The personal is political

Protester drops a bra in the trash at the 1968 Miss America Pageant
Protesting the 1968 Miss America Pageant

The slogan “the personal is political,” originating in 1960s feminism, encapsulates both countercultures’ political agenda. Society had to change to accommodate the self; and political action was the way to reform the social structure.

Between them, the two countercultures shoved aside existing power dynamics and created reorganized coalitions which have dominated American politics ever since. Though both movements expired long ago, the struggle between them left a culture war that refuses to die.

A previous page, “Renegotiating self and society,” summarized the countercultures’ political program. The systematic mode had imposed a hard division between self and society, which caused alienation, angst, and anomie. The countercultures addressed these problems by blurring the public/private boundary: the personal is political.

They sought to replace the artificial, seemingly-arbitrary social and personal requirements of the systematic mode with ones they considered natural. They tried to reorient society away from formal, systematic roles toward natural ones: family, unstructured friendships, and local communities. The monist counterculture thought humanistic, egalitarian norms would be more natural. The dualist counterculture thought godly, hierarchical norms would be more natural.

“Authenticity” meant bringing the private and public selves into alignment. This was the obvious response to the painful gap between them. However, it represents a partial reversion toward the choiceless mode. Systems can be unjust, inhumane, rigid, dysfunctional, or outright inimical to human survival. Unfortunately, we still don’t know how to live without them. The choiceless mode feels right but it can’t feed a world of billions of people. The countercultures mostly recognized this, and did seek only to replace existing systems, not to return to a pre-systematic state.1

Merging ethics, politics, religion, and identity

Both countercultures unified politics and morality: the public and private manifestations of “ought.” Merging them helped collapse the self/society boundary. This led to a massive revision of American political, class, and religious systems—as we’ll see in the next page.

The countercultures perceived anomie: a breakdown in morality due to broad recognition that public norms were discordant with private values. Both called for a reform of social norms to bring them closer to ethical norms, and for norms to be strengthened—that is, better enforced against wrong-doers.

Power struggles between economic interest groups were the heart of politics before the countercultures. Conflict between the working class majority and the bourgeois minority drove the main ideological movements, and threatened social collapse. Counterculturalists recognized that such conflicts have no “right” resolution. Everyone may honestly believe their group should win, but that’s nothing more than self-interest.

Eternalism demands an ultimate answer to political questions: there must be an unambiguously correct, clear, simple solution once you see it. A contest of selfish brute political force won’t deliver that. Ethics—a force beyond self-interest—must provide the right answer for politics.

Of course, the countercultures disagreed sharply on some ethical questions. So how do we know that our ethics are right, and theirs are wrong? Religion. Religion gives transcendent, unchallengeable justification for ethical claims. And so both countercultures merged politics with religion, as well as with ethics.2 Not only did they reform politics along religious lines, they also turned their politics into pseudo-religions.

Spiritualizing politics, and politicizing everyday personal interactions, was not an altogether bad thing. Sometimes ethical considerations should trump power politics. Sometimes political considerations should alter personal behavior. However, combined with eternalism (absolutism) and universalism (intolerance of diversity of views), the merger has poisoned both politics and everyday life.

Countercultural politics split Americans into two warring tribes. Lack of distinctions between ethics, politics, and religion is a main cause of the bitterness of culture war. When politics is inseparable from morality, your political opponents do not just have different economic incentives, they are evil: immoral, sub-human, demonic. That makes negotiation and compromise impossible.

As politics came to define what it meant to be a good person, many came to define their selves by membership in one counterculture, and rejection of the other. Political success would require solidarity, and both sides promoted the “brotherhood of all counterculture participants.” However, identification with the monist or dualist tribe eventually proved to be an inadequate basis for self.

The monist personal was political

Pro-choice rally
Image courtesy Dave Bledsoe

The New Left was the monist counterculture’s political program. The Old Left had mainly promoted the economic interest of the working class. The New Left mainly promoted a middle-class personal morality, and mostly lost interest in working class and economic issues.3

Monist politics addressed the crisis of the self: the problems of alienation, angst, and anomie. It started from an improbable synthesis of Marxism, Freudianism, and existentialism—the most important secular systems of meaning in the mid-twentieth century. These systems utterly contradict each other, and also contradict central tenets of the New Left. However, countercultural intellectuals somehow combined them in an ideology of complete liberation of the individual from social norms. Given this incoherent and absolutist origin, it’s not surprising that many of the New Left’s social proposals were simplistic utopian fantasies.

