Published June 13, 2019
One breakthrough book should suffice for anyone, but Jennifer Roback Morse has written a second. Her first, Love and Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work (2001), was partly a diagnosis of what ails economic theory, and partly a personal reflection, explaining why this former libertarian, tenure-track academic—a protégé of Nobel economics laureate James Buchanan—gave up her tenure to raise her daughter and an adopted son.
She founded the Ruth Institute seven years later, just in time to help enact California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, which amended the state constitution by referendum to say that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” After its passage, the amendment was overturned by a California court, and the decision allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell vs. Hodges (2015).
Morse’s new book reflects her realization that same-sex marriage was too narrow a point on which to focus. The problem of family life is bigger, and it is a problem, she argues, that came about not from the bottom up but from the top down, as elites in positions of power—whether in government, academia, journalism, and elsewhere—did all they could to mainstream their lifestyles for ordinary Americans. This is what Morse refers to in her title as the “Sexual State.”
Although she draws on the late Marxist historian Eugene Genovese’s concept of the “managerial class,” as a historical matter the theory of the “Sexual State” long predates Marx’s Capital (1867) and Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884). Both essentially repackaged and inverted the idealistic communism that Plato outlined centuries earlier in the Republic, complete with its sharing of property and even wives.
Morse identifies three basic fictions that underlie the sexual revolution unleashed by our betters, according to which a good and decent society should: 1) separate sex from babies (the “Contraceptive Ideology”); 2) separate both sex and babies from marriage (the “Divorce Ideology”); and 3) wipe out all differences between men and women except those which the individual specifically chooses to embrace (the “Gender Ideology”).
I myself used to think the Contraceptive Ideology was the least troubling of the three. But Morse persuasively argues that sundering sex from procreation is the most fundamental step, as well as the paradigm by which the other two were achieved politically. The initial falsehood that contraception would be permitted only for married women now seems quaint. Once one accepts the fiction that babies do not result from intercourse between one man and one woman, one is logically committed not only to divorce but to an indefinite number and variety of spouses or partners. Morse marvels at Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which made a spectacularly correct cluster of social forecasts, tracing out the effects of the contraceptive mentality that has left so many today—above all, women—so desperately unhappy, despite their general material abundance.
The third key element of the Sexual State, Gender Ideology, insists that men and women are identical and interchangeable—except women are better. Thus, wiping out all differences between men and women is a moral imperative. At the root of these errors is the notion that the human body is unimportant and can be transcended, either by social reconstruction or by individual reconstruction.
The chief, though far from the only, victims of the Sexual Revolution, Morse argues, are children, who are either removed directly when they become inconvenient (through legal abortion), or else made accessories of adult self-fulfillment. The fiction that we can separate sex from babies, she writes, is contradicted by the simple fact that sex does make babies. The fiction that we can separate both sex and babies from marriage is contradicted by the fact, as reams of data confirm, that babies really need both their parents. And the fiction that we can wipe out all differences between men and women (except those explicitly chosen by individuals) is contradicted by the fact that the body is actually important: we are still made male and female.
In popular presentations of her thesis, Morse supplements her book’s threefold analysis of the sexual revolution with three “strategic considerations” aimed at reversing it:
1) Delayed childbearing is the price of entry into the professions. Therefore, the professions are dominated by people predisposed to accept the Contraceptive Ideology—some of whom (e.g., Harvey Weinstein and former cardinal—now Mr.—Theodore McCarrick) regard the lifestyle as an entitlement.
2) Because the ideologies of the sexual revolution are false they must rely on propaganda and force. It is therefore both effective and sufficient simply to identify, rather than elaborately refute, the endless propaganda, of which Morse provides several examples: the Human Rights Campaign’s “I am Jazz” campaign extolling a transgender child; press articles such as “Why Sex Was Better Under Socialism” (New York Times, August 17, 2017) and “Anal Sex: What You Need to Know” (Teen Vogue, July 7, 2017); and “The Family Planning Story,” a slick cartoon produced by Walt Disney Productions for The Family Planning Council in 1968. The book methodically documents the central role of the Rockefeller Foundation in bankrolling promotion of the Contraceptive Ideology.
3) The Sexual Revolution systematically silences and hides its victims, which include post-abortive women, heartbroken career women, the children of divorce, the reluctantly divorced, and refugees from the hookup and gay lifestyles. Because they are now so numerous, Morse argues, giving a voice to the sexual revolution’s victims is a powerful “breakthrough” strategy.
Although many consider the current state of affairs a done deal, Jennifer Roback Morse’s The Sexual State both provides a comprehensive, well-documented analysis of the Sexual Revolution and outlines what seems to be a more livable and politically viable alternative.
John D. Mueller is the Lehrman Institute Fellow in Economics and Director of the Economics and Ethics Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.