Saturday, July 20, 2024

Conservatism: A Rediscovery Part 2

I'm reading the book Conservatism: A Rediscovery by Yoram Hazony. In the first post on this topic I focused on Hazony's dismay that conservatism was often understood to mean conserving Enlightenment liberalism and I illustrated his point with the following social media post:

Rebecca is one of those people that Hazony is frustrated with. She identifies conservatism with the liberal principle of individual autonomy, of a freedom "to be who we want and do as we wish".

Interestingly, quite a few readers challenged Rebecca's claim that Christianity was set against the American political founding. Rebecca often argues that Christianity is a source of authoritarianism and therefore does not fit in with the "constitution, freedom and liberties". Her opponents had this to say:

And this:

Which raises the interesting question of what role Christianity had in making the American political system successful or not. My own view is that America would have floundered without it, but that it is nonetheless not sufficient in itself as a basis for a successful political conservatism.

Why did America need Christianity? Well, Christianity provided something of a limit to the worst features of political liberalism. If liberalism says "what matters is that I am free to be who I want and do as I wish" then all that matters is that I do not interfere with others doing the same. The moral focus tends to be on non-interference: on openness, tolerance, non-discrimination and on on. But otherwise there is a very permissive society in which anything goes.

But Christian metaphysics introduces a different kind of principle. If God created the world, including us, then there is a good in the reality that we inhabit that we can discipline ourselves to follow. Value does not simply come from the act of choice itself; what we choose matters. There are qualitative distinctions between what is higher and lower within our character and within our actions. Christian metaphysics upholds the ancient Western characteristic of thinking of some things as having a noble quality and others as base.  

And so, even if political liberalism was permissive, the Christian culture that was embedded in American life was not. It had standards of decency, and positive ideals of human character. However, once the influence of Christianity ebbed, then the dissolving logic of political liberalism was able to unfold, to the detriment of American social life. There was no longer a clear way to define the good, or to acknowledge any form of authority outside of our own wills (expect what was defined formally by the law). 

Which raises a further question. Could the formula of Christianity plus political liberalism ever be a viable one? I don't think so. First, it is inevitable that those raised in a public culture that is liberal will chafe against the restraining influence of Christianity. If you believe that what matters is individual preference, then the standards once set by Christianity, which are accorded an authority outside of our own wills, will come to be looked on negatively as "authoritarian". In recent times this way of thinking has become more extreme with some on the left worried about a tyrannical Christian theocracy:

At the same time, if liberalism is installed as the system through which public life is organised, then it is likely to exert an influence on the Christian churches, making them increasingly liberal over time. This is a widespread issue, not just affecting American churches. In 1975 the Catholic Church made reference to the problem in a document titled Persona Humana:

What the Catholic Church recognised here is a tendency to erase qualitative distinctions in our character and acts, and therefore to collapse into secular liberal values, by appealing to the idea of everyone having equal dignity as images of God and/or that the only thing that matters is that we love one another (the "all you need is love" mantra). 

Finally, there are aspects of tradition that are not as clearly or definitively upheld in the Bible as they might be, and therefore a political conservatism or traditionalism is needed alongside Christianity to defend them. For instance, the Bible does assume that people belong to nations, i.e., that these are the expected forms of human community that derive from and that are blessed by God (see here). However, the defence of nations is not an overt focus of the New Testament, and so it is not likely that a Christian culture, by itself, would prove adequate to this particular cause - at least not in the modern era when such powerful forces are dedicated to a globalist order.

And so I don't think the combination of an Enlightenment liberalism, restrained by a Christian culture, was ever likely to hold. There needed instead to be a mutually reinforcing relationship between a certain type of conservative politics and Christianity. What that conservative politics would look like then becomes the key issue.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Conservatism: A Rediscovery Part 1

I've begun reading Conservatism: A Rediscovery by Yoram Hazony. As I'd hoped, it is proving an excellent book for stimulating thinking on some important issues. I'm not far in enough to give an overall assessment, but there are already some points I think are worth making.

First, Hazony deplores the way that conservatism is confused with classical liberalism (he calls it Enlightenment liberalism). He wants the two clearly demarcated:

Which brings us to the second remarkable fact about contemporary conservatism: the extraordinary confusion over what distinguishes Anglo-American conservatism from Enlightenment liberalism (or "classical liberalism" or "libertarianism" or, for that matter, from the philosophy of Ayn Rand). Indeed, for decades now, many prominent "conservatives" have had little interest in political ideas other than those that can be used to justify free trade and lower taxes, and, more generally, to advance the supposition that what is always needed and helpful is a greater measure of personal liberty. And if anyone has tried to point out that these are well-known liberal views, and that they have no power to conserve anything at all, he has been met with the glib rejoinder that What we are conserving is liberalism or that Conservatism is a branch or species within liberalism, or that Liberalism is the new conservatism. (p.xvii)

I think he is right. Where I might disagree is that this has gone back further in time than he perhaps realises. But to illustrate his point, take a look at the following comment on social media:

She defines conservatism as "our freedom to be who we want and do as we wish". This is the underlying principle of liberalism. Professor John Kekes defines liberalism as follows:
the true core of liberalism, the inner citadel for whose protection all the liberal battles are waged [is] autonomy … Autonomy is what the basic political principles of liberalism are intended to foster and protect.

And what do liberals mean by the term autonomy? According to Professor Raz,  "Autonomy is an ideal of self-creation, or self-authorship"; similarly, Professor Sumner writes of the "conception of the person as self-determining and self-making".

Does it make sense to think of a "freedom to be who we want and do as we wish" as conservative? No, because, as Hazony points out, this formula "has no power to conserve anything at all". In fact, there is a dissolving logic to it. If the point is to make me as an individual as autonomous as possible, so that I can choose in any direction without negative consequence or judgement, then anything that is not open to individual choice has to be rejected as an oppressive limit on the self that the individual has to be "liberated" from or that needs to be socially "deconstructed".

And so, unsurprisingly, the woman quoted above has some very radical views on family life. She sees the unchosen biological role of women as limiting and oppressive and so looks forward to technology making the family redundant:

This is an admittedly extreme example, but it illustrates my point that people who hold to the formula of maximising a freedom to be who we want and do what we wish are likely to end up with a mindset that is dissolving of society - despite claiming to be conservatives. Rebecca is even willing to dissolve motherhood itself.

If you do not see the good in things, including things given as part of the nature of reality, and therefore wish to conserve them, but only see the good in the act of choice itself, and therefore are focused on removing any constraints on choice, regardless of the consequences, then you are a liberal and not a conservative. And a large majority of politicians in the right-wing parties are liberals and have been for many decades.

I'll finish with one last example of what Yazony is referring to when he deplores the confusion between conservatism and liberalism. Jeremy Boreing is the co-founder of the media company The Daily Wire:

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Was marriage about treating women as chattel?

When I debate women on social media it is surprising how often a particular view of the past emerges. There are women who hold firmly to the belief that prior to recent times women were viewed as chattel, i.e., as property, and that marriage as an institution existed as a kind of property transfer of women from one man to another.

