(originally published in the June 2021 issue of Chronicles magazine.)
How America went communist.By Stephen Baskerville
“All politics is on one level sexual politics.” —George Gilder
Extremists break out of the margins and take power when they fool opponents into advancing their agenda. By politicizing the family and sexuality, the left duped conservatives, and all of us, into becoming their accomplices.
Since last fall’s electoral coup, the United States has been well on its way toward becoming a de facto communist government. But it is not the communism that conservative Cassandras have warned against, nor did it come about as they expected. In fact, conservatives bear a huge share of the responsibility for what happened. Misunderstanding the dynamics of today’s left, they helped fulfill their own prophecies.
Americans have long prided themselves on being impervious to socialism. They even avoided creating an extensive European-style welfare state. But the U.S. was not lagging behind Europe; as always, it was leading. For Americans took a unique road to socialism: They created a government engine that bred its own class of insurgents.
Knowing that doctrinaire Marxism held little appeal for Americans, the left did an end run around this ideological obstacle. They enlisted conservatives to the cause of socialism by forsaking the rhetoric of class warfare, appealing instead to a sense of compassion for women and children that compassionate-conservative gallants could not resist.
The liberal left erected a different kind of welfare state: not broad-based social insurance for all, but a “safety net” limited to the poor (which in reality was anything but safe). In doing so, they defied the purists within their own ranks who rejected “welfarism” as a capitalist scheme to co-opt the working class. Operating according to its own innovative dynamic, safety-net socialism literally bred its own quasiproletariat of the marginalized, resentful, and entitled—all managed and directed by a vanguard of radicalized civil servant apparatchiks. At all levels, essential roles in this system were played by women.
The welfare machinery built by progressivism, the New Deal, and especially President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society “war on poverty” programs, accomplished what slavery and segregation could not: It decimated the African-American family and created a self-perpetuating underclass of single mothers and fatherless children.
Every major social pathology is tied directly to family situations and the absence of fathers, not to race or class as others assert. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the result of safety-net socialism was a self-destructive horde of criminals, delinquents, truants, addicts, and derelicts who proceeded to tear down their own communities and quickly populate the world’s most massive prison system. Administering their lives was a cadre of functionaries—again, increasingly female—with a self-interest in perpetuating and expanding this devastation.
As this troubled population was composed overwhelmingly of minorities, the rest of American society fell into the habit of not caring (this is one ironic grain of truth in the overused charge of “racism”). The left feigned compassion for black “oppression” but could not decide if the cause was racism, or capitalism. It was neither.
Conservatives could have reaped enormous political benefit by pointing out that the real culprit was the destruction of the family. Instead, their only solution was to enact ever harsher punishments that further expanded the gulag system and increased resentment from blacks. Doing the left one better, conservatives even created an additional bureaucracy catering to crime victims, which the gender justice warriors would later commandeer for their own purposes, applying political criteria to the “victim” label.
Having foolishly yielded the moral high ground to the left, conservatives had nothing constructive to offer—other than an ugly punishment mentality—when faced with periodic revolts, such as those following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the beating of Rodney King, and the death of George Floyd.
During the 1960s and 1970s, some conservative intellectuals did investigate all this and issued urgent warnings. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously predicted, “A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority…that community asks for and gets chaos.” But serious scholarship was abandoned when it ran up against entrenched interests on both left and right. Stuck in the 1970s, conservative thinking about welfare eventually atrophied altogether.
Meanwhile, the state continued expanding exponentially— not only in gargantuan welfare expenditures themselves, but even more by way of expensive bureaucratic industries designed to control the social fallout: law enforcement, incarceration, education, housing, health, and social services. An exploding domestic budget became devoted almost entirely to the social ills bred by welfare.
The result is more than waste, for welfare is money spent to turn children into criminals, addicts, dropouts, rioters, and even terrorists. For statists, welfare is government’s marvelous engine for creating problems for itself to solve.
