Sunday, August 23, 2020

A line of descent

Man was made to be embedded in certain kinds of relationships. The obvious one is the family, in which we can fulfil aspects of our mission as men and as women; our drive to reproduce ourselves and the tradition we belong to; to pair bond with someone of the opposite sex; to uphold our lineage and the tradition of achievement it represents; and to be anchored by the stable loves and attachments which are possible within kin relationships. 

Much the same goes for the larger familial type community which we belong to, namely our membership of an "ethny". This gives us a connection to generations past, present and future; it connects us deeply to people and place; it makes us custodians of a particular cultural inheritance; it deepens our social commitments; and, again, it draws us into a set of relationships based on natural forms of loyalty and common identity. 

Little wonder that for our ancestors piety, understood to mean honouring those who sacrificed to create who we are, namely God, our parents and our nation, was such an important virtue. And little wonder too that fidelity, a proven loyalty to family and nation, was so important and that acts of infidelity or treachery were so fiercely condemned (traitors occupied the innermost circle of hell in Dante's Inferno.)

These relationships are foundational to human life. Without them the individual loses his footing, loses the stability necessary to hold together his psyche/soul, and will spend a life not aiming for the highest things, or oriented to what is good, or true or beautiful within existence, but trying to assuage his anxiety and to keep at bay, however he can, his unease.

What is so unusual about modern Western society is that an influential part of our intellectual class not only fails to defend these relationships, but with unerring instinct and with tremendous moral passion seeks to undermine them. In other words, they are actively oriented to an ethos of infidelity.

You can see this in the feminist women who claim that "men have been the greatest enemy of women" or who relentlessly promote the idea that the biggest threat to women is their own husbands, who are portrayed as tyrants and abusers. This represents an effort to break the ties between men and women, to adopt a mindset in which men and women are fundamentally set apart.

You can see it too in those white liberals who so readily accept atrocity stories designed to dehumanise their own ancestors and to encourage young people to turn against their own history and heritage.

How did it come to this? There is no single source for the descent of the West. Our inability to defend our communal foundations has multiple sources that span both the left and the mainstream right of politics. What I want to do is to attempt to describe just one of these strands, namely that of secular humanist leftism. This appeared amongst an avant-garde by the early 1800s, though humanism itself goes back well before this. Today it is the predominant worldview amongst the Anglo urban middle-class. It is the orthodox view of most teachers and academics, the ones responsible for instructing our children.

You can see the politics of infidelity very clearly in the works of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unlike most of his fellow Englishmen of the early 1800s, he stood fiercely opposed to God (and not on scientific grounds - he was happy to believe in ghosts). He identified with Satan not because he saw Satan as evil, but because he saw Satan as asserting a freedom against God (unsurprisingly, this identification with Satan persisted amongst avant-garde intellectuals for much of the nineteenth century). 

Shelley adopted the attitude of non-serviam: I will not serve. He did so perhaps for the usual reason of pride, but more so it seems because of his notion of human freedom. I am speculating here, but I suspect that Shelley had the attitude that our authority lies in our own reason and will; that therefore we should be subject only to our own reason and will; and that therefore a God who establishes an external law for us to follow, whether this be a natural law or revelation, is a tyrant exercising power over us.

(A brief detour: the notion that the existence of an external law, including God's law, makes us unfree is easy to challenge. If the laws were merely arbitrary, then, yes, they would represent subjection. But if they represent truths about how our lives are rightly ordered, then the more that we obey them, the closer we get to the truth of our being, and the less that they become external impositions.)

Much follows from this rejection of external authority. It means that we can no longer recognise the vertical structure of reality; if everyone is their own authority, then how can I recognise the authority of a bishop or a king or even a father? Relationships can only be horizontal - they can only exist "sideways", hence the emphasis on equality.

Similarly, if there is no natural order of being, and only individuals following the authority of their own will and reason, then many traditional distinctions become obsolete, such as those between men and women, or those of nation (Shelley termed such things "detestable distinctions"). In particular, the duties that flow from them will be rejected as external impositions on the sovereign self. 

