The Fundamental Progressives’ Principle

I doubt many people will agree with me on this. But let me say it anyway.

I contend that the fundamental value of America’s political left is, and has been for a half-century or so, sexual liberty. All of the left’s other values – all of its secondary or derivative values – follow from this.

The most obvious secondary value is abortion. If American culture is to include sexual freedom as a paramount value, isn’t it obvious that we will need to have an almost unlimited right to abortion? For “mistakes” will happen – even in a society that floats on an immense sea of contraceptives. If we are unable to correct such mistakes with abortion, this inability will have a serious “chilling effect” on the practice of sexual freedom.

This explains why the left is so terribly upset right now at the possibility – indeed the probability – that the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold the Mississippi law that bans abortion after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. For a limitation on your freedom to abort is, practically speaking, a limitation on your freedom to have sex with whomever you want whenever you want.

Worse still (for progressives), in the Mississippi case it seems quite possible that the Supreme Court will go so far as to overturn Roe v. Wade, the infamous 1973 ruling which created an almost unlimited legal right to abortion – even though it had to torture the U.S. Constitution to come up with that right. Further, by declaring that there is a Constitutional right to abortion, the Court in effect declared that there is a moral right to abortion.

Why do I say that? Because Americans have long been in the habit of thinking that rights found in the Constitution are pre-Constitutional moral rights – or “natural rights,” as Thomas Jefferson and John Locke would have called them. More, Americans have long been in the habit of thinking that moral/natural rights are “God-given” rights. And so, when the Court declared that the right to abortion is a Constitutional right, many people quite naturally understood this to mean that abortion is a God-given right.

Another secondary value for progressives is that contraception should be readily available – not merely to help married parents to “space” their children, but, far more importantly, to facilitate fornication among unmarried persons and adultery among the already married. Better still, contraception should be paid for by the government; that is, it should be paid for by taxpayers.

Abortion too, in their view, should be paid for by taxpayers – even those taxpayers who are so un-progressive as to consider abortion to be homicide.


Yet another secondary value of the left is sex education in public schools. Not a timid, limited, “biology only” kind of sex education. No, “comprehensive” sex education – the kind that will assure that kids know how to use condoms and get abortions; and that they will approve of fornication, abortion, and homosexuality – and understand that disapproval of homosexuality or transgenderism is bigotry, a first cousin to racism.

Those on the left will object to the account I have just given. “Sure,” they will protest, “we value sexual freedom and the things that follow from it (abortion rights, contraception, sex education, etc.). But we value many other things besides, e.g., racial justice, help for the poor, the elimination of gun violence, protecting the environment, universal brotherhood, world peace, and the preservation of our currently endangered American democracy.”

Yes, the left is in favor of all these things – or at least they say they are. But I’m reminded of a very shrewd observation Aristotle makes in his Politics. He says that in the great city-state struggles between the party of the oligarchs and the party of the democrats, the oligarchic party will be wise to pretend that they are very concerned with interests of poor people, and the democratic party will be smart to pretend that they are very concerned with the interests of rich people.

My contention is that the left’s commitment to these non-sexual values is, at least in large measure, a matter or pretense, self-deception, and virtue-signaling.

If the left truly cared about racial equality, they would focus on such things as the pandemic of fatherlessness among blacks, and on crime and violence among young black males; and they would promote education vouchers for black boys and girls, especially those condemned by fate to live in the ghetto. Instead they tell blacks that their woes are due to present-day white racists, especially racist cops.

If the left truly cared about gun violence, they would focus on taking guns away from criminals, on putting more cops into neighborhoods with high rates of gun crime, and on severely punishing anybody who commits a gun crime. Instead they focus on prohibiting the sale of so-called assault rifles to law-abiding gun owners. Many on the left dream, quite unrealistically (do they know what nation they are living in?), of the day when they can make America a gun-free country.

It’s just human nature, I suppose, to wish to be virtuous – or at least to wish to seem to be virtuous. In the old days, when almost everybody was a Christian, a good way of proving to yourself that you were virtuous was to be chaste. And so you would abstain from non-marital sex. Or if you weren’t successful in abstaining, you would feel guilty about your sin; that was a way of assuring yourself that despite your lapses you were, deep down, in favor of chastity. If you were Catholic, you might even confess your sin to a priest.

But our leftists long ago did away with the idea that chastity is a virtue. Today, they see it as more like a vice. And so to prove to themselves that they are virtuous, they proclaim hourly: “Look at us. We hate racism, we hate guns, we hate global warming. Can anybody deny that we are truly virtuous? Long live sexual freedom! And oh, by the way, long live social justice.”


*Image: The Unicorn Rests in a Garden (or The Unicorn in Captivity) by an unknown artist, 1495–1505 [The MET Cloisters, New York]

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David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and most recently Atheistic Humanism, the Democratic Party, and the Catholic Church.