Complementing all this, the new political ideology of feminism had arrived on the scene. It drew upon socialist ideas, but transformed them. These new ideologues understood full well that minority impoverishment was not caused by racism or capitalism. They knew the problem was family destruction, because, if they did not create it, they certainly exacerbated and exploited it.
Behind the media smokescreen portraying them as homely women burning their underwear and mimicking black grievances, feminists were wreaking an altogether different kind of havoc: intentionally glorifying and proliferating the single-mother homes that created the underclass and stoked its self-destructiveness and rage. “Independence, even in straitened and penurious forms,” proclaimed affluent scholars led by influential socialist-feminist Barbara Ehrenreich in Re-Making Love: The Feminization of Sex (1986), “still offers more sexual freedom than affluence gained through marriage and dependence on one man.”
While the original impetus behind welfare was quasi- socialist, the operatives were radicalized women from the very beginning. Private charity had been conducted by women volunteers motivated by a sense of Christian calling and supported financially by their husbands. Welfare replaced them with a new class of paid professional social workers who quickly developed a vested interest in perpetuating the problems they were ostensibly solving, and who preyed upon the youth and ignorance of the underclass.
Anti-male ideology, running from Jane Addams to that promoted in today’s women’s studies programs, dovetailed with bureaucratic self-interest to make sure breadwinning men, who alone could free women and children from dependance on the state, stayed away.
President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform reduced the exploding rolls temporarily, but politically it deepened the problem by accelerating nefarious measures already underway beneath the media’s radar screen.
To avoid both bankruptcy and addressing the underlying problem, the welfare state was quietly inverted in purpose from distributing largesse to collecting revenue. The result was the most authoritarian machinery in American history: not only prisons but a massive system of semi-incarceration that summarily placed tens of millions of law-abiding citizens under penal supervision. “On the left and on the right, the new phrase to conjure with is ‘child support,’” wrote scholar Bryce Christiansen. “The deadbeat dad now holds a place of singular dishonor as a selfish fugitive condemned by liberals and conservatives alike.”
While it was accepted that many young black men were semi-criminals, nobody really bothered to understand why. The true criminal violence was overwhelmingly the product of upbringings in single-mother homes, as social science demonstrates unequivocally. But to criminality was now added criminalization. Having used welfare payments to leverage the removal of fathers and the turning of adolescents into criminals, the social workers then used child support laws to criminalize the fathers as well.
Essentially, social service agencies transformed their workers into plain clothes feminist police. A third stage of criminalizing their rivals—the legitimate police trying to keep order amid all this—is now in full swing.
Requiring fathers to pay to support children they had allegedly “abandoned” had superficial appeal. The inconvenient fact that most had not abandoned them at all, and were far more likely to be forced away by feminist social workers armed with welfare regulations, was both difficult to prove (given the likely absence of a marriage contract) and practically irrelevant. Social workers, lawyers, judges, and others had a strong pecuniary interest in demonizing fathers and using children to rationalize their power and earnings. They were simply too strong to bother quibbling about justice. Young black fathers were forced to “finance the filching of [their] own children,” attorney Jed Abraham wrote in From Courtship to Courtroom (1999).
All this only laid the groundwork. Having created this self-expanding machine to proliferate and entrench the underclass, the next step was to expand the logic to middle-class society.
This the feminists achieved by engineering the most staggering coup of all: the most radical and subversive legal innovation ever instituted in Western democracies—a measure so diabolical that, at a stroke, it decimated the integrity of both the family and the judiciary, and overthrew the common law system that had safeguarded freedom for centuries. This was the concept, borrowed from the insurance industry, of “no-fault” justice. It was used to legally abolish civilization’s most fundamental institution: marriage.
Few even noticed what happened. The country was preoccupied during the 1960s and early ’70s with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, and the incipient sexual revolution was acculturating people to radical sexual permissiveness and experimentation. Dishonest propaganda promising divorce “by mutual consent” fooled almost everyone about what really created involuntary divorce—what Maggie Gallagher called “the abolition of marriage” as a legally enforceable contract. This allowed one spouse to unilaterally end the marriage without any recognized grounds and without accepting any responsibility for the consequences to the other spouse or the children. California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce bill in 1969, and later said he regretted doing so.
