Much of modernity involves the liberation of mankind from constraint. These include the constraint of birth, religion, familial obligation, family reputation, sex roles, sexual preference, race, national origin, but also the constraints of nature itself. Our once short and unpredictable lives are increasingly free of restraint through modern science and its fruits. We live longer, with less pain, and with more wealth distributed more widely than in prior ages, and many of the purposes of traditional morality seem to have been rendered obsolete, as they mostly were concerned with preventing the harms now avoidable through science and technology.
The modern state exists alongside modern science as the engine of this major shift in human concerns. Whereas once the rules of thrift, prudence, and constraint prevailed, along with unavoidable obligations to one’s parents and children, we now live in a world with a fairly effective government-provided social safety net, complete with rent subsidies, food subsidies, supplemental income, retirement income, free health care, and the like. There is little risk of starvation or impoverishment, even with our significantly impaired economy. The worst case scenario for the most unproductive today in America is usually a life of leisure with the income equivalent of $40k a year or so.
Traditional sexual roles and traditional sexual morality have been, in a way, the most resistant to change. A stable, two parent marriage remains the ideal even today, and other lifestyles such as single motherhood, divorce, lifelong bacherlorhood, and the like retain some vestigial stigma. But this ideal too has unravelled, and it has done so in about two generations.
Where the 19th Century saw the elimination of the traditional aristocracy and the 20th saw the elimination of many of the health and economic constraints that fostered traditional and austere morality, marriage only began to receive hammer blows in the late 1960s through the sexual revolution. Far from being simply the eccentric expression of hippies at Woodstock and elsewhere, the revolution was an outgrowth of a broader quasi-Marxist ideology of women’s “liberation” and included the loosening of divorce laws, the emergence of the government-subsidized “welfare queen,” and the coupling of these phenomena with the fault-free provision of child support from men. These events coincided with the invention of the birth control pill in the early 1960s and the liberalization of abortion laws that culminated in the Roe v. Wade decision.
At the same time, the narrative of sexual morality shifted from one focused on procreation and social obligation in the premodern era, to one of romantic love in the 18th and 19th centuries, now to one of base, animal coupling. As the song says, “we ain’t nothing but mammals, let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” In short, all of these revolutionary changes combined to loosen women’s sexual desires from once-severe economic consequences and to recast the fulfilment of those desires as a social good.
The old morality emerged from a combination of women’s naturally greater selectivity in sexual partners and the practical need of a mother with children for financial support and social respectability. It was not so much that people in the past were better or made of different stuff, rather, they were responding to very different social and economic choices. Women remain the chief gatekeeper of relationships, and their mate choices were very different when concerns for minimal financial well being were omnipresent. For the same reason, the contours of those relationships were very different, as well.
Of course, that structure did not occur automatically; it was drilled into the heads of young women by their mothers and fathers, as well as their churches and the impact of the laws. Marriage was held up as a high ideal, and it was surrounded with pageantry and various social and legal privileges to make it appealing to everyone involved. Even with the risk of financial and social ruin, women’s primitive desire for a certain type of man–physically masculine, independent, roguish, unreliable, masterless–often worked contrary to a woman’s financial and social interests. Bad boys, then as now, had their appeal, particularly to the immature and those with short time horizons. But this natural instinct was opposed by these various social and legal and economic forces.
Today, the economic aspect of the equation has been nearly completely suppressed, as have the harms to reputation for oneself and one’s offspring. Birth control and abortion do much of the work, by allowing sex without procreation and without the economic constraint and reputational harm of an “illegitimate child.” Disease also remains only a modest impediment, avoidable or reduced to a nuisance in most cases by modern medicine. And if a woman feels her own procreative urge, the financial burdens of unwed motherhood have been lessened considerably by both the welfare state and the prevailing rules in the family law courts. Even without resorting to state resources, she can often obtain funds from the father in the form of child support, with or without marrying him, and even in the case of a female-initiated divorce suffused with her own adultery and abuse. After all, it’s for the children! And even if she can’t identify the father or retains some loyalty to him or he is completely broke or in prison, she can obtain food stamps, section 8 vouchers, and a variety of other government benefits. In short, women’s mate choices are rendered more and more purely the product of a woman’s primitive hypergamy, her id, that is her untutored desires that grow from million year old biological processes that were designed to ensure survival of the species on the steppes of Africa. And those choices cause social costs to a very different social environment which magnify themselves over time, because those choices exist within a complex feedback loop involving men, the state, the economy, and much else. We see a greater degree of resentful sexless men, harried single moms, sullen and uncivilized children, and a lack of procreation among the most talented, who are lassoed by the modern state (and the modern regime of student loans) to work hard to create resources for those actually having children.
