Thursday, January 07, 2010

Liberal radicalism in France: fidelity a pathology, yelling a crime

Maryse Vaillant is a prominent French psychologist who has written a book, Men, love, fidelity. She says that the aim of the book is to "rehabilitate infidelity".

Her argument (according to newspaper reports) is that infidelity is essential to the psychic functioning of some men, making infidelity "almost unavoidable". If this were accepted it could be "very liberating" for women.

But her argument goes much further than this, it becomes much more radical. She claims that those men who are faithful might have something wrong with them - that they might be suffering from a pathology, a too rigid concept of duty:

However, in Miss Vaillant's book she insists that fidelity is not, by definition proof of love. In fact, "pathological monogamists" in many cases lack the strength of mind to take a mistress, she claims.

"They are often men whose father was physically or morally absent ... during their childhood. These men have a completely idealised view of their father and the paternal function," she said.

"They lack suppleness and are prisoners to an idealised image of a man of duty."

She has inverted the normal view of fidelity. Now it is the faithful men who are weak for not taking a mistress and immoral for following a principle of duty.

What's going on here? I don't have a chance to read the book, but it does seem as if Madame Vaillant is taking a liberal argument to a more radical conclusion. In the liberal view, the moral thing is to be self-sovereign and to do what we will. Therefore, the aim of reform is to remove impediments to our individual choice.

The older morality becomes one of these impediments. It's too rigid - it states clearly that the aim is to be faithful. This restricts what we can choose for ourselves. It makes us a "prisoner" to our sense of moral duty.

The hero is then the one who breaks through moral taboos (impediments). So it is the adulterer, in Madame Vaillant's eyes, who is the healthy one with the strength of mind to act for his own purposes.

It's true that liberalism also states that our actions must not limit the similar freedom of others. But, according to Madame Vaillant, women can find it liberating to accept that their husbands need to have a mistress. So adultery passes that little qualification.

I won't embark here on a defence of fidelity as an ideal in marriage. My intention has simply been to point out how radical liberalism is when applied consistently to such issues. However, there is one curious flaw in Madame Vaillant's argument that's worth pointing out.

According to her, faithful men suffer a pathology because their fathers were absent during their childhood. So father absence is recognised as a bad thing - a source of pathology. But wouldn't men taking mistresses create more father absence in society? Most men find it hard enough to combine a career and family. What if they have to combine career, family and mistress? Won't they be spending less time with their kids? So wouldn't then adultery (the supposedly good thing) create more father absence (the bad thing, the source of pathology)?

All of which raises another question. Does liberalism at least leave people alone to do their own thing, even if it does so by rejecting or inverting normal moral standards? The answer clearly is no. It does not even achieve this. Far from leaving people alone in their relationships, it is extraordinarily intrusive.

For example, the French government has announced it will introduce a new law which bans 'psychological violence' in relationships. A man might end up with a criminal record if he insults his wife during an argument:

Married couples in France could end up with criminal records for insulting each other during arguments.

Under a new law, France is to become the first country in the world to ban 'psychological violence' within marriage. The law would apply to cohabiting couples and to both men and women.

It would cover men who shout at their wives and women who hurl abuse at their husbands - although it was not clear last night if nagging would be viewed as breaking the law.

The law is expected to cover every kind of insult including repeated rude remarks about a partner's appearance, false allegations of infidelity and threats of physical violence.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said electronic tagging would be used on repeat offenders.

The law makes every adult person in France a criminal. Who hasn't at some time shouted at or insulted a spouse during an argument?

It's possible that the law might catch out some of those men who do systematically bully their wives. But it does so in an incredibly intrusive way, by criminalising behaviours that occur in nearly all relationships, thereby making men in particular dependent on the good will of their wives (and of the magistrates who will judge the cases).

So in liberal France men do not end up getting left alone. There is a sword hanging over their heads in their relationships, courtesy of a state which thinks it best to manage relationships through crime laws.

21 comments:

  1. In my estimation this book isn't about men at all, despite its title. It's about how to justify women's infidelity. As most men know, women are naturally hypergamous. They will happily dump their current man if the new man represents an increase in their status. As long as the new guy can deliver on her need for status, his good qualities are nearly irrelevant. Traditional notions of pair bonding and monogamy interfere with this and restrain women's natural tendencies, arguably for the good of the community.

