Wednesday, March 27, 2013

At An Earlier Stage Of The Culture War

This week's Supreme Court hearings on gay "marriage," and recent Facebook posts of a brave young man at Hillsdale College have encouraged me to share something I wrote over 20 years ago.

It involved a magazine at Harvard, Peninsula, which was started by (mostly) Cathlo-conservatives at the College to combat the overwhelmingly Leftist tilt of campus publications, the faculty, the student body, in short, the cultural milieu.  I was there at the beginning.

In 1991, it was not altogether clear that Roe v. Wade would survive persistent challenges by the Bush Administration.  Social conservatives and principled constitutionalists felt reasonably certain that five justices on the Court would vote to remove that blight on the nation's jurisprudence and soul.

The notion that opposition to anything gays clamored for was a sign of hatred and bigotry had not yet been drilled into the American psyche by means of social psychology, e.g., movies, television, newspapers, magazines, university classes, law.  It was nevertheless taking hold fast at Harvard.

Peninsula writers dared to protest by publishing an issue dedicated to all things homosexual.  Its cover featured an exploding pink triangle.  Campus-wide hysteria was the reaction.  

The Dean of Students at Harvard College, Archie Epps, denounced Peninsula as hate speech at an anti-Peninsula rally in the Harvard Quad.  The right Reverend Peter Gomes--the preacher who had officiated at Ronald Reagan's second inauguration and who was widely considered to be conservative--outed himself at the same rally proclaiming that there was no opposition between Christianity and homosexuality.   He knew, allegedly, because he was both.

It was downhill from there.  Names and telephone numbers of those listed on Peninsula's masthead, including mine, were posted all around campus and Harvard Square.  Someone called my wife--my bride of little more than a year--and threatened to rape her.  

Issues of the offending magazine were pulled from their various dispensaries--for instance at Harvard Law School, that great bastion of free speech--and dumped.  At least they weren't burned.  Then again, maybe they were.

William F. Buckley, then retiring from National Review, got interested in the affair and asked my permission to publish the article that follows. I treasure Buckley's letter, a masterpiece of hifalutin prose.
I am quite overwhelmed by the brilliance of your exposition and the lucidity of of your expression.  I'd like to publish some version of your "Apologia for My Ideas" in National Review, but I need for one thing your consent, which I hope will be enthusiastic; for another, an amplification of your note to the effect that "a version" of what I read will be published in the Law Record.  Has that been done?  If so, is it significantly different?  I'd very much appreciate hearing from you and also having from you a permanent address.  With cordial regards, 
That man could write.

The piece was subsequently spiked at National Review by John O'Sullivan's editorial board, which considered sexual politics too controversial a topic for an election year.  Lucky for lothario Bill Clinton, who defeated President Bush (I) in the crucial victory for sexual revolutionaries and the left side of the culture war. My Apologia never saw the light of day in the magazine's pages.

Herewith is my history of Peninsula, which includes my thoughts then about homosexuality and the sexual revolution, as published in the pages of the Harvard Law Record.  I still stand by them--though I wince at the piece's use of examples amenable to PC sensibilities (e.g., violence to gays; ozone layer damage), and also repent of casually appropriating the moldy adage that "you are what you eat" in order to rebut the inference that the essence of any person can be reduced to who he or she sleeps with. In a very real sense, that of co-naturality, we become what we do.

I hope you enjoy my Apologia and find it useful as you sift through the propaganda promulgated in this week's media.


Max Torres, HLS '92

Harvard Law RECORD, Vol. 94, No. 9, Friday, May 1, 1992, pp. 12-13

Attentive readers of this publication might have gotten the impression that "Max Torres and Peninsula" concoct insensitivities to hurl at homosexuals, and others. They will be surprised to learn that Max Torres: has neither written for nor published in Peninsula for a year; does not have, and never has had, any editorial influence at Peninsula; and had nothing to do with Peninsula's homosexuality issue.

How then have I come to be slurred regularly by ad hominem imputations in the Record? I am listed on the masthead of Peninsula as a Guardian (a taxonomy that readers of Plato's Republic might recognize). To some, that is sufficient to establish me as one of THEM. And, presumably, since THEY are all alike, THEY all must be put in THEIR place. Xenophobia, therefore, provides the best explanation.