Loosening social norms

In the beginning, the New Left sought mainly to loosen existing social norms, rather than to replace them. The 1950s had been a period of unusually rigid expectations for conformity, which counterculturalists found intolerable. Many of these norms seemed arbitrary, or obsolete, or simply served the selfish interests of elites. Just throwing them off would be a good start. The monist counterculture was, at first, remarkably anti-authoritarian.

After some experience of the consequences of moral breakdown, the counterculture shifted to advocating social reform based on new norms. These were supposed to be more human and natural, in contrast with the industrial, artificial norms of the systematic mode. Leaders intended to create a supportive and egalitarian society. Not everyone got with the program immediately. So, New Left organizations increasingly demanded “discipline,” and monist culture increasingly insisted on correct “consciousness.” The left gradually left behind its New anti-authoritarianism.

Sexual liberation

Sex is perhaps the most personal and private of activities. Before the countercultural merger of the public and private spheres, sex would never have been considered a “political” issue.4

“Victorian morality” was still the official public ideology of sex and family life in the 1960s. For decades, it had been increasingly ignored in private—the very definition of hypocrisy and anomie. Improved contraceptive technology and safe, effective treatments for all the STDs of the time removed rational justifications for restrictive sexual norms.

Herbert Marcuse was probably the most important New Left theorist. His Eros and Civilization rejects Freud’s pessimistic conclusion in Civilization and Its Discontents (which I discussed previously) that the self, particularly its sexual desires, must be subordinated to the social system. Modern political repression, Marcuse argued, is based on sexual repression. For the New Left, the sexual revolution was inseparable from the struggle against oppressive corporations and an oppressive state.

This program was partly successful. By the mid-1970s, when the monist counterculture petered out, a majority of Americans had adopted a much more liberal sexual morality than was publicly acceptable in the early ’60s.

Family

The counterculture considered the Victorian family oppressive for all participants, and set out to dissolve it.

For children, they said, the family was a training ground for a future role as subordinates in an oppressive society. The family’s purpose was to create “authoritarian personalities.” Victorian family theorists had made this entirely explicit: children must be taught unquestioning obedience to arbitrary parental authority in order that they will make “good citizens” as adults. New Left theorists believed this explained the acquiescence of the German and Russian people to Nazi and Stalinist oppression. Families make fascists. In America, families turned out obedient employees, cogs in the machinery of capitalism, whose childhood resignation to emotional abuse also made them joyless, compulsive consumers.

The demand that all men marry and support a wife and children doomed many to an onerous and unwanted breadwinner role. The Beat movement—prologue to hippies—was largely a revolt against work, which implied a revolt against marriage. Hippie men too wanted to sleep around, get high, and listen to music—not spend all their time in a mind-destroying job in order to pay for children they hadn’t asked for.

Hippie women were, likewise, mostly not looking forward to a lifetime stuck at home washing dishes and changing diapers. On the other hand, many discovered that the new social norm that they should have sex with any hippie man who wanted them was not so great either. Some did have children, and then hippie rejection of breadwinning became a problem.

Meanwhile, many more-mainstream women found they enjoyed their careers, and relished the freedom from dependency on men a paycheck gave them. Second-wave feminism began as their political program to end workplace discrimination. Feminism is now hazily remembered as part of the ’60s counterculture, probably because they were lumped together as enemies by the dualist counterculture. The reality was more complicated: feminism was long resisted by most male leaders of the New Left, and of the monist religious and cultural movements.

Community

The Victorian isolated nuclear family ideal was called “traditional,” but it was only a century old. Anthropologists pointed out that it is culturally unusual. Extended families are more typical. These are usually closely woven into broader clans and villages. Children are normally raised by many adults. Unmarried teenage girls also do much of the work, keeping small children out of adults’ hair, and buffering them from excessively harsh parental discipline.

