The Legacy of George Gilder’s Men and Marriage
Polymath George Gilder has written deeply about the future of capitalism. He runs an excellent newsletter on technology investing. He was crucial to founding the Discovery Institute, a leading think tank in the intelligent design movement. A liberal at Harvard and a Ripon Society Republican in the 1970s, he has moved to the right on feminism, economics, and the importance of Christianity to a healthy America. He is also a futurist, who thinks mass immigration is necessary to sustain the promise of technological progress.
He is also an insightful gender theorist. Gilder’s Sexual Suicide, his 1973 book, and Men and Marriage, his 1986 restatement, recently re-released by Canon Press, start with almost unsayable truths about human nature, and then show that our new feminist sexual constitution will cause civilizational collapse. His teaching ages pretty well.
Every political community has a sexual constitution, a system of honor, shame and economic incentives that point men and women to roles and ways of life. Some countries honor polygyny, for instance, to predictable results. A few competitive, successful men monopolize most women. Other men have none, so they turn to war or sex with men to satisfy their urges to create and have sex. The competition and urges are constants, but the ways of manifesting them change with the sexual constitution.
America’s post-1960s feminist sexual constitution is based on the assumption that men and women are entirely the products of socialization. The patriarchy that had been made could be unmade and remade into a feminist constitution. Gilder pours the cold water of sex role realism on the feminist assumption about the malleability of human nature and on prospects for their new sexual constitution. The feminist sexual constitution registers and channels the natural predilections of men (and women) in predictable ways. Some men become duller, while others turn to crime. Gilder, however, did not extend his analysis to recognize how the feminist constitution corrupts women.
At the dawn of civilization, men are civilized through male friendships and the rites of passage in tribes and later through marriage. Then came the Industrial Revolution, which Gilder calls the “most cataclysmic event in history.” As the importance of male rituals waned, for Gilder, civilization came to depend on “a draconian imposition on males of the long-term rhythms and perspectives of female sexuality.” As Gilder writes, “Women domesticate and civilize male nature.”
This statement irks many, though I think there is much sense in it. Men are less connected than women to the chain of being that makes and sustains life, thus men are both sexually preoccupied and sexually inferior. “A man has no civilized role or agenda inscribed in his body.” A woman connects a man to eternity through bearing and nursing his children. At the same time, she is attracted to him because of his achievements as a man, which come first. Private woman; public man. He is sexually aggressive, compulsive, and unselective. He is hardwired to accomplish and his sexual insecurity impels him to ever greater action. Civilization ultimately connects strong male eros with biological and social continuity. Women in Gilder’s view are the civilization-bearers. “In creating civilization, women transform male lust into love; channel male wanderlust into jobs, homes, and families; link men to specific children;. . .divert male will to power into a drive to create.” That formulation takes a good point too far.
The old sexual constitution, informed by Christianity, helped attach males to the family. Male work allowed for male bonding and manifested a great energy and creativity, as sexually-segregated male spaces are wont to do. Monogamy and enduring marriage buckled his love to a woman and made him secure in his progeny. His headship of the family, established in coverture laws unmentioned by Gilder, connected social honor with familial duties. Female chastity and modesty were socially enforced through bans on obscenity and through a censorious public opinion.
Gilder is at his best when showing that our new feminist constitution harms men. It integrates the workplace. It shuts down specifically male spaces. It hampers the education of boys by adopting female-friendly discipline and learning styles in school. It embraces at-will, no-fault divorce. It stigmatizes male provision. It builds a welfare state that replaces men with the state in the name of female emancipation. Artificial means of reproduction are developed. It unlooses female sexuality. It promotes pornography and gayness as alternative acceptable ways for men to satisfy sexual urges. Males become superfluous.
Once women can be “both provider and procreator,” Gilder predicts, men will no longer be needed for marriage and they will become either “outlaws” or “exiles.” Gilder argues that men under our feminist constitution are sexually frustrated; turn to lives of crime and gangs; die earlier from suicide or deaths of despair; turn to drugs and drinking; leave the workforce; and generally fail to thrive. They hate schools and compliance-oriented, nurturing or affirming workplaces. They lose self-respect, turning from sex with women to masturbatory fantasies or prostitutes. Sexual eros, easily satisfied by loose women, will not find a subordinate place necessary to sustain the drive for genuine accomplishment. Men are in a bad way. Gilder’s book is, in these respects, prophetic.
Gilder’s prophetic powers are less evident on the question of whether “female civilizers” must be civilized. His focus is on men and manners, but it is impossible to think of men without also thinking of women. Women are even more social than men, so they take their ways from the sexual constitution. Sometimes women are ladies. Sometimes Girls Go Wild. Gilder both sees this—and doesn’t.
Gilder ascribes female virtues to nature instead of seeing how the old sexual constitution actually made women what they were. Gilder’s mistake leads him into loads of errors. Sexual maturity in a young girl, Gilder suggests, “reminds her of her possible future as a wife and mother.” But women are not automatically like that. When the idea of wifeliness and motherhood are stigmatized under the feminist constitution, women will abort their children, sterilize themselves, or turn lesbian at alarming rates. Women, Gilder thinks, “take their sexual identity for granted,” but our current trans craze is only the latest iteration derived from the waning of the honoring of motherhood. Who doesn’t honor motherhood? Women themselves–under our feminist constitution.
Gilder sees divorce as freeing monied men from their boring old wives, but women under the no-fault regime file for around 70% of all divorces. “In the United States,” Gilder suggests, the “much greater mental health of single women than single men” is traceable to female self-assurance. Such statistics look seriously dated today when women have more mental health problems and take much more medication. Women are more responsible and dutiful in the workplace (as Gilder suggests they would be), but also more demanding, indirect and vindictive. Women can be loyal, selective, modest, confident, and stable, but also hypergamous, fickle, promiscuous, narcissistic, and neurotic, depending on the sexual constitution.
Many men wish to believe in the natural goodness of women. Women like to think that they will be virtuous or civilized without men and marriage. Bunk. Men and marriage civilize women to the roles of mothers, wives, and matriarchs and secure them in their sexual identity. Many women without men are shallow consumers and often lonely. For many, slavish dependence to cultural fashion masquerades as a faux independence. Their petty power plays from many serve only to undermine freedom and advance their interests narrowly conceived. Women are not wrong to look at modern men and wonder “Where have all the good men gone?” Men may respond: many modern women are difficult to love and respect.
A pro-marriage culture is always the product of civilizing men and women. Gilder’s critics from the right want to suggest that men must civilize women through the creation of a strong and strengthening sexual constitution. Fine. But if men are so great and in charge, how did we get our current dysfunctional sexual constitution that is so inimical to male ambition? My answer: it takes two to build and sustain a sexual constitution–and also to ruin one.
Let us honor George Gilder. As our old constitution was being destroyed, he was among the few who knew the stakes. His framework, broadly applied, shows that men and women are civilized through monogamous marriage. He speaks unfashionable truths about what our feminist constitution does to men and how it undermines the economy of love. Gregarious men and women, Gilder implies, thrive in healthy, mutually-dependent relations with one another. Without marriage, neither men nor women are civilized.
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