Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Locke & the family

Dr Allan Carlson believes that the English philosopher John Locke set the template for the modern family back in the late 1600s. According to Carlson, Locke thought that the traditional role of fathers in the family was unnatural. All men wanted to do, by nature, was to survive as individuals and beget children (and then leave). Therefore, men were given power and authority over women and children as a way of luring them into family life.

And so, for Locke, the traditional paternal role was not only narrow in purpose, but politically damaging as it was used to justify the rule and authority of kings. Therefore, it had to be reformed:
"Since his overall project demanded an end to Patriarchy at the political level, so as to undermine the claims of kings, Locke deemed it necessary to bring an end to Patriarchy within the family as well. His alternative was the “liberal” marriage – of limited purpose and authority – where men might find compensatory satisfactions in friendships with a wife and children. Locke understood that, while it ran against his premise of gender equality, he still needed to cast the father as the presumed head of the family, which in industrial society evolved into the “breadwinner” role."

Being the "presumed head of the family" did not mean as much as it once did. As Dr Carlson points out, the paternal role was increasingly dominated by the demands of paid work. Even so, liberals eventually came to believe that even this "soft patriarchy" conflicted too much with liberal beliefs about gender equality. And so Locke's voluntary marital contract, in which women are tied to family by their natural connection to children, and men by their "artificial" role as head of the family, breaks down:
However, some in the liberal order eventually saw that as too great a price. To gain the promised equality, they said, women must instead overcome their maternal instincts and break their affective ties to children and to nature itself. At that point, the contract breaks down. As women renounce their innate purpose, men lose their artificially created one, and the liberal marriage system dissolves.

This overtly feminist step did not take place until the second half of the nineteenth century, but it had its origins in Locke:
While John Stuart Mill, writing in the mid-19th century, was among the first to describe this feminist imperative, its roots lay in Locke. Indeed, he readily acknowledged the validity, in certain societies, of the single-parent family, where “the children are left to the mother, follow her, and are wholly under her care and provision”.

So also with polygamy: systems of one man with multiple wives or one woman with multiple husbands. These too, Locke said, could serve as household forms adequate to the tasks of rearing children as “free and rational creatures”. Such matters were subject solely to cultural acceptance, what Locke called “fashion”. 

It would be interesting to follow this observation further. If Locke's end goal really was simply to raise children as "free and rational" creatures, then you could do this in a variety of settings, including state institutions. The traditional family is then put on shaky ground. An alternative approach would be to think of the offices of husband/father and wife/mother as being part of the social context within which we best fulfil our given purposes as men and women. It would also see the traditional family as an aspect of society itself, as its own little commonwealth, with a distinct culture, and with a set of economic, educational, religious and leisure functions that are foundational to the larger society.

Carlson does discuss the problem of the family losing its larger functions in society. According to Carlson, this was something deliberately aimed at by Locke:
Locke’s “Conjugal Society” rested on a “voluntary compact between men and women” that was limited to the “things of their common interest and [common] property”. Under Patriarchy, the economic lives of men and women had been merged, wholly and completely. As expressions of pre-industrial life, such households were also characterised by a great array of productive activities. The sexual and the economic merged fully here.

Locke aimed at families stripped of most functions, economic or otherwise. Property could be held separately, by husband and wife. Since the purposes of marriage were only procreation and the socialisation of small children as rational creatures, and since marriage was always provisional, a strong home economy was neither necessary nor desirable.

I've been thinking about exactly this issue lately. Modern society is rendering men and women increasingly less necessary to each other - at least in terms of social function. Not only is there gender role convergence, in which men and women end up doing much the same thing in society, but so many aspects of life are being outsourced, that it's much more possible for people to survive without the support of family.

