Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why don't powerful men support men's rights?

The men's rights movement is in its intellectually formative stage. It's not clear yet which theory or politics will come to dominate the movement. There are some trends emerging, though, which have surprised me.

On the one hand, the movement is largely anti-feminist and anti-liberal. And yet many in the movement choose to attack, above all else, traditionalism and social conservatism.

Obviously, traditionalists need to understand why this is happening. Here is an important and emerging political movement that is deeply critical of men's place within liberal modernity and yet the focus of attack is often the small number of traditionalists who have criticised this modernity.

I think part of the reason is as follows. Imagine you're a young man who has come to the realisation that the society you live in has chosen to serve a feminist agenda at the expense of men. What is one of the first questions such a man will ask?

I think the young man is likely to ask the following kinds of questions. Why do the powerful men in society allow this to happen? Why don't the male political leaders or church leaders or business leaders put a stop to it? Why are ordinary men left to deal with the consequences alone?

The way such questions are answered is important. Imagine if the young man makes the common assumption that the establishment is conservative and therefore, being conservative, powerful men are either out of touch with the new reality of young men's lives or else protective of women, rather than men, in an old-fashioned, chivalrous way.

That might make you feel abandoned by the "conservative" men who ought to be protecting your place in society. The men who have real power to do something about the situation, and who as the "fathers" of society ought to care about what their "sons" are going through.

A variant of this kind of argument has been made by Paul Elam. Elam asks why powerful men have supported feminism. His answer is that it has to do not with politics but with biology. Traditionally, he writes, alpha men controlled society, using beta men as enforcers, with omega men being the sacrificial drones. However, when their wives demanded power for themselves, the alpha men decided to give up being alphas. In order to maintain their sexual status, they agreed to be the beta enforcers for their newly alpha wives.

Elam concludes that traditional masculinity, with its division into controllers, enforcers and drones is therefore at the root of the problem. What's needed is a radically new type of man never seen before in human history, one who transcends biology. Once again, we have arrived at a position that is radically anti-traditional.

I don't think these are the right answers. First, the political establishment is not conservative but liberal. The powerful men in society are not at all traditional in their thinking. They are not out of touch, chivalrous fathers giving too much support to their daughters rather than their sons. They are men who have adopted a particular principle of political rule, a liberal one.

Here are some leading political philosophers pointing out the dominance of liberalism within the political class:

John Gray, a professor of politics at Oxford: "We are all liberals nowadays."

Alastair MacIntyre, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame: "Contemporary debates within modern political systems are almost exclusively between conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals."

Steven Kautz, a professor of political science at Michigan State University: "Classical and contemporary liberal teachings ... dominate our political discourse. America is still now, or perhaps now more than ever, somehow a liberal regime ... we are somehow all liberals."

There is no commitment to traditionalism from our political leaders or from powerful men. Even someone like the former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, saw himself primarily as an agent of change. His first criticism of his successor, the current PM Kevin Rudd, was that Rudd hadn't undertaken enough "challenging reforms" unlike his more worthy Labor Party predecessors, Keating and Hawke.

We are talking about men who are driven to change society along liberal lines. They should not be looked on as the conservative fathers of the tribe, representing a traditional attitude to gender or to anything else for that matter.

Nor does the argument from biology work well. First, it's not true that society can be so easily divided into controlling alpha males who sacrifice omega males via enforcer beta males. The easiest proof of this is that Western societies have been strictly monogamous for many hundreds of years. Monogamy requires the most powerful of men to give up much of their advantage in sexual selection in favour of the well-being of society as a whole.

Imagine you are a powerful, wealthy older male. The truth is that you could easily attract a number of young women as mates. If only 20 to 30 percent of the best placed men decided to do this, then the so-called omega males would miss out on the chance to marry and have families. This, though, would leave a lot of men without a responsible or productive stake in society.

The "alpha" males in the West did not choose to exploit their advantages. They accepted the rules of monogamy. All men had the chance to marry and raise families and the vast majority did so. Western civilisation benefited as a result.

Nor is it at all clear that it was women in the home who pressured their husbands to hand over power. Most of the feminist agitators in history were single women, a disproportionate number of them were lesbians. They had no powerful husbands to leverage. And why would a powerful, married man living in a monogamous culture need to worry about sex selection anyway? How would he benefit by transferring the alpha role to his wife, whilst he adopted a beta role? Is this something that an alpha man would contemplate anyway?

And is it really true that men in power nowadays are merely beta enforcers? It doesn't look that way to me. There still seem to be plenty of men in the political elite who choose to exercise real power. They just don't exercise it to the benefit of men.

Why not? The answer is that these men rule by the principles of liberalism. For a very long time, there was an effort to quarantine what these liberal principles would be applied to. They were to be applied to public rather than to private life. The family was meant to be a separate, non-liberal realm.

But it was hard to maintain this distinction. It's not easy to separate the public and the private. If education, for instance, is the public realm and is ordered on liberal principles, then it will be thought that boys and girls should be educated along similar lines and toward similar ends. It's then difficult at the end of this long process to claim different ends for men and women within the private realm of the family.

And once the public realm had been transformed, feminists began to argue that the "personal is the political," meaning that there is no true distinction between public (political) and private (personal) life.

And so the family was subject to the same principles of liberalism as applied elsewhere.

