Bill Barr Is Right. That’s Why He Terrifies the Left

Attorney General William Barr was excoriated by the mainstream press and the social media offenderati for his speech at the (Roman Catholic) University of Notre Dame last week. Yet the A.G. was simply spelling out the reality of life in modern America: here is what we have lost, here are the reasons why, and here’s what’s happening as a result. We won the American Revolution, but we lost the sexual revolution—with all its attendant debasement.

Those responsible for the loss seem incapable of recognizing the sequence of cause and effect spelled out by Barr. Journalists who have specialized in providing rationalizations for the release of our unbridled passions are clueless as to the magnitude of our national decline. That’s to be expected: they are symptoms of it. They thought the moral pigpen they were playing in was cost free; when the hefty bill arrives, they blame the waiter and try to bolt (“I don’t remember ordering two filet mignons, La Madeline au Truffle, or the Château Latour.”).

But this isn’t the waiter’s fault, and nor is it Barr’s. It’s the “fault” of reality, which rudely intrudes into their fantasies. No, Toto, we are not in Oz anymore. You may not like moral reality, but it exists without your permission. In fact—and here’s the most infuriating part—it doesn’t need your permission. Rather, you need its permission, or all kinds of bad things will happen to you, like the ones Barr spelled out as the “real-world consequences” of “the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order.”

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Barr committed an absolute heresy to modern ears when he said that “moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will. They must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.” This can’t be right! yelp the modernists. We get to decide those things, not some unelected Supreme Being! Religion sounds just as bad as the Electoral College, which is why we need to get rid of both.

Then Barr doubled down. Quite aside from religion, he said, “From the nature of things we can, through reason… discern standards of right and wrong”—and here come those hurtful words again—“that exist independent of human will.” The liberal mind begins to reel: there has to be an out from this somewhere; otherwise we’re cornered. “I’ve got it,” I can almost hear them saying: “Through the use of unreason we can’t discern those standards of right and wrong! That lets us off the hook and puts the ball back in our home court.”

The problem for left-wing journalists is that Barr is fearless, which enrages them all the more. They are accustomed to intimidating people, but they can’t intimidate him. He doesn’t suffer from a sense of moral illegitimacy, which draws the press’s killer instinct the way blood draws sharks. So what are the sharks supposed to do now?  Scream! Barr’s speech has driven the insanity of the liberal press into the open for all sane people to see. Here is some evidence of the clinical religion-derangement-syndrome from which it suffers.

Since some consider religion a form of hate speech, saying anything positive about religion is, ipso facto, also hate speech. How else to account for Paul Krugmann’s remarks in his New York Times op-ed, “God Is Now Trump’s Co-Conspirator,” that Barr sounded “remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots” who commit “mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution.”

Why did Barr give such a speech in the first place, Krugmann asks? It was (he posits) to distract people from impeaching Trump, which is what any normal person would be doing on any given day unless they were distracted. On the other hand, why does Krugmann raise the subject of evolution and Darwin, neither of which appears in Barr’s speech, unless it was to distract from the contents of the speech? He may have seen this as necessary to get people’s attention back to where it belongs: impeachment.

At the Huffington Post, Mary Papenfuss says, “The speech revealed how deeply the top lawman in the nation is tied to his Catholicism.” Oh, no! A Catholic tied to his Catholicism? What kind of Catholic would that be, according to her? One who “lashed a recent New Jersey law requiring LGBTQ curriculum in public schools to support civil rights,” she explains. Catholicism and human rights must be immiscible, because surely people possess a civil right to annihilate the moral foundations of society – the children be damned! How else are students to learn that they can put their genitalia wherever they want (or lop them off)? What would freedom mean, if not the freedom to do that?

In The Nation, Joan Walsh exclaims, “William Barr Is Neck Deep in Extremist Catholic Institutions.” She’s referring to groups like the Knights of Columbus, which is defined as “a fraternal order of Catholic men” and “a patriarchal cosplay group.” Did you hear that? Not only are they an order of men, but Catholic men—a double whammy. Plus, the Knights are “patriarchal,” meaning not matriarchal, and so another manifestation of the exclusionary extremism. Walsh concludes that Barr is “a paranoid right-wing Catholic ideologue who won’t respect the separation of church and state,” by which she presumably means that he thinks there should be a church, and not just a state.

