Friday, April 30, 2010

Another failed assault on Anzac Day

Anzac Day is the day of remembrance here in Australia. It has occupied a considerable place in the national consciousness and the memorial services have grown in attendance in recent times.

It's one important tradition that the political class seem to have declared off limits. It's one day of the year when it's OK to show a little bit of national feeling and some positive regard for the older white men who served their country.

It's not that there haven't been radical attempts to undermine the day. This year, for instance, a group of academics published a book titled What's Wrong With ANZAC? They want the emphasis of Australian history to be not on the sacrifices of Australian soldiers overseas but on liberal political campaigns at home. They prefer the period in the 1960s and 70s when,

The emphasis of Australian history was ... on political and social reform, on the egalitarian Australian ethos and the shaping of a vision of a new society.

Other academics have complained that Anzac Day lacks diversity and excludes others:

Nina Burridge of the University of Technology in Sydney - said ANZAC Day glorified white males.

"It's something about male mateship in many ways to me - it doesn't celebrate the wide diversity in Australia," she said. "The very fact that we focus on Gallipoli means we symbolically exclude others, even if we don't intend to."

But so far the line has held against the more radically liberal academics. Even the generally left-leaning ABC ran a well-produced documentary series on the Kokoda campaign this year. And even the very liberal Age newspaper ran a demolition of Catherine Deveny by Richard Cooke.

I don't know much about Cooke, except that he writes for The Chaser - which suggests that he is somewhere on the left. Nonetheless, he defended the Anzacs against a ranting Catherine Deveny.

Here is Deveny in full flight:

Refuse to celebrate a glorification of war that ignores the suffering and carnage of (mostly female) civilians ... They didn't die for us but because they were risktaking testosterone fuelled men with a pack mentality ... I hate bullies, homophobes, thugs, racists, misogynists and rapists in the name of war ... Men only enlisted to fight for the money, for the adventure or because they were racist ... Bigger heroes the women who leave abusive relationships with nothing...

And Cooke's response:

I couldn't shake the feeling that Deveny was waging a senseless campaign ... The phrases were lions, but the thoughts were donkeys.

Anyone who has been to university will recognise the way those sexistracistandhomophobics string together. They're charges that can be levelled against any Western institution or tradition, otherwise masters students would run out of things to do.

Here, though, they feel as if they've turned up to the wrong argument. If anyone could put the racism, sexism and homophobia of 1940s Australia to shame, it was the Axis powers they helped defeat.

Few others have noticed the rape battalions marring Anzac Day marches, but even if we fielded a whole division of sex offenders, they would have a hard time keeping up with the Imperial Japanese Army in Korea and Manchuria.

After all, the campaign at the centre of remembrance isn't called "The Rape of Gallipoli", a distinction not lost on what used to be Nanking.

... If you form an opinion for a living, and you form a contrarian one, you can't shape it just to make Andrew Bolt angry - it has to contain something more than your own raw, visceral reaction to something you don't like. Otherwise, it's just a prejudice.

I'll speculate a bit here and interpret the Deveny versus Cooke debate as follows. Let's say you have liberals like Catherine Deveny who are all too successful in attacking and weakening their own Western societies. That then puts liberal Western societies at risk, leading others who identify as liberal to turn their fire on the likes of Deveny.

Anyway, I did enjoy Cooke's response to Deveny. There's much more he might have added, and perhaps this can be discussed in the comments (e.g. the claim that women suffered as much in war as men doesn't hold up well when it comes to the Australian experience of war in the twentieth century).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Alien arrivals?

Well it's overly fatalistic but it does suggest the fact that we have a political class which runs society along lines which are alien to most of the population.

Friday, April 23, 2010

And this person wants to transform all of you men!

This is a story with an extraordinary ending, so please bear with me and read all the way through.

It begins with a man named Robert Connell. Back in 1995 he wrote a book called Masculinities. There wasn't much that was new in the book. It consists mostly of standard patriarchy theory: the idea that masculinity is a construct and that it provides men with a "patriarchal dividend" at the expense of women. Therefore, social justice requires the deconstruction of masculinity.

But how to do it? Connell argues in Masculinities that there are many masculinities but that one is "hegemonic". This is an idea borrowed from Gramsci. It means that there is one form of masculinity which manages to get itself accepted as authoritative and that through this the existing values of society are upheld.

Therefore, there cannot be transformative change until the hegemonic masculinity is deconstructed. But Connell recognises that a sense of masculinity is embedded in the male personality and that it is formed in part through bodily practices (such as sport).

So what's required is not just a change in patriarchal institutions. What is needed is a change in the male personality and bodily practices. Men need to be degendered in body and in personality.

Connell's book was highly successful. He became the world's leading theorist of masculinity. The charity Oxfam, for instance, believes that its role is to secure gender equity by transforming masculinity throughout the world. The information on its website is clearly drawn from Connell's work:

Throughout the organization, we will base our work on a common understanding that gender equality is key to overcoming poverty and suffering.

