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The Necessity of Social Conservatism
What's the Matter with California,General
© Jack Cashill
In researching two of my recent books -- Popes and Bankers and What's the Matter with California? -- I came to an inescapable conclusion: America's fiscal crisis derives fully, almost exclusively, from a breakdown in the family. Those soi-disant "fiscal conservatives" who believe they can ignore social issues and somehow save the economy delude themselves.
This all came clear to me in the glorious few days I spent on the Thomas Aquinas campus in Santa Paul, California. I had been invited me to stay at the president's residence, the Doheny Hacienda. I was in good company. Mother Teresa had stayed there before me. I took a walk that first early morning and surfaced on the meadow up above. In front of me lay the lovely, clustered Mission-style buildings that comprise the Thomas Aquinas campus. Surrounding the meadow on three sides were mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. The setting is not quite paradise, merely close.
I saw no students out and about and understood why only when I passed the chapel, which was full. This was Sunday morning, but it is close to full on weekdays as well. No one has to go to mass -- not all the students are Catholic for that matter. It's just that very nearly everyone does.
Over the next few days, I would speak to any number of these students and sit in on perhaps ten classes. The college, which was founded in 1971, features a great books curriculum and aggressive seminar-style interaction. None of the classes I attended had more than 15 students. Every class was impressive. The students spoke concisely and to the point, and those not speaking listened intently. I saw none of the empty grandstanding that passes for student participation in too many college classrooms.
The girls wear dresses or skirts to class. The boys wear shirts, neatly tucked, with collars. No jeans. This is code. So are separate dorms and the ban on inter-gender visitation. Few object. Most prefer it. They knew what they were getting into. I asked a few kids how much drug use there was on campus. They looked at me as if I had asked how much voodoo there was on campus.
Although a tad smarter than average, these kids are otherwise not that exceptional. Few among them come from wealthy homes or fancy prep schools, and many come from large, struggling families. The kind of life they lead -- or at least try to -- is materially accessible to most of their peers. Restricting the argument to the here and now, if 90 per cent of young California exercised comparable restraint, the state would change in some intriguing ways.
Tattoo parlors would go out of business. Piercing enterprises would have to survive on ears and girls' ears at that. Doctors would find something better to do with their time than breast implants and nose jobs, let alone abortions. AIDS and STD clinics could shift their attention to unavoidable diseases.
ER staffers could focus on the victims of accidents and illnesses; shootings, stabbings, and ODs would consume them no more. The police and rescue people could so the same. Drug cartels would take their business elsewhere. Like Alcatraz, prisons could become museums, and the prison unions would no longer run the state. Pimps and pornographers would just about close up shop. So would divorce lawyers and most personal injury lawyers as well.
The Crips could shift from larceny and other louche behavior to lawn care and cut the need for illegal immigration along with the grass. The LA school district could sell its ominous and ubiquitous fences for scrap iron. The state payouts for welfare, housing, food stamps, and Medicaid would shrivel.
Mortgage brokers could sell their product to intact two-parent families, whose home ownership rate has long been above 80 percent and who rarely default. There would never be another subprime crisis, nothing close. Taxes would fall, and still there would be additional revenue for infrastructure, schools, universities, and, yes, even new green technologies.
California's Hispanics could naturally embrace this model. Unlike the Muslims who have flooded Europe, they come from a western Christian tradition. The seamless, timeless California that Santa Paula represents is very much the summation of that tradition, the California that Junipero Serra envisioned two hundred years ago but with a little butt-kicking American enterprise thrown in.
For those who remember the California of 50 years ago, the Thomas Aquinas scenario may not appear all that novel. The difference, however, is that the college, in becoming a fully post-racial community, has moved beyond the 50s, moved beyond the 90s for that matter. Here, a student's race or ethnicity scores him or her absolutely no points for or against.
A few years back, the credentialing authorities attempted to impose race consciousness on the curriculum under the guise of "multiculturalism." The college stared them down and ultimately prevailed. As the late President Dillon explained, "The fact that they're African is not why we teach Augustine and Ptolemy." The "second language" at Thomas Aquinas is Latin.
If 90 percent of the population adheres to the Thomas Aquinas model, the remaining 10 percent of the population could choose to behave or misbehave as they would. It is just that they would have to do far less injustice to themselves and to society to get attention, and we would once again be able to afford their self-destruction.
Jack Cashill's books include Popes and Bankers and What's the Matter with California? His writing has appeared in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
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