GLEN COVE, NY — William F. Buckley Jr.’s greatest
talent was his ability to assemble a great group of writers. When he
founded National Review, he started with such conservative luminaries
as L. Brent Bozell, Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk, Morrie Ryskind, James
Burnham, and Willmoore Kendall. In the late 1950s and early 1960s,
they created the golden age of that magazine. A decade later, Joseph
Sobran, a young talented conservative writer, would produce some of
the best essays in the magazine’s
history, restoring its former glory.
FGF Books, the publishing arm of the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation,
has published an excellent collection of Sobran’s National
Review columns. The collection is titled, Joseph
Sobran: The National Review Years: Articles from 1974 to 1991 (November 15, 2012, hardback, 216
pages). The selection encompasses columns from 17 of his 21 years at
One topic on which Sobran wrote fearlessly and often during this
time was contraception. He was not afraid to point out obvious objections
to artificial birth control. In “The Feast of St. Gilbert,” about
G.K. Chesterton, who inspired him — and to whom he is sometimes compared
— he explains contraception’s role as a weapon in the class
war against the poor. “[Chesterton’s] defense of the poor
was rooted in a defense of the family and of liberty against those
state planners who pined for population refinement,” Sobran writes
in an article published on September 14, 1979. “It is not hard
to see the likeness to those enlightened souls who think the state
should now promote contraception and abortion among the poor. Once
one understands his topoi, Chesterton’s topicality turns out
to have surprising pertinence,” Sobran explains.
Contraception has negative consequences at the individual level as
well as the national. In “Mass on The Mall,” published
November 23, 1979, shortly after Pope John Paul II made his first visit
to the United States, Sobran develops the manner by which the ongoing
use of contraception subordinates children to lesser goods by treating
a gift from God as an emotional crutch or an instrument. Sobran quotes
the Pope, who said, “[W]hen the child is described as a burden
or is looked upon as a means to satisfy an emotional need, we will
stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift
There are many clear reasons to oppose contraception: it is contrary
to nature; it is contrary to and damaging to marriage; it distorts
sex and attitudes about sex; it is the first cause of our illegal immigration
problem by creating a population imbalance between us and our neighbors
to the South; it deprives the nation of potential soldiers; it is the
gateway sin to abortion; it corrupts society.
In “What Is This Thing Called Sex?,” published December
31, 1980, Sobran mentions some of the undeniable difficulties of contraception
and extrapolates a less apparent but very serious one.
He starts with our understanding of and language about “sex.” “Sex” is
a contemporary word that includes all the activities of spouses; it
also includes all the illicit genital activities of everyone else,
with the single exception of rape. The fact that rape is recognized
as something worse than illicit sex and worse than assault gives the
lie to the contemporary myth that there is really no difference between
licit and illicit sex. This myth has its origins in the social acceptance
of contraception as a means of avoiding the consequence of illicit
sex. Contraception was certainly known in the 18th century, but very
few approved of it until the 20th century.
The myth that licit and illicit sex are the same thing is closely
tied to liberalism, progressivism, socialism, and totalitarianism,
all of which require the destruction of the family to flourish. Acceptance
of contraception as the norm has made contemporary sex, in Sobran’s
words, “a pastime to which reproduction is incidental and often
inconvenient.” This creates or develops a conflict of interest
between parent and child but also resolves the conflict by willing
away any cause for the child, making it pure coincidence. One cannot
help thinking of the exposed infants of classical Rome, left on the
mountainside to die if their fathers did not want them.
By destroying the bond between parent and child, we destroy the family.
The result is, in Sobran’s words, “easy divorce and abortion,
surveillance, and the threat of sanctions against parents who teach
their children religion.” That is an apt description of the late
20th century; as Sobran points out, it is the annihilation of the family
by the hive. It only came about by the destruction of a true meaning
of “sex,” and that was produced by widespread acceptance
writing on contraception, abortion, and life issues became legendary
during his nearly 40-year
writing career, earning him the title,
in some circles, as the greatest
pro-life essayist of the 20th
||Sobran’s writing on contraception, abortion, and life issues
became legendary during his nearly 40-year writing career, earning
him the title, in some circles, as the greatest pro-life essayist
of the 20th century. Another collection of his work in this area
is a book (also available from FGF Books as a pdf on a CD) called Single
Issues: Essays on the Crucial Social Questions, published
in 1983 by Human Life Review. Reading these articles,
and those contained in the new collection, provides a deeper understanding
of the true meaning of life.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2012
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
This column may be forwarded, posted, or published if credit is given
to Charles Mills and fgfBooks.com.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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