“‘But surely,’ someone will object, ‘it isn’t easy for vice always to remain hidden.’ We’ll reply that nothing great is easy. And, in any case, if we’re to be happy, we must follow the paths indicated in these accounts. To remain undiscovered we’ll form secret societies and political clubs. And there are teachers of persuasion to make us clever in dealing with assemblies and law courts. Therefore, using persuasion in one place and coercion in another, we’ll outdo others without paying a penalty. ‘What about the gods? Surely we can’t hide from them or use force against them!’ Well, if the gods don’t exist, or concern themselves with human affairs, why should we worry at all about hiding from them?” — Adeimantus, The Republic of Plato, II, #365c-d.
In my mind, I associate three books together—Hadley Arkes’ First Things, Jay Budziszewski’s On the Meaning of Sex [Editor’s note: See CWR’s April 2012 interview with Dr. Budziszewski], and Robert Reilly’s new book, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything. Together they constitute, as it were, a “trilogy” that makes intelligible our acknowledged or unacknowledged public disorder of soul. When Aristotle distinguished political regimes in his Politics, he pointed out that each regime within itself—monarchy, aristocracy, polity/tyranny, oligarchy, democracy, and the mixed regimes—manifested a certain order. This order, in its turn, revealed the souls and character of the citizens of the regime. In addition, regimes become better or worse through time. They change; they decline and fall, rise and ascend. The criterion of what is good and what is not is grounded in what is. Man discovers reality. He does not will it or make it, except in so far as he bases himself on being, to follow it or to reject it.
Changes in regimes always reveal and follow a certain “logic.” When polities change, they do so for a purpose found ultimately in the souls of the citizens that constitute them. Such changes, ultimately, are set in motion by the free choices of citizens about how they live. How they live follows on how they think. Political “structures” do not “determine” the virtue or vice of citizens. They follow and flow from them. There is a “best” regime, an “in-between” regime, and a “worst” regime. The steps by which one goes from bad to good, or from good to bad, are inherent in things themselves. These steps are open to the mind’s understanding. “Man did not make man to be man,” as Aristotle put it. He is already a “made” reality before he begins to think of why he is as he is.
What man makes of himself will thus follow the logic of his being, not the logic of his will alone. Yet, as St. Thomas pointed out in his Summa (I-II, 91, 5), there is an order in disorder. To think and act against the good leads step by step, whether we like it or not, foresee it or not, to that which is most opposed to the good of any order. One goes gradually and incrementally from good to bad one step at a time. Each change makes a further ascent or declination possible, even likely. But change is always in the direction of making man more or less human. He always insists that he acts to make things better, even when he is doing the worst.
Man is responsible for what he makes or allows himself to be. He cannot make himself to be non-human. But he can make himself to be good man or bad man. Aristotle said that man can make himself worse than the beasts. He was not criticizing the beasts. Being indirectly protects the good by punishing a disorder of soul in the very living of out of the disorder. Such disorder and its “punishment” can be seen and traced in objective terms; this is what sociology and political science are at their best.
This tracing of the human good as it systematically deviates from its essence is what Reilly’s book does. What is at stake is the viability of the human family, as that small society is necessary for the coming to be and caring in being of each human person. What Reilly examines are the steps that undermine family and hence the public world as it attempts to provide alternatives to what can have no real alternative. The fundamental import of this book is not that modernity has discovered a better way of being human. Rather, it has known, at least in speech and often in living, the best way to be human. Knowing this, modernity is freely rejecting it. The hatred of the good and of right order is itself a powerful force in modern polities, as Reilly notices. This hatred stems from a refusal to acknowledge that there is a natural order not of our own making.
None of these three books, if I read them correctly, is based on religion. The notion that religion is the main objective force inhibiting the successful transformation of society is simply wrong. The validity of arguments of these three books has nothing directly to do with what is usually called “religion”. Their premises and conclusions are works of reason. Though they have nothing against religion, the validity of the argument does not depend on revelation, if revelation is authentic. Not all “revelations” are equally valid; they must themselves be judged on the basis of intrinsic contradiction. A true revelation, however, may well confirm or reinforce something implicit in reason.
Nor, while recognizing their value, do these writers base themselves on the freedom of religion clauses of the Constitution. The differences of religions themselves over questions of reason make most insecure the use of religious liberty as a foundation. The arguments in these books are of reason, by reasonable men. Politics should be reasoned discourse about things of reason and experience. And reason is not just what we will or want, but what is true in the nature of things.
While I will concentrate here on Robert Reilly’s Making America Gay, the other two books stand in the background and support the basic public argument on which all of these books are based. The best place to begin to explain what Reilly’s book is about is to note something rather extraordinary about the Budziszewski book, On the Meaning of Sex. It was published in 2013. It contains no discussion of “gay marriage.” What is the reason for this silence, since this topic seems the most widely controverted issue in recent times? The reason is that so-called “gay marriage” has nothing to do with what, in principle, sex and marriage are.
Marriage, and only marriage, has to do with the begetting of human children by a man and woman in the fittest manner for the good of the child and of its parents as well as the increase and well-being of the race. Any use of the word “marriage” or sex for any other kind of relationship, that is, one that makes this relation of begetting children impossible, is using the words sex or marriage equivocally. If a relationship cannot by nature accomplish this end, all the other aspects of human relationships may be useful or good in other respects, but they are not marriage. It is what it is by nature and cannot be anything else. Reilly makes this point that a relationship that cannot do something is not capable of bearing the burden of what the relationship is.
