Last week I wrote about my suspicion that a little-noticed cause of the failure of gun-control is what we might call the masculine or fatherly instinct to protect the weak, felt most acutely when the particular “weak” in question are a man’s wife and children.
The ensuing conversation predictably divagated into a wider discussion of the human sexual constitution. So the context of the fatherly instinct to protect was expanded to include the whole tremendous question of gender differences and how they should be viewed vis-à-vis policy and the social state.
On one side of this debate, as I see it, we have people who, arguing from a wide variety of factual sources, employing various lines of reason from initial deductions, recognize gender differences as a matter of empirical fact of sufficient gravity to impact policy and the social state. They do not all reason from one source, nor do they all share the same presuppositions; on many other matters these students of the observable fact of a unified sexuality constituted by differences — what the rhetorician with a gift for imagery might call the “one flesh” union of man and wife — would not agree at all.
But they do differ strongly with the other side of this debate: those who believe that whatever the nature of gender differences in objective reality is, it is not of sufficient gravity to appreciably affect policy and the social state. Some of the folks on this side would no doubt argue that actual differences are just not relevant to political matters, and only barely relevant to most social matters, a kind of detail of human variety with no lasting importance; others will gesture toward the possibility of in-group differences exceeding group differences; still others of a Rousseauian bent are more animated by the idea of “getting past” what differences do linger, through a direct policy of leveling.
In any case what we have in front of us is a serious disagreement as to the constitution of being, perhaps one characterized by that opportunity for clarity and camaraderie that often attends a good and honest disagreement. In other words we might be in the presence of a fruitful disagreement.
With that in mind I’m going to point to the flip-side or even dark-side of my “fatherly instinct to protect” argument. (All men are not fathers, but all men are potential fathers, all fathers are men, and most men are fathers. So I think I’m on solid ground to use that phrase as a synecdoche for the broader argument about masculinity suggested in the previous post.)
Consider what happens when this protective instinct is subverted. What happens when fathers fail to protect, families are rent asunder, and boys lose touch with the healthy protective instinct, instead finding solace from squalor and insecurity in an aggression that is not tethered by the native attachment to the weak? What happens when men, far from seeing women and children as beings potentially needing defending, approach them with a predatory and acquisitive mind? What happens when that protectiveness toward the weak, overthrown, is replaced by rapaciousness toward the weak?
Why, then we get barbarism. Whether barbarism of the old frontier — the Viking raids, razzias from Turkish pirates, the pitiless acquisition of imperial ages — or barbarism of a decadent civilization, as in our own inner cities or the revolutionary irruptions of early modern Europe, the predation of violent and lawless young men is a perennial problem for humankind. It is often a more terrible personal terror for women and children bereft of the protection of law.
Note that I am not talking primarily about statutory law. Our topic here is not the legal constitution but the sexual constitution. Thus what I am referring to is something more like “law of the heart,” which is related to Tocqueville’s term “social state” that I used above: all that fund of mores and usages, insights and customs, obligations and privileges, which form and are formed by positive law, though they themselves stand apart from it. In healthy societies men adopt the burdens and joys of fatherhood (even if by some degree of detachment, as in unclehood, so to speak) not by force of positive law at all, but by personal embrace of what has come before, now modified and reformed by their own experience. Men are brought into their natural role in the sexual constitution by a process of conformity to tradition — though we must not neglect to recall the considerable creative aspect retained by them even in that conformity. But only in extreme cases of neglect or abuse does positive law enter directly.
Which brings me back around to the disagreement mentioned above, and why I am so emphatically on one side of it: in my estimation we tamper with the sexual constitution at our great peril. Sexual difference is an observable fact of nature with which we must reckon; one feature of that difference is the innate aggressiveness in men, which when disciplined towards its natural end — the protection and provision of a family — will conduce to productive and civilized life; but when subverted to lawless desire and acquisition will terrorize the weak and irrevocably disrupt productive and civilized life.