Monday, February 11, 2019

Hell's Prentice or Heaven's Free-woman?

In 1620, transvestism became an issue in England. There were complaints about women who had taken to wearing masculine clothes. One of the pamphlets written at this time, Haec-Vir, is particularly interesting, because it considers arguments both for and against the practice. It gives us some insight into the proto-liberal thought of the time.

The pamphlet sets out a debate between two characters. Hic Mulier is the mannish woman and Haec-Vir is the womanish man (but I will just refer to them as the man and the woman).

The man begins by criticising the woman for behaving in a base, unnatural, shameful and foolish manner. I won't focus on this part of the debate, except to note how important acting nobly was to moral thought of this time.

The woman then has a right of reply:
First, you say I am Base, in being a Slave to Novelty. What slavery can there be in
freedom of election, or what baseness to crown my delights with those pleasures which are most suitable to mine affections? Bondage or Slavery is a restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire, to perform the intents and purposes of another’s disposition, and that not by mansuetude [gentleness] or sweetness of entreaty, but by the force of authority and strength of compulsion. Now for me to follow change according to the limitation of mine own will and pleasure, there cannot be a greater freedom.

She is arguing that liberty exists when there is no "restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire". Freedom, in other words, is being able to choose to do whatever I autonomously have a mind or a will to do. Freedom is the pursuit of desires, as long as they are my desires ("which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire"). It is not that far removed from the modern liberal understanding of freedom.

She goes on to deny that she is behaving unnaturally. She argues that she was born free and she suggests that men and women are constituted in a similar way ("we are compounded of like parts"), and should operate in much the same way, namely along male lines. Sex distinctions, she argues, are often based on mere custom and that,
Custom is an Idiot, and whosoever dependeth wholly upon him without the discourse of Reason will take from him his pied coat and become a slave indeed

The woman has put her case forcibly and at length, but the man is having none of it. He does not submit to proto-liberal ideas about freedom but replies:
You have wrested out some wit, to wrangle forth no reason; since everything you would make for excuse, approves your guilt still more ugly: what basest bondage, or what more servile baseness, than for the flattering and soothing of an un-bridled appetite, or delight, to take a wilfull liberty to do evil, and to give evil example? This is to be Hells Prentice, not Heaven’s Free-woman.

He is pointing out that to seek no restraint in doing what "the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire" or to be limited only by "mine own will and pleasure" is to justify "unbridled appetite" and a "wilfull liberty to do evil". This, he says tellingly, will not lead her to be "Heaven's Free-woman", i.e. it is not a virtuous understanding of freedom.

His argument draws on an older pre-liberal understanding of freedom in which we are at liberty when we are not slaves to our animal passions or to our sins, but are directed instead by our reason. (This understanding of freedom has potential problems of its own which I'll discuss in a future post; it's enough for now to acknowledge that the older understanding was set against "unbridled appetite", i.e. it was set against the idea that "my desires are justified as long as they are authentically my desires".)

The man wins the argument in the end by appealing to the teaching of the church. There is a passage in Deuteronomy which clearly forbids transvestism and so the woman agrees to give it up, albeit on one condition - that the man himself gives up dressing in an effeminate, foppish way.

The woman then claims that she only did what she did as a strategy to force men to give up their effeminacy:
Now since according to your own Inference, even by the Laws of Nature, by the rules of Religion, and the Customs of all civil Nations, it is necessary there be a distinct and special difference between Man and Woman, both in their habit and behaviors, what could we poor weak women do less ... than to gather up those garments you have proudly cast away and therewith to clothe both our bodies and our minds?

She quotes a section of the poem Orlando Furioso, in which the knight Ruggiero has been beguiled by the sorceress Alcina and made effeminate:
His Locks bedewed with waters of sweet savour;
Stood curled round in order on his head;
He had such wanton womanish behaviour,
As though in Valor he had ne’re been bred:
So chang’d in speech, in manners and in favour,
So from himselfe beyond all reason led,
By these inchantments of this amorous Dame;
He was himselfe in nothing but in name.

Again, this is very different to the proto-liberal view expressed earlier in the pamphlet. The proto-liberal view is that it is our inborn nature to be free, which means being subject only to our own reason, which means choosing whatever we authentically desire. The poem, however, suggests that we have fit ends or purposes, that reason holds us to, and that therefore in the loss of reason, we fail to hold to these purposes, and are no longer ourselves.

The woman ends her part by promising that all will be set right if men return to their masculine role:
Cast then from you our ornaments and put on your own armor; be men in shape, men in show, men in words, men in actions, men in counsel, men in example. Then will we love and serve you; then will we hear and obey you; then will we like rich Jewels hang at your ears to take our Instructions, like true friends follow you through all dangers, and like careful leeches [physicians] pour oil into your wounds. Then shall you find delight in our words, pleasure in our faces, faith in our hearts, chastity in our thoughts, and sweetness both in our inward and outward inclinations. Comeliness shall be then our study, fear our Armor, and modesty our practice.

The man decides to return to more masculine wear:
Away then from me these light vanities, the only Ensigns of a weak and soft nature, and come you grave and solid pieces which arm a man with Fortitude and Resolution...From henceforth deformity shall pack to Hell, and if at any time he hide himself upon the earth, yet it shall be with contempt and disgrace...Henceforth we will live nobly like ourselves, ever sober, ever discreet, ever worthy: true men and true women. We will be henceforth like well-coupled Doves, full of industry, full of love. I mean not of sensual and carnal love, but heavenly and divine love, which proceeds from God...