Marcuse, and other countercultural theorists, advocated dissolving nuclear family bonds and replacing them with extended social networks.

Hippie communes put this theory into action. They address both the problem of work and the problem of family. To avoid work, we all move to a remote farm, where we’re out of reach of The System, and we grow all our own food and make everything else we need.5 There we get back in touch with the cycles of nature, live life on a human scale, and do just enough wholesome, meaningful work to meet our own needs—instead of slaving for capitalist exploiters. We hold property in common, so everyone has everything they need. We raise children communally, so they always have many loving adults to turn to.

In almost every case, this ends disastrously, usually within a year or so. The founders have high-minded cooperative ideals, but no one actually wants to plow the field, wash the dishes, or feed other people’s children—and if work is not enforced, gradually everyone does less. (This is especially true of communes whose promise is freedom from work!)

Worse, in the absence of strong social norms, communes attract parasites: freeloaders and sociopaths. The brotherhood of all counterculturalists implies that anyone with long hair can come live on the farm. Soon a lot of long-haired guys show up who expect to be fed and laid and supplied with drugs, in exchange for doing nothing. Often they are surly or even violent as well. We are very nice cooperative egalitarian monist people, and they invariably have some sob story for why they can’t be expected to pull their weight, so none of us wants to tell them to get out. No one even feels they have any authority to do so. After a few months, the productive members of the commune give up and leave; and then so do the parasites, when the free food, sex, and drugs run out.

Communes that succeed have strong social norms. Living there requires high commitment to specific values, beyond the countercultural ones. They are mainly interested in being left alone to do their specific thing, rather than trying to impose it on society at large. These make them subcultural, not countercultural. Unfortunately, during the countercultural era, successful communes mainly ended up being dominated by charismatic authoritarians (who had the gumption to toss out the parasites) and became exploitative cults. Others, more benign, were run by leaders with strong organizational skills, who imposed formal roles and systems and found a profitable non-agrarian economic basis for their community.

The “brotherhood” fantasy, that the counterculture as a whole could function as a community, was a clear failure. Mostly its egalitarian ideals undermined even attempts to create local communities.

The dualist personal was political

Pro-life rally
Image courtesy Wikipedia

Social conservatives, as well as liberals, found the systematic mode’s private/public split intolerable. It enabled pervasive moral hypocrisy, for instance in the form of “Sunday Christians,” who said the right things in public, but whose private lives were unaffected by religion. Your public and private lives must match to make you an authentic Christian. This is what “born again” meant to many: that you walk the talk.

A godless society makes that walk hard going. There were plenty of sinners in the ’50s, but at least mainstream society expected basic Christian morality. By the mid-’70s, atheists and perverts had taken over America. Hollywood and universities and the government, and even many supposedly Christian churches, all promoted sin. The dualist political program was a grassroots uprising for basic decency, for religious freedom, for taking America back to the traditional values of its founders. (Or so its leaders said.)

They cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, as one of the main reasons for launching their counterculture. The Court’s reasoning in this case was based on the right to privacy: affirming the public/private distinction. The personal, said the Court, was not political.

The founders of the Moral Majority—the foremost dualist-counterculture political organization—were also motivated by their disappointment at “born again” President Jimmy Carter’s rejection of “the personal is political.” Carter refused to publicly oppose abortion despite his private conservative Evangelical religious beliefs.

With the Supreme Court and the President advocating moral hypocrisy, a counter-cultural politics was imperative. The dualist political program worked to collapse the public and private in order to return society to natural, godly norms. This project complemented the dualist religious movement’s technologies of the self, which strengthened souls against the temptations of the new hedonism, nihilism, and atheism.

Large-family values

Dualists agreed with monists that the “traditional family” was not working. They wrote the opposite prescription, though: it should be strengthened and supported, not dissolved.

“Family values” was the central dualist counterculture slogan. For liberals, the list of issues this covers is puzzling. It seems senseless and disparate, and mostly to have nothing to do with families, although weirdly obsessed with sex. If there is any common theme, perhaps it is “don’t enjoy yourself!”—and it is hard to see how that is anything other than mean-spirited.

