The Cultural Marxists’ Strategic Assault on Religion, Life & Family
Two years ago, in an article titled “How U.N. Conventions on Women’s and Children’s Rights Undermine Family, Religion, and Sovereignty,” we considered the difficulties inherent in two United Nations conventions: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).1 In particular, we called attention to the fact that the committees entrusted to review implementation reports by state parties are acting far beyond their actual powers in what can only be described as an “ideological” manner.
Here we intend to show that the activism of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women are part of a worldwide effort to undermine the family, life, and religion. CEDAW and CRC are simply two pieces used by cultural Marxists to further their cause in the international clash of civilizations. The two sides in this clash have opposing views as to how sexuality and reproduction are structured, one seeing them as linked to, and the other as decoupled from, a sense of creation, or of the Creator. There is no reconciling these views. They clash.
Engels’s Attack on the Family
Influential intellectual roots of anti-family and anti-religious efforts can be found in the writings of Karl Marx’s collaborator, the German philosopher Friedrich Engels. Engels, in his vision of state ownership of the means of production, and of the ultimate triumph of the proletariat, was keenly aware that two institutions would stand in the way of his communist vision: the family, and organized religion. He understood that in order for the international communist vision to come to fruition, the natural primacy of family and religion in society must be undermined.
Engels saw the establishment of the family as an aberration of the proper order of history, and its collapse as a necessary element for the coming communist world order. As he wrote in his preface to the first edition of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State: “The old society, built on groups based on ties of sex, bursts asunder in the collision of the newly-developed social classes.”
Engels’s rationale for the collapse of the family can be found in his materialistic view of man, in whom he understands all interactions to be products of class struggle, a struggle in which marriage plays a central role. He makes clear why monogamous marriage must be eliminated:
Thus, monogamy does not by any means make its appearance in history as the reconciliation of man and woman, still less as the highest form of such reconciliation. On the contrary, it appears as the subjection of one sex by the other, as the proclamation of a conflict between the sexes entirely unknown hitherto in prehistoric times.
The first class antagonism which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamian (marriage), and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male.2
Thus, the most fundamental of all “class struggles” (Engels’s overriding preoccupation) is that between male and female, in which marriage effects the subordination of woman by man.
Likewise, religion could not stand in the way of the coming victories of communism. Engels explains in his introduction to “History (the role of Religion) in the English middle-class,” that religion is only an offshoot of previous economic realities, used later to prop them up, “and, unless we believe in supernatural revelation, we must admit that no religious tenets will ever suffice to prop up a tottering society.”3
Engels’s vision of the collapse of the family and of religion found a ready application in the Soviet Union. As one Russian observer in the 1920s noted, “When the Bolsheviki came into power in 1917 they regarded the family, like every other ‘bourgeois’ institution, with fierce hatred, and set out with a will to destroy it.”4 Thus, the Bolsheviks instituted radical changes in the marriage laws, such as divorce-at-will, the prohibition of religious marriage, and the abolition of illegitimacy laws, as well as more violent programs like Josef Stalin’s “dekulakization,” in which the “rich peasants” (kulaks), noted for their resilient family structures and religious piety, were “liquidated” as a class. Likewise, the Russian Orthodox Church was systematically undermined from within.
Contemporary Cultural Marxism
Like Engels, many contemporary liberals see the family and religion as impediments to fulfillment rather than paths to it. Thus, they may fairly be denominated as “cultural Marxists,” and we do so in this article. Today, however, they try to undermine the family and religion through more subtle means than the Soviets used. This is accomplished through two interrelated processes advanced simultaneously: (1) the move to increase the power of the state while decreasing that of the individual and his community, and (2) the undermining of laws pertaining to family and religion. Thus, the traditional supports of society—family and religion—are crowded out by government increasingly under the influence of what one might call a totally different “civilization.” As one cultural Marxist put it,
While international human rights law moves forward to meet the demands of the international women’s movement, the reality in many societies is that women’s rights [as interpreted by the feminist movement] are under challenge from alternative cultural expressions. . . . The movement is not only generating new interpretations of existing human rights doctrine . . . but it is also generating new rights. The most controversial is the issue of sexual rights. . . . One can only hope that the common values of human dignity and freedom will triumph over parochial forces attempting to confine women to the home.5
Such anti-family objectives of contemporary cultural Marxists at the international level are further exemplified by the words of Arie Hoekman, a representative of the United Nations Population Fund, who, in words reminiscent of Engels’s theories, commented favorably upon widespread family breakdown: “[It is] a weakening of the patriarchal structure, as a result of the disappearance of the economic base that sustains it and because of the rise of new values centered in the recognition of fundamental human rights.”6 In other words, what would be considered a disaster in most societies—a rise in out-of-wedlock births and the collapse of the married family—is something actively to be desired (“new values” based on “human rights”) because the traditional family (“patriarchy”) is an obstacle to personal fulfillment.
