Conscience and the Nanny State

Visiting a nearby college recently, I picked up the campus newspaper to see what the students are reading nowadays. The front-page headline proclaimed that the dean of the college opposes lowering the legal drinking age from 21 back to 18. It seems that binge drinking is a problem on campus, and this problem is pandemic. Eighteen-year-olds just aren’t “mature” enough to drink.

The institutionalized prolongation of adolescence we call higher education has evidently failed to imbue any sense of moral restraint on its inmates, so the officials want draconian laws to keep them from getting themselves hurt.

I am not alone in observing the irony that an 18-year-old can get himself killed in his country’s defense, yet he cannot legally buy a beer or a bottle of wine to celebrate with his friends the day he signs up for the Marines. Something is slightly askew here. But who is to blame?

Meet the Nanny State. Since we are all bad little children, our Nanny makes laws – many and minute – to regulate our infantile behavior. Nanny is a conflicted old dame. Nanny is terribly overweight, since she gorges herself on your tax money. She is morally lascivious and unnatural, because her schools and agencies encourage us to have “safe sex,” with a partner of our own preference, and to murder our children in the abortuaries she funds if we weren’t safe enough. Nanny tells us not to think less of folks whose ideas of gender roles are different than ours. Her protection extends to the oft-misunderstood “transgendered,” whom even my spell checker discriminates against. Yet, for all her obesity and moral turpitude, Nanny is also a prude; for, like an old-fashioned schoolmarm with chronic dyspepsia, she gets downright preachy about some topics: We must not drink until we’ve reached 21, and that’s that!

Inconsistent? Not at all. What it shows is that the numbing of the conscience, which leads to social chaos, brings its own punishment: Tyranny. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This famous quote comes from John Adams, whose insight can be reduced to this: Without the natural law (the eternal law of God written on the heart), our nation’s positive law (the Constitution) is useless.

Having tossed off the natural law and grown gross in mind and body, modern Americans are at the point Adams spoke of: Our Constitution, the rule of law, is inadequate to govern us. What then? Richard Weaver would seem to think that despotism is next: “An ancient axiom of politics teaches that a spoiled people invite despotic control. Their failure to maintain internal discipline is followed by some rationalized organization in the service of a single powerful will. In this particular, at least, history, with all her volumes vast, has but one page” (Ideas Have Consequences, pg. 91).

For his part, Orestes Brownson argued that Catholicity is necessary to sustain popular liberty. His reason? As a democratic society is governed by the will of the people, there is no higher civil power to guide them in the fundamental principles of right and wrong, as well as the application of these principles in concrete situations. Yet they need to know these things, since their will is governing society. (Think again of the quote from John Adams.) The Catholic Church, as the guardian of both the natural law and the positive (revealed) law, is necessary to inform men’s consciences so that they can govern themselves rightly. At the time Brownson expressed these views, Protestantism was liberalizing at a fast pace. Former generations of Protestants believed in the natural law and certain biblical principles, but that was quickly changing. The fact that the Catholic Church is now virtually alone in opposing birth control, which all Protestant sects used to oppose, is an indicator of where the trend has led them. Now most mainstream Protestant denominations are so overrun by the sexual revolution that they are squishy on some of the most fundamental aspects of the natural law as it pertains to family life. The result? The moral sewer in which we find ourselves.

What it comes down to is this: Men’s consciences having been morally lobotomized by promiscuity and consumerism, their minds having been rotted out by the buzz of mass media and the intellectual squalor of public “education,” they have rendered themselves less than governable. Emasculated by their own progress and prosperity, they will be beat into subjection by a rotund Nanny – whom they created. Nanny the fatty, Nanny the lecher, and Nanny the prude will become Nanny the Magisterium and Nanny the Gestapo, demanding not only more of their paychecks, but most of their freedoms, and all of what is left of their ability to think critically.

It’s almost enough to make radical libertarianism look good.

When my grandmother was a little girl growing up in Perpignan, France, she used to walk to school with a wineskin hanging from her shoulder. It was part of her lunch every day. Mamere was eight when she left France for America. When her son, my father, was a little boy, he would occasionally accompany his father to the neighborhood bar, where gents in the Gentilly section of New Orleans would gather for conversation and spirits. Papa would perch my little dad on the bar and say, “A beer for me, and one for Sonny.” The bartender would give Papa a full beer mug, and then fill a small glass from the tap – with mostly head, as dad recalls – for “Sonny.”

A sociologist might say it was a male bonding ritual in our tribe. Whatever it was, it drew father and son together. In our house, as young men, my brothers and I drank wine and beer at family gatherings. It was normal; nobody questioned it. We were taught to be moderate in drinking just as we were taught moderation in eating and in all things. By contrast, some of my peers in college, who hailed from less Mediterranean and Catholic parts of Louisiana, had been taught that spirits were the devil’s own brew. They could not handle the stuff. Once introduced to it, some of them drank to excess and became almost instantly debauched. This was particularly tragic when it happened to girls, who became targets for unscrupulous predators.

Mamere at eight years old was mature enough for wine. Dad, at about the same age, was mature enough for beer. Neither of them abused the stuff; both of them enjoyed happy marriages, stable family lives, good health, and a notable absence of any criminal record. But today’s twenty-year-old is not “mature” enough for alcoholic beverages.

God will not be mocked. As in the French Revolution, when we throw off the restraints of tradition and the moral law, we forge cruel shackles for ourselves.

Welcome, Nanny! We’ve been expecting you.