In 1839, the future saint Jeanne Jugan gathered a group of women and girls, and began administering care to the poor of Rennes, France. One-hundred and seventy-five years later, Jugan’s group, Little Sisters of the Poor, has apparently become something far more sinister. That’s according to the reliably irrelevant National Organization for Women, which recently included the sisterhood on its “Dirty 100” list of groups that have been “using religion to justify discrimination, deny women’s equality.”
Liberalism after the Hobby Lobby decision has been an ugly and hypocritical sight, sputtering and spewing at anyone who dissents from its dream of Pax Contracepta. The Little Sisters of the Poor, who have dedicated their lives to caring for the impoverished, are maligned. Hobby Lobby, a model for workers’ rights with a hefty minimum wage and generous health insurance coverage, is the site of equal rights protests. One feminist jokingly (I think) suggested demonstrators should hold orgies in the glitter aisle.
This shows intolerance, and also ignorance. When the Hobby Lobby case first made news, liberals seemed genuinely surprised that there was anyone in existence who opposed contraception or abortifacents. The enlightened and urbane embraced the Sexual Revolution years ago, and seemed convinced that the rest of the country had too. I don’t get it. Everyone in my yoga class supports free birth control. It brought to mind Pauline Kael’s quote about the 1972 presidential election: “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon.”
This is the liberal consensus of our culture: pervasive, myopic, enraged by dissent—and suffering from a strange cognitive dissonance. While progressives were shocked that anyone would oppose universal contraception, they also maintained universal contraception was under constant threat of extermination by a faceless patriarchy.
During the 1960s, conservatives were the culture and liberals were the counterculture. Today that’s been flipped, but progressives still behave like they’re sticking it to the establishment, even when they can’t actually locate anyone who disagrees with them. Thus everyone has friends who post breathless accolades on Facebook to those who “bravely” support gay marriage. Those posts are then promptly liked by dozens of people and challenged by no one. It’s a bit difficult to be a rebel when you’re constantly being patted on the back.
Conservatism is the authentic counterculture now. As Trey Parker said, the only way to be “punk” in Los Angeles anymore is to praise George W. Bush.
Or, presumably, declare yourself a traditionalist. On nearly every social issue except abortion, conservatives are, in the words of Ross Douthat, “negotiating the terms of our surrender.” And the liberal consensus doesn’t seem inclined to show mercy. When the contraception mandate first became controversial, it strummed the last nerve of Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. “If Catholic hospitals don’t want to follow reasonable, 21st century rules,” he fumed, “they need to make themselves into truly religious enterprises.” Those rules used to be broad; no one was exempt from, say, homicide laws, even if their religious beliefs sanctioned killing. Today the supposed consensus is more meddling and, in addition to murder and theft, demands submission on things like birth control access—the Catholic Church be damned. Per Drum, we’re all bound by these rules, even though they’re not promulgated and we had no say in their drafting.
It would all be unsettling, if we could muster up the effort to find it so. David Bentley Hart once prefaced a savage book review by stipulating, “I am certainly not attracted to the drearily platitudinous secularism” of the book’s author. That sums it up better than anything. We could be disquieted by the secular consensus, but there’s something terribly boring about it, with its constricting rules and unthinking incantations and drab monolithism. Why would we all want to be alike? Why should we squash our differences in the name of something so frivolous as free IUDs?
Liberals like to boast about how they diverse they are, but as the contraception mandate shows, it’s conservatism that supports diversity and liberalism that supports uniformity. The conservative, Russell Kirk said, “is attached to a society of diversity and opportunity, and he is suspicious of any ideology that would rule us by a single abstract principle.” The right should embrace its status as a counterculture and fight for dissent and heterogeneity, even when it’s politically unpopular. And they should do it with a sense of humor. A consensus that seeks to oppress and stifle rarely survives.
Or we could all drive to the local Hobby Lobby and start rutting. But after fifty years of liberal culture, that just seems so…boring.