[this requires a consideration of] the invisibility of gender issues to most men and the notion of the ‘patriarchal dividend’ (i.e. the privileges that all men draw upon simply by virtue of being male) ... the dominance of specific forms of (‘hegemonic’) masculinity; how masculinities are actively constructed; the costs associated with masculinity for both men and women; and the dynamic nature of masculinities over time.

‘Hegemonic masculinity’ is a concept that draws upon the ideas of Gramsci. It refers to the dynamic cultural process which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.

Again, just to illustrate how serious Oxfam is about transforming masculinity here are some additional ideas from its website:

Oxfam’s approach to poverty – the importance of gender analysis

The study highlights the importance of coherent gender analysis … Gender analysis is central to Oxfam’s understanding of the root causes of global poverty … if gender relations are to be transformed …

Changing masculinities, changing men

… masculinities are actively ‘produced’ by individuals, rather than being programmed by genes … It is sometimes argued … that being ‘natural’ masculinity is impervious to reform. But our research demonstrates the reverse … Clearly there are risks involved in attempts to reshape masculinity …

Again, Connell is the most frequently cited authority in this document written for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The document reminds readers that the UN has called for a "transformative change" to achieve gender equity. Masculinity, it is claimed, stands in the way of "progress" toward a new world order of centralised, global government and increasing ethnic diversity:

In effect, masculinity becomes a rhetorical currency by which opposition to global integration, state centralization and increasing ethnic heterogeneity can be mobilized. (p.4)

It is Connell who is again looked to as the expert authority on the matter:

Typically, as Connell notes (1998: 17), “hardline masculine fundamentalism goes together with a marked anti-internationalism”. (p.4)

So Connell managed to become an international authority on masculinity, or at least the deconstruction thereof.

But this is where we get to the dramatic twist in the story. In his book Masculinities Connell anticipated that the aim of degendering men in their bodily practices and in their personalities would arouse opposition.

In particular, it would arouse the fear that a process of degendering men would turn men into women:

If the problem is basically about masculinity, structural change should follow from a remaking of personality. (p.230)

...emotional turmoil and guilt feelings ... are a measure of the resistance even in favourable circumstances. In other circumstances the project will be rejected out of hand as an attempt to turn men into women.

It follows that a degendering strategy, an attempt to dismantle hegemonic masculinity, is unavoidable.

The degendering strategy applies not only at the level of culture and institutions, but also at the level of the body - the ground chosen by defenders of patriarchy, where the fear of men being turned into women is most poignant. (p.232)

What we are moving towards is indeed "something rich & strange"; and therefore, necessarily, a source of fear as well as desire. (p.234)

The reason I highlighted these passages is this: Robert Connell is no longer legally a man. He has, it seems, had sex change surgery, legally changed his identity, and transformed himself into Raewyn Connell. Below is a photo of the radically transformed Robert Connell.

Given that Robert Connell took this drastic step, I think we're entitled to ask some questions.

Did Robert Connell always feel conflicted in his own masculinity? Does this help to explain his feeling of estrangement from mainstream masculinity? Or his repeated claims that men needed to change their bodily practices to more feminine ones of nurturing babies?

Or did the theory itself push Connell to view masculinity as so malignant that it had to be physically cut away?

Or did the theory, with its emphasis on the bodily transformation of men, lead Connell to arrive at the radical solution pictured on the left?

At any rate, the idea that the great project of liberation is to degender men's bodies and personalities, is associated in the case of its founder with a result that won't appeal to too many men.

Hat tip: Paul Elam

Monday, April 19, 2010

The man of the future?

The Green Party gets about 10% of the vote in Germany. They were part of a governing coalition from 1998 to 2005.

How are they keeping busy in opposition? By writing a Men's Manifesto. This manifesto is interesting to me because it applies liberal principles to men, just as feminism applies them to women.

Remember, according to liberal autonomy theory what matters is that we are self-determining. Our sex is predetermined and is therefore held to be an oppressive restriction on our individuality. Liberals therefore set out to make gender not matter.

So what we ought to expect from the Men's Manifesto are claims that masculinity restricts men; that it is oppressive to men; and that men and women should be levelled to follow the same life path.

So I'll now let Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green MP for the EU, introduce his manifesto:

Equal rights in the year 2010? We men see that our society is still pervaded by a deep seated spirit of sexual polarity which reduces women to femininity and men to masculinity. We have to finally put a stop to it. We no longer want to have to be macho, we want to be people!

[It didn't take long for the liberal orthodoxy to come out, did it? Already Albrecht has set out the terms of the manifesto: masculinity is something that "reduces" us (i.e. is a restriction), which stands in the way of a human identity, and gender has to be made not to matter - there has to be an end to "sexual polarity" in society.]

You aren't born a man, you are turned into one.

[Again, a predictable claim that masculinity has no basis in nature or biology but is socially constructed - an idea that flies in the face of modern science.]

Sex roles for men are also a corset, that does them more harm than good.

