Democracy and the threat of self-destruction

The corruption of a culture and the consequent corruption of a democracy which owes so much of its validity and integrity to the essence of a culture is a frightening prospect. It is a prospect facing not a few democracies in our time.
George Weigel hopes that Cardinal Walter Kasper’s comments in the aftermath of Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum were misquoted. The Cardinal said: “A democratic state has the duty to respect the will of the people, and it seems clear that, if the majority of the people want such homosexual unions, the state has a duty to recognize such rights.”
That comment, taken at face value, Weigel says in a First Things article last week, “would suggest that a distinguished theologian-bishop has seriously misunderstood the nature of democracy and the Church’s teaching about just political communities.” Weigel also, “delicately” he says, without being too delicate, wonders how much of his own country’s sad recent history the good Cardinal has forgotten.
“For the first word that came to mind” Weigel says, “on reading Kasper’s remark was ‘Weimar.’” He wonders if he means ‘democratic’ as in the… democratic election (which) put Hitler and his Nazi Party in power, or the democratically elected German parliament which passed the notorious Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act), which effectively granted Hitler dictatorial powers?
He quotes St. John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus, which he describes as “the pinnacle of Catholic social teaching on the democratic experiment, which taught that “democracy” can never be reduced to mere “majority rule.”

“Majorities”, he reminds us, “can get the technicalities of public policy wrong. More gravely, majorities can also get the fundamentals of justice wrong: as many Germans did in the early 1930s, when the outcome of voting for the Nazi Party was clear to anyone who had read Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ or listened to his rants; as many French citizens did in the early twentieth century, when the representatives they democratically elected dismantled Catholic schools, exiled members of religious orders, and expropriated their property; and as too many Americans did during our long national struggle over racial segregation, legally imposed by democratically-elected legislatures.”

Weigel reminds us of the pope-saint’s insistence…that, of the three interlocking parts of the free and virtuous society—a democratic polity, a free economy, and a vibrant public moral culture—the cultural sector is the key to the rest. For it takes a certain kind of people, formed in the arts of self-governance by a robust moral culture and living certain virtues, to operate the machinery of democracy and the free economy in ways that promote decency, justice, and solidarity, not degradation, injustice, or new forms of authoritarian bullying.

Weigel says nothing more about Ireland in this article but it may be added that the biggest shock for the nearly 40% percent of the Irish electorate which voted against the change in their Constitution was not the change in itself but the realisation that the culture of the country had changed so radically. Added to that was the shock that it was the two younger generations in the country which had brought about the change on the basis of an almost entirely emotional platform. Reasoned arguments from the “no change” side were ignored and constantly responded to with emotions ranging from sentimentalism, through arrogance down as far as naked hatred. All this was bolstered by a thoroughly deceitful abuse of the concept of equality – equating the sexual relationship of opposite sexes with that between two people of the same sex.
That the faith-and-reason based culture of a country had been so thoroughly dismantled and replaced with a barely rational and thoroughly sentimental alternative, careless of consequences, was for many a very disturbing experience. How did it happen?
The recalling by Weigel of the French experience of the dismantling of Catholic schools in the early part of the last century deepens the sense of foreboding of those concerned about the erosion of foundations of Irish culture. Most Irish schools are still nominally Catholic and Christian. But that nominal status seems destined to be short-lived and they will soon be entirely secular if the forces of the State and the now apparently secularist majority in the country have anything to do with it. The corrosive and self-inflicted secularisation of Irish education which has been going on for at least three generations now is a large part of the reason for what Irish people wakened up to on May 23 last.
By secularisation we do not mean the removal of institutions from ecclesiastical control. We mean the “disembedding” of all faith-based values from the ethos of educational institutions. We are talking about the process which has been traced so thoroughly by Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation) and others in the past few years.
How did this secularisation of education in Ireland come about – apart, that is, from what it owes to the global process Taylor and Gregory have studied? There are never simple cut and dried reasons for these things but a huge contributor was the failure of the baby-boom generation to resist the sexual revolution and the drift toward hedonism which began (roughly) in the 1960s. The generation which they begat didn’t simply not resist this. They swallowed it hook-line-and-sinker. After that no one now even knows what Pope John Paul was talking about when he reminded Ireland’s young people in 1979 that “something else is needed” in their lives instead of drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. Many of them don’t think of much else now – other than money, celebrity and spectator sports. How else do you explain the extraordinary flight from stable marriage to divorce and cohabitation, the disregard for the stable family with a mother and father which the referendum result revealed – not to mention the country’s ranking for binge-drinking and suicide among the under 40s.
Hand in hand with this social decay went the capture by political ideologues of state agencies and services – education, health, justice and social services – and the media of social communication, vital to the cultural life of a country. These were the secularised new graduates from the Irish universities which themselves had come under the influence of American academic politically correct ideology.
These state agencies and the media combined to promote social policies in their own image and likeness which a not-too-bright-or-courageous elected parliament duly went along with. That ninety percent-plus of these representatives supported the same-sex marriage referendum proposal which was rejected by nearly forty percent of those who elected them is – or should be – deeply worrying for any lover of democracy.
Unlike the French, Ireland’s Catholic schools did not even have to wait for the state to dismantle them. In the post-sixties flight from faith they went into self-destruct mode all on their own. On the wave of muddled-to-bad teaching of Christian doctrine – moral included – which can be traced back to the 1970’s, generation after generation were left clueless about the foundations of their faith. The Catholic Church leaders of the era must take responsibility for this and indeed it can only be seen as another side of the coin which produced the careless dealing with those clergy, wolves in shepherd’s clothing, who in those decades perpetrated sexual abuse on those in their care. These same wolves were not only slaves to their own vicious and illicit passions but also victims of the woolly moral thinking which resulted from the ambivalence of some of their theology teachers about the clear moral teaching in Humanae Vitae.
We are all victims now and the barbarians at our gates in the form of ISIS may be far less threatening to the survival of our civilization than those in our midst.
Jonah Goldberg in his book The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas talks about the dangerous adulation of youth which infects our age and which betrays not only young people themselves but also jeopardises our civilization. In an interview about the book he said:

