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We Should Have Listened to Bork
Bork's 1996 book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, warned us this was coming
Robert Bork, who taught Bill and Hillary Clinton at Yale School of Law, wrote a book that, at the time, was panned as paranoid. Today, we realize Bork was a prophet who precisely warned what would happen to America and the West unless we changed course.
It’s time to revisit that prophecy, to admit we failed to change, and to find a path forward, either for our civilization (if possible) or for ourselves and families.
The Prophet’s Poem
Slouching Towards Gomorrah opens with a Yeats poem—one familiar to our readers:
THE SECOND COMING Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? —WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
With that grim prophecy, Bork begins.
When Yeats wrote that in 1919, he may have foreseen that the twentieth century would experience the “blood-dimmed tide,” as indeed it has. But he can hardly have had any conception of just how thoroughly things would fall apart as the center failed to hold in the last third of this century. He can hardly have foreseen that passionate intensity, uncoupled from morality, would shred the fabric of Western culture. The rough beast of decadence, a long time in gestation, having reached its maturity in the last three decades, now sends us slouching towards our new home, not Bethlehem but Gomorrah.1
Anyone who studied history knows Western Civilization now makes Gomorrah look like a Medieval monastery. Bork then points out, “Politics is a lagging indicator,” which has become the cliché, “Politics is downstream of culture.”
This cause-and-effect is clearly important to Bork, as he repeats the concept in the next paragraph: “Culture eventually makes politics.” To substantiate his point, Bork reminds us that the blooms of decedance and turmoil that exploded in the 1960s were mere cultural seedling sown during the supposedly benign 1950s:
We noticed (who could help but notice?) Elvis Presley, rock music, James Dean, the radical sociologist C. Wright Mills, Jack Kerouac and the Beats. We did not understand, however, that far from being isolated curiosities, these were harbingers of a new culture that would shortly burst upon us and sweep us into a different country.2
I have long held that the 1950s extended all the way to CIA’s assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. A more sublime catalyst, though, was at work in Rome, where Freemason radicals seized control of the Second Vatican Council and planted the bombs that would explode the Bergoglian Roman Catholic Church like a railroad bridge in vintage 1920s movie clips.
The expression on the face of the Union general reflects how many of us react to the train wreck that is Western Civ today: we are, simply, confounded. History provides no blueprint for rebuilding what took 2,000 years to build and was destroyed in mere decades.
If you rewind the clip to the start, you’ll see that the bridge collapsed from sabotage, not structural decay or neglect. Like Christendom (the original name for what we now call “Western Civilization”), the bridge was sound and built to last. Saboteurs could not wait for weather and termites to take their toll—they had to take matters into their own hands and accelerate “progress,” a term popular among the enemies of Christendom beginning in the early 1900s and resurgent in the first decades of the 20th century.
The movie clip also offers an apt analogy to what the left means by “progress.” Pruitt-Igoe was a symbol of progress started in 1954 and ended in typical “progressive” fashion March 16, 1972, as recounted in this KSDK news report. (You’ll have to watch on YouTube due to sharing restrictions by KSDK.)
Robert Bork, of course, lived through the entire Pruitt-Igoe era. He experienced the 1950s and 1960s as a young lawyer and law professor and judge. He would rise to be nominated to the US Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan and to be vilified and rejected by lies, libel, and organized protests. Robert Bork serves as the perfect metaphor for the decline and fall the United States empire: he played by the rules and was brutalized for it.
The Sliding Scale of Deviancy
A foundation to Gomorrah is the idea of deviancy—departure from a culture’s norms and mores.
Bork refers us to the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim, who “posited there is a limit to the amount of deviancy a society ‘can afford to recognize’."3 And Bork also points to another trend in the 1990s: progressives burn the "deviancy" candle at both ends.
But the Durkheim constant is now behaving in a very odd way. While defining deviancy down with respect to crime, illegitimacy, drug use, and the like, our cultural elites are growing intensely moralistic and disapproving about what had always been thought normal behavior, thus accomplishing what columnist Charles Krauthammer terms “defining deviancy up.” It is at least an apparent paradox that we are accomplishing both forms of redefining, both down and up, simultaneously. One would suppose that as once normal behavior became viewed as deviant, that would mean that there was less really bad conduct in the society. But that is hardly our case. Instead, we have redefined what we mean by such things as child abuse, rape, and racial or sexual discrimination so that behavior until recently thought quite normal, unremarkable, even benign, is now identified as blameworthy or even criminal. Middle-class life is portrayed as oppressive and shot through with pathologies. “As part of the vast social project of moral leveling,” Krauthammer wrote, “it is not enough for the deviant to be normalized. The normal must be found to be deviant.” This situation is thoroughly perverse. Underclass values become increasingly acceptable to the middle class, especially their young, and middle-class values become increasingly contemptible to the cultural elites.4
Most Americans didn’t see it in the 1990s. They did not anticipate that “normalcy” would be criminalized within 40 years, but here we are. You can be fired, ostracized, and even arrested for referring to a biological male as “him” or prohibiting grown men from sharing a shower with little girls. (To be fair to us, I doubt even Robert Bork saw that coming in 1997.)
