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The Strength of Patriarchy

By John Lofton
February 01, 1997

There may be a word other than “patriarchy” which causes more of the “usual suspects” to foam at the mouth and chew the carpet, and about which more nonsense has been spewed, but I’m not sure what that word would be.

For example, in her, alas, number one national bestseller, A Book of Self-Esteem: Revolution from Within (Little, Brown, 1993), Gloria Steinem links patriarchy to “racism and whites in power”; the “slaughter” of nine million witches; and our refusal to “honor” people by comparing them to animals, “as ancient and indigenous cultures had done.” Indeed, she goes so far as to state, flatly: “In fact, patriarchy requires violence or the subliminal threat of violence in order to maintain itself.”

We know, of course, as they say, where, religiously, Steinem is “coming from,” because she tells us. Describing a trip she took down the Nile River in 1980, she says: “Before I began that trip, I hadn’t thought of myself as someone whose life had been limited by religion, and so the freedom I felt while visiting those earliest [Egyptian] temples came as a complete surprise. It was the return of a self-esteem and spiritual connectedness I hadn’t known was missing—or possible.”

Regarding patriarchy, all this “either/or way of thinking,” all this “masculine/feminine” business, Steinem tells us to, in effect, cheer up because, “fortunately, this is just a cognitive construct,” that “there is nothing biological or immutable about it, and therefore it can be changed.” But, is this true? No, it is not. As God tells us in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created He them.” In fact, the male/female thing is as immutable as something can be because it is God-created. And when God says it, that settles it.

Godly Patriarchy

So, what about Steinem’s patriarchy-requires-violence bit? Might this be true? Well, it’s certainly true that not all, or any kind of male-rule, by any and all males, everywhere, has always been non-violent. I agree. But, when truly Christian men rule, according to Scripture, things are very different, as Harvard History Professor Steven Ozment documents in detail in his excellent book When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Harvard University Press, 1983). This book, which is still in print and I can get for you, looks at Reformation in Germany and Switzerland during a time when Protestant Reformers were “the first to set the family unequivocally above the celibate ideal and to praise the husband and the housewife over the monk and nun in principle.” Here’s some of what Prof. Ozment tells us:

—That contrary to the impression often given by modern historians, paternal authority during this era, in these countries, did not necessarily mean a man was free to dominate his household as he pleased. Instead, “enormous moral and legal pressure was brought to bear on house fathers who flagrantly abused their mandate. Among neither Protestants nor Catholics was the ordered and disciplined home a tyrannized home.” The Saxon Lutheran Justus Menius is quoted as saying: “The Holy Spirit has not inspired that insanity which believes a husband should prove his manhood by repeated grumbling, insults, curses, and blows to a poor, defenseless, weak woman; rather the Spirit wants husbands to love, care for and honor their wives as their own flesh, just as Christ does His Church.” Calling husbands who abused their wives “filthy beasts,” Menius notes that “Scripture has condemned such loutish behavior.” Indeed, wife-beaters in Protestant towns were hauled before marriage courts, and nowhere more speedily than in Calvin’s Geneva which, at one point in the Middle Ages, was known as “the woman’s Paradise.” Between 1564 and 1569 in Geneva, the Consistory ex-communicated sixty-three spouse-beaters, sixty-one of them males.

Why, men in Reformation Europe even spoke favorably of doing diapers. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, while unmarried: “When a father washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool . . . God with all His angels and creatures is smiling.”

Prof. Ozment observes: “Never has the art of parenting been more highly praised and parental authority more wholeheartedly supported than in Reformation Europe. . . . Mother and father shared it to an unusually high degree. . . . [the mother’s] household remained her first priority, a divinely ordained discipline through which women exercised their faith and worked out their salvation; neglect of the household betrayed a woman’s reason for existing.” —That a husband also owed his wife fidelity. And on this subject, pamphleteers and tractarians of the time “universally rejected a double-standard of sexual behavior.” Such sentiments fueled the Protestant assault on whorehouses, which the government in Lutheran territories successfully restricted in the name of sexual fidelity and family unity.