And this is where the logic of the situation takes over. Feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. It is the attempt to maximise female autonomy, even if this harms the family or relationships between men and women. Female autonomy is maximised when women are made independent of men, whether through careers, preferential divorce laws, or state welfare.

If powerful men rule through the principles of liberalism, and these principles are applied to male/female relations, then powerful men have no principled basis to reject feminist demands.

That is the most consistent answer to why powerful men act in favour of feminists, even as many young men feel abandoned by the current situation.

What does this then mean as far as strategy goes? First, it's correct that it's not enough to target feminists themselves. It is the powerful men in society who enable feminism - but not because they are out of touch conservatives, but because they are men who are bent on reform along liberal lines.

Second, it's true as well that a certain kind of "new man" is required (though not one who transcends biology). Given that we can't rely on liberal elites, we need to encourage a type of man who doesn't limit his efforts to the private, domestic sphere, but who also devotes some time and energy toward change at the public, political level.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

So what should women do?

I read an item recently about marriage trends in Denmark. What struck me the most was how late in life Danes marry. The average age of first marriage for men is 34.5 years, for women 32.1 years.

This delay in family formation has been a trend across the West. It comes with some obvious problems, one of which is compromised fertility. It's now known that a woman's fertility begins to decline at age 27 and a man's at age 35. So if family formation is pushed back to the mid-30s, then many people will miss out on children they wanted to have.

Professional women have been hit the hardest. In the US, for example, 47% of women aged 40 to 44 years with graduate or professional degrees are childless. Nor have these women deliberately chosen this outcome; one researcher found that only 14% of such women had the intention as young women of remaining childless.

The female response to all this varies. There are women, like Lori Gottlieb, who admit that they made mistakes when younger. I recently watched a video of Gottlieb discussing her regrets at having passed up a number of men who were "eights" when in her twenties in order to hold out for a non-existent "ten". She also made the good point that it's a mistake to look for someone who is your mirror image, the opposite sex version of yourself.

But there are also women who argue that they have no control over the delay in family formation and simply haven't had the good luck to meet the right man. This is the response, for instance, of Jill Stark:

For many women in their 30s and 40s the reason they are not mothers has very little to do with partying, playing the field or breaking through the glass ceiling. Not one of my wonderful, intelligent, vibrant female friends who does not have children values a night [drinking] over starting a family. Almost all want to be mothers - some had hoped they would be by now.

But it takes two to make a baby. Finding the right partner is a lottery and it can be a long wait for your numbers to come up. When they do, making it work is not guaranteed. For some, love will come too late.

However, instead of being afforded the same support and compassion as the medically infertile, these women will be forced to accept the fallacy that it's their fault.

Tough luck for them. They chose to hold out for Mr Perfect when they could have settled for Mr You'll Do. They were just too picky.

This pernicious phrase is one that single women start to hear a lot after their 30th birthday. But what does it mean? Is it ''too picky'' to not stay with someone who is non-committal about children? Or should you persevere in the hope that you can wear them down? If he doesn't come round you can always ''forget'' to take your birth control pills, right? Perhaps ''too picky'' is not being prepared to bring children into a loveless or abusive relationship. Or maybe it's rejecting an unfaithful partner or one whose fascination with himself far exceeds his interest in you.

I don't really buy this. If Jill Stark's friends are really such wonderful, family oriented women, then why are they stuck in relationships with unsuitable men?

Either they have chosen the wrong sort of men to start a family with, or else there is a terrible shortage of family oriented men to begin with.

No matter which of these is true, something dysfunctional is happening. If it's a problem of women choosing unsuitable men, then Jill Stark has to ask why she and her friends would do this. If it's a problem of men rejecting marriage and fatherhood, then she ought to think about why this might be so.

Instead, she argues that the problem is that relationships are just a lottery, a matter of luck, which suggests that we have no control over our own prospects.

What might women do to improve the situation? Here are just a few things that spring to mind:

a) Be decisive. There are a lot of wavering women out there. They're not sure if they want to be mothers. They're not quite able to get over a poor relationship with their own father. Not being quite sure, they tend to either withdraw or go out with "placeholder" men who won't ever bring things to the point of commitment.

b) Partner up early on (by your mid-20s). We tend to have the widest social network in our early 20s. We're also propelled by our emotions and biology most strongly toward the opposite sex at this time. Men are unlikely prior to their mid-20s to have settled comfortably into bachelorhood or to have high-level resentments toward women.

c) Make marriage and children the priority they ought to be. It does register with men when women relegate marriage and children as items on their life list. Men too will start to reorient psychologically to other things. Don't think that men can be easily brought back a decade or so later on.

d) Reward the family guy. This is what women used to do. It was the family guy who got the love and respect of women.

e) Encourage men to be masculine. It is a masculine instinct to take on the responsibilities of being a husband and father, not a weakly androgynous one.

e) Support a culture of family life however you can. This includes rejecting laws or policies which undermine the position of men within family life.

Reading Jill Stark's article, you get the sense that things have gone dramatically wrong for a layer of Western women. They've ended up with men they can't form families with and they seem to accept this as the way things must be.

The triumphalism is gone, replaced by a fatalistic sense of being caught within narrowed life options.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Girl cell feminism

Eve Ensler has written a new feminist work titled "I am an emotional creature". At first, I thought it a departure from the usual feminist approach. Eve Ensler appears to be arguing that women are more emotional and intuitive and less intellectual than men and that this is something that gives them a special knowledge and experience of the world:


I love being a girl.
I can feel what you're feeling
as you're feeling it inside
the feeling
I am an emotional creature.
Things do not come to me
as intellectual theories or hard-shaped ideas.
They pulse through my organs and legs
and burn up my ears ...

