From the Publisher: Te Deum Laudamus

I see in an essay by Michael Novak that Arthur Schlesinger Jr., holds religion in high regard, apparently because it keeps the rabble down, but adds that he sympathizes with Tocqueville “who went to his death an unbeliever.”

Tocqueville, God bless him, is beyond caring about such courtiers as Schlesinger, but the notion that he went to his death an unbeliever would certainly have come as a surprise to him, his family, Dupanloup, the Bishop of Orleans, and the cure of Cannes who heard the great historian’s confession and brought him communion. Nor was this mere deathbed backsliding, since Tocqueville had earlier told his brothers of his intention to make his Easter duty.

Tocqueville’s conversion doesn’t make Catholicism true any more than his continued indifference would have falsified it, but one’s reaction to news of a return to religion reveals a lot. Schlesinger apparently holds the Enlightenment assumption that the direction of history is away from religious belief and toward… well, toward what?

In any case, this historical error on the part of the Kennedy family historian connects in my mind with liberal assessments of the break-up of the evil empire. It was perhaps to be expected that adamant bolsheviks, whose beliefs have ever been the terminus ad quem of leftward drift, should now be described as conservatives. American military power, perhaps the single greatest factor in the break-up, is pointed to as an odd joke, newly revealed as irrelevant by the seeming diminution of the Soviet threat.

Of course, one is too polite to say that it is the irrelevance of the attitude expressed in the bishops letter of a few years ago that has been revealed. I say nothing of those friends of mine who were pleading for unilateral disarmament and turning the free world over to the communists because they wrongly thought nuclear deterrence is immoral. Let Time canonize Gorbachev and call him the man of the decade—as in decadence, as in falling down. Anyone who really believes that this product of a corrupt and totalitarian system is Mr. Nice is silly, but, of course, the real motive is to make sure we don’t think we won the cold war in just the way Ronald Reagan said we would.

Recent events have shown that Solzhenitzen was no fluke. He was the man the communist system had been designed to make obsolete, yet there he was, after years in the gulag, unreconstructed, speaking of God. In Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, to say nothing of Poland, the people, having put down the tyrants, go to their churches. What an enormous Te Deum has gone up during these past months.

Is it fanciful to look to these newly liberated people for the renewal envisaged by Vatican II?

Their ferocious faith, tested by half a century and more of tyranny, shames us. I heard a priest suggest that what is happening in Eastern Europe is an answer to the prayers requested by Our Lady of Fatima. In 1917, before the bloody revolution, Our Lady was asking three Portuguese peasant children to pray for the conversion of Russia, lest Russia spread her errors over the world. It is a somber thought that over so many years the Eastern Europeans have been bearing the weight of all our sins.

The political interpretation of events is finally superficial. There is only one great story in which the whole of mankind is involved. Liberals are tempted to interpret what is happening in such a way that their apologizing for Marxism seems less inane. The political judgment that tempts me is that to which I succumbed a moment ago. We have won! But who are “we”?

An NBC television program suggested that the point of the Rumanian uprising was to make abortions available in Bucharest. East Germans were portrayed as wanting nothing more complicated than a shopping spree on the other side of the wall.

There are those who see what is happening in Eastern Europe as the desire for what is most loathsome in our own society. I fully expect some compassionate congressman to suggest sending plane loads of condoms to ex-communists.

It is the use to which freedom has been put in the West, in this country, that enables me to master my triumphalism.

Michael Novak is very persuasive on democratic capitalism, but I wonder if Wall Street is an integral part of entrepreneurism. Senator Bradley has the number of those poets of capitalistic risk who want to sink millions into Russia—as long as their risk is covered by the taxpayer. I keep thinking of Joe Sobran’s remark to the effect that the businessmen favor capitalism for everyone else and socialism for themselves whereas politicians favor socialism for everyone else and capitalism for themselves.

Watching the wall and all those tyrannies come tumbling down induces solemn thoughts about the fragility of the West. There are things every bit as corrupting as power. I think of Blake’s poignant lines: “The harlot’s cry from street to street will weave old England’s winding sheet.” It is our so-called sexual revolution that is undoing the country because it symbolizes the belief that we can make up the rules, we can define what human nature is, we can defy the God who made us.

Divorce, contraception, the encouragement of sexual promiscuity through “education,” homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia—they’re all here already. A society can survive tyranny longer than it can this rejection of the most basic truths about human nature. There is a widespread effort to pretend that genitals are only contingently related to generation, that the reproductive system has nothing to do with reproduction, that the unborn child is a nuisance to be dealt with by its mother as she sees fit, that men lying with men is not an abomination. That effort is succeeding, at least in the media. If we continue on this path we do not deserve to survive, and we will certainly deserve the punishment that comes our way.

The real danger we run is of imposing on ourselves freely what totalitarian governments have been unable to foist upon their slaves. What will the newly liberated people think when they see how we have used our freedom? Remember Solzhenitzen’s disenchantment with the allegedly Christian West.

Let’s hear it from the bishops, then, and from the rest of us, too, about responsible sexuality. Let’s stop pretending that secular efforts to destroy the differences between men and women sit well with Christian truth. How can they, when they violate nature? The point of sexual difference is that a man and woman love one another, give themselves to one another in a fruitful union, welcome the children that are the expression of their love, and educate and nourish them. That simple truth has to be stated again and again lest the lies that deny it corrupt the country further. Otherwise our epitaph may well be, a la Eliot:

Their only monument the asphalt road

And a thousand cast off condoms.


  • Ralph McInerny

    Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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