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  2. Let's see Anon Contrarian - famous for the unintentional comedy he has provided regarding previous OzConservative blog posts - try to wriggle his way out of the totalitarian implications of this move by a so-called "conservative" French government.

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  3. I was at the office today (I recently started work there, "hunny I'm going to the office" now back to the point) and I listened to a conversation of a sharply dressed, up and coming young lady.

    "How was your date last night?"
    "Oh quite good we had a couple of drinks. He was quite an intelligent guy with 'refreshing' ideas",
    "How so?"
    "Well we agreed that if you have a one night stand with someone, then that should be it, the person shouldn't call back. A girlfriend of mine has this guy persistantly calling her, its quite a bother".

    Basically the girl took the position that guys used to frequently take. A big difference though is that in the past if a guy said that they would usually do so with a grin,thereby acknowledging that they was being naughty or at least somewhat self serving. If said aloud no doubt another women would chastise him, at least in a polite or humourous way. This girl, however, was discussing the etiquette of the matter as if it was the equivalent of posting social invitations.

    She was very nice, civilised and friendly and will no doubt have little trouble finding a longer term partner when she wants one. It seems though that if everyone is sort of "guy like" now, the more civilised virtues won't necessarily be defended. Now a woman (feminist) would probably say, "Well you've had it your own way for so long why shouldn't the same rules apply for us?". It seems awkward to me, that's all. Should I build a bridge and adapt to the modern world? Possibly.

    On the second matter,

    I'll *winks* take up the cudgel for anon contrarian in his absence (at the risk of raising everyone's ire). In relation to the laws proposed we have these sort of laws in the workplace already and it probably helps maintain a civilised work environment. If everyone's a little on their guard at worst it seems that work can be a little boring but on the other hand you don't have to worry about highly unpleasant behaviour which in turn can make everyone more relaxed. Women probably appreciate this more than men but everyone would probably benefit from it to some degree. Its just sort of giving some legal backing to good manners.

    I'm a person who highly appreciates good manners (and I try, hopefully, to conduct myself in a reasonably polite manner) but in today’s world it seems sometimes that you're considered a bit of a whimp if you're polite. Along with the point made in the post if you're deliberately polite it seems like you're a coward, the assertive thing to do is to be rude and not be limited by manners. This "assertive" lifestyle is incredibly primitive and puts everyone on edge. So perhaps we need the law today to ensure manners are to a degree maintained?

    Obviously such laws have the possibility of being self serving and could in practise raise more conflict than they're trying to avoid. However, the point has been made recently that competition between the sexes has made living together tense (if it was easy easy) and consequently really unpleasant domestic lives can eventuate. It could be said such laws would have an "encouraging" effect, it would make people consider things a little more. Whilst domestic violence laws may not have stopped domestic violence in the lower classes no middle/upper class guy would dream of hitting a woman today and would be horrified to be hauled into a court on that kind of charge (I would say this doesn't apply to the reckless rich who think they can do anything).

    Now I’ve just read my argument through and I have to say I'm shaking my head. Goodbye to the private sphere. However, we’ve said before that if good behaviour is discouraged the government will step in to ensure we can live together, because pure base anarchy is so unsettling for everyone.

    Thanks.

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  4. You are being foolish, arnie. I've said nothing in favour of daft relationship laws. The link between conservatism and constitutional weakness is an interesting one, however. Some of you seem rather fearful much of the time.

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  5. You are being foolish, arnie. I've said nothing in favour of daft relationship laws. The link between conservatism and constitutional weakness is an interesting one, however. Some of you seem rather fearful much of the time.

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  6. It seems being 'ruled by passions' is the modern virtue. Even Epicurus couldn't imagine the depths of depravity available today.

    Talk about a slow motion disaster in the making. I can imagine the future conversations.....

    "Hey dad whatever happened to that thing called civilization."

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  7. A.C. wrote,

    "The link between conservatism and constitutional weakness is an interesting one, however. Some of you seem rather fearful much of the time."