I know when a storm is coming.
I can feel the invisible stirrings in the air.
I can tell you he won't call back.
It's a vibe I share.

This doesn't sound like the orthodox feminist position. Usually feminists push an "anti-essentialist" line. This means that they reject the idea that men and women have distinct masculine and feminine natures.

There are a couple of reasons for feminists to be anti-essentialist. First, feminists usually accept the liberal idea that autonomy is what matters. This means that feminists are committed to rejecting whatever is predetermined in favour of what is self-determined. Our sex is predetermined, so it can't be accepted as something that naturally forms a part of a person's identity. At best, it can be something that an individual chooses to "perform" as a kind of subversive act.

Second, feminists have looked on the traditional feminine role within the home and judged it to be less autonomous, and therefore inferior, to the male career role. This then leads feminists to reject the idea that the traditionally feminine role is natural, which then leads to the idea that "the patriarchy" created sex roles as a social construct in order for men to benefit from women's oppression.

So the feminist emphasis is usually on the idea that masculinity and femininity are limitations or restrictions imprisoning the individual, and/or that femininity is an oppressive social construct foisted upon women by the patriarchy which should be abolished forthwith.

Some feminists have even gone beyond this by denying that humans can be divided into two sexes, male and female. The most influential is Anne Fausto-Sterling, the academic referred to by Leonard Sax in the following quote:

A tenured professor at Brown University recently published a book in which she claims that the division of the human race into two sexes, female and male, is an artificial invention of our culture. "Nature really offers us more than two sexes," she claims, adding, "Our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits." The decision to "label" a child as a girl or a boy is "a social decision," according to this expert. We should not label any child as being either a girl or a boy, this professor proclaimed. "There is no either/or. Rather, there are shades of difference."

According to Anne Fausto-Sterling it is a "cultural conceit" to believe that humans are born either male or female. Eve Ensler, on the other hand, not only believes that a feminine nature does exist, she appears to consider it a positive aspect of a woman's life.

The two positions seem poles apart. Unfortunately, they are closer than you might think.

It turns out that Eve Ensler has the following argument. In every one of us, male and female, there is a grouping of cells, the "girl cells". These are central to human evolution and the future of the human race. But the patriarchy has decided to oppress and kill off the girl cells, thereby threatening the continuation of life. The girl cells are responsible for empathy, openness, vulnerability, intuition and relationships. Vulnerability is our greatest strength and girl cell emotions have inherent logic which leads to radical and saving action. It is the patriarchy which has brought up people not to be girls.

It is the suppression of girl cells by the patriarchy which has led us to the complete destruction of the earth and to mass rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Boys have been treated harshly by the patriarchy because their girl cells have been suppressed. If men cried like girls and could enjoy their girl self there wouldn't be violence, as bullets are hardened tears. Men just pretend to know things and they hide that they are in a mess.

Girls are oppressed everywhere by the patriarchy. They're silenced, sold, killed, enslaved, raped, and robbed of being the subjects of their lives. But girls are the key to the future of the whole of humanity. Girls will determine whether the species survives.

It's wrong for girls to be feminine and to want to please. This has been forced on them. They should be re-educated to want to confront, deny and agitate. This is "engaging your girl". We should admire girls who demand to have their faces covered in tattoos, or who sail solo around the world, or who live by themselves in the wild, or who stand in front of tanks, or who violently defend themselves.

Can you see the problem here? Eve Ensler does not accept masculinity and femininity as they really exist. Masculinity she rejects as something hurtful and hateful which threatens existence. She wants men to live instead by their girl selves.

And although she says some nice things about "girl cells" and talks positively about empathy and intuition, she doesn't really like feminine women. She doesn't like it when girls aim to please and she is uninterested in women as wives or mothers. The qualities she actually admires in girls don't sound very girlish at all. Furthermore, she thinks that girls can be socially reconstructed to be the way she wants them to be.

There's a gnostic undertone to her argument. She portrays the world as a false one which has inverted reality. We can undergo a transformative, redemptive experience, conquer evil and save the world from destruction by understanding the "girl cells" key to knowledge.

It has an air of unreality to it. She is in campaigning mode and masculinity and femininity are treated in terms of her campaign and not on their own terms.

She is not in a serious and consistent way a gender essentialist, even if she does offer a variation on the usual feminist arguments.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What matters in the modern West?

Does our society have a ruling principle? A value by which all the Western nations are gradually being transformed? The answer is yes.

The ruling principle is not a Christian one, nor even a religious one in the traditional sense. It is an all embracing political principle.

The Western nations are being shaped by a political philosophy called liberalism and at the core of liberalism is the idea of autonomy.

What is autonomy?

Autonomy means that the individual is self-determining (or self-directing or self-creating).

Why should this be considered so important? In traditional societies, it was thought that there were qualities which were good or virtuous in themselves. For instance, courage, honesty and generosity. What mattered was for individuals to live according to such virtues.

Liberals don’t see it this way. It is not the existence of such virtues which impresses liberals. The big thing for liberals is the act of choosing for yourself, autonomously, your own good. What is actually chosen doesn’t matter so much.

Should we be worried?