Godly Marriages

—That marriages that were considered to work best were those in which a couple shared the same religious beliefs, were of the same generation, had similar economic positions and social backgrounds, and entered marriage with the support and approval of both family and friends. Prof. Ozment says: “Here we find a distinctive feature of early modern marriage that distinguishes it from much modern practice. Physical attraction and emotional love were not viewed as essential conditions for marriage, although few doubted that they played a role; the love that drew a husband and wife together was a mutual willingness to make sacrifices for one another, hence, a duty that developed within marriage. Such love emerged most readily between spouses who at the outset found one another worthy of respect and trust.”

Thus, the question was not: Do I desire and want this person?, but rather: “Do I find this person honorable and companionable?—that was the central question for a successful marriage. . . . “Unlike the modern romantic approach to marriage, in which one ‘loves’ another in spite of irreconcilable personal, religious, and/or social differences, the marriage counselors of Reformation Europe urged people to seek mates they believed could learn to love because they first respected their persons and shared common values.” Says Prof. Ozment: “Reversing the practice of centuries, the Reformation made it more difficult for the immature and unestablished to enter a valid marriage; at the same time those with a just and proper cause could, for the first time, divorce and remarry with the church’s blessing.

Godly Feminine Liberation

“Most significantly, home and family were no longer objects of widespread ridicule, a situation that lasted until modern times. The first generation of Protestant Reformers died believing they had released women into the world by establishing them firmly at the center of home and family life, no longer to suffer the withdrawn, culturally circumscribed, sexually repressed, male-regulated life of a cloister. And they believed children would never again be consigned at an early age to involuntary celibacy but would henceforth remain in the home, objects of constant parental love and wrath, until they were all properly married.”

Godly Treatment of Children

Prof. Ozment quotes several sources as reporting that the premium placed on infant life in the sixteenth century by the Reformed is suggested by the severity of the penalties against premeditated infanticide or child murder. In Bamberg, a person convicted of this crime was buried alive and speared (a penalty perhaps designed to approximate the helplessness experienced by the slain infant) or drowned.

—That Martin Luther persistently condemned Aristotle and Aquinas as “monsters” for describing women as botched males (that is, as products of a generative act not carried to completion to produce a male offspring). And, noting that it is a great, self-serving myth of the modern world that children of former times were raised as near slaves by domineering, loveless fathers. Prof. Ozment says: “To the contrary, from prenatal care to their indoctrination in the schools, there is every evidence that children were considered special and were loved by their parents and teachers, their nurture the highest of human vocations, their proper moral and vocational training humankind’s best hope. Parenthood was a conditional trust, not an absolute right, and the home was a model of benevolent and just rule for the ‘state’ to emulate.

“The inversion of a familial morality that has occurred in modern times may be better appreciated if the matter is addressed from the point of view of the child. In the sixteenth century children were raised and educated above all to be social beings; in this sense they had more duties toward their parents and society than they had rights independent of them. This did not mean that the family lacked an internal identity or that loving relationships failed to develop between spouses, between parents and children, and among siblings. Privacy and social extension were not perceived as contradictory. The great fear was not that children would be abused by adult authority but that children might grow up to place their own individual wants above society’s common good. To the people of Reformation Europe no specter was more fearsome than a society in which the desires of individuals eclipsed their sense of social duty. The prevention of just that possibility became the common duty of every Christian parent, teacher, and magistrate."

A Message to Today’s Women

Prof. Ozment concludes: “If the women of Reformation Europe could respond to its present day critics, I suspect they would say like the following. To be ‘subject to a man’ in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not necessarily mean either the loss of one’s identity or the absence of meaningful or rewarding work. The many chores of housewifery and motherhood may have been personally fulfilling for the vast majority of women, but they hardly prevented women who were so inclined from working in addition to their own craft or their husband’s craft; women as well as men had both household and professional duties.