    You know there was a book written a few years ago (which, I've heard, is now somewhat less credible than it once seemed) by Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth explaining the mortal peril that was global warming. Now in it, Al Gore answers critics by claiming that they are motivated by fear...which seemed strange. Here is a man who tells us that the ice caps are falling and we all may die, and yet he got away with claiming that it was not he but his critics who spread fear.

    Neat trick, huh?

    Anyway, as to some link between conservatives and weakness, A.C. you must have read the entirety of Mr. Richardson's post, including the part in which he debunked such a link. After all, I am certain that you would never be caught having read even one sentence fewer than the full context of any quote. So why then are you now insinuating the truth of a "link" or theory so obviously self-contradictory? Do you often insinuate ideas that you know to be contradictory and false?

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  8. Jesse writes,

    "So perhaps we need the law today to ensure manners are to a degree maintained?"

    We do need that law. But it's the law that lives inside us.

    When we lack it, our unrestrained self becomes an unrestrained tyrant. And, as Aristotle commented, any group of little tyrants can be ruled only by a bigger one.

    You know, I'm sure there are people who would accept even the interference of the local judge and policemen in their personal life if they could just have an end to the bickering and strife at home. Incivility makes life miserable. What I do not understand is why these people, so willing to accept the moral authority of mere men, so resolutely refuse the moral authority of the Most High God? Why do they trust the average judge more than the Son of God?

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  9. "What I do not understand is why these people, so willing to accept the moral uthority of mere men, so resolutely refuse the moral authority of the Most High God? Why do they trust the average judge more than the Son of God?"

    I think you've made the point. If you refute God you've opened the door for the state. T.S. Elliot said, "If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.” At the least we're opening the door for the state.

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  10. "The link between conservatism and constitutional weakness is an interesting one, however. Some of you seem rather fearful much of the time."

    I don't see why we should take that. The fearless lefties require stringent control over public speach to protect everyone's feelings and nervous systems. You're terrified that seeing a car accident will cause permanent mental injury, hard work will lead to burnout snd without endless handholding from the state you're doomed. etc etc.

    In many respects lefties are "fearless" because they're thoughtless. "Oh the future will be fine ..." (as was pointed out on everything but environmental and war doommongering). Grasshopper and the ant?

    Should we open a left wing site and see what the topics of discussion are? Corporate control of the people, the impossibility of overcoming institutionalised inequalites. Oh yeah you guys are a party. Lefties are famous for their rugged personalities ... right.

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  11. "We do need that law. But it's the law that lives inside us."

    Beautifully stated, Bartholomew.

    France will be under the agency of Islam soon enough, as effectively as she was subdued by the Nazis. But the Muslims won't be going back home. This absurd law and the shrill cries of that horrible woman are but signs of the transformation.

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  12. Jesse_7-- Yes, the fear thing is most interesting. "What are you so afraid of?" "Well, go ahead, but I'm not living my life in fear!" Etc. Quite striking in its sameness, like they all got it from watching too much Jon Stewart.

    It is a cowardly tactic. Maybe that is the only response they can muster when confronted with an assertive conservative viewpoint?

    Those who claim to have no fears in issues involving death and violence are living in denial. They have also lost compassion, supposedly a hallmark of liberal philosophy.

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  13. Jesse wrote,

    "T.S. Elliot said, "If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.”

    Haha, that's a great quote. And Eliot manages to make his point in just one sentence. That's the difference between poets and the rest of us, huh?

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  14. leadpb wrote,

    "Quite striking in its sameness, like they all got it from watching too much Jon Stewart."

    Yeah, have you ever wondered what effect Stewart and Colbert have had on the politics of our generation? All of my college buddies watched those two "comedians" religiously. By the time graduation rolled around, most agreed with just about anything that came out of their mouths.

    These American pied pipers will have a lot to answer for some day, I think.

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  15. I suspect Valliant's views may have a lot to do with being raised in France. French Culture takes a very different approach to adultery than does Anglo_Saxon. For example, French politicians are not run out of office or scandalized over an affair and adultery does not factor into divorce decisions like child custody.

