In response to several articles here on A Voice for Men and elsewhere about libertarians and men’s rights, I’m prompted to write about the history of government thought control and the means of restraining it by constitutional limitations on its powers. Western governments are more and more intrusive on private decisions, and modern feminists strongly influence their actions and propaganda from their positions in academia, government, and non-profits. Restricting government’s powers to interfere in private decisions and control the media message would give private personal decisions more room, and men would benefit.
Feminism started out with a quest for equity in job opportunities, voting, and freedom to choose. This initial agenda (“equity feminism”) won a lot of support from fair-minded men and women, though even then there was a strong element of gynocentrism in the movement.
By choosing to notice only the bad things that happen to women in our own time as well as other cultures and times, modern feminists have failed to work for truly equal treatment of men and women. Instead of seeing individuals and their rights as important, modern feminists and other social justice warriors believe that only a relentless focus on oppression of some categories of individuals by others is the key to righteousness, and their collectivist view of group rights leaves little space for sympathy for anyone who cannot claim membership in an oppressed class. They believe as a religious cult would believe that if only they explain their beliefs hard enough to the unenlightened, the scales will fall from their eyes and goodness will triumph. No amount of victory in achieving their goals would ever be enough for them to end their battles, since new groups of the wicked can always be identified to battle against; the battle itself nourishes their egos and so it must continue. If all their enemies have been vanquished, villainy is defined down to catch a new class of microvillains whose microagressions and incorrect thoughts must be corrected.
Note that it is no longer enough that “victim” classes be treated equally by government and in employment and public accommodations—theirs is now a push for equal outcomes to overcome private rights of association and contract, so women (or men!) who desire to work less or take out more time for family would not be allowed to bargain for those conditions of employment by asking for less pay for less work. Implicitly, all employees with the same job title and duties must be paid the same regardless of their individual contributions or their own desires for a lesser degree of commitment to the business.
Equal opportunity does not imply there should be equal outcomes because diversity of interests and abilities between individuals and the sexes means there will be unequal interest in career options that require 60 hours a week of work, intense focus on mechanical problems, manual labor, or hazardous conditions. Similarly, you will not get or expect equal interest in the highly social, helping professions that on average women appear to prefer. Efforts to force equal employment in every company by race, sex, age, or other class are simply doomed—any company that balanced its workforce to match these desiderata would find themselves forced to hire less productive employees, crippling them against their competition not so constrained. Jesse Jackson has called for federal pressure on high-tech firms to require equal employment outcomes in tech jobs. When you talk to a social justice warrior about this, you get an answer remarkably similar to what socialists said in the 1980s when you asked how any country could level outcomes (“to each according to his needs”) without the productive escaping to another country to achieve what they could without the shackles: “Well, that’s why they had to build the Berlin Wall.” To stop the defection of those who want to be free to follow their own preferences, this preferred system must be extended everywhere or somehow escape must be controlled and punished by, say, walls, machine guns, and gulags.
So what we have is a small but highly influential ideological group, educated, generally well off, and embedded in academia, media, government, and non-profit work throughout the United States. They continually agitate for larger and more intrusive government that would employ more of their kind, the better to regulate away all imperfect thought and behavior. Business and profit-making enterprise is viewed as suspect because it is partly beyond their political control, so efforts to take control of decisions inside businesses continue, and the expanding HR departments, lobbyist payments, and political contributions of businesses reflect the need to pay for protection against this bureaucratic tendency. Similarly, hospitals and schools have responded to the increasing regulation and government funding of their activities by hiring many more high-paid administrators while shorting the low-level staff who actually do the work because they must do so to get along in an increasingly bureaucratized, legalized, and centrally controlled environment. This employment of large numbers of high-paid staff who don’t directly produce anything of value for customers has greatly increased the cost of domestic services like health care and education, and the drag on Western economies has brought economic growth to a halt in many places.
We have seen such bureaucracies before—the churches that for centuries held both political and moral authority over weak governments in Europe attempted to regulate thought and action to increase their own power. Wrangling over state religion and power led to incessant warfare. The solution to the problem of state interference in private thought and belief was finally found in the Enlightenment idea of separation of church and state. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.
The early history of the colonies that later became the United States is instructive. Many of the colonies had an established church (the Massachusetts Bay colony notoriously drove out religious dissidents and hanged the Quaker Mary Dyer on Boston Common in 1660) and wished to maintain their government support for a specific religion even as the Enlightenment took hold, but it became clear that any government uniting the colonies would have to take a neutral stance toward religion that enforced a set of human rights (constraints on government action on individual thought and choice) to allow them all to co-exist peacefully. The great flaw of this compact, its political tolerance of slavery and second-class citizenship for slaves, was only corrected by the upheaval of the Civil War, which cemented the primacy of the federal government and its enforcement of the ideal of individual rights within the states.
Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer is an eye-opening look at the four founding British cultures of colonial America and how each of them continues to influence present-day political preferences and power struggles. Other immigrant cultures (German, Irish, Scandinavian, etc.) were also influential but tended to join with one of the four founding cultures that closely represented their views, resulting in the welter of memes of political belief now contending for influence.
In New England, the Puritans from East Anglia settled between 1629 and 1640, the years immediately preceding the English Civil War in which Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan army defeated and beheaded King Charles I. Their colony started with a rigid, established church that was intolerant of free thought.
In Virginia, settlers consisted of vanquished supporters of King Charles and the established (Anglican) Church of England, primarily from the south and west of England. They tended to be more relaxed about religion and more business- and trade-oriented.
Quakers then arrived in the Delaware Valley (Philadelphia area) from the English midlands (and their religious kin from various German sects) between 1675 and 1715. Their way was strongly religious and pacifist but recognized the importance of freedom of conscience.
The good coastal lands having been occupied, the Scotch-Irish—referring collectively to immigrants from the north of England, lowland Scotland, and Ulster—settled the Appalachian hill country from 1717 to 1775. Scrappy and suspicious of any effort to tax and control by hated distant governments, their attitude of automatic resistance is still visible in today’s politics, with Sarah Palin an example of the type.
Only a government that respected and mediated the difference between these founding cultures could work for a larger United States.
As time has gone on, these Enlightenment understandings have been eroded, and “Americanism” (the practice of tolerance and “minding your own business,” belief in progress, self-sufficiency, and freedom of thought for all citizens regardless of sex, race, wealth, or heritage) is less practiced. Our social justice warriors value freedom of speech and thought but only for approved speech and thought; heretical ideas are to be stamped out by denying speech and punishing the heretics. It is no longer surprising to hear a college activist suggest that certain kinds of speech be forbidden by law.
There are signs that popular culture has taken note of the tendency toward totalitarianism and government propaganda from the social justice warriors. Dystopian YA novels like The Hunger Games show a population repressed and manipulated by a media-controlling central government. The movie version of the novel The Giver takes some shots at this mindset; a thoughtful review of the movie version in The Atlantic “What Is the Price of Perfect Equality?” gets at its politics:
Engels saw the institutions of family and private property as deeply entwined. Part of Engels’ objection to the institution of the family was that it involved a “progressive narrowing of the circle, originally embracing the whole tribe, within which the two sexes have a common conjugal relation.” Marxism’s benevolent tendencies are swallowed up by concern and preference for one’s immediate family, which becomes the unit of basic inequality…. Commerce and trade, it turns out, are just as dependent on the passions as the passions are dependent on commerce and trade in The Giver. The true nightmare of a dystopian world is that all of these things are interconnected, and that by losing one or the other, by engineering it away socially or medically, nightmarish unintended consequences will ensue.
The solution to this contention over social preferences and culture is analogous to the separation of church and state. To accommodate all religious and social beliefs in a framework of law and justice that respects all such beliefs that can be consistent with universal human rights, a government has to be prohibited from interfering when those beliefs are practiced without harming an individual’s rights. We might call this generalized idea “Separation of Culture and Government.”
While the modern feminists would wish to eliminate such current cultural communities as Mormonism, ultra-orthodox Judaism, socially conservative evangelical Christians, conservative Catholicism, and unreformed Islam from the scene, a bargain must be struck to prevent further strife: the law will not take a position on any social belief—it will not take sides for or against social conservatives or social justice warriors. Any individual is free to practice their beliefs with other like-minded individuals in voluntary association. Attempts to bring the force of the law to bear on changing social mores and behaviors that are not in violation of individual rights would be prevented. The law of marriage would revert to the law of contract, with social conservatives free to enter into perpetual marriage contracts with features like dowry, alimony, and discriminatory child custody and support arrangements, while others would be free to bind themselves to marriages that maintain individual property and call for equal arrangements for child custody, with no alimony implied unless provided for by contract. No group could punish an individual member for behavior contrary to its beliefs except by private action: social sanctions, excommunication, and shunning. Lobbying the central government to adopt your preferred social arrangements by law would, ideally, occupy far less time and attention in national politics as such efforts were struck down by the courts.