And, now we come to the central point of Bork’s work, the point that pulls together the coup that killed JFK, the 50s, and Christendom, and why Vatican II was so vital to the West’s collapse:
Modernity, the child of the Enlightenment, failed when it became apparent that the good society cannot be achieved by unaided reason. The response of liberalism was not to turn to religion, which modernity had seemingly made irrelevant, but to abandon reason.5
The year of Our Lord 2023 is the year we all realized we live in a post-reason world.
What Follows Reason?
Hence, there have appeared philosophies claiming that words can carry no definite meaning or that there is no reality other than one that is “socially constructed.” A reality so constructed, it is thought, can be decisively altered by social or cultural edict, which is a prescription for coercion.6
That’s the oppression we feel. Coercion.
Coercion to speak what know to is false, to lie in order to be accepted, to bite our tongues when all about us speak nonsense, to celebrate the sexual exploitation of children, to cheer the mutilation of healthy bodies, to bare our arms to needles dripping a gene-altering concoction, to work long hours to feed our income through taxes to those who prey upon us, to apologize for doing what is right, and to boast of our crimes and sins.
It’s all madness, of course, but madness is our mandate. We are no longer free to be reasonable or sane. Those qualities will get you in serious trouble. Our mandate is madness; our mission insane. Even the institutions charged and chartered to defend reason and sanity—the universities—have become about as serious and profound as the opening of the 1960s TV series, The Monkees.
As late as the 1980s, TV shows like “The Paper Chase” seemed reasonable facsimilies of Ivy League life. We still believed professors were rough copies of John Housman, and most men wore sports jackets to class. College and law had a mystique about them, even to students could compare their lived experience in college to Hollywood’s interpretation.
What mystique does Harvard have today? It is owned by the Chinese Communist Party because the CCP has paid for it. Its research fails to replicate over 70 percent of the time across all scientific disciplines. It discriminates based on race and brags about it.
Same for Stanford. And Yale, and UPenn, and U name it. Going to college—even “storied” colleges like Harvard—is now viewed through the same lens as getting one’s driver’s license. It’s a difficult and frightening pain in the ass the you, but you are expected to do it. No wants to take the driving exam; they to have taken it. No one wants to go to Harvard, they want to have gone to it.
Contrast that with the late Boomers and Gen Xers who never wanted to leave college. For us, college wasn’t a means to and end; it was an end to a means. Some of us remained in college for decades, even though we weren’t enrolled.
And this shift in attitudes toward learning shows up in our worldviews, too. My Gex X friends and I still act like we’re nineteen. We enjoy discovering new things, new ideas. We learn body hacks like Keto dieting and cold showers—activities to make our bodies somehow better. But millennials and the generation behind them remind me of father in his later years. They seem to have been born elderly. Their body hacks involve piercing and tattoos rather—quick procedures that leave their bodies worse. The Gen Yers were born old and pissed off. So pissed off they now want men to have periods and women to suffer prostate hyperplasia.
(Aside: Have Micky Dolenz and Michelle Obama ever been seen in the same room together?)
That masculine menstruation is a topic of conversion tells you just how hopelessly unserious our culture has become. That we are obliged to believe in in male menstruation tells what’s left of liberty. And reason.
Coercion is the bastard stepson of the Age of Reason. It’s all that remains of that race of men who tried to create the “good society” by their own industry.
What Judge Bork missed was the alternative to coercion. He hints at it, but he doesn’t seize it. But appeals to God were out of favor in the 1990s when Bork wrote Gomorrah. And blaming problems on demons has never been a favored tactic among Ivy League law professors.
Did you know that the first written mention of “demons” appeared around 1,500 B.C.? To put that in context, Abraham lived around 1,700 B.C. Noah, around 2,500 B.C. But demons weren’t significant enough to write about until 1,500 B.C., smack-dab in the middle of Moses’ life. In other words, demons came to the attention of writers about the time the law was handed down. God’s law. As if the law’s promulgation somehow inspired the demons to step up their game. Or God, having provided the Hebrews a clear roadmap to the good life, permitted demons to test their mettle.