Here is Shelley imagining the new man:
The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains/ Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man/ Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,/ Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king/ Over himself
It's very clearly expressed. You can see the absolute rejection of the vertical structure: no king, no social classes, no God, no awe. You can see the rejection of "distinctions", meaning the qualities that give people a supra-individual identity and belonging: no tribes or nations. There is only the free and uncircumscribed individual.

But that is only part of the story. Shelley was not committed to the classical liberal view that man has a low nature (selfish, acquisitive, greedy) that can be harnessed within society. One reason he hated Christianity is that he disliked the idea that man's nature was fallen. He chose to believe that you could have a society of self-sovereign individuals, not subject to external law or custom, who would choose, like himself, to live according to noble principles and, above all, according to selfless love. 

This was an expression of the "all you need is love" ethos that has been around in more recent times (Shelley and John Lennon would have got on like a house on fire - Lennon's "Imagine" is very much in the Shelleyan spirit). Given his belief that love, without moral law, was sufficient, Shelley logically adopted the free love idea: that men and women should remain in a relationship for as long as the love was there, but then move on without jealousy once it finished. It led to a trail of destruction in Shelley's life, including the suicide of his first wife whom he abandoned to run off with the teenage Mary Shelley. 

Many middle-class liberals have continued along much the same lines as Shelley. They see themselves as representing the forces of love and peace, despite acting with immense hostility against those they see as upholding traditional loyalties. We should not be surprised by this. If they reject law and custom as sources of authority, then like Shelley they are likely to see themselves as acting from some sort of inwardly generated universal benevolence or disinterested love instead. The intense virtue signalling perhaps reflects this anxiety to prove that they still have a moral foundation. 

Similarly we should not be surprised at the vehemence, the rage and despair, that they feel toward those who are not "enlightened" and who still have fidelity when it comes to supporting traditional family roles or national identities. For Shelleyan leftists, these are not part of the necessary foundations that support individual life, but aspects of tyranny and oppression over the self-sovereign individual, particularly if these foundations have some standing and authority within the mainstream of society (e.g. "whiteness" in Western countries or masculine leadership in the family or society). They are seen to be assertions of power by some over others, existing for the purposes of exploitation and hindering the progress toward the new free and equal individual.

The utopias imagined by Shelleyan type leftists have often involved a picture of individuals living free from necessity, without a government (why would you need one once human nature is redeemed and there is no need for law). The individual in these communities is free to wander around by themselves, with no personal property, forming voluntary friendships, sharing everything including the women.

In reality, the drift has been toward a mass floating particle society with an ever more centralised state, leading ultimately toward global governance. There are some traditionalists who have picked up on this aspect of leftism and who wish to combat it by emphasising instead smaller scale, localised community life with a return to more personalised relationships. I do think this is one legitimate response to liberal modernity, but with one caveat. 

Such communities won't survive the larger trends within society without clarity of principle, i.e. without firmly establishing an alternative ethos or "metanarrative" that can be embedded within its culture. Similarly, they won't survive without vigilance when it comes to guarding the institutions (the schools, the churches, the local media). There clearly exists a temptation for intellectual types to drift toward a Shelleyan worldview, and it is these types who are often the most motivated to work their way into positions of influence. The left understands how "formation" works - the deliberate approach to instilling a certain worldview, or set of presuppositions, in the young. We should not leave formation to chance, but must have a deliberate approach to it. Finally, we should keep challenging at the political level: the stronger a position that we build for a traditionalist politics within the mainstream of society, the more likely it is that local communities will be sustained into the future.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Does Emma Watson's formula really empower women?

Emma Watson, the actress best known for her childhood role in the Harry Potter films, is a feminist. She recently had this to say:

This might sound benign, but the moral formula she puts forward here has significant consequences. She is claiming that women are empowered when they can do whatever they want, no matter what it is that they want.

Of course, if this were just a case of wanting to wear different types of shoes, it would be harmless. But as a general principle of society, the liberal formula goes well beyond that. After all, if women are empowered when they can do exactly what they want, then the woman who wants to be a good mother by making personal sacrifices for her child is on exactly the same plane as the woman who sells herself on Only Fans to fund a drug habit. As James Kalb so often writes, all desires are equally desires. According to the formula, both women are empowered as long as they can follow their desires.