Currently, modern feminists have won considerable power to use government support and propaganda to free women of some of the obligations of the patriarchal culture they wanted to replace. Not only to correct injustices in law and employment, but also to increase government spending and regulation to provide support that women formerly might have had to negotiate and serve a partner or employer to obtain. Both ever-expanding social welfare states and the failed Communist states reduced individual accountability and replaced allegiance to family and employer with allegiance to the state’s goals, and that is the model modern feminists prefer and are now working toward in the US.
Under such a controlling regime, there is far less reward for striving. Hard work is replaced by contentious committee meetings and political struggles for pieces of a shrinking pie. The increasing numbers of academics, government workers, and non-profit workers operate detached from practical considerations of serving customers. It becomes easier to slack off, and so more people slack off. The endpoint occurs when the productive have fled or chosen more leisure over work, and the economy collapses after years of stagnation. In the family sphere, we already see the endpoint in entire communities where single mothers struggle to raise children without benefit of a father to help and guide, young men are either in prison or involved in gangs, and intact families with bourgeois values are forced to move away. Women are taught that they are victims of oppressive males, and the enlarged state will take their side in any disputes and support them directly if they have children. What had been a safety net for people in tragic circumstances became a way of life for millions.
Men and women who don’t want to take the role offered them in the culture they grew up in have the choice of not doing so or bucking their culture to find a partner who more closely reflects their chosen values—this is America, where you can be who you want to be! But under a government that micromanages social arrangements and decides family custody and support decisions based on “victim feminism,” men are never safe from rape accusations, your children can be taken away from you easily, and the population of women one might productively partner with has been programmed to see themselves as victims entitled to use government to win any disputes that might come up. If you are hardworking and successful on your own, you are taxed heavily to support other men’s children and fund the politically correct bureaucrats who harass your business. This thumb on the scale of justice makes marriage a negative-sum game for many men (especially the poor and disadvantaged), and the elevation of bureaucrats and academics above workers in the private sphere damages men’s career prospects, unless of course they adopt the conformist ideology.
The limited government crowd doesn’t want no government. It is generally recognized that externalities and free-rider problems can only be handled by a government; defense, civil justice and policing, pollution regulations, and public health regulation (quarantines, vaccination requirements, etc.) are areas that can only be handled by a monopoly state. But political decision-making is a blunt and inefficient mechanism, and those matters that can be handled by private business and voluntary social organizations should be, both for efficiency and freedom of choice. The libertarian and smaller government crowd wants a government that concentrates on effectively and efficiently handling matters only it can handle well. The expansion of the government sphere at the expense of the private sphere is analogous to Microsoft’s destruction of most competitive software applications companies in the 1980s: using its near-monopoly in operating systems and the enormous profits to enter the applications market, marketing its mediocre applications, and funding them when any normal company would have given up. Eventually, competitors were worn out and stopped funding new development; Office products took over, ending most of the progress in the field for a decade. Using the power to tax and the lack of any mechanism to disband failed government programs, mediocre government-funded services (like monopoly elementary and secondary education) crowded out the privately funded community schools, and after a century of increasingly centralized control, local parental control of schools and their curricula has almost vanished. Education is now heavily influenced by modern feminists, and children are indoctrinated in feminist and anti-masculine ideas.
It took generations for feminists and progressives to capture the commanding heights of government, media, education, and non-profit foundations. From their perches they have directed a campaign to change the culture and enlarge the state, and they have won. Federal government authority has expanded to directing university handling of rape allegations and defunding men’s sports teams under Title IX. Meanwhile, antiquated family law (as in, for example, Massachusetts) remains unreformed, designed for an era in which the woman was assumed to be a fragile flower needing protection and forever a ward of her husband even after no-fault divorce.
Some of these problems of feminist excess are now getting more mainstream attention, but the best solution is the libertarian-ish one of limited government. Both major US parties are flirting with libertarian ideas like an end to the War on Drugs and government surveillance excesses, but the bureaucratic underbrush that limits freedom the most has been a part of our lives for a long time, and few see how damaging it is becoming. State-by-state reform of divorce and alimony laws is happening but slowly.
Few candidates for office believe voters will support a pledge to do less. Efforts to reduce bureaucratic and centralized control of people’s lives have been politically difficult, until perhaps now when the incompetence and waste of large government projects has become more obvious. While there is a temptation for M(H)RAs to join feminists in playing the victim card (“Men are victims too! Help us!”), men don’t need special programs to regain fairness; they need a government that stops interfering and lets organic social relations between men and women resume a more natural course.
Feature image by Ludovic Bertron