The 1980’s witnessed one of the greatest miracles in the history of American politics and the climactic triumph of one of the most effective political leaders ever to emerge in America. That leader was a woman, and however well-known she is today, she has never achieved the honor and celebrity of her many inferiors. The national newsmagazines have never granted her a cover story or a full appreciation. The dimensions of her achievement are still not understood, even by the conservative publications that gave her their moderately enthusiastic support. The newest history texts pay heavy credit to her adversaries but scarcely acknowledge her epochal role.
Nonetheless, when serious histories of this era come to be written, Phyllis Schlafly will take her place among the tiny number of leaders who made a decisive and permanent difference. As much as Martin Luther King, Earl Warren, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Eugene McCarthy on the left and Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Robert Hartley, William Buckley, and Jack Kemp on the right, she changed the political landscape of her country. In fact, by the measure of the odds she faced and overcame, Schlafly’s achievement excels all the others’.
Schlafly’s 10 books suggest the scope of her activities. A Choice Not An Echo sold three million copies and helped spark both the Goldwater movement and the Reagan candidacy. Her works on military strategy spurred the campaign that finally triumphed in President Reagan’s High Frontier defense scheme. But the centerpiece of her achievement was the victory against the Equal Rights Amendment, a mobilization against all the most fully established and prestigious forces in American life.
Opposed to her at the outset were 90 percent majorities in both houses of Congress, every live American President and President’s wife, every major state governor except an ambivalent Ronald Reagan, all leading mayors, both political parties’ platforms and leadership, every major newspaper, magazine, and television network, the League of Women Voters, all the old-line Protestant denominations, the National and World Councils of Churches, several leading Catholic and Jewish organizations and publications, and huge majorities of the American public as registered by all public opinion polls. The ERA forces, moreover, combined their overwhelming numbers with fanatical determination, continual use of government funds and agencies, and the same complete dominance of the media that still today keeps Mrs. Schlafly from receiving her due.
Within months, this coalition pushed the Amendment through 35 state legislatures, just three short of the necessary three-quarters. For seven years the American political establishment unleashed a relentless bombardment of the remaining legislatures. Congress appropriated $5 million for the International Women’s Year, the bulk of it devoted to the ERA campaign, and gave scores of millions to other entities involved in the ratification drive. All Federal departments and agencies were ordered by the President to apply “every resource of the Federal government” to the cause. As an Interior Department memo put it; “This is not to be considered a partisan issue,” but part of an antidiscrimination effort “which Federal employers are now obliged to support.” During the climactic year of 1978, President Carter himself traveled with his wife to Illinois, Schlafly’s home state, in the week before the scheduled vote, to implore the state legislature to pass the Amendment. But for the 13th straight time, the legislature refused. By the official deadline for ratification in 1979, the tally revealed a net loss of one state since Schlafly’s effort began to gain momentum in 1977.
But the proponents would not give up. In a blatantly illegal action, in defiance of the Constitution and the powers of the states. Congress extended the ratification period by an additional 39 months and prohibited all rescisions during that time. In November 1979, before the Congressional vote, 36 women’s magazines from Ms. to the Ladies Home Journal—with a combined circulation of 60 million and varying views on almost everything—chimed in lockstep with articles for ERA. Then the Carter Administration lavished yet more money and mobilized the Federal government anew in yet another massive drive for passage. But once again the opposition held firm; by the end of the extension no further states had passed the Amendment and it was at last allowed to die.
By this time, the mood was beginning to turn. In 1980 a Republican platform, for the first time, actually came out against the Amendment, despite a frenzy of protest. The Republican candidate Ronald Reagan continued to oppose it. But Reagan was never a leader in stopping ERA. Even in radio messages criticizing the proposed law, he would spend most of his time asserting his fervent support for “equal rights.” Then, amazingly, he would turn over the microphone to his daughter Maureen and give her equal time to speak in behalf of the Amendment. No national political leader had any substantial impact on the outcome.