Social conservatives seem incapable of explaining “family values” other than in Biblical terms. Such justifications are nonsense, because social conservatives ignore most Biblical prohibitions, and they only started caring about the main “family values” in the 1970s.6 Before then, conservative Protestants mostly thought abortion was fine. Sodomy had always been a sin, but an obscure one; fundamentalists had been far more concerned to preach against drinking, dancing, and gambling. The “family values” agenda must have some other, powerful, unstated motivation. Baffled liberals may attribute it to pure malice: hatred rooted in innate evil.

I’ve recently come to a tentative, alternative understanding that makes me much more sympathetic.7 If we take the dualist political agenda as promoting large families, its specific positions suddenly make sense. In fact, conservatives do have significantly more children than liberals, on average.

Three reproductive strategies have been common in America in the past half-century:8

  1. Opportunistic mating without marriage, and with minimal parental investment—especially, minimal support by fathers. This is most common among the underclass and lower working class.
  2. Early marriage (teens or early twenties); many children, starting shortly after marriage; emphasis on life-long monogamy; and high total parental investment, spread over many children. This large-family strategy became typical mainly of the upper working class and lower middle class.
  3. Marriage and children delayed to late twenties or into the thirties in order to accumulate resources (university education and establishing a career); multiple sexual relationships before marriage; fewer children; highest per-child parental investment. This is typical of the upper middle class.

The “family values” agenda makes sense when interpreted as promoting the large-family, early-marriage strategy as against both of the others. As a political movement, it attempts to get the government to support its reproductive strategy, and to hinder, prohibit, or punish the others.

Take abortion, the foremost issue of the religious right.9 Those pursuing the early strategy have little use for abortion, because they intend to have lots of children as soon as they can. On the other hand, unintended early childbirth ruins the delayed strategy by interrupting education or professional career development. Before legal abortion, it forced many women to abandon their life plans altogether. It set many men back in their careers as well, because to support an unwanted child they had to maximize current income, instead of pursuing education or prestigious but low-paid training positions. Conversely, if you are currently unable to support children at all—often true for those who adopt the opportunistic strategy—abortion may be pragmatically necessary. If we assume that sabotaging the opportunistic and delayed strategies are the point of the anti-abortion movement, its moral condemnation of both “welfare queens” and “selfish career women” makes sense.10

The large-family, early strategy requires enormous personal sacrifice. If you have six children, then realistically one parent does have to stay home, taking care of them all day every day. Many people enjoy caring for children, but doing it almost your entire adult life, with little time to enjoy or express yourself, is a long hard grind, and emotionally restricting. Financially, in addition to per-child costs, the family has to give up on the potential second income. There is less parental attention and less money per child than in smaller families; preparing and paying for college may be infeasible, for instance. For the employed parent, the financial stress and responsibility, the risk of catastrophe if you lose your job, and the impossibility of taking time off, are equally grinding.

Social liberals should recognize that sticking to this plan, in the face of constant temptations to irresponsibility, is genuinely noble. Religious conservatives congratulate themselves on being “moral” because they are “godly.” Liberal atheists should recognize that they are moral: not because they follow the Bible, but because they work extremely hard, for the sake of others, in difficult circumstances, when they do have alternative options.

In fact, because the big-family strategy is so grueling, it needs intensive memetic support. For many people, switching to strategy 1 (abandoning your wife and children, having an affair, getting high instead of cleaning the house, spending money on something fun the family can’t afford) looks attractive all too often. It is easier, more enjoyable in the short run, and might seem rational for the longer term, too. Constant reminders of absolute, eternalistic religious justifications help keep you on the straight and narrow. A community—a church—that reinforces the message with social confirmation and peer pressure, checking every week to see that you have not gone astray, is invaluable. And, the Christian technologies of the self were designed to make the large-family strategy more emotionally bearable.

The delayed, small-family strategy is the most personally rewarding, for those capable of it. However, it only makes sense if you have something better to do with your twenties. That means college, and the kinds of jobs that require eighty-hour-a-week work at low pay during your twenties in exchange for prestige or a very high salary later: entry-level positions as an academic, doctor, lawyer, or investment banker.11 Mostly, these are inaccessible for young people from working-class and lower-middle-class backgrounds. If you are going to work forty hours a week on low-skill jobs for the rest of your life, you might as well have children when you are twenty.

