Monday, October 15, 2012

Brooks and Henry on feminism

John Quincey Adams's grandson Henry is famous in his own right, most notably for two of his books, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres as well as The Education of Henry Adams.  Adams was known for being melancholic about the future of the American experiment, and while this attitude is commoner now, it was quite irregular for a man who lived and wrote towards the close of the nineteenth century. 

At present, I'm reading The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, which is ostensibly written by Henry Adams.  Actually, his brother Brooks wrote a piece about Henry which comprises more than a third of the book.  It is with this introductory piece that I plan on dealing, as it contains a number of perceptive observations concerning the problems inherent in feminism. 

The quote is from an essay of Henry's which is printed in full later in the book; the rest is Brooks:

"The mere act of reproduction, which seems to have been the most absorbing and passionate purpose of primitive instinct, concerns history not at all." ...Certainly it does not concern the modern feminist, who repudiates such an instinct as unworthy of a civilized and educated modern woman, and by so doing announces herself as incapable of performing the only function in modern society which has the least vital importance to mankind.

These astounding sentences were first published in 1919.  The brothers Adams were well ahead of their time, though perhaps not as much as we might think.  The Great Depression and the Second World War postponed the sexual revolution which had begun during the Roaring Twenties.  It was only after a return to peace and an increase in prosperity that the revolution could pick up where it had left off decades before. 

More importantly, Brooks Adams hones in on the essential flaw in the feminist dogma; its devotees abdicate responsibility when it comes to "performing the only function in modern society which has the least vital importance to mankind."  Civilization is completely capable of surviving, and even thriving, without female  doctors or lawyers.  It cannot do so, however, if its women refuse to become mothers.  It is no less true for being oft repeated: demographics is destiny.  It would be difficult to suggest a more idiotic policy than encouraging the best and brightest women to pursue careers at the expense of becoming mothers, leaving such horror to the unwed underclass.  I half suspect future historians may believe that the vastly underrated film Idiocracy is actually a documentary.

Later on, Brooks takes up his theme again:

Since the great industrial capitalistic movement began throughout the modern world toward 1830, the modern feminist has sought to put the woman upon a basis of legal at which she would be enabled, as it was thought, to become the economic competitor of man.  At length, after nearly a century as one of the effects of the recent war, she seems to have succeeded in her ambition.  So far as possible the great sexual instinct has been weakened or suppressed.  So far as possible it is now ignored systematically in our education. Woman is ashamed of her sex and imitates the man.  And the results are manifest enough to alarm the most optimistic and confiding.  The effect has been to turn enormous numbers of women into the ranks of the lower paid classes of labor, but far worse, in substance to destroy the influence of woman in modern civilization, save in so far as her enfranchisement tends to degrade the democratic level of intelligence.  The woman as the cement of society the head of the family and the centre of cohesion has for all intents and purposes ceased to exist.  She has become a wandering isolated unit rather a dispersive than a collective force.

There's a lot to unpack here, but we'll give it a shot.  First, as Brooks notes, granting women legal equality with men was not an insignificant and helpful gesture, but the base on which all else was built.  This is important, because while there are numerous critics of feminism, few seem to realize the drastic actions which would be necessary to undo the damage.  It is not enough to simply suggest that more women stay home with their children.  And, in actuality, seeing how these things tend to over-correct, women fifty years hence may well look bad fondly at the freedom afforded to their predecessors living in the times of Adams.

Women's movements tend to occur in times of economic growth, if not decadence.  I'd like to do more research to confirm this in, say, Imperial Rome or Renaissance Italy, so for now it remains a tentative hypothesis.  Yet Adams observes that what was brought forth in a time of prosperity resulted in women degrading themselves to work in "the ranks of the lower paid classes of labor."  We would need to update this rhetoric to more accurately reflect the way things are today, but as a piece of historical data, it's an arresting observation. 

The snide swipe at the degradation "of the democratic level of intelligence" is too amusing to pass over.  I earnestly await the movement which seeks to limit the suffrage.  But then again, I'm hoping we can deprecate democracy in favor of hereditary monarchy, rendering such limitations superfluous.

Lastly, contrary to feminist rhetoric, traditionalists or anti-feminists do not hate women: we contend that women's liberation has been bad for men as well as women, and certainly for society at large.  This point is made fairly clearly by Henry Adams in his book on the Middle Ages: but there is much dignity in women who pursue a vocation as a mother.  No doubt there are women who would fit awkwardly, if at all, into the institution of marriage.  But this was no excuse to treat the exception as a rule.

In summary, feminism was a bad idea one hundred years ago, and it is a bad idea now.  Adams doesn't even mention, because he could not know, that feminism would pile up a body count that would make Hitler envious.  That feminism will endure in the short run is as certain as that its infertile philosophy dooms it in the long.  It would be pleasant to think that we could restore something from just before Adams time, but I think it likelier that sexual relations in the future will proceed along pagan lines.  And no, feminists, that will not be pleasant, not in the slightest.

1 comment:

EP said...

But the lady lawyers can also become businesswomen and sell their accomplished ova to the highest bidder.