Why we should be obsessed with sex

Because sex is really important.  Duh.  Go up to any anthropologist and ask him about the tribe he’s studying.  Would he deny that kinship structures and gender roles are central parts of that tribe’s social structure?  Of course not.  Family is the most important part of the structure; it’s how people in the productive chunk of their lives are yoked to the support of those too young or too old to support themselves.  Family is where culture is passed on, and it’s a good fraction of a culture’s content.  Family structure belongs to the essence of a culture; change it, and you have a different culture.  This is why I have no use for any “conservatism” that doesn’t put the conservation of this one crucial thing up front and center.

Some of you might have wondered why I chose the pseudonym “Bonald”.  There were, after all, three commonly-acknowledged founders of conservatism:  Burke, Maistre, and Bonald.  Most historians of ideas, to the extent they mention conservatism at all, give praise only to Burke.  They give mild appreciation to de Maistre as a colorful repeater of Burke, and they dismiss Bonald altogether.  The latter does have one great virtue, though.  Burke and Maistre focus (at least in their distinctly conservative writings) on vague things like tradition and unwritten constitutions.  Indeed, it’s hard to extract any specific reactionary policy out of their core principles.  (Perhaps this is why liberals appreciate them.)  Pseudoconservative intellectuals love to point out that Burke spent little time talking about what are commonly thought of as conservative issues, particularly sexual morality.  To me, that’s a tremendous weakness of Burkean conservatism.

Louis de Bonald, on the other hand, concentrates on this crucial area.  There is a very specific social structure he wants to defend–the patriarchal family.  This structure has certain legal, economic, and cultural preconditions which he lays out and advocates doggedly.  It leads him to specific policies on divorce, usury, primogeniture, censorship, and the like.  The family is where the rubber hits the road for conservatism.  If you don’t take a stand there (I’m talking to you, Dr. Blond), you’re just spinning your wheels in the air and doing nothing.  Calls for “tradition” or “intermediary institutions” are empty on their own.  Some of Bonald’s arguments were strong; some of them were weak.  The most important point for me, though, was that of all the founding fathers of conservatism, he was the one who took his stand on this core issue.

4 Responses

  1. Sex is a very important issue in many disciplines. In biology, one of the major components when studying or learning about any species is how it reprorduces, courtship rituals, etc. Even history is influenced by sexual issues – the importance of a ruler producing a male heir (Henry VIII, for example), politics that were affected by sexual scandals, and so forth.

  2. This is a good point. Even in the biological sphere, reproduction is of primary importance. From the point of view of natural selection, one could say that it is the supremely important thing.

  3. “Burke and Maistre focus (at least in their distinctly conservative writings) on vague things like tradition and unwritten constitutions. Indeed, it’s hard to extract any specific reactionary policy out of their core principles. (Perhaps this is why liberals appreciate them.)”

    For Burke, this is surely the whole point. Burkean conservatism is effectively the *absence* of ideology, in the form of a concrete programme. For a traditional British conservative, a “specific… policy” is something that *other people* have – foreigners, socialists, Whigs or the Irish. The Burkean conservative “programme” is imminent and inherent in society as it has organically developed – it isn’t a set of prescriptions deduced from a set of antecedent principles. If liberals do, as you say, appreciate this, it’s because they haven’t properly understood its implications. This is why Jesse Norman describes British conservatism as “a disposition, not a doctrine” (have you read Norman? he’s an interesting thinker). I surmise that David Cameron is quite in tune with this mentality, and, while I don’t embrace it myself, I find it more appealing, as I get older and more conservative, than the Hayekian neoliberalism preached by Baroness Thatcher and her ilk.

  4. Burke is certainly a better guide than Hayek; that’s for sure.

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