This essay was first published in the September – November 1968 issues of The Objectivist and later anthologized in The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought (1989).

It was also delivered in lecture form in December 1968 at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum and as a radio address. The lecture audio lasts 56 minutes, followed by a 55-minute Q&A.

Those who wish to observe the role of philosophy in human existence may see it dramatized on a grand (and gruesome) scale in the conflict splitting the Catholic church today.

Observe, in that conflict, men’s fear of identifying or challenging philosophical fundamentals: both sides are willing to fight in silent confusion, to stake their beliefs, their careers, their reputations on the outcome of a battle over the effects of an unnamed cause. One side is composed predominantly of men who dare not name the cause; the other, of men who dare not discover it.

Both sides claim to be puzzled and disappointed by what they regard as a contradiction in the two recent encyclicals of Pope Paul VI. The so-called conservatives (speaking in religious, not political, terms) were dismayed by the encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) — which advocated global statism — while the so-called liberals hailed it as a progressive document. Now the conservatives are hailing the encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) — which forbids the use of contraceptives — while the liberals are dismayed by it. Both sides seem to find the two documents inconsistent. But the inconsistency is theirs, not the pontiff’s. The two encyclicals are strictly, flawlessly consistent in respect to their basic philosophy and ultimate goal: both come from the same view of man’s nature and are aimed at establishing the same conditions for his life on earth. The first of these two encyclicals forbade ambition, the second forbids enjoyment; the first enslaved man to the physical needs of others, the second enslaves him to the physical capacities of his own body; the first damned achievement, the second damns love.

The doctrine that man’s sexual capacity belongs to a lower or animal part of his nature has had a long history in the Catholic church. It is the necessary consequence of the doctrine that man is not an integrated entity, but a being torn apart by two opposite, antagonistic, irreconcilable elements: his body, which is of this earth, and his soul, which is of another, supernatural realm. According to that doctrine, man’s sexual capacity — regardless of how it is exercised or motivated, not merely its abuses, not unfastidious indulgence or promiscuity, but the capacity as such — is sinful or depraved.

For centuries, the dominant teaching of the church held that sexuality is evil, that only the need to avoid the extinction of the human species grants sex the status of a necessary evil and, therefore, only procreation can redeem or excuse it. In modern times, many Catholic writers have denied that such is the church’s view. But what is its view? They did not answer.

Let us see if we can find the answer in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

Dealing with the subject of birth control, the encyclical prohibits all forms of contraception (except the so-called “rhythm method”). The prohibition is total, rigid, unequivocal. It is enunciated as a moral absolute.

Bear in mind what this subject entails. Try to hold an image of horror spread across space and time — across the entire globe and through all the centuries — the image of parents chained, like beasts of burden, to the physical needs of a growing brood of children — young parents aging prematurely while fighting a losing battle against starvation — the skeletal hordes of unwanted children born without a chance to live — the unwed mothers slaughtered in the unsanitary dens of incompetent abortionists — the silent terror hanging, for every couple, over every moment of love. If one holds this image while hearing that this nightmare is not to be stopped, the first question one will ask is: Why? In the name of humanity, one will assume that some inconceivable, but crucially important reason must motivate any human being who would seek to let that carnage go on uncontested.

So the first thing one will look for in the encyclical, is that reason, an answer to that Why?

“The problem of birth,” the encyclical declares, “like every other problem regarding human life, is to be considered . . . in the light of an integral vision of man and of his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and eternal, vocation.” [Paragraph 7]


A reciprocal act of love, which jeopardizes the responsibility to transmit life which God the Creator, according to particular laws, inserted therein, is in contradiction with the design constitutive of marriage, and with the will of the author of life. To use this divine gift, destroying, even if only partially, its meaning and its purpose, is to contradict the nature both of man and of woman and of their most intimate relationship, and therefore it is to contradict also the plan of God and His will. [13]

And this is all. In the entire encyclical, this is the only reason given (but repeated over and over again) why men should transform their highest experience of happiness — their love — into a source of lifelong agony. Do so — the encyclical commands — because it is God’s will.

I, who do not believe in God, wonder why those who do would ascribe to him such a sadistic design, when God is supposed to be the archetype of mercy, kindness, and benevolence. What earthly goal is served by that doctrine? The answer runs like a hidden thread through the encyclical’s labyrinthian convolutions, repetitions, and exhortations.