7 comments:

  1. This is why I get pissed off at people who obsessively blame Jews or the Frankfurt school.

    These trends of liberalism have been in our culture a very, very long time. Without facing that reality nothing else can be confronted.

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    1. These trends of liberalism have been in our culture a very, very long time.

      Since the Reformation. Once people started inventing their own interpretations of Christianity it was inevitable that we'd end up where we are now.

      The Reformation was not merely an alteration in our civilisation. It ushered in a whole new civilisation, quite different from medieval civilisation. A new and unhealthy civilisation.

      I do agree with you that our problems stem from weaknesses in our own civilisation.

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    2. These trends of liberalism have been in our culture a very, very long time.

      They have. When you try to trace it historically, it's a matter of following a particular constellation of thought, one involving a specific understanding of individual liberty, reason, universal commitments, and the blank slate. It coexisted for a long time with other understandings of human purposes and other moral frameworks, but it was nonetheless powerful from the beginning. Ultimately it came to shape the West.

      Since the Reformation.

      Possibly. I've been reading a book on John Milton. He thought it inevitable that people would, as you put it, invent their own interpretations of Christianity. He thought, therefore, that individual reason should be the sole authority. From this much else flowed. He opposed the King and monarchical authority and supported the regicide. He opposed the bishops in a similar way. He was disappointed when the Presbyterian system likewise asserted authority. Along the same lines he did not want marriage to be regulated by church authority and thought that divorce should be freely available.

      He saw his wishes fulfilled in many ways with the establishment of the republic. But then you had, on the one hand, the concentration of power in the hands of Cromwell and, on the other, a host of very radical sects with their own interpretation of Christianity challenge the social order - and it all collapsed and King Charles II was called back to the throne.

      Milton seems to have had a similar idea to some of the right liberals of today, namely that you can have a society based on people acting autonomously according to their own individual reason/will, as long as they were "disciplined" by religion (though religion too was to be a matter of individual reason/will). This is similar to the position you sometimes hear from the Australian Conservative (Bernardi) types, i.e. liberalism + "Judeo-Christian values" is a viable formula.

      One mistake Milton made was to imagine that most people would be, like him, a leisured intellectual, able to construct a sophisticated religious view, and idealistic enough to guide their life by such a view.

      Nor did he foresee how the principles he was putting forward would develop over time. For instance, Milton seems to have continued along traditional lines in believing that we are formed naturally along the lines of our sex. But if liberty is what we are primarily oriented toward, and if liberty is an assertion of our own autonomous reason and will, then why "constrain" behaviour by the fact of sex, particularly if this is something that I do not get to choose via reason and will?

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    3. One mistake Milton made was to imagine that most people would be, like him, a leisured intellectual, able to construct a sophisticated religious view, and idealistic enough to guide their life by such a view.

      That's an extremely good point. Liberal intellectuals are often genuinely puzzled that the liberal project hasn't been more successful. It works for them, and for their friends in the faculty, and they just can't understand why it is that for most people it just leads to chaotic miserable lives.

      They're people for whom life outside the halls of academia is a complete mystery.

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    4. Nobody thinks Jews are the only cause of this.

      But they have been MAJOR causes of pushing this 'subversion' or morals.

      Including at the Reformation. This fact was noted at the time!!!!

      Many Reformers were called Judeaizers at the time because it was the noted pattern of subversion Jews attempt to push in Christian society.

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    5. Cecil you're a part of the problem.

      Opportunists will always exist to exploit weaknesses. The cure is not to curse those who take their chances, but to address the weaknesses.

      Preoccupation with Jewish conspiracies is a prophylactic against the rigorous self analysis western civilisation needs.

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  2. I love their use of language. I also appreciate Mark's interpretation/translation. Had any number of modern academics done the same, "gender" would have been insidiously insinuated, not "subtly and gradually", but dishonestly and boldly in the way that they regularly contaminate the writings of Freud and Simone de Beauvior (for instance) with their fraudulent interpretations.

    Christianity, like "liberalism" and "conservatism", is forever being interpreted. The study or the art or "science" of translation grows more complex and subjective, by its very nature. The most advanced and experienced have, like so-called "conservatives", sharpened their growing differences rather than their agreements.

    There are well over 500 bible translations. Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius's translation task was itself of biblical proportions. He was sainted for it. Even Martin Luther tipped his hat to St. Jerome.

    I know why bibles aren't in The Church. A Latin Vulgate is an artifact. But, not even "a scrupulously faithful translation into English of St. Jerome's translation... a careful, word-for-word rendering of ... accuracy of the 16th/17th-century Douay-Rheims Bible" is found in the pews of The Church.

    God forbid? Of my Catholic friends - the ones that I have asked - none can read early Latin, or any Latin. They don't own a Douay-Rheims. Most, if they read anything, read the King James. That ain't right.

    "These trends of liberalism have been in our culture a very, very long time. Without facing that reality nothing else can be confronted."

    No question about it. Even "...facing that reality..." nothing can be done about it; nothing civil or timely, that is.

    Western civilization isn't going to think or talk its way out of this. Like The Peter Principle, "humans keep rising to their level of their incompetence". Circle of life, or something like that.

    Hubris can only manifest in non-non-human animals. Non-human animals can't be stupid like us. We are the dumbest animals on Earth. No other animal can lay claim to our measure of intelligence and self-awareness, and our bottomless immorality and self-destructive denial of the natural order of being.

    We can't seem to decide if we are a part of or apart from nature.

    Lions and dogs and birds and worms don't get to experience our existential angst. They just do what they naturally do.

    Us? Stupid is as stupid does.

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