In fact, feminists like those at the National Association of Women Lawyers had devised this no-fault sleight of hand back in the 1940s and were just waiting for an opportunity to unleash it. No-fault divorce was a measure so extreme in revolutionizing both family relationships and legal precepts that its only precedents were during the French and Russian Revolutions (nations whose governments both later repealed it because of the social chaos it caused). Yet it swept through the U.S. and the entire Western world with almost no opposition or discussion.
The full impact took decades to reach its logical conclusion. In the end, the middle class was reduced to conditions similar to those of the underclass, pervaded by bitter and entitled single mothers, dysfunctional children, and criminalized fathers—their lives and relationships likewise administered by the feminized functionaries of the welfare state.
“No-fault” justice was breathtaking in its nihilism. Even its harshest critics—who understandably focused on the torn-apart families and ruined lives that resulted—have failed to grasp another nightmarish dimension: the virtually unlimited control over the individual it conferred upon the state.
For the first time under common law, courts could summon legally innocent people, assume control over their private lives, and punish them for perfectly legal things they do in the course of private life. Courts acquired the power to dissolve their marriages without consent or grounds; evict them from their homes; seize control of their children; restrict their movements; raid their bank accounts; confiscate their houses; extract payments for “services” they never requested; garnish their wages; deny them passports and driving permits; seize their professional licenses; and incarcerate them without trial or record.
Involuntary, unilateral divorce allows for the existence of the child-support gestapo, first devised to persecute impecunious young men, go after millions of productive middle-class wage-earners and entrepreneurs with deeper pockets to loot, and thus provide not only an irresistible bribe for single-mothers-to-be but also lucrative revenue for state government coffers.
Federally funded propagandists in the universities and think tanks smugly declared that these fathers had abandoned their children, when it was easily provable that the children were being judicially kidnapped through literally “no fault” of their fathers. The bankrolled scholars who spread this defamation against citizens who had no platform to defend themselves became darlings of right-wing moralizers, lavishly patronized and promoted by numerous conservative foundations, like the Family Research Council.
The unchecked hysteria swelled throughout the 1990s. Journalist Bernard Goldberg remarked that there were “a million stories at the networks on deadbeat dads.” Scholars who questioned this narrative were ignored, demonized, or sacked, even from conservative institutions. Conservative politicians gleefully joined the witch hunt. Bush-administration Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson carried forward the worst measures initiated by the Clintons, supported by Senators like Lindsay Graham and Dan Coats.
Meanwhile the apparatchiks, lawyers, judges, feminists, and politicians teamed up to erect an American machinery of unprecedented repression. Federal subsidies on child-support collections make divorced and single-mother homes enormously profitable for state governments, incentivizing them to encourage as much divorce and create as many fatherless children as possible. They achieved this by ratcheting up child-support payments to extortionate levels, making divorce lucrative for mothers and lethal for fathers, often resulting in unavoidable summary incarceration followed by homelessness.
This machinery of de facto socialism was created while conservatives were asleep at the wheel, fatuously philosophizing about families being “building blocks” of society.
The result is that multiple generations of children of divorce have now grown up hating their fathers, and all traditional authority, and instead see civil servants as their providers and protectors. Many feel betrayed, fear love, and have no conception of how to form enduring, sacrificial relationships with the opposite sex or their own children. Like the mothers and civil servants, these offspring of divorce feel entitled to the fruits of the state’s ever expanding power. Having been raised on the proceeds of their fathers’ enslavement by the child-support machinery, they have no compunction about enslaving productive taxpayers in twoparent families to provide for their own needs and wants.
This also supplied the essential ingredients for the left’s recent electoral coup: the seething resentment and violence of black youth; their white middle-class emulators and enablers, similarly nihilistic despite their advantages; the manipulation and exploitation of poverty by feminists, like the now-wealthy women who created Black Lives Matter; the contempt for constitutional procedures and civil liberties manifested in censorious “cancel culture”; and the iconoclasm and irreverence for sacred traditions. Meanwhile conservative leaders are so privileged and complacent that they stubbornly refuse to even listen to the few serious scholars and journalists who could tell them what is actually going on.
