In Defense of the Patriarchal Family

A PDF version of this essay:  InDefenseOfThePatriarchalFamily

I. The maternal and paternal roles
II. Masculine and feminine virtues
III. The family as a society
IV. Chastity
V. Filial piety
VI. Brotherhood
VII. Patriarchy and the Christian revelation

It should be obvious that nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to a society than the structure and authority of the family. Around half of people are young or old dependents at any given time, and all people are dependents for some part of their lives. In every society that has yet existed, the family is the institution by which the half that is able to work cares for the other half (after and before being cared for in turn). This transfer of wealth and service far exceeds the redistributive actions of even communist governments. In the family we encounter human dependency at its most naked, and from these dependencies arise our most solemn duties and our largest (indeed, unpayable) debts. What could be more important to men’s self-understanding? So it is for good reason that no institution is more important to a conservative than the authoritative domestic society, the patriarchal family. Also, no institution faces such merciless attack from clear-headed leftists.

The maternal and paternal roles

When it comes to the family, the facts are well known. Humans reproduce sexually. Unlike many other animals, our young are born completely helpless and take more than a decade to reach maturity. They require an enormous investment of time and effort from their parents if they are to survive long enough to reproduce themselves. Because it is only the woman who can be pregnant, give birth, and nurse, she is naturally more involved in child care, at least during the early years. For his progeny to survive, the man has had to assume those tasks which the woman can’t do while caring for a child—acquiring food and repelling attacks. Men and women have acquired (by natural selection) special physical, mental, and psychological features to assist them in their specific tasks.

Patriarchy is the idea which assigns moral significance to these facts. The good toward which the patriarchal family is ordered is procreation. Its basic principle is the embrace of dependency. The child depends on his parents, and the parents depend on each other. These experiences of dependency, both of having others depend on us (and the responsibilities this creates) and of depending on others (and the humility this engenders), are regarded as positive goods.  The more deeply each member relies on the other, the more the family can be said to thrive.  Thus the family is not merely an illiberal institution; it is positively anti-liberal. Nothing is more opposed to its ethos than independence, in either the sense of autonomy or of self-sufficiency.

38 Responses

  1. another possibility for you to consider with truth, grace and love as your guide-

  2. Dear Laura,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my essay, and thank you very much for sharing this interesting article with me. I think its emphasis is slightly different in arguing that God may call women to help spread and teach the Gospel and carry out the Church’s work in various ways. I quite agree; all Christians are so called, to the extent of their abilities. However, the ordained priesthood is defined by the specifically sacramental role of standing in place of Christ on the Altar. The priest’s relationship to his parishioners is conceived along familial (and, hence, gendered) categories. Perhaps the difference here is that the article you sent me was written from a Protestant perspective (in which preaching is the pastor’s main duty), while I was writing from a Catholic or Orthodox perspective (in which the priest’s main duty is the Eucharist).

    I hope we will have a chance to talk again someday.

  3. […] by linking authority to symbolism, something else I’m always emphasizing.  As I wrote in my defense of patriarchy, the father must represent the outside world and the absolute demands of morality to his […]

  4. […] ideals. Bonald, a writer who takes his pseudonym from the French  monarchist Louis de Bonald, describes these ideals at his site, Throne and Altar. He […]

  5. My thanks to Laura for posting your writing on her blog. I intend to delve in to your site as I have time. Also wanted to add that through the website,, I have come to understand more of the ideals which you defend here. Seems what I learned in school about the French Revolution was somewhat skewed and simplistic, to say the least.

  6. Dear Gail,

    I’m very pleased by your interest in my website; I hope you’ll like it. Also, thank you for pointing out to me the “traditioninaction” page. I was not aware of it before.

