Patriarchy comes out of the closet
There's a fascinating insight into the mindset of the patriarchy, or at least of one of its defenders, in Foreign Policy this month. Phillip Longman's argument in a nutshell is that only the rule of the fathers will ensure that large numbers of children are born. Therefore we must have a full on, father-knows-best-and-rules-all (probably with a heavy leather belt), patriarchy.
Throughout the broad sweep of human history, there are many examples of people, or classes of people, who chose to avoid the costs of parenthood. Indeed, falling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.
Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule. Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station. It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles.
The fallacies are obvious. One is that Earth can continue to support an infinitely increasing population, until, presumably, each person has just enough space to stand. That's so obviously ridiculous -- when the world's ecosystems are already showing severe signs of collapse -- that it hardly requires a response.
But let's for a moment follow his social Darwinism, and consider the claim that societies that outbreed other societies will eventually come to rule them, which seems thus far to have done India and China little good. What has finally started to lift them is education, training, investment in people -- things that are only possible with relatively small families. For what is needed today is clearly a skilled, educated workforce.
Longman manages to provide no evidence for his claim that sheer numbers are important, beyond suggesting that America's problems in Iraq come because it hasn't got enough people for the military. (Not that they don't want to join the military because it suddenly looks like a lousy career option, to be fighting an unwinnable, unpopular war.) Although he does manage to drag the fall of the Roman Empire, always a conservative classic, even though it undermines his own argument: "What was once the Roman Empire remained populated. Only the composition of the population changed."
But, Longman claims, since children always turned out like their parents (how then did we get to such a "parlous" state of affairs?) the patriarchy is going to win anyway, so everything's all right, since every citizen will soon believe in a "patriarchal God [who] commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father."
One of the other (many) faults in his argument? Oh, yes, that the West is not still a patriarchy - a place ruled by men. Funnily enough, women are still astonishingly thin on the ground in positions of real power in governments, in businesses, in pretty well anywhere at all. Funnily enough, the only states that might have a reasonable claim to have grown beyond patriarchy are the Scandinavian countries. And they - with excellent parental pay and conditions, childcare etc, are the states getting closest to replacement rates of reproduction.
Perhaps the answer is not to grow the patriarchy, but to genuinely get rid of it, if you do in fact want to encourage women to have children?