There was only one significant leader of the anti-ERA effort, and that was enough—for it was Phyllis Schlafly. She won, in part, because she is one of the country’s best speakers and debaters and its best pamphleteer since Tom Paine. She won because of her indefatigable energy and willpower, mobilizing women in state after state where the Amendment was contested. But most of all she won because she understood what was finally at stake in feminism. She was defending both the sexual and legal constitutions of the United States from their most serious attack of this century.
Essentially, the ERA would have granted to the Federal bench, long dominated below the Supreme Court level by the some 400 liberal appointees of the Carter Administration, nearly carte blanche to redefine the relations between the sexes in America. Voluminous testimony before Senator Orrin Hatch’s subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee showed that, among many other significant effects, the Amendment would probably have: (1) eliminated all rights of wives and mothers to be supported by their husbands, except to the extent husbands could claim an equal right; (2) eliminated all laws in any way restricting the rights of the gay liberation movement publically to teach, proselytize, or practice their sexual ideology; (3) forced sexual integration of all schools, clubs, colleges, athletic teams, and facilities; (4) forced the drafting of women and the sexual integration of all military units; (5) threatened the tax exemption of most religious schools; and (6) compelled the use of government funds for abortions.
Even more extreme interpretations are perfectly possible in the courts. Indeed, some skeptics point out that feminists are now gaining from judges much of what they lost in the legislatures, that liberals are now attaining the ERA’s goals through judicial interpretations of the 14th Amendment and through novel extensions of the Civil Rights Act. This is true to a great extent. But the ERA battle was always a struggle not only to stop a specific law, but also to halt the momentum of the sexual revolution. The battle will never be over. But Phyllis Schlafly, though still unique, no longer stands alone. Her example has created a new feminine ideal and a new constituency of the country’s conservative women who know what is actually at stake in the smarmy rhetoric of feminism and should be able to repeat their victories.
The sexual revolutionaries had the support of “public opinion” as registered by the polls and of political opinion as asserted by politicians. But Schlafly tapped the support of private opinions: the real personal convictions of the men and women who voted again and again in referenda and in elections and finally even in legislatures against the sexual revolution. As repeated surveys by Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter have shown, private opinion diverges widely from establishment opinion on every major sexual question, from special gay rights to adultery.
In this sense, the defeat of the ERA was merely a symbol of a larger infrastructure of opinion that upholds our family life and our democratic processes. ERA was only one of many issues on which deeply ingrained conservative views prevailed in recent years against all the fevered movements and fashions of the time.
Despite some public opinion polls and Supreme Court decisions to the contrary, voters have repeatedly rejected liberalization of abortion laws. Except in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the mother’s life, substantial majorities continue to oppose abortion. Yet the feminist demand for “control over our own bodies” seems eminently justifiable to virtually every media authority. The tragic results of covert abortion mills, coat-hanger surgery, and Mexican “vacations” are well-known. Unlike most poll questions, moreover, on which most respondents know little and could care less about the topic, abortion is a matter on which significant public opinion actually exists, an issue on which people have, relatively strong and considered beliefs. Since the informed elites have influence far beyond their numbers, the tenacity of public opposition suggests a resistance profound enough to demand explanation.
What is it about these so-called social issues—embracing matters as varied as gun control, abortion, and busing—that leads substantial majorities of voters to violate, and vote against, the considered views of perhaps 90 percent of the American intelligentsia. The answer is that all these issues directly impinge on that sensitive psychological terrain, involving sexuality, children, and the family, which underlies the sexual constitution of the society. Unlike many intellectuals whose lives are devoted to legal and scientific abstraction, most of the people still instinctively recognize that preservation of the sexual constitution may be even more important to the social order than preservation of the legal constitution. They recognize that no laws can prevail against the dissolution of the social connections and personal motivations that sustain a civilized polity. They acknowledge, with Carl Jung, that while the society can resist epidemics of physical disease, it is defenseless against diseases of the mind. Against “psychic epidemics,” our laws and medicines are virtually helpless.
