The Least of These

Our government has failed to admit that its own selfishness is the root of many societal problems it has tried to address.

In Philadelphia, about half of all students in ninth grade will graduate from high school. The dropout rate is especially high among black and Hispanic boys. President Obama’s answer to this problem is typical of the left: compulsion. Make dropping out illegal. In other words, force boys who are learning nothing to remain where they are learning nothing, to help make sure that nobody else learns anything, either. If they drop out anyway, turn them into criminals to be rounded up.

All this would cost a great deal of money, which Philadelphia does not have. And even if you could compel the boy, seething with resentment and contempt, to occupy a desk in a dreary schoolroom, you cannot compel him to learn. To try is a distant, “technological” response to a human problem. It is a way to pretend to generosity, while keeping those who suffer from your heedlessness far from your sight and smell.

Philadelphia has been engaging in a years-long lawsuit, at great expense, to force the Boy Scouts from their headquarters, which they occupy rent-free. Why no rent? Well, back in 1929, the year of the stock market collapse, the city fathers invited the Boy Scouts to occupy land on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Back then, the city fathers actually cared for the well-being of boys.

So the Scouts agreed. They built the building themselves. They then graciously turned ownership over to the city, with the understanding that they might use the building without paying rent. They, not the city, have assumed all the costs of maintenance ever since. It has not cost the city a penny. The Boy Scouts, in other words, did the city a tremendous favor, and are now rewarded for it with contempt.

Why the animus against the Boy Scouts? Because Copernicus was wrong. The world does not revolve around the sun. The world revolves around the predilections of upper- and middle-class feminists and their satellites.

angry boyThe Boy Scouts retain the commonsense notion that it is not wise to bring boys into close quarters with men who are sexually attracted to boys, regardless of whether they act on those attractions. They retain the commonsense notion that if it were widely known that such men were scoutmasters, the boys would check out. They retain the commonsense notion that boys need fathers, who will teach them to be good men, ready to be fathers of their own families.

But the Philadelphia city council does not care about such things, because, when called upon to choose between their sexual antinomianism and the welfare of boys–many of whom only a group like the Boy Scouts can save from gangs–they will choose their preferred form of lawlessness every time, without regard for the common good.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, because for the last fifty years, even before Lyndon Johnson’s disastrous War on Poverty, technocratic managers, mainly but not exclusively on the left, have been building a system of mutual parasitism, funded by taxes.

One group profits, in power, from the profligacy of the other, which it “rewards” with money confiscated from the general public. They thus gain millions of publicly funded jobs to manage the people whom their policies have corrupted, and they move far away from those people, assuaging their consciences by voting correctly and holding correct opinions. Their hands do not get dirty.

What, on the dreadful day of doom, will that boy in Philadelphia say to the rich who have ignored him, or worse, who have profited by his confusion?

“I needed a good school, and you trapped me in a bad one, while you sent your own children elsewhere. When some people suggested a way for me to go to a Catholic school where I’d have a chance of learning something, you cried up the separation of church and state. You didn’t actually believe that you would be setting up any church as a state institution. It is just that you hated the Church a lot more than you loved me.

“I once lived in a real city neighborhood. The houses needed repair, so you called it a slum, and you tore it down. Then you built housing projects with all the beauty and safety of a parking garage. When these became hotbeds of crime, you tore them down too.

“You declared a War on Poverty, aimed at me, when you should have declared a War on Vice, aimed first of all at yourselves.

“You loved your vice more than you loved me. You could afford your vices, but I could not. Your vices made your lives, as you thought, more exciting. I did not have your cushion of wealth, so the same vices destroyed me.

“I was lonely, and you bought me a whore. My sisters were lonely, and you made them into whores.

“I needed the Church, desperately, because when a man is poor, he must face his helplessness every day. But the Church would restrain you, so, at every chance you had, you derided religious faith, and thus you snatched from me my most loyal friend.

“I had no job, and you overtaxed the man who might have given me one. Then you gave the job to someone on the other side of the world, or you winked while men left their families thousands of miles away, crossing the border to work at low wages, and you yourselves hired them, and ducked the taxes that you yourselves established. In this way you managed to do mayhem to two families at once.

“I was in prison, and needed to learn a trade, but you teamed up with union bosses to make sure I would not. You gave me dull and useless classes in communication, and television.

“I was clothed with the remnants of modesty and decency, and you stripped them from me. You praised bad men who celebrated violence in their ‘music,’ and hugged yourselves for your tolerance.

“My forebears lived on a farm, but your collusion with big business made it impossible for them to continue, not to mention your taxes on our land and our inheritances. When we moved to the cities, you moved away.

“I needed to learn to calculate, and you handed me a machine that would do it for me, and prevent me from understanding what I was doing. I needed to learn to read, and would have liked adventure tales for boys, but you gave me feminist propaganda, or comic books.

“I needed a father, but you preferred your fun. You passed laws that would reward my mother for not marrying my father. You hated marriage, because marriage brings a man into a family, and marriage restrains. You winked and smiled while my mother brought a series of irresponsible men into my life, none of whom was my father. They were dangerous. When they grew violent, you herded them into your corral, which you called ‘Domestic Violence.’ You refused to distinguish between husbands and these others. Thus did you continue to tear marriage down, and subject me and mine to more of the violence you pretended to decry.

