An Apologia

Michael Warren Davis
Michael Warren Davis is the editor of Crisis Magazine. He is a frequent contributor to The American Conservative and the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021).

I wasn’t surprised to find that my last column, “Against Women’s Suffrage,” attracted some criticism. I was rather surprised—and very pleasantly so—by the overwhelmingly positive feedback I received from women. In fact, the majority of detractors were men who were offended on behalf of their wives and daughters.

I commend these gentlemen. It shows the proper feudal spirit. Though perhaps misguided, they appear instinctively to understand that the public arena is properly their domain. They didn’t send their women-folk into the fray: they confronted me themselves. And so, again: bravo.

It is to these chaps that I’ll address the current article—mano a mano, so to speak. Allow me, then, to answer some common questions.

1. Is this a joke?

If by that you mean, “Are you just trying to get a rise out of people?” the answer is, No. I never do anything just to get a rise out of people, though sometimes it happens by happy coincidence. I’m not a troll; I don’t see any use in brandishing opinions unless I feel confident wielding them in battle.

2. How dare you?

Because I am a Catholic, and nowhere in the Catechism of the Catholic Church does it say that women (or men, for that matter) are entitled to vote for anything, be it pope or president or chairman of the school board. I feel myself at liberty to espouse any opinion that does not contradict the Magisterium.

3. But you still hold those views even in [current year]?

“My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.” — G. K. Chesterton

4. Why court controversy when you know that the Nineteenth Amendment will never be repealed?

Ah, now that is a sensible question. My answer is twofold.

Firstly, because I think it’s true. Then again, as Chesterton also pointed out, “The modern habit of saying ‘This is my opinion, but I may be wrong’ is entirely irrational. If I say that it may be wrong, I say that is not my opinion.” As for the controversy itself, opinions are almost always controversial. An uncontroversial opinion is called a truism, and truisms are a refuge for men who are too cowardly to seek after the Truth.

Secondly, because I think it’s useful. I don’t suppose we shall see women’s suffrage repealed in my lifetime—except, perhaps, in parts of France and Italy with a majority-Muslim population. But I think women’s suffrage is a useful framing device. My main point (as most readers detected) is that we’ve suffered grievously from the centuries-long shift from regarding the family as the basic unit of society to the individual. The Nineteenth Amendment didn’t begin that trend, of course. But it concretized it. It made individualism a dogma of America’s civil religion. But piety belongs to the gods and our ancestors, not politics.

5. Fine, then. Say you got what you want. Say we repealed the Nineteenth Amendment. What then? Do you really think the rest of society would sort itself out?

The great Catholic journalist Louis Veuillot once said, “If I could re-establish a class of nobles, I should do so at once, and I would not belong to it.” If I could really have everything I want, that would be it. I’d like nothing more than to live the life of a humble serf, ruled by a Christian king, paying absolutely no heed to politics whatsoever.

Like Max Beerbohm, I am a Tory anarchist: “I should like every one to go about doing just as he pleased, short of altering any of the things to which I have grown accustomed.”

Or possibly I am more of an anarcho-monarchist, like J.R.R. Tolkien, who once wrote in a letter to his son Christopher,

the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity. At least it is done only to a small group of men who know who their master is. The mediaevals were only too right in taking nolo episcopari as the best reason a man could give to others for making him a bishop. Grant me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you dare call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers.

That is my ideology. So, before taking the vote away from women, I would happily renounce it myself. Of course, that’s even more impractical than repealing the Nineteenth Amendment. But I can’t pretend to revere women’s suffrage when I don’t think very highly of men’s suffrage.

6. So, you hate freedom?

Of course not! As I wrote in the original article (following Emma Goldman), the trouble with women’s suffrage is that it makes the world less safe for freedom, not more so. Voting gives a veneer of legitimacy to the thieves and thugs who form our political class. Democracy is highway robbery, only we get to choose our highwaymen. And only a fool could think they don’t share the plunder.

7. You hate democracy, then?

Yes, with a passion. And I would remind my reader that the Founding Fathers did, too. (Incidentally, they also opposed women’s suffrage.) That is why they established a constitutional republic, not a democratic one. They believed this country should be governed by laws, not electoral majorities. So, short of being ruled by a member of the House of Isildur or Pevensie, I’m a fairly ordinary and patriotic American.

One critic wrote, “My mother is more sensible than any politico, man or woman, and the idea that she shouldn’t vote but they should is absurd.” I don’t doubt it for a moment! But I’m afraid he missed the point. What happens when her candidate doesn’t win?

I wouldn’t take his mother’s vote away to prevent her from being ruled by the politico she chooses. I’d take it away to prevent her from being ruled by a politico she doesn’t.

8. So, you don’t actually expect to get anything you want?

Not really, no.

