Not only are we in the thick of a crisis, it is a crisis that is largely driven by human choices, reactions, personalities, and various other things that contribute to our societal jimjams.
This means that as we seek to analyze what the heck is going on, which is a daily duty pressed in upon us by the latest outrage, we will constantly be tempted to resort to Bulverism as the path to understanding. And here’s the thing . . . while sometimes it might be.
Bulverism is the fallacy that seeks to answer someone’s position by pointing to all the factors that in your view caused them to become so silly. The term was coined by C.S. Lewis because this transparent dodge was rampant in his day. In our day it has moved from a commonplace fallacy to a way of life, to an art form, and for the progressives, to a set of marching orders for their secret police.
Last week Canon Press announced the re-release of George Gilder’s great book, Men and Marriage. In the aftermath of that announcement there was something of a commotion, with a goodish bit of criticism coming at us from the right. Now critical interaction with a thought-provoking book is to be expected, and to be valued, but I was frankly astonished at how the whole thing promptly reduced to a generational “okay, boomer” dismissal. Now Gilder is a tad older than the boomers, but it turns out that he will do in a pinch. In addition, I was also astonished at how his foundational dismantling of feminism was categorized as some kind of “longhouse” accommodation of feminism (e.g. George Gelder).
And, as you all should know by now, whenever I am astonished, I begin typing.
Some Gilder Hot Takes
I am not positioned to deal with all of the hot takes, so let me first address two of the big ones.
“This is how we can see that Moscow is in the first stages of going woke . . .” These folks respect what Moscow has done over the years, but now they see the inevitable drift setting in. They think it is time to shake their heads sadly, more in sorrow than in anger. I saw one person on Twitter saying that the thing that worries him the most is that when things really heat up, the Moscow crowd is going to go silent, and perhaps even lend some support to the bad guys. An abolitionist chimed in to say that it had already happened, in that our smashmouth incrementalism was way too soft for their taste. I replied to this line of argument that my big worry was that instead of crossing the Rhine, Patton was going to launch an attack on Montgomery instead.
The problem with these “those-who-don’t-know-history-are-doomed-to-repeat-it” guys is that it was Gilder who was a key figure in helping to establish Moscow as a bastion of what is so fondly today called the patriarchy. I will review that argument in a moment, but first the historical progression and background. I first read Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty early in 1981, and really liked it. Looking around for something by the same author, later that same year I bought and read Sexual Suicide, a book containing a proto-version of the thesis found in Men and Marriage. I believe that Gilder was not yet a Christian when he was writing it, and had been a liberal Republican (of the Ripon Society variety). But the seed-form insanity that Gilder was identifying was something that caused him, a very long time ago, to head in the opposite direction—becoming a Christian, not to mention a free-enterprise cheerleader, a technological guru, a force in the intelligent design world, and a whole lot more.
As I internalized Gilder’s argument back in the day (which a number of those reacting have apparently not yet done), I came to realize the inevitability of patriarchy. It may be good or bad, constructive or destructive, open or hidden, but there is going to be patriarchy. If we are obedient to the guardrails established in Scripture, it will be fruitful and productive. If we do not, it will not be. But either way we go, water will continue to flow downhill. That water might irrigate the garden, or it might flood the town, but it is going downhill either way. Patriarchy is yet another inescapable concept. It is not whether patriarchy, but rather which kind of patriarchy we shall have. We will either be governed by sages or by fools, but in either case, they will be men. If they are fools, they will make sure to use women as a front, and it turns out that there are plenty of women fool enough to let them.
Men are dominant, and always will be dominant. The only choice we have as a society is whether that dominance will be destructive or constructive. And with this being the case, we, in the grip of a frenzied feminism, decided to make constructive dominance illegal. And now all the societal deferred maintenance that we were neglected is causing our house to fall down around our ears.
And incidentally, as a side point, the above does not contradict Gilder’s point about women being sexually superior to men. To say that women are sexually superior is not the same thing as saying that women are the superior sex. Altogether different, and there is an argument to work through.
