On August 18, 2020—the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote in the US—Crisis Magazine published an article entitled “Against Women’s Suffrage,” by editor-in-chief Michael Warren Davis.
When the headline appeared on my Facebook feed, I could not believe what I was seeing. I hoped it was a work of satire. All hope that the essay was a farce dissolved by the second paragraph when I read the words, “Any sober and dispassionate mind must conclude that giving ladies the right to vote was the single greatest catastrophe in the history of our storied republic” (emphasis added).
Oh, it gets worse:
“Does anyone—conservative or progressive—believe that our laws have become more sound, and our government more useful, over the last one hundred years? If not, we should do one really sound and sensible thing: take away women’s right to vote.”
“It was a return to the dark, Hobbesian view of society as the bellum omnium contra omnes: an endless, all-consuming struggle between men and women for privilege and power. The sanctuary of the hearth was abolished entirely.”
And (creepily) worse:
“Once the carnal act is complete, both parties become totally irrelevant. Jill can happily frolic with Jack out by the well, knowing that if she should fall pregnant there exists a massive welfare apparatus to support her. Or she can simply abort the child.”
I want to emphasize this point: this article is a thing that exists in reality. The present. Literally. As in Tuesday of this week. August 18, 2020. (Don’t let the old-timey photo at the top of the article throw you.)
There are no limits—there are no words.
Yes, Crisis has always been conservative, but not like this. The name “Crisis” was originally meant to be satirical, a subtle jab by neoconservatives at their more reactionary political counterparts who always seem to be running around like their hair is on fire and going on about the downfall of civilization.
This is a magazine that was launched in 1982 by two legendary conservative academics: philosopher Michael Novak and Notre Dame professor (and author of the famous Father Dowling novels) Ralph McInerny. This is a magazine to which the celebrated American novelist and Catholic convert Walker Percy contributed, as did the famous labor priest Msgr George Higgins. Some serious academics (including Phyllis Zagano and many other women) also wrote for them. Even during the Deal Hudson years (1995-2011), the magazine maintained a serious and influential presence in the political sphere.
All that has changed, however. In 2012, Crisis was bought by Sophia Institute Press, the same publishing house that brought us Taylor Marshall’s Infiltration, and who partnered with EWTN in 2015 to serve as the global media network’s book publishing arm. Today, the name Crisis is no longer ironic. Its masthead boasts some of the most bombastic, outrageous, and reactionary names in Catholic media today.
I tweeted about this, and several anonymous people on Twitter asked me why I wasn’t addressing the “substance” of Davis’s argument. My answer is simple. If it isn’t self-evident that re-litigating the question of women’s suffrage in the US is not a topic worth debating, I doubt we’ll have a fruitful conversation. Our worldviews are so fundamentally different that a few sentences in this article will not make much difference.
For what it’s worth, Pope Francis’s words in Philadelphia in 2015 reflect my own views fairly closely:
“The history of this nation is also the tale of a constant effort, lasting to our own day, to embody those lofty principles in social and political life. We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at further waves of new Americans. This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its principles, those founding principles based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed. When a country is mindful of its roots, it keeps growing, it is renewed and it continues to embrace newcomers, new individuals and new peoples.”
That said, I will address one of his points. Davis “argues” that, “Granting women the right to vote suggests that their political interests could potentially be at odds with their husbands.” In Davis’s dystopian alternate timeline, where are the single women? Do they not exist? Are they all nuns, harlots, servants, or asymptomatic carriers of typhoid and therefore unworthy of participation in the political process?
It is difficult for me not to unleash unrelenting mockery at this line of thinking, but I do want to make a serious point:
This worldview is unhealthy, it is unproductive, and it’s unrealistic. The reactionary, anti-Francis movement that is poisoning the Catholic Church is becoming ever more divorced from reality, history, human decency, common sense, cultural progress, civil rights, the common good, and—to put it frankly—God’s will.
There is no Catholic teaching against women voting. Quotations from Belloc and Chesterton are not doctrinal, obviously. During the campaign for women’s suffrage, the Church was split like many other religious groups. And since the passage of the amendment 100 years ago, there has been no serious movement to repeal it. From a purely practical level, this kind of article serves absolutely no positive purpose except to repel and enrage. It certainly won’t lead to any policy changes. Because the site purports to be a Catholic publication and claims to be “America’s most trusted source for authentic Catholic perspectives on Church and State, arts and culture, science and faith,” Crisis gives the rest of us no choice but to condemn it. There most certainly is a crisis in the Church, but they’re among the ones causing it.
The Catholic far-right complains that the left is tearing down their institutions, but it looks to me like they are doing a great job of tearing them down themselves.
(And whatever you do, don’t read the comments.)
Image: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=934606
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.