At the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell says Barr’s remarks are “a tacit endorsement of theocracy.” Nothing tacit about it, according to Lawrence Wilkerson, once chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: the attorney general is “Torquemada in a business suit.” Former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard W. Painter asks, “Where did Attorney General Barr lift this speech from?” He answers, as any good ethics lawyer might: “It sounds like vintage Goebbels.”

The absurdity of the opposition displays itself in the incoherence of the responses. After all, you can’t be both Torquemada and Goebbels, unless you can be Catholic and anti-Catholic simultaneously. On the other hand, the opposition is not constrained by the principle of non-contradiction, so it can hold a position and its opposite at the same time. This increases its flexibility. And anyway, like good Leninists, their objective is not to persuade, but to destroy. They don’t care about coherence—just the takedown.

In the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin fulminates: “In a potted history of the founding of the Republic, Barr said, ‘In the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people—a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order.’ Not so. The Framers believed that free government was suitable for believers and nonbelievers alike.”

If Toobin seriously believes that belief and unbelief were a matter of indifference to the Framers, he needs to retake several grades. What he will learn is that nothing like the American Founding could have, or ever has, arisen from unbelief, though nonbelievers are beneficiaries of it. If anything is being proven today, it’s that nonbelievers can’t sustain such a system.

Finally, we find out what this is really about. Toobin says: “The real beleaguered minorities here are gay people who are simply trying to be treated like everyone else, but Barr twists this story into one about oppression of believers.” Let me ask you something, Mr. Toobin: How many suits have been brought by homosexuals against believers? And how many have been filed by believers against homosexuals? One column is zero. You can guess which one. So who is oppressing whom?

Just as Krugmann’s accusations of distraction are distracting, Toobin’s accusations of ignorance are ignorant. That society requires a moral undergirding, and that most of it comes from religion, was the nearly unanimous opinion of the Founding Fathers. The reason is that the key to republican government is not merely free choice. The key—as the Founding Fathers knew—is virtue.

This theme is repeated again and again throughout the Founding era by both its leaders and clergymen. They taught that freedom is not divorced from nature; it is rooted in and limited by nature. Virtue is conformity with what is naturally good. That is why freedom, rightly understood, is freedom to choose the good. It is not license or licentiousness, which is unnatural and unreasonable. Only a virtuous person is capable of rational consent, because only a virtuous person’s reason is unclouded by the habitual rationalizations of vice. Vice inevitably infects the faculty of judgment. No matter how democratic their institutions, morally enervated people cannot be free. And people who are enslaved to their passions inevitably become slaves to tyrants.

Thus, the Founders predicated the success of the republic on the virtue of the American people. If there’s any one thing on which the founding generation agreed, it was the centrality of virtue, and the necessary role of organized religion in inculcating virtue. Without it, the republic would fail. The loss of religion is precisely why it’s failing now.

The Founders themselves warned that our nation would decline if we could not sustain our moral character.

In 1776, Samuel Adams counseled that “the diminution of publick Virtue is usually attended with that of publick Happiness, and the publick Liberty will not long survive the total Extinction of Morals.”  He warned that “if we are universally vicious and debauched in our manners, though the form of our Constitution carries the face of the most exalted freedom, we shall in reality be the most abject of slaves.”

His cousin John Adams agreed: “We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net.”

Charles Carroll cautioned: “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure… are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”

Benjamin Franklin warned: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of Masters.”

Such remonstrations from the Founders are too numerous to count. All of them understood that religion is the principal source of virtue and should be supported and accommodated. As they predicted, we are in trouble because the virtue needed to sustain the Republic is fast disappearing, close to the point of irretrievability. Attorney General Barr’s speech, rooted in the American Founding and its moral truths, was like a distress flare in the night—the last illumination before bearings are lost. It also revealed that anti-Catholicism has become the last resort of scoundrels.

Photo credit: AFP via Getty Images


  • Robert R. Reilly

    Robert R. Reilly is the author of America on Trial: A Defense of the Founding, forthcoming from Ignatius Press.

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