“In the ‘patriarchal’ home, authority was shared by husband and wife. A wife’s subjection to the rule of her husband was not the subservience of a serf to a lord, or a maid to a master, or a child to a parent. Despite male rule an orderly equality existed between husbands and wives.

“While it cannot be claimed that Protestants were unique in achieving loving marriages, their new marriage laws, especially those that recognized for the first time a mutual right to divorce and remarriage, became the most emphatic statement of the ideal of sharing, companionable marriage in the sixteenth century. The domestic legislation of the Reformation encouraged both spouses to be more sensitive to the other’s personal needs and vocational responsibilities, thereby enhancing the status of both men and women.”

Amazing. And all of this was accomplished without that Equal Rights Amendment which the goddess-worshipping Gloria Steinem and her ilk pushed so hard for (unsuccessfully, I am happy to say).

A footnote: Prof. Ozment contrasts Reformation Europe with recent studies which describe women in the Renaissance as “just wives,” who were totally subordinate and subservient to their husbands, lacking any clear identity or vocation of their own, their lot in life being simply to please their husbands by conforming to every command and bearing children.

The War over Patriarchy

Make no mistake about it, friends. The fight against “patriarchy”—against the Biblically-defined family, headed by a father, who rules according to God’s Law—is a fight, first, against God Himself. And nowhere has this fight been waged with a greater hate for God than during the French Revolution.

Language and Patriarchy

In his book Burke and the Fall of Language: The French Revolution as a Linguistic Event (University Press of New England, 1988), in a chapter titled “Burke And Patriarchy,” Steven Blakemore, as Associate Professor of English at Palm Beach Atlantic College in Florida, tells how Edmund Burke understood well that the French Revolution, in part, “was a revolt against patriarchal language of the ancient regime” and the Biblical view of “the king as spouse of his people [which] mirrored Christ’s marriage to the Church, and as [the] father of his people [reflecting] God’s relation to humanity.”

Noting that thousands of French Revolutionists admired “sentimental writers” like Rousseau, Burke deplores the fact that “the affectionate father is hardly known in his parish.” The result he says is a moral revolution: “As the relations between parents and children is the first among the elements of . . . natural morality, [these Revolutionists] erect statues to a wild, ferocious, low-minded, hard-hearted father of fine general feelings—a lover of his kind, but a hater of his kindred.”

Says Blakemore: “Throughout his counter-revolutionary writings Burke criticizes the revolutionaries’ abstract love for humanity and their hatred for concrete, human individuals. And he locates the genesis of this moral dislocation in the perversion of family relationships. . . . Burke refers sarcastically to Enlightenment buzzwords that reduce family relationships to a popular election or abrogate familial duties because no correspondent social contract exists.” This, says Burke, results in an insane France where frenzied Jacobins encourage children “to cut the throats of their parents” and “mothers are taught that tenderness is no part of their character, and, to demonstrate their attachment to their party, that they ought to make no scruple to rake with their bloody hands in the bowels of those who came from their own.”

Blakemore adds: “Thus Burke sees the subversion of France through the subversion of the family; he sees France cannibalized by a murderous ideology disguised in protean forms, but in essence anti-familial—murdering poor, aristocratic, and royal families. . . . Indeed, to Burke the revolution in the family mirrors the macrocosmic revolution in the outside world. He envisions the horrors of both the Terror and the civil war destroying society’s smallest platoon.”

The Subversive Role of Educators

As in our times, in our public schools, “educators” during the French Revolution played a key role in attempting to destroy the traditional, preeminently patriarchal family. As Burke notes, the Revolutionaries corrupted the pedagogues, the traditional preceptors in loco parentis who were “next in sanctity to that of a father.” These teachers corrupted them to “betray the most awful family trusts and vitiate their female students. They teach people that the debauchers of virgins, almost in the arms of their parents, may be safe inmates in their house, and even fit guardians of the honor of those husbands who succeed legally to the office which the young literators had preoccupied without asking leave of law or conscience.”

