I have recently been reading the autobiography of one of my favorite historians, Will Durant. The book is entitled Dual Autobiography, as it outlines the life not just of Will Durant, but also the life of his wife Ariel. Mrs. Durant assisted her husband so considerably in the later stages of his monumental multi-volume opus The Story of Civilization that she was given the credit of co-authorship of the final volumes. Their life struggles and trials make for fascinating reading; I had always admired them for their literary qualities, and was happy to discover that I could admire them for their personal qualities as well.
One passage caught my eye and arrested my attention. Mrs. Durant describes a lecture she delivered in 1927 to a group of “modern women” (what would now be called feminists). The topic of the lecture was the ultimate purpose of female “emancipation.” Daring to take an unpopular line with her ardent assemblage of auditors, she urged women not to cast off their traditional roles too hastily. Her words are so prescient, and so uncannily accurate, that I must quote them here at length:
I accepted the emancipation of woman as a natural result of the continuing Industrial Revolution, replacing domestic drudgery with gadgets and cans…But if emancipation meant a revolt against marriage, and an exaltation of career above motherhood, it would bring a regrettable masculinity in women and a corresponding effeminacy in men. What will be the gain when women wear pants and men have soprano voices?…What shall we say of the many abnormalities that have increased in…our age of transition? The progress of inversion, perversion,…a third sex?…Have we the right to say anything if men wistfully long for a home while women crowd tearooms, cafes, and cabarets?…So I pleaded for moderation, for “a revolt against the excess of revolt.”
Remember that these words were delivered in 1927. They predict precisely that trajectory of gender relations that has played out in the past eighty years; and unfortunately, we are now forced to admit that Mrs. Durant’s admonitions went unheeded. This “progress of inversion and perversion” [of the sex roles] has become a reality. We now have precisely the type of society she warned us to avoid: female exaltation of career over all else, the deliberate masculinization of women, the corresponding effeminacy of men, and the rise of an androgynous and neutered “third sex” that has completely withdrawn from the human mating game. These are the general contours of American society in 2014.
The modern man enjoying his leisure.
Inevitably, another question arises. Are these changes part of the natural, inevitable process of human evolution, or are they simply symptoms of our civilization’s deepening decay? The question is a critical one. For if these changes are a natural outgrowth of technological development, then we are forced to admit that traditional masculinity is doomed. The human male may himself become something of an evolutionary dead end, fit to join that long list of other extinct genera of humans: paranthropus bosiei, homo australopithecus, homo neanderthalensis, etc. Take your pick.
It is not out of the question. My imagination was fired a few years ago when I read of the discovery in 2003 of homo floresiensis in Indonesia. It is now generally accepted that this diminutive “hobbit man” constituted a distinct species of human, and may have been alive as late as 14,000 years ago. Imagine that: an entirely different species of human, coexisting with modern man on remote islands in Indonesia, possibly even up until historical times. That there existed ages in which more than one species of human walked the earth is for me an incredible concept. Only last month, news reports announced the discovery in China of another new species of Stone Age human, called “Red Deer People.” This type apparently also existed as recently as 11,000 to 14,000 years ago. In evolutionary terms, 14,000 years is the blink of an eye. What a strange, wondrous world this is! These new discoveries remind us just how complex, unexpected, and diverse the story of man is. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of our history.
Homo floresiensis on display
The point here is that social changes, in the long run, can have serious consequences for the survival of the species. The deliberate destruction of the masculine ethic in the West may, over time, set modern man down the path of extinction. Those bloated, wretched freaks lurching about in the aisles of the average suburban Walmart store may be a frightening harbinger of humanity’s future.
But I cannot bring myself to believe this. This would be a future too dark to contemplate. I prefer to believe that our current social woes are a temporary hiccup in the later stages of that Industrial Revolution which has haunted mankind since the 1780s. No doubt old James Watt, tinkering with his steam engines in England at that time, could never have foreseen the insidious consequences of his revolution. Yet I curse him just the same. Women have not become “emancipated” so much as industrialized. They have become drafted into a vast slave army of anonymous drones, willingly or unwillingly, whose function it is to slave away in meaningless jobs, so that they can become better consumers before the altar of the moneyed oligarchs.
Call me delusional. But I prefer to take the position that feminist excesses and abuses will eventually prompt a furious backlash from both men and women. Mrs. Durant’s exhortation for a “revolt against the excess of revolt” will become a reality, as the oligarchs running Western societies realize that they cannot sit atop a social dung heap and govern effectively. A corrective movement will be born (or may already be here) that will seek to restore a natural and healthy balance among the unhappy genders. If both men and women have degenerated and lost their previous vigor, perhaps this is due in America to the unparalleled period of ease and luxury of the decades since the 1930s. As Tacitus says,
Nam militares artes per otium ignotae, industriosque aut ignavos pax in aequo tenet. [The arts of war are lost in a world of leisure, and peace levels equally both the man of action and the dullard. Annals XII.12]
The dullard and the man of action become equal quantities in times of leisure. In this world of tumult, this cyclone of conflict, we can only tend to the sacred flames in our innermost temples, and take care that their flickering lights do not go out. For my part, I refuse to become what the prevailing social conditions want me to become. I refuse to accept homo Walmartensis as the prototype of man’s future. I refuse to let the light die out. And if that means we go the way of the Neanderthal, or some other evolutionary dead end, then so be it. We will still be nobler and greater than the forces that destroy us. For, to paraphrase Pascal, as we die we will know we are dying; whereas of its victory, a heedless and unfeeling society will know nothing.
Read More: Nothing Is Permanent