Welcome to the Fascist Comstockery
Welcome to the New Comstockery.
The old Comstockery, of course, was named after Anthony Comstock. Comstock was a late 19th Century censor and Calvinist scold. He formed the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice inn 1873, making it illegal to deliver or transport obscene material or information about birth control. He once tried to censor an issue of the magazine The American Mercury edited by H.L. Mencken.
Today America is dealing with a New Comstockery -- the Comstockery of the left.
It is evident in the Obama administration's recent decision that the Catholic Church and its facilities will be forced to pay for contraception and abortifacient drugs in its health care plans. It is also on display in the attack on the Susan Komen Foundation when that organization, which fights breast cancer, attempted to cut off ties with Planned Parenthood, a group that does abortions but not mammograms.
The New Comstockery demands, under penalty of law, not the suppression of information about birth control, but that churches that view contraception as immoral be forced to pay for it. The New Comstockery is a metastasizing liberal cancer not just of intolerance, but of hatred for those who disagree. When the Susan Komen Foundation, a group that fights breast cancer, dropped Planned Parenthood, the New Comstockery (including their allies in the media) marshaled their armies of brownshirts, dragged Komen into an alley, and pummeled them into submission.
The New Comstockery is, yes, an appropriate use of that most overused term.
The New Comstockery is fascist.
If there is a better description of a state demanding its citizens forfeit their consciences, I don't know what it is.
The amazing thing is that anyone is amazed. It's been coming for decades.
I got the term New Comstockery from a man named William Ball. I'm not sure where Ball is these days, but wherever he is, he deserves a Nostradamus award for prescience. For Mr. Ball foresaw the liberal tyranny that has become evident recently in both the Obama administration's violation of the First Amendment in forcing Catholic institutions to sell birth control, and the reaction to the Susan Komen Foundation's attempt to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.
And he saw it in 1965.
In July of 1965 Ball, an attorney, wrote an essay in Commonweal, the Catholic weekly. The Supreme Court had just handed down Griswold vs. Connecticut, the decision that overturned state laws against the sale of contraceptives. Mr. Ball made an argument that is nuanced in a way that has become beyond most of the media on both the left and the right.
Ball argued that it was a good thing that the Justice William O. Douglas and the rest of the majority judges found the right to privacy in the "emanations" and "penumbras" of the Constitution. To modern conservatives, the stretching required to find the right to privacy in the Constitution was an unforgivable violation. Yet Ball points out what the Jesuits at America magazine at the time (even if they disagreed with the decision) would also note: the Court was citing the natural law, the jurisprudential theory of the conservatives, to defend its notion of privacy.
The alternative to acknowledging that there is a natural right to privacy was to amend the Constitution to reflect the right to privacy; Ball observes that this "smacks of a literalism little known in our constitutional jurisprudence since the days of John Marshall."
Yet Ball also saw something quite crucial, something that in our time has become a terrible reality: the totalitarian impulse of liberalism, particularly when it comes to sexual matters. It was one thing to recognize the right to privacy and enshrine it in Griswold, not to mention the silliness of laws prohibiting the sale of contraceptives. But at the time of the decision the state was increasingly moving into family planning matters, and in a non-neutral way. "How far (apart from birth control) may the ‘planing' in family planning be carried?" Ball asked. "Some may indeed see in these programs a sort of new Comstockery with a now highly managerial paternalism toward the poor and often unspoken puritanical assumptions respecting ‘undesirables.'"
A "highly managerial paternalism." Almost 50 years later, we have arrived. The government doesn't protect the rights of conscience. Now it tells us what to believe.
The amazing thing is that anyone is amazed. The left is utopian and totalitarian, never more so than when it comes to sexual matters. In the 1960s liberalism went from addressing problems that politics and government were responsible for addressing, things like crime, war and poverty, to being a form of public therapy and self-actualization. And it wasn't enough that others accept homosexuality or contraception, or even preach peace and respect towards others. That was only the beginning. It was also necessary to humiliate, degrade and coerce those who disagreed.
Liberal Catholics like E.J. Dionne and Fr. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame and the man who invited President Obama to speak at that Catholic institution, have both expressed shock at the Obama administration telling Catholics to violate their consciences. These two men, one a journalist, never ask themselves what the endgame of liberalism is. How do liberals envision, if not the perfect world, a good society? What would it tolerate?
What is the goal of liberalism?
For conservatives, answering the essential question of what our political goals are is not difficult. We do not believe in the perfectibility of the world. Those of us who are Christian conservatives believe that the government can fight wars, as well as provide protection from discrimination and a safety net for the poor. Capitalism and the free market are not perfect systems, but they are the best systems for providing human flourishing. We believe in progress that reenforces timeless truths.
Yet if you do believe in the perfectibility of the world -- or "fundamental transformation" in the president's phrase -- then nothing, not even the human conscience, can be allowed to get in the way.
I'm a teacher as well as a journalist, and I was teaching a high school politics and current events class last year when I posed a question: how many students thought that we were coming to a point where churches that did not perform gay marriages would get sued by the government?
Virtually every hand went up. The kids know what's going on - and what's coming. When governments and cultures begin tramping on the human conscience, it never stops there. There is always that extra push. Hey, if we can force the Catholic Church to sell abortifacients, why not porn? Why can't we force them to perform gay marriages, or jail them if they refuse?
Honestly, after the Komen cave and the Obama diktat, is there anyone left who doubts it? Anyone other than E.J. Dionne?
Welcome to the New Comstockery. Soon it may not be a stretch to call it the Fourth Reich.