I have just finished a book by Judith Hurwich, an adjunct professor specialising in family history. Titled Noble Strategies: Marriage and Sexuality in the Zimmern Chronicle, it focuses on the nobility of southwest Germany in the period 1400 to 1600, though she also makes many comparisons to the family life of nobles elsewhere in Western Europe. 

Recreating the Landshut Wedding of 1475

It should be noted that it is difficult to describe marriage practices exactly as they existed in the European past, because there was variation across time, place and social class. Nonetheless, a solid picture emerges in Judith Hurwich's book about the main motivating factors surrounding marriage in this era.

To summarise, there were two main influences on family life among the nobility at this time. The first was a lay model of marriage based around duty to kin. For the nobility, the main aim was to preserve the noble lineage, both in the sense of producing heirs, but also marrying upward rather than downward. To succeed in this aim was difficult and required a strategy that involved both sexes. 

The second influence, one that apparently grew in power over time, was an ecclesiastical model of marriage, in which the ideal of lifelong, monogamous, harmonious and even affectionate relationships was emphasised. The nobility was less influenced by the Church model than was the urban patriciate, but nonetheless it made inroads into the aristocratic culture of family life.

Dowries & morning gifts

In order for a woman to marry, her family had to pay a very large sum of money, the dowry, to the groom. The amount of money depended on the wealth and status of the family. The bride also brought her trousseau, consisting of clothing, jewelry and silver plate. The groom's family, for their part, provided the bride with a morning gift, usually between one third and one half the value of the dowry. This became the property of the bride and was used by her as income during the marriage. The bride was also entitled to a pension and an estate to live on, if and when she became a widow. The amount of the pension was a return on land equivalent in value to the dowry and morning gift.

The dowry was a sizeable sum of money for noble families - a considerable drain on the family assets. Therefore, it was considered to be a "premortem" inheritance, i.e., an inheritance given to the bride whilst her parents still lived. Daughters receiving a dowry were therefore expected to renounce their right to a postmortem inheritance, though they could do so with conditions attached. For instance, daughters might still inherit the parental estate if they outlived their brothers.

What all this suggests is that financial considerations were indeed an important aspect of marriage, but not in a way that made of women themselves "chattel". 

Noble strategies 

In Germany there was a system of partible inheritance rather than primogeniture. It was considered unfair for the oldest son alone to inherit, and therefore estates would be divided among all the sons. This meant, however, that families needed just the right amount of sons. Not enough and the lineage might die out. Too many and the family estate would lose too much land.

And so there was a system in which many sons were not allowed to marry. The sons who were not chosen to marry might join the church as cathedral canons. They might as unmarried men have concubines, i.e., they might have a long term relationship with a woman of lower social status who would bear them illegitimate children. But these children had no claim on the family estate.

Similarly, a certain number of daughters could not marry. A family had to think strategically. They could give all the daughters a smaller dowry, which meant that they would marry downwards into a lower social caste. Or the family wealth could be concentrated into one or two larger dowries, allowing some daughters to marry upward and gain prestige and powerful social connections for the family.

In general, a higher percentage of daughters than sons were able to marry. What I believe this demonstrates is that marriage was not so much organised around "women as chattel" but around maintaining the lineage and noble prestige of the family. Both sexes were expected to play their role in achieving this aim.

Harmony & affection

Among the nobility marriages were arranged, often through an intermediary, who might be an older relative (of either sex) or a powerful connection. Older bachelors with no living parents might sometimes take on the role of arranging a marriage themselves.

The fact that marriages were arranged does not mean that they were always without affection or even that the parties concerned did not have some influence in the process. The  Christian ideal of marriage as a loving, personal, faithful spousal union gained increasing acceptance in society, albeit more gradually in the noble class:

Medieval German marriage sermons had long emphasized that the goal of marriage was "loyalty, peace and harmony," which could be achieved only through the efforts of both spouses. For example, a sermon of 1449 describes emotional harmony (concordia animorum) as a major goal of marrige and gives a list of commandments on how to achieve love in marriage. (p.149)

Some noble marriages most certainly achieved a genuine marital love:

The Danish princess Dorothea wrote in 1535 to her husband Duke Albrecht of Brandenburg, "I cannot conceal from you how every night, and especially when I have just received your letters, all I dream is that I am lying with my husband, dearest to my heart, and share all joy and pastime with you." The funeral sermon preached for Dorothea in 1547 said, "There was such mutual love between the spouses that one can truly use the old saying, "Though their bodies are two, their hearts are one". (p.151)

There were also unhappy marriages. One historian has estimated that about 10 percent of noble marriages broke down. Interestingly, 69 percent of legal applications made for judicial separation in the ecclesiastical court at Constance were initiated by women (p.166), a number that has changed little from today.

Noblemen of that era had the option of taking a concubine. They could install a woman from a lower social class in a house outside the castle and visit her and his illegitimate children. It was considered socially acceptable among the nobility as long as protocol was not violated: it was improper for the concubine to be treated better than the wife. Interestingly, it was thought a deep violation of the social code if the concubine exercised the type of sway over the nobleman that was thought to be the proper preserve of his wife. Over time, and under the influence of Christian morality, laws were passed against concubinage, but the nobility were powerful enough to resist these measures.

What caused marriages to break down? Interestingly, there are historians who believe that the shift toward companionate ideals of marriage might have played some role:

Stone regards the increase in marital breakdown in the course of the sixteenth century as the product of middle-class and Puritan values - rising expectations of affection and companionship in marriage, coupled with increasing public disapproval of the mistresses and illegitimate children who had previously provided a relief, at least for men, in arranged marriages.

Finally, there is the issue of choice of marriage partners. The extent to which young people had a say in marriage partner seems to have varied. Judith Hurwich cites examples where young nobles had no choice at all, but were expected to follow the wishes of the family. However, increasingly young people were able to exercise at least some choice. By the late 1400s, the children of the urban elite were actively participating in their own marriage negotiations. According to Judith Hurwich, they wanted the potential for affection to exist and could veto parental choices when this was absent (pp. 105-106).

Judith Hurwich summarises recent research on the customs of the English aristocracy as follows:

even before 1550, there was some room for personal affection and free choice of partners, and daughters as well as sons had the power to veto partners they disliked. Many sixteenth-century English peers in their testaments cautioned executors against forcing their daughters into marriages to which the women objected. (pp. 106-107).


You could not read Judith Hurwich's history and come away thinking that noble marriage was organised around the concept of women as chattel. Rather, both sexes shared the aim of maintaining a noble lineage, and it is clear that marital practices were organised to a considerable degree to achieve this outcome. Nor was the ideal of concord and affection in marriage absent. Much of Judith Hurwich's history is focused on how these two distinct aims were managed and reconciled.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

For love alone?

I've been looking recently at ideas within the culture that undermine marriage. One of them is the notion that a husband must "make" his wife happy and if he doesn't that this then justifies divorce (see here). Another idea that is common on social media, and equally destructive, is a variant of the old notion of "free love". It's the belief that women once entered into marriage not for love but for material security. Now society has progressed to the point that women no longer need men for their material well-being. Therefore, they can marry for more "elevated" reasons, i.e., for love alone.

