Summary: “Across the globe, people are choosing to have fewer children or none at all. Governments are desperate to halt the trend, but their influence seems to stop at the bedroom door. Are some societies destined to become extinct? Hardly. It’s more likely that conservatives will inherit the Earth. Like it or not, a growing proportion of the next generation will be born into families who believe that father knows best.”
This is a fascinating and provocative article. As with any article explaining our intimate behavior, it will be impossible for many people to accept. As 10 year old boys close their eyes to kissing in the movies, anything but economic or rational explanations for our behavior are difficult for us to accept.
The conclusion is the weakest part of his case, imo — the “it will turn out OK in the end” fallacy, adopting the viewpoint of a 23rd century historian. Longman has not considered other scenarios. Even if he is broadly correct, the next cycle might be more like Islamic fundamentalists Dad knows best — not the mild buffoon-like Dad of 1950’s sitcoms.
… Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule. Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station. It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles. Yet before it degenerates, it is a cultural regime that serves to keep birthrates high among the affluent, while also maximizing parents’ investments in their children. No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it.
Through a process of cultural evolution, societies that adopted this particular social system-which involves far more than simple male domination-maximized their population and therefore their power, whereas those that didn’t were either overrun or absorbed. This cycle in human history may be obnoxious to the enlightened, but it is set to make a comeback.
… The historical relation between patriarchy, population, and power has deep implications for our own time. As the United States is discovering today in Iraq, population is still power. Smart bombs, laser-guided missiles, and unmanned drones may vastly extend the violent reach of a hegemonic power. But ultimately, it is often the number of boots on the ground that changes history. Even with a fertility rate near replacement level, the United States lacks the amount of people necessary to sustain an imperial role in the world, just as Britain lost its ability to do so after its birthrates collapsed in the early 20th century. For countries such as China, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, in which one-child families are now the norm, the quality of human capital may be high, but it has literally become too rare to put at risk.
… Patriarchy may enjoy evolutionary advantages, but nothing has ensured the survival of any particular patriarchal society. One reason is that men can grow weary of patriarchy’s demands. Roman aristocrats, for example, eventually became so reluctant to accept the burdens of heading a family that Caesar Augustus felt compelled to enact steep “bachelor taxes” and otherwise punish those who remained unwed and childless. Patriarchy may have its privileges, but they may pale in comparison to the joys of bachelorhood in a luxurious society-nights spent enjoyably at banquets with friends discussing sports, war stories, or philosophy, or with alluring mistresses, flute girls, or clever courtesans.
Women, of course, also have reason to grow weary of patriarchy, particularly when men themselves are no longer upholding their patriarchal duties. Historian Suzanne Cross notes that during the decades of Rome’s civil wars, Roman women of all classes had to learn how to do without men for prolonged periods, and accordingly developed a new sense of individuality and independence. Few women in the upper classes would agree to a marriage to an abusive husband. Adultery and divorce became rampant.
Often, all that sustains the patriarchal family is the idea that its members are upholding the honor of a long and noble line. Yet, once a society grows cosmopolitan, fast-paced, and filled with new ideas, new peoples, and new luxuries, this sense of honor and connection to one’sancestors begins to fade, and with it, any sense of the necessity of reproduction. “When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard ‘having children’ as a question of pro’s and con’s,” Oswald Spengler, the German historian and philosopher, once observed, “the great turning point has come.”
Yet that turning point does not necessarily mean the death of a civilization, only its transformation. Eventually, for example, the sterile, secular, noble families of imperial Rome died off, and with them, their ancestors’ idea of Rome. But what was once the Roman Empire remained populated. Only the composition of the population changed. Nearly by default, it became composed of new, highly patriarchal family units, hostile to the secular world and enjoined by faith either to go forth and multiply or join a monastery. With these changes came a feudal Europe, but not the end of Europe, nor the end of Western Civilization.
What a spectacularly poor illustration of how “things work out.” The fall of Rome not only led to a collapse in both population and their standard of living, but also was the death of Rome’s culture. Now it lives only in libraries and universities devoted to study of dead cultures.
Rome is one thread of western culture, along with our inheritance from Israel and the Germanic tribes.
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