In the first article of this series, I examined the role of the traditional family in creating a prosperous and healthy society; in its ability to stabilise potentially chaotic social situations and socialise children in preparation for a positive role in later life. The first part of this article will continue this important analysis, but in the second part I shall turn to the various detractors who have attacked the family in the past and the philosophy which inspired them. By summarising the outlandish beliefs of these various authors and propagandists, I aim to give an idea of the main forces and currents which have, for well over a century, assailed the foundation stone of civilisation from every side.
Family and the Sexual Revolution
The German sociologist Gabriele Kuby proposes quite an interesting interpretation of the question of the family, and what unites the 20th century experience and our 21st century reality. Writing in her book, The Global Sexual Revolution (2012), Kuby observes that while intentions and utopian destinations may vary, the path which various ideologues tread towards radical social transformation, is essentially the same. Whether in early 20th century experiments, mid-60s free-love evangelism, or early 21st century gender confusion, Gabriele Kuby boldly states that these are but episodes that ultimately serve to “create autonomous, manipulable, controllable people”- a historical march that, according to the author, necessarily involves the ultimate displacement of the family and marriage as normative in society.
In contemplating this conclusion however, we should avoid simplistic characterisations; the dynamic of ideologically-mandated interference, which was the favoured method of totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, is quite different to the dynamic of sexual liberation that came into full flowering in the Sexual Revolution, and its antecedents. They are similar in so far as both have threatened in various ways, the institution of the family, in its integrity, freedom, or importance. This is a complex argument, which couldn’t be given due justice in just a few lines, but over the course of these article series I shall refer to it again, in an effort to flesh out its finer points more clearly.
In any case, what I found most interesting, and most relevant to the theme of this essay, is the question of the critics of the family as an institution, something which Kuby explores in her book to some degree. Generally speaking, we might neatly condense these groups into two functional categories, (1) those who see their self-satisfaction as paramount, even to the detriment of others and ultimately even themselves, and (2) those that are more than ready to exploit the former for the sake of their own visions for society. Encompassing both groups, we may add, is in a very practical sense, a great deal of rationalization- where people aren’t so much moved by ‘disinterested reason’ as much as their life trajectory clearly suggests that intellect has been subjugated to the passions.
In terms of the aforementioned overlap in motivations, an investigation of what might be called the “hedonist factor” which unites both categories has been the thesis of the book Libido Dominandi (2005), by author and social critic E. Michael Jones, also cited by Kuby. At first glance, it might come across as a somewhat irrelevant catalogue of the, at times tragic, at times comic, but invariably bizarre personal lives of many of today’s luminaries of enlightened opinion, from Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger to Karl Marx and others. Yet beyond that, it can be said to be a much needed key to unlocking the intimate relationship between ideas and practice, when it comes to many influential figures who in one way or another, from varied perspectives have come to oppose the institution of the family and marriage, and what it involves in terms of personal sacrifice of autonomy, as well as the moral dimension that it attaches to sexual activity.
What emerges from this study, is a clarifying picture of the backgrounds leading up to the articulation of these views, as well as the manner in which they have produced ruin in the lives of their evangelists – not to mention the unfortunate unwitting guinea pigs in the cases where experiments have been incorporated into public policy.
It would be insufficient to leave these deliberations as abstractions, especially as at first, they might understandably strike the casual reader as rather outlandish. So, let us look at real life cases, and the well-documented lineage of the arguments employed by the critics of the family as an institution. We might say that the Marxist perspective has been the most influential in its critique, which has continually resurfaced throughout history under many different guises. In the book The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), penned by Engels, but in equal measure inspired by Marx, we find the designation of marital monogamy in light of the dialectical materialist schema, as a bourgeois artifice, inherently built on and devised to perpetuate oppressive economic conditions. As Engels puts it “The first class antagonism […] coincides with the development of the antagonism of man and wife in monogamy, and the first class oppression with that of the female by the male sex”. The book is significant in that it provides us with the seeds of a great deal of more recent critiques whose basis is the unveiling of oppressive norms, or other obstacles to individual freedom. Women’s liberation consists of abandoning the service to a husband and children, to work in a factory for her boss instead. Not to be forgotten also, is that in the Marxist canon, the work appears much later after the fanciful boasts contained in the more famous Communist Manifesto of 1848, whose objective it was to inaugurate a philosophy that “abolishes […] all morality”, alongside “the overthrow of all existing social conditions”.
Given the vehemence of these statements, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that both Marx and Engels were arguing from the position of hedonistic bohemians, if not to appease their consciences, than at least to give theoretical weight to their often questionable ways. Despite cooking up many a poetic flourish on the raw deal women had in “bourgeois marriages”, Marx himself was married, alongside maintaining an abusive relationship with his maid, who was impregnated and whose child was never recognized. Kuby points out that apparently, Marx also made a hobby of hunting for inheritances, and left behind a chaotic family scenario, with two of his daughters later committing suicide. Engels on the other hand, appeared to have an aristocratic fetish for working class girls, disposing of them as he wished, in line with his self-serving principle that “definite cessation of affection, or its displacement by a new passionate love, makes separation a blessing for both parties as well as for society”. We might say that in a way, Engels here was a pioneer of the hook-up culture, and no doubt it’s accompanying phenomenon of the abandoned young single mother.