I'll explain why this idea has undermined marriage further on. Here is how the idea is commonly put:

Note the assumption here. The claim is that women did not in past times believe that marriage was about love, but that it was entered into for material purposes alone. There is a more hostile and radical version of this theory, i.e. that in past times women were brutally subjugated and treated like chattels by men, but now women can finally enter into a more elevated vision of marriage as equals:

There is an ugliness to this idea. It wipes out all of the sacrifices men have made for women throughout history, and also degrades the role that women played throughout history as wives and mothers. 

As it happens, it is difficult to summarise the marital practices of the past because they varied according to time, place and social class. However, even amongst the European nobility, in which marriages arranged for pragmatic dynastic reasons were the norm, it is still false to suggest that young people did not want affection and concord within marriage. The historian Judith Hurwich writes that by the mid-sixteenth century:

....children did have a larger role in choosing their spouses...and children had the right to veto. The potential for affection was acknowledged as a relevant consideration even in the aristocracy...interest and emotion were not necessarily opposed to each other and family interests and personal preferences formed what Marshall calls an intricate "mesh of interests and motivations" in the selection of marriage partners...(Noble Strategies, p.129)

I won't dwell on this, because the problem is not really the mistaken notion that marriage was only ever about material interests without any consideration for affection. The problem is the idea that you can base a marriage on "love" alone, i.e. that love alone is a sufficient foundation for a culture of marriage.

This is a problem, first, because of the understanding of what marital love is. There are types of love that do not endure and therefore cannot ground lifelong commitments. For instance, some people associate the heady, romantic phase of falling in love with love itself. When this phase is over, they move on and end up practising something like serial monogamy - which itself cannot last because the human psyche can only endure a certain number of attachments and break ups. 

There is a type of love, namely caritas love, that is more enduring. This is a love that is settled in the will and that wills the good of the other person. I have in the past attempted to explain this type of love to women on social media by using the example of the love that parents have for their children. Our loving commitment to our children is not based on a fleeting feeling, but endures even in times of stress and difficulty. But the women are inclined to scoff at the comparison between this kind of caritas love for their children, and the love they might have for a spouse.

However, even if marital love were understood the right way, it would still not be a strong enough foundation for a culture of marriage. For instance, the lack of distinct roles for men and women harms marriage, because it becomes more difficult to practise a "gift exchange" model of marriage, in which men and women contribute different things for each other they cannot provide for themselves. What you often hear instead is women saying "I can do this for myself, so it doesn't mean much to me if a man does it, he has to find other ways to add value". The ordinary masculine things a man does no longer count for as much; there is less gratitude, and less sense of things being gifted and so more dissatisfaction and greater tension within relationships. Equality understood as sameness (i.e. gender role convergence) doesn't end up purifying or elevating relationships.

A serious level of religious belief within a culture also helps marriage. If we commit to our marriage as part of our commitment to God, then there will be a deeper, inward motivation to hold firm to our vows. Sir Thomas Overbury recognised this in his poem "A Wife" written some time before 1613:

By good I would have holy understood,
So God she cannot love, but also me,
The law requires our words and deeds be good,
Religion even the thoughts doth sanctifie
It will also help the cause of marriage if there exists, within the culture, a notion of a common good. If it is understood that we express our own higher nature through the offices of being a husband or wife, then my own good rests on the larger good of the family I belong to. Marriage cannot survive in a culture that is based around a principle of purely individual self-interest, nor goods that are pursued at an individual level alone. There will be, inevitably, a decline in trust in societies that cannot see beyond individual self-interest, and this too will degrade rather than elevate relationships between the sexes.

Some dialling down of promiscuity in youth also helps with marriage. This is true for both sexes, but it is particularly significant with young women, who can most easily garner many different sexual partners. If women have sexual experiences with high status men as young women, it can be difficult for them to avoid a sense that they are settling with the man they do eventually secure commitment from. Again, this does not lead to a pure type of love, beyond material concerns, but to the phenomenon of women marrying men they are not deeply attracted to but who they believe will be stable provisioners.

More generally, a culture needs a normative commitment to the institution of marriage itself. By this, I mean a recognition that the health of the institution is important and should generally be upheld by members of a community. This might include a recognition that stable family life is important for the well-being of children; that it provides an important source of support for individuals; that it provides companionship in old age; and that it provides future generations for the ongoing life of a community. In this context it makes sense that the mores of a society are supportive of those who work hard to uphold family life and that there is some degree of disapproval for those who act selfishly to undermine it. 

So, to return to the original question, is it really the case in the most advanced, wealthy nations that relationships have become more elevated and pure as a matter of human progress? It is surely the opposite. There is a higher level of conflict between the sexes, higher divorce rates, lower marriage rates, and lower fertility rates. In popular culture, there is a coarser and cruder treatment of relationships that is often focused on hook ups and break ups rather than on elevated love. The narrative is not working the way that it is supposed to and needs to be challenged.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Liberalism, Christianity & entropy

In a recent debate on social media a woman asked the following reasonable question:

To which she received the following reasonable reply:

A leftist thought this to be a good opportunity to win over women to his side:

Which led to this exchange:

So here we have the modernist idea that there is no objective good, or, to put it differently, whatever we seek becomes by definition "the good". This is similar to the Hobbesian view as described below by Michael Allen Gillespie:

We are all only individual beings, determined by our idiosyncratic passions. Good and evil for each of us is thus measured not by our progress toward a rational, natural, or supernatural end but by the vector of our desire. No direction is naturally better than any other. Good is what pleases us, evil what displeases us, good what reinforces our motion, evil what hinders it.
I responded as follows:

What all this made me think of is that the concept of entropy is underused within traditionalist thinking. It is particularly useful because it is so widely accepted within science, which has a certain prestige within modern thought. 

Entropy is the idea that systems of any sort do not naturally maintain themselves but will tend toward increasing disorder and decay unless sufficient energy is applied to combating entropy. This is something we are likely to experience in our own lives as we age. To maintain the same muscle mass as we get older requires an active effort in the gym; what begin as bad habits solidify over time into vices that are increasingly difficult to wind back and so on. Eventually entropy wins, but it is part of our natures to resist and to seek to maintain the order and integrity of our persons and our cultures.

The respected intellectual Steven Pinker puts it this way:

The…ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.

And here's the thing. Political liberalism is by nature entropic. It says to people that there is no objective good to be pursued, but that we should act on "what is in our mind" or according to "the vector of our desire". But all this does is to set ourselves, and our communities, more passively in the flow of entropy that is embedded into the reality we inhabit. 

The concept of entropy, whilst not being Christian in and of itself, is an easy entry point into aspects of Christianity. It suggests that there is something like a "logos" embedded into the nature of reality, a kind of higher ordering principle that needs to be actively upheld. It fits in, too, with a Christian virtue ethics, in which there are dissolute vices to avoid, but also ordering virtues that we should discipline ourselves to, to form good habits that maintain our integrity of person. 

