The modern transformation of asceticism and the origins of the culture war

Many of us have responded to the new threat to Roe v. Wade by reminding people that the aim of the right is not to protect unborn children but to control women. However, for some people, accustomed to living in a world in which they expect women to be treated as full participants in our political, social, and cultural lives,  that notion is odd. They don’t understand that control of women means and why it is so important in right wing thought.

There are a number of answers but one is that policing abortion is part of the right-wing project of policing sexuality as a whole. And policing sexuality, especially female sexuality, is, for the  right wing mind, critical to ensuring that men carry out their responsibilities to have and take care of children and hold down a job.

As is common in political and social life these claims rest on a deep theory that most people–including those who advance these claims–barely understand. This chapter from my forthcoming book, “Civilization and Its Contents: Eros and the Culture War” explores the understanding of sexuality that underlies right-wing views of sexuality in general and abortion in particular. It looks at both the intellectual and poltico-social origins of this theory in early modernity.

Here in brief is the theory.

Male sexuality is fundamentally an  anarchic force that, if not controlled, threatens to undermine both the family and a productive economy. It is constrained by both the  need  to work and by females sexual reticence. The right rejects the social welfare state because they think it will lead people to be lazy and abstain from work. It rejects  sexual freedom, especially for some, because it holds that if men cannot have sex out side of marriage–and if divorce is diffiult–they will be forced to marry and stay married and thus care for their children economically if not emotionally. Contraception and abortion are dangerous because they enable women  women to be sexually active with out fear of getting pregnant. When women are no longer sexually restrained, men will be able to have sex without getting married and supporting a family. And since men free from the constraint of mothers or  wives become irresponsible not just sexually but in most other ways–and need women to care for them as well as control them–they will  be more likely to be unemployed, suffer mental illness, abuse alcohol and drugs and commit crimes.

This theory goes back to  early modernity. Rousseau and  other early modern philosophers and theologians held it.  It is  still is central to right wing thought.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply