The patriarchy built this city and will return after it dies

Summary: A demographer explains how the patriarchy helped build the West, and that feminism is a self-correcting cultural blip. However heretical the idea, it deserves consideration as the gender revolution rapidly reshapes society.

“When the ordinary thought of a highly cultivated people begins to regard ‘having children’ as a question of pro’s and con’s, the great turning point has come.”
— Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West.

Smash the patriarchy!….

10,000 Years of Patriarchy

Patriarchy is one of absolute evils of modern America, along with communism, sexism, and racism. They are aces in politics, played to end debate – and even stop thought (e.g., crimestop). They are features of past societies that have no redeeming features and so must be ruthlessly eradicated.

In a fascinating and provocative article, Phillip Longman explains how patriarchy built western civilization. As with any description of our intimate behavior, many people will find it impossible to accept. Denial (not rebuttal) is their response.

This is important theory, because excising patriarchy from our culture means losing whatever benefits it creates. But we do not care. Social activists are like monkeys in the control room of an atomic power plant, spinning dials and pushing buttons. No experimentation and testing is needed, since they have ideology!

Excerpt from “The Return of Patriarchy.“

By Phillip Longman in Foreign Policy.


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.

With the number of human beings having increased more than six-fold in the past 200 years, the modern mind simply assumes that men and women, no matter how estranged, will always breed enough children to grow the population — at least until plague or starvation sets in. It is an assumption that not only conforms to our long experience of a world growing ever more crowded, but which also enjoys the endorsement of such influential thinkers as Thomas Malthus and his many modern acolytes.

Yet, for more than a generation now, well-fed, healthy, peaceful populations around the world have been producing too few children to avoid population decline. …Birthrates are falling far below replacement levels in one country after the next — from China, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, to Canada, the Caribbean, all of Europe, Russia, and even parts of the Middle East. …

Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.

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 Conservative baby boom.

…The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and countercultural movements of the 1960s and 70s, will leave no genetic legacy. …

The 17.4% of baby boomer women who had only one child account for a mere 7.8% of children born in the next generation. By contrast, nearly a quarter of the children of baby boomers descend from the mere 11% of baby boomer women who had four or more children. These circumstances are leading to the emergence of a new society whose members will disproportionately be descended from parents who rejected the social tendencies that once made childlessness and small families the norm. These values include an adherence to traditional, patriarchal religion, and a strong identification with one’s own folk or nation.

This dynamic helps explain, for example, the gradual drift of American culture away from secular individualism and toward religious fundamentalism. Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility rates are 12% higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry. It may also help to explain the increasing popular resistance among rank-and-file Europeans to such crown jewels of secular liberalism as the European Union. It turns out that Europeans who are most likely to identify themselves as “world citizens” are also those least likely to have children. …

{T}oday’s enlightened but slow-breeding societies face …a dramatic, demographically driven transformation of their cultures. As has happened many times before in history, it is a transformation that occurs as secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, and as people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default.

At least as long ago as ancient Greek and Roman times, many sophisticated members of society concluded that investing in children brought no advantage. Rather, children came to be seen as a costly impediment to self-fulfillment and worldly achievement. But, though these attitudes led to the extinction of many individual families, they did not lead to the extinction of society as a whole. Instead, through a process of cultural evolution, a set of values and norms that can roughly be described as patriarchy reemerged. …

A 1950’s family on “The Donna Reed Show“: a hot well-dressed wife who won’t divorce him.

The Donna Reed Show

Father knows best?

Patriarchal societies come in many varieties and evolve through different stages. What they have in common are customs and attitudes that collectively serve to maximize fertility and parental investment in the next generation. Of these, among the most important is the stigmatization of “illegitimate” children. One measure of the degree to which patriarchy has diminished in advanced societies is the growing acceptance of out-of-wedlock births, which have now become the norm in Scandinavian countries, for example.

Under patriarchy, “bastards” and single mothers cannot be tolerated because they undermine male investment in the next generation. Illegitimate children do not take their fathers’ name, and so their fathers, even if known, tend not to take any responsibility for them. By contrast, “legitimate” children become a source of either honor or shame to their fathers and the family line. The notion that legitimate children belong to their fathers’ family, and not to their mothers’, which has no basis in biology, gives many men powerful emotional reasons to want children, and to want their children to succeed in passing on their legacy. Patriarchy also leads men to keep having children until they produce at least one son.