It is interesting that Jordan Peterson became famous for advising people to clean their rooms. I haven't read his book, so don't know the surrounding context of this, but consider the following online description (by an unnamed author) of what entropy means:

Combatting entropy requires energy. When you clean a messy house, you use energy to return the house to a previous, simpler, tidier state. This is why entropy is nature’s tax. You need to expend energy just to maintain the current state. Failing to pay nature’s tax means things get more complicated, disorganized, and messier.

We cannot expect anything to stay the way we leave it. To maintain our health, relationships, careers, skills, knowledge, societies, and possessions requires never-ending effort and vigilance.

Perhaps cleaning your room is just accepting a mindset that we need to direct energy toward "negentropy":

Negentropy is reverse entropy. It means things becoming more in order. By 'order' is meant organisation, structure and function: the opposite of randomness or chaos.

At least some of Peterson's followers have ended up converting to Christianity:

A Catholic priest who attended the Providence show confirmed that "a fair number" of recent converts he's encountered at Mass said they came to the faith after listening to Peterson.

One final point. A mistaken conclusion to be drawn from this is that we need authoritarian government to provide the "strong arm" to combat entropy in society. I don't think this is so. The Chinese government is authoritarian, but signs are that the Chinese are failing just as much as we in the West to uphold the kind of values that would help their society to survive into the future. For instance, here are Chinese people explaining why they chose not to have children:

Young people are more focused on ourselves and we don't think about the future, we just think about what makes us happy, because if you have children it costs lots of money and lots of time.
And this:
Beijing resident Four Wang, 42, and his wife have decided it is too much of a risk. "It would be just like opening a mystery box," Mr Wang said. "I have no courage to open it." The finance worker said a child would be expensive and could reduce his quality of life. The money I saved can be used for shopping," he said. "I won't need to worry about children's lives, health, safety, et cetera."

What matters is the metaphysics that people live by; the social and cultural norms within a community; and the ability of individuals to self-regulate toward a common good. To come at this from a different angle, the more that a community gets its settings right, at the level of individual, family and local government, the less that any intrusive government overreach can be justified.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Can we support this type of marriage?

If we were to go back to late Medieval/early modern Germany, what did marriage look like? I recently read part of a book by Judith Hurwich, titled "Noble Strategies". It describes marital practices amongst the aristocratic elite. 

What I found most interesting was the conflict between an older lay German practice of marriage and the Christian one. The lay German practice, at least amongst the nobility, was that a husband could set aside a wife and live openly instead with a concubine (and have children with her). Unsurprisingly, it was then generally expected (amongst lay writers) that it was the wife who had the responsibility of maintaining marital concord. After all, she was the one who risked being set aside if the marriage failed.

The Church gained control over lay marriage by the twelfth century and by the thirteenth was beginning to campaign against concubinage. However, it took some time for municipal laws to change, and for open, co-residential concubinage to be punished. The earliest change to the law in Germany was in Strasbourg in 1337, then Ulm (1387), Wuerzburg (1418) and Frankfurt (1468). You can see that the pace of change was slow, so much so that it was still in play in the 1500s. 

If we describe this earlier understanding of marriage, in which male adultery was permissible, as was the setting aside of a wife, as marriage 1.0, then Christian marriage becomes marriage 2.0. Again, it is not surprising that when both spouses were equally bound to fidelity, that the responsibility of upholding marital concord also shifted. In the 1500s it began to be increasingly considered the role of both spouses to maintain harmony within the marriage.

This more egalitarian view lasted from about 1500 to 1850. From the mid-nineteenth century, liberalism began to aim at the autonomy of women. This too took some time. By the 1970s women were entering the higher professions in larger numbers; no fault divorce was introduced; a welfare state had been created; and there was a level of material wealth in society that enabled women to safely and securely divorce their husbands. In a reversal of the situation in Medieval Germany, it was now women who were empowered to set aside their husbands.

Again, unsurprisingly, this has led to a change in who is considered responsible for maintaining marital concord. In marriage 3.0 it is the men who must uphold marital concord or else pay the price. In its roughest expression, this is simply the idea that a man must try to keep his wife happy or else she is entitled to leave him and he is considered at fault for the marital failure. You can see this mindset in the social media post below:

It is uncommon for this change in marriage to be formally acknowledged. Liberals are committed to an egalitarian ideal, so there would be much cognitive dissonance if it were recognised that the current system of marriage is like the pre-Christian one in reverse.

Marriage 3.0 is well entrenched, to the point that many conservatives, in wanting to defend marriage, assume that this version of marriage is what has to be supported. They sometimes do this by claiming that the task of making a woman happy in marriage is a simple and straightforward one, as in the following social media comment:

I want to particularly focus, though, on Nancy Pearcey, who is an academic I genuinely admire. She has, however, accepted the terms of modern marriage. She thinks we can use scientific research to figure out what men can do to make their wives happy and leans on two researchers for support in this, namely John Gottman and Terrence Real. Here she uses Gottman to claim that it is up to men to make marriages work:

And here she fully embraces the idea that the failure of marriage can generally be attributed to husbands not pleasing wives emotionally. It is a more sophisticated expression of the idea that the husband must make the wife happy.

So is all this right? Do men go into marriage not wanting intimacy or closeness? Is it easy to achieve intimacy or closeness with women? Can science provide some sort of definitive answer to the question of what women want? Is the future of marriage men learning how to make their wives happy?

I'm sceptical. Achieving happiness in life depends on a whole raft of factors, as I have outlined in a previous post (Making Lady Lawyer Happy). A husband can contribute to a wife's happiness, but that's as far as it goes. She can be unhappy no matter what he does.

It is also a little naive to believe that it is simple and straightforward for men to divine their wives' emotional needs. It's useful, as an illustration of this, to turn to a review of one of Terrence Real's books. The reviewer summarises the material in the book as follows:
Real faces head-on the reality that many women come into couples work with fierce anger, frustrated by trying to achieve true emotional intimacy with their man. His premise is that many women's responsibilities and aspirations have grown as part of the women's movement and their resulting, empowered roles, during decades when many men's roles and expectations have progressed less dramatically. As difficult as the tone of the anger and complaint, Real suggests the substance of women's frustrations is right-on, which will provide some much needed vindication for women readers.

This book is full of composite examples of couples-therapy sessions where the woman's attitude sounds in complaint and withering anger. The man in these examples sounds clueless, and deeply hurt by the woman's anger. Real's prototypical woman comes off like a nag, shaming while complaining. It is at this point where men typically recoil avoiding facing women's needs, and their own fears.

The man may think, "what's the problem: I am nice and thoughtful. I don't rage or abuse....."

The husbands are trying to meet their wives' emotional needs but the result is not loving intimacy but an abusive rage by their wives before divorce. Why would this be the case? Well, one reason is that the husbands and wives are most likely understanding the very concept of "emotional needs" differently. The husbands think that it means being loving-hearted and affectionate and supportive etc. And the wives? Well, consider the following piece by a practising psychologist, Dr Steven Stosny. I don't entirely agree with the framework he puts forward, but he does paint an interesting picture of what some of his clients mean by "emotional needs":

There is no question that young children have emotional needs in the development of a stable and cohesive sense of self and need help from adults to so do. It’s also true that toddlers cannot distinguish wanting something from needing it, which is why they can become hurt or tantrum-prone when we say “no” to something they want but obviously do not need, like a toy or a treat. At the moment they want it, it feels like they need it; the stronger the feeling, the stronger the feeling gets.

