Progressivism’s War on Winners
From the March 10 issue of NR



Similarly, a recent cover story in the left-leaning British magazine New Statesman deplores what its author, Cristina Odone, called “the new intolerance” in the U.K. — a regimen she experienced up close and personal when a conference on marriage organized by Christian Concern, at which Odone was speaking, had to be hastily reshuffled to another venue — twice — when hosts disinvited the speakers for defending traditional marriage.

You might say that the U.S. isn’t the U.K. But a few months ago, I met a young woman who spearheads Catholic Charities in one of the U.S. archdioceses now under legal and public-relations siege by progressive activists. Call her Jen. She was every inch a Pope Francis–style Catholic: earnest, self-sacrificing, and pulled closely into the Church’s orbit by the sheer gravity of her desire to help society’s castaways.

Much of her own time and that of like-minded colleagues, Jen lamented, is now spent not where they want to be, in soup kitchens or hospitals, but in parrying constant maneuvers by activists intent on closing their foster-care and adoption services — for the sole reason that traditional Christian teachings about the family infuriate sexual progressives.

Jen fretted about the work they couldn’t accomplish — and most of all about the children waiting to be adopted or otherwise brought into a family. “I know the time is coming when we’ll either close our doors or decide to keep up our work regardless — in which case we’ll end up in jail,” she said matter-of-factly. “But who will take care of the children? Not the people who have sued us out of existence — they’ll move on. Who will take care of all those kids?”

It’s a fair question. And so is this: If today’s progressives really care so much about the poor, why not cease and desist in their enthusiastic efforts to obstruct such manifestly good works?

The answer is simple: Today’s progressivism is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ideological desire to put sexual expression first, and to further that expression via every means available, including state power.

Progressives believe that today’s sexual suffragettes are the civil-rights pioneers of our time; and in a conflict between expressionism and anything else, expressionism will trump. If that means that girls in public schools will feel uncomfortable because they have to share their lockers and bathrooms with biological boys, so be it. If it means that the Little Sisters of the Poor and a hundred other charitable organizations might be fined out of existence, so be that, too. It’s the sexual revolution, not the poor, to whom progressivism will give the thumbs-up.

Nothing else explains the dissonance between all those professions of dedication to the destitute and marginalized on one hand — and, on the other, the reality of what this ideology is actually doing to the servants of the poor.

In this respect, today’s progressivism is markedly unlike yesterday’s. Gone are the days when progressive-minded women could stand unequivocally against abortion (Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jane Addams, and the rest of the pantheon). Gone also is another idea held dear by earlier progressives: that the family is a morally preeminent institution. The late, great intellectual Christopher Lasch proudly wore the P-label himself. He also deplored the idea of abortion rights and defended the traditional family as a “haven in a heartless world.” He must be spinning at the speed of light today.

It’s one more irony among several that some of those moral winners now under attack privately regard themselves as liberals or progressives — or would, if they could only understand why other people marching beneath those banners seem intent on shutting them down.

But the fundamental fact remains: Progressivism’s post-revolutionary ideology works to the detriment of the very people in whose name progressivism professes to speak. That is more than just a passing political irony. It’s an ongoing transgression against the small and weak, as well as against those who serve them, for which spokesmen from Pennsylvania Avenue on down ought to account.

— Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the author, most recently, of How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization.


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