Another key to patriarchy’s evolutionary advantage is the way it penalizes women who do not marry and have children. Just decades ago in the English-speaking world, such women were referred to, even by their own mothers, as spinsters or old maids, to be pitied for their barrenness or condemned for their selfishness. Patriarchy made the incentive of taking a husband and becoming a full-time mother very high because it offered women few desirable alternatives. …

But as long as the patriarchal system avoids succumbing to {various} threats, it will produce a greater quantity of children, and arguably children of higher quality, than do societies organized by other principles, which is all that evolution cares about.

This claim is contentious. Today, after all, we associate patriarchy with the hideous abuse of women and children, with poverty and failed states. Taliban rebels or Muslim fanatics in Nigeria stoning an adulteress to death come to mind. Yet these are examples of insecure societies that have degenerated into male tyrannies, and they do not represent the form of patriarchy that has achieved evolutionary advantage in human history.

Under a true patriarchal system, such as in early Rome or 17th-century Protestant Europe, fathers have strong reason to take an active interest in the children their wives bear. That is because, when men come to see themselves, and are seen by others, as upholders of a patriarchal line, how those children turn out directly affects their own rank and honor.

Under patriarchy, maternal investment in children also increases. As feminist economist Nancy Folbre has observed, “Patriarchal control over women tends to increase their specialization in reproductive labor, with important consequences for both the quantity and the quality of their investments in the next generation.” Those consequences arguably include: more children receiving more attention from their mothers, who, having few other ways of finding meaning in their lives, become more skilled at keeping their children safe and healthy.

Without implying any endorsement for the strategy, one must observe that a society that presents women with essentially three options — be a nun, be a prostitute, or marry a man and bear children — has stumbled upon a highly effective way to reduce the risk of demographic decline.

Smash The Patriarchy

Patriarchy and its discontents.

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. …

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’s ancestors begins to fade, and with it, any sense of the necessity of reproduction.

The return of patriarchy.

…The absolute population of Europe and Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father.


Comments on this article

Longman ends with the standard wish-fulfillment of politically active Americans. In this case, that the technological changes that overcame “traditional” western culture will vanish, and conservative economic policies and religious beliefs will triumph.

He might be right about the effects of demography on culture. Perhaps feminism is a self-limiting cultural phenomenon, whose success produces irresistible counter-revolutionary ideological forces. But that does not necessarily mean a triumph of Republicans and ancient religions.

Even if he is broadly correct, the next cycle might be more like Islamic fundamentalists than the mildly buffoon-like patriarchy of 1950’s sitcoms. On the other hand, I believe a back to the future scenario is unlikely. For details see my first post about the end of the gender wars.

We can only guess at what strange and wondrous futures lie ahead for the West.

Phillip Longman

About the author

Phillip Longman is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a lecturer-faculty in political science at John Hopkins. He formerly worked as a senior writer and deputy assistant managing editor at U.S. News & World Report.

See his articles at Foreign Policy. See his bio and articles at the Foundation and his Wikipedia entry. He wrote the following books.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

Dalrock has some interesting material about the patriarchy in America.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about women and gender issues, especially these…

  1. A historian’s disturbing news about the feminist revolution.
  2. Origin of the gender wars — Analysis by Allan Bloom.
  3. Do we want to bring back traditional marriage? What is traditional marriage?
  4. Men are abandoning the rat race, & changing American society. — See the data.
  5. Why men are avoiding work and marriage.
  6. Will young men break America’s family structure?
  7. Will today’s young men marry? America’s future depends which of these answers is right.
  8. Classic films show what marriage was. Facts show its death.
  9. Marriage today – and its dystopian future.

Books about the new era of marriage

Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters by psychologist Helen Smith (2013).

The Privileged Sex by Martin van Creveld. You will never again see women’s role in society after reading this, by one of our era’s greatest historians.

Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters
Available at Amazon.
The Privileged Sex
Available at Amazon.


22 thoughts on “The patriarchy built this city and will return after it dies

  1. I wonder what an external/artificial womb would do to all these calculations, if it was economic enough to be used on a wide scale. I suspect it would be condemned on moral grounds. I can’t figure out what those grounds would BE, of course.

    Good perspective, although I think in a way your most powerful part here is your remark at the end: “the standard wish-fulfillment of politically active Americans.”

    1. Lois McMaster Bujold explores the idea of an artificial womb in her science fiction. Ethan of Athos probably is the one that most addresses it (and an all male society) but it permeates her Vorkosigan books. I can’t remember which ones look at it’s adoption/pushback in a society newly exposed to the technology but it comes up.

      Not to say her answers are right, but she does what most good science fiction does, asks interesting questions about how humanity would react to different developments.

