Few candid observers today will deny that the asylum of modern life is truly run by the inmates. This home truth was brought home to me yet again by two very different news stories—one of international interest, the other purely local (and that from a town I have only been to a few times). The first was a tweet I saw from United Nations Secretary General António Guterres a few days ago: “The #COVID19 pandemic is demonstrating what we all know: millennia of patriarchy have resulted in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture which damages everyone—women, men, girls & boys.”
Now, I realize that many would immediately disregard anything any U.N. official said anyway, but I am not among their number. It is not that I ever trick-or-treated for UNICEF or belonged to the United World Federalists. Nor do I see it as “both the measure and the vehicle of man’s most generous impulses,” as did JFK. But as Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn pointed out in his book, Leftism, “The great hope of leftists and, to be sure, not only of leftists is the United Nations. Here again conservatives err when they reject in principle an organization of this order. In a radically different form (and, perhaps, in another age) it might have been quite useful.”
It is in any case—as with the federal government—a reality, whether we like it or not. On the one hand, many of its various agencies are constantly pushing for “sexual and reproductive health services,” that is to say, abortion and contraception, and in recent years the gay agenda has also made great strides. Given that United Nations–generated documents are often seized upon by national governments to undermine existing mores, the work of those such as Austin Ruse and the Center for Family and Human Rights in combating these efforts within the organization becomes ever more important.
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On the other hand, the work of certain sections of UNESCO in safeguarding our world heritage has been valuable. Although the U.N.’s various failures at peacekeeping have been noticeable, to say the least, the organization has had its successes in this field. These have usually been in countries where the major powers have had little interest, such as Cambodia or the Central African Republic. Certainly—as with the E.U.’s founders, Adenauer, Schuman, and De Gasperi—Dag Hammarskjöld and other early U.N. figures were idealists who truly hoped for a better world out of the wreck of the Second World War. Similar sentiments without a doubt motivated the popes who have endorsed these institutions, as well, perhaps, as an unconscious longing for the Holy Roman Empire. But regardless of all of this, the United Nations is an important reality in modern life.
That reality makes Secretary General Guterres’s incoherent tweet all the more bizarre and ridiculous. What in heaven’s name has the pandemic to do with “millennia of patriarchy”? On first reading it, I wondered if the honorable gentleman was drunk or high. As it turned out, the phrase in question was taken from a “Town Hall with Young Women from Civil Society Organizations” at the U.N. on August 31. In a long rambling speech, the Secretary General declared that the burdens of public health care workers fell disproportionately on women, who in turn were unequally paid. He was also afraid that, as result of fighting the virus, women would fail to receive access to abortion and contraception—that is to say, “sexual and reproductive health services.” This situation apparently is the result of the millennia of patriarchy to which he referred.
Following that noxious line came this one: “I have many times said that behind many of the problems I have been talking about, there is an essential question of power. It is indeed [toward] addressing this question of power that we must concentrate all our efforts.” Just how Mr. Guterres intends to “address this question of power” was left out. But it is of a piece with all the outrage-fueled imprecision with which we have been plagued this summer. There is badness in power! It must be rooted out! What it is, or what method might be employed to do the rooting, and what things would look like afterwards, are never mentioned. Then again, not only can sheer outrage against a vague opponent make one feel good about oneself, it might just bring one some power.
The other item to pique my interest came from a very different source in the town of Red Bank, New Jersey. Nestled in the northern reaches of Monmouth County, it is home to the redoubtable Molly Pitcher Inn and a bustling center for both business and the arts. One of the foremost venues for the latter has been the Two River Theater. In June, they were scheduled to run a new theatrical version of a classic play by Paul Osborn. As their website tells us:
Featuring a celebrated cast, under the direction of Tony Award winner Joel Grey, we will revisit the classic 1939 play, On Borrowed Time, which opened our 2013 season. This rarely-produced American masterpiece is a magical fantasy about the love between a little boy and his Gramps. When Death himself pays them a visit in the form of a man named Mr. Brink, Gramps outwits him—trapping Brink in a tree and refusing to let him down. Oakes Fegley will reprise his Two River debut as Pud, the role which launched Joel Grey’s theatrical career at the Cleveland Playhouse as a nine-year-old boy.
It is indeed a “magical fantasy,” which was made into a film with Lionel Barrymore. Who could object to something so delightful? Someone, apparently. The play was cancelled, and the theater issued this disclaimer:
We heard from our community and are grateful for the honest calls for our accountability. Two River Theater has decided to remove On Borrowed Time from the Two River Rising Series calendar. Recognizing the urgency of these times we’re in, we understand that our approach to this play has upheld, and did not seek to challenge, harmful patterns of representation in the American theater.
While there is no mention of just what “harmful patterns” were involved, it certainly comes across as classic Cultural Revolution–style self-criticism. The Mao-era nostalgia continues: “Two River is engaging a training and organizational development firm to work with the Board, leadership and staff to create a culture that contributes to a world that is better, more equitable and just. In addition, with a facilitator we are planning a public forum to continue this complex conversation about representation in the theater.” So they shall hire political commissars at their own expense; in what way theatrical self-censorship shall generate betterness, more equity, and more justice is not explained. The suspicion is generated that henceforth propaganda shall replace art.
This, too, may seem like a small thing to a non-theatergoer; such a one might already be inclined to dismiss theatrical folk as useless lefties anyway. As the son of actors, however, I was raised with a great love of the stage—and know it to be an important foundation of national and international culture. This kind of subordination of theater to ideology can only destroy it. What makes all of this the more horrifying or amusing is that so many in theater and film fantasize about how they would have stood up during the time of the blacklist in the Fifties. In Red Bank, at least, they’ve had their chance, but they muffed it.
What these seemingly unconnected stories show is the embrace of the ideology of incoherent outrage that is running rampant around this country and overseas—and primarily among the so-called educated elite. Annoying as they are, in his earlier cited work Keuhnelt-Leddihn not only predicted the morphing of American liberalism into something along these lines, but he laid the blame for much of it at the feet of American conservatives:
The fact remains that internationalism no less than the crucially important field of international relations was “left to the left.” And so were intellectual and cultural affairs which, by default, became the monopoly of long-haired professors and short-haired ladies—a truly perverse situation, considering that intellectual and artistic creativeness is the only undisputed realm of male supremacy.
We are paying the price for such short-sightedness now. Let us remember this hard lesson in future.
[Photo: Bono meets with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Spencer Platt/AFP via Getty Images]