Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at a disturbing trend in the West — the increasing age of adulthood. We expect less maturity from young adults and deny them the responsibility that helps them grow. They live down to our expectations. Both they and society are the losers from this.
By Martin van Creveld.
From his website, 20 March 2017.
Re-posted with his generous permission.
At fifteen, my grandfather left home and became an apprentice to a chicken-feed dealer (later he worked himself up until he became a very rich man, but that is beside the point). My father and I both happened to leave home at eighteen. Fast move forward. In the US between 2000 and 2011, the number of women aged 25-34 who lived with their parents went from 8.3 to 9.7%. The corresponding figures for men were 12.9 and 18.6%, a vast increase indeed. These changes have been accompanied by others, such as allowing people up to 26 years of age to join their parents’ health insurance (in the US, under Obamacare) and extending the licenses of “child psychologists” so as to enable them to treat 25-year olds (in Britain).
Crowning the process is the rise in the age at which people have their first child, which is now the highest in history. Even so, the above figures only form the tip of the iceberg. They are the last—for the time being, at any rate — stages in a process of compulsory infantilization that, in all Western countries, has been going on ever since the industrial revolution.
Some of the earliest moves were made in Britain during the middle decades of the nineteenth century when parliament first limited the number of hours young people could be put to work and then gradually prohibited them from working at all. Then as now, some of those involved in the efforts were true “philanthropists,” as the phrase went. Others, though, had less lofty motives in mind. Either they were trying to eliminate competition from small family-operated enterprises, as big business did; or else they hoped to increase wages, as trade unions did.
Today, things have reached the point where anyone who suggests — as, famously, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich once did — that it might be good for teenagers to do some work will face a storm of disapproval. And yet, as thinkers as far apart as Aesop, St. Benedict, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud have recognized, working and earning one’s keep as one of the most important ways in which people can maintain their own self-respect and take up their place in society.
Meanwhile, youngsters who were not allowed to work had to be looked after. Traditionally doing so was the job of mothers. Especially middle-class ones who neither had the money to hire substitutes nor were compelled to work by economic necessity. Starting the 1960s, though, the advent of feminism led to a vast increase in the number of women who worked outside the home; meaning that they could no longer do as they used to.
Partly as a result, the school-leaving age was raised still further. Until, in many countries, it reached eighteen. Nor did graduation from high school necessarily end the confinement of young people. Increasingly, those of them who went on to college found the latter acting in loco parentis, supervising and chaperoning them as if they were unable to act responsibly. Linguistic usage reflected this fact. The phrase “college men” used to be standard but has been on the decline since its peak in the 1920s. By contrast, “college kids” has been steadily rising until, in 1996, the curves showing the frequency at which the two expression were used intersected.
Meanwhile, more and more children who used to walk or cycle to school are now either being “bused” there or driven by their parents. Statistics show that the maximum distance from home at which they are allowed to roam on their own has been falling. Instances when parents who allowed children aged ten or so to play, unsupervised, in a park near home were threatened with having their offspring taken away from them are on record. In many cities those under 16, or 17, or 18, now face a curfew; meaning that, unless they are accompanied by an adult, they are no longer allowed to be on the streets at night. Amidst all this the age of consent has been rising. The more years young people spend at school and the better educated they are, apparently, the less able there are to resist the appeal of sex and to handle it responsibly.
Briefly, young people are increasingly being treated as if they cannot look after themselves. Not in respect to work. Not in respect to study. Not in respect to freedom of movement, not in respect to drink — in the US and some other countries, one must be over 21 in order to enjoy it — and not in respect to having sex. All for their own, good, needless to say.
But that is not half of it. For as long as humans have existed, the moment at which young people of both sexes were separated from each other was considered a critical step on their way to adulthood. Normally this took place when they reached puberty or slightly earlier. Now we are told that, in Norway and Sweden, recent reforms in the military have led to male and female recruits being made to share the same bedrooms as if they were not yet twelve years old.