Liberals take autonomy very, very seriously. Our dignity as humans is thought to rest on it. It is the basis of liberal campaigns for equality, freedom and social justice. It is a transforming belief as it requires the state to radically reform society to give everyone the same conditions of autonomy.

And, yes, we should be worried. When autonomy is made the organising principle of society, much is lost.

The nation

If the key thing is being unimpeded in creating my own individual self, then community is going to be a problem for liberals. It will appear as a possible threat to my freedom and individuality. Expressions of nationalism will be looked on suspiciously or even fearfully.

This is especially true of more traditional forms of nationalism based on ties of ethnicity. We don’t get to choose our ethnicity. It is predetermined rather than self-determined. Therefore, it is looked on negatively by liberals as an impediment to individual autonomy.

A liberal society will not be protective of the deeper forms of communal identity.

Is this really of benefit to the individual? A communal identity gives us a sense of connection to generations past and future; it helps give meaning to the work we do for our families and communities; it enriches our sense of personal identity; it gives us a special sense of attachment to a particular culture and place; and it helps to motivate our efforts to maintain the standards of the society we belong to.

Most people experience a traditional national identity positively. It is only when autonomy is made the single, overriding aim that such an identity is thought morally wrong.

So the question becomes this: do we accept the underlying assumptions of liberalism with the loss of communal identity that this involves? Or do we respond to the loss of communal identity by reconsidering the liberal idea that autonomy is always and everywhere the key good in life?


Gender creates all sorts of headaches for liberals.

The theory is clear enough. We are supposed to be autonomous, which means being self-determining. But our sex – the fact of being a man or a woman – is not self-determined but predetermined. Therefore, gender is seen as something hostile to the individual, a limitation or even a prison. It must be made not to matter.

How can liberals make it not matter? Well, they declare gender to be an artificial social construct. This then means that gender can be socially deconstructed. If boys and girls are raised the same, then gender distinctions can be made to go away.

English writer Penny Red is thoroughly liberal in her thoughts on gender. She has declared:

we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries - men and women, boys and girls … I have this dream … about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender ...

Carolyn Heilbrun has the same kind of dream:

our future salvation lies in a movement away from sexual polarization and the prison of gender toward a world in which individual roles and modes of personal behavior can be freely chosen.

Liberals do try to make gender not matter. But they run into a brick wall or two along the way. First, masculinity and femininity are not just social constructs. They are also a product of biology, as modern science has conclusively shown. So they can’t be entirely suppressed.

Nor do most men and women think of sex distinctions so negatively. If we are heterosexual, we’ll find at least some of these distinctions in behaviour highly attractive. And part of our personal identity will also be positively connected to our manhood or womanhood.


Family is supposed to involve people becoming important to each other. But autonomy requires us to maximise our independence. So there is a built in conflict in the liberal attitude to the family that’s difficult to resolve.

There are liberals who want both family and autonomy. But this might mean deferring indefinitely a commitment to family life; or making men and women less dependent on each other and therefore less necessary to each other within married life; or treating the traditional (and therefore “predetermined”) family of father, mother and children as a mere social construct, to be replaced by a variety of family types that can be self-determined.

A liberal establishment

In Australia we do not have a conservative establishment. We have a liberal one. The media, the universities and schools, the political parties and even the churches all follow a liberal orthodoxy. So we can’t look to the established powers to question the dominant belief in autonomy as the sole, overriding good. It’s something that has to be initiated at the local level. That's the task we hope to contribute to at Eltham Traditionalists.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

So who is on the side of men?

Who best represents the interests of men? Certainly not Paul Greenberg, a columnist for the mainstream conservative Town Hall website. He believes that men are the weaker sex:

I've never been much of a believer in historical theories about the Indispensable Man. There may be some examples -- Washington, Lincoln, Moses -- but they are few. But the indispensable woman, I believe in. Call it Greenberg's Law: Women are the innately superior sex. My theory may not be backed by any scientific evidence, but it's something every man has surely felt. At least if he's got a lick of sense.

You might even call it a prejudice -- in the sense of Edmund Burke's definition of prejudice as the body of judgments passed on as received wisdom from generation to generation, and that need not be proven anew in every age ...

When it comes to great truths, each generation shouldn't have to work them out by itself. They don't have to be written down, any more than the English constitution is. Every boy soon learns that women seem to know intuitively what the weaker male sex may grasp only by effort and education. Which is why it requires marriage and family to civilize the male animal. He needs a woman's tutelage.

Brighter boys learn the lesson of female superiority early; dimmer ones may never catch on.

I'm starting to feel sorry for Edmund Burke. He seems to be the one that faux conservatives turn to, to add a little rhetorical depth to their featherweight theories.

Where has this Greenberg been living his whole life? Has he missed the advent of the binge drinking, swearing, coarsely natured, bad boy chasing modern girl?

And does this Greenberg really believe that women want men to adopt such a pathetic and inferior position toward them?

Greenberg's misandry has been picked up on by the "Gamist" websites, as proof that conservatives in general are the enemy of the modern male. Even Roissy, who runs one of the most influential of these sites, has picked up on this theme: he claims that conservatives sanctify women and that this leads to the,

laws, policies, and cultural beliefs that are anti-male, and which we in the West are soaking in today.

So is Roissy then someone who is better placed to lead a men's movement? A movement of solidarity between men to overcome such adversity?

That would be no.

Roissy, in the very same article, wants to illustrate just how lacking in moral superiority women are. So he reveals the fact that he has regularly bedded married women. He has bedded married women even when their husbands were attempting to contact them, trying to find out where they were.