  7. […] Throne and Altar […]

  8. […] = dependency By bonald If I had to sum up my Defense of Patriarchy in one sentence, it would be this:  “The essence of the patriarchal family is embodied […]

  9. […] course, I’m rather partial to my own defense of patriarchy.  When I wrote it, I was not aware of anyone else who was willing to defend patriarchy by […]

  10. You may be interested in a translation that I’ve done recently of an old-school (pre-V2) Catholic theologian on gender roles in marriage:

    It’s one of a number of old theological texts that I’ve been translating recently in an attempt to make them more accessible. No-one seems to care much about pre-V2 theology any more, but some of it is quite fascinating.

  11. Thank you for your insightful work.

  12. Simply brilliant. I have never read (or dreamt that there existed) such an astoundingly exceptional piece defending the (in the liberal world) tantmount backwardnss of patriachy. I am utterly convinced.

  13. Actually, come to think of it, there is a slight flaw in this otherwise wonderful system of the family. It is entirely possible for a parent or spouse to be killed, or in some other way be tragically removed from the family, with permenance. A classic example would be the movie Evelyn, which chronicles the true story of Desmond Doyle and his fight against the Irish courts to be reunited with his children. Their seperation was due to theirs being a ‘broken home’, as their mother had left. So, in your opinion, what would be the logical course of action for families which have been broken?

  14. Hello John,

    The patriarchal model does regard single-parent families as inferior, and it won’t change its standard to try to make people feel better about themselves. On the other hand, a parent’s authority over his or her children remains even after the death or disappearance of the other parent. It comes directly from God, and the State can’t abrogate it in favour of some “better” arrangement.

  15. So, that means we leave the single-parent household as it is, right?

  16. Dear Bonald,

    In only a few sentences in paragraph 2, I think you summed up perfectly the notoriously subtle distinction between masculinity and femininity. The latter cultivates the ego and self-esteem, or perhaps the sense of internal power one has. The former cultivates the value to which that ego must aim and shows the logistics towards its acquisition. Brilliant.

  17. well, paragraph 2 of page 2, that is.

  18. Just realised something else. The telos of the human sexual act is clear, because humans are almost constantly fertile. But what if humans had a longer ovulation cycle? An annual one, say? Would the meaning of the sexual act be different, since at any given time, copulation is most likely to be fruitless?

  19. Hi John,

    I’m sorry for not participating in the last couple weeks of discussions here. I had final exam week followed by a visit to collaborators.

    I don’t think that a woman being fruitful less of the time would change the nature of the sex act. I suppose what would make its nature less clear–now speaking about some hypothetical other species–would be if the act had another clear biological function that was completely unrelated to reproduction.

  20. But will the ‘less-fruitful’-ness make it immoral to have sex without making sure of conception, even if aware of the approximate time period for ovulation? If such a creature copulates at a random point in time, it probably will not conceive, whereas the converse is true of humans.

    And, on a related note, shouldn’t copulation without knowledge of fertility be immoral? Since one knows there are fertile and infertile periods, to conceive, one should copulate during the fertile periods. So by right, one should only copulate when one is in one’s fertile period. Right?

  21. “The more deeply each member relies on the other, the more the family can be said to thrive. Thus the family is not merely an illiberal institution; it is positively anti-liberal. Nothing is more opposed to its ethos than independence, in either the sense of autonomy or of self-sufficiency.”

    Liberalism, or what’s called liberalism today, is completely opposed to individualism. You’re not even individually allowed to choose what kind of food you want to eat. I believe the problem in America today is essentially that we have collectivists on both sides of the spectrum agreeing with each other more than they disagree. And falsely call each other individualists as if it were the worst insult. All the criticism of conservatives and libertarians from the left centers around how individualistic and selfish they are so this is not a fight you’re likely to win. The family is an essentially individualistic form of social organization because people freely enter into them of their own choosing. They are not ordered to get married, they do so because they value their spouse and their children and thus they find it in their benefit more so than living alone. Individualism doesn’t necessitate isolation from others, it means freedom to associate with who you want rather than have your associations forced on you by the state. Promoting the concept that monogamy and responsible parenting is about denying self-interest and being an altruist for the good of society is inaccurate and will likely have the effect of turning people away from them even more so. Today altruism is a more popular social value than ever and we have less intact families and higher divorce rates and illegitimacy than ever.

