There are many definitions of the cynic. The one I choose for this article describes the person who is hostile toward the past that he knows and hospitable toward the future that he does not know. The clearest example of this form of cynicism about which I am aware belongs to a former colleague of mine who shall remain anonymous: “Marriage is an archaic institution that has lost its moral force. But if we wish to provide a healthy, loving environment in which to reproduce our species, we’d better think up something quick to replace it.” This philosophy professor believes in pulling rabbits out of hats, a great trick if you can do it.
The cynic of this mold could not accept his own negativity about the past unless he believed in a better future. Thus, he combines cynicism with utopianism. He exempts his utopian vision from criticism because it has not yet come into view to be criticized. He does not believe in repairing, renewing or reforming the aberrations of the past. He prefers to scrap a viable past for an experimental future. The baby along with the bathwater must be jettisoned. It is a wild gamble, though not without its legion of adherents.
At the end of the 2008 documentary, RBG, which is a lavish paean to Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we hear Gloria Steinem state that because of Ginsburg, “I feel that I am finally protected by the Constitution.” Naturally, as one person, RBG could not have accomplished much without the cooperation of men, especially members of the Court. But Ginsburg is an image — larger than life — a modern Prometheus who has allegedly liberated women from the tyranny of their biology. She represents, at least to Steinem, the transition from an oppressive past to an emancipated future.
On page 17 of her book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Steinem reveals that she had an abortion “when I was newly out of college.” Her unborn child, who would never grow up to read Ms. Magazine, which Steinem edited for 20 years, was completely unprotected by the same Constitution that she praises. Marriage was not for her or, presumably, for any liberated woman. She told the press that she did not want to “breed in captivity.” The sexes were obviously incompatible. She helped popularize the slogan, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Nonetheless, she did not hold to these views entirely. At age 66, in 2000, she married David Bale. When asked why men are more prone to gambling than women, her answer perfectly captured her cynical disdain of the past: “woman’s total instinct for gambling is satisfied by marriage.” Her essay on a utopia of gender equality, “What It Would Be Like If Women Win,” was published by Time magazinein 1970. “Since the population explosion dictates that childbearing be kept to a minimum,” she wrote, “parents-and-children will be only one of many ‘families:’ couples, age groups, working groups, mixed communes, blood-related clans, class groups, creative groups.” At a 2004 Planned Parenthood event in Boston, Steinem declared Bush “a danger to health and safety,” citing his presumed antagonism to reproductive freedom, sex education, and AIDS relief.
The fact that President Barack Obama conferred the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom upon Steinem has special significance because it honours an attitude that rejects the past and welcomes a future which is without any real, constructive basis. Can a bright and glorious future emerge from the ashes of the past? Or are we preparing ourselves for a nightmare of abstract humanism in which marriage has been dismantled, the distinction between the sexes has been obliterated, and the unborn can be discarded at will?
We should be on guard against utopian thinkers who have little respect for tradition and who pledge to bring about a better future after altering the distinctiveness of the sexes, the integrity of marriage, and the value of all human life beyond recognition.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How to Navigate through Lifeand Apostles of the Culture of Life.