Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, caused a political uproar in the United States by telling the Chicago Tribune that, in respect to the military’s “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy, “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is okay to be immoral in any way.”
Is this man a homophobe? Hysterical reactions from the left suggested as much, but they did so by ignoring the rest of General Pace’s statement. He said that he objects to homosexual acts “just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with someone else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not — we prosecute that kind of immoral behavior between members of the armed forces.”
In other words, the real crime of General Pace is that he is in favor of chastity. A Washington Post editorial chastised General Pace for “his public expressions of intolerance on the men and women he commands.” Yet, General Pace had expressed himself only on the immoral nature of acts against chastity, not persons. What is the alternative view? That they are moral? The answer is Yes, as provided by Senator. John Warner, a former Secretary of the Navy, who said, “I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman’s view that homosexuality is immoral.” (Which remark blithely ignored General Pace’s judgment on homosexual acts, not on homosexuality.)
Several days after his indiscretion, a chastened but still unrepentant General Pace, who was not backed up by anyone in the Bush administration, explained that he was expressing his “personal moral views”. In other words, the question of the immorality of adultery and sodomy was demoted to a matter of personal opinion, not of objective moral law. Defense Secretary Robert Gates accepted that demotion (“I think personal opinion really doesn’t have a place here”) and then expressed the position of the legal positivist: “What’s important is that we have a law, a statute that governs ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'”
But is the law based upon sound moral principles or not? Or need we observe it simply because it is the law? White House spokesman Tony Snow first obscured the issue by pretending that it is a matter of judging people, rather than the moral nature of certain acts: President Bush “has always said that the most important thing is that we ought not to prejudge one another.” Then Snow also embraced the legal positivist position: “But when it comes to government policy, it’s been in place for a long time and we will continue to execute it according to the letter of the law.” This nonsense is the only discourse on sexual morality now allowed in the United States. Is anyone openly advocating chastity as inherently good unwelcome in American public life?
By favouring chastity, General Pace has proven himself a good Aristotelian, and he should have been supported. He clearly understands that chastity is not only a moral virtue; it is also indispensable to political order, including order in the military. That is why he said that the United Sates is not well served by a policy that approves of sexual immorality. Chastity is integral to the functioning of the irreducible core of a polity. Aristotle begins The Politics, not with a single individual, but with a description of a man and a woman together in the family, without which the rest of society cannot exist. A healthy family is posited upon the proper and exclusive sexual relationship between a husband and wife. The family alone is capable of providing the necessary stability for the profound relationship which sexual union both symbolizes and cements, and for the welfare of the children which issue from it. Society can be said to exist only to the extent to which those spousal relations remain chaste. Violations of chastity undermine not only the family, but society as a whole. That is why chastity may be spoken of as the first political principle. Nothing so undermines this principle as does the public endorsement of the use of sex outside of it.
The problem with our civilisation is that the moral convictions underlying its public order have been undermined to the point of near collapse. No doubt, there are many fine families and individuals continuing to live very good lives in the United States, and this is a cause for hope. But those are now “private” lives, based upon “personal” choices, and all choices are therefore equal. What has been lost from public discourse is the rhetoric with which to address what distinguishes the very goodness of their lives as essential to our survival as a republic, from the public immorality that is bringing about its demise.
But isn’t this statement an over-reaction to private sexual peccadilloes? How could all of this be at stake? An answer invites the question: what is the idea of America that we are in danger of losing? Reread the Declaration of Independence. It contains a theology. Its announcement that “all men are created equal” and have “unalienable rights” from God is based upon transcendent and therefore immutable truths. Transcendent truths are hard to live with because they make moral demands upon their adherents. In fact, the principle of equality means that there is a single standard of justice by which everyone should be judged. There is a certain way one must live to be in conformity with the truth. The alternative is to attempt to conform the truth to oneself, to create, as it were, one’s own truth, one’s own justice, which by definition, is neither transcendent nor immutable.
The distance we have traveled from the Declaration was captured back in 1992 by the Casey decision, in which Supreme Court declared that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the meaning of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” (It did not seem to occur to the court that this pronouncement denied its own authority.)
Of course, one’s own truth is not the truth, but simply a preference, usually based upon a disordered appetite. The current argument goes that almost any preference (for homosexual marriages, partial-birth abortion, euthanasia or pornography) must be tolerated because of the principle of equality. “Whatever works” for one person may not for another, but who’s to say what is morally superior or inferior?
However, equality is a moral principle that precedes and makes tolerance possible, not the other way around. Unless tolerance is practiced within this principle, tolerance completely undermines it by reducing equality itself to simply another preference. If the United States is based upon a preference rather than the truth, it will soon disappear. How would you like to die for a preference? Would you have the nerve of asking our Marines to?
Our equal rights reside in and derive from the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” invoked by the Declaration. Yet the proponents of the morality of homosexual acts are supporting a cause which can succeed only by obliterating the very understanding of “Nature” upon which our existence as a free people depends. The homosexual cause is a vulgarisation of a philosophical anarchism which denies the existence of Nature and therefore the ability to discriminate between the use and abuse of things. The moral view from which their vindication of homosexuality emanates is one that ultimately makes impossible the very conception of rights.
In other words, the legitimisation of adultery and sodomy under the dispensation of “personal opinion” is a total rejection of the natural law by which we understand the goodness or evil of things. What is disguised under the rubric of legal neutrality toward an individual’s “choice” of sexual behavior, no matter what it is, is in fact a demotion of marriage from something seen as good in itself and for society, to just one of the available sexual alternatives. This supposed neutrality is not at all neutral; it teaches and promotes an indifference, where once there was an endorsement. Since that endorsement purported to be based upon knowledge of the objective good of marriage, it taught not only that marriage is good, but that we can know what is good. That latter is, of course, a far more critical lesson.
There is a broader implication to the belief that we are incapable of knowing in an objective way the goodness or evil of the sexual alternatives of marital fidelity and chastity or adultery and sodomy. The loss of natural law affects other parts of the political order, as well. Choices are moral only in so far as they relate to better or worse, measured against a standard of what is good. Without this standard, we are left not so much with “choices” as preferences for one thing or another. Preferences are based upon will, not reason. They are not subject to argument. And whoever is the stronger will get his preferences. This is the philosophical background to a certain kind of regime, one easily recognised from the ideologies of power that infected the 20th century. Within this relativist framework, there can be no appeal to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Such is the ultimate price for demoting fidelity from a moral virtue to a “personal opinion.”
Life cannot sustain distortions of this magnitude. The violation of the fundamental human relationship between husband and wife wreaks havoc on the whole social and political order. If chastity is indispensable to political order, then the politics of its loss is clearly chaos, and the tyranny to which chaos leads. A brave Marine, General Pace has been defending his country in more ways than one. Too bad he was left alone on the battlefield.
Robert R. Reilly was the 25th director of the Voice of America, and served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.