  22. Okay and now we’re veering off into anti-capitalism. Good luck with your pursuit of conservative patriarchal socialism. It’ll probably go over about as big as a blacks-only chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

  23. Your individualistic ideology is blinding you to the obvious nature of the family. No one gets to freely choose their parents, but our duties to them are nevertheless absolutely binding. Nor do parents ordinarily choose their children. We do choose our spouses, but as soon as the choice is made, this freedom is gone. The nature of marriage itself–what it is, not how one enters into it–is duty. What society honors when we honor marriage is the commitment–commitment meaning lack of discretionary freedom. After all, fornication is an association just as freely entered into as marriage, but no one would say that society should honor that. Most people are quite happy to have the family as a nexus of duty and dependency. We want to know we can count on people, and having obligations to them in turn gives our lives meaning and dignity. Who could possibly want to live in the nihilistic social wasteland proposed by individualists, where each individual’s constantly shifting evaluation of his own benefit is the only reality?

  24. i am not religious at all but I agree with you. To add to what you have said, I wrote something called ”why sex is not just sex”

    you wrote a lot more though and I totally agree with it.

  25. You may defend men’s authority due to your religion and conservative views, but do you not realise it harms women? Women, last I checked, are Human beings, too. They have Human desires and needs like men do. To relegate them to the subservient role of mother and wife and to say that her place is under the authority of the husband (as the Bible states) throws us right back to the very thing that started this whole feminism fiasco in the first place.

    Also, your views harm liberaltiy. Conservatives feel we are agaisnt the family… well, that’s not necessarily true. We are simply agaisnt the patriarchal family where the male makes all the final decisions and the oman must accept them… because she is, by God’s command, little more than a slave. Progressive value the Humanity and equality of the woman in every form… and feel in the respect of their biological functions, have more rights than men because of their vulnerability during pregnancy and because of the simple fact that men should not have the right to legislate on women’s rights nor their reproductive or physical health. Not to sound crass, but if you lack internal plumbing, then you shouldn’t speak about those who do, religious calling or not. You cannot know what a woman has to deal with because you are not a woman. Thus, the matter should be left to women to decide upon and women alone. And the women who actually follow patriarchal ideals really should wake up and think for themselves.

    This ideology of encouraging interdependence is only convenient to you because it supports your patriarchal ideals…. but out in the real world, it’s everyone for themselves… because Conservatism believes in personal, individual responsibility (unless it’s a corporation, in which case they are entitled to subsides and capital gains tax cuts lending to fallacious trickle-down theory) and working hard for the most basic things to survive… True, it’s natural selection in lifestyle form with greed being the new great motivator. Such is the fallacy of capitalism when supported by those whose divine Saviour is clearly a liberal himself. For reference to Christ’s teachings against greed (and by extension, the essence of capitalism), see Mark 10:17-31. True, if anyone spoke this way in today’s political arena, they’d automatically be labelled a socialist, worse a communist (even thought socialism and communism are NOT the same thing. Faux Lies would have you believe differently, however.). At any rate, Christ’s words here are as liberal as you can get. even by today’s standards, especially considering Conservatives conveniently ignore the words of Jesus and act as the rich man does. Thus is the hypocrisy of rightist conservatism today.

    As a Biblical man, how do you confront this truth? Greed (a deadly sin) motivating survival when the bible actually condemns greed? In fact, Christ himself denounced greed, fed the hungry for free, and healed the sick for free. He never spoke ill of women in terms of social rights and standing, let alone their place in the family. He also never spoke ill of people of different sexuality or gender identity. If they were such important issues, would not the son of God have made things clear about them in his message? And here you follow the teachings of Humans… of male Humans who held sway in the early Church… who used old ways both from Old Judaism and from Greco-Roman society, all of which were firmly patriarchal and grossly misogynistic.