Not a great basis for a men's movement, is it? Roissy believes that other men's wives are fair game for himself and his followers. It is a selfish hedonism that pits men against each other in more serious ways than feminism ever devised.

And nor is Roissy's view of men better than that of the misandrist Greenberg. Greenberg may think that women are superior, but Roissy believes the following of men:

Women are vile creatures at heart, just as men are. An ugly truth, Mr. Greenberg

So we get to be equally vile. Feminists think that men are vile and Roissy ends up agreeing.

Many of the comments run along similar lines:

Cultured ape: We are a bunch of selfish and violent apes.

Riff dog: I’m definitely accepting of the fact that women are as depraved as I am. In fact, I count on it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bedded some conservative’s straight and proper looking wife and started thinking, “Buddy, you have no idea.”

Lupo: It is the person who is married who is making the moral choice, not the person they’re sleeping with. When I [sleep with] a married woman, I break no vows: they do. You’re free to think me a bad person, and you’d be right in a way, but unlike married broads who cheat, I actually don’t cheat on anybody.

Vincent Ignatious: There’s nothing wrong with [sleeping with] a taken woman. It would only be wrong if you didn’t make sure the boyfriend/husband found out so he could drop her. 99% of married women in this country don’t deserve a husband. They don’t really deserve to be loved at all.

Str8up: I have no qualms about [sleeping with] women who are married or taken. The funny thing is, it is always the woman who initiates it. I don’t seek it out. I don’t need high fives from other guys. I am simply fulfilling my biological urge for sexual variety. I am not breaking a commitment to anyone.

Gamists are always criticising "beta" males for lacking self-confidence. And yet the thoughts expressed in the above comments are hardly likely to inspire men's sense of confidence in themselves. If men are vile, bad, depraved, selfish and violent apes, who are simply following biological urges, then on what basis do men positively assert their masculine character as fit for leadership in society or in a church or in a family?

Where is it that Roissy can take men? Are we to live as sexual predators, owing each other nothing, regarding women as vile conquests? Does that really match what men once achieved in the world, what men once were? Is it the basis of a self-respecting life, let alone a successful men's movement?

(Roissy's column is here but note that it's more explicit than I've described in this post.)

Update: Lawrence Auster has referenced this post at View from the Right. Auster has some knowledge of Greenberg's politics (I'd never heard of him before) and believes it incorrect to label him a conservative. He is more of a moderate liberal. So it's not even a case here of a mainstream social conservative making comments about female superiority. Therefore all the theories about Greenberg being a pedestalising socon are off the mark from the outset.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The inner citadel of liberalism

John Kekes is a professor of philosophy and author of the book Against Liberalism. I try to keep up with debates in academia about liberalism so I've begun working my way through the book.

The first chapter sets out to define liberalism. Kekes views liberalism as arising during the Renaissance:

it began during the Renaissance as a reaction to religious orthodoxy, gained strength during the Reformation, and became one of the main political forces in the Enlightenment (p.2)

Kekes identifies three key figures in the development of liberal thought, namely John Locke, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill. From his brief outline of these three thinkers, it appears that much of modern liberalism descends from Immanuel Kant, in particular from his development of the idea of autonomy.

And this is where I got a pleasant surprise reading the book. Professor Kekes comes to a very similar conclusion to myself when attempting to define liberalism. He sees the aim of autonomy as being the organising principle:

The basic liberal values may then be identified as pluralism, freedom, rights, equality, and distributive justice. What makes them basically valuable is that they enable individuals to live autonomously. The aim of liberalism is to create and maintain political institutions that foster these values and, through them, autonomy. (p.4)

Kekes also identifies a basic disagreement within modern liberalism, similar to my distinction between right and left liberalism. He distinguishes between a classical and an egalitarian liberalism:

The core of egalitarian liberalism continues to be autonomy. The autonomous life, however, is seen as requiring both freedom and welfare rights. It requires that individuals should be guaranteed certain basic goods that are needed for living according to any conception of a good life. (p.15)

The trend, it seems to me, is to increasingly look on the state as a "welfare state" in the above sense. Not just in terms of handing out welfare to, say, the unemployed. But in the larger sense as being the instrument by which society equalises the conditions for autonomy. Because equal conditions for autonomy is such a utopian aim, the state cannot help but grow steadily in its ambitions and its influence on society. As long as "social justice" (in the liberal understanding) depends on the intervention of the "welfare state", the trend to extend the role of the state is likely to continue.

The core of liberalism

Professor Kekes then reiterates his point about liberalism having a core principle. He notes that liberalism promotes values such as pluralism, freedom, rights, equality and distributive justice. But why, he asks, should these be considered so important? Why not promote other important goods? And do the liberal values necessarily lead by themselves to a fulfilled life?

A third way of raising the same issue is to suppose that the citizens of some liberal society are in full possession of the basic values and then to ask whether this possession is compatible with living empty, wasted, misdirected, miserable, boring, or pointless lives. And since the answer is clearly in the affirmative, it becomes obvious that however important these basic values are, something needs to be added to them to explain why they are so highly valued.

