In Philadelphia, about half of all students in ninth grade will graduate from high school. The dropout rate is especially high among black and Hispanic boys. President Obama’s answer to this problem is typical of the left: compulsion. Make dropping out illegal. In other words, force boys who are learning nothing to remain where they are learning nothing, to help make sure that nobody else learns anything, either. If they drop out anyway, turn them into criminals to be rounded up.
All this would cost a great deal of money, which Philadelphia does not have. And even if you could compel the boy, seething with resentment and contempt, to occupy a desk in a dreary schoolroom, you cannot compel him to learn. To try is a distant, “technological” response to a human problem. It is a way to pretend to generosity, while keeping those who suffer from your heedlessness far from your sight and smell.
Philadelphia has been engaging in a years-long lawsuit, at great expense, to force the Boy Scouts from their headquarters, which they occupy rent-free. Why no rent? Well, back in 1929, the year of the stock market collapse, the city fathers invited the Boy Scouts to occupy land on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Back then, the city fathers actually cared for the well-being of boys.
So the Scouts agreed. They built the building themselves. They then graciously turned ownership over to the city, with the understanding that they might use the building without paying rent. They, not the city, have assumed all the costs of maintenance ever since. It has not cost the city a penny. The Boy Scouts, in other words, did the city a tremendous favor, and are now rewarded for it with contempt.
Why the animus against the Boy Scouts? Because Copernicus was wrong. The world does not revolve around the sun. The world revolves around the predilections of upper- and middle-class feminists and their satellites.
The Boy Scouts retain the commonsense notion that it is not wise to bring boys into close quarters with men who are sexually attracted to boys, regardless of whether they act on those attractions. They retain the commonsense notion that if it were widely known that such men were scoutmasters, the boys would check out. They retain the commonsense notion that boys need fathers, who will teach them to be good men, ready to be fathers of their own families.
But the Philadelphia city council does not care about such things, because, when called upon to choose between their sexual antinomianism and the welfare of boys—many of whom only a group like the Boy Scouts can save from gangs—they will choose their preferred form of lawlessness every time, without regard for the common good.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, because for the last fifty years, even before Lyndon Johnson’s disastrous War on Poverty, technocratic managers, mainly but not exclusively on the left, have been building a system of mutual parasitism, funded by taxes.
One group profits, in power, from the profligacy of the other, which it “rewards” with money confiscated from the general public. They thus gain millions of publicly funded jobs to manage the people whom their policies have corrupted, and they move far away from those people, assuaging their consciences by voting correctly and holding correct opinions. Their hands do not get dirty.
What, on the dreadful day of doom, will that boy in Philadelphia say to the rich who have ignored him, or worse, who have profited by his confusion?
“I needed a good school, and you trapped me in a bad one, while you sent your own children elsewhere. When some people suggested a way for me to go to a Catholic school where I’d have a chance of learning something, you cried up the separation of church and state. You didn’t actually believe that you would be setting up any church as a state institution. It is just that you hated the Church a lot more than you loved me.
“I once lived in a real city neighborhood. The houses needed repair, so you called it a slum, and you tore it down. Then you built housing projects with all the beauty and safety of a parking garage. When these became hotbeds of crime, you tore them down too.
“You declared a War on Poverty, aimed at me, when you should have declared a War on Vice, aimed first of all at yourselves.
“You loved your vice more than you loved me. You could afford your vices, but I could not. Your vices made your lives, as you thought, more exciting. I did not have your cushion of wealth, so the same vices destroyed me.
“I was lonely, and you bought me a whore. My sisters were lonely, and you made them into whores.
“I needed the Church, desperately, because when a man is poor, he must face his helplessness every day. But the Church would restrain you, so, at every chance you had, you derided religious faith, and thus you snatched from me my most loyal friend.
“I had no job, and you overtaxed the man who might have given me one. Then you gave the job to someone on the other side of the world, or you winked while men left their families thousands of miles away, crossing the border to work at low wages, and you yourselves hired them, and ducked the taxes that you yourselves established. In this way you managed to do mayhem to two families at once.
“I was in prison, and needed to learn a trade, but you teamed up with union bosses to make sure I would not. You gave me dull and useless classes in communication, and television.
“I was clothed with the remnants of modesty and decency, and you stripped them from me. You praised bad men who celebrated violence in their ‘music,’ and hugged yourselves for your tolerance.
“My forebears lived on a farm, but your collusion with big business made it impossible for them to continue, not to mention your taxes on our land and our inheritances. When we moved to the cities, you moved away.
“I needed to learn to calculate, and you handed me a machine that would do it for me, and prevent me from understanding what I was doing. I needed to learn to read, and would have liked adventure tales for boys, but you gave me feminist propaganda, or comic books.
“I needed a father, but you preferred your fun. You passed laws that would reward my mother for not marrying my father. You hated marriage, because marriage brings a man into a family, and marriage restrains. You winked and smiled while my mother brought a series of irresponsible men into my life, none of whom was my father. They were dangerous. When they grew violent, you herded them into your corral, which you called ‘Domestic Violence.’ You refused to distinguish between husbands and these others. Thus did you continue to tear marriage down, and subject me and mine to more of the violence you pretended to decry.
“I needed a father, and you gave me the gang leader selling crack cocaine.
“I needed a father, and you laughed and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. Then you gave me a prison trusty.
“I needed a coach, to keep me in line during the difficult years, but you cut my teams and rosters. You called it ‘fairness’ to my sisters, and hugged yourselves for your enlightenment.
“I used to have a YMCA, but you turned it into a day-care center for people like you.
“I needed a father to show me how to love women, and you gave me porn.
“I once had virtue, the poor man’s heritage, but you trained me in vice.
“I needed a mother, and you, having taken my father away, did your best to take my mother away also. You had your work as doctors and lawyers, but my mother worked as a cleaning woman in one of your office buildings. When I grew overweight from the junk you made, because she wasn’t around to cook, you declared a War on Obesity, and profited by it.
“I needed a father, I always needed a father, and you turned your back on me, and told me what you knew was a lie, that a mother or two mothers or a mother and a boyfriend would do just as well. When it didn’t work out, you blamed everything but your own selfishness.
“I needed a father, and you were too busy with your sexual innovations to notice it.
“I needed a married mother and father, what every child needs, what every child has a right to, and you told me to go to hell.
“I went to hell, and have brought it back with me.”
Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata and Dante's The Divine Comedy.