Some believe that I deserve chastisement due to my choice of associations alone. One undoubted sympathizer, however, will be the student whose April 14th cries of outrage filled my Hark box.  [n.b. HLS students each have a box at Harkness Commons into which daily pour flyers, manifestos, protest letters, coupons, notices, etc.]  Apparently, she was implicated by the Administrative Board as a sit-in demonstrator even though she had specifically chosen not to participate. I am implicated as a [choose your epithet] even though I deliberately chose not to write for Peninsula's homosexuality issue. She believed that her misidentification indicated the "more general and substantive problem" of "a fundamental carelessness" with "the rights, and indeed lives," of others. Amen. She believed that her reportorial coverage of, and active participation in, campus activism had marked her for targeting. I believe that my outspoken defiance of sexual-revolutionary dogma provoked those who could not answer what I have written to assail me for what I have not. She was outraged that her liberty to act has been compromised by selective prosecution. I am affronted that my opportunity to contend for the public mind in an unprejudiced forum has been compromised by name-calling. She believed that her inaccurate prosecution was designed to effect the chilling of student activism. I believe that my censure is devised to chill the thought--and barring that, the expression--of anyone who might be so impudent as to question the strident march of "tolerance." I can imagine her response to the suggestion that since she is guilty of dissent in general, she is punishable for specific acts of dissent that she is not guilty of, or that she should get out of the kitchen if she can't stand the heat.

I am responsible for the letter--but not its garish title ("Peninsula Not Gratuitous Gay Bashing") that ran in the February 28, 1992 issue of the Record. The gist of my letter was that (1) a quote I had nothing to do with, but which was attributed to me anyway, and that purportedly illustrated Peninsula's effrontery, was actually a summary of Aristotle's opinions, (2) the Hitler-Duke poster campaign--though in keeping with the current rhetorical excess of analogising everything that rankles or perturbs to the Holocaust and cross-burnings--was childish, and manifested the very brown-shirt tactics it attributed to Peninsula, (3) if there is a truth regarding the matter of homosexuality, or any other matter, it cannot be advanced by people dogmatically opposed to the notion of truth, and (4) while I accept homosexuals as they are, I neither accept what they do, nor the assertion that they must do it. A person is no more what he does than he is what he eats. I offered my thoughts publicly then, and now, only because certain writers have assumed too much about me while fulminating in print.

I was asked to write for the homosexuality issue of Peninsula, but declined for a number of reasons. I had lost sight of whom I was writing for, and, consequently, the sense of what good I was doing anyone by writing. I had lost faith in the possibility of rational discourse on campus, and did not wish to engage in irrational discourse. I was tired of endeavoring to provoke thought and re-evaluation only to encounter personal attacks, silence, or comments such as "You might be right, but (1) it's too late to change, and/or (2) your ideas can be put to bad use." Finally, I consider homosexuality to be a symptom rather than a core problem, and it is core problems that I am interested in writing about, when I am interested in writing at all. I was perfectly content to move on to other things and to keep my silence until, by keeping it any longer, I was permitting a disservice to ideas that deserved a better fate than death-by-bullying.

I now wish to "speak my mind," because so many think they know it but do not. I thus extend an "apology" for my ideas, not in the modern sense of admitting guilt and asking for pardon, but in the classical sense of proposing that no guilt exists, and, hence, that no pardon is required. I proceed with the example and method of John Henry Newman--composer of the Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Apology for his Life)--before me, and present a history of my ideas, as I have expressed them in the pages of Peninsula. Like Newman, I write for my own sake and the sake of "my friends and of my foes, and of that general public which consists of neither one nor the other, but of well-wishers, lovers of fair play, sceptical cross-questioners, interested inquirers, curious lookers-on, and simple strangers, unconcerned yet not careless about the issue."

Two years ago, I composed for the inaugural issue of Peninsula an article entitled "Reflections on the Revolution in Sexuality." In brief, I argued that the sexual revolution parted the unitive and procreative dimensions of sexual intercourse, with the broader consequence of severing the abstract from the corporeal in human nature. What is in nature one is now in culture two. 

Since the norm of "making love" sans "making babies" is now the rule in culture, but not the rule in nature, culture regards as normal what is not natural. I offered the example of homosexual relations which, given the norm of unitive-only sex, "cannot be considered abnormal. In fact, they are ideal: purely unitive sex without any risk of procreative consequences. When viewed [with] in the fuller context of nature, however, what fashions these relations ideally normal renders them inescapably unnatural." The contraposition of two words, "normal" and "natural," that usually agree in meaning mirrors the greater opposition currently existing between mind and body. Specifically, reality is presumed to be all in the mind. For instance, should the mind decide that "it" is a woman trapped within the body of a man, the genitalia will be summarily dispatched. Hence, in the post-revolutionary world, the "liberated" body is actually mere chattel, enslaved to the dictates (often referred to as "choices") of a libidinous will that is culturally liberated from physiological exigencies. I concluded that the sexual revolution not only marked "a profound alteration in the human condition," but also perpetrated a grave anthropological disorder on our species and culture, of which contraception, abortion, the acceptance of homosexuality, and transsexualism are symptomatic.