    Although I realize that there is a widespread misconception that French women are accepting of their husbands affairs there is still a cultural difference in how to deal with them. More French people do tend to see them as not necessarily worth getting divorced over and certainly do not want the details made public.

    Perhaps it is not a coincidence that many 20th Century liberal philosophers were either from France or lived or studied there.

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  16. "... However, there is one curious flaw in Madame Vaillant's argument that's worth pointing out.

    According to her, faithful men suffer a pathology because their fathers were absent during their childhood. So father absence is recognised as a bad thing - a source of pathology. ...
    "

    But weren't those hypothetically absent fathers merely asserting their own radical autonomy, as all good little "liberals" must?

    Damn! Damned if you do and damned if you don't!

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  17. I won't embark here on a defence of fidelity as an ideal in marriage.

    Why not? What's the point of marriage at all if it does not require fidelity?

    She was very nice, civilised and friendly and will no doubt have little trouble finding a longer term partner when she wants one.

    That's what she thinks. She is quite likely to wind up in her late 30s, childless, desperate, and wondering why men aren't as interested in her as when she was a juicy 20-something.

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  18. Liesel wrote,

    "Although I realize that there is a widespread misconception that French women are accepting of their husbands affairs there is still a cultural difference in how to deal with them. More French people do tend to see them as not necessarily worth getting divorced over and certainly do not want the details made public."

    Yeah, I've always wondered about that stereotype. You're saying that there is a kernel of truth in it--adultery is punished more leniently in France than in the Anglo-Saxon world--but it's still a violation of trust and therefore still unacceptable to French women, right?

    That's easier to understand. It has never made sense to me that French women would accept being lied to any more than ours.

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  19. Bartholomew wrote:

    "By the time graduation rolled around, most agreed with just about anything that came out of their mouths. "

    Speaking of fearlessness have you seen Colbert on the O'Rielly show? He was absolutely sweating bullets.

    The so called fearlessness of the left quickly evaporates when faced with real world adversities. For instance 9/11 was followed with horrified outrage, "why didn't the government protect me??". If the real world intrudes on my insulated cocoon someone else, government, must be to blame. Its so much easier to be looked after and not have responsibility for yourself isn't it.

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  20. I won't embark here on a defence of fidelity as an ideal in marriage.

    Anon, this was just me not wanting the post to cover too much ground, not rejecting fidelity in marriage.

    The link between conservatism and constitutional weakness is an interesting one, however. Some of you seem rather fearful much of the time.

    Anon contrarian, it's really interesting you should think this. It highlights a difference in thinking between moderns like yourself and traditionalists. I wouldn't mind you expanding on why you have this impression.

    Imagine you're a traditionalist and that there are certain things that are highly important to you, such as reproducing your own communal tradition, maintaining the strength of the traditional family, upholding the higher aspects of masculinity in men and femininity in women and so on.

    Don't you think it's reasonable for us to believe that there is a conflict between what is important to us and the general trends within liberal society? Given the current dominance of liberalism, aren't things trending away from us at the moment?

    So why shouldn't we then be concerned? Isn't that a reasonable response to the situation we find ourselves in?

    Moderns get critical too when society doesn't measure up to what they think is important. I've read howls of anger, frustration, depression and despair by leftists at what they perceive to be the continuing evils of the world.

    And I have to agree as well with Jesse and leadpb. There are some liberals who maintain equanimity by choosing not to consider future consequences of the policies they support. I've debated some liberals who are suprised to even be asked to consider such issues.

    And there are liberals too who choose to overlook or dismiss the human costs of current social policies.

    For instance, when those women who were brought up to defer family formation began to complain that they had been led astray and had missed out on motherhood, they were rounded on and told that they were being ungrateful and had only themselves to blame for making the wrong choices.

    In other words, older liberals did not take responsibility for the human costs of social policies that they had enacted. They washed their hands of responsibility.

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  21. Jesse wrote,

    "Speaking of fearlessness have you seen Colbert on the O'Rielly show? He was absolutely sweating bullets."

    Haha, yeah, I saw a clip from that interview. Colbert really didn't get it all that bad, either. At least, he's dished far worse on his own show.

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