Virtuous Censorship for the Sake of Our Nation’s Soul

Yes, I’m advocating for greater censorship.  However, the censorship I’m advocating for is not a blanket censorship that allows those in power to silence anyone who disagrees with them, such as what we’re seeing taking place on various social media outlets.  To censor out of a fear of contrary thought is certainly not consonant with the freedoms we cherish in America.  The kind of censorship that is in keeping with our founding principles is a virtuous censorship – promoting that which is moral and virtuous, and excluding that which is not, as a means of safeguarding our liberties and institutions.  A virtuous censorship, therefore, submits to a moral order, not a will to power.

President George Washington, in his Farewell Address (1796), spoke of morality, and religion that maintains it, as a necessity for a free government:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government.[1]

Tocqueville also pointed to the nexus of religion and morality as a means of securing our freedoms: “Liberty looks upon religion as its companion in its struggles and triumphs, as the cradle of its young life, as the divine source of its claims. It considers religion as the guardian of morality, morality as the guarantee of law and the security that freedom will last.”[2]  A moral order is, in other words, a guardian to political order.

Let the reader understand, by “religion,” Washington and Tocqueville had in mind Christianity.  The fact that today we have Democratic politicians raising concerns over the seriousness with which Republican hopefuls hold to their Christian faith is a sign of just how deracinated we are as a nation from the religious soil in which we were planted.

The kind of liberty many are advocating for today is liberty in excess, warned against long ago by Plato in his Republic: “The excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction….  The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery.”[3]  It’s no wonder Plato saw democracy as being one step away from tyranny!  Plato recognized the parallel between the well-ordered society and the well-ordered soul; the different forms of government are essentially manifestations of the spiritedness of the individuals who make up that society.  The tyranny that arises in government is simply a response to the wantonness of the soul.  When there is no moral order there will be anarchy of the soul, and anarchy within gives rise to tyranny from without.  This is to say, if we are not seeking to bring up the next generations to be moral and virtuous (i.e. courageous, wise, prudent, and just), we will be the cause of our own demise.

Plato, again, saw law and reason (brought out through a virtuous education) as a means of controlling or holding back the more grotesque of our base desires.  This is why Plato, as well as Aristotle, saw some need of censorship in the education of youth.  They recognized how impressionable youth are, and therefore the need to guard them from vice while instilling in them virtue.  Says Aristotle, “We always prefer what we come across first.  The young must therefore be kept from an early familiarity with anything that is low, and especially anything that may suggest depravity or malice.”[4]

With the contrary-to-nature sexual revolution being promoted in elementary schools, with Netflix featuring a film that sexualizes pre-teen girls, and with the ever-increasing access to pornography, the need for virtuous censorship has never been greater in American history.  Patrick Henry’s cry, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” was needed at his time.  Our time calls for a new cry: “Give me the true, the good, and the beautiful, or I die.”  The very soul of our nation is at stake.

So, what is meant by the true, the good, and the beautiful?  Truth is that which corresponds to the nature of things.  The life ordered after the order of nature – or what has been called Natural Law – is the truthful life.  This is why the apostle Paul can speak of men “leaving the natural use of the woman” (i.e. engaging in homosexual activity) in relation to exchanging “the truth of God for the lie” in Romans 1.  To go against nature is to go against the truth.  Truth, in other words, deals with permanent things or enduring principles (as Russell Kirk has put it).  Goodness is built upon the truth.  Laws are good, for instance, if they are tethered to truth and aid in the flourishing of society.  A law, therefore, that legalizes same-sex marriage is not good, because same-sex relations are not good.  Marriage, by definition and by nature, is between a man and a woman.  Laws that are antithetical to God’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” are inherently not good.  The practical ramifications of such laws result in the death of civilization.  After all, how can you maintain a civilization without the multiplying factor?  Therefore, a culture that embraces such laws has become a culture of death (to say nothing of the abortion problem).  Finally, beauty springs from that which is true and good.  The reason why modern art is so ugly is because modernity is antithetical to truth and goodness.  When blocks of cement and twisted wires are viewed as “art,” plopped down in the middle of some public gathering place, you know the thinking behind it is nihilistic in nature.  When children are raised to believe that life is ultimately meaningless, and some of those children grow up to be artists, their artwork will reflect the meaninglessness of their lives.  Just as art is a reflection of the metaphysical values of a society, so too are its laws and customs.

So, how do we fix this?  I do not claim to have all the answers to this question.  If anything, I hope to instigate conversation on the issue.  That is, I realize this article is likely to generate more questions than answers.  What I will say is that I don’t see this happening unless we can return to emphasizing local governance over national governance.  It seems that the more removed politics is from home, the more debauch it becomes.  There is likely an accountability element here, but it is also probably due to the lack of national community.  Community is key, and you can’t have community in a political melting pot hundreds of miles away.

There must be greater accountability of our elected officials.  Those pushing for the sexualization of children in public schools ought not be tolerated.  Our conservative representatives need to be more courageous in speaking out against such things. Our state and nation’s leaders ought to be expected to promote that which is true, good, and beautiful.  Otherwise, what are we doing?

The film Cuties ought not be allowed to air.  Indeed, restrictions over the filming of such things ought to be put in place, if they are not already; but it is important to note that this was not filmed in America.

Our children, who are still physically developing and learning the difference between right and wrong, should not be introduced to the confusion of gender dysphoria and transgenderism.

I’m also for greater restrictions on pornography, if not the outright banning of it.

Yes, what this means is that greater focus should be on developing piety and virtue in our society, rather than material prosperity.  After all, what good is material prosperity in the midst of moral degradation and the chaos that accompanies it?

Virtuous censorship, in short, is an establishment of norms, what Russell Kirk saw as being a standard for private and public conduct.  “Real progress,” he said, “consists in the movement of mankind toward the understanding of norms, and toward conformity to norms.”  Decadence is a movement away from such norms.[5]  Norms are not created but are discovered.  They are based on a transcendent moral order, what Kirk referred to as “a law of nature, which we ignore at our peril.”[6]  Well, we live in perilous times.

To those who think virtuous censorship, as I have defined it, is antithetical to liberty, those who came before us recognized we can’t have liberty without it.  To those who are troubled at its judgment over their libertine ways, you’re welcome to live in the ruins of California.  I hear they need people.

[1] George Washington, Farewell Address (1796), https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=15&page=transcript. Last accessed on October 5, 2020.

[2] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Penguin Classics (NY: Penguin Books, 2003), 56.

[3] Plato, Republic, 563e-564a.

[4] Aristotle, Politics, 1336b22

[5] Russell Kirk, “Normative Art and Modern Vices,” The Essential Russell Kirk: Selected Essays, ed. George A. Panichas (DE: ISI Books, 2007), 223.

[6] Ibid., 220.

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