If you think my example is a bit extreme, consider the case of singer Cardi B who I wrote about last year. She and her fans responded to criticisms of her twerking videos by using the Emma Watson defence, namely that it is empowering for women to do whatever they want. Cardi B has just this month taken the principle even further by releasing a video that would have made prostitutes of yore blush. It is being marketed widely (with the lyrics, but not the video, partly censored) to girls, presumably in part because it fits in well with the ruling ideal of female empowerment.

The liberals who pushed the idea that we should do whatever we want as long as it did not interfere with the rights of others to do the same did not envisage Cardi B as the end product of their moral formula. They assumed that people would choose to act according to the middle-class standards for men and women of their era, i.e. as gentlemen and ladies. They thought that education would refine people, and reveal their inner high character.

It was not a realistic assessment of human nature. Nor did they account for the logic of their formula, i.e. for its failure to discriminate between the moral choices that we make. The message this formula sends is that there are no moral goods as part of the nature of things but only the satisfaction of individual wants. This alone would be enough to gradually erode a gentlemanly code of ethics, but in the longer run the subversion becomes more active. After all, if I am empowered when I can act to satisfy my desires, then it is moral for me to transgress and to break through restraints placed on my behaviour. The further I go in shocking sensibilities, the more liberated and empowered I am. Cardi B becomes the role model.

There was a time when acting exactly as you want would not have been thought empowering, but as lacking self-restraint. There was a range of moral terms to express this failure of self-discipline: dissolute, licentious, decadent, debauched, abandoned, incontinent, promiscuous, profligate, dissipated. The terminology suggests the moral concept: that in acting in an unrestrained way to gratify desires, we are no longer fully ourselves, but are lost in some way to our vices. Lost, not empowered.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Four types of female love

First a disclaimer. I'm always a bit hesitant in publishing these kinds of posts, because they are based on my own, necessarily limited, experiences and observations. I put them forward more as ideas for others to work with, rather than as cast iron, unassailable expressions of truth. 

It seems to me that there are at least four types of female love. The reason for trying to understand each type is that female love for men is not always as stable as that of men for women. Men's love has the advantage that it tends to trigger the male protector/provider instinct, and so men will feel that they are fulfilling a basic aspect of manhood in directing their strengths toward supporting their family. It is an anchor point. Men also seem better able than women to find a transcendent aspect in their love. The male mind is able to combine a love for an individual and flawed woman with an experience of what is transcendent in feminine beauty and goodness. And men experience this love for a woman as a higher expression of their own nature. All this can be powerful enough to motivate men to remain attached to the same woman throughout the course of a life. Yes, there are other factors that push the other way. Men do have an instinct for sexual variety. Nor are men wholly immune to becoming too emotionally damaged for stable attachments. Nonetheless, it is generally easier for a man to attach in a stable way to a woman than for a woman to a man.

So what are the four types of female love? 

1. Libidinal love

This is love that is based on sexual attraction. When women have this feeling, they often describe it in terms of a physical response, rather than an emotional one ("I had butterflies in my stomach"). It is a strongly visceral response in women, one that has little to do with higher, transcendent aspects of mind. 

What triggers this kind of love? Unsurprisingly, primal, visceral instinct. For this reason, it can seem baffling to high minded men. Women might, for instance, respond to men who trigger a sexual thrill, perhaps by being bold, or looking menacing, or breaking the rules, or having a certain arrogance. Libidinal love favours bad boy qualities.

You get a sense of this by reading female "romance" novels. These novels are designed to trigger this libidinal love feeling in women. They are extraordinarily primal. They evoke ancient "bride capture" customs: the hero will often simply force himself in some way onto the reluctant heroine. The hero himself is untamed and outside of polite society (but, in a nod to the next type of love, also someone who has inherited tremendous wealth and status).

Female libidinal love is problematic for society. Libidinal love often doesn't last. It leads women to engage in either one night stands or serial monogamy in their party years. Its impact on men is mixed at best. At its worst it encourages a player type culture amongst men, or perhaps even a "gangsta" one - or an imitation of it. It is not a basis for successful, lifelong marriage.

2. Opportunistic love

Women, more than men, have a capacity to love opportunistically. A woman might reach a certain age, want a wedding, a house, children and financial support, and set out to find a man on this basis. If she finds a man who can provide these things, she might then be willing to embark on a relationship, even if there is little genuine sexual attraction (libidinal love).