    Also, I hate to say it, but Paul doesn’t permit women to speak in the church (that is, the congregation of believers, not the place of worship, per original meaning of the word) nor to have authority over men. Thus he believes in the social separation and by extension inequality of the genders in favour of the male…. yet he contradicts himself by turning around and saying that “there is neither free nor slave, Jew nor Greek, Male nor Female, for you are all one in Christ”. Is this not true? Either men and women are equal or they are not. You cannot have your cake and eat it too by twisting things via context-gymnastics to fit your ideology. This is a contradiction and it’s a very relevant one.

    I come here to offer a counter-argument. I bring enlightenment to open the eyes of the sleeping… free-thought to the sheep. I do not mean to bring despair. Do not harden your heart to my words, but instead consider what I bring forth carefully. There may yet be a new perspective that can narrow the divide between liberal progressive and stonewall conservatives.

  26. The last paragraph is so over the top that it’s hard to know if this comment is meant to be taken seriously. If it is, then it illustrates the difficulty of communicating with feminists. Often, such conversations get off on the wrong foot because we fail to highlight how radical our disagreement is, that it extends down to first principles: that we reject the liberal imperative for “equality” (to use their clumsy term–we would prefer the more precise formulation “imperative for identical roles”), that we think patriarchal authority no more intrinsically degrading to its subjects than any other form of authority, that we reject the ideal of independence as being neither attainable nor desirable, etc. In my essay, I make pains to emphasize these points, and you correctly notice them, but basically decide that I can’t really believe them, that I must deep down be committed to individualistic independence like any good liberal, and that my claims otherwise merely mask my unstated true motives. This is really the key point in your comment, because if I really do reject these liberal imperatives, then none of your other objections really touch my argument (including your historically preposterous biblical exegesis), because they all in one way or another appeal to the authority of liberal principles, an authority I claim to reject.

    Obviously, I can’t prove to you that I don’t have unstated motives. However, I ask you to consider that the disagreement between us really does run as deep as it seems, that I really do support the authority of fathers (note: “fathers”, not “men in general”) for the reasons I give.

  27. I’m still on the fence as to whether this is a parody or not. If so, great job. You’ve managed to hit pretty much all of the liberal “Christian” clichés and tropes.

  28. You sure defended something, but it is definitely not patriarchy. There is, bizarrely, absolutely nothing in your essay about paterfamilias or patriarchs or the delegated sphere of the chatelaine.

    As is very typical in this neck of the woods, it is forgotten that patriarchy is limited to men who can afford to support it. Those under their care include *other men, women and children*.

    This essay was like talking about voting in 1820 as if the access to the franchise was as it is in 2014.

    Patriarchy is a description of specific roles that only a small proportion of all men can fully exercise. It is in fact difficult to fully visualize what a post-industrial patriarchy would look like, because the inability to look back to actual historical patriarchy and from there consider a neopatriarchal model is so widespread.

    It is not trivial to elide the distinction between “Head of household” and “Patriarch”. Not understanding that there is a distinction and that it’s a big honking deal is a bad sign.

  29. Gracias por esto, la verdad que es bueno conseguir sitios como este, ahora mismo trataré de comenzar un trabajo bastante relacionado con este tema.

  30. This is why I left the church. If God agrees with you then all women should wake up and leave and never return. You completely ignore the horror, brutality and evil of patriarchy. I call it ‘the devils doorway’ and guess what its completely open to men such as yourself. Remember the scripture – many have supped with angels and not known it’ well the opposite is true – many (men) have supped with the devil and not known it. Patriarchy forces women to less than they are so men can be more than they are. Lyn

  31. Lyn,

    You claim that patriarchy is brutal and evil and etc., but you fail to provide any basis for this claim.