Whatever the reason, demons became a thing about 1,500 B.C., but they wouldn’t take complete control until . . . well, until about now. And, “now,” in terms of the existence of humans is more or less the 20th and 21st centuries. Our society today is at least as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed for their wickedness around 1,850 B.C., 300 years before people first wrote of demons.
(In case you haven’t read Genesis lately, two angels in the form of men stayed with Lot for the night. The men of Sodom descended on Lot’s house and demanded the two visitors be turned over to be, well, sodomized. The next day, Sodom and Gomorrah and everyone in them were turned to ash.)
Perhaps in the days before the law, demons didn’t stand out because the people were as wicked as demons. When man heard the word of God, his eyes were opened to the demons all around him. If so, then, God’s law makes evil stand out by providing a contrasting alternative—like black ink on white paper. Dark has no meaning without light.
I wonder how Bork missed this—or why he chose to skirt it. Bork was a man of the law and a man of God. Surely, he recognized that every wrinkle of English and American jurisprudence manifests from Leviticus. Or, it did until the 20th century, when the laws of Sodom and Gomorrah made their way into the canon.
I would have liked Bork to have hit more directly on the cause of America’s road trip to Gomorrah. Surely, he recognized that America stopped being America when America—largely through its courts—exiled her Creator, thus creating the spiritual vacuum that drew in the demons. Now, they are everywhere.
Radical Egalitarianism & Radical Individualism
Bork warns us of the twin dangers of radical egalitarianism (equality of outcomes) and radical individualism (do what thou wilt.)
The fact that resistance to modern liberalism is weakening suggests that we are on the road to cultural disaster because, in their final stages, radical egalitarianism becomes tyranny and radical individualism descends into hedonism. Those translate into a modern version of bread and circuses. Government grows larger and more intrusive in order to direct the distribution of goods and services in an ever more equal fashion while people are coarsened and diverted, led to believe that their freedoms are increasing, by a great variety of entertainments featuring violence and sex.7
Tyranny and hedonism are, indeed, the order of the day.
I probably don’t have to remind you that upper-middle-class, “Christian” suburban parents now feed their children to sex workers at drag shows, and the dominant cultural organs are demanding nuclear war with Russia—violence and sex in a fashion Bork couldn’t possibly have imagined. We have taken violence and sex to a degree that would make a native Sodomite blush. And, regardless of your personal thoughts on puberty blockers and drag shows for children, 20 percent to 40 percent of your income goes, through taxes, to a government that arrests people who speak pubicly against them. You sponsor and support the bread and circuses. We all do.
Caesar was doing to some unsavory things with those taxes Jesus and the Apostles were paying, so maybe we can let ourselves off the hook a bit about our own government’s activity. On the other hand, Rome conquered Judea. The Jews had no say in the matter. We, on the other hand, claim our government is simply the people’s will in action, so, maybe we can’t rely on Mark 12:17, afterall. To be honest, I don’t know, so I say we should (out of an abundance of caution) question our participation in society and government. What if we are co-conspirators?
But I do know that our supposedly democratic government—of, by, and for the people—puts a bigger onus on us than on people who were conquered and living under a foreign ruler. We are in some way accountable for the actions of our governmental authorities—Jews and Christians of the first century A.D. were not responsible for theirs.
Which brings us to another issue. If we, unlike the early Christians, are responsible for our government, then our duty to obey it might be less. What do we owe Caesar when Caesar is us?
Slouching Towards Gomorrah
As the sun rises on a picture-perfect Friday heading into Memorial Day, I can’t help but see, in my mind’s eye, that loathsome beast, head bowed, silhouetted by the sun on the horizon, to birth something more terrible than all the evils man has survived in his history.
I see the beast trodding, not on a deserted plain, but between millions of men and women and children who do not even see the creature. They discusss the latest episode of some Housewives television show, complain about the perfect weather, and worry about their social standing. They celebrate deviancy and condemn normalcy. They know not what is about hit them.
In 1997, Robert Bork and a few others seemed ahead of their time. They heard the heavy hoof-drops of the beast, and they tried to warn us. Nineteen-ninety-seven was also the year Howe and Strauss released The Fourth Turning, and Drudge Report disclosed Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Also, in 1997, South Park debuted and Mother Teresa and Princess Di died. It was a dramatic year.
The democratic principle is in rhetorical ascendancy everywhere, and yet it is worth asking whether in actuality, as a matter of practice rather than declamation, it is not in retreat, particularly in what had been its strongest bastion, the United States. Unlike the sudden cataclysm that overtook the French monarchy, ours appears to be a slow crisis, a hollowing out of democracy from within, that gives ample warning of the unhappy condition towards which matters tend.8 [Emphasis added]
The “slow crisis” of the 1990s seems to have accelerated precipitously in the 2000s, like Ernest Hemingway described in The Sun Also Rises:
“How did you go bankrupt?"
”Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”9
Consider that Barack Obama opposed gay marriage as a Senator, candidate, and president. Then, he didn’t. Then, he demanded it. All in the span of two years. What had been slow became hypersonic so that we now see Target teaming up with Satanists to push transgender clothing for infants and toddlers. As Bork mentioned, the very definitions of rape and child abuse have changed. You can be arrested for making your 5-year-old eat his broccoli, but cutting off his genitals earns you parent-of-the-year accolades. And opposition to the new normal will get evicted from society.
In the last chapter of Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Bork asks seminal questions:
The imperative question is whether there is any possibility of avoiding the condition of Gomorrah. What can halt or reverse the march of modern liberalism? What can keep us from reaching a servile condition punctuated by spasms of violence and eroticism?10
In 1997, his answer was cautiously optimistic. Perhaps the American people would rise up and demand—force—a return to normalcy.
One could argue we did. At least, for a while. Following the 9/11 attacks, normalcy returned for a bright moment. From 2001 to about 2008, the beast retreated a bit. But the financial crisis and the Obama administration not only roused the beast, but gave him food, water, and a pep talk.
Researchers who study consumer behavior have found that people accelerate goal pursuit when they get closer to achieving their goal. If you need eight punches for a free a coffee, your sixth and seventh purchases will occur in about half the time as your second and third. Likewise, evil accelerates its attacks on innocents as the innocent appears more willing to acceed to evil’s demands. And, as a nation, the people of the United States stopped resisting evil sometime in the early 2000s.
If Robert Bork were alive today, I suspect he would agree that we failed to heed his warnings. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost have been replaced by Baal, Moloch, and Baphomet as the three men we admire most.
I said Bork’s optimism was constrained. He mentions the possibility of people like you and me withdrawing to Christian sanctuaries to live monastic lives and preserve the canons of Christianity and liberty. But, even he had doubts.
It is not necessarily true, however, that the collapse will proceed in slow motion. Cultural calamities can happen quickly. The Sixties, for example, were upon us before we knew it. Nor is the prospect of sheltered enclaves entirely consoling. It is possible that we will not be allowed to create islands of freedom and decency. Christianity and learning survived on Skellig Michael and in other monasteries only because the barbarian hordes did not think Ireland worth conquering. Had they done so, Western civilization, if it still deserved that name, would be very different and much poorer in spirit and intellect than it became. In contrast, modern liberals, today’s barbarians, would impose their entertainments, their laws, their regulations, and their court decrees into whatever sanctuaries we may create. One must never underestimate what Richard John Neuhaus called “the profound bigotry and anti-intellectualism and intolerance and illiberality of liberalism.” It is an open question, therefore, whether an Ausonian strategy will prove feasible in our time.11
I now this will sound more defeatist than enthusiastic, but I say, why not try the Ausonian strategy? On this Memorial Day, understand that no American ever went to war to save a government or even a nation. We go to war to preserve an ideal. The American ideal, which has not changed or flinched since Jefferson summarized it in the second paragraph of the Declaration.
We may not be able to preserve the country that attempted to bring that ideal to life, but we can preserve the ideal the way monks preserved the Western canon.
That’s why I now have a 50-minute drive to work. That’s why I pray every day and grow my own food. That’s why I bought enough land to provide a refuge to my family who might not have seen the beast as early as I, by God’s grace, saw it slouching towards Gomorrah.
I can find no original thoughts to properly conclude this piece, so, in conclusion, I will borrow once again from Robert Bork.
I end where I began, contemplating burnt books. Though I did not suspect it then, the charred law books on the sidewalk in New Haven were a metaphor, a symbol of the coming torching of America’s intellectual and moral capital by the barbarians of modern liberalism. We have allowed that capital to be severely damaged, but perhaps not beyond repair. As we approach its desolate and sordid precincts, the pessimism of the intellect tells us that Gomorrah is our probable destination. What is left to us is a determination not to accept that fate and the courage to resist it—the optimism of the will.12
A solemn Memorial Day to you.
Bork, Robert H.. Slouching Towards Gomorrah (p. 5). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Ibid. (p. 11)
Ibid. (pp. 13-14)
Ibid. (pp. 14-15)
Ibid. (pp. 15-16)
Ibid. (p. 16)
Ibid. (p. 25)
Ibid. (p. 447)
Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Bork, Robert H.. Slouching Towards Gomorrah (p. 449). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Ibid. (p. 471-472)
Ibid. (p. 481)