Mr. Hoekman’s view is echoed elsewhere, such as in the 2006 advocacy statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage.”7 This document, signed by over 300 scholars and activists from universities like Georgetown, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale, debuted in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and calls for a legal regime in which the question is not one of heterosexual versus homosexual marriage, but rather one in which marriage as an idea has been abolished. In particular, the authors seek:
• Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households, and families—regardless of kinship or conjugal status.
• Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs, including but not limited to: health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance, and welfare assistance.
• Separation of church and state in all matters, including the regulation and recognition of relationships, households, and families.
• Freedom from state regulation of all aspects of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities, and expression.
In other words, “marriage,” insofar as it exists at all, is to be entirely fluid and individualized; religious “interference” in public matters is to be minimized, as are legal barriers to sexual activity; and, at the same time, individual access to government welfare is to be maximized.
A Stealth Campaign
The goals of contemporary cultural Marxists cannot be achieved directly, for the people of the world do not agree with them. (For example, fewer than a dozen countries perform same-sex marriages.) Instead, their goals must be achieved by guile and deception, using the back doors of international law and the judiciary. This is not an imputation of malign motives on our part, for cultural Marxists have admitted as much. An explicit example of this is the detailed plan to advance the pro-abortion agenda by stealth that was disclosed in 2003, when a planning memo of the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights was leaked. It was later read into the Congressional Record by Congressman Chris Smith (R–NJ).8
The document detailed the stages through which a plan could be implemented that would build up “customary international law” so as to guarantee a universal “right” to abortion. While no such right has ever been recognized by name in any UN document, pro-abortion forces assert that the seemingly harmless words “reproductive health care” actually mean abortion, the very opposite of maternal health care. The term dates back to the outcome document of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development in 1994, in which a number of nations specifically attached statements making it clear that abortion was not covered by this term.
Nonetheless, pro-abortion lawyers assert that in the use of the phrase “reproductive health care” since Cairo, the meaning has somehow morphed to include abortion, and that the repetitious use of that language in UN documents means that the whole world has already agreed to it, despite the fact that the same nations who objected at Cairo still have anti-abortion laws in place. However, as we will show below, the decisive thing for pro-abortion lawyers is their conviction that their allies among the judiciary will nevertheless interpret the language as they desire.
Documents from the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) acknowledge that “there is a stealth quality to the work: we are achieving incremental recognition of values without a huge amount of scrutiny from the opposition. These lower profile victories will gradually put us in a strong position to assert a broad consensus around our assertions.”
While the surest way to enshrine such a social policy in international law would be through clearly delineated norms in multilateral human rights treaties (which is the opposite of a stealth approach), such a strategy is highly unlikely to win many states outside of Europe as signatories to such a treaty, since most people of the world do not support it. Thus, the CRR noted, “The other principal option is to develop ‘soft norms’ or jurisprudence (decisions or interpretations) to guide states’ compliance with binding norms.”
While CRR was agitating for abortion rights, the same tactics were being used to undermine family and religion as well. As we have shown in our previous paper, these soft norms have been used by institutions like the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee to End Discrimination against Women to urge the legalization of prostitution (targeting Mexico and Liechtenstein), the banning of Mother’s Day (targeting Bulgaria), the expansion of state childcare (targeting Slovakia, Slovenia, and Germany), and the stifling of religious conscience rights (targeting Italy, Ireland, Norway, Croatia, Libya, and China).
Soft law instruments are usually considered non-binding agreements, but they nevertheless hold potential for morphing into “hard law” in the future. This “hardening” may happen in two different ways. One is to propose declarations, recommendations, and such as the first step towards a treaty-making process in which reference will be made to the principles already stated in the soft law instruments. The other possibility is to get non-treaty agreements to have a direct influence on the practice of states; to the extent that they are successful in doing so, they may lead to the creation of customary law. (The two sources of international law are treaty and custom.)
