Is modern American sex morality “rather stricter than at many periods in Western history” as Professor Crane Brinton and others assure us (see Brinton, A History of Western Morals, p. 386)? Or is it notably looser than in the preceding centuries of American history, as many, including myself (see my The American Sex Revolution) diagnose it? The correct answer to this important question evidently depends upon the total body of empirical and other proofs given in support of each conclusion. Let us briefly glance at the proofs presented by each side.
THE EVIDENCES OF DECLINE
The diagnosis of a greater looseness of sex morality is corroborated by the following classes of relevant evidence: 1. The rapidly increasing rate of divorces and re-divorces. 2. The mounting rate of desertions. 3. The increasing rate of pre-marital and extra-marital sex relations disclosed by practically all empirical—statistical, clinical, questionnaire, and interviewing—studies of such relations (by G. V. Hamilton, R. and L. Dickinson, K. Davis, L. Terman, A. Kinsey, and others). 4. The growth of a frank pornography to an extent of a $500 million a year business. 5. Some 50 million pieces of obscene advertising annually mailed mainly to our teenagers. 6. Emergence and growth of the “clubs of non-virgins” and similar organizations in our schools and among our youth. 7. Increase of the homosexuals and other “sex-deviants,” attested by decreasing prosecution and increasing legalization of such relationship when it is done with the consent of both parties . 8. The increasing trend of raping, kidnaping for sex purposes, and other sex crimes . 9. Striking sexualization and sex-obsession of practically all compartments of our culture and social life: a. our modern-highbrow and pulp-literature; b. our modern popular and serious music; c. painting and sculpture; d. drama and theater; e. movies and television; f. press (newspaper and magazines) and advertising; g. modern biological, social, psychological, and philosophical sex theories; h. ethical and legal standards and ideologies; i. our politics and economics; k. even religion; and l. other compartments of our cultural and social life.
In all spheres of this life sex sticks out, especially in its “free,” abnormal, and raw forms, as the central feature of our cultural landscape, as the obsessive preoccupation in our personal and social life. And this heterosexual love functions not as a deep psychophysical love of the total personality of the lovers, each mate being an end value for the other, but as a mere “union of their sex organs” in which the total personality of the partner serves only as the means for sex-gratification of the other party, particularly in sadistic-masochistic forms.
What is still more important, this sort of “love” is usually glamorized and approved as the model of sex-conduct of the “free” modern man or woman. The “old-fashioned” sex-inhibitions are viewed as the main source of frustrations, mental and physical illness. Sexual chastity is ridiculed as a prudish superstition. Nuptial loyalty is stigmatized as an antiquated stupidity. The total love as a union not only of the bodies but also of the hearts and the minds of the lovers is declared to be “most unclinical and unrealistic”—whatever Professor Brinton means by these terms (op. cit., p. 385).
As an additional evidence we have the trends of increasing juvenile delinquency and gang violence, alcoholism, venereal disease, mental disorders, dope-addiction, and other companions of sex anarchy tangibly associated with it. Finally, the proliferation of loose sex morality is to be expected from, and supported by, a general disintegration of the hitherto dominant Sensate moral order in all fields of our social life. Through excessive relativization and atomization of Sensate-utilitarian and hedonistic-moral values, they have largely lost their binding and controlling power over the primeval animal impulses in man. One of the results of this general demorilization has been the unchaining in man “the worst of the beasts,” including the liberation of the homo sexualis from the control of the homo sapiens.
Such in brief are the main classes of evidence in favor of the diagnosis of an increased looseness of our sex morality. The evidence clearly shows the essential change of the moral climate in this field in comparison with that of the preceding centuries. Most of today’s fashionable patterns of sex behavior were strongly disapproved in the past. When they occurred, they occurred less frequently and clandestinely. Most of today’s best selling sex-novels, sex-songs, sex-plays, sex-movies and television shows, sex-pictures and advertisements in our papers and magazines, most of the modern anthropological, sociological, and psychological sex-theories, “sex-theologies” of Freudian and similar kinds, sex-philosophies of history, and other best sellers in all fields of our culture (and most of our best sellers are such exactly because they sell “free sex” at its raw)—all these “cultural achievements” had hardly any chance to be produced, accepted, approved, and become best sellers in the past. In its “sex-obsession” and “free” sex-behavior our age has hardly ever been rivaled in the preceding periods of our history.