The ultimate insult to both men and women, I would say.
The data floods in showing that van Creveld is (as usual) correct
(1) A long brilliant essay, essential reading: “4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump” by Dale Beran at Medium. Excerpt, one of the many key points he makes…
“All the rules had a Lord of the Flies vibe to them, that is to say, they were very obviously created by a bullying and anarchic society of adolescent boys — or at least, men with the mindset of boys — particularly lonely, sex starved man-boys, who according to their own frequent jokes about the subject, lived in their parents’ basement. (Poole himself lived in his parents’ basement well after the initial success of the site.) They were obsessed with Japanese culture and, naturally enough, there was already a term for people like them in Japan, hikikomori — meaning “pulling inward, or being confined” — teens and adults who withdrew from society into fantasy worlds constructed by anime, video games, and now the internet. And of course, it’s relevant to note here the themes of Fight Club itself, a film about a male collective that regains its masculinity through extreme acts after it has been debased by modern corporate culture.”
(2) For those that like hard data, see this paper by the US Census: “The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975-2016” by Jonathan Vespa, April 2017. Here is a NBC story about the report, adding some individuals’ stories.
“This report looks at changes in young adulthood over the last 40 years. It focuses on how the experiences of today’s young adults differ, in timing and degree, from what young adults experienced in the 1970s — how much longer they wait to start a family, how many have gone to college, and who are able to live independently of their parents.
“This report looks at a snapshot of the young adult population, defined here as 18 to 34 years old, and focuses on two periods: 1975 and today (using data covering 2012 to 2016 to reflect the contemporary period). Many of the milestones of young adulthood are reflected in the living arrangements of young people: when they move out of their parents’ home and when they form families. Because these milestones are tied to young adults’ economic security, the report also focuses on how education and work experience vary across young adult living arrangements.”
About the Author
Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.
The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW— preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.
Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war in the fascinating Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (see the chapters about modern gaming, wargames for the people).
Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.
He has written three books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force, and a biography of Moshe Dayan.
Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.
He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than ours!). Even more so are his books about western culture: Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, The Privileged Sex, and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West.
And perhaps most important for us, his magnum opus— the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describes the political order unfolding before our eyes. Also his latest book: More on War.
For More Information
- The little-known dark side of Ender’s Game.
- How does The Hunger Games compare to other classic stories of children fighting children?
- Martin van Creveld asks: why do American kids kill?
Martin van Creveld’s first book about modern societies.
About Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West from the publisher…
“In the kingdom(s) of the West, something is rotten. Collectively, the countries of NATO are responsible for almost two thirds of global military spending. In terms of military technology, particularly electronics, communications and logistics, they have left the rest so far behind that it is no contest. Yet ever since the Korean War ended in 1953, almost every time they went abroad and fought non-Westerners they were defeated and had to withdraw. As happened, to cite but two recent cases, in Iraq and Afghanistan; and as may yet happen if and when Islamic terrorism spreads into Europe, as it is quite likely to do.
“What went wrong? How did the ferocious soldiers who, between 1492 and 1914, brought practically the entire world under their sway, become pussycats? The present study, unique of its kind, seeks to answer these questions.
- Chapter I, “Subduing the Young,” focuses on the way Western people raise their scanty offspring. Infantilizing them, depriving them of any kind of independence, and, in the words of a recent best-seller, turning them into “excellent sheep.”
- Chapter II, “Defanging the Troops,” shows how the same is happening in the military.
- Chapter III, “The War on Men,” examines the way in which the forces are being feminized affects, indeed infects, their fighting power.
- Chapter IV, “Constructing PTSD,” looks at the way returning soldiers are almost obliged to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Chapter V outlines the emergence of modern societies which, exalting rights and forgetting about duty, have come very close to delegitimizing war itself.
“The book is written in jargon-less language laymen can understand. It is also thoroughly documented. Readership should include anybody with an interest in national security, and then some.”