  2. Creating infants is not the problem though, its raising them to become productive members of society that requires massive love, time and effort. That process is much harder to automate.
    One could envisage a much more controlled future, where people are monitored and instructed continuously, somewhat as prefigured mildly by cell phone addicts today. It would be a rather different society as well.

  3. How strong is the fall of patriarchy as an explanation?

    Given that the countries, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, which spearheads the big decline in fertility are rather patriarchal cultures (in my opinion).

    Other patriarchal countries like the Maghreb region also have close to sub-replacement levels. Mauritania as an exception for a little while yet. Ditto Turkey where you still have a strong tradition of honor killings of daughters who are seen to misbehave.

    It indicates that there are other factors and possibly more powerful at play than what Phillip Longman choose to focus on.

    1. Rune,

      (1) “How strong is the fall of patriarchy as an explanation? Given that the countries …Japan …which spearheads the big decline in fertility are rather patriarchal”

      I don’t know about the other nations you mention — but Japanese women are in revolt against their patriarchal culture, big-time. To mention just one factor — Japan has higher labor force participation by women than does the US (see here and here). Their revolt is a common subject of articles in the Japanese press and western media. Articles like “Women in Japan too tired to care about dating or searching for a partner” and “I don’t” (The Economist looks at the crashing rate of marriage in Japan).

      Also, fertility might be driven by the change in level of patriarchal-ism, not the absolute level (if that could be measured).

      (2) “it indicates that there are other factors …at play than what Phillip Longman choose to focus on.”

      I’m sure he would laugh at that. There are always other factors. He is not giving an explanation of the Cosmic All, but looking at what he considers the major factor.

    2. Dave,

      The chart says that fertility has declined in Japan — which pretty much everybody knows. It does not tell “why” — which is, as usual, the important question.

    3. Yes it does. In 1947 Douglas MacArthur, the governor of occupied Japan, abolished patriarchy and declared women equal to men. See Jim Donald’s explanation (link below) of why female emancipation leads to catastrophically low fertility.

    4. Dave,

      That’s wrong in many ways. Here are four.

      (1) That’s a textbook demo of the post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. Many things changed in Japan after WWII. Such as the 1945-1952 famine.

      (2) The source of that graph is not cited, so we don’t know its accuracy or even what it shows. It looks like a graph of Japan’s Total Fertility Rate, which is a synthetic number showing…

      “The total fertility rate estimates the average number of children that would be born per woman if all women lived to the end of their childbearing years and bore children according to a given fertility rate at each age. TFR is a more direct measure of the level of fertility than the crude birth rate, since it refers to births per woman.”

      See Wikipedia for more details.

      How do those calculations show the effects on fertility of Japan’s men being enlisted, sent abroad, and the (much smaller) number returning?

      (3) I would like to see some research showing at what rate laws were changed (laws govern nations, constitutions influence laws) and if laws dramatically changed women’s lives following the 1946 Constitution.

      (4) Patriarchy is not something than can be abolished by decree. It is also embedded in customs.

  4. Neglect. Abandonment. Social exclusion. Disinheritance. Well, that puts a few roadblocks to the usual routes to wealth and status, if one insists on living in a medieval society.
    So how does one explain Leonardo da Vinci and Alexander Hamilton, Queen Elizabeth I, James Smithson and Bernardo O’Higgins? Their childhoods were shepherded by adults who took on patriarchal responsibilities to educate them well.

  5. The problem with Longman’s thesis, that conservatives will prevail by out-breeding liberals, is that patriarchy requires an element of coercion. It’s hard to keep your daughters down on the farm when the bright lights of the big city beckon. Then there’s the lure of social media, where lavish attention from hordes of desperate incel beta males elevates female self-esteem to astronomical levels.

    Patriarchy is a conspiracy to enforce property rights in women, and it can’t work unless men who defect from the conspiracy, e.g. by white-knighting for someone else’s wife, are summarily executed.

    1. Dave,

      History is change. Often changes that people consider impossible to happen until they say it was inevitable that it occured.

    2. “In revolutionary times, events can go from impossible to inevitable without ever passing through improbable.”

  6. When I peruse the UN demographic data you see what I would consider patriarchal societies moving along the same path as Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and the West. There is a time lack but that’s all.

    Just look at Turkey despite its tradition of honour killings and forced suicides fertility rates has drop below the 2.10 level. (2.05 in 2015)

    If I were to pick my candidate for biggest impact on fertility it would be an old classic – urbanization. Something happens in cities that reduce fertility.

    1. Rune,

      Do you have a measure of the patriarchal state or degree of these societies? Otherwise you can tell nothing from that measure.

      “look at Turkey despite its tradition of honour killings and forced suicide”

      That’s exactly his point. What matters is not a country’s “tradition” (ie., its past) but what is happening now.