The relationship of each of these issues to the sexual constitution, though perhaps not immediately clear, is psychologically profound. Guns are a good example. The United States is a nation of households, most containing a man who deeply feels his responsibility for defending his family—and who fears that his ability to do it is diminishing in modern society. The ultimate nightmare of almost every man is to witness helplessly the rape of his wife. Only somewhat less threatening to the very core of male consciousness is the possibility of the violation of his home.
The role of protector of wife and children is as old as the family nexus itself, as old and deeply ingrained as the role of provider. A move by the state finally to incapacitate the man in this responsibility—and usurp his place— undermines the validity of the family itself and the man’s part in it. In this role, the gun is not a mere symbol. It objectively increases the man’s capacity to defend his household.
In addition, a gun is an emblem of the male as hunter. This, according to many anthropologists, was the primordial role of the evolving male Homo sapiens. In Men in Groups, Lionel Tiger contends that the male propensity to work in all-male teams originated in these early expeditions. Today, men across the land continue to hunt compulsively, despite a possibly declining need or appetite for the available game. They early give their male children guns and ceremoniously teach them the rules of their use. As anyone who has undergone this paternal instruction knows and remembers, it is a portentous event, conducted in the atmosphere of an initiation rite.
The obstinate refusal of many males to support gun control is not chiefly a product of conditioning by the weapons industry. Rather, millions of men fear gun control because they are losing life-control; they are losing the sense of a defined male identity and role in the family. They cling to these weapons and persist in their hunts as totems of masculinity, as rites and symbols of their continuing role as protector and provider in the family.
In this sense, the guns have a virtually religious import, and gun restrictions pose a serious psychological threat. Unless this erosion of the sexual constitution is recognized as a major social problem—for which realistic solutions rather than Utopian incantations must be provided—gun control, however desirable, will remain politically difficult and practically unenforceable outside a police state.
The sexual dimensions of the abortion issue may be more obvious, but they are little better understood. The usual assumption is that opposition to abortion on demand stems from a puritanical aversion to premarital sex, combined with a religious superstition that feticide is murder. The real reasons, however, may be significantly different. Beyond the significance of antiabortion sentiment as a repudiation of sexual liberation in general, it may be seen as a symbol of resistance to the erosion of male sexuality.
When the women demanded “control over our own bodies,” they believed they were couching the issue in the least objectionable way. But as Norman Mailer pointed out at the time, they were in fact invoking one of the most extreme claims of the movement and striking at one of the most profound male vulnerabilities. For, in fact, few males have come to psychological terms with the existing birth-control technology; few recognize the extent to which it shifts the balance of sexual power further in favor of women. A man quite simply cannot now father a baby unless his wife is fully and deliberately agreeable. There are few social or cultural pressures on her to conceive. Male procreativity is now dependent, to a degree unprecedented in history, on the active pleasure of women.
The psychological consequences of this change are greater than they might at first appear. Throughout the centuries, men could imagine their sexual organs as profoundly powerful instruments. If they engaged in a normal amount of sexual activity—”sowing their wild oats”—they could assume that they would cause a number of women to bear their children. Male potency was not simply a matter of erectile reliability; it was a fell weapon of procreation. Women viewed male potency with some awe, and males were affirmed by this response.
This masculine attribute is now almost completely lost. The male member is no longer a decisive organ in itself Thus the feminist demand that women have control over their own bodies accentuated an unconscious recognition that males have almost completely lost control of procreative activity. Women are only marginally dependent on men—women can conceive a baby artificially or in one passing encounter. But a man cannot validate his procreative powers, his role in the chain of nature, without the active, deliberate, and now-revocable cooperation of a woman. This change in the sexual balance between men and women is still being absorbed by the society. People resist legal abortion on demand out of a sense of justifiable conservatism toward continued changes in the sexual constitution.
Busing, most sex education, and high school birth control often represent a drive by the state to take children from families and expose them to ideologies and social movements—or use them in social experiments—fervently opposed by the parents themselves. The parents’ response—”not with my kid, you don’t”—is a serious threat to the public schools. But the public school programs are a serious threat to the integrity and discipline of the future generations on which the nation’s economy and stability depend.