THE MOOD OF COMPLACENCY
Now let us glance at the proofs of the partisans of “a stricter (sex morality today) than at many periods of Western history.” We can take the “tranquilizing” arguments of Professor Brinton as an apologist of this “strict” sex morality of our times.
An investigation of the kind of evidence which Mr. Brinton and his allies supply for support of their claim yields the first surprising result, that they do not have any direct (empirical or other) evidence at all. They do not try to show, for instance, that divorces, desertions, promiscuity, extra-marital and pre-marital sex relations and pornography are decreasing, while premarital chastity, marital fidelity, and other manifestations of “a stricter sex morality” are increasing. They do not give any factual proofs for their contentions. They even accept as essentially correct all the above classes of evidence furnished by “the prophets of doom” and “the frantic moralists” (as Professor Brinton calls us) for corroboration of their diagnostic conclusions. The only evidence he and his allies give for support of their soothing claims consists in a misinterpretation of, and illogical conclusions from, the evidential facts of their opponents.
Here are typical samples. Crane Brinton agrees that “we talk, write, and print more freely on all aspects of sex” than was done in the nineteenth century; and that the present century “permits much the nineteenth century forbade”; and that there is “a great deal of pornography” in our press, arts, literature, and culture; and that our youth voraciously read all sorts of printed stuff on sex and marriage (op. cit., pp. 384–386). All this is true, says Mr. Brinton, but all this proves exactly “the stricter sex morality” of our time, in comparison with the past centuries.
Professor Brinton admits further that our divorce rate is high indeed and that marriage has now become just one of the forms of human relations like a job or club membership easily contracted and easily dissolved. But all this, in his opinion, proves that our high divorce rate is not a sign of sexual looseness or promiscuity. On the contrary, it is a “tribute to our high standard for marriage.” He also agrees that our juvenile delinquency is increasing. But he is not worried by it because it signifies mainly a sound rebellion of our vigorous youth against “too formal, classic education”!
And what of “crimes of violence”? Though “we are still the most disorderly country in the West” there is no reason to worn about these crimes either because such crimes have occurred in the past or because for the last few generations there has been “a gradual lessening of crimes of violence” in this country.
The last conclusion is remarkable not only in its peculiar logic but also in its factual inaccuracy: it completely ignores the ascertained increase of the crimes of violence for the last few decades, and it does not give any proof of a greater rate of the crimes in the past. Thus, following the magic method of a complete elimination of criminality by a simple act of declaring all crimes legal, Mr. Brinton transfigures pornographic books into “manuals of piety,” obsessive-verbal and behavioral-licentiousness into “a stricter morality,” high divorce and desertion rates into “a high standard for marriage,” growing juvenile delinquency into a justifiable rebellion of our youth against the deadening “classic education,” and increasing crimes of violence into their decreasing trend. No wonder that being chased by Brinton’s magic incantations, all the spooks of sex looseness vanish from the American scenes as all the crimes vanish when they are declared to be legal.
A SOOTHING DIAGNOSIS
The examples show the kind of evidential ammunition which Professor Brinton and other Voltairian Candides use for the support of their “tranquilizing” diagnoses. This dud ammunition can hardly explode anything, including my theories repeatedly bombarded by Brinton’s dud shells. Once before, in 1937, Professor Brinton (in his “Socio-Astrology,” the Southern Review, Autumn, 1937) fired a broadside of his shells at my diagnosis and prognosis of the Western culture given in Social and Cultural Dynamics. His duds tried to demolish my diagnosis of the Western culture as being in the state of the greatest crisis and my prognosis of the coming gigantic wars, revolutions, and other catastrophic consequences of the disintegration of the hitherto dominant Sensate socio-cultural order. In his criticism our soothing historian categorically asserted that there was no serious crisis of the Western world and that everything was and is going to be “fine and dandy,” and that all my predictions of the coming wars, revolts, and other catastrophes were a sheer nonsense. Well. Despite his assurances my diagnosis of the great crisis of the West proved to be correct and practically all my detailed predictions have come to pass. Historical process, after 1937, has been unfolding according to the schedule of the Dynamics. The diagnoses and prognoses of Mr. Brinton were thrown into the ash can of history. The outcome of this first encounter makes me reasonably certain that in our present controversy my diagnosis of today’s sex morality is and will be increasingly vindicated by the ultimate judge of the true and the false theories—by the unfolding historical process. In this sense I can repeat the Hegelian motto: Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht.
