“Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold
my heart in his hand, and held in his arms
my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
he fed to her reverently.”
Dante, La Vita Nuova
Rivalling mainstream media attention to the putative racism of the Alt-Right, commentary on the movement’s allegedly misogynistic attitudes to women, love, and sex, has increased dramatically since late 2017. Capping a series of articles on these themes appearing in Vanity Fair, Media Matters, Newsweek, and Harper’s Magazine, as well as academic coverage in such journals as Communication, Culture and Critique, and Journal of Extreme Anthropology, in June 2018 the New York Times published a piece on “The Housewives of White Supremacy,” followed one month later by the Anti-Defamation League’s publication of a study of dubious merit claiming that “Misogyny is a key element of White supremacy.” The ADL study then went viral, carrying this conclusion to a host of mainstream news outlets, as well as such distinguished, robust, and austere publications as Teen Vogue. The explosion of interest in this aspect of supposed Alt-Right ‘hate’ is, in some sense, both understandable and predictable. Endlessly bewailing the racism of the Alt-Right in the context of ongoing White decline, mass immigration, and White cultural marginalisation has obvious rhetorical and evidential limits. To put it simply, non-Whites have never had it so good. Whether this fact will gradually bleed ‘racism’ of energy as a galvanizing force for Leftism in the same way that an increase in material wealth among the working classes led to their abandonment by the Left by the 1960s, remains to be seen. Certainly, most Marxists today appear to have abandoned the proletariat as the “privileged emancipatory subject”, and have engaged in constructing new hegemonic “chains of equivalences.” This has involved championing “the feminist struggle,” “the struggle for freedom,” and the “struggle for the rights of immigrants,” all of which, they imagine, will one day coalesce in one big Struggle.
There can be little question, however, that ‘racism’ has lost at least some of its shine. Blacks, in particular, appear to be somewhat marginalized by the focus of rhetoric on migrant caravans and amnesties. The Left, always seeking to find or create new victims, also seems particularly energized in recent years by sexual politics, or rather, the politicization of the sexual. Abortion, homosexual marriage, the ‘right’ to AIDS medication, sexual harassment, real or image college rapes, and apparently unending issues of gender identity and orientation are unquestionably ubiquitous in contemporary politics and media. It therefore makes a great deal of tactical sense for the opponents of Alt-Right thought to attempt to drag the movement into this sphere, even if some of the core matters at issue are more or less peripheral to the central tenets of White identitarian politics.
One of the main flaws in these recent character assassinations targeting the movement is the blunt and facile method of attempting to interpret what is in fact a complex, varied, and nuanced understanding of relations between the sexes through historical time. This simplistic methodology begins with generalisations about the average male with Alt-Right political opinions. For example, neglecting the fact that grappling with the “Woman Question” has been a feature of Western civilisation from time immemorial (Pagans and Christians may choose Homer’s Helen or the Biblical Eve as they see fit), at least one apparently legitimate PhD has argued that the origins of modern ‘misogyny’ rest in Gamergate and the antics of 4chan. The only mitigating factor in this instance is probably that the PhD in question, an ethnic Sri Lankan named Udith Dematagoda, is unlikely to possess the requisite tools to appreciate and understand the trajectory of the female in Western history, art, culture, and politics. Less forgivable, perhaps, is Dematagoda’s gleeful but ignorant description of Alt-Right males as “maladjusted malcontents,” “peevishly dull obsessives who are prone to tantrums,” and “nihilistically perverse basement dwelling jokers.”
“You’re all nihilistically perverse basement dwelling jokers.”
The reality, of course, is that Alt-Right thought attracts attention and support from a broad cross-section of society, including men from varying professions, countries, socio-economic positions, and educational backgrounds. But dealing comprehensively with the political and cultural opinions of such a group requires significantly more effort than would be the case with a “nihilistically perverse basement dwelling joker,” and so the latter makes for a better straw man to beat with Leftist catchphrases. We are, of course, looking at much more than the reaction of bitter, single, young men to the dynamics of postmodern sexuality, and it’s therefore worthwhile more deeply considering the complexity of the issue of women, sex, and the Alt-Right. Since these issues did not, in fact, begin with 4chan, we should turn first to history.