[The language of restriction again - a "corset" - plus the claim once more that masculinity oppresses men.]

We as male feminists say: men, give up power, it's worth it!

The crisis is male. The climate, financial and economic crisis, hunger and justice crisis, these are all the direct result of a particularly male way of life, work and economic conduct, which has driven the planet to the brink of ruin.

[So now there does exist something distinctly male - only it's so ruinous that it has to be given up. Albrecht is saying that men as they really exist are contemptible - only when we rebirth into something non-masculine and non-distinct will we be redeemed. Not a great basis, I would have thought, for a "men's movement".]

The existing division of roles between the sexes frequently leads to serious psychological stress ... It is therefore urgently necessary for the body and mind of people to break apart the roles.

[A dramatic way to claim that masculinity and femininity are oppressive to people and must be deconstructed.]

It's true, of course, that masculinity does lay some obligations on men. At times, these obligations can be burdensome. I have no objection to a movement which wants to keep these burdens from being overwhelming.

But let's be honest. It is not a freedom to lose your sense of masculine strength. It is not a freedom if women become less attractively feminine.

These Greens should be careful what they wish for. Who would really want to abolish sex distinctions? After all, our sex is a core part of our identity. And sex distinctions are a vital part of our sexuality and of our instincts toward love and family.

Finally, I'll leave you with an image of our feminist New Man. Below is a photo of Jan Philipp Albrecht, the author of the Men's Manifesto. Is this really the man of the future?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is chivalry to blame?

One of the emerging ideas in the men's rights movement is that chivalry is to blame for the problems men face in modern society.

Pierce Harlan, for instance, recently wrote an article about feminist reactions to the sinking of the Titanic. Back in 1912 the men on the Titanic accepted certain death by giving up their places on the lifeboats to women and children. Many women were impressed by this act of chivalry, with one group of American women erecting a memorial to the men who had sacrificed their lives.

But there were feminists in 1912 who did not wish to accept that the men had made any remarkable sacrifice for women. Some feminists argued that the women had it just as hard as the men as they had to watch from the lifeboats as the ship went down. Others argued that it was a part of natural law for women to be saved as they were more necessary to the survival of the race.

In other words, the feminists denied the existence of a chivalry which accorded them certain privileges in the way they were treated.

Pierce Harlan's take on all this is that society in 1912 accepted the existence of a chivalry which privileged women in certain ways, but that our society, just like the feminists of 1912, denies its existence:

Now, almost 100 years later, chivalry is still a potent force in our society affording special treatment to women in countless ways, but we've done a 180 from where we were in 1912: we've adopted the attitudes the suffragettes held in 1912 of denying that chivalry exists. Their denial -- so marginalized and disparaged in 1912 -- has become the norm in 2010. Denial that chivalry exists is necessary in order to pretend we embrace gender equality. It's a charade. We were more honest about gender in 1912.

Harlan believes that feminists were right to aim at gender equality, but that we don't have true gender equality because women are still privileged by the "potent force" of chivalry.

He supports the views of one of the feminists of the Titanic era who recognised the chivalry but who thought it misguided:

The memorial was not without its detractors. "Some feminists criticized the memorial, saying it was inappropriate to not only commemorate but perpetuate the notion of chivalry. Margaret [Molly Brown] responded that she thought it was very brave that some men had chosen to step aside and let women and children live -- but the gesture should never have been required by law or custom."

Molly Brown, of course, "got it." If only her kind of rational thinking had prevailed.

Now, almost 100 years after Titanic, in important ways, we are less honest about gender than we were when the mighty ship sank. In 1912, women did not have the same rights as men, but society freely acknowledged the chivalry at work on Titanic.

Today, we claim to embrace gender equality, yet chivalry is alive and well and manifests itself in countless ways -- and we pretend it doesn't exist. Like the elephant in the room, it leaves its imprint on virtually every institution, but it's entirely too politically incorrect to acknowledge.

The argument is straightforward enough: modern society promises us gender equality, but men don't get to enjoy equal treatment because of an influential chivalry which can't be openly acknowledged.

Despite its virtues of being simple and clear, I think the argument is wrong.

Chivalry is not the main driver of modern society. It is not a "potent force". There may be a residue of it left in the lighter sentences handed to women in the legal system and in the reluctance to commit women to combat roles or to the military draft.

In general, though, women have been given preferential treatment for an entirely different reason. They have been given preferential treatment because of the way that "gender equality" is understood in liberal societies. Therefore, men's rights activists ought to be wary of accepting the aim of "gender equality" as it is understood today.

The problem is this. Liberals believe that the key good that defines us as human is autonomy. We are autonomous when we are independent, when we have the power to enact our will, when we can choose our own life path etc.

This idea put women at a disadvantage. It made the lives that women traditionally led seem inferior. After all, women were tied biologically to motherhood rather than choosing amongst a range of career options; they were financially dependent on men; and they did not have the same political power that (some) men had to determine social outcomes.

