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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
August 27, 2014

Dark Ages, New Morality
A classic by Joseph Sobran
fitzgerald griffin foundation

[CLASSIC] — Ah, progress! In its Man of the Year cover story on Pope John Paul II, Time magazine remarked that the Pope “stands solidly against much that the secular world deems progressive: the notion, for example, that humans share with God the right to determine who will and will not be born.”

Note the word “progressive.” It was once a word that rang with hope and optimism. Now it has acquired a subtly morbid overtone.


The Dark Ages are a myth. The long centuries between the fall of Rome and the full emergence of a Christian Europe were incomparably the greatest period of moral improvement in human history.

 

 

Modern man has long since claimed the right to decide not only who will be born, but also who will die. As C.S. Lewis put it, every
increase in man’s power over nature turns out to be an increase in the power of some men over others.

Man has acquired the power to fly and the power to make high explosives; which, combined in warfare, turns out to mean that some men (a very few) can destroy others by the tens of thousands. In that sense, nuclear weapons are “progressive.”

There was a time when warfare was so inefficient that people had to be killed one by one.

Next to a mushroom cloud, an abortion may seem a very small evil, and the painless killing of a suffering person who no longer
wants to live may actually appear as an act of mercy. We have achieved both magnitude and refinement in homicide. This is progress, of sorts. And those who oppose all these forms of killing are called “reactionary.” They are said to be still living in the Dark Ages.

The Dark Ages are a myth. The long centuries between the fall of Rome and the full emergence of a Christian Europe were incomparably the greatest period of moral improvement in human history.

In the Classical world, such practices as infanticide, abortion, pederasty, slavery, suicide, and crucifixion were everyday facts of life.
Public entertainment in Rome included going to the Colosseum to watch gladiators kill each other or wild animals tear helpless people apart.


In the Classical world, such practices as infanticide, abortion, pederasty, slavery, suicide, and crucifixion were everyday facts of life.... As Christianity gained ascendancy, all these things were abolished by law. By the end of the so-called Dark Ages they had been banned throughout Christendom and ceased to exist...

 

 

As Christianity gained ascendancy, all these things were abolished by law. By the end of the so-called Dark Ages they had been
banned throughout Christendom and ceased to exist, except insofar as they could be performed illicitly. Until recently we took their
non-existence so much for granted that we forgot our huge debt to the Dark Ages — the very name of which signifies our modern
ingratitude.

The modern world has even come to define “progress” in terms of how far it departs from Christian morality. If Christianity condemns abortion, homosexual acts, and suicide, the secular law, which of course must not be contaminated by religious considerations, is to uphold them as “rights.” Even infanticide and pederasty are making a come-back, with advocates bidding for legal status. Meanwhile, modern war has far exceeded not only what was permissible but also what was conceivable in earlier times.

The modern world has inevitably tried to codify its rebellion against Christian morality as a “new” morality — a morality without
piety, in which the ultimate criteria of the good are personal pleasure and subjective happiness. The result, just as inevitably, is a society of selfish people: more specifically, a society in which fathers refuse to take responsibility for their children. The children are then either aborted or left to grow up as they may (in which case they are likely to be even more irresponsible than their fathers).


We have achieved both magnitude and refinement in homicide. ...those who oppose all these forms of killing are called “reactionary.” They are said to be still living in the Dark Ages.

 

 

Even the most progressive-minded people are beginning to realize that the New Morality has been a disaster, even on its own terms. It has bred a generation of savages whom it is hard to blame but necessary somehow to control. The surest of social controls, an inner sense of honor, has been denied them by paternal neglect.

But the only solution liberals can offer is to teach them about contraception — as if these impulsive youth, whose lives have been totally undisciplined from infancy, were capable of thinking nine months ahead, with the calculating hedonism of the modern family-planning, timepayment middle class. Many of these youth have no assurance that they will still be alive in nine months.


The modern world has even come to define “progress” in terms of how far it departs from Christian morality.

 

 

The secret heart of the New Morality is the denial of the soul. If we are only flesh, our only happiness, our only destiny, is carnal. When there is no prospect of carnal satisfaction, the New Morality can prescribe no duty to go on living. Nor can it condemn abortion.

Least of all can it censure sexual license, which in fact it sees as the highest felicity available to human beings. It can comprehend
neither chastity nor honor, let alone the relation between the two things. It can only suggest feebly that if you defer sexual pleasure
for a while, or use birth control, you may have more pleasure in the long run. One can hardly imagine a more absurd way to try to instill self-control into flaming youth.

The progressives have found no substitute for virtue. They can offer only such morbid stopgaps as contraception, abortion, and
euthanasia. The Dark Ages understood virtue and built a civilization; the progressive age doesn’t understand virtue and is tearing
down the civilization it inherited. Euthanasia is a fitting symbol: the last sacrament of a society that cannot aspire to heaven, but only to painless annihilation.

The Reactionary Utopian archives


Copyright © 2014 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This is an article being considered for a new collection of Sobran columns titled Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (fgfBooks, 2014). It originally was published in the March-April 1995 edition of Celebrate Life!

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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