On the other hand, if you are not capable of earning enough money to support a wife and children, strategy 2 is out of reach, and you are stuck with reproductive opportunism.

So it is not surprising that the religious right was—and still is—rooted in the upper working class and lower middle class.12 And this explains its sudden emergence in the 1970s. Economic changes during the 1960s made strategies 1 and 3 both work better than they had. Increased workplace opportunity for women, general prosperity, and more generous welfare support made strategy-1 single motherhood much more feasible and attractive than it had been. Increasing subsidies for college tuition, plus a widening gap between blue-collar and professional/managerial salaries, made the delayed-marriage strategy 3 both easier to access and more attractive.

This meant that people pursuing the large-family strategy saw greater competition from the others than previously. It also meant many were tempted to switch. That could be threatening in several ways. At a practical level, as an example, for a man, it was more likely that your wife would leave and support herself. (This is why wives’ obedience and dependency were so heavily promoted, and why conservatives oppose workplace equality.)

Psychologically, the shifts caused great cognitive dissonance. Strategy 2 had been the best option for most people for decades—but maybe now it wasn’t? Surely I made the right decision—but now the others look better? What can it mean, when fundamental life choices change out from under you? This provokes confusion, resentment, and uncertainty. Anti-rational religious claims were a relatively effective treatment. You could take pride in doing what was religiously right, at great cost, even though it might seem senseless otherwise.

In fact, over the past few decades, many have shifted away from the early-marriage, large-family strategy. Some have moved in the direction of delay. Conservatives have smaller families than they did—although on average they still have almost one more child than liberals. Many send children to college—despite the discrimination conservatives may face there. On the other hand, economic trends that started in the 1970s have accelerated, making it ever more difficult to raise a family on a single working-class income. Many have despaired, given up, and slid into strategy 1—which may seem like total failure.

If this strategy analysis of social conservatism is right, its eternalistic religious rhetoric is a smoke screen. The “family values” agenda is just self-interested: it tries to harm competing social classes and benefit its own. The large-family strategy it promotes is not “more moral”; it is good for some people and bad for others. Forcing it on the underclass—“you can’t have children unless you have a steady job and stay married”—means they will fail, and be eliminated as competition. Forcing it on the upper middle class—“you can’t have sex unless it results in children, and mothers have to stay home to care for them”—eliminates much of their advantage.

Still, this understanding of what they are up to makes me more, not less, sympathetic to social conservatives. They are not just being irrationally hateful. Pursuing self-interest, and moralizing it to conceal selfish motivations even from oneself, is universal. It can’t be condemned.

Also, from this perspective, one can see sexual liberalism as mainly self-interested politicking for strategy 3. Getting to sleep around, while waiting to have children until you’ve gotten your professional degree and established your career, makes your twenties tolerable.

The core of the monist counterculture was college-educated, middle class people in their twenties. Some went back to the “straight world” in their thirties, pursuing the delayed strategy. Some “dropped out” permanently and defaulted to the opportunistic strategy. You can view their contempt for “traditional marriage” as merely a self-interested attempt to harm those pursuing strategy 2.

Indeed, while sexual freedom is functional for some people, the change in social attitudes since the ’60s has been devastating for others. I find plausible arguments made by Charles Murray, in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, and Theodore Dalrymple, in Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass. The loosening of social norms, particularly around sex, drugs, and family, which originated in the monist counterculture and which is propagated by the leftish upper middle class, has been catastrophic for the working class. Millions who might have led decent early-marriage strategy-2 lives have slipped instead into the underclass: destructive drug addiction, permanent unemployment, crime, child neglect and abuse.13

Dualist community

The monist counterculture’s Romantic fantasy of community was the rural commune. One reason those failed was that most hippies were from middle-class urban backgrounds, and had no clue how to start a balky tractor, snake a drain, or slaughter a hog. The core of the dualist counterculture came from the rural working class, for whom such things are everyday tasks. If only they had been able to cooperate!

