12 Mar 2012

Contraception and the Agenda of the Left

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Thomas Couture, Romains de la décadence [Romans during the Decadence], 1847, Musée d’Orsay

Bruce Thornton explains why forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives, in the same way the Ancient Romans would have forced Christians to offer sacrifice to Aphrodite, matters so much to the left. Sexual indulgence freed from responsibility is pretty much the only area of life in which the left offers more personal freedom.

[A]s Fluke puts it, “This is about women’s health.” In other words, unplanned pregnancy is a disease, something that like breast cancer just sort of happens to a woman, and for which she bears no responsibility. That’s how House minority leader Nancy Pelosi sees it. Speaking of the failed Senate amendment to allow religious organizations not to fund contraception, Pelosi said that the measure was “part of the Republican agenda of disrespecting women’s health issues [by] allowing employers to cut … basic health services for women, like contraception, mammograms, prenatal and cervical-cancer screenings.”

Since pregnancy is a disease, then, someone else should pay the premium for insuring against the consequences of a woman’s risky, careless behavior. She shouldn’t even be responsible for grabbing some free condoms at the clinic and taking care of the risk herself.

Look even closer, and we see the real progressive agenda at work: increasing the power and reach of the federal government and its bureaucratic minions by discrediting and marginalizing any other source of authority over our behavior, especially institutions of moral authority such as churches. That way the government can aggrandize its power by relieving people of the responsibility for their choices through palliating their damaging consequences while making others pay for them. Tocqueville noticed 150 years ago this tendency of centralized power to expand by infantilizing the citizenry. Centralized governments, Tocqueville remarked, act as “if they thought themselves responsible for the actions and private conditions of their subjects, as if they had undertaken to guide and to instruct each of them in the various incidents of life and to secure their happiness quite independently of their own consent.” Moreover, this insidious paternalism corrupts the people, who “invoke its assistance in all their necessities,” and who “fix their eyes upon the administration as their mentor and their guide.” But all for a price: the diminishment of our freedom and autonomy, both of which require accepting the burdensome and sometimes painful responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

Our modern progressives, however, have added a new twist to this process. Removing sexual behavior from the strictures of traditional authority, and then taking responsibility for the consequences of careless sex like pregnancy, make state-subsidized sexual pleasure a seemingly cost-free distraction from the erosion of freedom and autonomy, as Aldous Huxley foresaw in Brave New World. Sexual freedom now trumps political freedom, and sexual pleasure is the honey that sweetens the bitter poison of diminished freedom. Hence the progressive’s elevation of contraception and abortion into “rights,” which puts the necessary discussion of the obvious destructive consequences of sexual promiscuity out of bounds. But these “rights” have nothing to do with “women’s health” and everything to do with the progressive government’s aim of consolidating and increasing its power at the expense of other authorities, like churches, that might have something to say about the personally and socially destructive price of those “rights.” That’s the real significance of the uproar Rush Limbaugh caused: not his crudity or insensitivity, but calling attention to the centrality of sexual libertinism to the progressive agenda of increasing government power at the expense of individual freedom.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.

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