In the darker corners of that labyrinth, one finds some snatches of argument, in alleged support of the mystic axiom, but these arguments are embarrassingly transparent equivocations. For instance:

. . . to make use of the gift of conjugal love while respecting the laws of the generative process means to acknowledge oneself not to be the arbiter of the sources of human life, but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. In fact, just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, with particular reason, he has no such dominion over his creative faculties as such, because of their intrinsic ordination toward raising up life, of which God is the principle. [13]

What is meant here by the words “man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general?” The obvious meaning is that man cannot change the metaphysical nature of his body; which is true. But man has the power of choice in regard to the actions of his body — specifically, in regard to “his creative faculties,” and the responsibility for the use of these particular faculties is most crucially his. “To acknowledge oneself not to be the arbiter of the sources of human life” is to evade and to default on that responsibility. Here again, the same equivocation or package deal is involved. Does man have the power to determine the nature of his procreative faculty? No. But granted that nature, is he the arbiter of bringing a new human life into existence? He most certainly is, and he (with his mate) is the sole arbiter of that decision — and the consequences of that decision affect and determine the entire course of his life.

This is a clue to that paragraph’s intention: if man believed that so crucial a choice as procreation is not in his control, what would it do to his control over his life, his goals, his future?

The passive obedience and helpless surrender to the physical functions of one’s body, the necessity to let procreation be the inevitable result of the sexual act, is the natural fate of animals, not of men. In spite of its concern with man’s higher aspirations, with his soul, with the sanctity of married love — it is to the level of animals that the encyclical seeks to reduce man’s sex life, in fact, in reality, on earth. What does this indicate about the encyclical’s view of sex?

Anticipating certain obvious objections, the encyclical declares:

Now some may ask: In the present case, is it not reasonable in many circumstances to have recourse to artificial birth control if, thereby, was secure the harmony and peace of the family, and better conditions for the education of children already born? To this question it is necessary to reply with clarity: The church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this must be one with respect for the order established by God. [16]

To what does this subordinate man’s intelligence? If intelligence is forbidden to consider the fundamental problems of man’s existence, forbidden to alleviate his suffering, what does this indicate about the encyclical’s view of man — and of reason?

History can answer this particular question. History has seen a period of approximately ten centuries, known as the Dark and Middle Ages, when philosophy was regarded as “the handmaiden of theology,” and reason as the humble subordinate of faith. The results speak for themselves.

It must not be forgotten that the Catholic church has fought the advance of science since the Renaissance: from Galileo’s astronomy, to the dissection of corpses, which was the start of modern medicine, to the discovery of anesthesia in the nineteenth century, the greatest single discovery in respect to the incalculable amount of terrible suffering it has spared mankind. The Catholic church has fought medical progress by means of the same argument: that the application of knowledge to the relief of human suffering is an attempt to contradict God’s design. Specifically in regard to anesthesia during childbirth, the argument claimed that since God intended woman to suffer while giving birth, man has no right to intervene. (!)

The encyclical does not recommend unlimited procreation. It does not object to all means of birth control — only to those it calls “artificial” (i.e., scientific). It does not object to man “contradicting God’s will” nor to man being “the arbiter of the sources of human life,” provided he uses the means it endorses: abstinence.

Discussing the issue of “responsible parenthood,” the encyclical states: “In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth.” [10] To avoid — by what means? By abstaining from sexual intercourse.

The lines preceding that passage are: “In relation to the tendencies of instinct or passion, responsible parenthood means the necessary dominion which reason and will must exercise over them.” [10] How a man is to force his reason to obey an irrational injunction and what it would do to him psychologically, is not mentioned.

Further on, under the heading “Mastery of Self,” the encyclical declares:

To dominate instinct by means of one’s reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetic practices . . . Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. . . . Such discipline . . . helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility. [21]

If you can bear that style of expression being used to discuss such matters — which I find close to unbearable — and if you focus on the meaning, you will observe that the “discipline,” the “continual effort,” the “beneficent influence,” the “higher human value” refer to the torture of sexual frustration.

No, the encyclical does not say that sex as such is evil; it merely says that sexual abstinence in marriage is “a higher human value.” What does this indicate about the encyclical’s view of sex — and of marriage?

Its view of marriage is fairly explicit. “[Conjugal] love is first of all fully human, that is to say, of the senses and of the spirit at the same time. It is not, then, a simple transport of instinct and sentiment, but also, and principally, an act of the free will, intended to endure and to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul, and together attain their human perfection.