The quasi-cannibalistic portion of Dante Alighieri’s opening sonetto from La Vita Nuova (composed around 1294), chosen to open this essay, set the tone for the entirety of the text and, also, in some respects for the trajectory of sexual relations in the West for centuries after. Regarded as a classic of literary chivalry or “courtly love,” (from whence we still derive the mocking term ‘White Knight’) the poem narrates the love of Dante (in his youth) for Beatrice, a woman he loves, admires, and obsesses over from afar. This love is characterised in quite pronounced fashion as painful, hence the vision of the personification of love, Amor, literally feeding Dante’s beating and still warm heart to Beatrice. The conventions of literary courtly love typically follow the pattern of: Attraction to the lady, usually via eyes/glance; Worship of the lady from afar; Declaration of passionate devotion; Virtuous rejection by the lady; Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty; Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of lovesickness); Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady’s heart; Consummation of the secret love; Endless adventures and subterfuges avoiding detection.
La Vita Nuova fulfils only some of these, but is still regarded as the pre-eminent example of the genre. Dante first sees Beatrice when they are both nine years old, and then a further nine years passes before he sees her again. In both instances he is utterly captivated by the sight of her. For most of the poem he is consumed with the worship of her from afar, but can never muster the composure to approach her directly. He finds himself enduring a number of manifestations of extreme lovesickness, including fainting and fevers. His nervous appearance is mocked by the friends of Beatrice, and then, at the height of Dante’s infatuation, Beatrice dies suddenly, sending him into a spiral of grief and, finally, slow recovery. In this recovery, he resurrects Beatrice as a spiritual ideal, and of course she features prominently in his next work, The Divine Comedy, where she quite literally guides him to Heaven. The intensity with which this relatively short and simple tale is recounted, along with novel stylistic devices, is one of the major reasons for its enduring position in high culture. In modern times, the tale was the subject of a number of magnificent late 19th century paintings by notorious womaniser Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as a short but remarkable operatic piece ‘Vide Cor Meum’ (‘See my Heart’) by the Irish composer Patrick Cassidy that was subsequently in the score for the Ridley Scott films Hannibal and Kingdom of Heaven.
Dante’s La Vita Nuova marked, simultaneously, both a new departure from contemporary sexual conventions, and a return to older, primal attitudes regarding the female. Courtly love, according to most historians and literary scholars, was always rooted more in fiction than reality. It was a development fostered by poet-aristocrats who sought to imbue certain chaste women, and relationships with them, with a metaphysical aura – often with religious or spiritual overtones. In doing so, the poet-aristocrats in some sense returned to the old Roman pagan notion of pudicitia (restraint or chastity) as contributing to the spiritual elevation of the female. A woman with a high degree of pudicitia typically sought to appear modest at all times and to limit her social interactions with men other than her husband and male relatives. Psychologist Neel Burton remarks that “Pudicitia stood for reason and control, whereas impudicitia—that is, shamelessness and sexual vice (struprum, ‘sex crime’)—stood for chaos and disaster. A univira (one-man woman) was held in high esteem and even idealized, with the emperor Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) going so far as to enact a programme of legislation to promote the notion and its observance.” Sex, women, order, and the divine were inextricable:
The Romans sought to control female sexuality to protect the family and, by extension, social order, prosperity, and the state. They crystallized these notions in the cult of Venus, the mother of Aeneas, founder of Rome; and in the Vestal Virgins, the priestesses of the hearth goddess Vesta, who would be buried alive if convicted of fornication. To violate a Vestal Virgin’s vow of chastity was to commit an act of religious impurity (incestum), and thereby to undermine Rome’s compact with the gods, the pax deorum (‘peace of the gods’). Roman religion very much reflected and regulated sexual mores.