This something is the true core of liberalism, the inner citadel for whose protection all the liberal battles are waged: autonomy. (p.15)

Professor Kekes gives a variety of quotes from liberal writers in support of this argument. For example:

  • I am free because, and in so far as, I am autonomous. (Isaiah Berlin)
  • The essence [of liberalism] is that individuals are self-creating (Alan Ryan)
  • The core of this [liberal] tradition is an insistence that the forms of social life be rooted in the self-conscious value affirmations of autonomous individuals (Bruce Ackerman)

Many of the quotes seem to suggest that what matters is not so much adopting principles that are good or true, but adopting principles autonomously. What matters is that you control the process of adopting your principles, that they are thereby authentically "yours", rather than what these principles amount to. So the value lies in the self-directed, controlled act of will and reason - that is the good that is being pursued - rather than in the outcome.

This seems to me to greatly underestimate the significance of the principles that individuals do choose to follow. It's not just the process that matters, but the quality of the outcome. A man who instinctively recognises the good in fighting courageously to defend his family is to be preferred, in my opinion, to the man who self-consciously reasons about his situation and who comes to the authentic and self-determined opinion that he should run away from the danger.

To give you a better idea of the liberal attitude I'm criticising, here once again is Professor Kekes:

The essential feature of autonomy is a specific form of control that individual agents exercise over their actions. "By autonomy," states Stanley Benn, "I understand a character trait amounting to a capacity to act on principles ... that are one's own because one has made them so by a process of rational reflection on the complex principles and values that one has assimilated from one's social environment"; and according to Gerald Dworkin, "A person is autonomous if he identifies with his desires, goals, and values, and such identification is not itself influenced in ways which make the process of identification in some way alien to the individual." (p.16)

So for Benn what matters is that one's principles are "one's own", rather than that they are virtuous, truthful, wise or good, and for Dworkin the key thing is that we "identify" with our desires, goals and values.

Professor Kekes goes on to outline some of the criticisms of the liberal attitude to autonomy made by communitarians. I'll leave that to a future post.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tony Abbott - No!

Who is the biggest threat to Australian fathers today? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be Tony Abbott, the supposedly "conservative" leader of the Liberal Party.

Men become necessary to family life, in part, through their role as providers. Men work hard to earn a living, which then allows women to raise their children in relative security and comfort. When a woman thinks of her husband as playing a useful role in the family, she treats him with more respect and will do more to keep him attached to family life.

So it ought to be the goal of a society to pay men a living wage with which to support their families. This can be done by setting minimum pay rates; by giving married men with children tax breaks; and by keeping the costs of living, such as housing, to a reasonable level.

But this is no longer the aim of Western societies. The aim instead has been to make women financially independent of men, with the state increasingly taking over the role of provider of financial security.

Tony Abbott is one of the worst offenders. He has proposed a paid maternity scheme which would give women 100% of their income for six months, paid for by a tax on business. Women could earn up to $150,000 for the six months maternity leave.

So it is the state which will end up supporting a woman to stay home to look after her young infant and not the husband. The husband will still be working hard, but will get far less kudos for his efforts.

And now we get wind of another Abbott scheme. He is talking about introducing a "family wage". No, this does not mean guaranteeing men a living wage. It seems to mean the state paying for women to be mothers:

TONY Abbott is working on a plan to provide a "family wage" to help meet the rising cost of living for families.

In an interview with the Herald Sun, Mr Abbott confirmed a family wage "is something that I think is really important".

It could be paid fortnightly to the primary carer for every child until they reach 16 years.

It is unlikely to be means-tested and could be an expensive hit on the Budget.

Options are still being discussed, but it may become the central plank of a "family support" election policy.

It will be especially aimed at single-income families and overcoming what Mr Abbott thinks is the problem with means tests leaving families worse-off if the main income-earner gets a pay rise.

So men are to go out to work, support the state with taxes, and those taxes are then to be used by the state to financially support their wives. The state gets to provide for women, leaving men with an even more precarious position within the modern family.

The scheme might be aimed initially at married women who stay home to raise their children. But inevitably it will be extended to all women. It will come to be thought natural for the state, rather than a husband, to support a woman to raise her children, whether that woman is working or not, and whether she is married or single.

What happens when men are not needed so much as providers? Won't women increasingly select men who aren't as reliable? Won't the male work ethic decline? Won't the rate of single motherhood increase? Won't taxes go up? Won't the cost of housing rise even more when a second wage is guaranteed by the state? Won't men look for an equivalent individualism for themselves? Won't it be even less necessary to maintain real wage rates for men?

Abbott is a statist. A welfare statist. The state is to provide the conditions - the welfare rights - through which the conditions of personal autonomy are met in an equal, universal way. No more of that messy situation in which individual men laboured with varying degrees of success to support their wives. No more trusting men or looking to men to succeed as husbands or fathers. There is to be no failure but no distinctive or necessary fatherhood either. Men are off the case. The state has stepped in to provide, to guarantee women their rights to motherhood.

Will men really not pick up on the change? That society no longer really trusts them to do the necessary work to support their families?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Not signing on to a liberal culture

Lawrence Auster, in a post on film awards, makes this significant criticism of mainstream conservatism:

And this is central to the deeply inadequate "conservatism" we have today. That conservatism rejects a few liberal political positions, while automatically signing on to the hyper liberal culture in which we are immersed. 

It's a useful reminder to all of us. It's much easier to reject liberalism at a formal political level than it is to resist the influence on us of the liberal culture we are daily immersed in.