In fact, “Jesus freaks”—Charismatic Christian hippies—formed some of the most successful communes. Their Jesus Movement, which predated the main dualist counterculture, was an important bridge between the two, working out ways hippie innovations could be adapted for use by Christian conservatives.14

The dualist counterculture appealed particularly to people from rural backgrounds who experienced culture shock when they moved to cities and office-park suburbs for work. The main dualist fantasy of community was an idealization of “traditional” small-town life—“traditional” meaning “all the good stuff with none of the bad.” Despite much talk, the counterculture had no credible program for fixing rampant rural social pathology, so this was no more realistic than the hippie commune movement.

Churches were centers of the dualist counterculture. Church community can provide substantial material support, in addition to the memetic and social support I mentioned earlier. However, existing church institutions were inadequate. The counterculture innovated extensively in sermons and service style, music, management structure, marketing, architecture, and social ministries.

The most successful new-model churches grew explosively into megachurches, a qualitatively new form of social organization. Like the few successful communes, these became subsocieties: local communities with a distinctive subculture that served a wide array of social needs. This was far more functional in practice than “traditional small-town life.” Hoping to reform small towns nationally was a characteristically countercultural project; megachurches are a subcultural one. Therefore, I will discuss them in detail in the next chapter, rather than here.

Upshot and aftermath

In the end, neither counterculture had a workable program for reforming the self, or society, or for renegotiating their relationship.

Although the proposals of both countercultures were extreme, neither was sufficiently radical. Both left intact a structure of individuals and a nation-scale society confronting each other across an unbridgeable gap. Both merely fiddled with details on either side of the chasm, rather than proposing a fundamentally different approach to the problems of individualism and collectivism. This is a major reason the countercultures failed.

Their social proposals were simplistic and utopian. Social liberalism is not right. It is good only for some people. Social conservatism is also not right; just good for some people. The fact is, different sorts of people need different social arrangements, including different sexual, family, and community norms.

Later I will argue that this was the fundamental error of the countercultures: universalism. Both tried to impose their preferred way of life on everyone else. However, neither way was accepted by a majority, let alone everyone.

This failure brought out totalitarian tendencies in both countercultures—particularly the dualist one. Totalitarianism, too, makes the personal political and seeks to destroy the boundary between a social system and individuals. It would take extreme state repression to force everyone into a uniform code of sexual morality. Imposing an early-marriage large-family strategy is, indeed, a central project of Islamism, a totalitarian dualist counterculture.15 Fortunately, in America, both countercultures grudgingly accepted their democratic failure, with only minor terrorist violence from extremists on each side.

Although neither counterculture’s political program was adopted in full, both partially succeeded in transforming American government, law, and social norms. (More about that in “Rotating politics ninety degrees clockwise.”) Both caused considerable harm to society and to individuals, but also had some benefits.

Making explicit that the self/society boundary needed softening and reworking was a helpful step toward the subcultural mode. The conflict between the countercultures made clearer what the problems of self and society are. It made some people aware that social systems are contingent constructions, not absolute truths, so we all have a responsibility to help them evolve. Although both countercultures were eternalist, most people found themselves somewhere in the middle, which made eternalism, monism, and dualism less credible. That too set us up for the subcultural mode’s move away from all three of those confused stances.

Subculturalism developed structurally new models of the self, of society, and their relationship:

