November 16, 1999
intellectuals charged that the Church had been discredited by World
War I, G.K. Chesterton replied that you might as well charge that
Noahs ark had been discredited by the Great Flood. If
Europes rulers had lived by Christian principles, the war would
never have happened.
Were hearing similar charges
about Hillsdale College in Michigan, whose president, George Roche III, has
been forced to resign. It came to light that he had had a long, adulterous
affair with his sons wife, Lissa Roche, who shot herself when he
shunned her after marrying another woman. (He had recently dumped his
wife of 44 years.)
Since Hillsdale is a conservative
mecca, espousing Christian virtues, this ugly story is being welcomed by
liberals, who see the scandal as discrediting not only Roche but Hillsdale
itself. The illogic of this is exemplified by Laura Berman of the Detroit
News, who sneers that in his 28 years as president, Roche turned
Hillsdale into a living museum of American values, circa 1955,
where almost everyone is white and Christian.
Mrs. Berman goes on to recall Lissa
Roches writings, which she sums up thus: that the world
was a simple place one might navigate successfully using basic rules and
careful associations with nice people. It is an approach so simplistic it
can seem simple-minded.... You can hear the lack of conviction in Lissa
Roches written words. In her death, though, she speaks, tragically,
with an authentic and eloquent voice.
The obvious reply is that if Lissa
Roche had lived by the simplistic virtues she espoused, her
life might have been happier. She was trapped by her own sin, delusion,
and hypocrisy. Has Mrs. Berman ever read Anna Karenina, the great
novel of a woman whose adultery eventually leads to her suicide? Would
she call Tolstoy simplistic?
In fact, Lissa Roches death
confirms, with awful irony, the validity of the virtues she and her
father-in-law publicly espoused. The same is true of George Roche III, who
is now ruined and disgraced at the little school he did so much to build.
What is Mrs. Bermans point?
That the story might have ended happily if only Hillsdale had adopted the
more up-to-date code of the new morality? Talk about
simplistic! Nothing could be shallower than the view that
unlimited sexual indulgence is essentially harmless to body and soul.
Not only the Bible but even secular
Western literature has always recognized the explosive, sometimes
demonic power of lust. Or were Homer, Aeschylus, Virgil, Dante,
Shakespeare, and Tolstoy (their works, after all, are taught at Hillsdale)
exponents of American values, circa 1955?
Liberals who held that Bill
Clintons adultery was unrelated to his job performance it
was his private life, remember? take glee in the
scandal of George Roches adultery. But Hillsdale quickly took the
difficult step of removing its peccant president for his disgraceful
conduct. The process took less than three weeks. Nobody made excuses for
Hillsdale can be criticized for its
futile attempt to mute the scandal. It hasnt officially
acknowledged any connection between Lissa Roches suicide and
George Roches departure, which it blandly ascribes to the
combined pressures of his personal health and private family life.
But the college cant be
accused of being false to its moral principles. It applied them in the
toughest imaginable case: against its own president, who had built it into
a nationally famed conservative institution, all the while making himself
a symbol of heroic resistance to federal power.
Roche was even more treacherous
than Clinton, since his sin smacked of incest; he defiled the family of his
own son. He still insists and swears he is innocent, though nobody believes
His farewell letter admits nothing
and reeks with nauseating hypocrisy: Together we have built a
beautiful dream. We have proved that integrity, values, and courage can
still triumph in a corrupt world. Even an innocent man might have
reflected on how that would sound, but a sense of irony has never been
George Roches long suit.
But, like Clinton, Roche evidently
still thinks he can finally get away with what he did. Well, he cant;
he didnt. Hillsdale saved its honor from its own president. And
thats the real moral of the story.
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