Now while I suspect that Voltaire over-stated the case for the moral effect of religion on the “lower” classes, there is still an element of truth in what he said. In any case, whether Voltaire was right or wrong, the underclass represents a growing problem in the West that secularists have not solved. The British underclass, which, in the last half century, has become completely secularized, presents a chilling example of this, particularly as limned in Dr. Theodore Dalrymple’s series of sobering essays entitled Life at the Bottom. In an essay entitled “Tough Love,” Dalrymple describes the effects of sexual liberation on the underclass:
Today’s disastrous insouciance about so serious a matter as the relationship between the sexes is surely something new in history: even thirty years ago, people showed vastly more circumspection in the formation of liaisons than they do now. The change represents, of course, the fulfillment of the sexual revolution. The prophets of that revolution wished to empty the relationship between the sexes of all moral significance and destroy the customs and institutions that governed it…. [They] believed that if sexual relations could be liberated from artificial social inhibitions and legal restrictions, something beautiful would emerge: a life in which no desire need be frustrated, a life in which human pettiness would melt away like snow in spring…. The grounds for such petty bourgeois emotions as jealousy and envy would vanish: in a world of perfect fulfillment, each person would be as happy as the next.
The program of the sexual revolutionaries has more or less been carried out, especially in the lower reaches of society, but the results have been vastly different from those so foolishly anticipated. The revolution foundered on the rock of an unacknowledged reality: that women are more vulnerable to abuse than men by virtue of biology alone, and that the desire for the exclusive sexual possession of another has remained just as strong as ever. This desire is incompatible, of course, with the equally powerful desire—eternal in the human breast but hitherto controlled by social and legal inhibitions—for complete sexual freedom. Because of these biological and psychological realities, the harvest of the sexual revolution has not been a brave new world of human happiness but rather an enormous increase in violence between the sexes…
[T]he reality of this increase meets angry denial from those with a vested ideological interest… Still, the fact remains that a hospital such as mine has experienced in the last two decades a huge increase in the number of injuries to women, most of them the result of domestic violence…. About one in five of the women aged sixteen to fifty living in my hospital’s area attends the emergency department during the year as a result of injuries sustained during a quarrel with a boyfriend or husband… In the last two years I have treated at least two thousand men who have been violent to their wives, girlfriends, lovers, and concubines. It seems to me that violence on such a vast scale could not easily have been overlooked in the past—including by me.
Dalrymple summarizes the condition of the underclass in the following terms:
Here the whole gamut of folly, wickedness, and misery may be perused at leisure—in conditions, be it remembered, of unprecedented prosperity. Here are abortions procured by abdominal kung fu; children who have children, in numbers unknown before the advent of chemical contraception and sex education; women abandoned by the father of their child a month before or a month after delivery; insensate jealousy, the reverse of the coin of general promiscuity, that results in the most hideous oppression and violence; serial stepfatherhood that leads to sexual and physical abuse of children on a mass scale; and every kind of loosening of the distinction between the sexually permissible and the impermissible.
The connection between this loosening and the misery of my patients is so obvious that it requires considerable intellectual sophistication (and dishonesty) to be able to deny it.
What role, if any, has secularization played in the social disintegration of the British underclass? To answer this question, we turn to French historian Elie Halevy, author of an important history of England during the 19th century. Halevy wanted to explain how Britain, despite profound contradictions, was spared a violent revolution during the 19th century. Halevy maintained that the stability of the British order came about through the stabilizing influence of evangelical religion, particularly Methodism, which enabled Great Britian to establish itself as a country of freedom, “of voluntary obedience, of an organization freely initiated and freely accepted.” The key concept here is “voluntary obedience.” In every society, there exists a class of individuals incapable of governing themselves. “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere,” warned Edmund Burke, “and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
How, then, is society to deal with with those individuals of “intemperate mind” who cannot control their appetites. As usual, there is no perfect solution, but of the imperfect remedies at our disposal, voluntary religion of traditional, Christianized is as good as any, and may be better than most. After all, it worked a lot better in 19th Century Britain than secularism has worked in contemporary Great Britain. In 1815, despite difficult economic conditions, Great Britain managed to maintain a commendable degree of order despite lacking a police force, a welfare state, or any kind of bureaucratic government management. Social order in 1815 was maintained voluntarily. Yet, despite this voluntarism, there were far fewer crimes either against persons or property. What would happen today either in the inner cities of the United States or the United Kingdom if there were no police force and extensive judicial system, with its concomitant prisons and jails, probation officers and court psychiatrists?
In the last year, several houses in my neighborhood have been burglarized. A few months ago I forgot to lock my vehicle and several hundred dollars of stuff was immediately filched from it. According to statistics, ninety-nine percent of Americans will be victims of theft at least once in their lives. Eight-seven percent will have property stolen from them three or more times. This level of thievery did not exist 100 years ago, when this country was considerably more religious. While there are other factors involved in this massive demoralization of society other than religion, it would be naive to believe that religion has played no role in it at all. When Marx called religion the opium of the masses, he meant it as an attack. But perhaps Marx was right in a way he would have been loathe to imagine. Perhaps the drug-like qualities of religion are a necessary tool for maintaining a tolerable degree of social order among the underclass. In any case, secularists have not come up with anything better. Nor did Rand have anything to offer on this issue, besides the naive conviction that, since people have free will, everyone can be rational. Poppycock, however, grinds no flour. The fact remains: some people are not capable of being rational. Refuting Kant will not change this fact. What, then, are we to do with these people? Evading the problem will not make it go away.