Is the looseness of today’s sex morality in America as well as in Western Europe going to grow or is it going to recede in favor of a saner sex order in the personal, social, and cultural life of the West? The answer to this question depends upon two paramount conditions: first, whether mankind can avoid the new world wars, and second, how soon the disintegrating Sensate socio-cultural order can be replaced by a more creative, more spiritual and morally nobler Integral order in the human universe. If the new world war explodes, it will blow into smithereens all values, including the remnants of the moral values, that survived the two world wars and bloody revolutions. In that case, there is no chance for replacement of the present sex anarchy by a saner and nobler sex order. The second condition is important because the present sex anarchy is but one of the manifestations of the hitherto dominant but now rapidly disintegrating Sensate-personal, cultural, and social order. As long as the crumbling of this Sensate house continues, and no new and better house is built in the human universe, sex demoralization is bound to grow in its excesses and abnormalities.
Fortunately, while the degeneration of the Sensate order rapidly progresses, the beginnings of a new Integral order have already emerged and are slowly growing in religion and science, philosophy and the fine arts, law and ethics, and even in a lesser degree in politics, economics, and practical ways of life. The moral forces of this new order are already opposing the demoralization of the dying Sensate system in all spheres of the human world, including the field of sex behavior and morality. The forces of this new order are not sufficiently strong as yet to stop here-and-now the tide of sex anarchy; but steadily growing in the peaceful conditions they will be able in a few decades not only to stop the tide but to force its decisive retreat. In this short article I cannot outline the essential features of either the emerging Integral order nor give a substantial evidence of its slow growth in our culture, social institutions, systems of values, and in the souls and behavior of the individuals; nor sketch the gigantic relentless and truly epochal struggle which is going on now between the forces of the dying Sensate and those of the growing Integral orders. In the whole of human history there has hardly ever been a struggle as tremendous, as dramatic, and as fateful for the future of mankind as this momentous struggle fought now in all fields of our social and cultural life and in the soul and body of everyone of us. (See my article: “Three Basic Trends of Our Times” in Main Currents in Modern Thought, Jan., Mar., 1960; or tape-recording of it issued by the Campus World, Inc.; and Sorokin and Lunden, Power and Morality, chaps. 7–12.)
It is sufficient to say here that, if we are spared a new war catastrophe, the creative forces of the new order will build a new magnificent house for mankind and a new, saner, nobler, and truly beautiful garden for heterosexual love of human beings.
“Does the Bible have any explicit teaching on birth control?… No. The population explosion was not a problem in biblical times when infant mortality was extremely high.”—The Rev. WILLIAM G. COLE, author of Sex in Christianity and Psychoanalysis.
“None of the methods for controlling the number and spacing of the births of children has any special moral merit or demerit. It is the spirit in which the means is used, rather than whether it is ‘natural’ or ‘artificial,’ which defines its ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness.’—Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, Commission on Social Relations, 1949.
“God has placed on married couples the positive duty to determine the number and spacing of their children. He has equipped men and women with the sensitive mind and conscience for this task.”—Clergymen’s National Advisory Committee, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“In marriage, as the marriage law declares, the man and woman come together for the procreation of children.”—Augustine, On the Morals of the Manicheans.
“The tendency to regard procreation as a woman’s main destiny, the desire for sons to pursue filial piety, the view of the large family as a kind of old-age insurance, as well as the exploitation of child labor, all stand in some measure athwart the kind of population policy which can restore a tolerable balance and reinforce the hope of a free society.”—Richard L. Fagley, The Population Explosion and Christian Responsibility.
“The consequence of deliberate obstruction of procreation is the loss of salvation.”—Letter of the Hierarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church, 1937.
Jacob J. Vellenga served on the National Board of Administration of the United Presbyterian Church from 1948–54. Since 1958 he has served the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. as Associate Executive. He holds the A.B. degree from Monmouth College, the B.D. from Pittsburgh-Xenia Seminary, Th.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and D.D. from Monmouth College, Illinois.
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