In the current milieu, much cursed and observed by the “manosphere” blogs, men no longer are rewarded for being “good providers.” It’s a superfluous role. Indeed, much of the “liberation” of women and sex has been accomplished by greater economic and other constraints of men, men for whom their natural advantages in strength and drive are rendered irrelevant by the cubicle-heavy knowledge economy. And the men most burdened by this are those least rewarded. This change and its consequences has been one of the chief observations of Charles Murray in his new book, Coming Apart.
Morality and mores are fragile affairs. They involve restraint and constraint of our primitive instincts. It is for this reason that so much of the more primitive world remains very concerned to channel sex into one respectable channel: lifelong, procreative marriage. Those societies simply cannot afford not to, and this system has proven the most durable and fair over time. The feminist left has for a generation or two campaigned to put this ideal into disrepute, and it remains vitally committed to the welfare state, the anti-father family law system, and “women’s reproductive choices,” because those are the three pillars upon which the entire edifice stands, an edifice that is rewarding to certain careerist “high t” women, to groups that want to demoralize and eliminate the traditional majority, and to those who administer and dole out the financial rewards of the anti-family and anti-father mega state. I suppose, in all candor, it is also rewarding to certain slatternly women and a handful of socially successful (but not necessarily economically successful) alpha men too, at least as long as the system can last.
It is not so obvious the old regime can be resurrected. The economic incentives are all off, and the structure of democracy gives all the parasitical classes a vote, regardless of their conflict of interest with the societal good as a whole. But, at the very least, the uneven system that rewards a handful of socially useless “bad boys” and their paramours can be constrained. We can stop the bleeding. The start of this is identifying the problem, calling it by name, and focusing restraint upon what economists call the “cheapest cost avoider.”
If not lifelong marriage, at least let’s restore a system that does not punish men who most reward society. And that means doing something that would be unpleasant and arguably unfair. In short, we should eliminate the entire apparatus that fosters the bad choices that lead to legions of single moms, fatherless children, and what used to be called more accurately “broken homes.” We should get rid of child support for female-initiated “no fault” divorces, we should get rid of all child support for out-of-wedlock births, we should eliminate food stamps and Section 8 and family leave and all the other things by which single moms and their choices are encouraged. We should ban abortion and eliminate birth control for the unmarried, not merely because it is wrong in the eyes of Catholics and others, but because it is anti-civilization and anti-family.
Conservatives love to point out that illegitimacy is bad for society, producing crime and disorder and economic impacts on the entire society. But the single moms and the choices they make and the incentives they face are largely absent from this account. The focus is all on the bad, irresponsible father, as if women have no moral agency and are immune to shaming. In fact, as evidenced by the anti-slut-shaming hysteria, women respond to little else. Ancient societies knew that ostracizing “bastards” and their mothers was not entirely fair, of course, but they also knew that some women may not do something in their own interest, particularly when caught up in romantic and hormonal hysteria, but that these same woman often would do such a thing for the benefit of their offspring. Indeed, they knew that shaming these women and their children was the best and most surefire way to keep a lid on things, even though, as with every form of social pressure and ostracism, it may not be entirely fair in a cosmic sense. As Edmund Burke observed of the once stern English race, “We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality.”
So long as women have few financial incentives to favor men who are pro-social, pro-commitment, and able to be a provider to any children they may have, the proliferation of behaviors that reduce marriage to a province only of the upper class will continue. This trend will, if unarrested, quite simply destroy civilization. And the tripartite feminist achievements of birth control (of which abortion is just a subpart), dragooning men to finance this operation in the family law courts, and disproportionately taxing the higher earning of two parents families to finance the welfare state are the chief culprits behind this state of affairs.
In short, to restore the family, conservatives must declare war against all of these arrangements and incentives that are, in practice, anti-family and anti-civilization.