Noting that Burke saw a nexus between ideological seduction and sexual seduction, Blakemore quotes him as saying: “When the fence is broken down, and your families are no longer protected by decent pride and salutary prejudice, there is but one step to frightful corruption.” Exactly. And this is precisely what has happened today, in our country.

The Assault on Marriage

Blakemore imagines that Burke saw the French father as he did the imprisoned Louis XVI, and he recognized that the Revolution “is anti-paternal and hence a revolution against the patriarchal order of the traditional European world.” An example: Paternal authority was “greatly diminished,” Burke says, when the family court, instituted on August 16, 1790, shared disciplinary authority with the father.

Again, as in our time, changes in marriage and divorce laws by the Revolutionists “were crucial components in the attack on patriarchy.” Burke attacks marriage being made a civil contract where the man and woman have the power to divorce “at a month’s notice” which reduces “the matrimonial connection” to “a state of concubinage.” By giving women this “license,” they are given “a kind of profligate equity” and hence “the same licentious power.” This is doubly destructive to the family in that it unleashes subversive sexual forces on society. Says Burke: “It is not necessary to observe upon the horrible consequences of taking one half of the species wholly out of the guardianship and protection of the other.”

In a footnote, Blakemore observes: “Burke is implicitly contrasting the Christian concept of marriage as both a sacrament and a binding with the revolutionary concept of marriage as a revocable contract, dissolved at the will of either party, and hence he is suggesting that the revolutionary theory of society, based upon individual natural rights,’ is being applied to the family.”

To those who would accuse Burke of simply trying to rationalize the enslavement of women, Blakemore says he would disagree because he believed that the “liberation” from protection and guardianship of the father/husband is a Revolutionary ruse that absolves the male of any familial responsibility—a ruse that reduces the female to an object of male sexual pleasure, distorts the sexual relationship of men and women, and destroys the institution of marriage and family. He reiterates: “Burke associates the destruction of the French family with the destruction of patriarchal power.” Again, in another description that is most relevant today, Blakemore notes that Burke saw that the French Revolution “transformed ‘femininity’ into an aggressive, metaphorical force.” He saw sexual demarcations ignored and/or violated with perverse parodies of feminine men and masculine women. For example, in her “Vindication of the Rights of Women,” Mary Wollstonecraft actually says, regarding females: “I . . . wish . . . that they may grow every day more and more masculine.”

Blakemore quotes one source as noting that some men did disguise themselves in feminine dress: “Among the market women who marched to Versailles . . . it is very likely there were men in female garb.” In fact, from the seventeenth century on, men in France and England donned feminine garb to conceal themselves when they participated in riots—thus exonerating themselves “from full responsibility for their deeds.” But, this was the exception. Why? Because there were formidable social taboos, including the prohibitive Biblical injunction in Deuteronomy: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (22:5).

Revolutionary War on Christian Europe

Blakemore concludes by noting that Edmund Burke saw the French Revolution as an attack on the whole inherited moral, social and political order of Europe—the whole 2,000 year-old inheritance of Western civilization, which was Christianity. He saw the war against patriarchy as simultaneously a war against, among other things, families and the traditional roles of men and women (all extensions of patriarchal ideology). In the end, he says. Burke saw this wretched Revolution as conceived in an illegitimate language, engendering all the rampant, bastard ideologies at war with nature and reality. All true. And this war goes on in our country today.

We hope and pray that you will help us here at Chalcedon fight this battle, with your prayers and regular, generous financial support.


Topics: Family & Marriage

John Lofton

John Lofton (1941 – 2014), called himself a “recovering Republican,” and worked as a journalist for much of his life.

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