So the early feminists declared that women, as a matter of equality and justice, ought to be free to live the same lives that men did. They rejected the idea that women lived different lives to men because of natural differences between the sexes. Instead, they explained historical differences as a product of socialisation that could be overturned.

The more radical feminists went further and claimed that one class of people ("men") had enjoyed an unearned privilege by oppressing another class of people ("women"). The oppression was systemic throughout society, and was embedded in the culture and institutions of society, including marriage, romance and chivalry. Domestic violence and rape were used by powerful men to maintain their patriarchal privileges.

This is the set of ideas that has been accepted by the Western political classes. The assumption is that women have been historically oppressed and that it is therefore serving the aim of "gender equality" if they are given special treatment in order to lift their status.

In theory, it ought to be enough to give women equal opportunity. After all, if men and women really are the same, and sex distinctions are just social constructs, then men and women with equal opportunities ought to end up having equal outcomes.

But this hasn't happened. Men have continued to earn more, to dominate boardrooms and so on. Liberals don't respond to this by accepting the fact of gender difference. Instead, they assume that historic oppression is still at work and stubbornly resisting women's liberation. They then enact various forms of affirmative action until they get the outcome they want.

This will go on no matter how much men's rights activists argue against chivalry. Let's say that men's rights activists argue that women should serve in combat roles just as men have to do and that this would mean that women are not being given preferential treatment because of chivalry.

What would happen? First, the liberal establishment would be more than happy to take on board the suggestion. Most Western countries are moving in that direction anyway. Nor would most feminists object. Most of the feminists I've debated think it's their right to fight in combat.

But would this stop women getting preferential treatment? The answer is no. When the next round of earnings statistics appeared, and they showed women not earning as much as men, there would still be the same outcry about inequality, and there would be further attempts to rejig the system to favour female earnings. The same with superannuation. Or boardrooms. Or number of MPs. Or women in engineering.

So, again, I would ask men's rights activists to question the assumptions behind liberal notions of "gender equality". Once you accept the liberal version of gender equality you are committing yourself to the view that:
  • sex distinctions are just social constructs
  • personal autonomy is the overriding good in life, and not relationships, the good of society, love, feelings of connectedness, the welfare of children and families and so on.
  • women are not being treated as fully human until society creates the conditions in which they can live as men do
  • preferential treatment for women is justified to overcome historic oppression  
One final point. I don't believe that chivalry fits well with modern social conditions. So I'm neither expecting nor advocating for it to make a resurgence.

However, I do remember the culture of chivalry from my youth in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a matter of everyday culture back then, at least in middle-class Melbourne, for men to offer up seats for women, to hold open doors, to change tyres, to offer to carry bags and so on.

My memory is that it was largely a positive thing. You would make such a gesture for a woman and she would accept graciously. It was something that marked gender differences in a positive way and which helped to create a good feeling between the sexes.

The feminists of the time were not amused. When I first arrived at campus in the mid-80s there were meetings being held in which such practices of courtesy were strongly criticised. A small number of feminists began to attack men who held open doors, word got around and by the late 80s men had mostly given it up.

My point is that it would be wrong to see chivalry as something that feminists have used against men. There may have been instances of this, but to a considerable degree chivalry was something that expressed a positive feeling of mutuality between men and women.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The void in American politics 1950

Liberalism has been an orthodoxy in the political class for a long time. Even in the year 1950, often portrayed as a more conservative period, liberalism was the reigning orthodoxy. In that year, Lionel Trilling's book The Liberal Imagination was published. Trilling observed that:

In the United States at this time Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.

Trilling thought that there were impulses to conservatism, even strong ones, in the population, but that these weren't articulated and so didn't challenge the liberal stranglehold on political ideas.

Why point this out? First, it helps to explain why Western society has veered so radically down a liberal path: there was no well articulated challenge to the liberal orthodoxy to hold things back.

It's also important that we remind people that the Western political establishment is and has been a liberal and not a conservative one. If things have gone wrong it is because liberals were at the helm. If conservatives have been at fault it's for not articulating a principled opposition to liberalism of both the classical (right) and social democratic (left) varieties.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is Malema the future of South Africa?

Julius Malema is South Africa's Mr Ominous.

He is a young star within the ruling party in South Africa, the ANC. He's the president of the youth league of the party and has been described by Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, as the "future leader" of the country.

He considers himself a Marxist and a son of the working classes, but he is already, at age 28, a very wealthy man, who clearly enjoys the trappings of an elite lifestyle.

In March of this year Malema visited a university and sang the line "shoot the Boer" from an ANC revolutionary song. A regional court then found that he had incited violence and ordered him to stop. But he once again sang the words when visiting Zimbabwe and claimed that the judges who found against him were "white males who were refusing to change". The ANC has appealed against the court's decision.

At a news conference this month, Malema did announce that the words "shoot the Boer" would be substituted in South Africa but he then sang another song about beating up white farmers.

It's a serious message in South Africa, where well over 1000 white farmers and family members have been murdered since 1994. There are 40,000 commercial farmers in the country so the murder rate amongst these farmers is extraordinarily high.