To the extent that we can, we need to "un-Locke" the family. The family will not rest well on the basis provided for it by Locke and his successors (which is increasingly limited to a provisional friendship between "partners" of any sex). It needs to widen once again its functions within society and the paternal role needs to be grounded on fundamental aspects of masculine nature, identity, social roles and telos/purposes.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Melbourne Traditionalists Conference 2019

Last year we held our first ever conference. It was a great success both in terms of attendance and atmosphere. You don't need to be part of the group to attend, just interested in learning about traditionalist ideas and meeting a group of like minded people. The details are:


Friday 18th October, 7pm Meet and Greet

Saturday 19th October, 10am - 5pm Conference; 7pm Banquet


1. Shelley and the origins of Liberal thought

2. E.F. Schumacher: Small is Beautiful

3. From ABC to XYZ: Alt Media in Australia

4. International Banking and You

5. Class Warfare and White Genocide: The origins of Cultural Marxism


The cost includes both the lunch and the Saturday evening banquet. Concession $75, Full Price $110.


An historic building in the inner suburbs, address to be confirmed to attendees prior to conference.


Booking is online here.

Further information:

Mark Moncrieff, email: uponhopeblog(at)

Monday, September 09, 2019

How a law came to pass

A new law has been passed here in the Australian state of Victoria to allow people to change whether they are listed as male or female on their birth certificates:
The bill was introduced a second time by Attorney-General Jill Hennessy, who celebrated its passing on Tuesday night.

"These important new laws are about ensuring everyone can live their life as they choose, and that includes having a birth certificate that reflects their true identity," she said.

As you can see from the quote, the Attorney-General justified the new law by emphasising the importance of a freedom to live as we choose, even to the point of choosing our sex. Supporters of the new law likewise held up placards reading "Autonomy & Freedom," connecting freedom with an autonomy to self-define.

None of this is surprising. Courts in the U.S., for instance, have made very explicit the idea that a right to self-define is fundamental to how moral issues are decided. One example of this was a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 which struck down a law requiring women to wait 72 hours before procuring an abortion on the grounds that:
Autonomy and dominion over one's body go to the very heart of what it means to be free. At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one's own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty.

Liberty is being tied together here with an autonomous individual self-defining in whatever direction they choose.

This is not a new notion in the West. It was one of two approaches to freedom that seem to have contested for the Western soul from the early modern period onward.

I wrote a post earlier this year about a dispute in England in 1620 on the question of transvestism. Was it right for women to wear men's clothes? In one pamphlet the reasons given in favour were very similar to those still being made today. The transvestite woman defended herself with the argument that freedom existed when there was no "restraint from those actions which the mind of its own accord doth most willingly desire". Therefore, she was free if she was able to follow her desire to dress as a man. Similarly, she claimed that "for me to follow change according to the limitation of mine own will and pleasure, there cannot be a greater freedom." She believed that she was free if she could act with nothing to limit her but her own will and pleasure.

But in 1620 there was another way of thinking about freedom. Her opponent in the debate reproaches her with these words:
You have wrested out some wit, to wrangle forth no reason; since everything you would make for excuse, approves your guilt still more ugly: what basest bondage, or what more servile baseness, than for the flattering and soothing of an un-bridled appetite, or delight, to take a wilfull liberty to do evil, and to give evil example? This is to be Hells Prentice, not Heaven’s Free-woman.

There is no freedom, in this view, in asserting "unbridled appetite, or delight". If we choose to act basely, then we are not exercising freedom, but falling into a servile bondage.

The woman eventually reveals that she never really wanted to wear men's clothes but only did so to shame men into acting less foppishly themselves. She quotes some lines of a poem in which the hero has been beguiled by a witch and has lost his manliness:
His Locks bedewed with waters of sweet savour;
Stood curled round in order on his head;
He had such wanton womanish behaviour,
As though in Valor he had ne’re been bred:
So chang’d in speech, in manners and in favour,
So from himselfe beyond all reason led,
By these inchantments of this amorous Dame;
He was himselfe in nothing but in name.

The lines are significant because they suggest that we have fit ends within our nature as men and women that we know best when in a certain state of right mind/reason, but that we can be led beyond reason and therefore fail to inhabit what we are meant to be. Freedom, in other words, is more a capacity to act according to what is best within our given natures as men and women, rather than an autonomy to self-define.

