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The Confederate Lawyer
December 5, 2012

Joseph Sobran: The National Review Years —
Articles from 1974 to 1991

hardcover, 216 pages, limited edition (FGF Books, 2012)

Joe Sobran on Contraception
by Charles G. Mills
fitzgerald griffin foundation

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 National Review.

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 of God.”

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 of contraception.

  "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."
  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.

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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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