Every step that is away from this purpose of marriage and sex manifests in nature an iron logic to it. It is the logic that Etienne Gilson once referred to in his Unity of Philosophical Experience. An error in the beginning of thought or practice will lead, if not corrected, to the next step away from the good or purpose of the essence of the action. Unless corrected or stopped, it will eventually bring forth the worst in human souls and human regimes as what is against nature becomes the norm of rule. The Reilly book simply traces this step-by-step deviation from the good of marriage and of the human family and its well-being, with its relation to the civil order.
This book, be it noted, is not an “anti-gay” book. In fact, in spelling out just what this deviation consists in, it is a book that enables to see how and why such a life is disordered. When we insist on calling what is not sustainable to be a good, we allow ourselves no space to see or think about the direction in which our acts lead us. This book is an objective and logical discussion of where certain ideas and actions must—and do—invariably lead, whatever the good or bad will of those who hold such ideas or engage in such actions.
One basic theme that runs through the Reilly book is the passage from Aristotle that “revolutions are caused by disorders in the souls of men”. Our country and civilization are going through such a revolution, though it will not be acknowledged as wrong. It is presented as good and necessary, as all change either for better or worse always is. In other words, this revolution arises from the effort to make the world conform to a disorder of soul. We will to do what we claim we want to do. In this sense, Reilly’s book is a treatise on the habits that are vices, in Aristotle’s sense. A vice means that repeated acts have so reordered our souls that we can no longer see the good. The result is that we must explain why what we do is the real good. This point touches the Socratic foundation of our civilization, that it is never right to do wrong. But if we insist that it is “right” to do evil, we find ourselves overturning the basic foundations of the human good.
At the start of this essay, I cited an insightful passage from The Republic of Plato. It occurs in the second book wherein Plato’s brother, Adeimantos, is explaining how the poets and politicians tell us that good men suffer evil and bad men achieve good. So if this is true, “Why be good?” Adeimantos’ explanation of how those who choose evil win out is remarkably like Reilly’s book’s explanation of the transforming the gay agenda into laws and institutions. First of all, separate clubs and institutions must be set up to live and advocate a separate life. This separation was the historic status of most homosexuals in history. They did not seek to make their way of life universal or force everyone to call it normal.
But clever teachers could seek to pursuance the assemblies, congresses, and courts that this change was a mere extension of “rights.” Once this inference was accomplished, then a combination of persuasion and force could be used to prevent any analysis or criticism of the now public way of life. And what about the “gods?” If they really exist, which is doubtful, they can be bought off. They really do not worry about such human affairs. One might suggest that this route is a pretty accurate description of how many a religion has come finally to accept the proposition that the gay life and all it implies is simply human or normal.
The heart of Reilly’s book is that this “revolution” is, at every step, based on lies. It is not true that divorce, contraception, abortion, the homosexual life, and the rest have no dire consequences for the individual citizens involved or the society. Indeed, in the overall logic, one leads to another. That is what is so fascinating about this whole subject. Its philosophical roots go back to the understanding that, if we are going to justify these steps and ways of life, we have to get rid gradually of the idea or reality that there is an order in nature—including human nature. It is only when we are assured that nature has no intelligibility of its own that we can conceive ourselves as “free” to recreate ourselves to make those acts and ideas that are metaphysically held to be wrong over into what is right.
If one major theme of Reilly’s book is that all revolutions begin in the souls of individuals, the second theme is that once we accept a vice as a good, we cannot stop overturning society until it not only reverses all the laws in its favor but silences any opposition that would judge it to be wrong. We find here a certain well worn-pattern, as Reilly has pointed out, in the declination of our moral and political life from good to evil. It generally begins with the common agreement that something is evil. No one questions this proposition at first. But here is where the notions of sincerity and compassion come in. We can be sincere about and compassionate for the evil as well as for the good.
We begin to feel sorry for someone caught in a vice. The person is sincere. We feel sorry for him. We begin to overlook what he does. But if one person can be excused, so can others. We have to tolerate such deviations. We cannot stamp out all vices or command all goods. The next step is that those who are seen to be excused or tolerated claim they have a “right” to be the way they are. If they have such a “right,” then obviously others have a duty to protect that right. But if someone has a duty to recognize a vice, it cannot be a vice; it must be held to be a good. But if it is a good, it is wrong to object to it or criticize it. Those who try to recall the original virtues are said to be hateful. The public then silences any criticism of the vice. It becomes established as a right and a good. The one who practices the vice has now silenced any opposition or criticism of what was once a disorder.
Throughout modern times, this pattern has been repeated again and again from contraceptives to abortion to euthanasia to “gay marriages”, as Reilly shows. The “logic” of a disordered society is not the product of the free mind concocting free notions of being. Rather it is a systematic creation of a parody of good that overturns the real human good intrinsic to the original good now overturned and ejected from political and civil society. It is the thesis of the Reilly book that we have reached this end. We have reached it by the energy of those who deviate from the good and by the cooperation of those who are unable to or who refuse to see what in reason is at stake for the human family and its future. This book is succinct, to the point, and well-reasoned. Few people, especially those who have cooperated in bringing it about, will notice this overturning of the order of the good in our public life. But this is where we are and this is the thesis of this book by Robert Reilly.
Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything
by Robert O’Reilly
Ignatius Press, 2014
Hardcover, 250 pages