The Pathetic Last Children of Nietzsche's Pitiable Last Men
As it evolved, the Republican party came to represent masculine virtues such as competition, maintaining strict rules (“law and order”), standards over compassion (i.e., not changing the rules for members of liberal victim groups), delayed gratification, and respect for the ways of the Father -- that is, conserving what had been handed down by previous generations of fathers, and not just assuming in our adolescent hubris that we know better than they.
(If you've recently read the Divorce American Style post, just skip down to the asterisks below. The Last Men in the title is in reference to this post from last week.)
The Democratic party, on the other hand, came to represent the realm of maternal nurturance -- compassion over standards (e.g., racial quotas), idealization of the impulses (just as a mother is delighted in the instinctual play of her child), mercy over judgment (reduced prison sentences, criminal rights, etc.), cradle-to-grave welfare, a belief that we can seduce our enemies rather than subdue them with strength, and the notion that meaning, truth and values are all arbitrary and subject to change (which is true of the fluid world of emotions in general).
It has become a banality to point out that something seems broken in our political system, in that the two parties not only cannot "work together," but seem to inhabit alternate realities. Pundidiots tell us that the tension and paranoia between the parties has never been this intense. Even if this is an exaggeration, it nevertheless reflects the psychological reality of the situation -- that people feelthis tension and bitterness in ways they didn’t before.
What is really going on here? One way of looking at it is that we are seeing a collapse of the covenant between mother and father as represented in the previous maternal/paternal two-party system. It is as if we are children living in a home where mother and father no longer get along and are bickering constantly.
In fact, that is probably putting it too mildly, because the current situation has gone beyond mere arguing, to the point that the masculine and feminine spheres are no longer communicating at all and are going through a very messy and acrimonious divorce. Both sides are lawyered up and ready to go for the throat.
I believe we may trace this divorce to the 1960’s, when mother government started to become so all powerful that there was almost no role for father. Of course, this began to change in the 1980’s, when father began reasserting himself because of the cultural, political and economic chaos that hit bottom in Jimmy Carter's rudderless gynocracy, but by then, something else had happened. That is, the age old distinctions between mother and father and adult and child had begun to attenuate, leaving many people confused about their primordial identity.
For example, the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s had very little to do with honoring femininity, but generally degraded and devalued it. It largely became a vehicle for the expression of female envy, giving angry and maladjusted women license to imitate the men they envied. After all, few women are less feminine than the typical NOW activist. Nor are they masculine, however. A woman cannot actually become a man, but can only an infrahuman blending of male and female.
Importantly, this is not to suggest that a woman cannot develop her masculine side or a man his feminine side. What we are talking about is a complete nullification of sexual polarity, a kind of magical, self-imposed blindness, so that these critical differences are blended, not truly recognized, valued, and integrated.
The other main psychological mutation that occurred beginning with the 1960’s was the eradication of the differences between adult and child. Up to that point, there had been a clear difference between the spheres of adult and child, and everyone knew it.
For example, when I was growing up in the 60s, I had my interests and my parents had theirs, and there was relatively little intersection between the two -- for example, baseball with my father. But we dressed differently, listened to different kinds of music, enjoyed different activities, read different literature, liked different movies, etc.
I knew that I wasn't a man but that some day I would have to become one -- someone like my father, who worked hard, supported a family, didn't whine, had honor and a sense of duty, and had feelings but didn't necessarily give them much weight, at least outside the private sphere.
But that has all changed now. Here again it is critical to point out that there is nothing at all wrong with an adult maintaining contact with the child part of himself. In fact, doing so is vital for love, creativity, spontaneity, and play.
However, as in the blending of male and female, problems arise when the differences between adult and child are obliterated, which creates a hybrid monster that is neither adult nor child but both at the same time. This affects both adults and children, for our society has become a plague of adult children and childish adults -- that is, prematurely sexualized children who are burdened with all kinds of inappropriate concerns, and childish adults who psychologically do not grow beyond the age of 21 or so, and never enter the realm of the truly adult.
As a result, what our two-party political system has now come down to is a battle between the “blenders” and the “separators.” Nothing bothers the blenders more than adult males such as Ronald Reagan, George Bush, or John Roberts -- remember Diane Feinstein, who couldn't vote for Roberts for supreme court justice because she wanted to know how he "felt" about the law? In short, she wanted him to be more of a male-female hybrid, like herself and her constituents. Simply applying the rule of law is too masculine. We need some female “wiggle room” in the constitution.
The modern conservative movement is not just trying to preserve the traditional male element, but the traditional separation of the various spheres in general -- civilized / barbaric, animal / human, adult / child -- while the Democratic party is the party of mannish women (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Gloria Allred), feminized men (e.g., Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore), adult children (Howard Dean, John Edwards, Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, et al), and even animal humans (PETA members who believe that killing six million chickens is morally indistinguishable from murdering six million Jews, radical environmentalists, etc.).
And it is almost impossible to engage in rational debate with the adult child, who has the cynicism of a world-weary grown up but the wisdom of a child, or with the male-female hybrid, who possesses a weakly anchored reason that is easily hijacked by the passions. This is not so much a disagreement between the content of thought as its very form.
This divorce and blending of the male and female produces a new kind of child, one who is neither male nor female, adult nor child, religious nor rational. A recent case in point was brought to our attention in the figure of Joel Stein, an L.A. Times columnist who penned a now infamous piece about his moral contempt for our troops fighting in Iraq.
As Stein put it, it is wrong to blame President Bush for their moral turpitude. Rather, "The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying." In his magnanimity, Stein is "not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea."
Vanderleun has written an outstanding, insightful piece that absolutely eviscerates the hapless Stein. Entitled The Voice of the Neuter is Heard Throughout the Land, it penetrates beyond the vapid and vile (if it's possible to be both) content of Stein's essay in order to describe a much wider and more troubling cultural phenomenon. He refers the reader to a radio interview of Stein conducted by Hugh Hewitt. I actually heard the interview in real time, and Vanderleun is exactly right that Stein's hollow and lilting voice is the voice of the neuter.
Vanderleun describes perfectly the flat, affectless tone of so many of Stein's generational cohort that "tends to always trend towards a slight rising question at the end of even simple declarative sentences." Neither identifiably male or female, "there is no foundation or soul within the speaker on which the voice can rest and rise."
But "above all, it is a sexless voice. Not, I hasten to add, a 'gay' voice.... No, this is a new old voice of a generation of ostensible men and women who have been educated and acculturated out of, or say rather, to the far side of any gender at all. It is, as I have indicated above, the voice of the neutered.... "
Here, Vanderleun seems to be describing one of the inevitable consequences of the sexual and generational blending alluded to above. This "new voice that we hear throughout the land from so many of the young betokens a weaker and less certain brand of citizen than we have been used to in our history. Neither male nor female, neither gay nor straight, neither.... well, not anything substantive really. A generation finely tuned to irony and nothingness and tone deaf to duty and soul."
Reading this fine analysis by Vanderleun immediately brought to mind an article I read in the Claremont Review of books a few years ago, Wimps and Barbarians, by Terrence O. Moore. Moore addresses the question of whether or not our most important institutions of moral instruction are failing boys in turning them into responsible young men.
Moore observes that "Young men today have both hearts and minds that are in chronic need of cultivation. Specifically, they need to realize what true manhood is, what it is not, and why it has become so difficult in the modern world to achieve the status and stature of the true man."
That is, "Manhood is not simply a matter of being male and reaching a certain age. These are acts of nature; manhood is a sustained act of character. It is no easier to become a man than it is to become virtuous. In fact, the two are the same. The root of our old-fashioned word 'virtue' is the Latin word virtus, a derivative of vir, or man. To be virtuous is to be 'manly'."
Instead of a centered and grounded masculinity, our culture produces two extremes: "One extreme suffers from an excess of manliness, or from misdirected and unrefined manly energies." Conversely, "the other suffers from a lack of manliness, a total want of manly spirit. Call them barbarians and wimps. So prevalent are these two errant types that the prescription for what ails our young males might be reduced to two simple injunctions: Don't be a barbarian. Don't be a wimp. What is left, ceteris paribus, will be a man."
Stein is one of the wimps, or what C.S. Lewis called "men without chests." Moore notes that while "barbarians suffer from a misdirected manliness, wimps suffer from a want of manly spirit altogether. They lack what the ancient Greeks called thumos, the part of the soul that contains the assertive passions: pugnacity, enterprise, ambition, anger. Thumos compels a man to defend proximate goods: himself, his honor, his lady, his country; as well as universal goods: truth, beauty, goodness, justice. Without thumotic men to combat the cruel, the malevolent, and the unjust, goodness and honor hardly have a chance in our precarious world."
Naturally, "Wimps make worthless watchdogs. But their failure as watchdogs or guardians has nothing to do with size or physique.... Many of today's young men seem to have no fight in them at all. Not for them to rescue damsels in distress from the barbarians. Furthermore, wimps vote. As Aristotle pointed out, to the cowardly, bravery will seem more like rashness and foolhardiness than what it really is. Hence political and social issues that require bravery for their solution elicit only hand-wringing and half-measures from the wimps. Wimps are always looking for the easy way out."
Moore ties the phenomenon of wimps and barbarians directly to the culture of divorce and the absence of male role models in boys' lives: "Half of American boys growing up do not live with their natural fathers. The sons of single mothers lack strong men to usher them into the world of responsible, adult manhood. Divorce, whether in reality or in the acrimonious rhetoric of the mother, impresses upon the boy an image of the father, and therefore of all men, as being irresponsible, deceitful, immature, and often hateful or abusive towards women. For sons, the divided loyalties occasioned by divorce actually create profound doubts about their own masculinity. As the boy approaches manhood, he is plagued by subconscious questions which have no immediate resolution: 'Will I be like Dad?' 'Do I want to be like Dad?' 'What is a man supposed to do?'"
It is almost impossible to believe that Joel Stein had a father. Or if he did have a father, he surely wasn't a man. Stein is said to be a graduate of Stanford, so he apparently sailed through the academic ovary tower without making any testosteronic waves.
Likewise, he is a perfect fit in the hysterical precincts of the Los Angeles Times, which has been reduced to doing little more than reporting the temperature of today's unhinged liberal emotionality. According to the radio interview, his piece went through the usual layers of editors without eliciting a single untoward comment. No evidence of masculine energy or input anywhere. Not a single man to rise up and confront the boy, asking, "Do you have any idea how cowardly and dishonorable this piece you've written is? What are you thinking? Do you not know that you are unfit to polish the boots of these men you call murderers?"
How dare you stink up this place of honor, you yellow bastard! *SLAP*
Not surprisingly, Stein's piece is an out-and-out assault on masculinity, on men with honor, on men who fight, on men who make sacrifices for a higher good in order to protect the ungrateful children of a lesser godlessness. Thus, the wimp is not just a wimp. Rather, just as the barbarian always hides the wimp, the wimp always conceals a barbarian.
And with his brave little pen he shall enviously attack the virtues he lacks, and for perhaps a fleeting moment experience a spurious sense of manhood.