The Conservative Case for Teen Pregnancy
Where the success sequence is parsimonious, pregnancy is liberal in the old-fashioned sense of the word, even munificent.
The headline should give the game away. I cannot pretend to having disinterested views on this question, for the very simple reason that I am a product of the aforementioned social ill. Lots of people already think I am a bastard, and they are right: mine was one of those “unwed mothers” some readers will remember hearing so much about in the long 1990s, that strangely innocent period of teeming malls and quietly collapsing industry when Natalie Imbroglia and Windows 98 prepared us for the End of History. The year of my birth coincided, in fact, with the highest incidence of abortion in American history. (It is curious, by the way, that as far as I am aware the phrase “unwed fathers” has only ever been uttered by the late John Prine.)
Don’t misunderstand me. If my mother were in the habit of writing for publication I’m sure she would be the first to point out that teenaged pregnancy is no picnic. But this should not lead us to nod along blithely when right-wing sociologists prescribe what they call the “success sequence” as an antidote to the supposed pathologies with which they tend to be personally unfamiliar.
The success sequence goes something like this: If you earn a high-school diploma (and preferably a college degree), get a job, and wait until you are married to have children, you have what we are assuredis a 97 percent chance of not being “poor.” Moreover, assuming you remain married, your own children will be less likely to find themselves incarcerated, among various other evils. For these reasons, we are told, the most basic human goods common to all observed societies are worthy of our approbation.
It should go without saying that the success sequence as it is actually practiced in the United States is possible only because of artificial contraception. It is not love of chastity that leads the vast majority of Americans who attain it to “delay parenthood,” as the literature puts it, but the apparently successful attempt of pharmaceutical corporations to reduce the marital act to a sterile parody. Whatever virtues the average middle-class American couple exhibit by “delaying,” they are not natural ones. They are really showing us their disordered understanding of prudence, which has become a synonym for convenience.
Whose convenience? Certainly not that of the children who will never be born because the self-appointed defenders of traditional virtue in what some of them still refer to quaintly as “the public square” have spent the last three decades concerned with emptying out the welfare rolls and (some of them are quite open about this) keeping the crime statistics low. One wonders what all those young unmarried women engaged in the most natural of human relationships thought when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton and the curiously named Heritage Foundation told them that they would be better off working at Kmart (nowadays the CVS coupon center) than raising their children.
Which is why I say without hesitation that pregnancy outside wedlock is superior to the success sequence. While fornication is indeed a grave sin against chastity, it is not disordered. It is a natural act, albeit one taking place outside its proper context. Where the success sequence is parsimonious, elevating lust and the pursuit of wealth above other natural goods, pregnancy is liberal in the old-fashioned sense of the word, indeed by the standards of our professional class, even munificent. It involves the failings of youth and, by economy, the goods proper to it: heedlessness, generosity, and a kind of awe before creation, in which it quite literally participates.
This is where I should make the obvious point that while the success sequence might do perfectly well for conservatives, many of whom really do wish to “conserve” the sort of society (or rather the sort of economy) that the success sequence has made possible, it can play no part in a Christian one. The success sequence canalizes the sometimes meandering stream of Christian life, whose embouchures are Pishon, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Phirat. In a Christian society there will be Christian dope peddlers and Christian thieves and Christian murderers and even, I daresay, Christian former teen mothers who do not contribute to their employers’ matching retirement benefit schemes, and whose children have higher than average SAT scores. To identify the Christian life, whose sole end is sainthood, with bourgeois manners is to deny the plain words of Our Lord, Who assured us that after a bit of squabbling over pennies the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine and a contributing editor at The American Conservative.
Published at Thu, 06 May 2021 04:01:38 +0000
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