9. Then what’s the point of all this?

I am a Catholic journalist—that is, a Catholic in the media industry and a member of the Catholic press. Pope Leo XIII laid out my duties very clearly:

Seeing that the chief instrument employed by our enemies is the press, which in a great part receives from them its inspiration and support, it is important that Catholics should oppose the evil press by a press that is good, for the defense of truth, out of love for religion, and to uphold the rights of the Church.

That is all I really care about. I don’t see myself as a pundit who steers opinion within the Church, as Tucker Carlson steers opinion in the Republican Party. Nor am I a “lay theologian,” as some Catholic journalists like to style themselves. I do not claim any authority for myself. Like you, I’m a soldier in the Church Militant. I am here to support the mission of the Church, not as an officer, but as an enlisted man. (A pétardier, maybe, or some sort of cannon fodder.) My weapon happens to be my keyboard.

Sometimes, in the course of refuting the secular press, a Catholic journalist must expose secular pieties—pieties to which, I’m afraid, many Catholics are more deeply committed than our own. For instance, every other day the National Catholic Reporter publishes an article calling for women’s ordination. What do we do? We roll our eyes. Yet Crisis publishes one article calling for women’s disenfranchisement, and we’re shocked and outraged!

What matters more to us, our politics or our religion?

The great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson wrote that every civilization holds some idea that is so fundamental to its worldview that it is not even recognized as an idea, but merely as an objective reality, a law of nature. Ours, according to Dawson, is progress: the belief that, “In every day and in every way the world grows better and better.” This idea (or, rather, dogma) of progress is perhaps the most dangerous foe of Christianity in our age. It conditions man to dismiss the Faith as something “of the past” and therefore useless, even dangerous—superstitious, backwards, and certainly undemocratic.

The Catholic journalist therefore has a duty to give the dogma of progress an occasional kick, just to show that it’s hollow. There is nothing wrong with progress as such, of course, just as there is nothing wrong with statues of cows. Not every coffee creamer is a golden calf. But as soon as it becomes an object of worship—a graven image—we are obliged to mock it.

This idea of “progress”  is the principal grounds upon which the secular press attacks the Faith. The Catholic press must therefore return fire and demolish this false god of progress, not because we hate progress, but because we hate false gods. We must take special care to find fault with the present, just to prove that it doesn’t enjoy some sort of monopoly on truth. We must take special care to find virtue in the past, because it’s the last place our fellows would think to look for it.

Curiously, just one day after my essay appeared, Grayson Quay wrote a short essay for The American Conservative on the same Chesterton book I cited in “Against Women’s Suffrage.” Mr. Quay says Chesterton reminded him that,

for most of history, half of humanity had existed largely outside of the market and the state. Women produced goods, provided services, and made decisions only for and in the home. In women’s suffrage, Chesterton saw an elite conspiracy to extend government and corporate power, leaving nothing and no one outside their grasp.

While Mr. Quay remains unconvinced by the anti-suffrage cause, he confesses that “Chesterton did convince me that much of our idolization of voting rights and equal pay is based on our unconscious belief that the state and the market are the source and locus of one’s identity.” And so Chesterton has done his duty as a Catholic journalist.

Truth is that, in the long run, politics don’t matter at all. It doesn’t really matter if men and women have the vote, or just men, or a single elderly mare in Wyoming named Sugarplum. Only one thing matters, and Archbishop Sheen put it very nicely: “Go to Heaven.”

I have always tried (though I have almost always failed) to help my reader see the world, not as a member of some faction or sect, but as a Catholic. And the first step to being a Catholic is understanding why God made us—what He put us on this earth to do. The Baltimore Catechism gives a very simple answer: “to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”

Everything else, including (or especially) politics, is incidental. It is a means to that greater End. Call it “reactionary” or “far-right” or “integralist” if you like. I call it “being a Catholic.” I take the Gospel as my manifesto and refuse to submit myself to any censor but the Holy Catholic Church.

I only wish C.S. Lewis had included a democrat in The Great Divorce: a firebrand activist who is outraged to find that neither he nor his mother—nor even poor Sugarplum!—gets a vote in the next life. “Christ may call Himself a king, but I certainly didn’t vote for Him,” our man would grumble. “I don’t see why I should have to spend eternity here when I don’t even get a say in who runs the place!”

In fact, there was such an individual once a long time ago: a especially brilliant angel who decided ‘twere better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.

So, if my article jolted even a single reader from their worldly delusions, I would consider it a rousing success. There’s only one election that really matters, and it won’t happen in a ballot box. It will take place, rather, in a vineyard, when the Master calls to His laborers. Alas, there will be no popular vote; the last shall be first, and the first last. And, though many will be called, few will be chosen.