The man is inspired to firmly reject his own effeminate dress and declares:
From henceforth deformity shall pack to Hell, and if at any time he hide himself upon the earth, yet it shall be with contempt and disgrace...Henceforth we will live nobly like ourselves

The writer of the 1620 pamphlet felt that the more he approached the nobler qualities of manhood the more he lived as himself.

The transvestite woman did not win the argument in the 1620 pamphlet but today she inhabits the benches of supreme courts throughout the Western world. It is her understanding of liberty, as a freedom to self-define, which is now the ruling principle, having vanquished the other, once influential, Western tradition that connected freedom, reason and nature.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Partial interest & the common good

I listened recently to a very interesting lecture by Professor Patrick Deneen on the topic of "Aristopopulism". In this lecture, Deneen mentions that a basic problem in politics going back all the way to the ancients was how to overcome the conflict between the few at the top and the many below. The solution was to look for a common good, particularly one that might restrain the behaviour of those with power.

It is clear that the commitment to a common good is weakening in Western societies. The elites no longer see their own fate bound together with that of their co-nationals. At the same time, there is an emerging unease within the majority about their appointed role in society. Below, for instance, is an image from a yellow vest demonstration in France. The placard reads "Work, consume and shut your mouth" - a complaint about what is expected of ordinary French people.

We seem to be replacing the traditional commitment to a common good, that all were duty bound to uphold, with an understanding of society as being made up of a whole series of partial interests, each set against each other, but each needing to be balanced to achieve a state of social justice.

Liberals often just assume this model of society, whilst traditionalists are more likely to still have in mind the notion of a common good. For instance, a liberal woman will assume that men have always acted out of a partial interest to press their own power in society against that of women. Therefore, if men express unease or discomfort about some feminist initiative, a liberal woman will understand it to represent a psychological difficulty of those men in giving up power for the sake of equality.

Similarly, imagine a situation in which a husband has worked for decades for the good of his family and ends up with a larger amount of superannuation than his wife, who perhaps stopped work for a period of time to be with her children. If you think in terms of people acting dutifully to uphold the common good of their family, then you will think of the husband and wife sharing a joint interest and benefiting together from their combined superannuation. A liberal woman, though, might be so used to thinking in terms of men and women having separate and distinct partial interests, and the notion of a common good might be so absent, that she will see the husband and wife as having separate financial interests, and therefore she will see the difference in superannuation as harming rather than benefiting the wife.

You can see all this playing out as well when it comes to race relations. In a traditional society, there was a common good represented by the continuing existence of a people, its culture and tradition. It would have been thought not only normal but also highly desirable for this culture and people to dominate within its own country.

But if there is no common good, but only competing partial interests needing to be balanced out, then the existence of a dominant majority people and culture becomes highly problematic. White nationalists sometimes claim a place within the field of modern politics by asserting the right to promote the partial interests of whites. As understandable as this is, it doesn't work well when the notion of a common good has been rejected in favour of partial interests. If the majority people and culture assert their rights, then this will be seen to be favouring an "unequal" situation, of the majority wanting to continue as a dominant majority and therefore favouring "supremacy" rather than being balanced out by everyone else.

Can a society that lacks the notion of a common good prosper? I don't think so. First, there will be a widening sense of incompatibility between those at the top and the rest of the population. The discontents that gave birth to the yellow vest movement in France are likely to build up in force elsewhere. Second, the absence of a common good will, over time, erode the conscientiousness and sense of duty that once helped motivate people to make and to keep their commitments to others. Third, it will be more difficult to persuade people to make lifelong commitments without the sense of meaning and purpose provided by a common good.

Finally, when people stop thinking about how interests can be harmonised within a common good, then even our own partial interests are likely to suffer. For instance, feminists often make the mistake of thinking that they can push the partial interests of women without thinking of the larger harmony of interests necessary for things to work out well. As an example, feminists have been very successful in enrolling women into higher education, sometimes with the help of quotas and the like. There is now something like a million more women than men in higher education in the U.S. But where then do these women find husbands with a similar or higher standard of education? Feminist successes in education lead to failures in family formation. So are women really any better off even looked at from the point of view of their own partial interests?