There have no doubt been countless marriages based on opportunistic love. But there are three problems with these marriages. First, the lack of sexual attraction is likely to be a cause of frustration on both sides, perhaps even eventually leading to the collapse of the marriage. Second, if the woman secures the things she wanted - the wedding, the house, the children, the financial support - the basis for her love diminishes and she may opt out of the marriage. Third, these marriages often have an unhealthy beta dynamic in which the husband must always qualify himself to his wife.

In the days before easy divorce, opportunistic love would not have broken up marriages, but it would have undermined the happiness of the relationship.

3. Altruistic love

This was the type of love most characteristic of my mother's generation of women (those who married in the early 1960s). It was described well by Marie Robinson in 1958:

Related to this feeling in her, to her sense of security, seeming almost to spring from it, indeed, is a profound delight in giving to those she loves. Psychiatrists, who consider this characteristic the hallmark, the sine qua non, of the truly feminine character, have a name for it: they call it “essential feminine altruism.” The finest flower of this altruism blossoms in her joy in giving the very best of herself to her husband and to her children. She never resents this need in herself to give; she never interprets its manifestations as a burden to her, an imposition on her. It pervades her nature as the color green pervades the countryside in the spring, and she is proud of it and delights in it. It is this altruism, this givingness, that motivates her to keep her equilibrium, to hold onto her joie de vivre despite whatever may befall. It stands her in marvelous stead for all the demands that life is going to make on her—and they will be considerable. When a woman does not have this instinctually based altruism available to her, or when she denies that it is a desirable trait, life's continuous small misfortunes leave her in a glowering rage, helpless and beside herself with self-pity.

I think this is exactly right. This distinctly feminine type of altruistic love was, for most of the women in my mother's social circle, able to hold at bay the resentment and self-pity that women can be prone to, and carry with it a warmth and joy of feminine personality well into old age. 

The damage done by the absence of this kind of love can be seen in an excerpt from a biography of Alice James, the sister of novelist Henry James. Alice, a spinster who lived alone, was visited by her two brothers in 1889:

As the three of them sat and talked, as they exchanged memories and opinions, the afternoon became for Alice a soul-quickening experience wherein the family itself seemed to come richly back into being, a revived and reintegrated presence. Her isolation was overcome for the moment by the sense of being once again a surrounded and nourished member of that family.
When her brothers left she was plunged again into solitude:
she confessed with bleak clarity that she could never allow it to be "anything else than a cruel and unnatural fate for a woman to live alone, to have no one to care and 'do for' daily is not only a sorrow but a sterilizing process."
This aspect of womanhood is not so evident today, perhaps because it stood in the way of the liberal aim of creating a society based on individual autonomy. But it remains a potential within female nature, one that provides a stronger basis for lifelong marriage.

(There does exist a masculine version of this, in which men act for others - but it has a different quality to the feminine version. It is more a case of men using their masculine strengths to create a protected and secure space for their family, and to provide for the material needs/wants of their family.)

4. Caritas love

This is a love (that both sexes can experience) that is more likely to be found among those with serious religious commitments. It could be described like this: my love of God, and my willingness to serve Him, leads me to love and to will the good of my spouse and my children. This is a love, therefore, that is settled in the will. As a matter of deep conscience, I will remain faithful to my spouse, as to God, and I will serve Him through service to my family. I do not need my spouse to be perfect to retain my commitments, and I will seek to overcome my own weaknesses and temptations that might undermine the promises that I have made. I might see marriage as a sacred commitment, a sacrament that it is not mine to break. I might see family as a sacred community, one in which I am charged with the deep mission of the spiritual welfare of my spouse and children. I will actively orient myself to the love of my spouse.

This is the most profound basis for marital commitments, but realistically it won't ever be universally held within a society. It has declined as a serious orientation to Christianity has diminished. It works best, of course, if both the husband and wife hold to it; a marriage can still fail if only one spouse is motivated by caritas. 

