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Defensive Burn-Out

Written by Gary North on June 11, 2016

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal. 6:9).

After years or even decades “in the trenches,” people who have dedicated their time and money to a defensive cause tend to get burned out. In the mid-1950’s, the woman who first introduced me to political conservatism was also teaching several other women the basics of research, meaning full-time monitoring of various left-wing political and conspiratorial organizations. She set up several study groups in southern California in this period. But by the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, she was no longer interested in politics. She had divorced her husband years before, and she was now working full time. She got tired of fighting. She gave her research files away in the late 1970’s.

In the mid-1960’s, I met two other women who had been trained by her. Both experienced the same phenomenon of burn-out by the end of the 1960’s. They had monitored their chosen left-wing groups for years; they had filled files and boxes with reams of clippings (without a coherent index); they had dragged in children and friends to stuff envelopes with flyers and announcements, until children and friends became convinced that the whole effort was crazy. And then, predictably, they threw all the materials away. I have seen many other follow the same pattern; of course, in southern California, there were a lot of opportunities to meet such ladies. They were the proverbial “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” But they weren’t old when they started; they just got old.

Women seemed to be the primary victims of tennis shoe burn-out, probably because they had put more of their hopes and efforts into the conservative movement than their husbands had. Men have their jobs to worry about. They associate daily with other men who are not involved in conservative political action. Husbands are more likely to be on the fringes of the political fringe; their wives are more often right in the center of the extreme. Women see that their children are threatened by the public schools, or by “values clarification,” or other planned conquests of the family. They see how much they have to lose. Their husbands do not have the same focused interests or fears. They can take the attitude that “I let my wife worry about saving the world,” in the same way that millions of them say, “I let my wife take care of religious matters.” The results in both cases are catastrophic: for wives, husbands, children, and the society at large.

Working Wives

There is no doubt that wives can set aside more time in the day for activities such as monitoring this or that group or activity of the enemy. Husbands are busy trying to earn a living. But husbands have the money. They may not write the checks each month, but they can say where the big blocks of disposable income will go. The wife may pay the bills, but husbands ultimately can determine which economic burdens will be assumed by the family. Wives influence husbands, but husbands make the fundamental decisions. The wife is not going to write a check for $1,000 to some organization, even if she devotes 20 hours a week to it 50 weeks a year. She makes her contribution to the cause by donating her time.

But time, like money, is not free of charge. She has to get the time to donate. So she starts cooking less frequently or less thoughtfully. She starts coming home several hours after the children have been out of school. She begins to squeeze the clock the way other women squeeze the wallet. Her day begins to resemble the schedule of working wives. The family suffers.

This brings up another important point. As economic pressures have mounted, and as young families, have deferred having children, or have had smaller families in order to allow the wife “free time” to go back to work, the supply of dedicated volunteers has begun to dry up. One neglected explanation for the rise of statism in the West is that mothers are working, meaning working for money outside the home. They start paying taxes, so the State gets larger, and the time available for young women to do volunteer work is reduced drastically.

The nature of political conservatism has changed as a direct result of the changing employment patterns. Direct-mail appeals have increased. Families have more money to donate, but less time to donate. One reason for the rise of the “New Right,” with its corps of dedicated, paid political professionals, is the phenomenon of working wives. The pool of amateur talent which once supplied the “tennis shoe ladies” is much smaller now. The gray haired volunteers are becoming white-haired, and they are not being replaced.

Financing Alternatives

At the same time, the appearance of the Christian school movement has begun to compensate for the social losses associated with shifting patterns of employment. Instead of turning children over to the State to educate them, parents have begun to send them to independent private schools. Wives may have to go to work, but the State is deprived of its pool of future talent, namely, the brighter, more affluent, more dedicated, ideologically committed students. If a wife who would have been a newspaper-clipping study group member is forced to go to work instead, in order to finance her children’s escape from the government schools, then the family is probably strengthened. Working wives who are using the money to pay their children’s tuition are making better use of their time than those newspaper-clipping ladies did in southern California back in 1958.

The focus of the family’s concern now shifts in a positive direction. Wives who might have wasted endless hours documenting the take-over of the public school curriculum by Communists or the United Nations’ UNESCO, the way women did in 1958, now go to work in order to finance an alternative to the tax-supported schools that were captured by humanism in the l830’s. It was not Communism or UNESCO that created the problem; it was the philosophy of humanism which dominated public schools from the beginning. (See R. J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education [Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1963].

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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