword in your hand; there is a salient, living principle of energy in the public mind of England which only requires proper direction to enable her to withstand this or any other ferocious foe; persevere until this tyranny be overpast. 1
Edmund Burke’s vehemence stemmed from his diagnosis of the illness of a revolution that he realized was actuated by ideology, “a form of metaphysical insanity” that “totally disregarded historical experience” and the nature of human beings.2 It would impose a radical egalitarianism and individualism on every people it conquered, regardless of cost.
In 21st-century America, we see all about us the destruction wrought by a social and legal revolution that shows little sign of abating. The aptly named “sexual revolution” has exacted a terrible toll in broken families and blighted lives. Its casualties are measured in the horrific rise in abortions, in the prevalence of divorce and unwed childbearing, in the failure of the population even to replace itself.
Not all of the destruction can be measured in simple mathematical terms. Its intangible fruits include a loss among many of any faith in the family and an attendant failure to marry and take responsibility for children.
Some states in the U.S. have begun to resemble the post-marriage cultures of parts of Europe as they enter a “second demographic transition” marked by later marriage, falling marriage rates, and rising out-of-wedlock births. Utah has, fortunately, lagged behind much of the nation in this regard, but even here the incursion of the sexual revolution is marked.
During the just-concluded legislative session, the Utah Legislature failed to pass legislation that would have made the most modest step toward treating divorce as a serious matter by requiring simply that 90 days(!) elapse between the filing of a divorce and its finalization (with exceptions allowed for abuse). Currently, a divorce can be finalized very quickly, in far less than 90 days.
A significant group of legislators seemed to believe 90 days was just too long to make people wait to legally terminate the most significant of relationships. A bill that would have allowed divorced parents to take their children to the church they attended prior to their divorce was derided as an attempt to establish religion. Another bill that would have exempted people of faith with religious concerns about same-sex sexual relationships from being sued for discrimination under new laws (which treat “sexual orientation” as a legally protected category like race) was greeted by howls as a threat to “gay rights.” Those who execrated the bill provided a persuasive argument that the embrace of “gay rights” does indeed pose a clear threat to religious liberty.
There are signs, however, that legislators are ready to challenge the legal insouciance around divorce. In the 2011 session, a number of legislators expressed support for rethinking the disastrous policy of no-fault divorce, in which the state allies itself with a spouse who wants to unilaterally end a marriage. Legislators heard testimony from women who had to leave their children every day and go to work after being left by their husbands, and from a man betrayed by his wife who nonetheless had to assume crippling financial obligations for her support. The injustice worked on men and women by the legal culture of no-fault divorce is, of course, surpassed by its impact on children, who are usually grossly underrepresented in legislative deliberations.
This family counterrevolution against the excesses of the sexual revolution is long overdue. It is evident in the resistance to the latest novelties of the revolution, such as same-sex marriage, as well as in the growing interest in reforming our divorce system. It is nothing less than a defense of the “little platoons” like church and family that give life meaning and protect individuals from the ever-expanding state. It is worth our best efforts to see this counterrevolution succeed; to persevere until the tyranny of sexual relativism be overpast.
Co-author Bryce J. Christensen, Ph.D., is associate professor of English at Southern Utah University and adjunct fellow of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He is a contributing editor to The Family in America and author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America (Transaction, 2005). He has also published articles on family issues inSociety, The Public Interest, Policy Review, Modern Age, and other journals.
Co-author William C. Duncan, J.D., is director of the Marriage Law Foundation and is the director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.
1. Quoted in Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered 207 (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1997).
2. Quoted in Peter J. Stanlis, “Edmund Burke’s Legal Erudition and Practical Politics: Ireland and the American Revolution” 35 Political Science Reviewer 66, 70 (2006).
Sutherland in Logan
Mark your calendar for Friday, April 15, when Sutherland Institute will host a Responsible Citizen Course in Logan.
Effectively Engaging in the Political Process
When: Friday, April 15, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Mount Logan Middle School
875 North 200 East, Logan
Cost: $10 for the public, but free for members of the Responsible Citizen Exchange
RSVP by calling 801-355-1272 or going to sutherlandinstitute.org.
In this class we will discuss the legislative process and examine the important role that you as a citizen can, and should, play in influencing that process. For your convenience, we will hold this class at Mount Logan Middle School, prior to the Republican Party Organizing Convention, and we’ll be sure to end in time for you to attend that event as well.
This class is part of Sutherland Institute’s Responsible Citizen Exchange. To learn more, or to join the Exchange, visit www.ResponsibleCitizenExchange.org.