The Roman ideal of the female, of course, co-existed with a tendency among some to debauchery. It also co-existed with a stoic, ultra-rational view of sex and relationships bluntly exemplified in Marcus Aurelius’s observation that sex was nothing more than “the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus.” Further, it drew upon the perennial, primordial, and quasi-metaphysical position of the female body in the male mind. As Jonathan Bowden once remarked in his classic chastisement of movement homosexualists:
A primal sexuality always embodies Heterosexuality. It alone relates to blood, genetics, racial causation and gender’s polarity. All culture springs from a child’s birth – it’s in accordance with Nature. A factor which necessitates the weakness of all alternatives: whether these are same-sex, infantilistic or paedophile, bi-polar, necrophile, coprophiliac, trans-gender or hermaphroditic, et cetera … All sexual beauty has to be female given the divinity of the woman’s body. Without it there’s nothing – in terms of Erotica’s stream of consciousness … When one considers three-dimensional art – Rodin’s The Muse, Cybele or Aristide Malliol’s study for Action in Chains – one recognises the Anima at work. For representation of the female corpus is cardinal to mental creativity in many fields. In Hellenistic art, the Aphrodite of Melos – more commonly known as the Venus of Milo – glistens in its marble splendour in the Louvre. But even this doesn’t do justice to the subliminal eroticism given off by this work.
Schopenhauer, of course, famously attempted a rebuttal to such assertions in his essay On Women, where he argued
Only a male intellect clouded by the sexual drive could call the stunted, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged sex the fair sex: for it is with this drive that all its beauty is bound up. More fittingly than the fair sex, women could be called the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor poetry, nor the plastic arts do they possess any real feeling or receptivity.
The problems with Schopenhauer’s account include his criticism that concepts of beauty should be linked to the sexual drive (why shouldn’t it?), which is of course primed to seek markers of fertility and genetic health. Schopenhauer’s implied markers of a concept of beauty “unclouded” by the sexual drive (long-limbed, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped) are at best asexual and genetically counter-propositional. That such an injunction should arise from an essentially anti-life philosopher who promoted suicide is probably not coincidental. His conflation of female physicality as muse and the female intellect as incapable of producing art is simply ridiculous – a sunset cannot paint on canvas, but it can inspire countless canvasses, and we do not fear to call it beautiful. But perhaps the worst condemnation of Schopenhauer’s deconstructive approach to female beauty and the sexual drive was the blatant hypocrisy behind it. In his youth, the German philosopher was infatuated, in the style of Dante, with Karoline Jagemann, even writing her love poetry. He had a number of sexual affairs with “women of lower social status, such as servants, actresses, and sometimes even paid prostitutes,” admitted to two children born out-of-wedlock, and confessed to at least one friend that he was often frustrated by a lack of sexual success with as great a number of women as he’d prefer. We might say that Schopenhauer, while correct in some of his assertions elsewhere in his essay, was personally caught in the tension between ideals and debauchery, between Dante and Tinder, and the result was a curious anti-female embitterment that in the end went beyond the rational and the reasonable.
Returning to La Vita Nuova, the advent of courtly, and later romantic, love revisited existing tensions and contradictions regarding the female in the West, and also embellished the notion of the holy, chaste, yet erotic and captivating female. Crucially, however, the courtly love ideal also undermined the need for order that had been present in pagan Rome. The rise of Christianity led to the concept of order being taken to an absolute extreme, and to a medieval culture in which marital sex was viewed as a concession, not as a right or even a gift from God. Sex and relationships were therefore scheduled to ensure the most possible procreation and the least possible pleasure. Even children conceived during a period where the couple should have abstained — mainly based on the liturgical calendar and the wife’s reproductive cycle — were considered bastards. Ironically, Dante and the courtly poets overcame this mechanistic approach to love and sex in order to elevate sexuality itself to an ideal – but in doing so paved the very path for its decline and degradation. Schultz observes:
In the history of European thinking on these matters, the gradual shift from an ideology of sex for procreation to an ideology of sex for pleasure is one of the most important long-term developments. Courtly love represents an important milestone in that shift: a secular ruling class advances an ideal of amorous relations in which making love requires no justification other than the joy and high spirits it brings the persons involved. The desire for children is not required to excuse the lovers’ pleasures. Indeed, they never think of procreation and no one expects them to do so. The institution of marriage – whether sacred or secular – is not necessary to legitimize their embraces. The joy and high spirits that lovers feel when they make love are all the justification needed.
