In the last installment, I looked at the United States, focusing on its entertainment industry. We found that, on the eve of the sixties, the thankless work of defending traditional morality and opposing communism had fallen disproportionately to the Catholic Church. Catholics were the only opponents of divorce, birth control, and abortion. They were the notorious prudes when it came to modesty and premarital sex. Whether he was a McCarthy or a Kennedy, a Catholic was bound to be a fanatical anticommunist. The Left tugged one way. The Catholics tugged the other. The respectable wing of the Protestants just stood in the middle and went with the flow. Everyone loved them for it. Have you ever seen an anticlerical mob or an anticlerical movie attacking Episcopal or Methodist ministers? Of course not—why go after them?
All throughout the West, it was like this. In Catholic countries like France and Italy, the Catholic Right and the Left were the only two forces. In West Germany, the Christian Democrats were vaguely Catholic, and many Protestants felt more comfortable with the openly Marxist Social Democrats. The great Protestant theologians (even the neo-orthodox Karl Barth) were communist sympathizers, while Pius XII thundered against the godless Soviets. The Catholic Church was, in most of the West, the only major traditionalist force. (This is, of course, a broad generalization. There were some Protestant defenders of traditional morality, and even an occasional agnostic one. There were also the “fundamentalists”, who understood better than the Catholics just how far gone the West really was. For our purposes, though, I’m only interested in broad trends.)
Then a fool ascended the throne of Saint Peter. “Look at how much more popular are the Protestants than the Catholics”, Pope John thought. “It’s because we’re so combative, while they’re so understanding. We attack, while they reach out to the enemy. Perhaps we don’t have to worry so much about defending ourselves and defending our beliefs from Leftist attacks. After all, when the Protestants stopped being defensive, the sky didn’t fall”. What the pope, in his incredible naivety, failed to notice, was that when the Protestants had dropped the ball, the Catholics had picked it up. When the Catholics dropped the ball, there was no one left to pick it up, so the sky did indeed fall.
The Pope declared a cease-fire and unilaterally disarmed his side. The Left, ruthlessly aggressive as ever, saw weakness, and it struck hard. The results have been devastating everywhere. Every country that had come to rely on the Catholic Church as a moral buttress became a moral sewer. That’s why Western Europe experienced “the sixties”, but not Eastern Europe or the Islamic Ummah. That’s why it happened at that precise moment, right after the Council ended and its directives began to be executed in the West.
What caused the sixties? Vatican II.
If this is true, then it refutes one common excuse made for the poor results of the Council. Some Catholics, seeing the ruin produced in the wake of the Council, try to shift the blame, saying that it was only poor timing that makes VII seem like a bad idea. The post-VII era happened right during the sixties, and this period, it is said, was bound to be bad for the Church regardless of whether VII had happened or not. This claim assumes that the Catholic Church was only a marginal cultural influence in the West during the mid-twentieth century, so that its policies could have had no significant effect on the wider culture. If my reading of the era is right, this is not true. However large or small a creative force Catholicism was at the time, it was a crucial restrictive force. Sometimes we forget how important restrictive forces are.