Malema is a big supporter of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. During his visit to Zimbabwe this year, Malema spoke out in support of Mugabe's seizure of farms and mines,

"In South Africa, we are just starting," said Malema. "Here you are already very far. We are very happy today that you can account for more than 300,000 new farmers, against the 4,000 who used to dominate agriculture.

We hear you are now going straight to the mines. That's what we are going to be doing in South Africa. We want the mines. They have been exploiting our minerals for a long time. Now it's our turn to also enjoy from these minerals. They are so bright, they are colourful, we refer to them as white people, maybe their colour came as a result of exploiting our minerals and perhaps if some of us can get opportunities in these minerals we can develop some nice colour like them."

Journalist Rian Malan finds these comments deeply troubling:

This is not a coldly scientific Marxist-Leninist. It's Pere Ubu or Idi Amin.

It could be that President Zuma has simply lost control of the ANC, or that Malema is the puppet he uses to mouth ideas too radical to emerge from the presidency. If you ask me, Malema is the point-man for a powerful ANC faction whose motive is greed...

The trouble is that this card trumps all others. Our underclass is huge, poorly educated and desperately poor. They know what happened in Zimbabwe, but even so, the prospect of loot is irresistible, and that's Malema's bait. Mandela gave them free houses. Mbeki gave them welfare grants, leading to a situation where five million taxpayers support 13 million indigents, with the total rising far more rapidly than our ability to pay. Now Malema and the faceless vultures behind him are offering them the rest. They are playing the death card ...

The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) is also worried:

In order to shore up support in the black community the ANC increasingly appears to be seeking to shift the blame for its delivery failures onto the small white ethnic minority, which today comprises well under 10% of the total population of South Africa.

The SAIRR press release is blunt enough in its criticisms of the ANC. But the solution it puts forward is not really a happy one for the whites of South Africa. The whites are held to be valuable to South Africa largely for providing taxes and expertise for the economy:

... many minorities ... may simply get so fed up that those who can will pack up and go. Here they may take the advice of President Zuma to remain calm as they pack up their businesses and their families and calmly board aircraft for Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. With the exodus will leave much of the tax and expertise base of the country.

... the ANC depends greatly on the tax income paid by white South Africans to balance South Africa’s books. Secondly, it depends entirely on the food produced by a small number of white farmers to feed the country. Thirdly, white South Africans still dominate the skills base of the country ...

While the ANC ... may even take drastic action to confiscate white commercial interests as they are currently doing in agriculture, these actions will be ruinous for the economy ...

Is that what's left to white South Africans? To be protected as the ones who keep the economic wheels spinning? It's a niche role that doesn't really express what nationhood is supposed to be about.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


One of the best TV shows I've watched lately is Trawlermen. It doesn't sound promising: it's a documentary about some fishing crews based in Peterhead, Scotland, who trawl for fish in the North Sea.

But the series gives you a very good idea of the challenges faced by these men. The trawlermen have to leave their families for long periods of time while they journey out into the North Sea. There they are subject to the full blast of the elements: to the cold winds and to stormy seas. The job is a highly dangerous one: one of the men featured in the series was swept overboard and lost at sea.

And there is a lot of financial risk involved as well. Expensive equipment is frequently damaged. Many of the skippers are in debt. If the nets come in empty or near empty, as they often seem to do, there is a financial loss. There is a lot riding on the decisions made by the skippers, the difference between success and failure.

These trawlermen are men who pit themselves against the elements, who take risks, for little reward of prestige or power. It's difficult not to admire their determination to succeed in such conditions.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Was Bebel right?

I'm reading Against Liberalism by John Kekes. What is the first argument that Kekes makes against liberalism?

In short, it's this. The basic values of liberalism are designed to foster autonomy. However, human dispositions can be oriented toward both what is good and what is evil. So encouraging autonomy might just as much encourage acts of evil:

in human beings, morally good dispositions coexist with morally evil dispositions. If autonomy is fostered, then both good and evil dispositions are encouraged. (p.24)

Liberals, therefore, need to explain how fostering autonomy can be reconciled with diminishing the prevalence of evil. Kekes discusses a number of liberal strategies; I won't try to summarise these now, as I want to focus on one aspect alone, namely the Socratic option.

Why do humans commit evil actions? Kekes begins with the Socratic explanation:

The philosophically most influential explanation is embedded in the Socratic paradox that no one does evil knowingly. The thought behind the apparently obvious falsehood of this claim is that human agents are normally guided in their actions by what seems good to them. The explanation of evil actions must therefore be either that the agents are ignorant of the good and perform evil actions in the mistaken belief that they are good, or that if they know what the good is and they nevertheless do evil, then it is because accident, coercion, or some incapacity interferes with their pursuit of what seems good to them. (p.28)

Evil exists then because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of choice. This fits in well with the liberal emphasis on autonomy. It means that it is either ignorance which makes people act badly or some sort of external coercion. Therefore, more autonomy, including more "educated" choices, will overcome the problem of evil:

The Socratic explanation ... is most congenial to liberalism. It attributes evil actions to ignorance and proposes as a remedy the improvement of knowledge and the protection of choice from outside interference, which, in liberal language, is but the strengthening of autonomy.