  32. Arkansas Reactionary:

    Any social system that gives one class of human beings power over others is inherently unjust and carries within it the seeds of abuse. Whether or not it turns overtly brutal is only a matter of the benevolence of the power-holders, which is random and fickle, and, in any case, not required by the system.


    Equality most emphatically does not mean “imperative for identical roles.” It is peculiar how common this misunderstanding is among conservatives. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of the term nevertheless, one from which various unsupported, and unsupportable, conclusions are made.

  33. Every social system gives certain classes of human beings power over others. Literally every single one that ever has or ever could exist.

    And equality as used by the left is used to say “imperative for identical roles”, which is why the left is so concerned about, for example, the lack of women in certain careers.

  34. Like AR said, by the standard “no power of one class of human beings over any other” you have just abolished all authority, indeed all human organization. Get rid of “equality = identity of roles”, and you’ve got no reason to find patriarchy offensive against equality. True, we often have to give precision to feminists’ terms for them, because they’re too stupid to do it themselves, but that’s the only definition that matches their usage or does anything like the work they want it to do.

  35. Bonald:

    All authority =/= authority given, or usurped, by a particular class of human beings. Yes, it is hard for bigoted authoritarians to grasp; alas.

  36. All authority is possessed by a particular group (or class, if you will) of people. So yes, “authority possessed by a particular class of people”=”authority generally”.

  37. Can anyone give an example of a truly matriarchal society? One that has prevailed for any length of time? One in which the roles of male and female, man and woman, other than those determined by biology, have been reversed?
    Throughout the ages, from the very first glimpses we have of human society, the man can be away from home, involved in the unfortunately pervasive failing of human beings, war, while the woman is heavily pregnant or giving birth? Nursing her (their) baby?
    Reverse the roles: the man is at home, taking care of children, tending the garden, while the woman, pregnant, even heavily pregnant, is fighting a battle against, not a rival 100% matriarchal, but a typically patriarchal society. Can even the most ideologically pure, totally driven, feminist matriarchalist unabashedly support such a scenario?
    The only plus that I can fathom from such is that instead of slaughtering the female warriorettes wholesale, as is done to male warriors, an enemy would try to capture as many warriorettes as practical, as females have one attribute in constant demand by males that male warriors do not have.
    The Israelis tried this stupidity for a time, but as the Israeli public reacted with utter shock at getting body bags containing the bullet-riddled, shattered corpses of 18-20s women, and the return of gang-raped and pregnant young warriorettes, the policy was soon rescinded, to the dismay of fanatical feminists, the shills of Marxist powermongers. The missing numbers of warriorettes were “swept under the rug,” ignored by the feminist militarists. Bits of information indicate that those who were not returned, alive or dead, disappeared into the Arab-Muslim sex-slave trade that has been actively kidnapping young European and southwestern Asian women for the past fourteen centuries.
    The only way a truly matriarchal society could survive would be on an island far from any other society, a society isolated from potential rival patriarchal societies. Even if two hypothetical truly matriarchal societies, each able to field similar numbers of warriorettes, came into conflict, the one that broke with matriarchal tradition first, fielding male warriors, even though minimally trained, would almost certainly prevail. As in wars generally, the defeated warriorettes and the conquered women would be raped and the conquered girly-men slaughtered or sent to the salt mines in chains.
    Besides menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and infant care, women have a severe deficiency of testosterone. Giving women testosterone supplements, removing their ovaries and uteruses, sewing their vaginas shut, removing their breasts, does not transform them into men. Every nucleated cell in a female body has no XY chromosome. Each has an XX. Each cell is 100% female.
    Castrating men, emasculating them (removing the penis), giving them estrogen supplements, does not turn them into women, only eunuchs. Their cells still each have an XY chromosome, not an XX.

  38. Can anyone give an example of a truly matriarchal society?

    The Amazons provide a pretty good example of what such a society would look like.

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