[James A. Schultz, Courtly Love, the love of Courtliness, and the History of Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 157]
The notion of a culture that promotes and idealizes the female while simultaneously paving the path for her decline and degradation should sound very familiar, and the reason for this is that the ‘Woman Question,’ such as it exists, has been unresolved and is likely to remain so. What really marks the difference between our own era and prior ages is the abandonment of any need of a rationale for a metaphysical elevation of the female, and the wholesale expansion and embracing of the “courtly” literary fiction of “love for love’s sake” which has led to a proliferation of promiscuity and, in turn, the commonplace acceptance of homosexuality. Expressed in simple terms, today there are no criteria for a woman to be considered special (modesty or pudicitia) – all women are assumed to be metaphysically important and fundamentally special, regardless of background or how many previous “loves” they have cycled through.
Much of contemporary sexual politics has two lives – the lived reality and the reported fiction. Mainstream media accounts of modern sex and sexuality perpetuate the relatively unsophisticated doxa of a “crisis in masculinity.” This phrasing is deceptive because it implies that the increasingly degraded state of Western sexuality is really only bad for men, and that if men would just accept the fall of patriarchy we’d all be much happier. We can, of course, concede that certain significant aspects of the postmodern socio-cultural context are extremely bad for men. The divorce system is bad for men. The child custody system is bad for men. The sexual habits of women in postmodernity are bad for a lot of men (though it must be conceded they benefit a minority of men seeking short-term sexual gratification). We can see the results in the shocking suicide statistics among males, and the increasingly poor performance of young males at school. There is undoubtedly a crisis among males. But whether the degraded state of Western sexuality, in a broader sense, affects males so exclusively that the terminology of a “crisis in masculinity” is appropriate as an overarching explanation of modern sexual politics is less clear. The crisis may in fact be said to embrace men and women equally, and modern sexuality as a whole, because the disease is essentially systemic in the feministic foundations of postmodern liberalism, even if the mass media is simultaneously convincing women (often barely) that they are liberated, free, successful, satisfied, and fulfilling a greater destiny than motherhood and the domestic setting might offer them.
All factual indicators prove that women have ‘liberated’ themselves into despair. Eating disorders among women are rising around the world as ‘Westernisation’ (essentially the export of Cultural Marxism) embraces nations outside North American, Europe, and Australia. Women’s suicide rates are now rising faster than men’s. Abortion rates are increasing year on year, which is proven to increase rates of mental illness among women. Women have higher numbers of sexual partners than in previous eras, yet are also psychologically burdened by trading their virginity, and with it their pudicitia, for a short-term relationship, as well as regretting the accumulation of a plurality of prior sex partners. The economic impact of feminism and the export of manufacturing jobs to the Third World has also shrunk the pool of perceived marriageable men. One study found that “when towns and counties lose manufacturing jobs, fertility and marriage rates among young adults go down, too. Unmarried births and the share of children living in single-parent homes go up. Meanwhile, places with higher manufacturing employment have a bigger wage gap between men and women, and a higher marriage rate.” A problem arises when feminism convinces women they should seek high-wage employment while their instincts convince them to always “marry up” for resources – even if this scenario radically reduces their pool of potential mates. Because these women are refusing to “marry down,” they are more or less condemned to being the short-term sexual entertainment of a small number of very wealthy men and, ultimately, to die childless. Women are attempting to liberate themselves from this liberation via alcohol-induced oblivion, a fact indicated by widespread increases in alcohol consumption among women. A number of studies (e.g. see here, here, and here) have confirmed that this heightened alcohol consumption, in turn, leads into a further vicious cycle of promiscuity, sexual assault, abortion, depression, further alcohol consumption and even suicide. This is the liberated female of postmodernity, stripped of pudicitia.
