The United States faced an implacable foe in the Cold War but overcame it. Catholics likewise face an implacable foe in the culture war; indeed, a related one: it is increasingly known as cultural Marxism, and its aims include the promotion of abortion, euthanasia, radical sexual license, and the elimination of religious liberty. What can we learn from the tactics of our Cold War foe so that we may also overcome our culture war foe?
In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court created a right to same-sex “marriage” in the Golden State. Pro-family forces struck back, successfully passing a ballot measure—Proposition 8—restoring the traditional definition of marriage.
Rather than accepting the will of the people, anti-family forces engaged in a massive campaign defaming anyone connected to Prop 8. They quickly got the US Supreme Court to overturn Prop 8 and restore the California Supreme Court’s imposition of same-sex marriage.
This tactic was reminiscent of the old Soviet doctrine called Brezhnevism. Named for Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early ’80s, it held that once a country becomes Communist, it must stay Communist at all costs. It was because of this doctrine that JFK reacted so firmly to the Berlin Wall crisis. As Kennedy memorably put it, “We cannot negotiate with people who say, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.’”
Translated to today’s culture wars, this mentality says, “All ‘progress’ towards cultural liberalism is permanent and non-negotiable, even if it only happened a week ago and contradicts thousands of years of prior cultural reality. But everything you believe has to change.”
That is exactly the mentality we face in fighting against the cultural Marxists (or, less dramatically, the cultural left) and their anti-life agenda.
Another example: the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 in Bowers v. Hardwick that there is no right to homosexual sodomy in the US Constitution. The legal academy exploded with indignation. In 2003, the Court overturned its own ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.
Think about that. Pro-lifers have been trying to overturn Roe v. Wade for forty-five years without success, but gay activists overturned Bowers v. Hardwick in a mere seventeen years. (Indeed, the court’s rationale in its hasty decision to overturn Bowers contradicted its rationale for not overturning precedent in Roe.) This despite a hundred years of abortion prohibitions prior to Roe and a similar cultural precedent for anti-sodomy laws for all of American history prior to Lawrence.
But “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.”
Pro-family activists got out ahead of the same-sex “marriage” juggernaut by a good twenty years, getting President Clinton to sign the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and passing referendums protecting the traditional definition of marriage in almost every state in the country.
All for naught. The Supreme Court struck down the federal DOMA in 2013 and, in one fell swoop, imposed same-sex marriage on the entire nation in 2015. Again, all while pro-lifers have failed for almost half a century to overturn Roe and in spite of the absence of precedent for same-sex marriage for all of American, and indeed human, history.
“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
We saw this Brezhnevism at work when the current administration rescinded the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter telling public schools that, if they wanted federal funding, they must allow boys (who claim to identify as female) to shower with girls. President Trump did not even hold a position on the issue and rescinded the order only because he considered it a state matter. But activists reacted with outrage.
Forcing schools to let boys shower with girls had never before been considered a matter for federal human-rights enforcement. But “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
We saw this again when the administration said it was set to roll back Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate. The idea that the government must force employers to pay for contraception did not exist until a few years ago, and the mandate was decreed by an administrative agency rather than democratically passed through Congress. But the cultural left already has the lawsuits ready to go. Once it achieves a victory, it becomes the unalterable status quo.
“What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
Or take the most recent controversy on this front: rescinding transgenderism in the military. Permitting transgendered soldiers was a policy that President Obama executed only during his last year in office. Nevertheless, it must now be treated as a sacred right that cannot be taken away, and to oppose it makes you a hate criminal. Because “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
We who live in Connecticut have faced similar things. No one expects that recent state laws creating special rights for the transgendered and banning so-called “conversion therapy” for same-sex-attracted minors will be repealed. But activists have vowed to repeal the religious liberty exemptions we have secured over the years. And even though we have repeatedly quashed attempts to legalize assisted suicide, such legislation comes up every year. If it ever becomes law, it will be treated as another irreversible benchmark of progress.
But when we make even modest attempts to pass laws consonant with Catholic moral teaching—whether a Religious Freedom Restoration Act or a bathroom privacy bill or some tiny little restriction on abortion—the thing cannot stand and must be shouted down or overturned right away. “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
The Brezhnevism of the cultural left is not evil only because it makes and enforces laws contrary to the moral law but also because it hurts civil society by fostering cynicism. So many Christian voters today think that working within the system is pointless because the whole thing is rigged anyway.
But there is a way to fight back in the culture war, and it’s the same as it was in the Cold War: we need a Grenada.
Grenada is an island in the Caribbean that fell under the control of a Communist government in the early 1980s. Under President Reagan, the US invaded Grenada and removed the Communists from power. Though a small victory, it had a tremendous psychological effect in the final decade of the Cold War.
For the first time ever, it was the US telling the USSR, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.” The mere fact that a Communist victory could be reversed allowed people to see the possibility that the two parties in the game could also be reversed. In less than a decade the Soviet empire was no more.
We Catholics, indeed all Christians and everyone else in the pro-life and pro-family movement, need to hunt for every cultural Grenada we can find. The ban on partial-birth abortion was one. The Hobby Lobby victory against the contraceptive mandate was another. The models for victory are out there.
So let’s not be cynical or despondent. If we chip away bit by bit at the cultural left’s hegemony, if we show that Brezhnevism can be reversed, we can light a fire in people’s hearts that can consume an empire.