      “If I were to pick my candidate for biggest impact on fertility it would be an old classic – urbanization”

      From from light reading in the subject, most social scientists believe the key factors are women’s education and use of birth control. Both of which are factors associated with patriarchy.

  7. earth’s population is 7.5 billion and climbing. the earth and its resources are finite. is it not exceedingly obvious that human population growth must, at some point, end in order to keep the population and available resources in reasonable balance? regardless of what you believe about global warming, desertification, deforestation, the choking of the oceans with plastic waste etc., is it not absolutely clear that population growth can not be unlimited?

    it is probably also worth noting that the highest birth rates in the world today are in places that can hardly be characterized as conservative. virtually all are in politically and economically unstable african countries.

    1. jdmo,

      (1) “is it not exceedingly obvious that human population growth must, at some point, end in order to keep the population and available resources in reasonable balance?”

      That’s not the relevant question. You phrase it as a binary, which is almost always wrong in such things. The relevant question is “when?” Or, at what population? In 1798 Malthus quite rightly saw the limit as looming ahead, unaware of the sequence of industrial revolutions coming. Just as in the late 1960s and the early 1970s doomsters like Paul Ehrlich and William & Paul Paddock predicted famines in the next few decades. Refresh your memory by reviewing their confident forecasts here and here.

      (2) “is it not absolutely clear that population growth can not be unlimited?”

      That’s quite a strawman. Who advocates “unlimited” population growth?

      It’s also a pretty bizarre concern. Fertility has reversed almost everywhere; and it probably will soon in those regions when it has not yet done so. We have some tough times ahead as the demographic bulge brings the world population to 10-12 billion. But beyond that we have the prospect of high tech and population falling to levels we cannot predict.

      (3) “the highest birth rates in the world today are in places that can hardly be characterized as conservative … african countries.”

      To a social scientist, those are conservative societies. “Conservative” in this context does not mean Republican. Rather it means with social systems and values little changes from those of the past.

    2. Jdmo — Follow-up note.

      “the choking of the oceans with plastic waste”

      There is reason for concern about the damage done by large plastic objects, and the microparticles they decay into. But the “choking the ocean with plastic” story is a myth (i.e., a lie circulated for political gain). Here is its origin, and debunking.

  8. larry–a follow up note to you as well;
    do you or mr. longman believe that the children of conservatives will themselves be conservatives? i’d love to see some research on that tacit assumption.
    and re: plastic–as i pointed out, regardless of one’s belief’s on the subject the key factor remains the sheer number of humans on the planet. the capacity of the earth to support the peak population number you propose of 10-12 billion is speculative at best.

    1. jdmo,

      “do you or mr. longman believe that the children of conservatives will themselves be conservatives?”

      That is the big question, and (as you note) his key assumption.

      My guess (guess) is that the answer is yes, somewhat. That is, conservative tend to come from conservative families — some of whose children “defect” to become liberals. An analogy is with the typical urban-rural demographics – with a flow of people from rural to urban that is much larger than the reverse flow.

      Another analogy (or subset) is religious conservatives. Children of Mormons and Amish families are mostly conservative with some defections — but far fewer conversions from liberal to Mormon/Amish.

      So increasing the proportion of conservative families seems likely to increase the proportion of conservatives in society.

      There probably is research on this theory.

  9. “Do you have a measure of the patriarchal state or degree of these societies? Otherwise you can tell nothing from that measure.”

    – Do Longman have a measure? How does he measure patriarchy in a society? Else what use is his belief.

    “How would he explain the Turkish development or that of the Maghreb. This is how their culture is right now.”

    It’s the difference in demography between those who emphasize structural changes vs cultural changes.

    The clear difference in fertility between urban and rural areas. That not going to go away until we stop gathering in cities.

    1. Rune,

      (1) Your previous brief comment was too terse to communicate anything, as I noted in my reply. You have not replied to my rebuttal to your mention of Japan.

      (2) “Do Longman have a measure?”

      He is talking to us about our culture. Almost all essays doing so reference things we all see, and so don’t cite evidence. If you don’t believe that America is becoming less patriarchal, that’s nice. But I doubt many will bother to debate it with you.

      (3) “How would he explain the Turkish development or that of the Maghreb.”

      What are you attempting to say? Your comments are too sketchy to communicate anything specific.

      (4) “The clear difference in fertility between urban and rural areas.”

      How is that relevant to his essay? As I said in reply to your previous comment: “There are always other factors. He is not giving an explanation of the Cosmic All, but looking at what he considers the major factor.”

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