Kekes has some specific criticisms of liberalism for adopting the Socratic explanation. But I want to leave Kekes for a while and turn instead to the writings of a nineteenth century German socialist, August Bebel.

Bebel wrote a feminist book in 1879 called Woman and Socialism. One chapter of this book was devoted to "Woman in the future." So what did Bebel's hopes for women in the future consist of?

He clung to the liberal modernist orthodoxy. He hoped that there would be a society based on individual autonomy - on self-determination and independence - particularly in the sexual sphere.

He wrote of his idealised future society:

Man shall dispose of his own person, provided that the gratification of his impulses is not harmful or detrimental to others. The satisfaction of the sexual impulse is as much the private concern of each individual, as the satisfaction of any other natural impulse. No one is accountable to any one else, and no third person has the right to interfere. What I eat and drink, how I sleep and dress is my private affair, and my private affair also is my intercourse with a person of the opposite sex.

Bebel was an advocate of what was called at the time "free love". It meant that people should sleep with whomever they wanted and that neither morality nor marriage vows ought to limit this. This was a common idea amongst early feminist writers.

One problem with this view is already suggested in Bebel's argument. In order to make sex so casual it has to be reduced in significance to a mere natural appetite like sleeping or eating. It's no longer connected in a special or significant way to love, or psychological bonding or moral feeling.

But that's not the point I wish to draw out. Bebel goes on to argue that only good will result from such autonomy, not evil, because people's intelligence will have been raised by education and because people will be more independent and less subject to compulsion in the new socialist society.

In other words, Bebel turns precisely to the Socratic paradox to explain why autonomy will expand the good and diminish the evil. If people are more independent and more educated then they will follow what is good:

Intelligence and culture, personal independence, – qualities that will become natural, owing to the education and conditions prevailing in the new society, – will prevent persons from committing actions that will prove detrimental to themselves. Men and women of future society will possess far more self-control and a better knowledge of their own natures, than men and women of to-day.

Has he been proven right? Women today are better educated and more independent than in Bebel's time. Has this led to the possession of greater self-control? To beneficial, rather than detrimental, forms of behaviour in human relationships?

There's reason to think not. There's reason to think that the Socratic paradox is wrong. There's reason to think that giving women more autonomy to act as they will has led, as Kekes suggests it would, to some women acting according to their more base dispositions.

It was reported recently, for instance, that the number of newlywed women in Toronto signing up for an adultery website is skyrocketing:

the number of Toronto-area female newlyweds on their site has skyrocketed in the past year. In March 2009, there were 3,184 women who had been married for three years or less actively using the service. A year later, there were 12,442.

The operators of the adultery website have found a "robust" demographic:

They soon realized they had overlooked a robust and active demographic: “These were young women who, from their self-description ... were only married a year or two and seemed to really be questioning the institution, their next step, entering into parenthood, staying with that partner,” Biderman says.

They called it their “newlywed marketplace.”

A relationships expert believes that it is a result of women being more self-determining and following their own path:

“I just think that women are stronger and coming into themselves and following their own path,” says Toronto relationship therapist Nancy Ross.

The website operator also attributes the trend to the growing independence of women:

Biderman thinks female newlyweds are looking for more than a fling — that many of them are sizing up their husbands and questioning whether they really want to start a family with him. And, in a pragmatic move not unlike job hunting, they might even want to line up a new partner before leaving their current one.

“As more and more people get married later and later in life, does it really surprise you that a 30-year-old woman who just got married a year or two ago, but has a very robust career and is very independent, is really going to tolerate the same kind of failed expectations that someone two generations removed from her (did)?” he asks.

One of the women using the site justifies herself as follows:

Susan, now 27, says she loves her husband and does not plan to leave him ... she’s made many friends who understand her, both male and female, and she’s now had four very satisfying affairs.

“I come home smiling after and I’m just fulfilled, which kind of cuts up my resentment toward my husband, because I just feel better — physically, emotionally, everything.”

So we have better educated and more autonomous women. Does this mean, though, that these women are genuinely acting for the good? Their autonomy has in some cases merely unleashed the worst aspects of female hypergamy: of attempting to trade up to higher status men regardless of wedding vows. In other cases it has led them to pursue selfish ends; despite being newly wed they want to continue to take lovers as well as keeping the advantages of having a husband. They are acting not, as Bebel predicted, with greater self-control, but according to the justification of how they feel at a particular moment.

Liberals cannot, therefore, claim that education or knowledge or independence will lead people to act for the good. It is not always coercion or ignorance that leads to detrimental forms of behaviour. The potential to act detrimentally exists within the disposition of individuals. Therefore, if individuals are given the autonomy to act according to their disposition, we can expect to see more of such behaviour, than if individuals are held in some way to a recognised standard.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Erasing sex distinctions by going topless?