The national elites remain largely incapable of offering programs of communal affirmation and male socialization that would in any way reduce crime, violence, and narcotic escapism, divorce, abandonment, and sexual disorder. So they advocate programs of adaptation—no fault divorce, sex education, free pills and condoms for teenagers, methadone clinics and outreach centers for addicts—which collectively worsen the crisis of the sexual constitution.
Neither liberals nor establishment conservatives have any real remedies. Liberals would make the problems far worse by subsidizing them with expanded welfare, day-care, unisex job training, and other feminized government programs that richly earn the disdain they receive in street society. But many conservative men are little better. Lacking the guts to rebuff the upper-class feminist ladies, they go along with most of the feminist agenda, which still prevails in Washington bureaucracies under the Reagan Administration. They fail to show the resolution and decisiveness needed to develop a complex of new social policies designed to strengthen families and socialize men. Thus the problems keep getting worse, and the people, demoralized and confused, show a rising and justifiable contempt for the world of politics.
Enhancing that contempt is the effort of feminists to emasculate the political order itself One of the most notable concerns of the moderate wing of women’s liberation is equal representation in politics. In 1984, the movement induced the Democratic Party to nominate for Vice President a woman with no apparent qualifications for the office, and the Republicans to pad out their convention schedule with unqualified female speakers. Displaying indifference to American democratic principles, the movement has managed to get both political parties to accept the idea that a truly representative national convention would be half female. Although willing in practice to accept somewhat smaller proportions, both parties required every state to make a good-faith effort to achieve a delegation composed 50 percent of women. Such disguised quotas bear the implication, radically inimical to any democratic process, that the electorate consists of separate, homogeneous, and identifiable groups, each best represented by one of its own kind.
Such a conception of American voters is obviously wrong. Women vote for men most of the time; young people vote for their elders; blacks vote for whites and whites for blacks. The women’s movement ranks high among the groups from whom women seem least likely to choose their representatives.
This flaw in the case for quotas emerged dramatically at the Democratic Convention of 1972 when the issue was first joined. The Democratic credentials committee found deeply suspicious the small number of women (9 percent) on Mayor Richard Daley’s regular Chicago delegation. The regulars had been overwhelmingly elected in the primaries, but the democratic test of election was of little avail against the evidentiary test of quotas. After citing some trivial infractions of the rules, which could have had no effect on the result (no one denied that Mayor Daley was the choice of the people), the Democratic Convention seated an alternate Chicago group. Consisting of men and women defeated by the regulars or unwilling to challenge them at the polls, it was an impressive reform assemblage of variegated sex and color. Us failure to include significant representation from the blue-collar ethnic groups that dominate the white neighborhoods of Chicago was compensated by a high sense of moral and financial worth. In future conventions, this unrepresentative result became a matter of course.
This is a familiar story, but a key facet of it was little remarked. The women chosen were almost totally unrepresentative of the city’s females. Helen Lopata in her book Occupation Housewife summarizes her in-depth interviews with a demographic sampling of some 600 Chicago women. She found that they overwhelmingly left politics to their men. In a city where many men do work of uncommon drudgery, this system may have been a significant part of the sexual constitution. What the movement demanded was not representation of Chicago women but a cultural revolution in the city. Whatever one thinks of this goal, it has nothing to do with democratic processes.
Indeed, the demands themselves symbolize feminists’ failure to comprehend either democracy or the fundamental relations between men and women in every society. Again and again—on ERA, abortion, employment quotas, and all-male clubs and associations, from the military to the Little League—the feminists turn to the courts for coercive solutions when voters refuse to give them what they want. But coercive solutions are necessarily enforced by male power and ultimately hostile to women’s interests in politics. A social system based on physical force, even if disguised by court orders, will eventually become a patriarchy far more oppressive than any democracy dominated by men. It is only a democracy, spontaneously devoted to the rule of law and the restraint of male force, that can easily accommodate a feminist movement or ensure female suffrage.
