Only a bird in a gildered cage

The other day I got a Prager U. pop-up on entrepreneurship featuring George Gilder. I hadn’t given him any thought in years, but my curiosity was aroused.  So I Googled him and came across an interview in which he was touting his new book called, ironically enough, Life After Google, in which he praises and appraises Blockchain. Not a topic embraced by too many 80-year-old authors.

You probably never heard of George Gilder, but he was something of a pioneer in the manosphere – so much so that that term was not in existence during his heyday. Predictably, he was often dismissed as a troglodyte, but in his heyday he could take the heat and dish it out.

George Franklin Gilder was born in New York in 1939. A child of privilege, he graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard, from which he graduated in 1962. He worked as a speechwriter for establishment Republicans such as George Romney, Richard Nixon, and Nelson Rockefeller (brother David Rockefeller was the college roommate of Gilder’s father) before he returned to Harvard as a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics. Over the years, he contributed to a number of mainstream publications, including Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Playboy, The Economist, American Spectator, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The National Review.

While serving as editor of The Ripon Forum, a mainstream Republican journal (so-called because Ripon, Wisconsin was where the Republican Party was born in 1854), he wrote an article defending President Nixon’s veto of a federal day-care bill. For espousing and promoting this view, he was relieved of his duties. Having discovered that one dare not challenge gynocentrism (yet another word not in use at the time), he happened upon the theme that would establish his public profile: male backlash but with an intellectual bent.  So in 1973 he offered the book Sexual Suicide as a manifesto of sorts.

Today there would be nothing revelatory in the book but it appeared in the wake of Second Wave feminist books taken very seriously by the intelligentsia. Many of the authors (e.g., Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin) became celebrities and their words still have the power of holy writ among the gender studies crowd.  Women’s lib (as feminism was then known) and male chauvinism (as patriarchy/male privilege was then known) provided fodder for a number of stand-up comedians but there wasn’t much serious pushback against it. One major exception was the 1971 publication of The Prisoner of Sex by Norman Mailer, who had become something of a punching bag for feminists. Then along came Gilder, who won the “Male Chauvinist Pig” award (wresting the title from Mailer) from Time magazine in 1974.

Gilder’s book took on egalitarianism, feminism, hedonism, and the welfare state, which remain formidable targets today. To put his arguments in context, however, it must be noted that feminism was just one aspect of what was termed the sexual revolution. Underneath this very broad umbrella were open marriage, the Playboy philosophy, gay liberation, in vitro fertilization, the birth control pill, the increasing acceptance of cohabitation, the mainstreaming of pornography, and singles bars, which proved to be something of a forerunner of hookup culture.

In addition to feminist titles, the non-fiction best-seller list in those days featured the likes of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), The Joy of Sex, and Human Sexual Response (more popularly known as Masters & Johnson, after the authors), which were reviewed and discussed ad nauseam on radio and TV talk shows.

Then there was the little matter of Roe v. Wade in January 1973.  Abortion, one of the most shameful acts a woman could commit, was now perfectly legal. The aftershocks from that jolt continue to this day and show no sign of receding.

Looking back, it might be difficult to understand what all the fuss was about, as the new normal has long since encompassed those changes. More to the point, these abrupt changes were not the result of another world war, depression, famine, or plague.  They were an offshoot of peace and prosperity. One might offer Vietnam as an antagonist, but that conflict had little material effect on the home front.  If you weren’t drafted, if none of your male relatives was in the military, you could go your merry way.

I often hearken back to an incident that illustrates just how quickly times had changed. In the spring of 1969 I visited a suburban cinema to see The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a tale of a “progressive” teacher at a conservative school in Edinburgh in the 1930s. At one point in the movie there is a very brief nude scene involving Pamela Franklin, who is modeling at a life class for artists.  The audience in the movie theater let out an audible gasp during the scene. Three years later that same theater was showing Deep Throat. I didn’t see the movie there so I can’t comment on the audience reaction. The moviegoers may have responded audibly but probably not with gasping.

The temper of the times was one of liberation, and not just of women. Notably, other bestsellers of the day included The Greening of America (1970), claiming that the millennium was just around the corner and all our dreams would come true. A more ominous tome from the same year was Future Shock, which asserted that human beings were not capable of assimilating rapid social change and instability was the likely result. “The problem in the United States seems to be that we are getting what we want,” asserted Gilder. It’s a variation on the old “Be careful what you wish for” theme. When AIDS appeared several years later, a number of pundits, not all of them preachers, opined that it was an inevitable consequence of the sexual revolution, and the party was over. Yet it proved to be little more than a speed bump on the Hedonism Highway.

As sex was becoming more and more divorced from procreation, Gilder opined that a falling birth rate indicated people who had lost faith in the future, no matter how much their material prospects improved.  “Like the Pentagon, our social science often reduces all phenomena to dollars and body counts,” noted Gilder.

Though MGTOW was not a thing when Gilder was taking on feminism, he would probably not have sanctioned it.  In fact, he thought single men (and women) were a social problem. To a large degree, he believed that it was better for men to be married than single, and better for society to have more married men that bachelors. Married men make more money because they have to. They have families to support. When both men and women go their own way, civilization is the ultimate victim.

Gilder’s opinions were based more on nature than nurture. An intellectual cross-current in those days was sociobiology, which was anything but egalitarian, as it explored the inevitability of hierarchy and sex role separation. Gilder referenced the work of ethologists, psychologists, biologists, and anthropologists who were still able to publish in those days even though their message clashed with the dominant liberal ethos.  While liberalism and feminism were all the rage in academia, the true believers had not attained veto power over dissenting opinions. Today Gilder and his ilk would likely be shouted off the Harvard campus if they dared to cross the Charles River into Cambridge.

Taking up the cudgel once more in 1974, Gilder came out with Naked Nomads: Unmarried Men in America. A number of the issues he dealt with sound very familiar today. Again, he lamented the squandering of male energy that should have been put to use advancing or at least sustaining families, societies, and civilization. In an ideal world, a man should be “a valuable and constructive citizen.”  He duly noted that formal education was geared more to girls than to boys, that divorce was harder on men than on women and pointed to the deterioration of the black family as a sign of dysfunction, not liberation. Perhaps anticipating MGTOW, he noted, “The degree to which women take power seems to depend on the extent to which the men are absent.”

Unlike a number of authors, Gilder chose not to keep writing the same book over and over again (in 1986 Sexual Suicide was revised and reprinted as Men and Marriage). As his recent Prager U. pop-up indicates, Gilder was big on capitalism and free enterprise. In fact, that’s where he has focused his efforts since the heyday of second-wave feminism.

Gilder’s rejection of feminism was probably embarrassing enough to his establishment peers, but his embrace of free markets and capitalism really made him persona non grata. In 1986 he was awarded the White House Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence by Ronald Reagan. I can’t think of a better way to permanently sever ties with academia.

No matter where you have your tent pitched in the manosphere, if you read Gilder today, you will find little to encourage the MRA or MGTOW agenda.  Remember, those concepts did not exist when he wrote his books. It may be tempting to dismiss him as a tradcon, but keep in mind that is yet another word that didn’t exist in the mid-1970s.  Putting the best light possible on Gilder, it should be remembered that he was one of a very few intellectuals willing to swim against the tide. That he not only survived but prospered proves how strong a swimmer he was.

Today Gilder’s critics have one more arrow in their quiver should they choose to take aim at him.  He is now that most dreaded of all human beings: an old white male. The only lower status is a dead white male.

A lot of people will be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you.

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