“Then this love is total; that is to say, it is a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations.” [9]

To classify the unique emotion of romantic love as a form of friendship is to obliterate it: the two emotional categories are mutually exclusive. The feeling of friendship is asexual; it can be experienced toward a member of one’s own sex.

There are many other indications of this kind scattered through the encyclical. For instance: “These acts, by which husband and wife are united in chaste intimacy and by means of which human life is transmitted, are, as the council recalled, ‘noble and worthy.’” [11] It is not chastity that one seeks in sex, and to describe it this way is to emasculate the meaning of marriage.

There are constant references to a married couple’s duties, which have to be considered in the context of the sexual act — “duties toward God, toward themselves, toward the family and toward society.”[10] If there is any one concept which, when associated with sex, would render a man impotent, it is the concept of “duty.”

To understand the full meaning of the encyclical’s view of sex, I shall ask you to identify the common denominator — the common intention — of the following quotations:

[The church’s] teaching, often set forth by the Magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, capacitates them for the generation of new lives. [12]

“[The conjugal acts] do not cease to be lawful if, for causes independent of the will of husband and wife, they are foreseen to be infecund.” [11, emphasis added.]

The church forbids: “every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act or its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” [14]

The church does not object to “an impediment to procreation” which might result from the medical treatment of a disease, “provided such impediment is not, for whatever motive, directly willed.” [15, emphasis added.]

And finally, the church “teaches that each and every marriage act (‘quilibet matrimonii usus,’) must remain open to the transmission of life.” [11]

What is the common denominator of these statements? It is not merely the tenet that sex as such is evil, but deeper: it is the commandment by means of which sex will become evil, the commandment which, if accepted, will divorce sex from love, will castrate man spiritually and will turn sex into a meaningless physical indulgence. That commandment is: man must not regard sex as an end in itself, but only as a means to an end.

Procreation and “God’s design” are not the major concern of that doctrine; they are merely primitive rationalizations to which man’s self-esteem is to be sacrificed. If it were otherwise, why the stressed insistence on forbidding man to impede procreation by his conscious will and choice? Why the tolerance of the conjugal acts of couples who are infecund by nature rather than by choice? What is so evil about that choice? There is only one answer: that choice rests on a couple’s conviction that the justification of sex is their own enjoyment. And this is the view which the church’s doctrine is intent on forbidding at any price.

That such is the doctrine’s intention, is supported by the church’s stand on the so-called “rhythm method” of birth control, which the encyclical approves and recommends.

The church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. . . . It is true that, in the one and the other case, the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking the certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is also true that only in the former case are they able to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love. [16]


On the face of it, this does not make any kind of sense at all — and the church has often been accused of hypocrisy or compromise because it permits this very unreliable method of birth control while forbidding all others. But examine that statement from the aspect of its intention, and you will see that the church is indeed “coherent with herself,” i.e., consistent.

What is the psychological difference between the “rhythm method” and other means of contraception? The difference lies in the fact that, using the “rhythm method,” a couple cannot regard sexual enjoyment as a right and as an end in itself. With the help of some hypocrisy, they merely sneak and snatch some personal pleasure, while keeping the marriage act “open to the transmission of life,” thus acknowledging that childbirth is the only moral justification of sex and that only by the grace of the calendar are they unable to comply.

This acknowledgment is the meaning of the encyclical’s peculiar implication that “to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods” is, somehow, a virtue (a renunciation which proper methods of birth control would not require). What else but this acknowledgment can be the meaning of the otherwise unintelligible statement that by the use of the “rhythm method” a couple “give proof of a truly and integrally honest love”?

There is a widespread popular notion to the effect that the Catholic church’s motive in opposing birth control is the desire to enlarge the Catholic population of the world. This may be superficially true of some people’s motives, but it is not the full truth. If it were, the Catholic church would forbid the “rhythm method” along with all other forms of contraception. And, more important, the Catholic church would not fight for anti-birth-control legislation all over the world: if numerical superiority were its motive, it would forbid birth control to its own followers and let it be available to other religious groups.

The motive of the church’s doctrine on this issue is, philosophically, much deeper than that and much worse; the goal is not metaphysical or political or biological, but psychological: if man is forbidden to regard sexual enjoyment as an end in itself, he will not regard love or his own happiness as an end in itself; if so, then he will not regard his own life as an end in itself; if so, then he will not attain self-esteem.