We have a popular culture that exalts young people simply because they’re young and I have a deep and abiding contempt for youth politics, certainly as it’s practiced on the Left… The assumption that we have to cater to young people because they’re young, and they’re the future and all that kind of stuff, is just a naked form of power worship. It assumes that since they’re going to run everything one day, we might as well cave into them now. This completely turns the idea of civilization on its head. Hannah Arendt once said that in “Every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians – we call them ‘children.’”

The champions of same-sex marriage rode to victory in the Irish referendum thanks to tyrannical clichés. They had no arguments. All they had were meaningless slogans about a meaningless equality, based on the ludicrous Humpty Dumpty principle that we can make things mean what we say they mean. They did so by mobilising the under-forty voters and feeding them a great deal of romantic nonsense. It worked. The liberal Left now knows how it works and they are setting out to apply the same strategy to introduce abortion-on-demand to the country.
The way back from this trough of desolation will be long and arduous. It is not just an Irish problem. It is a problem for the remnant of Western civilization and it can only be countered at the level of education. The culture we had is now corrupted and only that remnant can revitalise it: by their families, by their devising adequate strategies for communal education, by Christians and all those of good will, whether Christian or not, with their commitment to the universal truths rooted in our very nature. The barbarians who descended on the Roman world destroyed the old civilization. They in turn, however, eventually withered away and their children’s children ceased to be barbarians because they grew into the light of the truth which had been slowly but surely growing inside that old Roman world. It can, and will, happen again. Believe.

The Bonfire Next Time

By Michael Kirke


It’s funny. “Chickens coming home to roost” should be such a reassuring metaphor. One thinks of chickens as such harmless inoffensive creatures. Seeing them roosting seems to be an image of peace and tranquillity.  But when we talk of chickens coming home to roost we generally have something sinister in mind, something bringing with it rather dire consequences.


A lot of chickens have come home to roost recently and we are all a bit fearful of the consequences. We are and we should be. There is a unity about life that we ignore at our peril. I suppose that this is a permanent threat in the human condition. But over the past 20 or 30 years we seem to have succumbed to it in a more thoughtless way than usual. What am I talking about?


Nothing less I suppose than the disjunction between the need to have and the desire to have. This disjunction is what is at the root of most of our recent and impending economic woes. For what, ultimately, are we indulging when we are seeking to possess or consume something which bears no relation to our needs? We are indulging greed.


We are now, hopefully, seeing our society, perhaps a little painfully, come to the realisation that the rampant gratification of the desire to have things, irrespective of the need to have things, is a formula for disaster. Consumerism – like that other “C” word, communism, has proved to have within itself the seeds of its own ultimate destruction.


