(LifeSiteNews) — “Ideas, Mr Carlyle, ideas, nothing but ideas!” scoffed a no-nonsense businessman over dinner with Thomas Carlyle, the 19th-century Scottish historian of the French Revolution. The businessman was dismissive of Carlyle’s interest in how ideas influenced history.
Carlyle replied, “There was once a man called Rousseau who wrote a book containing nothing but ideas. The second edition was bound in the skins of those who laughed at the first.” Carlyle was referring to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On the Social Contract (1762), a book that inspired the French Revolution of 1789 and the bloodbath that followed.
The French Revolution was a sudden, violent political eruption; the sexual revolution has been more a process of subversion by stealth, decades in the making and seldom properly understood. Dr. Peter J. Elliott, a retired Catholic bishop based in Melbourne, Australia, has produced a definitive book on the sexual revolution, particularly the ideas which inspired it and the calamity it has wreaked throughout the world. Called The Sexual Revolution: History • Ideology • Power, it has been recently published by Ignatius Press. The book is based on lectures Bishop Elliott gave at Melbourne’s John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family, of which he was director from 2004 to 2019.
Elliott, a theologian and historian, is eminently qualified to chronicle and explain the unfolding of the sexual revolution. He read theology at the University of Oxford, where he was a contemporary of the late Cardinal George Pell (1941–2023), a fellow Australian who became a lifelong friend. In the 1980s Elliott undertook doctoral research at the Lateran University in Rome and gained a Doctorate in Sacred Theology with a thesis on the sacramentality of marriage.
During his long and distinguished career, Elliott has acquired decades of pastoral experience, served as Vatican envoy to a number of UN conferences concerned with global population issues and the status of women, and headed religious education in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
In The Sexual Revolution, Elliott traces the pedigree of the ideas from which the sexual revolution sprang, starting with Rousseau and proceeding through Thomas Malthus, Charles Darwin, and the eugenicist Francis Galton to a 20th-century rogues’ gallery of libertine ideologues, such as Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, Wilhelm Reich, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Herbert Marcuse, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Mead, Betty Friedan, and Germaine Greer. He also shows how both Marxism (on the political Left) and Ayn Rand-inspired radical autonomy (on the political Right) have, despite their differences, united in aiding and abetting the spread of the sexual revolution.
Sexual libertarians, in concert with cultural Marxists and radical feminists, have misused state power and subverted laws in order to wage a three-pronged assault on civilized norms.
First has been their attack on marriage and the family, which they have undermined by the following: introducing easy divorce and non-marital cohabitation; redefining marriage to include same-sex couples; promoting so-called gender fluidity and transgenderism; destroying parental rights; and undermining and marginalizing the role of the father.
Second has been their relentless attack on education and their erasure of “inconvenient” (i.e., politically incorrect) truths. Our anointed elites have used every trick they know to quarantine schools from parental or Church influences so that the state has almost unchallenged power to indoctrinate the young, especially in matters concerning sexual morality.
Elliott warns of what a Leftist “cancel culture” portends for future generations and the survival of what’s left of Judeo-Christian civilization. He writes: “When our historical memory is erased, any organic continuity with our past perishes. Those taught to hate or scorn their own heritage become oblivious to what went before them. Then they no longer know who they are. Robbed of their past, they can be manipulated, re-educated, reconstructed and controlled.”
Third has been the targeting of religion, which Elliott describes as “the most potent vector of culture and memory”. He lists no fewer than 13 freedoms that the political Left, in common with communists, fascists and Nazis, seeks to eradicate. These include freedoms a) to express one’s beliefs in public, b) to quote the scriptures of one’s religion, c) to pass on one’s faith to one’s children, d) to run faith-based schools and universities, and e) to run hospitals where a pro-life ethical code prevails.
Vast amounts of money have been mobilized to finance this revolution. Elliott lists some of the usual suspects: the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. Simultaneously, International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International have promoted and funded population control by way of contraception, sterilization, and abortion (which radical feminists misleadingly call “reproductive health”).
Huge sums from various sources were poured into Ireland to both legalize same-sex “marriage” and repeal the country’s constitutional prohibition against abortion.
Elliott shows how the sexual revolution, in certain ways, has become self-funding and self-reinforcing. He observes that “once any government succumbs to the revolution and becomes the instrument of ideological social engineering, our taxes can flow readily into the sexual revolution, funding causes, groups, institutions, and organizations that eagerly claim more and more State subsidies.” As a result, we — the innocent taxpayers — are conscripted to “feed the ongoing sexual revolution.”
Elliott also describes the spread of pornography via computers and smart phones. The social media, a relatively recent phenomenon, is responsible for “literally placing access to pornography in the hands of everyone.”
“Pornography has become the major force in the sexual revolution,” he writes “… What was once hidden and restricted now became widespread and normal. … What was once a secret realm with a limited market became a multi-million-dollar industry. … The material is aggressively explicit, with no topic forbidden, including that dangerous mixture of sex and violence.”
When Elliott describes the overwhelming financial, cultural, and political power wielded by the enablers of the sexual revolution, one is immediately reminded of Aragorn’s admonition to the irresolute King Théoden of Rohan in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.”
So how can we wake up church-going Christians to the reality of the war that is being waged against them and their values? And, most of all, how can we fight the good fight?
Paradoxically, Elliott prefers Christians to refrain from using the popular term “culture wars.” In saying this, he is by no means retracting his descriptions of the cosmic nature of the conflict between what he calls “the culture of life and the culture of death.” Instead, he offers important pastoral advice on how Christians should comport themselves in these trying times.
He writes: “Amidst the gloom and shadows described in this book, we are bearers of divine light, like candles shining brightly in the night. … That is why our struggle against the sexual revolution should never be negative, aggressive or destructive. … We do not seek to defeat anyone. Rather we invite conversion.”
Godly homes, he says, can be beacons to surrounding communities: “The strong family also becomes a place of healing and hope for people denied a decent family life. … [This] never means shutting morally-wounded people out of our homes. When they knock on the door, they are seeking an atmosphere of security, safety, peace, joy and a welcoming love that listens. They may not know it, but they are seeking the Lord God.”
These are just a few of the many profound observations and reflections to be found in Bishop Elliott’s book, which deserves the widest possible readership.
John Ballantyne is a journalist and historian based in Melbourne, Australia. An earlier version of this article appeared in the newsletter of Australia’s Endeavour Forum, Inc. (www.EndeavourForum.org.au), an NGO with special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). Edited and published with permission.