In other words, it's not only important to keep ourselves politically distinct, but to live our lives distinctly as well. And that includes such matters as the values we seek to impart to our children, the manners and mores we adopt and model to those around us, the arts and culture we choose to support and the nature and quality of the inner life we seek to hold to.

The overlooked intelligentsia?

I had an interesting conversation with a left-wing acquaintance the other day. He suddenly blurted out his fears that Australia was going to get crushed by the forces gathering around it. He thought the Asian powers like China and India would continue to develop whilst Australia would fall behind. He also complained about stagnant wages and the high cost of housing in Australia.

I thought his comments significant because liberals have traditionally staked their politics on the idea of progress. And perhaps it was once possible for liberals to seriously believe in progress. There was a time, after all, when the liberal Western nations were ascendant in the world and when the average man could look forward to rising wages and a shorter working week. In these circumstances, people might have imagined that liberalism was delivering on its promise of progress.

But my acquaintance no longer held out much hope for this. He clearly thought things were going backwards. Hopefully, this means that liberalism will seem far less attractive a philosophy for the younger generations.

My acquaintance also had a theory for the decline. He did not blame an excessive individualism, or problems in the family leading to low birth rates, or the move offshore of industry due to neoliberal economics or the effect on the economy and society of open borders. For him, the underlying problem was a lack of respect for intellectuals and intellectualism.

And in this he is stuck in an old-fashioned headspace. One in which intellectuals feel alienated from society because they don't get to rule society to the degree they think is due to them.

This despite the fact that the modern West, the one my acquaintance thinks is declining, is largely a product of a secular liberal intelligentsia.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Greer: feminist revolution yet to begin

Want to hear the latest from Australian feminist icon, Germaine Greer?

Well, she's written a column for the Melbourne Age. It starts off predictably enough. She celebrates the decline of the traditional family, calling it "the most important change in the last 40 years".

She then throws in a bit of liberal autonomy theory. She wants women to be careerists because this makes them more independent of men. In support of this position, she argues that from the 1960s men could no longer afford to support a wife on a single wage anyway, given all the new gadgetry such as fridges and vacuums that had to be paid for.

That's all standard feminism. But then she ups the ante. She gets very nasty toward women who don't do as feminists want them to do:

Working for your living is part of an honourable grown-up existence. Nobody wants to be a parasite.

Greer thinks that women who stay home to bring up children and care for their families are parasites. So much for the idea that feminism is just about choice and letting women do what they want.

And there's more. Greer interprets the high divorce rate as a progressive thing, as women exercising their independence to ditch cruel and abusive men:

As women's economic independence increased, their tolerance of infidelity, cruelty, neglect and emotional and physical abuse on the part of their spouses dwindled steadily. Divorce rates throughout the developed world rose in unison.

The Australian rate plateaued at the current rate of about 40 per cent of marriages ending in divorce.

She then interprets the rise of cohabitation rather than marriage as another progressive development, as it allows relationships to be "negotiated" (i.e. something we can self-determine or self-direct in line with autonomy theory):

Many such couples have children, and will refer to a cohabiting relationship of many years as an engagement. One way of interpreting this trend is to see it as keeping the relationship in a state of constant negotiation, in which nothing can be taken for granted and both partners are equally involved in decisions affecting family life.

Then she goes back to divorce. She claims she didn't expect divorce rates to be so high. She thinks that women have it much tougher than men after divorce, so much so that if a woman opts for divorce,

she faces 15 or 20 years of poverty and unremitting hard work, both inside and outside the home.

But Greer thinks that women are to be praised for choosing divorce as it means preferring an honourable life over a servile one:

Women who face this fate with equanimity have my unstinting admiration. They are choosing a tough but honourable life over a servile and dishonourable one.

I do know a woman who divorced because of her husband's infidelity. And I do admire her efforts to raise her children in difficult circumstances. But Greer here is praising divorce in a general sense as a pathway to an honourable life over a servile one. I can't help but feel that once again what she is admiring is the act of autonomy itself, a woman's willingness to act for herself even if it makes her life more difficult, over the goal of family stability.

Greer didn't always follow the line of "divorce is great". Back in 1991, perhaps when she still felt more keenly her own failure to marry or have children, she took a very different line. She wrote that "Most societies have arranged matters so that a family surrounds and protects mother and child" and complained of "our families having withered away" with relationships becoming "less durable every year".

Finally, Greer lets us know that the massive transformations in family life and relationships over the past 40 years count for hardly anything compared to what must come in the future:

The feminist revolution has not failed. It has yet to begin. Its ground troops are fast developing the skills and muscle that will be necessary if we are to vanquish corporate power and rescue our small planet for humanity.

What an absolute fantasy world Greer inhabits. She has some kind of unreal idea of transformative revolution in her mind.

And she believes that feminism will help to vanquish corporate power. What a joke. She herself wants women to place themselves increasingly at the service of the corporate world. To the point that she calls women who want to devote their energies elsewhere "parasites".

Greer was catapulted into fame and fortune after writing The Female Eunuch because her views fitted those of the liberal establishment. She is an establishment intellectual and not the iconoclast she imagines herself to be.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

We're sceptical too Elizabeth

Elizabeth Gilbert has written a new book titled Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage.

Laura Wood gave it a hostile review over at The Thinking Housewife:

Contrary to its title, this book is not at all about making peace with marriage, at least not marriage to a man. It’s a misty-eyed paean to feminine independence and an ignorant and misleading appraisal of the institution of marriage. It is shockingly anti-male ...