The toddler's brain is active in adulthood when we misinterpret feelings in relationships and confuse wanting, preferring, and desiring with need. It’s how we create a false sense that a lover (parent-figure) must mirror and validate our feelings or else we can't maintain a cohesive sense of self.
So we are no longer in the realm of freely bestowed love. That is no longer the emotional need. The emotional need is to have one's sense of self upheld via validation and mirroring of our wants and desires. It is not enough to be a loving husband to meet this kind of emotional need - this is the terrain of husband as therapist.

Dr Stosny goes on to explain that when we are feeling bad, it triggers the sense of needing to have or to do something, which, if we believe our spouse has to meet our needs, then means that they are at fault for the way we feel:
The perception of need falsely explains much of our negative experience in intimate relationships. If I feel bad in any way for any reason, it's because my partner isn’t meeting my needs. It doesn't matter that I'm tired, not exercising, bored, ineffective at work, or stressed from the commute and the declining stock market, or if I'm mistreating him or her or otherwise violating my values; I’m convinced that I feel bad because she's not meeting my needs.
It gets worse. Eventually, even if the husband gets things perfectly right, there is little sense of gratitude, only anger if things go wrong:
In terms of motivation, emotional needs are similar to maintenance addictions, those that cause discomfort in withdrawal, with no stimulation of reward centers in the brain when gratified. Over time, there’s little or no reward in “getting my needs met,” and lots of resentment when they are not. I may not even notice when you do what I want, but I'll be angry or depressed when you don't.

The resulting mindset is not based around mutuality or reciprocity:

In my long practice, people who are resentful about not feeling “validated” are not in the least interested in validating anyone’s experience that differs from their own. They’re more likely to invalidate–reject, ignore, or judge–other people’s experience when they decide that it differs from their own.
You can see why those women, in the antechamber of divorce, are so witheringly angry and why the men are so hurt and lost. Love has been interpreted as "meeting my emotional needs" and these needs are not for affection or patient understanding or anything like that, but to meet an intensifying and increasingly unrewarding series of wants and preferences understood subjectively as needs, with negative feelings, no matter what their source, also interpreted as failings on the part of the husband.

What would help move us away from 3.0? Some better metaphysics would help. First, an ontology in which the more that we give of ourselves, the greater the fullness in being. This would help shift the emphasis back to an ideal of mutual service within marriage, or, to put it differently, a model of marriage in which we gift of ourselves to our spouse. 

Second, an understanding of our telos (our ends and purposes) as men and women being significantly realised through fulfilling the offices of husband and wife. In other words, there is a common good within marriage, as by being a husband or a wife I fulfil important aspects of who I am as a man or as a woman. 

Third, it would also help to have a more traditional anthropology in which humans are considered to occupy a special place within the hierarchy of creation by being able to rise upward to higher forms of being or to fall downward to more debased forms. The act of love toward a spouse would then be valued as an expression of our higher nature, as something ennobling in itself. Again, this would hopefully help shift the focus away from "if you loved me you would do x, y and z so that my emotional needs get met". 

Finally, I don't want the aim of all this to be misconstrued. When it comes to marriage, there are higher and lower quality women. There are still men who will have rewarding marriages, even in these times. The aim is to become attractive enough as a man to have options with higher quality women, and to intelligently vet these women. 

What does concern me, in writing this, is the culture. In particular, I would consider it unfortunate if conservatives were to defend an understanding of marriage that does not deserve to be conserved.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Laurence Fox & the little spheres

Aristotle's idea of the magnanimous, or great-souled, man is not an easy one to accept ("the great-souled man is justified in despising other people"). One aspect of his concept of magnanimity that is easier to relate to is that a great-souled man is willing to stand on the truth. Aristotle thought that such a man would "care more for the truth than for what people will think; and speak and act openly".

I very much admire the English actor Laurence Fox for being magnanimous in this sense - even though I disagree with his classical liberal politics. Fox recently posted his basic political principle on social media and it is simply the classical liberal understanding of individual freedom:

In such a view, every individual is free to act within their own little sphere, but not to encroach upon anyone else's sphere. The government exists to uphold and police the non-encroachment of our little spheres which is expressed in the language of individual rights.

I do not think this is an adequate way to conceive of freedom or politics. It is a framework that has signally failed to uphold the strength, vitality and integrity of the Western nations which have adopted it.

One reason for this is that if your focus is on each person doing whatever they see fit within their own little sphere, then you have already ceded much ground when it comes to upholding the rational, moral or rightly ordered ends of human life. You have already committed to "whatever they see fit" as the umbrella understanding, so it becomes difficult not to fall into neutrality when it comes to the choices people make. 

Fox himself illustrates this difficulty. He wishes in his social media post to make an argument against the trans movement and against the prescription of drugs for ADHD. But the best he can do is to argue against the use of ADHD drugs or trans surgery on children. He cannot take a principled stance when it comes to these issues in general:

Note that he feels compelled to underscore his general neutrality: "I've got nothing against adults dosing themselves with drugs. Or even removing their reproductive organs, should they so wish". He adopts this neutral position even though he believes that such outcomes are sad.

I do not think you can uphold a society over time on this basis. We should have at least something against people acting in ways that lead to sad outcomes.

If the focus is on each person doing whatever they see fit within their own little sphere, then much ground has been conceded when it comes to how we view the telos - the ends or purposes - of human life. If we were confident that there are distinctive, knowable and objectively existing ends of human life, then it would be irrational and uncaring to suggest that individuals should just do "whatever". Once we go with "whatever" we are leaning toward a telos that is self-defined and subjectively grounded.

For this reason, I don't think that Laurence Fox is on firm ground in taking a stand against the trans movement. If how we realise ourselves is determined subjectively and self-defined, then there does not seem to be a deeply principled way to argue against a man identifying as a woman. Such a man, after all, is "free" to do or to be "whatever" he chooses - that is, if we frame society along the lines that Laurence Fox himself sets out. 

The magnanimous Laurence Fox

On top of all this, there is another very radical consequence of seeing politics in terms of little individual spheres. In one stroke, an essential aspect of the human good is lost. There is no longer a larger circle, a body of people, that we belong to and have a duty to take care of. It is no longer factored in and disappears from view. There are only those little individual spheres.

I think it's helpful if we think about this in terms of bodies. We as individuals have a body. In this sense we are embodied souls. The two aspects of who we are should not be thought of as entirely discrete, not in this life anyway. Our physical body is not just an accidental feature of our self. It is not simply a machine for carrying around our mind. It is an integral part of who we are as a created being. Not only is our own good tied up with the health of our body, but our body is expressive of who we are and of our identity and purposes in this life. 

There is another body that we are a member of. This is the communal body of which we are a part, to which we belong, and through which we transmit across time the supra-individual aspects of our existence, such as our ancestry, our culture, our language, our religion, our manners and mores, and other key aspects of our own distinct tradition. 