So what is the basic argument? It is not matriarchal, or goddess worship, or anything else that silly. I am going to put this next point in stark transactional terms, not because we should routinely think of such things in such reductionist terms, but rather to make the skeleton of the argument appear in high relief. Because of basic biological realities (remember those?), in every chance sexual encounter, the man is betting ten dollars and the woman is betting a thousand dollars. He is constrained, if he is constrained, by societal expectations. She is constrained, and there is no if here, by the way the world is. A man could be the father of a thousand children and not know anything about it. A woman cannot be the mother of one child without knowing about it. This differential has massive implications.
She is the one who could get pregnant, she is the one who was more vulnerable to begin with, she is the one whose vulnerability increases drastically if she has a child, and so forth. It is therefore greatly to her advantage if the man sticks around. She needs his help to protect her thousand dollar investment. But sticking around is not to his advantage in the same way. How could it be? So how might it be possible to incentivize his sticking around? Look, here’s the deal, the wisdom of the ages said. If you stay, you can be in charge of everything. So he agrees, and civilization is born. A patriarchal and common-grace civilization. For believers, all of this is reinforced by the direct teaching of Scripture.
Now I fully understand why some people might want to debate various aspects of this. They think this or that about the other thing. Sure. Let there be a free exchange of ideas. But I also understand why some other people want to insist that this is a form of incipient feminism. It is because they are trying to make me snort my coffee.
So then. Because the man agrees to devote himself to one woman, she is central. Because the signing bonus meant that he was to be in charge of everything, he is central. She is the queen, and so when she decides who she will marry, she is deciding which man will be her king. But when she decides, he is then the king.
Authority and Responsibility
All of this has been foundational to the work that we have done here in Moscow. We have been teaching these things, not just for years, but for decades. We are not drifting away from “patriarchy.” This is the form of patriarchy that has always been here. And so sure enough, in the midst of this Gilder rumpus, someone pulled out a quote from one of my earlier books, Federal Husband. You can find similar stuff in Reforming Marriage. And if you would like a detailed explanation of this doctrine, you can find one here. If you would like an abbreviated explanation, just read on. Here is the quote in question.
“Men come into a marriage pastoral counseling session with the assumption that “She has her problems,” and “I have mine,” and the counselor is here to help us split the difference. But the husband is responsible for all the problems. This is the case for no other reason than that he is the husband.”
This is not saying that men are always the guilty party. It is saying that when the wife is the guilty party, as she frequently is, the husband, as head of the home, is responsible.
Feminism always blames the man, as though he is necessarily toxic. They find fault with him. I do not find fault with him, but rather assign responsibility to him. I only find fault with him if he refuses to take on that responsibility.
If feminism wants men to have responsibility without authority, then the masculinist reaction wants men to have authority without responsibility. But the two must necessarily go together. And in the economy of God, as I have also taught for decades, authority flows to those who take responsibility.
In a well-ordered society, this responsibility of the husband is reinforced by means of societal expectations. But in a chaotic world like ours, the only back up that a man can expect—and this is if he is fortunate—is the support of extended family, and in some cases a healthy congregation of saints.
In His death on the cross, this is what Christ did for us. He took responsibility for things He didn’t do. He died in our place as our federal representative. Now obviously it is not possible for finite, fallen men to duplicate what Christ did—of course not. But we are absolutely commanded to imitate it (Eph. 5:25).
If you want to critique this, go right ahead. I am listening. But if you want to tell me this is feminism . . . well, I am afraid I will not be giving you my full attention. I have not ever drawn, and am not attempting to draw, any four-sided triangles.
Generations and the Antithesis
I began by mentioning my surprise at how quickly the Gilder flap became generational, and so let me say just a few things about that. The first thing is that I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Second, one of the foundational principles that Scripture gives us, and which enables us to understand the flow of history, is the antithesis between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. History is the story of the ongoing conflict between the two.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15 (KJV)
Faithful believers understand two things about this antithesis. One, as Solzhenitsyn once observed, is that the line between the two runs down the middle of every human heart. Not one of us can ever claim a completed detachment from the allurements of the world. We have to await the final redemption of our bodies for that. The second thing is that believers understand that their ultimate earthly allegiance is to the body of Christ. This does not erase our other loyalties, the duties of which are defined by Scripture. This reliance on Scripture is important because we are not competent to sort everything our by ourselves. For example, it is quite possible for two Christians to go to war in opposing armies over against each other, and for both to be obedient. It remains the fact that David had more in common with Abner than he did with Joab.