  • Acknowledging the fragmentation of the self as inevitable made it increasingly unproblematic.
  • Acknowledging diversity (including diversity of moral views) allows like-minded people to form distinctive subsocieties. This provided a layer of organization intermediate between the family and the nation-state.
  • Thus, the extreme ideals of existentialist individualism (the one-pointed self perfectly separated from social influence) and totalitarian collectivism (the boundaryless self entirely dissolved in social conformity) both lost their appeal.
  • 1. There were exceptions, particularly in the monist counterculture. Monist movements like anti-capitalism, anti-rationalism, eco-primitivism, the Noble Savage mythos, and the back-to-the-land movement would have destroyed systematicity altogether if actually carried out. The dualist counterculture’s alliance with the big-business Republican right mainly forestalled similar moves, although its fringier anti-rational elements could have been equally catastrophic if they had gained power.
  • 2. One manifestation: Christian Voice, the second-most-important Christian Right organization, issued influential “Morality Ratings” on every member of Congress, based on their support or opposition to its legislative agenda.
  • 3. Although the New Left was officially Marxist and anti-capitalist, it had no substantive economic program. Its supposed anti-capitalism was mainly actually opposition to the emotionally unfulfilling “iron cage” of employment in big-business bureaucracy; to the responsibility of private industry for environmental destruction; to the military-industrial complex’s promotion of unnecessary wars for profit; and to the inadequacy of government anti-poverty programs. The counterculture was not seriously opposed to a market economy, and was mainly enthusiastic about consuming its bounty of nifty new goods.
  • 4. From the Victorian era forward, do-gooders had campaigned against masturbation and prostitution. Though these campaigns were public, their objects were private, and therefore considered matters of “morality,” not “politics.”
  • 5. Communal agrarian self-sufficiency is a persistent, malign Romantic fantasy. Brook Farm was a hippie commune of the 1840s which failed in just the same way as the ones of the 1960s. The Utopia Experiment describes another attempt ten years ago, which followed the same script again. (This one led by an academic expert on, among other things, the existential risk posed by runaway artificial intelligence.) The underlying fantasy is that the choiceless mode would be paradise. The reality is that it is awful in material terms, even when its human relationships feel more natural.
  • 6. I put “conservative” and “traditional” in quotes for this reason.
  • 7. This model was inspired by sociological research by Jason Weeden and his collaborators. See, for instance, “Religious attendance as reproductive support,” “Sociosexuality vs. fast/slow life history,” and “Churchgoers are restricted individuals in fast groups.” My discussion here is not an accurate summary of Weeden’s views, and he might disagree with it. However, if it includes any useful insights, they are mostly his.
  • 8. These are not the only possible strategies. For example, extended families sharing a single home were mainly extinct in America by the middle of the twentieth century. Polygamy had been banned a century earlier. Both are common elsewhere, and more traditional than the “traditional marriage” promoted by “conservatives.” DINK—dual income, no kids—is an increasingly popular non-reproductive strategy.
  • 9. I could give similar analyses for the other “family values” issues—drugs, pornography, prostitution, feminism, homosexuality, divorce, and so forth. However, I’m not trying to give a detailed account of social conservatism here, just a sketch of a possible explanation of its principle and function.
  • 10. As with any major movement, different people oppose abortion for different reasons. Some have genuine sympathy for fetuses, or genuinely believe that the Bible forbids abortion. However, these moral and religious concerns can’t explain why most Protestants thought abortion was fine until the mid-’70s, before suddenly making it their central political issue. Many abortion opponents do explicitly connect it with “welfare queens,” “sluts,” and “selfish career women,” consistent with a class-based reproductive-strategy analysis. It’s worth noting also that opposition to abortion partly replaced opposition to contraception, which was only made fully legal in America in 1972, by the Supreme Court decision Eisenstadt v. Baird.
  • 11. Plausibly one reason such professions underpay their entry-level positions is to screen out anyone who would prefer strategy 2 to 3—the lower-middle-class riffraff we don’t want in our office.
  • 12. Of course, it has never been entirely restricted to those classes. In fact, one impetus to the 1980s dualist counterculture was the upward mobility of fundamentalists, from the rural working class to the suburban technical middle-middle class, particularly in the Sunbelt defense industry.
  • 13. Of course, economic changes that have disadvantaged the working class are also major factors.
  • 14. See Countercultural Conservatives: American Evangelicalism from the Postwar Revival to the New Christian Right, pp. 101, 131-4, et passim.
  • 15. Islamism was founded by Sayyid Qutb, after spending two years in America, 1949-51. His horror at American sexual openness seems to have been a major inspiration for the movement. “The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs and she shows all this and does not hide it.”

Navigation

This page is in the section Countercultures: modernity’s last gasp,
      which is in The history of meaningness,
      which is in Meaningness and Time: past, present, future.

The next page in this section is Rotating politics ninety degrees clockwise.

The previous page is Rejecting rationality, reinventing religion, reconfiguring the self.

This page’s topics are Countercultures and Politics.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2017 David Chapman.