And just as our own physical body carries meaning, so too does this communal body. It becomes a unique expression of the human soul in its own right, and as such is a transcendent good that inspires in its members a love of people and place. It is the body through which the individual participates in a much larger tradition that extends through time and place and that has continuity across the generations. And it is the body which contributes importantly to a sense of identity and belonging, that draws out our social commitments, and through which the individual expresses his or her social nature. 

Even in the early modern period, the existence of this body was acknowledged and defended. Descartes wrote:

though each of us is a person distinct from others...we ought still to think that none of us could subsist alone and that each one of us is really one of the many parts of the universe, and more particularly a part of the earth, the state, the society and the family to which we belong by our domicile, our oath of allegiance and our birth.

He is urging that we not just think in terms of our own little individual spheres, but that we recognise the larger spheres of which we are a part.

The idea is put even more forcibly by Francis Bacon in the early 1600s: 

he argues that there "is formed in every thing a double nature of good": "the one, as every thing is a total or substantive in itself": the other, "as it is a part or member of a greater body".

Put differently, there are two kinds of goods found in material nature: the one, goodness per se, or any given objects intrinsic value; the other, goodness insofar as it belongs, and thus contributes to, a collective reality greater than itself.

The appetite for self-preservation corresponds naturally to the safeguarding of a material body's essential goodness, whereas the appetite of union facilitates a basic level of material conjunction for the purposes both of self-preservation and the greater good.

For Francis Bacon there is a double nature of good. There is a good that pertains to the solitary individual. But there is also a goodness that relates to our membership of a greater body, including our contributions toward sustaining it. 

But how can we contribute to something that has been removed from the very design of human life? If there are only those small spheres that we are to stay within, and if goodness is represented by our choosing to do or to be "whatever" without regard to anything else, and by our committing not ever to extend beyond our own little sphere or even to think beyond it in terms of the good, then the larger body will remain undefended and, being subject to attack and to decay, will expire.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Patria & Christianity

Christianity is sometimes held to be a universalist religion. I think that's a flawed understanding, given the assumption in both the Old and New Testaments that people live in God-given nations.

First, let me acknowledge that Christianity is clearly not a tribal religion. The Christian God is conceived to be the God of all nations. Second, it is also clear that we are to extend the moral code of the Bible to all people, not just to those who belong to our own group.

I'd like to focus on one particular Bible passage, from a letter written by Paul to the Ephesians (3:15). The usual translation runs as follows:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.

One interesting thing about this passage is that the word translated here as "family" is in its original Greek the word patria. Patria in modern English means "one's native country or homeland". And what did it mean to the Greeks? 

According to the Expositor's Greek Testament:

The noun πατριά [patria]...means sometimes ancestry, but usually family, race or tribe, i.e., a number of families descended from a common stock, nation or people...Here the word seems to have the widest sense of class, order, nation, community.

The scholars I turned to for the definition of "patria" see it as having a wider meaning than "family" in the sense that we use the term (there is a different word in the Bible for one's household). They consider it to refer to family in a more extended sense such as a clan (think of the Scottish Highland clans who share a common surname denoting a shared ancestry or lineage) or to a tribe or nation (see here for a definition).

So Paul is writing that every extended family/clan/nation on earth is named from God the Father. What does this mean? Well, there are different interpretations, but some commentaries emphasise the idea that "patria" are divinely instituted, albeit imperfectly realised, models of community. Ellicott, for instance, defines "patria" as:

every body of rational beings in earth or heaven united under one common fatherhood, and bearing the name (as in a family or clan) of the common ancestor.
He explains the passage as meaning:

The Apostle looks upon the fathers whose names they delight to bear as the imperfect representatives of God, and upon the family itself, with its head, as the type in miniature of the whole society of spiritual beings united in sonship to the Father in heaven

Another commentator writes:

God is the prototype Father; He is the archetypical Father. Every other family derives its family pattern from Him. There is a policy of Scripture that relationship to God revolves around the family. Our descent from the Father affects our nature...

...there is the idea that God formed the principle of the family as a divine institution. This is especially important in our time because of the assault on the family. The family originates in the very nature of God as Father

The Expositor's Greek Testament has this:

The sense, therefore, is “the Father, from whom all the related orders of intelligent beings, human and angelic, each by itself, get the significant name of family, community”. The various classes of men on earth, Jewish, Gentile, and others, and the various orders of angels in heaven, are all related to God, the common Father, and only in virtue of that relation has any of them the name of family. The father makes the family; God is the Father of all; and if any community of intelligent beings, human or angelic, bears the great name of family, the reason for that lies in this relation of God to it.

On this interpretation, God created the patria which are patterned on a model of community that spans both the earth and the heavens. God is the ultimate source of all the patria and the patria function in this world as a necessarily imperfect manifestation of a more perfect or ideal model of community derived from God the Father.

Where else in the Bible do we find the word "patria" being used? Well, there is Luke 2:4:

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David

Here patria has been translated as lineage, but the commentary again states that the word itself means "Lineage, ancestry; a family, tribe. As if feminine of a derivative of pater; paternal descent, i.e. a group of families or a whole race." This passage is not as meaningful as the first one but is an example of ancestry or tribe being part of the cloth of human community in the Bible.

More significantly there is Acts 3:25. This is normally translated as follows:

You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.’

Here, again, the word patria has been translated by "families", even though it means a more extended family of people with a common lineage or ancestry. The King James Version opts for the word "kindreds". Meyer's NT commentary insists the translation should be "nations". Barnes writes:

The word translated "kindreds" πατριαὶ patriai denotes "those who have a common father or ancestor," and is applied to families. It is also referred to those larger communities which were descended from the same ancestor, and thus refers to nations, Ephesians 3:15. Here it evidently refers to "all nations."

So God is saying to Abraham that, through his descendants, all the nations on earth will be blessed. Why would there be mention of nations being blessed if nations are not part of the divine order?

Saturday, January 13, 2024

On the origins of the great replacement

The following post was written by a guest contributor, Alex J. Rendell (the first ever guest post at this site!)

Many explanations have been proffered as to the origins of the Great Replacement, but none thus far have been able to withstand close scrutiny: specifically, they have not been able to explain why, where, and when replacement migration has occurred. 

If, for example, the problem was “white people,” then all white nations would be undergoing replacement. And yet this is clearly not the case. Likewise for economic modernity (not all first world nations), Christianity (not all Christian nations), colonialism (not all/only former empires), Die Juden (not all/only nations with a prominent Jewish diaspora), and so forth.

The one risk factor that *does* seem to account for practically all the evidence is this: the Hajnal Line, which separates Western Europe (centered on the North Sea coast) from the rest of Eurasia. With very few (and not particularly problematic) exceptions, it is fair to say that all and only countries north and west of this line (together with their offshoots in the New World) are undergoing replacement migration. 

Hajnal line

What is it that makes this region so unique? What accounts for the fact that, as a friend of mine once put it, the average Greek communist is a thousand times more “racist” than even the most right-wing Sweden Democrat? 

To answer this, we first need to draw a distinction within the concept of demographic replacement. All peoples, everywhere, have always experienced demographic replacement: as one generation retires from the workforce, another steps forward to take its place; as one generation grows old and dies, another is born and flourishes. 