Unbelievers distort the antithesis in two different ways. The utopians among them do so by denying the antithesis. We must all be one. Humanity is their god, and they will no permit the voice of their god to be divided. This is why they are so opposed to free speech, because it allows dissident voices to emerge, which contradicts their foundational doctrinal commitment. Nothing wrecks the cry, “We are all one!” like someone in the back piping up with, “No, we aren’t.” When the leader says, “We are all saying the same thing here,” the reply “I don’t think so” is not to be tolerated. Whether the dissident is making any sense or not, the mere fact of his dissent is refutation enough. That is why he gets hauled off by HR to the Sunny Uplands Examination Room. The totalitolerant brook no dissent because what they are saying is self-evidently true, and is affirmed by everyone.
The second way to distort it is by misplacing the antithesis. Instead of understanding the conflicts of history to be driven by divide. between saints and unbelievers, the line of the antithesis is placed in various tribal ways. This is what identity politics will do to you, whether right wing or left wing. The two sides of the antithesis are thought to be ethnic, or national, or sexual, or economic, or intersectional, or . . . generational. Disputes or differences between the two sides, whatever they are, are ramped up immediately into high relief moral categories, This is all part of our current cultural disease, and when the gospel is central, we learn how to quit it.
Each generation has its own strengths, and its own foibles and weaknesses. This is as true within the body of the faithful as it is outside of it. When we are trying to figure out what to do about our interactions with other generations, we are doing so from within the framework of our own perceptions. These are frequently unreliable, and so we must look to the Scriptures for direction. The elderly can be querulous or fearful or hot for their own dignity, and the young can be brash and brimfull of conceits. What are we supposed to do? There are times when a young man, kind of full of himself, says, “Good job, gramps. But step aside now, and we’ll take it from here.” But there are other times when gramps, full of himself, doesn’t want the kids to take his car keys away—even though public safety might be demanding it.
So let me roll some of our generational responsibilities into one paragraph. If you want to be blessed in the land, then honor your father and mother (Eph. 6:1-3). Young people must learn from their elders the marvelous things that the Lord has done (Ps. 78:3-4), while at the same time turning away from the follies of the previous generation (Ps. 78:8). Young men are to be admired for their strength (1 John 2:14), and fathers are acknowledged to have known God from the beginning (1 John 2:14). Older men should be sober, grave, patient, and sound in the faith (Titus 2:2), while young men should follow the example set by Titus, giving themselves to a pattern of good works and sound speech (Titus 2:6-7). Who do we want to be making the strategic decisions in the church? Well, the answer should be the gray heads (Acts 20:17). To do otherwise is to paint yourself into a Rehoboam-corner (1 Kings 12: 6-17).
“Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding.”
Job 12:12 (NKJV)
“The glory of young men is their strength: And the beauty of old men is the gray head.”
Proverbs 20:29 (KJV)
And this is why I have far more in common with an obedient millennial than I do with a disobedient boomer. And this is why an obedient millennial has far more in common with me than he does with an ignorant member of his own age-cohort.
If you want to know what I believe, then you should read what I write. Believe it or not, I stand by all of that. But if you want to know what I think is valuable, and well worth learning from, then you should look at what we publish. Canon Press has the tag line of “outfitters of the Reformation,” and one of the ways we are doing this is by serving as brokers of the conversation. In that conversation, there is room for disagreement, as well as room for more than a little of “I wouldn’t have put it that way.” As we do this, we are moving our own little Overton Window. Being postmill, the ultimate plan is to knock a big hole in the wall for a huge Overton Slider.
I don’t agree with George Gilder on everything, but I can’t begin to say how grateful I am for him. We published Stephen Wolfe, and we published Michael Foster, and we aren’t a bit sorry. Go into the library of Canon+ and you will find Rushdoony alongside E. Michael Jones, who is cheek by jowl with Jim Jordan. Isn’t it grand? And if you want to know where I agree and where I disagree, then read what I write.