The anticipation of, and response to, our debut was fierce, both nationally and locally. At Harvard one pundit quipped of my "Reflections" that "[t]he naturalist fallacy in this argument is easy to discern. By the author's moral criteria, taking a dose of penicillin to cure strep throat is a profoundly immoral act." In other words, there is no necessary harmony between nature and normalcy, and the welcome use of medicine to cure sickness proves it. So, I wrote "In Defence of the Naturalistic Fallacy" for the second issue of Peninsula. The criticism was telling insofar as fertility is treated in post-revolutionary culture as an infirmity, like strep throat, which needs to be "cured" by contraception, abortion, and reversal of the procreative assumptions that underlie our understanding, and law, of families. 

Noting that my argument had been empirical, not moral, I offered commonplace evidence in support of the proposition that deviations from nature are not the place from which to construct social and cultural norms. For instance, the cultural norm of applying deodorant via aerosol spray erodes the ozone layer and consequently increases the risk of getting cancer; the social norm of meeting our energy demands with nuclear power threatens mass annihilation; the cultural norm of one-car-per-person pollutes our air supply, which leads to respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. Rights-based arguments are not sympathetically received when advanced to justify violations of nature in these contexts. But "[b]ecause the promise of unbridled sexual gratification is so alluring, many are adamant to [deny] in the sexual context what they are eager to [advance] in the environmental one:" that nature must be respected in the construction of social and cultural norms. Among other consequences of denying sexuality's procreative dimension, I mentioned the increasingly hostile relations between the sexes, and the difficulty of finding a suitable mate with whom to begin a family. The revolution's social costs are imposed even on those who never wished to revolt.

I published three more articles in Peninsula, which I shall describe in very brief compass. In "Kirk or Bork?" I argued one year before the Thomas hearings that "because liberal courts have been exceedingly [eager] to impute their vision of natural law into the Constitution, and because that vision is so strikingly deformed, conservative jurists have been loath to promulgate their own vision [of the good]. . . . It is time for conservatives to meet liberals' assertions [about rights and substantive justice] head-on, and not to side swipe them on procedural grounds. Time, in other words, for conservatives to reorient themselves to the [natural-law] philosophy of Russell Kirk, and to leave the [legal-positivist] philosophy of Robert Bork behind."

In "Biology, Destiny, and False Freedom," I argued that attempts to liberate people from "biological slavery" were futile, as "physiology is inextricably woven into the fabric of personhood. My fundamental dispute with the liberationist project is that it presupposes an anthropology [more suitable to inert playthings like] Lego building blocks: [as if] unwanted `accidental' aspects of personhood can, at will, be neatly detached from the whole without consequence. . . . [People are not] simple modular creatures, able to click their fecundity switches on and off with chemicals, limb implants, or surgical procedures without any corresponding harm to their persons or society." Nature does not offend the Constitution, as some contend. Rather, some constructions of that document offend nature, with grave consequences for man and society.

My last article for Peninsula, published in May 1991, was entitled "A Family Affair." In it I plumbed the facts of Michael H. v. Gerald D.. Over a three-year period, with infant Victoria in tow, Carol pinballed between Michael, Scott, Gerald, Los Angeles, New York, Europe and St. Thomas. By Victoria's fourth birthday, she had two daddies, a guardian ad litem, and a psychiatrist. These people, in a special way, and the numerous people like them "in every corner of the country," are victims of the sexual revolution, particularly the little Victorias of the world, who (in the event they survive their mothers' wombs) are born into the chaos begotten by self- centered adults. The solution to this tragedy lies not in better contraception, safer abortion, or freer sex. Rather it lies in self-restraint, consideration of others, and respect for the full nature of sexuality.