Under conditions of economic modernity, however, this organic process of self-replacement is no longer occurring (one might call it “The Great Non-Replacement”): all first world countries (including the Jewish diaspora) are affected, and TFR statistics reflect as much.

What is special about the West is that this process of self-replacement is not only not occurring (as is also the case in Eastern Europe and Asia), but has in fact been rejected in favour of “other-replacement,” i.e., the replacement of retirees not by their own children and grandchildren, but by immigrants to whom they are unrelated. 

How are we to explain this? Well, the Hajnal Line describes a pattern of marriage and family life characterised above all by what one might call “voluntary associationism”: the belief that free association among relative strangers is or should be the bedrock of life in society. Indeed, for Northwest Europeans, marriage itself has been construed primarily as a social contract entered into on a voluntary (uncoerced) basis by a comparatively unrelated (no cousin marriage) bride and groom, one that normatively gives rise to a neolocal household, detached and separate from both sets of parents.

This emphasis on voluntary association is, of course, completely legitimate, and has led to a great flourishing of civil society in the West. Churches, clubs, guilds, etc. existing for the mutual benefit and support of their members: these are all good things. Moreover, it is certainly superior to a situation in which association is coerced, i.e., in which people are locked into a straightjacket of relationships appointed not for their benefit, but for that of another, and frequently at their expense. One can see here the origins of the characteristic Western emphasis on freedom and individualism, over and against what one might (somewhat uncharitably) call Oriental despotism and collectivism.

This brings us to the great rallying-cry of Western modernity: autonomy (the King of Virtues)! And to the great bugbear of Western modernity: heteronomy (the Queen of Sins)! With the advent (curiously enough, in England) of nominalism and voluntarism during the Late Middle Ages, the locus of valuation was transferred from Being to volition: things were no longer seen as Good (and therefore as valuable) simply in and of themselves, but only insofar as they were (autonomously) chosen. This hypervalorisation of the voluntary (“freedom of indifference”) is what ultimately has led to the reductio ad absurdum of consent-based morality (anything goes, no matter how objectively bad, as long as it is freely willed by all stakeholders).

What does this have to do with the Great Replacement? Well, as I see it, this hypervalorisation of the voluntary has been accompanied by an equally radical devalorisation of the involuntary, which, when applied to the realm of association, has led to the unchosen bonds of kinship being viewed (in contrast to the chosen bonds of friendship and civil society) as of at least questionable value, if not actually bad: “You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family” is the sort of quip that only makes sense on this kind of social/relational voluntarism.

Initially, this seems to have taken the form of “colour-blindness” with respect to kin: one ought not to (publicly) discriminate in favour of people who simply happen to be related to you (taboos against nepotism and other forms of clannish behaviour), but should treat all socio-economic actors fairly, impartially, as individuals, on the basis of their merits, and without respect of persons. It is surely no accident that Libertarianism has been, and remains, an almost exclusively Anglo phenomenon: a fact which to this day forms the basis of liberal nationalism.

Later on, this “blindness with respect to kin” was extended by New World powers to include “blindness with respect to ethny”: anyone could be an American (or Australian, under the WAP), as long as he was a “free white man of good character.” Non-whites were still, at this point, excluded on the grounds that they were too clannish, too untrustworthy to be capable of living in a society built around the free association of individuals, but replacement migration now had a foot very much in the door.

It was not long, however, before both liberal (ethnic) and racial nationalism came to be seen as unfair, arbitrary, and less than ideal: the requirement of ethnic/racial relatedness (not subject to choice) seemed to vitiate the voluntary character of the social order. As long as meritocratic norms were respected, why not have a society colourblind also to race (à la the Civil Rights Movement)? And, more to the point, why not a society built entirely around other-replacement (a voluntary phenomenon: migration)? After all, would not such a (civic nationalist) polity be superior to (or at least more consistently liberal than) one based on self-replacement (an involuntary phenomenon: birth)? The Great Replacement (“immigrants are the real Australians”) was now not only thinkable, but actual.

Moreover, at the same time that the involuntary ties of ethnicity and race were coming under attack, the equally involuntary ties of family life were also being deconstructed (feminism and the sexual revolution). Indeed, all three are really just variations on the same theme: the drama of natality, i.e., of birth (and of its prerequisite phenomenon: sexual difference), which, as Rémi Brague has pointed out, we do not, cannot, and could not even possibly choose, but which is always and everywhere chosen for us. 

For a society that so over-valorises autonomy, the fact of our birth into a body (male or female), family, ethny, race, and even world not of our own choosing simply *is* a serious problem: the ultimate affront to liberal self-determination.

In short, the ideology of the Great Replacement (as also of feminism, and of many others besides) is that of the voluntary society (a phenomenon unique to Western Europe), now radicalised to an absurd extreme: whereas the Great Non-Replacement appears to be common to modernity as such (likely connected to a nominalist devalorisation of Being in general, and of human life in particular), only liberal modernity so devalorises involuntary association that demographic replacement through (voluntary) migration comes to be seen as superior (and preferable) to replacement through (involuntary) birth.

Our line of attack, therefore, is clear: revalorisation of the involuntary, whether of existence as such, or of sexual difference, or of family, ethnic, and racial ties. This can only possibly occur if the locus of valorisation is shifted away from volition and back onto Being: if existence, if the body, if family, ethny, and race are all viewed under the rubric not of agonistic imposition (and therefore as an affront to freedom), but of agapeic donation (and hence as conditions of the very possibility of freedom). In other words, we must come to see Creation once again as Gift.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Was the feminism of the 1870s any better?

If we were to go back to the 1870s, and look at progressive politics in the US, what would we find? 

I stumbled across a newspaper that was published at this time by two suffragettes, called Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly. The editors were sisters, Victoria Woodhull (who was the first woman to run for President) and Tennessee Claflin. 

Victoria Woodhull

Reading through it, I drew the conclusions that, first, progressive politics was extraordinarily radical in that era and, second, that amongst all the failures the key one was a false understanding of freedom.

In what sense was the politics radical? Well, it comes through especially clearly in attitudes to marriage and to nation. 

Victoria Woodhull gave a speech in 1871 at Steinway Hall. She declared to the 3000 in the audience that,

Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. And I have the further right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but, as a community, to see that I am protected in it.

She did not, in other words, respect the ideal of marriage as a lifelong union. She also advocated for women to be independent of men. She said of women that,

Their entire system of education must be changed. They must be trained to be like is a libel upon say this world is not calculated to make women...self-reliant and self-supporting individuals.

The attitude to nation was worse. There was a notion that the world was progressing to global government and that American borders would soon be open to hundreds of millions. With the exploration of the last corners of the world complete:

We have begun the unitary culture and administration of this human habitat and domicile, instead of the fragmentary and patchwork management which has prevailed through all the past ages...And we are talking glibly of unitary weights and measures, of a unitary currency, of a common and universal language, and finally of a Universal Government

Elizabeth Cady Stanton thought that teeming millions from China would soon be arriving:

We shall have at the end of this century one hundred million of people. With the purchase of territory now proposed, we shall add greatly to this number. Forty thousand Chinese are already on the Pacific coast, but the entering wedge of 400,000,000 behind them.

