Top Ten Books on Family Life and Manhood

Top Ten Books on Family Life and Manhood
Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP
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The Sexual Revolution has roiled marriage and family life for more than two generations. Many thought Americans would have too much sense to adopt the principles of feminism or the ideas of sexual liberation, so they did not spend much time or energy opposing these ideologies. This was a colossal blunder, as I argue in my new book. The ideologies of the sexual revolution must be exposed if Americans are going to recover marriage and family life. These are the top ten books about how marriage and especially manhood are stressed under the sexual revolution.

10. Eleanor Maccoby, “The Two Sexes” (1998). Defenses of the family begin with biology—the differences between men and women and the dependence of children. Feminists deny that sexual differences are natural and deny that children need their biological parents to thrive. A cottage industry of books, written by liberal feminists, Christians and Darwinian evolutionists, catalogue the scientific basis for continuing to think that sex differences are ineradicable features of human life. Maccoby stops short of calling these differences natural, but she also sheds her early feminist line that differences are socially conditioned. Her accessible review of the scientific literature on sex differences makes this book among the best entrees to confirming idea that men and women are naturally different. Feminism seeks to change permanent and universal aspects of male and female nature—to the detriment of each.

9. Carle C. Zimmerman, “Family and Civilization” (1947 [ISI 2008]). Taking the long view, Zimmerman shows that family life is always tending toward either too much family insularity that compromises public justice and scientific progress (the trustee family) and too little family partisanship that undermines the ability of families to produce virtuous children (the atomistic family). Rome flourished when it destroyed its trustee families, but then devolved into atomistic families that would not reproduce much; then a weakened Rome succumbed to a new wave of barbarians that made the “dark ages” the age of the trustee family. The dark ages only ended when a new family brand—the public-facing, but domestic nuclear family—arose, though it is difficult to maintain against the atomistic individualism sown into it. For Zimmerman, public infrastructure of atomism (legalizing divorce, encouraging public schooling, building a welfare state) came to the West in the early 20th Century, long before the 1960s.

8. Daphne Patai, “Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism” (1998). The sexual integration the workplace is underway. The dominant framework governing that integration is “sexual harassment,” and Patai has read the training manuals to prove it. The judicial and administrative understanding of sexual harassment is manifest in the “hostile environment” and “reasonable woman” doctrines, among other things. The problem with the sexual harassment regime is not simply that it compromises due process (though it does) or creates an industry dependent on finding more, hidden sexual harassment (though it does). The deepest problem is that it seeks to redefine the world of sexual relations: it seeks to hamper male initiative and make women skeptical of male intentions. It presumes and makes “heterophobia.” A neglected classic about male and female sexual psychology and how our laws misunderstand and corrupt them.

7. Midge Decter, “The New Chastity and Other Arguments against Women’s Liberation” (1972). Feminists of the 1950s and 1960s rightly saw modern women as restless and unhappy, but they made matters worse in blaming patriarchy. Women enjoyed unprecedented freedoms. Technology made time-consuming household tasks easier. Women could marry who they wanted when they wanted. They could have sex mostly however much they wanted, with whom they wanted, without social sanction or worry about pregnancy. They controlled, within limits, the timing of births and the number of children they would have. With unprecedented freedom, women will be less able to find contentment and became even more restless. No modern book explores how feminism breeds discontent better than Decter’s.

6. David Popenoe, “Disturbing the Nest: Family Change and Decline in Modern Societies” (1988). Popenoe is the father of modern family studies. “Disturbing the Nest” is a deep dive into the waning of family in Sweden, how laws and welfare state policies combined with the support from an anti-familial family culture led to family decline—fewer marriages, fewer children, more fluid relations. No similar book is as meticulous in situating contemporary family decline within broader trends in modernity. No book is as thorough in describing the interplay between the ideological enterprise of feminism, the law and actual practice. And many think that Sweden is the country toward which the entire modern world is tending. “Disturbing the Nest” calls out for a sequel.   

4. F. Carolyn Graglia, “Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism” (1998). Graglia defends the traditional woman against the feminist critique. The thesis is deceptively simple: the traditional woman of domesticity is happier. To prove it, Graglia rises to defend roles that feminists denigrated. Housework, far from being “s#@twork” as feminists claimed, is connected to building a beautiful home and deeply satisfying life. Motherhood is the greatest indication of a woman’s preciousness and indispensability, not an enslavement to nature. The sexual promiscuity that feminism peddles as a key to liberation pales in comparison to the love and lovemaking within a lasting marriage. Graglia shows how feminist insights into womanly restlessness point not to feminist conclusions but to a world beyond the workplace in the patterns of eternity precisely when human beings are grounded in families.

3. Anthony Giddens, “The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies” (1992). Old terms like love and marriage have been drained of previous meaning and, Giddens shows, been given new meaning while seeking to command the same respect. We use the same words but they capture new experiences. The old love was deep, dutiful sharing of life; the new is “confluent love,” which is individuals maintain as long as they are interested. Sexuality in the old way was linked to procreation and enduring marriages, but is “plastic” in the new, open to being outside relationships and “fully autonomous.”  New concepts add up to a new marriage, based on what Giddens calls “the pure relationship,” where individuals mold and re-mold their relations according to their changing humors or exit if the relations no longer satisfy. A profound analysis.

2. Karol Wojtyla, “Love and Responsibility” (1960 [1981]). No book better articulates how betrothed love sits at the capstone of all different kinds of lower loves than John Paul II’s, where Christian marriage and indeed marriage as such takes the high road. Modern confusion about marriage stems from our inability to distinguish the marital love from the other incomplete and inferior loves. Betrothed love integrates sympathy, affection, sexual desire, friendship on a higher plane where two accomplish common goods within family life. Traditional sexual ethics serves this communal vision of marriage. This Christian teaching rests on a respect for enduring nature and the idea that marriage makes a community, against those who see marriage as a simple contract or who would create a new moral world.   

1. George Gilder, “Sexual Suicide” (1973); released also as “Men and Marriage” (1992). Few saw the challenge that modern feminism would pose to family life and to manhood. Gilder did. Feminism aimed to make women more sexually liberated, career-oriented and economically independent. Sexual liberation, aided by contraception, would undermine the discipline of male eros, since women would no longer demand that men conform to their biological cycle. Lacking sexual discipline, men themselves would lack the discipline generally that fuels all ambition. Female careerism and economic power would, Gilder worried, destroy the expectation that men would lead and provide for a family. The result would be wandering, purposeless men, unable to build and sustain communities, less willing to work, and more attracted to gangs and sexual deviancy. Feminism produces male sexual suicide.

Scott Yenor is a professor of political science at Boise State University and a Washington Fellow at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life. His books, "The Recovery of Family Life: Exposing the Limits of Modern Ideologies” and "Family Politics: The Idea of Marriage in Modern Political Thought” are published by Baylor University Press.

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