Friday, September 30, 2022

A kingdom of women warriors

The modern world is doubling down on the idea of women as warriors. This was foreshadowed as far back as the 1970s, with the advent of second wave feminism. The deal back then was that women could be shown bringing down men, as long as they remained glamorously and sexily feminine. You could see this on popular TV shows of the era like "Charlie's Angels" and "Wonder Woman".

Charlie's Angels - 1970s

Since then, there have been multitudes of female characters kick boxing their way across movie and TV screens, with a decreasing emphasis on feminine glamour. That has now progressed to the idea that female warriors were common in real history not just in fiction. I had a lengthy debate with one person on social media who claimed, in all seriousness, that half of the Viking warriors were female (on the basis of one contested grave find). And now, unsurprisingly, a film ("The Woman King") has been released about the Agojie, an all female warrior unit which operated in the Kingdom of Dahomey on the west coast of Africa.

More on the film later. The first issue is why our culture thinks it so important to establish the idea of women as warriors. My first answer is straightforward. If you are a liberal, and you believe that the predetermined aspects of life, such as our sex, are a limitation on our freedom to self-define, then you will want to erase sex distinctions. One powerful way of doing that is to assert that men can be just as emotional and nurturing as women, and women just as capable as men of acting as warriors. 

One of the disturbing consequences of holding such a belief is that it suggests that unless women can be shown to have such masculine qualities that they are somehow lacking. Women manifesting the best feminine qualities no longer suffices, as this will be thought to still support a distinction of sex. Everything comes to rest on the "girl boss" phenomenon. To put this another way, it will be assumed that supporting women means supporting a masculinised version of women.

Rey from Star Wars 2015

There is also a second possible explanation for the "women as warrior" ethos. There is an emphasis within Gnostic thought that "we are not our bodies". Instead of a positive picture of the material world as God's creation, in which aspects of the divine order inhere, Gnostics see the material world as a merely corrupted material form which has to be overcome. In this world view, our physical bodies do not point in a positive way to our ends or purposes as men and women, but are merely the limiting flesh caging our real selves. Our embodiment limits us, in this view, and therefore needs to be transcended. 

And what about the Agojie? Well, it is true that the Kingdom of Dahomey did have such a female warrior corps. However, the film that has recently been released about the Agojie has highlighted some inconvenient truths about the Kingdom of Dahomey. It turns out that this kingdom would raid neighbouring areas, capture men and women, keep some of them as slaves, sacrifice some of them on an annual festival day and sell others to the North Atlantic slave trade.

The Kingdom of Dahomey existed in what is now the country of Benin from about 1600 to 1904. It was a militarised kingdom that focused considerably on slavery:

Both domestic slavery and the Atlantic slave trade were important to the economy of Dahomey. Men, women, and children captured by Dahomey in wars and slave raids were sold to European slave traders in exchange for various goods such as rifles, gunpowder, textiles, cowry shells, and alcohol. 

Other war captives who were not intended to be sold to Europeans remained in Dahomey as slaves. There, they worked on royal plantations that supplied food for the army and royal court.

There was a history of human sacrifice using slaves.

The human sacrifice would happen once a year during the "Annual Customs" celebrations:

Since Dahomey was a significant military power involved in the slave trade, slaves and human sacrifice became crucial aspects of the ceremony. Captives from war and criminals were killed for the deceased kings of Dahomey. During the ceremony, around 500 prisoners would be sacrificed. As many as 4,000 were reported killed in one of these ceremonies in 1727. Most of the victims were sacrificed through decapitation, a tradition widely used by Dahomean kings, and the literal translation for the Fon name for the ceremony Xwetanu is "yearly head business". 

The European who has been called "the greatest slave trader", the Portuguese/Brazilian Francisco FĂ©lix de Souza, held an honoured place in Dahomey, being awarded the status of chieftain. Even today there is a statue of him in the port city of Ouidah in Benin (he also has a plaza named after him and a museum).

The British attempted to suppress these practices in Dahomey in the mid-nineteenth century:

Dahomey became an adversary to the British Empire after the abolition of slavery during the 19th century. The British sent diplomatic missions to Dahomey, in an effort to convince King Ghezo to abolish human sacrifice and slave trading. Ghezo did not immediately concede to British demands, however he attempted to maintain friendly relations with the British by encouraging the growth of new trade in palm oil instead. In 1851, the Royal Navy imposed a naval blockade against Dahomey, forcing Ghezo to sign a treaty in 1852 that immediately abolished the export of slaves. However, the treaty was broken and slave trading efforts continued in 1857 and 1858.

Historian Martin Meredith quotes Ghezo telling the British,
The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people. It is the source of their glory and wealth. Their songs celebrate their victories and the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery.

Dahomey collapsed during the second Franco-Dahomean War that took place in the early 1890s. Despite being equipped with quality German guns, the Dahomey army could not match a much smaller French force. The Agojie did fight fiercely, but not very effectively:

Between 2,000 and 4,000 Dahomean soldiers—including both men and women—died during the seven-week war. Of the roughly 1,200 Agojie in fighting shape at the beginning of the war, just 50 or 60 remained ready for battle by its end. Comparatively, the French side lost 52 Europeans and 33 Africans on the battlefield. 

