A review of The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and The Growth of Governmental Power by Stephen Baskerville (Angeliko Press, 2017) 408 pages.
One needs to be of a certain age to remember how much of a bounty was promised during the early days of feminism. It was to be a revolution in just about everything, transforming a world made out of male aggression and oppression into a world of feminine love and kindness, of which we would all, men as well as women, be the beneficiaries.
For my own field, organizational behavior, the implications seemed to be pretty well laid out in Carol Gilligan’s classic In a Different Voice. Organization would be based, not on the rules that men had developed to keep from killing each other, but on the feelings that women had evolved to connect. Working life would consist in being cared for and loved.
Being a hater of rules, this appealed to me. But I had my concerns and I thought they needed airing. In accordance with what was, at the time, standard academic practice, I wrote a paper for my professional organization, The American Academy of Management. I pointed out that the realm of feelings encompassed not only love, but also hatred and resentment, and that feelings were subject to spontaneous change and therefore could not provide the structure that rules could, which would seem to undermine the possibility of organization. The paper was not only rejected, but one of the reviewers said I should be reprimanded and expelled from the Academy of Management.
Catherine Mackinnon had told us that the kind of authority that women would establish based on their way of seeing things, by which she meant feminism, would be just about perfect. But while they promised us utopia what we got was political correctness. They turned the world upside down.
Stephen Baskerville’s new book The New Politics of Sex: The Sexual Revolution, Civil Liberties, and The Growth of Governmental Power is a comprehensive analysis of this process of overturning, showing how it has played out in virtually every social venue, from the individual couplings of men and women, through the family, the welfare state, and all the way up to US foreign policy and the international order.
He begins at the university level, where it began and where its incubation continues. The crucial move here was to accept feminist ideology as a body of objective knowledge, despite the fact that it is, and always proclaimed itself to be, a political program. This posed an existential dilemma for the rest of the university that it has never been able to overcome.
The disinterested pursuit of knowledge, operating through the intellectual disciplines, came under moralistic attack, from which it could not defend itself. For one thing, it could not be mobilized as a form of political will without losing its character as disinterested. The feminist political apparatus, and its clones within the various victim studies fields, colonized the rest of the university and their ideology increasingly defined it. Over time, educated people came to believe that this ideology is what knowledge is, and this has become more true with every passing day:
The scholars are advocates and activists, and no attempt to approach their subject matter from a detached or critical viewpoint is tolerated. The evidence is very plain: no scholar at any university in the Western world today focuses his or her research on a critical analysis or detached appraisal of sexual ideology…. [W]e are being asked to believe that there is 100% unanimity in academia that feminist and homosexual political agendas are simply matters of factual knowledge, equivalent to medieval history or organic chemistry. (P.4)
The core of the feminist transformation is the politics of sex. The politics of sex is, of course, about sex, but more important is that it is about power. Specifically, it is about the power to control how people think about sex.
The purpose of sexual restraint is, and always has been, the stability of the family and, through it, social order. When the sexual revolution became a righteous crusade, the counsels of restraint became subject to moral condemnation, and the institutions through which such counsels have been transmitted came to be seen as agencies of oppression. This could not help but undermine the family and order. When “the personal is political,” as is said, society becomes a circle with no circumference and a center everywhere, as impossible sociologically as it is geometrically.
I think of this in terms of what I call the “pristine self,” which is a self surrounded by nothing but love. In reality, there are no pristine selves, only people’s idea that this is the way they should be treated. Given that, contact with reality leaves them with a feeling of abused entitlement and generalized grievance; their fundamental orientation toward life becomes the enactment of revenge. Society transforms itself into an attack upon itself.
This takes the form of an attack upon men, whose work, which constitutes civilization itself, has come to be experienced with resentment rather than appreciation. Baskerville shows how this manifests itself at the present time through the creation of new classes of vague crimes that can only be committed by men, and which, since they are the manifestation of fundamental, almost metaphysical forces, are adjudicated outside the judicial system, with its safeguards against prosecutorial abuse:
Some of these offenses have been redefined so loosely as to make them the opposite of what plain English suggests, while others have been simply concocted altogether, entailing crimes no one ever heard of before: “rape” that includes consensual sex; domestic “violence” that involves no violence or physical contact or any threat of it; “child abuse” that is routine parental discipline or homeschooling or fabricated altogether to win advantage in divorce court… (p.112)
What began as a drive toward liberation thus becomes tyranny. What was normal becomes antisocial; what was malign becomes laudatory. This is how the social world was turned upside down.
Baskerville’s book is a trip through the looking glass. It provides us with an appalling and alarming series of such inversions. It is ambitious, complex, and highly compelling; it needs to be widely read.
Howard S. Schwartz is an emeritus professor of organizational behavior at Oakland University. He writes on the psychodynamics of political correctness. His most recent book is Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). His blog is MarchoftheVirgin.com. He lives in New York City and can be followed on Twitter here.