Special Report

The Fathered Civilization: Conservative Winners

Concerning cultured people, patriarchy is about quality as well as quantity.

By 3.21.06

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"BIRTHRATE" IS THE LATEST BUZZWORD with good reason: talking democracy won't work without thinking demography. Power to the people as a political principle depends on what kind of people you've got -- and the balance of power between your country and its competitors depends in turn on how many people you've got. Five years ago Pat Buchanan, in The Death of the West, warned, "As a growing population has long been a mark of healthy nations and rising civilizations, falling populations have been a sign of nations and civilizations in decline." Europe and Australia must reckon with the numbers as the Muslim world exports a generation of testy youths the West cannot control. (China, land of aborted females, lords its excess of males over East Asia in similar fashion.) To the West, terrorism is a threat shaped by poor cultural management in the Middle East -- even deliberate manufacture -- of angry young men, "radical losers" born in a world that denies the reward of order and family.

Meanwhile, as Michel Houellebecq knows, the West turns out radical losers of its own: in Philip Rieff's shorthand, our "culture is producing more and more serial killers." Tom Wolfe tartly notes ("Prolegomena to Any Future of Human Sexuality," TAS, March 2006) that free love "comes with a price. Populations set free by the sexual revolution must necessarily plummet" -- as those locked in the pleasureless dark ages skyrocket. How can the West maintain order and family to begin with, in a culture that has no use for any authority -- particularly the ur-authority of fatherhood?

AGAINST THE ODDS, Phillip Longman, in Foreign Policy, foretells the return to patriarchy, in which increased childbirth and family honor save our civilization from death amid the dissipated leisures of personal prerogative. Longman encompasses the usual suspects, like hip vanguard feminism, in a bigger target -- the cultural urge to mortgage future life on the fleet satisfactions of the present. His patriarchal return is the Darwinian necessity of a thriving civilization, in which those who think demography is possible without family edit out genetically their own predilections toward autonomous pleasures:

when they look around for fellow secularists and counterculturalists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born.

The cultural death wish of the non-parents is visited upon the non-children -- whereas those who prize family, in size, honor, and achievement, join a female incentive for growth and life to a male incentive for purpose and order. Longman lauds this outcome, even if it's less than natural:
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.

He should add, to prove the point, that civilization has no basis in biology either. The civilizing act (as I have discussed here and here) is the tying of the male to the family, and the family to the male. Tribalism itself is not to be taken for granted; for the bonds of blood to transcend it, even more is required. The bargain by which this is accomplished is the healthy patriarchy -- the robust, preeminent family with successful fathered leadership.

THE KEY TO DEMOGRAPHIC quantity reveals itself as quality, with the family as the unit of measurement. Beyond the creation of "powerful emotional reasons to want children," the patriarchal attitude provides males with powerful reasons to love the children they sire. The male ego is channeled constructively, not destructively, from himself into the acculturation of his offspring. This is the key to successful male leadership of the family. Sons unloved by fathers are destroyers; daughters unloved by fathers are destroyed. For the male, the process of acculturation itself is the transference of the constructive ego from father to son. Longman's "powerful reasons" accrue not just to the male himself, but to his family and to society at large. This is how men have been civilized.

Patriarchy sustains family power by changing the social measure of attractiveness to suit the ends of family. Only in tyrannies of patriarchy (which Longman rightly identifies as weak, collapsing societies) are women forced to create families with men to whom they are not attracted. The woman liberated from that tyranny should be society's quality control: she can afford to be picky, selecting men based on their attractiveness as potential fathers.

Instead, to our doom, too many of our liberated girls seek at random from unworthy males the most basic kind of approval, the approval of last resort -- sexual. And our boys, from whom the responsibility of patriarchal training has been stripped, lose the capacity to select women based on their attractiveness as potential mothers. To ever grow up -- to become parents -- girls and boys must be primed and conditioned to function in mothering and fathering roles. It has always been more burdensome to civilization to accomplish this for the male. This is why men have been civilized. Now we have taken on the unbearable burden -- of decivilizing our men while assaulting even the female capacity to love and to nurture.

Contrary to the cult of sexiness that makes a worship of that assault, physical attractiveness is only a single piece of the whole. Naturally, nobody wants an ugly mate -- but the physical beauty of youth is, just as naturally, a fleeting condition. The only permanence plastic surgery can achieve is Duck Face. The requirements for family success, by contrast, are enduring but not monstrous. They must last longer than physical beauty in order to work -- and, indeed, measure beauty at the family, not the individual, level. Young beauty serves a key role in initial attraction, of course, but that role is one that must be mediated by social norms in order to make will, not luck, the source of accomplishment.

WHAT THIS MEANS is that patriarchy as a tool of civilization is incredibly capable of conditioning and making useful all but our most radical of radical losers. It is harder to make an orderly and pleasant man than it is an orderly and pleasant woman, but the results are vital to a thriving civilization. The needs and desires of the humble man are powerful but few, and under the right conditions of cultural order they can be satisfied to the benefit of the whole society. The more civilized our men -- that is, the better they lead families -- the more true freedom of choice our quality-controlling women enjoy. Everybody wins -- individual like family, family like society.

One of the most important roles of patriarchy, therefore, is its cultural antagonism against radical loserhood -- call it, by antonym, the production of conservative winners. It's the hard work of minimizing male losers, and maximizing the extent to which they deserve, from a social standpoint, to be marginalized as such. This is a less fashionable definition of social justice, one that used to prevail. From a moral or spiritual standpoint, no one "deserves" to be in the gutter of the commonweal -- but the perceived legitimacy of the patriarchal cultural order is a social requisite for the charitable sense: "There but for the grace of God go I."

When a culture reaches agreement that the social stations of its constituents are just, the status quo becomes a foundation for cultural accomplishment. Today, unfortunately, we must remind ourselves of such simple truths. We skip the basics at our peril. The first step in the success of a civilization is survival, and in that department, the demography of family, and fatherhood, is our bread and butter.

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About the Author

James Poulos is a doctoral student at Georgetown and the former Political Editor of Culture11. His writing has been published by The American Conservative, The National Interest, The New Atlantis, Partnership for a Secure America, and The Weekly Standard. In addition to AmSpecBlog, he has blogged at The American Scene, Doublethink, and Postmodern Conservative, which he founded. With degrees in political science and law from Duke and USC, he is currently at work on a dissertation about life after Napoleon.