Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Patriarchy as survival trait

Phillip Longman presents a treatise in Foreign Policy in which he discusses patriarchy as a survival trait. Those who have a shallow and reflex reaction to the word "patriarchy" may have some difficulty understanding what he has written. Any attempting it should note that Longman's attitude towards patriarchy is carefully neutral, as is proper for any scholar making an objective examination of any phenomenon. This is not ideological rhetoric nor a trivial attempt to freak out blinkered feminists with one of their favorite bugaboos. Longman presents and discusses many of patriarchy's pros and cons for men and for women without value judgement either way and with a view to analyzing its effect on whole nations. His definition of patriarchy is much more subtle than simple male domination; indeed, the picture he paints is that men are subjugated as well as women, although differently. He also recognizes that patriarchy is not always a successful social system, and perversions are inevitable. The essay begins in the context of the falling birthrates of many countries today where patriarchy is no longer a dominant social force and ends with a prediction that these societies will return to patriarchy after their collapse as world forces. The result is a fairly convincing argument that the play off of patriarchy against other social systems naturally generates rises and falls in populations up to and including the production and destruction of civilizations.

A couple of excerpts:

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.

Under a true patriarchal system, such as in early Rome or 17th-century Protestant Europe, fathers have strong reason to take an active interest in the children their wives bear. That is because, when men come to see themselves, and are seen by others, as upholders of a patriarchal line, how those children turn out directly affects their own rank and honor.

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