One of the great exchanges in all of law, and perhaps the death knell for the sexual revolution, was the one in Michael H. between Justice Scalia and Justice Brennan--the revolution's judicial patron. In response to Justice Brennan's exertions on behalf of an adulterous father's "freedom not to conform," Justice Scalia noted that one man's freedom is another man's obligation. Such a "happy choice" as the expansion of one "`liberty' of sorts without contracting an equivalent `liberty' on the other side" is "rarely available." He concluded, "Justice Brennan's approach chooses one of them as the constitutional imperative, on no apparent basis except that the unconventional is to be preferred."

Rights are a zero-sum commodity, which are not bestowed; they are reallocated to some citizens, and away from others. Over the past twenty-seven years, it has been the rights of procreators--who believe in the integrity of the whole person, and who cannot sanction the objectification of the body or the commodification of human life (whether in the name of liberty, freedom, pluralism, diversity, or any other talisman)--to live in a hospitable world, that have been reallocated away under the "harmless" guise of merely expanding "individual rights" for those who will not conform. Somebody always conforms; the question is, "Who to whom?" The closet is never empty. The real issue is not whether it should be opened to permit everyone to enjoy equal liberties, but whether others should be further stripped of their liberties and forced to switch places. Thus, when any sexual-revolutionary issue--whether contraception, abortion, or the acceptance of homosexuality--is presented to the public mind as if one side is for greater liberty and the other is against it, a fraud is being perpetrated.

Moreover, none of the sexual-revolutionary battles, with which our contentious world is rife, can appropriate the sympathy forthcoming to victims of indisputable atrocities. This is not a battle between Nazis and Jews, or between Klansmen and Blacks. This is a battle between those who would hold the procreation line embedded in our understanding of family, and those who would replace it with a completely abstract formulation. While it is undoubtedly easier to affect a balance between the interests of a Hitleresque oppressor and a Christ-like martyr than it is between those who would maintain tradition and those who would discard it in favor of new equally "oppressive" traditions, the comparison is inapposite.

One of the true victims in modern political discourse is civility. Thus, it is not surprising that some disputants grasp neither the sublimity nor the necessity of ground rules such as: Love the sinner, hate the sin. But in light of the evident and devastating consequences of that principle's rejection, best evidenced by violence to gays, such ferocious opposition as has been engendered by the evocation of that principle is mystifying. The concept of loving the sinner while hating his sin is what renders our hallowed notions of toleration and diversity plausible, and what underlies the sentiments of even so virulent a detractor of Catholicism as Voltaire, who professed that while he might hate to the death what a man had to say, he would fight to the death for his right to say it. The discrediting of a venerable principle by those who stand to gain the most from it, in order to make their adversaries appear more malicious than they are, is a striking example of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Nevertheless, it is well to put Christian principles aside, and to remind that I have appealed neither to theology nor to ethics in order to make my case. Though love of one's own will to the exclusion of God's is a sin, and though the sexual revolution's objectification of the person, especially woman, is immoral, I have argued empirically to the secular mind that the "right to engage in sexual intercourse without having a child," is a grave anthropological misconception that has fostered, not forestalled, degradation, abuse, disease, frustration, anger, violence, and death. While I readily admit that religion informs both my ideas and my conscience, I sturdily deny that a religious outlook is necessary to perceive that the sexual revolution is a bust.

Twentieth-century Catholic philosopher Etienne Gilson commenced the 1936-37 James Lectures at Harvard by referencing a letter written in 1901 by William James to G.H. Palmer. In that letter James credited Harvard's philosophy department with a "genuine liberalism, and non- dogmatism." Gilson graciously offered that "[w]hen non-dogmatism shows itself generous enough to welcome even dogmatism, it has obviously reached its point of perfection." However, when "non-dogmatism" proves itself to be even more dogmatic than what it perceives to be dogmatism, then genuine liberalism--liberality of mind--is dead. I take this opportunity to express my observation that the examined life at Harvard Law School is brain-dead, having been lobotomised by dogmatic non-dogmatists. I extend my condolences for The Record. 


  1. My antidote to this blog? Attend Mass at Most Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro, San Francisco.

  2. Tom, Why do you read it if you need an antidote? There's much more to your liking on the web.

  3. That's true - but being a Catholic myself (but with merely 6 children) I am fascinated by the concentration of vitriol, hatred, and sheer Fox News fantasy that seems so incompatible with the Gospels. After all, Jesus was a pacifist- unless He just didn't mean what He is reported to have said.
    Anyway, I wish you all the best in your world. It seems like such narrow, cramped quarters!

  4. Tom, there are too many buzz words in your comment for me to attempt dialog with you. God bless you for your generosity in having children. May Jesus help us sort it all out.