Perhaps most insidious is the perversion of the justice system, which abrogates the very constitutional protections it is charged with applying. Throughout its growth, the welfare/divorce behemoth has improvised kangaroo courts to legitimize unprecedented criminalization and incarceration. Judicial operators do not merely fail to protect constitutional freedoms; they take the lead in eliminating them.
No-fault divorce is administered in family courts that are grotesque mockeries of law. Justice never enters divorce cases; only one outcome is possible, and every verdict is predetermined. Constitutional protections such as the Bill of Rights may as well not exist. The divorce kleptocracy plunders legally unimpeachable citizens using their children as leverage. Patently false accusations of “domestic violence” are adjudicated in assembly line-like procedures lasting a few minutes where outcomes are likewise predetermined. Similar miscarriages of justice characterize “child abuse” accusations. Psychotherapy is invoked to rationalize punishing people convicted of no crime.
So “empowering” are these crooked courts that the feminists replicate them elsewhere. Trumped-up rape accusations were likewise pioneered against black men (reminiscent of lynching), before going mainstream in the white middle class. Universities were especially welcoming to this tactic, and quickly erected pseudo-tribunals composed of students, professors, and administrators to conduct show trials to the detriment of male students accused without evidence. Conservatives like the University of Virginia’s conservative family scholar Brad Wilcox, writing in National Review, supported these as well.
These punitive tribunals were themselves a rehearsal for the punishment zeal we have seen in and after the electoral coup against President Donald Trump and his supporters. Kafkaesque travesties pioneered in the divorce courts provided the modus operandi.
Even before the election, the radical left was demanding that anyone challenging or impeding their path to power be not simply defeated politically but legally punished using civil or criminal accusations. This extended to lawyers who challenged electoral illegalities or represented Trump; election officials who hesitated to certify questionable results; members of Congress who tried to use constitutional procedures to ensure electoral integrity; members of the media who aired criticisms of the left; ordinary citizens who supported Trump or questioned government actions; and of course Trump himself.
What many call “show trials” of political opponents culminated in the hijacking of the presidential impeachment procedure, turning it into an unconstitutional act of attainder. The left’s opponents are not to be debated but, as ABC Political Director Rick Klein has said, “cleansed.” Weaponized psychotherapy and accusations of mental illness for political purposes, including to silence dissident attorneys like Lin Wood, are, as noted, routine in divorce proceedings (and resemble Soviet practices).
The techniques being used by the left against their enemies were pioneered in America’s divorce system. Today’s left does not discuss or debate. Whether in divorce courts, rape trials, domestic violence and child abuse accusations, #MeToo targets, police who must use lethal force, or the election aftermath—the left merely accuses. Dissenters who obstruct its hegemony must be put on trial for their supposed crimes.
By averting our eyes from inconvenient but hideous injustices that have festered for decades against the poor and other defenseless people, we have left ourselves at the mercy of ruthless political operators who seek to curtail our freedoms as effortlessly as they have the liberty of others. Credulously endorsing political fairy tales about the causes of poverty, “deadbeat dads” and other mythical villains, and now “systematic racism” by policemen, we have turned millions of Americans into criminals.
How many more will we consign to the gulag to avoid confronting the truth? Things in America can get worse before they get better…
Stephen Baskerville is Professor at the Collegium Intermarium in Warsaw and Research Fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, the Independent Institute, and the Inter-American Institute. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics and has taught politics at Patrick Henry College, Howard University, and Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, plus Fulbright Scholarships at Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland, and the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow. His most famous writings concern the politics of the family and sexuality, and he also writes on political ideologies with an emphasis on radical religious movements and sexuality. He is the author of The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and the Growth of Governmental Power (Angelico, 2017), and Taken Into Custody: The War against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007). His other books include Not Peace But a Sword: The Political Theology of the English Revolution (Routledge, 1993; full expanded edition, Wipf & Stock, 2018).