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Pope Francis on love of homeland

Pope Francis is not exactly known for being a conservative in the Catholic Church, but nonetheless he recently made a good defence of patriotism. Speaking on the topic of the morality of defending one's own country, he stated:

To defend oneself is not only licit, it’s also an expression of love toward one’s homeland; whoever doesn’t defend something, doesn’t love it. Instead, those who defend, love.

I particularly like the way he framed this, as it captures something important about patriotism. When you belong to a genuine national tradition, you see the good in it, and this naturally draws our love - it becomes a love of a significant good, perhaps even a type of transcendent good (a good that draws us to a higher aspect of reality and of ourselves). It then becomes natural to want to defend this good, which is why people will make sacrifices to uphold their national tradition, including making commitments to family life, to raising the next generation, to wanting to maintain the moral standing of the nation they are a part of, to creating a worthy national culture and so on.

The Catholic Church has something of a mixed record on the issue of defence of homeland, and no doubt it was easier for Pope Francis to make his comments, given that he was supporting the right of Ukraine to obtain weapons, and Ukraine is currently considered a progressive cause. 

Still, there are many voices within the Catholic Church arguing for patriotism, so Catholics should not be pressured into thinking that they must support globalism. Cardinal Robert Sarah is one such voice:

Cardinal Sarah is aware that globalism favours a technocratic vision in which people become "fungible", i.e. become mutually interchangeable units of production or consumption to the detriment of their personhood.

Similarly, Cardinal Burke has given an extensive speech on the issue, drawing on the work of St Thomas Aquinas. Cardinal Burke concludes by rejecting a globalist agenda:

It is clear that we and our homelands have responsibilities within the international community, but those responsibilities can only be fulfilled through a sound life in the family and in the homeland. Patriotism, in fact, fosters the virtue of charity which clearly embraces citizens of other nations, recognising and respecting their distinct cultural and historical identity.

...The divine authority, in accord with the order written upon the human heart, does not make just and legitimate a single global government...On the contrary, God meets us and orders our lives for the good in the family and in the homeland.


A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Technocracy vs tradition?

Why are the elites so hostile to traditional ways of life? One common answer is that the elites are committed to running society along technocratic, rather than traditional, lines. I don't believe that this is the only factor involved, but it does seem to be part of the problem.

The independent journalist Auron MacIntyre has written a piece for The American Mind on this issue. He begins by summarising the ideas of the writer James Burnham:

In 1941 James Burnham published The Managerial Revolution to explain the fundamental transformation of society around the world. While it appeared that communism, fascism, and liberal democracy were competing for supremacy on the world stage, Burnham noted that these systems shared a common trait of empowering highly-specialized managers who operate a network of large bureaucracies with the goal of standardizing and planning their societies from the top down. This dynamic was easier to observe in the hard totalitarian states where official state organs dictated social and economic behavior. The tight grip of the managers in those societies drove them to collapse, but in the liberal West managers used a gradual approach that proved more resilient.

James Burnham

I think Burnham is right to note the similarities between different kinds of modernist political movements. I'll give examples later of technocratic attitudes in both communist Russia and liberal democratic Australia. First, though, it's helpful to continue with MacIntyre's account of technocracy and why it is so at odds with traditional ways of life:

The political formula of the managerial class is based on its expertise in the operation of large organizations and the efficiency they produce. In order to reliably deliver efficiency through massive bureaucratic institutions managers must impose uniformity. Small businesses, regional governments, and community organizations can mold themselves to the character of the people they serve and cater to the individual needs and tastes of their culture. Mass organizations, in contrast, generate their power due to scale, and to achieve that scale they require mass production and mass consumption. The cultural and moral particularities of a specific community, region, or even nation are a hindrance to the goal of maximizing the efficiency of mass production and consumption. Because those regional particularities represent a hindrance to the applications of managerial techniques, cultural homogenization is a key aspect of the managerial political formula.
I'd like to hone in here on just two characteristics of technocracy identified by MacIntyre: size and expertise. As we will soon see, those who wish to manage society along technocratic lines have a contempt for smaller-scale social institutions run by amateurs. Technocrats prefer to operate on a mass scale but with authority invested in a small class of experts (so the vision, despite being oriented to a mass scale, is nonetheless elitist).

I'll include just one more quote from MacIntyre explaining why the ideologies of the left have been so readily adopted by large economic corporations:
The radical left is a nexus of ideologies designed to break down the traditional structures of society. Structures like family and religion are the institutions through which troublesome regional particularities tend to be expressed and perpetuated. The deracinated individual stripped of all connection to faith, family, culture, or even gender serves as the perfect employee and consumer. Woke ideology may pay lip service to diversity but it dissolves the particularities that generate actual diversity. Total cultural homogenization is the logical consequence of progressivism and serves as the perfect medium for the fungible worker and consumer that larger managerial corporations crave.