This trajectory of mutually reinforcing intellectual conviction and loose-living was later picked up by other Communist critics of “bourgeois morals”. We see this in the Soviet Union’s own Sexual Revolution in the 1920s, and its chief architect, Alexandra Kollontai. Kollontai, arguably the godmother of Feminism, was an influential figure under Lenin’s government, and pushed for now familiar measures for the liberation of her gender, which included such items as non-fault divorce, abortion, communal houses, as well as free love- instigated by her belief that the notions of marriage and family were women’s “worst enemy” and a “cage”. Moved by more than pure altruism, Kollontai had established a wild reputation even by the standards of her own comrades (some of whom would become her critics), having abandoned her husband, and her lover whom she cheated on him with- for a life of political activism, in addition to a long string of unhappy affairs with other revolutionaries.
More significant than the dalliances of the exuberant commissar however, was the impact on those around her and the populace under her; the social upheaval that was unleashed in Russia was no small matter. E Michael Jones adds that the lowering of morals contributed to great impoverishment, disease, and personal hardship for those members of the population who unlike Lady Kollontai, couldn’t fall back on an aristocratic background and connections in high circles when the times took a turn for the worse. In light of the societal burden of illegitimacy, orphans, rampant venereal disease, coupled with the pressuring of women into factories- the yoke of liberation as it turned out, didn’t weigh the same on every shoulder, as usual, a life of debauchery remained wholly positive only to an out of touch elite.
Jones points out, very insightfully, that the forgotten Sexual Revolution in the 1920s was undoubtedly a factor in the backlash of the 1930s, brought about by necessity in Stalin’s reign – gone were liberationist laws, in were exhortations of morality, albeit this time fashioned as bulwarks of a stable socialist society, necessary for the building up of a productive workforce “whose forces weren’t wasted away”. Nor for that matter, was this something exclusive to Russia, as parallels could be found in the decadence of Weimar and the promises of social order by the Nazi regime (however malignant it was in other respects).
This extinguishing of the flames of passion, for the sake of actual stability was much mourned by some observers at the time, like Wilhelm Reich, a figure who went on to gain prominence in the fusion of psychoanalysis and Marxist theory. Reich whose work was to be influential in the 1960s Western experiment, could be said to have merely taken Kollontai’s formula and sprinkled it with the refinement of a psycho-political theory. This path was then followed by other celebrated ‘intellectual’ luminaries, from Marcuse to Foucault, who like Reich, were also motivated by in no small part by their own questionable lifestyles
In his works, The Sexual Revolution, and The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich identifies the family as “the reactionary germ cell” of fascism, whose deconstruction is necessary for a true revolutionary society to emerge. Standing in the way of utopia, are such things as “compulsory marriage” and the “compulsory family”, and the prescriptions for dealing with such instances of latent fascism range from promiscuity, to encouragement of various deviances, up to and including the sexualization of children. As he puts it at one point, “at first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family; this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system. The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety.”
Reich’s designation of unbridled sexuality as a panacea over time became a fashionable idea, encapsulated in “Make Love not War” ethos of the 1960s counterculture- indeed, at the 1968 uprisings in Paris, students famously threw copies of the Mass Psychology of Fascism at police during the riots. What is notable here, and something we’ll return to later, is also the deformation of the ethos of left-wing politics, which from then on, increasingly becomes defined by a sexualized discourse, over and beyond traditional concerns of class, labour and capital. In a sense, the Faustian pact that emerges from the Reichian strand of thought, is that the promise of liberation is married to the destruction of the very means by which people do find self-realization and fulfillment- freedom here is crucially refashioned as libertinism, or the freedom to act immorally, which is now excused for the purposes of ushering in a hoped-for new era.
These ideas are by no means limited to the figures I cited so far, but they suffice as illustrative of the dynamic of liberation, its intellectual foundations, and the reason why the demolition of the traditional family structure might be thought of as desirable by many of its adherents and fellow-travelers. More than a trip down memory lane, to uncover eccentricities of history, this is the background of our situation.
In any case, here we find the basic elements that constitute something of orthodoxy in enlightened opinion even to this day, however demographically disintegrating it may have been to Western societies. One need not take this as a value-judgement either, but a purely descriptive one, as even if one agrees with these changes, there’s certainly no doubt that they have occurred- indeed, in some circles, they’re praised precisely because they have occurred, we do after all hear constantly of the lamentable home-bound state of 1950s housewives.
What is most important here however, on the question of the family and its critics, is that there is indeed a well-established tradition whose objective involves the promotion of alternative constructs, as a necessity in paving the way for politico-ideological transformation. Not only that, but it’s safe to say that many of the chief proponents of such a change in family structures themselves lived lives corresponding with their ideological positions – certainly, in the end they came to believe what they lived. What I have discussed here can only amount to a prelude, the true unraveling involves the vexed question of gender. What is the most basic subversion of the family if not a revision of the necessarily opposite and complimentary categories of man and woman?