It is not against the gross, animal, physicalistic theories or uses of sex that the encyclical is directed, but against the spiritual meaning of sex in man’s life. (By “spiritual” I mean pertaining to man’s consciousness.) It is not directed against casual, mindless promiscuity, but against romantic love.

To make this clear, let me indicate, in brief essentials, a rational view of the role of sex in man’s existence.

Sex is a physical capacity, but its exercise is determined by man’s mind — by his choice of values, held consciously or subconsciously. To a rational man, sex is an expression of self-esteem — a celebration of himself and of existence. To the man who lacks self-esteem, sex is an attempt to fake it, to acquire its momentary illusion.

Romantic love, in the full sense of the term, is an emotion possible only to the man (or woman) of unbreached self-esteem: it is his response to his own highest values in the person of another — an integrated response of mind and body, of love and sexual desire. Such a man (or woman) is incapable of experiencing a sexual desire divorced from spiritual values.

I quote from Atlas Shrugged: “The men who think that wealth comes from material resources and has no intellectual root or meaning, are the men who think — for the same reason — that sex is a physical capacity which functions independently of one’s mind, choice or code of values. . . . But, in fact, a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. . . . Sex is the most profoundly selfish of all acts, an act which [man] cannot perform for any motive but his own enjoyment — just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity! — an act which is not possible in self-abasement, only in self-exaltation, only in the confidence of being desired and being worthy of desire. . . . Love is our response to our highest values — and can be nothing else. . . . Only the man who extols the purity of a love devoid of desire, is capable of the depravity of a desire devoid of love.”

In other words, sexual promiscuity is to be condemned not because sex as such is evil, but because it is good — too good and too important to be treated casually.

In comparison to the moral and psychological importance of sexual happiness, the issue of procreation is insignificant and irrelevant, except as a deadly threat — and God bless the inventors of the Pill!

The capacity to procreate is merely a potential which man is not obligated to actualize. The choice to have children or not is morally optional. Nature endows man with a variety of potentials — and it is his mind that must decide which capacities he chooses to exercise, according to his own hierarchy of rational goals and values. The mere fact that man has the capacity to kill does not mean that it is his duty to become a murderer; in the same way, the mere fact that man has the capacity to procreate does not mean that it is his duty to commit spiritual suicide by making procreation his primary goal and turning himself into a stud-farm animal.

It is only animals that have to adapt themselves to their physical background and to the biological functions of their bodies. Man adapts his physical background and the use of his biological faculties to himself — to his own needs and values. That is his distinction from all other living species.

To an animal, the rearing of its young is a matter of temporary cycles. To man, it is a lifelong responsibility — a grave responsibility that must not be undertaken causelessly, thoughtlessly, or accidentally.

In regard to the moral aspects of birth control, the primary right involved is not the “right” of an unborn child, or of the family, or of society, or of God. The primary right is one which — in today’s public clamor on the subject — few, if any, voices have had the courage to uphold: the right of man and woman to their own life and happiness — the right not to be regarded as the means to any end.

Man is an end in himself. Romantic love — the profound, exalted, lifelong passion that unites his mind and body in the sexual act — is the living testimony to that principle.

This is what the encyclical seeks to destroy; or, more precisely, to obliterate, as if it does not and cannot exist.

Observe the encyclical’s contemptuous references to sexual desire as “instinct” or “passion,” as if “passion” were a pejorative term. Observe the false dichotomy offered; man’s choice is either mindless, “instinctual” copulation — or marriage, an institution presented not as a union of passionate love, but as a relationship of “chaste intimacy,” of “special personal friendship,” of “discipline proper to purity,” of unselfish duty, of alternating bouts with frustration and pregnancy, and of such unspeakable, Grade-B-movie-folks-next-door kind of boredom that any semi-living man would have to run, in self-preservation, to the nearest whorehouse.

No, I am not exaggerating. I have reserved — as my last piece of evidence on the question of the encyclical’s view of sex — the paragraph in which the coils and veils of euphemistic equivocation got torn, somehow, and the naked truth shows through.

It reads as follows:

Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up toward conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men — especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point — have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anticonceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion. [17]


I cannot conceive of a rational woman who does not want to be precisely an instrument of her husband’s selfish enjoyment. I cannot conceive of what would have to be the mental state of a woman who could desire or accept the position of having a husband who does not derive any selfish enjoyment from sleeping with her. I cannot conceive of anyone, male or female, capable of believing that sexual enjoyment would destroy a husband’s love and respect for his wife — but regarding her as a brood mare and himself as a stud, would cause him to love and respect her.