The rest of MacIntyre's piece is very good and I encourage you to read it. For now, though, I am going to focus on reinforcing some of the points he has already made.

If we go back to the year 1932, we find the communist leader Leon Trotsky defending the attempt to abolish the family in the years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution:

The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called “family hearth” - that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution...The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, creches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organizations, moving-picture theaters, etc.

Note some of the key features of the technocratic mindset here. Trotsky doesn't like the scale of the family ("petty enterprise"). And he wants it to be replaced entirely by professional organisations ("a finished system of social care"). Trotsky, then, was as much a technocrat as the managerial class we have in the West today - despite the difference in political ideologies. Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that the modern West has adopted much of the Bolshevik revolutionary programme, albeit in a more reformist way.

Fast forward to Australia, 1942, just a year after Burnham's book on the managerial revolution was published. This was the year that the decision was made to end the Anglo-Australian identity and to replace it with a more heterogeneous population (but still European). What is noteworthy is that the decision was made, in part, by a group of technocrats, such as economists and planners, in an "Inter-Departmental Committee". They had growth targets they wanted to meet and they believed that the fertility rates (depressed in the 1920s and 30s at the end of the long first wave of feminism) in Australia were too low to meet these targets. 

It is also noteworthy that the politician most in favour of the change, Arthur Calwell, believed that maintaining the status quo would leave Australia as "a dull inbred country of predominantly British stock" - which expresses a similar mentality to Trotsky in his complaint that the traditional family was archaic, stuffy and stagnant. The technocrats want a more open or "opened-up" social field to work on - not "inbred" or in Trotsky's words "shut in". 

Let's move forward to 1993. An American secular humanist by the name of Thomas Flynn, just like Trotsky, wished to see the end of the family. Why? 

We expect specialists to build our cars, raise our buildings, make our clothing, write our software - the list is endless. Perversely, only society's most precious products - us - are still entrusted to cottage industry. If society is falling apart as conservatives charge, perhaps the blame lies not with "alternative family structures" (more accurately, non-familial households) but simply with parents, single or married, rich or poor, for whom parenting could never be more than a hobby - pursued in naive isolation, abandoned just when one threatens to get good at it. While procreation and parenting remain yoked, most children are doomed to be raised by amateurs...

The family, our last cottage industry, must go!

Looking Backwards - Issuing A Challenge

In 1888 Edward Bellamy published the utopian novel Looking Backwards, 2000-1887. Bellamy predicted that by the 21st Century capitalism, home, and family would be forgotten. Generations of reformers imbibed Bellamy's vivid images of happy workers who lived in dorms and ate in refectories, of children raised in large cohorts by gifted mentors, and dreamt that this was the shape of things to come. Science-fiction masters like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and others portrayed futures in which the family had been eclipsed by licensed, professionalized alternatives. Many progressives simply assumed that one day, if not too soon, parenting would be a career like any other. Those most capable of it would be trained to mentor armies of children not their own.

Flynn has gone all out here to put things on a technocratic footing. He wants the small-scale unit of the family to be replaced by "children raised in large cohorts" and by happy workers who lived not in homes of their own but in dorms. And who would be in charge? Not a loving father and mother but "licensed, professionalized alternatives".

(I can't help but note here that Flynn's dream is being increasingly adopted in our education system. There is a gradually increasing expectation that teachers will not just teach a specialist academic subject but will take on an ever more ambitious mentoring role, i.e. teachers are being "trained to mentor armies of children not their own".) 

So what are we to do? Some thoughts.

1. Rejecting a technocratic mindset doesn't mean going completely the opposite way. There are some things that have to be done to a certain scale, and expertise is necessary in some domains of human life.

2. There are, most likely, deeper beliefs underlying the technocratic mindset. For instance, if you believe in equality of outcomes in a radical way, then it will be difficult to accept the lack of uniform outcomes that occur in more traditional social settings. If people are raised mostly in a family setting, then some children will experience a better childhood than others and it will be difficult to "fix" this via bureaucratic interventions. Similarly, if you have a faith that science can be applied in all contexts to create desired social outcomes, you will most likely think in technocratic terms. 

3. Perhaps even more important is the issue of our telos (our ends) as men and women. If you think, along more traditional lines, that these are realised significantly within a family and national setting, then this places limits on the value of technocratic organisation. Technocracy in some senses presupposes a radically individualistic view of human purposes. To adopt a technocratic mindset you need to see the core purposes of human life as being based not on the roles, identities and loves that arise within the family or nation, but on individual purposes within a mass setting (or, alternatively, you need to abstract the mass institution and pursue its measurable external goods - wealth or power - as an aim in itself).

What I am suggesting is that you cannot maintain the larger metaphysics of modernity and hope to permanently curb the worst aspects of technocracy. You can only defend the role of family and nation if it makes sense to do so within your larger world picture. 

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.


Auron MacIntyre on social media

Articles on the changes to Australian policy in the 1940s (here and here)