Pure Visionary by Allan Carlson

Feature

Pure Visionary

The Life & Times of Anthony Comstock, Moral Crusader

The foes of nineteenth-century purity crusader Anthony Comstock commonly spoke in fulminations. His “free love” contemporary D. M. Bennett called Comstock “a first-class Torquemada” who had shown “the same energy, the same cruelty, [and] the same intolerance” as “the envenomed persecutors of the past centuries.” Bennett continued: “It is seriously doubted whether the church has ever had a cruel zealot in its employ who has labored with more resolution and zest than this active agent of the Young Men’s Christian Association.” Another “free love” advocate, Ezra Hervey Heywood, called Comstock “a religio-monomaniac” whom the United States Congress and “the lascivious fanaticism of the Young Men’s Christian Association” had empowered to suppress free thought.

Even Comstock’s political “descendants” in contemporary America, the socially conservative Religious Right, are largely oblivious of his legacy. My informal survey of a dozen contemporary American pro-family leaders found only one who had even heard of him; this despite the fact that Comstock succeeded in almost every aspect of his purity campaign: from crushing the pornography industry to suppressing abortion and contraception. Indeed, under any fair comparison, the current pro-family and pro-life movements have been failures.

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Allan C. Carlson is the John Howard Distinguished Senior Fellow at the International Organization for the Family. His most recent book is Family Cycles: Strength, Decline & Renewal in American Domestic Life, 1630-2000 (Transaction, 2016). He and his wife have four grown children and nine grandchildren. A "cradle Lutheran," he worships in a congregation of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. He is a senior editor for Touchstone.


more on culture from the online archives

18.2—March 2005

Long Shadows of Eden

On Conservatism as Vexation, Vanity & Near Impossibility by Graeme Hunter

22.3—April 2009

Wasted by Watching

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by J. Daryl Charles

32.6—November/December 2019

Listening Up

Historical Truth, Beguiling Stories & Three Kinds of Hearers by Anthony Esolen

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

26.1—Jan/Feb 2013

Scarborough Needs Men

Manly Chastity, Hedonism & the Law of Non-contradiction by Anthony Esolen

8.4—Fall 1995

The Demise of Biblical Preaching

Distortions of the Gospel and its Recovery by Donald G. Bloesch

31.4—July/August 2018

Listening to Eve

on the Brevity & Theology of Her Recorded Words by Judith Anderson