Actually, this is too evil to discuss much further.

But we must also take note of the first part of that paragraph. It states that “artificial” contraception would open “a wide and easy road toward conjugal infidelity.” Such is the encyclical’s actual view of marriage: that marital fidelity rests on nothing better than fear of pregnancy. Well, “not much experience is needed in order to know” that that fear has never been much of a deterrent to anyone.

Now observe the inhuman cruelty of that paragraph’s reference to the young. Admitting that the young are “vulnerable on this point,” and declaring that they need “encouragement to be faithful to the moral law,” the encyclical forbids them the use of contraceptives, thus making it cold-bloodedly clear that its idea of moral encouragement consists of terror — the sheer, stark terror of young people caught between their first experience of love and the primitive brutality of the moral code of their elders. Surely the authors of the encyclical cannot be ignorant of the fact that it is not the young chasers or the teenage sluts who would be the victims of a ban on contraceptives, but the innocent young who risk their lives in the quest for love — the girl who finds herself pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend, or the boy who is trapped into a premature, unwanted marriage. To ignore the agony of such victims — the countless suicides, the deaths at the hands of quack abortionists, the drained lives wasted under the double burden of a spurious “dishonor” and of an unwanted child — to ignore all that in the name of “the moral law” is to make a mockery of morality.

Another, and truly incredible mockery, leers at us from that same paragraph 17. As a warning against the use of contraceptives, the encyclical states:

Let it be considered also that a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies. . . . Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious? In such a way men, wishing to avoid individual, family or social difficulties encountered in the observance of the divine law, would reach the point of placing at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy.

No public authorities have attempted — and no private groups have urged them to attempt — to force contraception on Catholics. But when one remembers that it is the Catholic church that has initiated anti-birth-control legislation the world over and thus has placed “at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy” — that statement becomes outrageous. Were it not for the politeness one should preserve toward the papal office, one would call that statement a brazen effrontery.

This leads us to the encyclical’s stand on the issue of abortion, and to another example of inhuman cruelty. Compare the coiling sentimentality of the encyclical’s style when it speaks of “conjugal love” to the clear, brusque, military tone of the following: “We must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.” [14, emphasis added.]

After extolling the virtue and sanctity of motherhood, as a woman’s highest duty, as her “eternal vocation,” the encyclical attaches a special risk of death to the performance of that duty — an unnecessary death, in the presence of doctors forbidden to save her, as if a woman were only a screaming huddle of infected flesh who must not be permitted to imagine that she has the right to live.

And this policy is advocated by the encyclical’s supporters in the name of their concern for “the sanctity of life” and for “rights” — the rights of the embryo. (!)

I suppose that only the psychological mechanism of projection can make it possible for such advocates to accuse their opponents of being “anti-life.”

Observe that the men who uphold such a concept as “the rights of an embryo,” are the men who deny, negate, and violate the rights of a living human being.

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not yet living (or the unborn).

Abortion is a moral right — which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body? The Catholic church is responsible for this country’s disgracefully barbarian anti-abortion laws, which should be repealed and abolished.

The intensity of the importance that the Catholic church attaches to its doctrine on sex may be gauged by the enormity of the indifference to human suffering expressed in the encyclical. Its authors cannot be ignorant of the fact that man has to earn his living by his own effort, and that there is no couple on earth — on any level of income, in any country, civilized or not — who would be able to support the number of children they would produce if they obeyed the encyclical to the letter.

If we assume the richest couple and include time off for the periods of “purity,” it will still be true that the physical and psychological strain of their “vocation” would be so great that nothing much would be left of them, particularly of the mother, by the time they reached the age of forty.

Consider the position of an average American couple. What would be their life, if they succeeded in raising, say, twelve children, by working from morning till night, by running a desperate race with the periodic trips to maternity wards, with rent bills, grocery bills, clothing bills, pediatricians’ bills, strained-vegetables bills, school book bills, measles, mumps, whooping cough, Christmas trees, movies, ice cream cones, summer camps, party dresses, dates, draft cards, hospitals, colleges — with every salary raise of the industrious, hardworking father mortgaged and swallowed before it is received — what would they have gained at the end of their life except the hope that they might be able to pay their cemetery bills, in advance?