Victoria Woodhull understood progress as meaning a merging of races in the US to form a new race that would ultimately lead to a world government:

These two processes will continue  until both are complete - until all nations are merged into races, and all races into one government...the people, who will no longer be denominated as belonging to this or that country or government, but as citizens of the world - as members of a common humanity.

So the question is why these women fell into such a radical politics. There are many mistakes to point to, but I don't want to confuse the issue by examining all of them, not when there is a foundational one that needs to be highlighted.

The foundational problem is freedom. Victoria Woodhull takes as a starting point here a position a little similar to that of Hobbes. She does not assert the idea of a God given free will. Instead, she sees individuals as natural agents whose actions are determined by how they are acted on by external forces. As these external forces differ for each person, then each person is uniquely determined:

But what does freedom mean? "As free as the winds" is a common expression. But if we stop to inquire what that freedom is, we find that air in motion is under the most complete subjection to different temperatures in different localities, and that these differences arise from conditions entirely independent of the air...Therefore the freedom of the wind is the freedom to obey commands imposed by conditions to which it is by nature related...But neither the air or the water of one locality obeys the commands which come from the conditions surrounding another locality. 

Now, individual freedom...means the same thing...It means freedom to obey the natural condition of the individual, modified only by the various external forces....which induce action in the individual. What that action will be, must be determined solely by the individual and the operating causes, and in no two cases can they be precisely alike...Now, is it not plain that freedom means that individuals...are subject only to the laws of their own being.

She has established a metaphysics here from which much else follows. In this view, there can only be individuals pursuing things their own way (and allowing others to do the same). There are no substantive goods that humans might rationally seek, nor are there common goods (i.e. my own good realised in common with others). 

You can see how difficult Victoria Woodhull's metaphysics makes the defence of both marriage and nation. She defends free love on the basis that we are simply acted on to have feelings for someone else, and that similarly we are simply acted on to lose those feelings. These things are passively determined by our own being or by external conditions upon us. If true, then there is no possibility of actively upholding love and respect within a marriage, and so an expectation of fidelity becomes an illegitimate, external imposition on my own being, a tyranny. 

Similarly, how can there be a defence of nation if the underlying understanding of man is that we are all sovereign individuals acting for our own uniquely formed individual goods? Where in this is the understanding that humans are social creatures who naturally form thick bonds with those they are closely related to by culture, language, religion, custom and lineage?

And what is the telos of man in this metaphysics? If we are all dissimilar in the goods we pursue because we are all determined uniquely by the forces acting upon us, then what does it mean to be fully formed as a man or a woman? What are the roles we should ideally fulfil in life? What are the spiritual experiences that constitute a higher point in human life? These questions lose sense in a world in which there are only uniquely determined, self-sovereign individuals.

What Victoria Woodhull chooses to emphasise at the beginning of her Steinway Hall speech is telling in this regard. She sets out a liberal framework for society in which individuals have an equal right to act in any way they wish as long as they do not encroach upon the rights of others to do likewise:

It means that every person who comes into the world of outward existence is of equal right as an individual, and is free as an individual, and that he or she is entitled to pursue happiness in what direction he or she may choose...But just here the wise-acres stop and tell us that everybody must not pursue happiness in his or her own way; since to do so absolutely, would be to have no protection against the action of individuals. These good and well-meaning not take into account...that each is free within the area of his or her individual sphere; and not free within the sphere of any other individual whatever...the most perfect exercise of such rights is only attained when every individual is not only fully protected in his rights, but also strictly restrained to the exercise of them within his own sphere, and positively prevented from proceeding beyond its limits, so as to encroach upon the sphere of another...

I have before said that every person has the right to, and can, determine for himself what he will do, even to taking the life of another. But it is equally true that the attacked person has the right to defend his life against such assault. If the person succeed in taking the life, he thereby demonstrates that he is a tyrant and that every individual of the community is put in jeopardy by the freedom of this person. Hence it is the duty of the government to so restrict the freedom of this person as to make it impossible for him to ever again practice such tyranny...

I would recall the the true functions of government - to protect the complete exercise of individual rights, and what they are no living soul except the individual has any business to determine or to meddle with, in any way whatever, unless his own rights are first infringed.

What can we say about all this? First, the "freedom" she claims to be upholding is a limited one as it is justified on the grounds that we are all different in being as we are all determined differently by external conditions. So we are not really "choosing" to act in any direction, but are rather being left free to act in the ways we are uniquely conditioned to act. 

Second, the freedom is limited, rigorously, to our own "sphere" - i.e. the space in which we do not impinge on others acting freely. This is more radical than it sounds. Can a wife then have expectations of what a husband might do in a marriage, or does that impinge on his freedom to act according to his own uniquely determined self? If she does have such expectations, even reasonable ones, is she then a tyrant? And how big is a sphere that is self-enclosed? Yes, I can choose what to have for dinner without impinging on someone else. Or what music concert to attend. But what can I ask or expect of others in terms of creating a well-ordered, stable, pleasant, prosperous community? In theory, very little - since others should be free to act within their own sphere however they like.

Then there is Victoria Woodhull's treatment of crimes like murder. She states that I have a right to act in any way, and therefore I have a right to commit murder. The government only prevents me from committing murder because in acting on this right I am impinging on the rights and freedoms of others. Again, this is a radical take. Yes, governments do act against murder, in part, to protect the freedoms of others in the community. But where is the sense of there being a moral issue at play here? Perhaps it is disregarded because if an objective moral dimension is introduced it might have to be acknowledged that there are principles of action that apply to all humans as moral truths - and that therefore place limits on what "self-sovereign" individuals might rightly choose to do.

Here is another significant problem with this liberal framework. In theory, it is meant to maximise my freedom. But it assumes that I am an individual level actor who is free to the extent that I can be my own uniquely conditioned self. As the 1970s campaign put it "free to be you and me". This campaign was focused on "liberating" boys and girls from....being boys and girls. And this makes sense within the given metaphysics. If I am uniquely conditioned, then I can only be free as "myself" and nothing more. But what if I am constituted, in part, by my given sex? Or by the longstanding communal tradition I am born into? Then I am free not just as "me" but as a man, or as an Englishman or as a Christian. These things form part of my self, and so I cannot be free unless I am free to be these things.

Note too the role of government in the Victoria Woodhull system. It exists only to force people to stay within their own individual spheres. It does not exist to represent a particular people and to promote the continuing existence of this people over time. It cannot do this as its sole reason for existence is to uphold individual rights.

Finally, once accepted, this system ties the hands of those who would defend their own tradition and attempt to transmit the best of it to future generations. It becomes difficult, within such a system of individual spheres, to defend goods that require cooperation between people communally. It becomes difficult to expect people to have the volition or understanding to discern and to uphold rational goods in life (because goods are thought to be unique to each individual, hence their freedom to act in any direction). It becomes difficult to assert the existence of higher, transcendent ideals that might elevate the life of a community (because, again, the one operative good is a freedom to act in any direction in order to be "oneself").