Coordinated efforts are also underway to normalize soft norms for use by compliance committees and national courts. These efforts at subversion are now out in the open for all to see.9
The Yogyakarta Principles
Of these efforts, the most notorious are the “Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” The result of a 2006 meeting of liberal human rights activists, the 29 Yogyakarta Principles seek to “address a broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
According to the Principles, international human rights law requires a number of actions with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. These include same-sex marriage (Article 24: “Everyone has the right to found a family, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Families exist in diverse forms. No family may be subjected to discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity of any of its members.”) and a curtailing of religious freedom (Article 21: “States shall . . . ensure that the expression, practice and promotion of different opinions, convictions and beliefs with regard to issues of sexual orientation or gender identity is not undertaken in a manner incompatible with human rights.”).
Of course, sexual orientation and gender identity are not recognized in mainstream international human rights law. Thus, an activist statement of principles (such as the Yogyakarta Principles) declaring it so is not enough. Knowing this, the authors of the Principles recommend these next steps:
(a) That “the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights endorse these Principles, promote their implementation worldwide, and integrate them into the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including at the field-level”;
(b) That “the United Nations Human Rights Council endorse these Principles and give substantive consideration to human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, with a view to promoting State compliance with these Principles”;
(c) That “the United Nations Human Rights Special Procedures pay due attention to human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and integrate these Principles into the implementation of their respective mandates.”
These actions would serve to “mainstream” the radical ideas espoused in the Yogyakarta Principles, thus allowing them to be iterated and reiterated as “soft norms.” The chances for success here are significant, given that those who signed the Yogyakarta Principles include many people with positions of responsibility in the world of international human rights, among them: eight UN Rapporteurs, and six Chairs and High Commissioners of International Human Rights Committees, including Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In fact, the mainstreaming of the Yogyakarta Principles is already well under way. In December 2008, the French government submitted to the Secretary General a declaration to be considered by the UN General Assembly on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” While the goal of the declaration was ostensibly “to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties,” it in fact called for them to be protected under international human rights law. Under the otherwise benign guise of trying to decry harsh criminal penalties for homosexuals, the French sought to create a soft norm of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at the international level, using much the same strategy as the CRR proposed to follow for “abortion rights.” Sixty-five countries signed the French declaration at the time, as did the United States after the inauguration of Barack Obama.10
The Concept of Transnationalism
The key legal theory behind these goals is the concept of “transnationalism.” Transnationalism is a doctrine of supranational international law binding the internal affairs of nations. It has three primary components:
1. A reinvention of “customary international law” (CIL) whereby its norms are generated by elite legal theorists and bureaucrats rather than consistent state practice;
2. An understanding that treaties execute themselves (that is without authorizing legislation), and that their authority and scope is almost infinitely broad; and
3. In the U.S., Supreme Court reinterpretation of Constitutional provisions in such a way as to “reflect selected contemporary foreign and international practices.”11
It is easy to see that this undermines democracy and the independence of nations. Transnational jurisprudence allows judges to unmoor themselves from the clear words of their own country’s laws and to select, at will, alien decisions, declarations, and interpretations that happen to suit their ideological preferences—which almost invariably are anti-life, anti-family, and anti-religion—as the basis for their decisions.
As Gordon Silverstein, professor of politics at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote in The New Republic,
[Contemporary liberals], starting with the civil rights movement and accelerating in the wake of the Watergate crisis in the mid-1970s, put their faith and hope in the courts while largely abandoning what they perceived to be an increasingly corrupt or incompetent political system. Law—and the Supreme Court—seemed to offer a cleaner, more transparent and morally superior way to achieve policy goals. It was also more efficient: One requires a modest team of lawyers in New York and Washington—the other requires armies of workers in 435 congressional districts. And legal decisions don’t require the negotiation, compromise, and bargaining that is the very essence of the policymaking process. [Emphasis added]12
This process of achieving cultural change through the courts rather than through democratic legislation has increasingly involved using foreign documents and determinations, such as international treaties and committee decisions.
Transnationalism & U.S. Jurisprudence
However, the United States has a written constitution. Thus, there is a written document that the Supreme Court is obligated to apply in any case concerning fundamental rights. The Court is not free under our system of government to rule as it thinks “best”; rather, it is to rule as the law requires.