Now consider the position of the majority of mankind, who are barely able to subsist on a level of prehistorical poverty. No strain, no backbreaking effort of the ablest, most conscientious father can enable him properly to feed one child — let alone an open-end progression. The unspeakable misery of stunted, disease-eaten, chronically undernourished children, who die in droves before the age of ten, is a matter of public record. Pope Paul VI — who closes his encyclical by mentioning his title as earthly representative of “the God of holiness and mercy” — cannot be ignorant of these facts; yet he is able to ignore them.

The encyclical brushes this issue aside in a singularly irresponsible manner:

We are well aware of the serious difficulties experienced by public authorities in this regard, especially in the developing countries. To their legitimate preoccupations we devoted our encyclical letter Populorum Progressio. . . . The only possible solution to this question is one which envisages the social and economic progress both of individuals and of the whole of human society, and which respects and promotes true human values.

Neither can one, without grave injustice, consider Divine Providence to be responsible for what depends, instead, on a lack of wisdom in government, on an insufficient sense of social justice, on selfish monopolization or again on blameworthy indolence in confronting the efforts and the sacrifices necessary to insure the raising of living standards of a people and of all its sons. [23]

The encyclical Populorum Progressio advocated the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a totalitarian, socialist-fascist, global state — in which the right to “the minimum essential for life” is to be the ruling principle and “all other rights whatsoever, including those of property and of free commerce, are to be subordinated to this principle.” (For a discussion of that encyclical, see my article “Requiem for Man” in [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal].)

If, today, a struggling, desperate man, somewhere in Peru or China or Egypt or Nigeria, accepted the commandments of the present encyclical and strove to be moral, but saw his horde of children dying of hunger around him, the only practical advice the encyclical would give him is: Wait for the establishment of a collectivist world state. What, in God’s name, is he to do in the meantime?

Philosophically, however, the reference to the earlier encyclical, Populorum Progressio, is extremely significant: it is as if Pope Paul VI were pointing to the bridge between the two documents and to their common base.

The global state advocated in Populorum Progressio is a nightmare utopia where all are enslaved to the physical needs of all; its inhabitants are selfless robots, programmed by the tenets of altruism, without personal ambition, without mind, pride, or self-esteem. But self-esteem is a stubborn enemy of all utopias of that kind, and it is doubtful whether mere economic enslavement would destroy it wholly in men’s souls. What Populorum Progressio was intended to achieve from without, in regard to the physical conditions of man’s existence, Humanae Vitae is intended to achieve from within, in regard to the devastation of man’s consciousness.

“Don’t allow men to be happy,” said Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead. “Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient. . . . Happy men are free men. So kill their joy in living. . . . Make them feel that the mere fact of a personal desire is evil. . . . Unhappy men will come to you. They’ll need you. They’ll come for consolation, for support, for escape. Nature allows no vacuum. Empty man’s soul — and the space is yours to fill.”

Deprived of ambition, yet sentenced to endless toil; deprived of rewards, yet ordered to produce; deprived of sexual enjoyment, yet commanded to procreate; deprived of the right to live, yet forbidden to die — condemned to this state of living death, the graduates of the encyclical Humanae Vitae will be ready to move into the world of Populorum Progressio; they will have no other place to go.

“If some man like Hugh Akston,” said Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged, “had told me, when I started, that by accepting the mystics’ theory of sex I was accepting the looters’ theory of economics, I would have laughed in his face. I would not laugh at him now.”

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that in the subconscious hierarchy of motives of the men who wrote these two encyclicals, the second, Humanae Vitae, was merely the spiritual means to the first, Populorum Progressio, which was the material end. The motives, I believe, were the reverse: Populorum Progressio was merely the material means to Humanae Vitae, which was the spiritual end.

“. . . with our predecessor Pope John XXIII,” says Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, “we repeat: no solution to these difficulties is acceptable ‘which does violence to man’s essential dignity’ and is based only ‘on an utterly materialistic conception of man himself and of his life.’” [23, emphasis added.] They mean it — though not exactly in the way they would have us believe.

In terms of reality, nothing could be more materialistic than an existence devoted to feeding the whole world and procreating to the limit of one’s capacity. But when they say “materialistic,” they mean pertaining to man’s mind and to this earth; by “spiritual,’’ they mean whatever is anti-man, anti-mind, anti-life, and, above all, anti-possibility of human happiness on earth.

