The Corner

Self-Indulgence as a Foundational Virtue

The imposition of the HHS mandate combined with the continuing — and inane — campaign against Chick-fil-A demonstrates how we’re replacing our founding virtues of industry, honesty, marriage, and religiosity (as described in Charles Murray’s invaluable Coming Apart) with a new prime virtue — self-indulgence. What is remarkable about the Chick-fil-A controversy is the extent to which the company’s entire portfolio of work, its excellent food, welcoming environment, extensive charitable interventions with at-risk families and youth, are nothing but ashes and dust unless Chick-fil-A gets on board with a sexual revolution that places self-indulgence (and defense of that indulgence) over every other cultural value. In other words, no matter your other virtues, in the eyes of the far Left you are a moral monster unless you get with the sexual program.

The HHS mandate represents the (current) apex of this warped ideology. With the mandate, the very price of admission for full participation in our national life and economy is a mandatory economic subsidy of destructive and immoral conduct. While Catholics and Evangelicals may disagree about contraception for married couples, mandatory contraception for single employees violates the tenets of every orthodox Christian faith, as does (of course) mandatory coverage for abortifacients.  

At base, these cultural flare-ups aren’t truly about identity politics — though the tactical language of identity politics is certainly helpful to the Left — these flare-ups are about self-indulgence, including not merely the right to do what you want with your body but also the “right” to do so with the full backing of federal, state, and local governments, every corporation with more than 50 employees, and the entire American religious/charitable edifice. Anything less is, apparently, hate and oppression.

Millions of Americans outside urban enclaves dominated by Chicago, Boston, or San Francisco “values” tend to be more enraged than intimidated by such a mindset and are refusing to be bullied. However, even as my Twitter feed fills with pictures of standing-room-only Chick-fil-A restaurants, I’m sobered by the thought that millions more Americans simply don’t want to be labeled or stigmatized as “hateful” for values loosely held. After all, when it comes to the battle of ideas, vicious stigma often beats even the best dogma.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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