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A recent study by the Pew Research Center
finds significant differences between younger and older liberals,
differences that are not encouraging either to orthodox religious
believers or to the older liberals.
The Next Generation Left (NGL)
are at one with older liberals on the social issues, notably abortion
and homosexual marriage, and it is primarily those issues which hold the
Democratic constituencies together. But the NGL is notably less liberal
on economic issues. Only nine per cent of older liberals think
America’s economic system is fair, while 36 per cent of the NGL does.
Over 8o per cent of older liberals think the government should help the
needy, as opposed to only 39 per cent of the NGL, 32 per cent of whom
think the poor lack initiative and rely on handouts.
As R. R. Reno of First Things says,
the Pew study seems to show that the NGL “…marry free market
individualism with an affirmation of lifestyle freedom unhindered by and
sometimes antagonistic to religion, morality, and social solidarity.”
Older liberals vs. younger liberals
findings ought not to be surprising, given the meritocratic nature of
elite education in America. Intense competition has formed the NGL and
confirmed for them that they have arrived at success through hard work
and personal merit and have nothing to apologize for.
some unease over this among older liberals. Universities still celebrate
students and alumni who are successful in worldly terms, but in their
publicity they feature equally those engaged in various kinds of social
service. At every commencement ceremony speakers congratulate the new
alumni on their accomplishments but urge them not to forget the less
fortunate. Being involved in social action of some kind is a good career
move both before and during college, but how many graduatesburdened by
sometimes overwhelming debtsremain committed is doubtful.
NGL are not eager to sacrifice even for what they consider to be the
common good, a small but telling statistic is that, while the NGL
consider themselves environmentalists, many also favor the Keystone XL
pipeline. Recently, the New York Times had to print a retraction of an article claiming that the “Millennial” generation are extraordinarily generous and unselfish. The original Times report had
gotten the statistics exactly backwardsthe Peace Corps, AmeriCorps,
Teach for America, and other such groups all report a significant
decline in the number of volunteers.
Most of the “proof” for the Times’
original claim consisted of what Millennials said about themselves. On
this as on most things having to do with “social awareness” the data
mainly consists of opinion polls, and it is primarily the right opinions
that contemporary liberalism requires of peoplethe politically correct
are seldom examined as to their lifestyles or asked how much of their
time and treasure they actually give to the needy.
too there is no systematic information about works of charity. Are
liberal parishes more likely to provide generous help for the poor? Are
liberal laity more likely to adopt children? Many pro-liferssneered at
even by Catholic liberals and impeded by the liberal statedo heroic
work on behalf of pregnant women and their new-borns, although a
favorite liberal canard is that pro-lifers care only about the unborn.
care of children, the sick, and the elderly was for centuries the work
of nuns, few of whom now seem to be involved in those ministries. The
Little Sisters of the Poor, harassed by the Obama administration,
continue to fulfill that historic vocation, while the Nuns on Bus,
whatever they may be doing, are not helping the needy in any apparent
At this crucial moment in history, when it is dramatically
obvious that the breakdown of the family is the single greatest factor
in the persistence of poverty, both older liberals and the NGL agree
that it should not be a major concern, that it is in fact a distraction.
Classical Catholic social teaching, to which Catholic liberals claim
fidelity, makes the family the fundamental basis of a good society, but
that is something to which Catholic liberals are now reluctant to pay
even lip service.
Why there should be a dichotomy between concern
for the poor and concern for the family is never explained. Is it some
simplistic notion of rationing energyspend less time demonstrating
against abortion and more time in food pantries? At a minimum it means
less defense of the family and more effort to promote the welfare state,
even when the welfare state promotes abortion. In practice it means
always voting Democratic.
During the Second Vatican Council
(1962-5) would-be Catholic reformers (not all of them liberals) hoped to
bring about a transformation in popular Catholic attitudes, a change
from a morality that allegedly placed too much emphasis on personal,
primarily sexual, behavior and not enough on social relations.
most effective exercise in American history of the Catholic Church’s
prophetic moral authority was the successful conversion of many hearts
and minds to the ideal of racial justice during the Civil Rights
Movement. Studies at the time found that the single most important
factor in changing people’s attitude about race was their hearing
sermons on the subject.