The ultimate goal of these encyclicals’ doctrine is not the material advantages to be gained by the rulers of a global slave state; the ultimate goal is the spiritual emasculation and degradation of man, the extinction of his love of life, which Humanae Vitae is intended to accomplish, and Populorum Progressio merely to embody and perpetuate.

The means of destroying man’s spirit is unearned guilt.

What I said in “Requiem for Man” about the motives of Populorum Progressio applies as fully to Humanae Vitae, with only a minor paraphrase pertaining to its subject. “But, you say, the encyclical’s ideal will not work? It is not intended to work. It is not intended to [achieve human chastity or sexual virtue]; it is intended to induce guilt. It is not intended to be accepted and practiced; it is intended to be accepted and broken — broken by man’s ‘selfish’ desire to [love], which will thus be turned into a shameful weakness. Men who accept as an ideal an irrational goal which they cannot achieve, never lift their heads thereafter — and never discover that their bowed heads were the only goal to be achieved.”

I said, in that article, that Populorum Progressio was produced by the sense of life not of an individual, but of an institution — whose driving power and dominant obsession is the desire to break man’s spirit. Today, I say it, with clearer evidence, about the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

This is the fundamental issue which neither side of the present conflict is willing fully to identify.

The conservatives or traditionalists of the Catholic church seem to know, no matter what rationalizations they propound, that such is the meaning and intention of their doctrine. The liberals seem to be more innocent, at least in this issue, and struggle not to have to face it. But they are the supporters of global statism and, in opposing Humanae Vitae, they are merely fighting the right battle for the wrong reasons. If they win, their social views will still lead them to the same ultimate results.

The rebellion of the victims, the Catholic laymen, has a touch of healthy self-assertiveness; however, if they defy the encyclical and continue to practice birth control, but regard it as a matter of their own weakness and guilt, the encyclical will have won: this is precisely what it was intended to accomplish.

The American bishops of the Catholic church, allegedly struggling to find a compromise, issued a pastoral letter declaring that contraception is an objective evil, but individuals are not necessarily guilty or sinful if they practice it — which amounts to a total abdication from the realm of morality and can lead men only to a deeper sense of guilt.

Such is the tragic futility of attempting to fight the existential consequences of a philosophical issue, without facing and challenging the philosophy that produced them.

This issue is not confined to the Catholic church, and it is deeper than the problem of contraception; it is a moral crisis approaching a climax. The core of the issue is Western civilization’s view of man and of his life. The essence of that view depends on the answer to two interrelated questions: Is man (man the individual) an end in himself? — and: Does man have the right to be happy on this earth?

Throughout its history, the West has been torn by a profound ambivalence on these questions: all of its achievements came from those periods when men acted as if the answer were “Yes” — but, with exceedingly rare exceptions, their spokesmen, the philosophers, kept proclaiming a thunderous “No,” in countless forms.

Neither an individual nor an entire civilization can exist indefinitely with an unresolved conflict of that kind. Our age is paying the penalty for it. And it is our age that will have to resolve it.

About the Author

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Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand created and defined her philosophy, Objectivism, in the pages of her best-selling novels, particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and in a series of nonfiction books that address a wide range of fundamental issues in philosophy. Born Alisa Rosenbaum in Tsarist St. Petersburg in 1905, Rand witnessed the Russian Revolution as a teenager and promptly condemned communism as immoral for sacrificing the individual to the collective. In 1926, shortly after graduating from the University of Leningrad, she fled to America, adopting the pen name Ayn Rand to shield her family from possible persecution once her anti-communism became well known. In Hollywood, she wrote scenarios for famous director Cecil B. DeMille and met her future husband on a movie set, but the couple struggled financially for years. Then came a string of writing successes: a Broadway play, followed by her first novel, We the Living (1936), then a novella called Anthem (1938), and later her first best seller, the story of a fiercely independent architect named Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (1943). All these works of fiction feature gripping stories and exalted, egoistic, this-worldly heroes. In writing Atlas Shrugged (1957) — the story of a man who said he would stop the motor of the world, and did — Rand had to define fully her new philosophy of reason, rational self-interest, and laissez-faire capitalism. Thereafter, and until her death in 1982, Rand amplified and explicated her “philosophy for living on earth” in a stream of books whose theoretical essays and cultural commentaries cover important topics across the five major branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics and esthetics.