The engines of commerce drove us to distraction and seemed to be measuring only one thing in their economic gauges: consumer confidence. The sentiment of the business world was either up or down as it measured the sentiment of the consumer. Did those walking the high street feel that they wanted to buy this, wanted to buy that, wanted to buy more and more? If there was weakening in consumer sentiment then it was doom and gloom; if there was a rise it was hurrah! hurrah! At all costs help them to be happily consuming. Don’t worry about money, they were told; we will lend you the money at unbelievably low interest rates. Just please, please, keep buying. And so they did, and everyone thought they were happy.


Now the bubble has burst and hopefully out of it will come some common sense and a return to that sense of unity of life which tells me that I must in some way keep my basic desires to have in touch with my real needs. If not, I’m going to succumb to nothing less that the vice of greed and in the end I’m going to get back into that bubble which is once more going to burst with all those painful consequences.


We cannot say we were not warned. The true and authentic moral leader of the world, the Pope – whomsoever he may have been over the past 50 years at least – has been drawing our attentions to this folly in one way or another. Were we listening? No. But it is all there, in so many letters and addresses to all men of good will over those fifty years. What a pity we do not listen more.


But if the wages of one sin is economic collapse, the wages of other sins are ultimately more devastating. In his traditional end of year address just before Christmas Pope Benedict drew our attention to a folly – the kind which we sometimes parallel with that of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Saving the rainforests is all very well and commendable, but what is the point if at the same time we destroy mankind with our false reading of his true nature.


Nearly ten years ago I read an article by Michael Novak in which he said that Pope John Paul II had planted a time bomb in the Church – which, he estimated, would go off in the early years of the 2020s. I don’t quite know what he meant by “planted” but I think that he was giving us the same kind of warning about the dire consequences of misreading our nature, and our sexuality in particular, as Pope Benedict has just done. He was also telling us that the breakdown of that unity which should keep our sexuality linked to its true purpose is a fatal breach.


 His reflections in that article were anchored in the radical series of radical addresses by Pope John Paul, begun in 1979 and ending in 1984, which contain the substance of what has since come to be known as the “theology of the body”. The addresses themselves are not a warning. They are profoundly positive. The warning and the time bomb that goes with it are implicit: ignore this true reading of our nature and the consequences will be truly dire. Novak sums up his assessment in the following way:

 At the very head of the Bible it is written: Male and female, he made them from the beginning. He made them in his image. If we miss the point of that, it’s hard to believe we’d get much right about the rest. At least since 1969, and no doubt even since much earlier, say the 1930s, when the secrets of human fertility began to be broken into at last by scientists, Western culture has been in a fever of free love, contraception and the Pill. Doing what we will with our bodies has become a worldwide passion, the acme of fulfilment. The project cannot be going very well, however, or else why would there be so many self-help books on sex, so many manuals, so many grapplings to understand the widespread disappointment?

That is why I began this essay by describing what the Pope has worked out as a ticking time bomb, two or three decades yet from going off. Who among us is ready for it? Who among us would dare to admit he learned the humanness of sexuality from a Pope? That would be preposterous. Just wait. Boredom is as boredom does. Disordered sexual love and death are partners in a deathly dance. There will come a time when minds will be open, when women and men will begin to wonder: when God wrote Eros into our embodied selves, what did he intend?

 An Irish-American psychologist and sociologist, Dr. Patrick Fagan of the

Family Research Council, Washington D.C., gave a lecture in Dublin recently under the auspices of the Iona Institute and the Pro-life Campaign. It was a sobering illustration of what this time bomb is preparing for us. From all that he presented to us it was clear that much of the malfunctioning of society which we are currently experiencing is linked to the breakdown of family. That, in turn, can be directly linked to the current disregard for the traditional norms of sexual morality.


Almost in an aside – because he was approaching his subject from a sociological rather than a moral position – he alluded to the view that underlying many of the sociological problems he was describing, there was one simple common factor: disregard for the virtue of chastity. The view holds that if you abandon or disregard this virtue, marital infidelity, co-habitation, reconstituted families, divorce and much more will inevitably follow. Each and all of those things then bring in their wake a sea of troubles. In other words, when you abandon or jeopardize what he called “the foundational relationship” of society itself – stable marriage between man and woman – you rupture society itself. Remove or mess with that foundation – as America and Britain have done for the past 70 years – and you create a tale of woe. But woeful as that tale already is, it a pale image of the chaos to come. This is the time bomb.