As Laura Wood points out, it's odd that people should accept marriage advice from someone like Elizabeth Gilbert. She was married in her 20s, but divorced when she decided she never wanted to commit to children. She has finally settled aged 40 with a 55-year-old Brazilian man and some dogs.

There are two highly objectionable messages in her book. The first is that women should marry as late as possible, the later the better:

Marriage is not a game for the young. Wait as long as you humanly can to get married, and your odds of staying with one partner forever will increase dramatically. If you wait until you are, say, 35 years old to get married, your odds of success are pretty terrific.

She justifies this by claiming that 85% of women who marry before the age of 23 will divorce and that the divorce rate continues to decrease for women in their 30s.

The statistic is misleading. It's true that there is a high divorce rate for teen marriages, but the risk declines rapidly for those in their early 20s:

According to a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 48% of people who enter marriage when under age 18, and 40% of 18- and 19-year-olds, will eventually divorce. But only 29% of those who get married at age 20 to 24 will eventually divorce—very similar to the 24% of the 25-and-older cohort.

Furthermore, the risk of divorce for those marrying in their 20s is much lower if the participants are not high school dropouts, if there is a reasonable income, if the parents are not divorced, if there is church attendance and if the couple wait until after the wedding to have children. Depending on these factors the chance of divorce can vary from 10% to 90%.

I would agree that it's probably better not to marry as teens. Most people are still developing into their adult personalities at this time, so the potential of people growing unexpectedly apart is much greater.

But the idea of women waiting until the last possible moment to marry is dramatically wrong. It will lead many women to end up just like Elizabeth Gilbert herself: childless and settling with a much older man. Women are at the peak of their fertility, beauty, sexuality and emotional responsiveness in their 20s. It's when they have the most opportunity to marry well and have children.

And if women wait to the last possible moment, then men are likely to have already adapted to a bachelor lifestyle and be much less suitable husband material.

The second flawed message in Elizabeth Gilbert's book is that women are held back from marriage by a Marriage Benefit Imbalance. She claims that marriage benefits men much more than women - and again she argues her case with some questionable research:

Interviewer: Do you think marriage is more beneficial to men or women?

Elizabeth Gilbert: This is not my opinion, but a fact backed up by every conceivable study: Marriage is far, far more beneficial to men than women. Married men perform far better in life than single men, and are happier than single men, and live longer than single men, and earn more money than single men.

Married women, on the other hand, make less money than single women, suffer more from depression than single women, don't live as long as single women, and are more likely to be the victims of violence than single women. This has always been the case, which does fly in the face of the mythology and romanticizing of marriage that is epidemic in our culture.

The "Western Style Problem" my friend Ting in Laos describes is the moment that women start deciding that they might want to delay or even defer marriage - understandable, given the facts - which tends to throw a wrench in the workings of traditional family structure. Social conservatives lament this, but maybe the bigger question needs to be, "How can we create family and marriage structures where women don't lose so big?" Maybe if that were the question being confronted, more women might be interested in embracing marriage again.

What nonsense. Her claims are not "backed up by every conceivable study". There is plenty of research showing that women, too, benefit from marriage rather than "losing big". Consider, for instance, the following information from a Maggie Gallagher column.

First, on the issue of violence:

Marriage lowers the risk that both men and women will become victims of violence, including domestic violence. A 1994 Justice Department report, based on the National Crime Victimization Survey, found that single and divorced women were four to five times more likely to be victims of violence in any given year than wives ...

On longevity:

Married people live longer and healthier lives. The power of marriage is particularly evident in late middle age. When Linda Waite and a colleague, for example, analyzed mortality differentials in a very large, nationally representative sample, they found an astonishingly large "marriage gap" in longevity: nine out of ten married guys who are alive at 48 will make it to age 65, compared with just six in ten comparable single guys (controlling for race, education, and income). For women, the protective benefits of marriage are also powerful, though not quite as large. Nine out of ten wives alive at age 48 will live to be senior citizens, compared with just eight out of ten divorced and single women.

On wealth:

Married people not only make more money, they manage money better and build more wealth together than either would alone. At identical income levels, for example, married people are less likely to report "economic hardship" or trouble paying basic bills. The longer you stay married, the more assets you build; by contrast, length of cohabitation has no relationship to wealth accumulation. On the verge of retirement, the average married couple has accumulated assets worth about $410,000, compared with $167,000 for the never-married and $154,000 for the divorced. Couples who stayed married in one study saw their assets increase twice as fast as those who had remained divorced over a five-year period.

On mental health:

Marriage is good for your mental health. Married men and women are less depressed, less anxious, and less psychologically distressed than single, divorced, or widowed Americans. By contrast, getting divorced lowers both men's and women's mental health, increasing depression and hostility, and lowering one's self-esteem and sense of personal mastery and purpose in life ...

Wives are also much less likely to commit suicide than single, divorced, or widowed women.

Consider what Elizabeth Gilbert is really arguing. She is claiming that despite all the hard work and sacrifices that men undertake for their families, that women would be better off single. What kind of a message does this send men? It suggests that men ought not to make the effort to begin with.

The truth is that Elizabeth Gilbert did not recoil from marriage because of a Marriage Benefit Imbalance. She did so because she was brought up with a liberal ideal of autonomy for women - an ideal that she is now struggling with: she is sticking with it even whilst she wonders what life would be like with some other more traditional ideal.

I'll go on to discuss this in a future post.