Regrettably, several Supreme Court Justices have indicated a tendency to interpret the Constitution based on what was said by others, in other lands, about other documents. For example, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said during a lecture at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, “Why shouldn’t we look to the wisdom of a judge from abroad with at least as much ease as we would read a law review article written by a professor?”13
Justice Stephen Breyer has expressed similar opinions:
[W]e find an increasing number of issues, including constitutional issues, where the decisions of foreign courts help by offering points of comparison. This change reflects the “globalization” of human rights, a phrase that refers to the ever-stronger consensus (now near world-wide) as to the importance of protecting basic human rights, the embodiment of that consensus in legal documents, such as national constitutions and international treaties, and the related decision to enlist judges—i.e. independent judiciaries—as instruments to help make that protection effective in practice.14
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s views on the use of foreign law have also played important roles in several high-profile court cases. A prime example is Lawrence v. Texas (2003), a decision that overturned existing Supreme Court precedent (Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986) upholding the constitutionality of a state’s anti-sodomy statute. In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy explained,
To the extent Bowers relied on values we share with a wider civilization, it should be noted that the reasoning and holding in Bowers have been rejected elsewhere. The European Court of Human Rights has followed not Bowers but its own decision in Dudgeon v. United Kingdom. . . . Other nations, too, have taken action consistent with an affirmation of the protected right of homosexual adults to engage in intimate, consensual conduct.15
In other words, Justice Kennedy will interpret our Constitution based on what other nations say about theirs. While the justices claimed to rely upon the “enlightened world,” they are obviously choosing nations that accord with their own personal predilections (after all, sodomy is criminalized in much of the world other than Europe).
Transnationalism Around the World
This sort of judicial interference is becoming common in courts all over the world. Judges increasingly look to their international peers and to the so-called soft norms of international human rights in making their rulings.
A clear example of this is the recent decision in India by the High Court of Delhi, which legalized consensual sodomy in the face of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which has been the law of India since 1861. The decision in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi and Others (2009) maintains that consensual homosexual acts are protected under the right to privacy inherent in liberty, even though “in India, our Constitution does not contain a specific provision for privacy.”
Remarkably, the decision immediately decides to “refer to the case law in the US relating to the development of the right to privacy as these cases have been adverted to in the decisions of our Supreme Court.” The Indian court goes on to cite a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Olmstead v. United States (1928), Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Roe v. Wade (1973), and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).
The latter containing the infamous “Mystery of Life” passage, which states:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.
Justice Kennedy, whom many think was the actual author of this opinion in Casey, relied upon the mystery passage again in Lawrence v. Texas.
The Indian court’s decision in Naz also references the Yogyakarta Principles as persuasive authority regarding the nature of sexual orientation and the state’s responsibility towards it. In addition, it takes note of two UN statements: the French-sponsored UN General Assembly declaration on discrimination based on sexual orientation (referenced above), and a statement delivered to the General Assembly by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which compared the criminalization of sodomy to apartheid, and maintained that it is “inconsistent . . . with international law.”
Likewise, recent foreign court decisions liberalizing abortion have followed the same path of referencing international soft norms in their decisions. The paramount example is in Colombia, where abortion was legalized in certain cases by the country’s Constitutional Court, which relied in part on a 1999 upbraiding of Colombia by the CEDAW compliance committee for not legalizing abortion. In the decision, the court cited “international authorities,” in particular the CEDAW committee, in order to overturn democratically enacted restrictions on abortion. A similar situation occurred in Mexico.
Foundational Rights Under Assault
It bears reiterating that the policies of cultural Marxists that seek to dismantle marriage and religion and promote abortion do not have a basis in international law, although they use the structures of international law. The foundational architecture of international human rights, embodied in such documents as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see sidebar), has protected and promoted marriage and religion, and does not provide a right to abortion.
The transnationalists’ efforts to use international law to undermine marriage and religion and to promote abortion must fly in the face of these foundational documents and the clear meaning of their provisions. This is why supporters of true human rights and international law have been working to counter the activism of cultural Marxists.
But it is an uphill struggle. A consistent tenet of cultural Marxists is the necessary marginalization of family and religion, and the promotion of abortion is central to the achievement of their goal of sexual liberation. While the family can no longer be assaulted directly, it is under threat from the philosophical heirs of Engels, through the effort to develop new international norms at the United Nations and other international forums.
As these norms and their proponents grow in influence, the ability of sovereign nations to resist them is reduced. Ultimately, what the UN says matters. It matters because people committed to transnationalist views use those UN statements in American courts to undermine traditional American support for the family, life, and religion. •
Foundational Rights in International Documents
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
2. The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.
3. No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
4. States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children.
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected in law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
Patrick F. Fagan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion at the Family Research Council.
William L. Saunders is Senior Vice President and Senior Counsel at Americans United for Life.
more on family from the online archives
Not a subscriber? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of content!
Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. NEW: Download PDF of issues! That's only $1.66 per month!
Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access for only $39.95. NEW: Download PDF of issues! That's only $3.34 per month!
Transactions will be processed on the secure server of The Fellowship of St. James website, the publisher of Touchstone.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more from the online archives