Liberals can be funny sometimes. Laura Wood has a post about a group of demonstrators in Portland, Maine. Their cause? They are upset that people react differently to the male and female body. So the women marched topless around the town, whilst some of their male supporters wore dresses.

The idea is a perfectly orthodox liberal one. Liberals want to make sex distinctions not matter. So, just as the US Government is planning to redesign naval submarines to make them more user friendly for pregnant women, so are our Portland liberals demanding that the female body be treated no differently to the male one.

But the protest backfired. The topless march attracted a large gathering of male onlookers:

Ty McDowell, who organized the march, said she was "enraged" by the turnout of men attracted to the demonstration. The purpose, she said, was for society to have the same reaction to a woman walking around topless as it does to men without shirts on.

The comments in the local newspaper wouldn't have been too encouraging for Ty McDowell either:

Dino90000000 said...
I'm still not totally convinced. Many more of these protest marchers are in order. Pretty please?

spud said...
I wish I would have gone now. I would have offered Ms McDowell some "support"

comnsnseruls said...
I don't want a man to look at me and think it's no big deal, I want him to look at me and like what he sees and get excited, not think the same thing when he looks at another guy, that's crazy. pick something that really matters to march for.

Y2Nyb3c%3D said...
One thing is for sure; there are no "ladies" in this bunch. Try as they may, here in America it is never going to be business as usual for women to walk around topless. They can be angry at God or whomever, but that's just how it is.

ElSkipper said...
This article is useless without photos!!!!

It goes without saying that the Swedes have already resolved this issue in favour of the liberal position. Authorities in Malmö decided to let female bathers swim topless at public swimming pools. It was thought discriminatory that men could swim topless and women couldn't; it was also thought wrong that female breasts should be thought sexual in a way that men's aren't:

Speaking to The Local, Ragnhild Karlsson , 22, explained the women's motives for swimming without bikini tops.

"It's a question of equality. I think it's a problem that women are sexualized in this way. If women are forced to wear a top, shouldn't men also have to?"

Outraged by what they regarded as discrimination, a group of women in southern Sweden made a show of solidarity by establishing the Bara Bröst network. (The name translates both as 'Bare Breasts' and 'Just Breasts'.)

"We want our breasts to be as 'normal' and desexualized as men's, so that we too can pull off our shirts at football matches," spokeswomen Astrid Hellroth and Liv Ambjörnsson told Ottar, a magazine published by the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education ...

"Our aim is to start a debate about the unwritten social and cultural rules that sexualize and discriminate against the female body," said Astrid Hellroth and Liv Ambjörnsson.

Laura Wood in her post asked, reasonably enough, if the Portland protesters really believed that the male and female chest were the same:

Do they deny that a man’s chest is, um, different from a woman’s?

Ah, but the power of ideology. If you really think it's important to believe that they are the same, then you will. Bengt Forsberg, the Swedish official in charge of the swimming pools, justified the decision there on this basis:

"We don't define what bathing suits men should wear so it doesn't make much sense to do it for women. And besides, it's not unusual for men to have large breasts that resemble women's breasts," he said.

In the meantime, young Frenchwomen are going the other way. They're starting to put their tops back on:

At one private beach at Bormes-les-Momosas on the Mediterranean coast, fewer than two per cent were topless this week. "It used to be about half," said one sunbather in her 40s.

The women's magazine Elle noted the return of a value – la pudeur – which it thought "had been put firmly in the discarded goods cupboard since May 1968".

According to a recent poll by the IFOP agency, 88 per cent of French women describe themselves as pudiques ... The most striking finding was that younger women are far more unwilling to bare all than their mothers or grandmothers. A quarter of 18 to 24 year-olds even described themselves as "tres pudiques".

Jean-Claude Kauffman, a sociologist said it was a sign of less showy times."We are witnessing a return to more safety and family-oriented values. Modesty and discretion are the order of the day," he said ...

Younger women who had chosen to cover up gave a variety of reasons. Some said it was because of the risks of skin cancer, but more attributed it to changes in society. "On the beach, it's only the older ones who show their boobs nowadays. Having boys look at you is too annoying," said Clara, 17.

"There's a real difference between the generations. Frankly it's hard to find girls of 20 these days who want to go topless," said Manon, 20.

Mr Kaufmann advised French men not to ogle if they wanted bare breasts to remain on their beaches at all. "The male look on the beach must be void of expression, with a lack of interest, which glides over the landscape neither avoiding bare breasts nor staring at them otherwise the beach equilibrium is broken," he warned.

The French experiment hasn't led to the desexualisation of women's bodies. Quite the opposite. Young women are still complaining about unwanted attention from men if they go topless. And men are being advised in response to adopt a studied lack of interest in what's around them, in which they maintain a pretence of neither noticing nor avoiding noticing the fact of attractive women being topless.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Eric Zemmour

There's an interesting post up at Gallia Watch on Eric Zemmour, a French writer and journalist I'd previously not heard of.