It was the type of love that the poet Sir Thomas Overbury advocated as a true basis for marriage in his poem of 1613 titled "The Wife". Although he did want a passionate love, he recognised that this was no guarantee of a wife's loyalty. He thought, therefore, that even though beauty was an important quality, it was most important to look for "good" in a wife. He wrote:

Gods image in her soule, O let me place
My love upon! not Adams in her face.

Good, is a fairer attribute then white,
’Tis the minds beauty keeps the other sweete;

 And what did he mean by "good"? He explains:

By good I would have holy understood,
So God she cannot love, but also me,

He is recognising that the firmest ground for marital commitments is the one founded upon the caritas type of love.


You might think that the aim of a society should be to reject the first two types of female love, the libidinal and the opportunistic, and work instead with altruistic and caritas forms of love. That, though, would be a mistake. The first two are fundamental aspects of female nature that cannot be glossed over. 

For instance, it is much better if a man is sexually attractive to his wife. We know that if a man is too agreeable, or too nice, that he won't trigger this attraction. We don't want the attraction to be triggered by a race to see which man can cover himself with the most tattoos, or best imitate a bikie. But there are other ways a society can help men to be more sexually attractive to women.

How can a decent man trigger sexual attraction in a woman without going gangsta? Well, he can be physically fit and muscular. He can be self-confident. He can have ambition. He can be rough around the edges. He can show competence in things that women consider masculine (e.g. fixing things, building things, outdoorsy things). He can avoid fawning and simping, and have a sense of his own masculine attractiveness. He can be dedicated to a mission in life outside of marriage and family. He can lead adeptly.

As politically incorrect as it is to say it, men can aim to demonstrate forms of masculine power and dominance and competence. And a society can help this along. For instance, it is normal and natural for mothers to instil in their infant sons some "caring and sharing" values. This is an important part of the socialisation of boys. But after about the age of seven it should be mostly complete, and it then becomes more important that boys are socialised in a masculine way within male spaces. A society should take care to give fathers time to spend with their sons in active masculine pursuits. And between the ages of about seven to sixteen, it is helpful for boys to be educated at boys' schools with a largely male staff. These male environments can be challenging for the more gently natured boys, and some might even come out worse for the experience (by never successfully adapting), but for most boys it will have the positive effect of instilling a more spirited and competitive masculine mindset (e.g. by learning to stand up for yourself, to learn better how to keep boundaries, to hold frame when under duress etc.).

As for opportunistic love, this too needs to be understood as a matter of policy making. Society once did this in a blunt way. Marriage allowed a young woman to leave her parents' house and form one of her own, i.e. to be independent. It gave her children and material security. If she divorced she had only a limited claim to these things. Our society has, with equal bluntness, gone the opposite way by associating independence with being single, and by rewarding women with the children, house and money on divorce. A society needs to get the balance of this right if it wants marital stability.

And how do we restore "essential female altruism"? That requires a rolling back of a number of things. Because liberalism wants to make our sex not matter (as being a predetermined quality), liberals aim at a gender role convergence in which men and women play the same role within the family. This undermines a woman's sense that she might give to her family in a unique way as a woman. Similarly, the liberal emphasis on autonomy means that women are raised to believe that an independent career is what matters and that work done for family is therefore to be thought of negatively as an oppressive limitation, a burden that must be shared equally between men and women or else outsourced.

Marie Robinson thought this to be the case, even back in 1958. She described one of her clients, who was cut off from this feminine altruistic love, as follows:

The whole emphasis in her early upbringing had been on achievement in the male world, and in the male sense of the word. She had been taught to be competitive with men, to look upon them as basically inimical to women. Women were portrayed as an exploited and badly put upon minority class. Marriage, childbearing, and love were traps that placed one in the hands of the enemy, man, whose chief desire was to enslave woman. Her mother had profoundly inculcated in her the belief that women were to work in the market place at all cost, to be aggressive, to take love (a la Russe) where they found it, and to be tied down by nothing, no one; no more, as her mother put it, than a man is. Such a definition of the normal had, of course, made her fearful of a real or deep or enduring relationship with a man.

Finally, there is the issue of caritas. In a secular society, with a materialistic world view, this understanding of love will not prosper. What I would urge men to understand, even those men without religious belief, is that this is not without negative consequences. The churches did once help to create a more secure setting for family life.