“I needed a father, and you gave me the gang leader selling crack cocaine.

“I needed a father, and you laughed and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. Then you gave me a prison trusty.

“I needed a coach, to keep me in line during the difficult years, but you cut my teams and rosters. You called it ‘fairness’ to my sisters, and hugged yourselves for your enlightenment.

“I used to have a YMCA, but you turned it into a day-care center for people like you.

“I needed a father to show me how to love women, and you gave me porn.

“I once had virtue, the poor man’s heritage, but you trained me in vice.

“I needed a mother, and you, having taken my father away, did your best to take my mother away also. You had your work as doctors and lawyers, but my mother worked as a cleaning woman in one of your office buildings. When I grew overweight from the junk you made, because she wasn’t around to cook, you declared a War on Obesity, and profited by it.

“I needed a father, I always needed a father, and you turned your back on me, and told me what you knew was a lie, that a mother or two mothers or a mother and a boyfriend would do just as well. When it didn’t work out, you blamed everything but your own selfishness.

“I needed a father, and you were too busy with your sexual innovations to notice it.

“I needed a married mother and father, what every child needs, what every child has a right to, and you told me to go to hell.

“I went to hell, and have brought it back with me.”


This article is reprinted with kind permission from Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Goodan online publication of the Witherspoon Institute that seeks to enhance the public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies by making the scholarship of the fellows and affiliated scholars of the Institute available and accessible to a general audience. 

Anthony Esolen


Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

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  • kirk

    Anthony, Anthony, clap, clap, clap! Yes, it is true that many slip through these cracks in our society; that is very sad and should be addressed by our government and each one of us. But, lemme see, you blame all of it on the “Left” and the “feminist conspirators”. Can that possibly be, I ask myself? What about all those Nixon, Reagan, Bush1, Bush2 years? What happened to the Bush slogan, “No Child Left behind”? Were they leftists in disguise? How can the current lament from the right not to tax the highest earners in our country, because – gosh, they need it for their country/vacation/beachfront palaces, large pleasure boats and Mercedes to drive around in – and perhaps if there’s anything left they might consider hiring a few low-wage workers in their mega-firms to count their coins, so they can perhaps give a little of what remains to the Boy Scouts and feel good about themselves.
    And, you write so well the lament of the Left Behind, what are you doing (other than writing these columns), to help people in your community reach their dreams and goals?

  • Hmn. Well, I am 100% in agreement with the basic point here, Dr. Esolen — and let me go on to preface further commentary with the comment that I am a fan. Love your passion, your intelligence, your moral stance, your style. However. I won’t be sharing this one to my wall because there is too much I DON’T like in it. Seems too casually done. I have a feeling you would not grade it highly if one of your students passed it in. Too … emotional?

    I went to the lengths of tracing the article back to Public Discourse and The Witherspoon Institute hoping for some critical discussion but found none, so … I will stick my neck out and be the first. Sorry about that!

    You began to lose me when I read these words. “The world revolves around the predilections of upper- and middle-class feminists and their satellites.” Excuse me? Of course, I am a woman. But I am not a feminist or a satellite of feminists (as far as I know!). Nevertheless, I can’t imagine what would make anyone think — let alone assert so offhandedly, as if anyone with any moral intelligence would agree — that feminists are at the root of all political and social evil. Do you really think so? Can you refer me to a book or article that sets this thesis forth with appropriate background so that I can absorb it on its intellectual merits instead of reacting from pure emotional shock? I agree that “popular” feminism has caused some problems and so-called “radical” feminism some very severe problems … but this statement of yours seems to go way beyond that… and I note that you are using the word feminist instead of feminism, which is a very personal kind of attack.

    However, I was able to let go of that and be “with you” again until I got to the next — rather similar — comment. “I was lonely, and you bought me a whore. My sisters were lonely, and you made them into whores.”

    Hmn. Having trouble with the definition of whore, here. (Though, to my shock, the young women of my acaquaintance seem to use the word as a term of endearment to one another, so perhaps the entire culture is having trouble with the definition? Which is a point for you, I suppose …) Anyway. You are saying that feminists (who have created society-as-a-whole’s policies and continue to guide those policies’ orbit) have “bought” our young women with the lure of sexual freedom and by that very purchase turned them (us, since I am one) into whores. Hmn! I may be coming around, on this. Perhaps its the delivery rather than the thesis that falls short of the grade I usually accord to you?

    I seem to be converting myself by means of the re-read and now begin to wonder how I have managed to “miss” this not very subtly expressed belief of yours in all the previous articles of yours that I enjoyed! Perhaps here it is the very focus of your attack where in other places in was only present in the arena. Or perhaps it was my day to open my ears and hear…

    Next question for myself: what about these men (my own husband has been known to make this remark) who offhandedly toss off the opinion that the downfall of civilization was giving women the vote? Should I be agreeing with this thesis as well? And then there is the still more often heard remark that women are the ones who put Mr. Obama into the White House …

    To be honest, Dr. Esolen et al, I think you are too quick to let yourselves off. It isn’t feminists who run the world, they are being used, duped! just like the rest. And when we find out who is pulling the strings behind Mr. Obama (if we ever do) it will not be a bunch of matriarchs, I’m sure.

    The only thing I don’t like about this article is your targeting the smoke rather than the force behind the curtain. Everything else rings “right.”