The “moderate” demand for quotas in polities undermines these democratic protections. Politics has been chiefly a male domain in all societies ever studied by anthropologists and historians. Women everywhere, unless hectored by feminists, tend to turn to men for leadership on general political issues. Male dominance in politics is part of the sexual constitution of all civilized societies. This does not mean imposition of limits on the extraordinary women who often rise to key positions by their own efforts and on their own merits. But the effort forcibly to feminize our affairs by quotas violates profound human propensities. By preventing governance from conforming to human nature, sexual liberalism provides a perfect opening for the familiar excesses of abstract ideology and totalitarianism.
Politics is ultimately based on force, and the most effective wielders of force are groups of men. If young men are estranged from the leadership of the society, the social order is threatened by its young men. In contemporary America the effects of this destabilization may be seen most clearly in the ghetto, where youths express far more respect for the Mafia than for any American public institution and where the women and elderly all too often cower in their apartments for fear of the hoodlums who rule the streets. But throughout history, alliances between military officers and male groups of mesomorphic thugs have always emerged when the established leadership has lost its hold on the public.
To replace the legitimacy of the vote with the legitimacy of the warrior group has always been an essential revolutionary idea. The Nietzchean exaltation of tribal values against the effeminacy of democratic ideals, the celebration of the hunter against the domesticated man of the city and farm, the legendary rule of a male bond of blood in tribal Germany, the mystical worship of war and the warrior brotherhood, all served the Nazi stormtroopers as legitimizing myths. Similar ideas have informed all the most destructive regimes in history, from Mussolini to Mao, from the Japanese warlords to communist cadres.
In any primitive tribe, rule by male fighters is the most natural form of government. Not only do they command force, but they also exert a moral appeal. The idea that men who risk their lives to preserve and protect the state earn the right to rule offers a seductive alternative to the sovereignty of passing majorities of voters. When this idea prevails among large numbers of young men, democratic constraints are helpless against it.
The history of the 20th century confirms the continuing potency of the warrior dream against all the codes and sanctions of democracy. Dictators and demagogues, juntas and caudillos, tyrants and revolutionaries, all supported by young men in military or paramilitary groups, always pose the greatest threat to civilization and peace.
Military despotism is the political counterpart of the social breakdown of monogamy into the disorders of polygyny, homosexuality, and female-headed families. The release of large numbers of young men from the bonds and disciplines of marriage and family always leads to social disruptions. The punk rockers and soccer rioters of mid-80’s Britain reflect the loss of male roles through high tax rates and resulting levels of joblessness. The breakdown of law and order and the demoralization of the courts and police in U.S. cities suggests the utter impotence of the superstructures of government when the infrastructures of sexual discipline collapses.
Without a stable family order, in which adult men civilize the young men, terror rules. No array of day-care centers, police powers, social welfare agencies, psychiatric or drug clinics, special schools, and prisons can have any significant effect. William Tucker’s recent book, Vigilante, vividly shows the imbecile bathos into which our legal system has already fallen as a result of the decline of the stark mandate of justice into the weasels and waffles of social liberalism.
At a time when millions of young men are slipping beyond the reach of democratic institutions—indeed, outside the social order itself—the drive to emasculate our politics threatens the foundations of democracy itself Democracy is not so secure a system that in a serious crisis it can easily survive the loss of the instinctual appeal of male leadership. A state in which the police and other governmental authorities are heavily in female hands would not last a week. The very emergence of such a state would itself signify either the massive estrangement of men from politics or the degeneration of democracy into some court-ruled system of quotas.
It is part of Phyllis Schlafly’s genius to have persistently linked the concerns of family with the reform of education, the conservative revival of our politics, and the rehabilitation of our military. From her concern with the national defense to her defense of the nation’s families, she espouses a fully coherent vision of the American predicament. A society of families both constrains male aggressions and channels them toward the protection and support of family and society.