What are the indicators that this is going to happen? Dr. Fagan presented a picture of what is already happening and its connection with the root cause. If the acme of fulfilment continues to be identified with the worldwide passion which Novak talked about, then these statistics from Dr. Fagan’s research will just keep growing in the wrong direction until eventually Western society will self-destruct like the civilization of ancient Rome. Look up Dr. Fagan’s full picture on Here are just some nuggets – if that’s not an inappropriate metaphor for what they are describing, nuggets being precious little things – showing us what the quality of life of women and children shapes up like when marriage is abandoned or messed around with.


The research assembled by Dr. Fagan shows the following:


Never-married mothers experienced more domestic abuse than mothers in any other category of marital status. Among those who had ‘ever married’ (including those who are married, divorced, or separated) the annual rate of domestic violence was 14.7 per 1,000 mothers. Among mothers who had never married, the annual domestic violence rate was 32.9 per 1,000. Therefore, never-married mothers suffered domestic violence at more than twice the rate of mothers who had been married or were currently married.


Never-married mothers suffered more violent crime than those who were married or had been married at one time. ‘Ever-married’ mothers with children suffered from overall violent crime at an annual rate of 52.9 crimes per 1,000 mothers, while never-married mothers with children suffered 147.8 violent crimes per 1,000 mothers. Thus, never-married mothers experienced violent crime at almost three times the rate of ever-married mothers.


Rates of serious abuse of children were lowest in the intact, married family but six times higher in the step family, 14 times higher in the always-single family, 20 times higher in cohabiting-biological parent families, and 33 times higher when the mother was cohabiting with a boyfriend who was not the father of her children. In cases where abuse resulted in a child’s death, the relationship between family structure and abuse was even stronger. It was lowest in intact, always-married families, three times higher in the step family, nine times higher in the family headed by a single mother who had never married, 18 times higher in the cohabiting-biological parents household, and 73 times higher in families where the mother cohabited with a boyfriend.


And among the other “nuggets” gathered together by Dr. Fagan were the following – linking the element of religious practice with intact families and showing quite clearly not only that God seems to be good after all but that religion is also good for you and good for your society:


Teenagers from intact families – that is, unbroken families with mother and father married to each other – with frequent religious attendance were least likely to have ever used hard drugs (8.5 percent) compared to (a) their peers from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (9.5 percent), (b) peers from intact families with low to no religious attendance (14.6 percent), and (c) peers from non-intact families with low to no religious attendance (20.1 percent).


Teens from intact families with frequent religious attendance were the least likely to have ever committed a theft of $50 or more (11.7 percent) when compared to (a) those from intact families with low to no religious attendance (15.3 percent), (b) those from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (15.8 percent), and (c) those from non-intact families with low to no religious attendance (23.5 percent).


Teens from intact families with frequent religious attendance were the least likely to have ever been expelled or suspended from school (17.3 percent) when compared to (a) their peers from intact families with low to no religious attendance (25.5 percent), (b) peers from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (32.5 percent), and (c) peers from non-intact families with low or no religious attendance (46.7 percent).


Teens from intact families with frequent religious attendance were the least likely to have ever been drunk (22.4 percent) when compared to (a) their peers from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (24.5 percent), (b) peers from intact families with low to no religious attendance (33.4 percent), and (c) peers from non-intact families with low to no religious attendance (41.2 percent).


Time bomb indeed. If our society persists in casting off the “shackles” of morality in its frenzy for “freedom”, misunderstanding both itself and freedom in the process, then these will be the consequences. Can anyone plausibly spell out some other scenario? The economic bubble that has burst and the consequences that this has brought or will bring is a minor matter when compared with the disintegration, havoc and misery that this bomb will bring when it explodes. The corrections we are trying to make in our financial and economic systems seem to be much easier to achieve and are more readily tolerated than any suggestion that we correct ourselves in this far more important field of human behaviour. But correct them we must. If these chickens actually come home to roost there will be nothing peaceful or tranquil about it.

Michael Kirke, formerly of The Irish Press, is now a freelance writer. His views can be responded to at  Other writing can be found at and on his blog, Garvan Hill.