Zemmour has gone much further than most in making a principled break with liberalism. Here's an excerpt from his wikipedia entry:

Zemmour considers himself Gaullist and Bonapartist, and places himself in a profoundly anti-liberal (economically and socially) portion of the French right. He also considers himself to be a reactionary, in that he believes his views to be a reaction to a society that dismantles the social order, especially family and tradition, in the pursuit of a false goal: liberating the individual, who only finds himself isolated and reduced to the status of consumer. He reserves subversiveness for the right-wing, arguing that the progressives now dominant in French culture and media can no longer claim to be critics of the established order since they have become the established order.

Zemmour's anti-liberalism also causes him to oppose European federalism. He considers Europe to be profoundly liberal and out of step with the French social order. He also believes that within a European community, the political right and left are forced to advocate "the same economic policy, social liberalism or liberal socialism", since, in the words of Philippe Séguin, "right and left are outlets of the same wholesaler, Europe."

We can at least see from this that Zemmour:
  • Rejects both social and economic liberalism (i.e. a liberalism of the left and right)
  • Recognises that the individual is not liberated by autonomy, but is left isolated and with the trivial status of consumer
  • Recognises that the establishment is not conservative but liberal
  • Recognises the dominance of left-liberalism within the EU ("social liberalism")
I don't know enough about Zemmour to endorse his politics in a general sense. But his break with liberalism at the political level has been deep enough to allow him to take some genuinely traditionalist stances on a number of issues:

  • He opposes European federalism
  • He believes that sex distinctions matter
  • He opposes mass immigration into France
  • He believes that the role of fathers is different to that of mothers
  • He recognises that different races do exist
  • He advocates the "revirilisation" of men and of the European nations

Again, I don't have a systematic understanding of his arguments. He apparently gives a lot of weight to the idea that men have been feminised and have lost their authority and virility. He connects this to the declining fortunes of the European peoples.

The significant thing for me is that Zemmour is an example of how leading intellectuals can recognise the problem of liberalism, make a significant break with it, and begin to reassert traditionalist positions.

The quality of the positions taken by such intellectuals will vary, but the political landscape opened up will be a much more favourable and encouraging one.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

More on liberalism & autonomy

I haven't read (yet) The Morality of Freedom by Oxford professor Joseph Raz. So this isn't a review. I just want to demonstrate how important the concept of autonomy is to liberal political philosophy by quoting some of the chapter summaries:

This book explores, within a liberal framework, the nature, significance, and justification of political freedom or liberty ... What underlies rights, and the value of freedom, is a concern with autonomy.

Central to liberalism is the concept of political freedom.

The doctrine of liberty is underpinned by the ideal of autonomy.

Autonomy is an ideal of self-creation, or self-authorship

Autonomy should be distinguished from self-realization, as autonomous persons may choose not to realize their capacities. Autonomy itself, in an environment that supports autonomy, is not similarly optional, as living autonomously is the only way of flourishing within an autonomy-supporting environment.

The ideal of autonomy, together with pluralism, underlies the doctrine of political freedom. Autonomy underlies both positive and negative freedom.

It's interesting that my own analysis of liberalism is condensed here in three brief sentences:

i) Central to liberalism is the concept of political freedom.

ii) The doctrine of liberty is underpinned by the ideal of autonomy.

iii) Autonomy is an ideal of self-creation, or self-authorship

It's gratifying that my own view should parallel that of a major authority on liberalism like Raz. Of course, Raz as a liberal thinks that the logic of liberal belief summarised above leads to positive outcomes, whereas I see it as having created, in practice, highly destructive outcomes.

If the most important good is to be free, and freedom is understood in terms of autonomy, and autonomy is an ideal of self-creation or self-authorship, then the important thing is to be liberated by the removal of impediments to our own self-creation.

We do not self-create those things which we receive as part of a tradition, as part of the embedded nature of reality, or as part of our biology. We don't self-create our sex, our ethnicity, our nationality, the traditional family, inherited moral codes and so on.

We can, on the other hand, self-create our careers, our consumer choices, our travel destinations, our personal amusements, our casual sexual and romantic liaisons etc.

Care to guess then which set of goods is emphasised within liberal society? Obviously, it's the latter. Liberal society does the latter set of goods reasonably well. But it mostly closes off the former set of goods. And the former set of goods are amongst the most significant in life.

It's in this sense that liberalism, despite its intentions, tends to narrow or limit the range of options available to people. Or, more exactly, it trivialises the range of available options. You can choose between dozens of different varieties of iced tea, but you don't get a culture that supports the expression of masculinity, or which upholds the deeper forms of communal identity.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

New readership record

I'm happy to report that visitor numbers for this site continue to grow month by month, with March setting a new record. Visits are up 250% on this time last year. There's still progress to be made, but the trend is encouraging.

I'd like to thank readers for their support. I do appreciate the comments, even if I don't always have time to respond, as they do contribute much to the site.