The rejection of Humanae Vitae
is an old adage that it is easy to make water run down hill but much
harder to make it run back up again. During the Civil Rights era the
Church was able to make water run up hill, in the sense of persuading
Catholics to accept a teaching that went against both their personal
instincts and centuries of social custom. It was an achievement made
possible because the Church had, over the same centuries, instilled in
people a fundamental docility towards its teachings.
the reformist Catholic project was upended by the transformation of
secular liberalism that took place around the fateful year 1968. The
rebellion of “the Sixties” (more accurately 1966-73) began as the New
Lefta political movement that claimed racial justice and the Vietnam
War as its issues but soon metamorphized into the Counter
Culturepromoted a rejection of all authority in the name of personal
1968 the principal form of that liberation had to do with sex. Feminism
was the first and the chief of these movements, followed by “gay
rights” and other demands for sexual freedom. Abortion inevitably became
a non-negotiable demand. Economic issues continued to be part of the
liberal agenda but were pushed farther and farther back in a continually
unfolding series of causes.
The rejection of Humanae Vitae
made all the difference among Catholics. The encyclical was issued by
Pope Paul VI in 1968, the year when the New Left and the Counter-Culture
reached the peak of their influence, and its rejection allowed
Catholics to join in those movements in their own way, to strike a
distinctively Catholic blow for sexual liberation.
Catholics began measuring moral “progress” on the basis of how much of
the sexual revolution Catholics would accept (in time they accepted
virtually all of it), assuming that concern for social justice would
increase proportionate to a decrease in interest in personal morality.
At one point a Jesuit rejoiced publicly that young Catholics in
Washingtoneager to “make a difference” politicallyno longer paid
attention to Catholic sexual teaching.
Paradoxically, the rejection of Humanae Vitae,
which was soon followed by a rebellion against other Catholic teachings
as well, took place only a few years after both Catholic and secular
liberals praised those bishops who threatened to excommunicate
segregationist politicians. But after having first been solemnly warned
that Catholic doctrine required them to support the goal of racial
justice, Catholics were almost immediately told that they need not take
the teachings of the Church seriously, that indeed they almost had an
obligation not to. By 1968 all exercise of disciplinary authority was
condemned as tyranny.
The rejection of Humanae Vitae, and
everything that followed, in a perverse way proved the success of the
new religious education. In numerous waysclassroom instruction,
sermons, retreats, publicationsCatholics after Vatican II were told to
follow their own inclinations on moral issues, that docility towards
Church teaching was actually a betrayal of faith. In short, “reformers”
discovered how easy it was to make water run down hill, to give the
faithful permission to take the line of least resistance.
reformist Catholic program now came simply to be equated with the
secular liberal program. To Catholic liberals there remained two
unresolved moral issueswar and poverty - but many Catholics remained
“super-patriots” and bishops were condemned for not condemning the
Vietnam War. Collectively the bishops supported the War on Poverty, but
many lay Catholics started voting Republican.
Fidelity to Catholic
social teaching required a synthesis of what came to be conflicting
liberal and conservative positionsthe welfare state on the on the hand
and the pro-life and pro-family movements on the other. The Democratic
Party, in which Catholics had for so long been a major force, was the
natural agency for working out such a synthesis. Instead prominent
Catholic Democrats, almost without exception, readily accepted the
secular liberal agenda and pro-life, and pro-family Catholics gravitated
towards the Republican Party, which had previously not attracted them.
Catholics emphasize the “lived experience” of the laity as a check on
formal Catholic doctrine, a check that has, supposedly, demonstrated the
rightness of contraception, homosexuality, and other things. Catholics
today, it is claimed, are highly educated and can follow their own
But this is applied to sexual morality
only. Businessmen who believe in the free market, for example, or
soldiers who believe in the righteousness of the wars they fight, are
accused of placing their own “lived experience” above the teachings of
the Church. They are in effect guilty of heresy.
now see the sexual revolution, especially homosexuality, as itself a
matter of social justice, at least as important as poverty and racial
equality. Thus homosexuals are at present the poorest of all, with
divorced people and would-be women priests not far behind, since “the
poor” are those who feel themselves to be treated unfairly by society.
Reno says of the NGL’s that they are “far more likely to be outraged
when they hear of two gay lawyers in Atlanta who can’t marry each other
than when they encounter a homeless person pushing a shopping cart with
all his worldly belongings.”
Catholic liberals are now frustrated
by the failure of so many of the laity to espouse the liberal
understanding of economic justice. But it was the liberals themselves
who brought this about, apparently not concerned that their celebration
of “freedom” and “maturity” in sexual behavior would inevitably
influence the sense of obligation to others. Altogether it might be said
that the liberals set about killing the moral sense of the laity in
order to save it.