Sexual liberation chiefly liberates powerful men to leave their aging wives and marry young women. With many men taking the fertile years of more than one woman, large numbers of single men are deprived of the possibility of family life, and large numbers of divorced women grow old alone. Released from the consolations and constraints of family, single men tend to afflict and demoralize the society.
Every society is continually invaded by barbarians: the new generations of young males. Unless they are tamed by women and families and disciplined by adult male leaders, the barbarians will dominate the society. As in the ghetto, the defection of the men from family responsibilities leaves the women helpless to handle their teenage boys and the police impotent to control them. The youth then bully and terrorize the women and the weak.
The economy also declines as the long-term efforts of male providers give way to short-term and predatory economic behavior. An emasculated politics cannot defend itself against male outlaws and exploiters, muggers and terrorists, hijackers and assassins, nor can it provide for the economic growth to finance itself and the growing needs of a welfare state in a time of chaos.
Similarly in the international arena, an emasculated politics is incapable of sustaining an effective national defense. Rather than defend society, the young men attack it and exalt macho foreign potentates and desperadoes. Again the captivation of ghetto and other youth by Third World thugs and enemies of America illustrates the contempt that an emasculated politics and economics earns from its young men—and young women as well.
With West Point and Annapolis forgoing the appeal and power of the masculine principle, the military ideal is dissolving into unisex mush. The Pentagon has swollen into a gigantic bureaucracy—honeycombed with equal opportunity goo, sensitivity pap, and consciousness uplift prattle—that summons a martial spirit hardly more lively than the Department of Health and Human Services.
By joining the two issues of national defense and family defense, Phyllis Schlafly has tapped the energies that spring from the eloquent assertion of any long suppressed, evaded, and fragmented set of primal truths. All politics is, on one level, sexual politics. Defending the sexual constitution, Schlafly is clearly America’s leading exponent and protector of democracy and capitalism.
The best sign of the continuing health of American society is the regular emergence of political leaders in unexpected places who are willing to commit themselves to a new defense of the values of civilization. Under perpetual assault from the forces of decadence and decline, protectionism and sloth, the American system still summons vibrant new tides of resistance and revitalization.
Our businesses and technologies are renewed by immigrants from around the world and by American entrepreneurs from rural and religious backgrounds. Our families are restored by forces of regeneration from both fundamentalist Protestant and traditionalist Catholic churches. Our politics find new resources of American redemption in the rise of moral majorities, immigrant patriots, tax rebels, conservative educational entrepreneurs, and pro-family campaigners.
Even to conservative intellectuals, some of these forces seem crude: too passionate, too fundamental, too foreign, too cultic, too populist, too unsophisticated, too lower-middle-class, altogether alien to the established schools and churches that for decades have purported to uphold tradition while in fact selling out and flaking out before every new fashion of decadence and socialism. The idea that America might find renewal from a melange of movements of evangelical women, wetbacks, Dartmouth Review militants, South Asian engineers, Bible thumpers, boat people, Moonies, Mormons, Cuban refugees, fundamentalist college deans, Amway soap pushers, science wonks, creationists, Korean fruit peddlers, acned computer freaks, and other unstylish folk seems incomprehensible to many ob servers who do not understand that an open capitalist society always finds its salvation from the last perpetually becoming first.
In America, no one is required to go to the Liberty Baptist Church or watch The 700 Club. But the movements that these institutions represent and promote provide the best hope for American democracy and peace, capitalist prosperity and progress. Ironically enough, it is the so called reactionaries who offer the best prospects for continued American leadership in the world economy in the new era of accelerating technological change. Just as the nuclear families of Western Europe unleashed the energies of the industrial revolution, so the new miracles of modem technology are created and sustained by the moral discipline and spiritual incandescence of a culture of churches and families. In families, men and women routinely make long-term commitments and sacrifices that are inexplicable and indefensible within the compass of secular hedonist values. Modern society, no less than any previous civilization, rests on the accumulated moral and spiritual capital embodied in the rock of ages.
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