Postmodernity has also stripped the female of the erotic mystery of metaphysical quality that has featured so heavily in her historical trajectory. We have moved, as it were, from Dante to Tinder. As Roger Scruton has observed, the saturation of culture with the sexual has bleached it of metaphysical speculation and genuinely erotic potential. The same enthralling female form that inspired Rodin’s The Muse or Aristide Malliol’s study for Action in Chains has been demystified and crudely embarrassed by the rutting baseness of ubiquitous pornography, the primary object of which is not to raise the female bodily form to spiritual heights but rather to subjugate and debase it. The Irish comedian Dara O’Brien once remarked that he couldn’t watch pornography primarily because it seemed “full of angry people,” a telling commentary on a cultural product that is probably as much about venting frustrations on women, and seeing them punished after a fashion, as personal sexual titillation.
Since, as Roger Scruton argues in Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation (1986), sexual mystery is an important component of normal heterosexual relations, the stripping of sexuality of this component (along with cultural negation of differences in the sexes) lends it qualities normally associated with the homosexual – promiscuity, indifference to the other, narcissism, and predation.
Scruton, who deemed homosexuality a perversion from a moral philosophical standpoint, remarks on the necessary inherent tension and complementarity of heterosexual relations: “Male desire evokes the loyalty which neutralises its vagrant impulse; female desire evokes the conquering urge which overcomes its hesitations.” Damage to the heterosexual features of loyalty and hesitation, most notably in the case of culturally sanctioned or promoted promiscuity, eventually lead to a collapse of cultural tension and eroticism in the sphere of the sexual. Scruton calls this the “decline in the sentiment of sex.”
One of the fundamental problems in postmodern sexuality is that women lay claim to all the privileges, respect, and admiration associated in earlier eras with pudicitia without fulfilling its requirements or contributing to social order (and often in fact undermining it). We witness a proliferation of scenarios in which a Stormy Daniels lays claim to being treated as a Beatrice. But the days of forlornly admiring a demure beauty from afar are surely gone, cheaply replaced by gazing at the pouting, photoshopped visage of a common trollop advertising her wares on a dating app; no longer soliciting love poems and feverish protestations of undying love, but now a succession of repetitive chat-up lines and “dick pics.” Women, or I suppose lovers of both sexes in general, are no longer experienced by each other, but consumed, with all the attending eventual and inevitable obsolescence the latter term implies. This begs the question as to the role of women in an increasingly barren, infertile culture saturated with intercourse (“the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus”) but devoid of the sentiment of sex.
The Alt-Right’s grappling with this question has provoked the aforementioned accusations of misogyny, based on the erroneous, and often duplicitous, assumption that the crisis in modern sexuality is merely the problem of a handful of frustrated basement-dwellers unable to secure a girlfriend; “a crisis in masculinity” experienced only by the “sexually unsuccessful.” But, as has been discussed, the postmodern West as a whole is sexually unsuccessful, being more neurotic than erotic, and inducing the sexes to hate each other while producing STDs faster than it produces children. The grappling of the Alt-Right, the manosphere, and similar tributaries of thought have resulted variously in support for MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), the bitter repudiations of the Incels, semi-ironic calls for “White Sharia,” and, at the more moderate end, a call for the return to more traditional gender roles and the (for lack of a better term) “re-domestication” of the Western woman. These strands of thought have all been denounced as expressions of hatred of women when, in fact, they are the expression (with greater or lesser success) of the desire to make women loveable, admirable, cherishable, even metaphysical again. It is a desire, if not to move from Tinder back to Dante, then to at least return to a period in which an almost spiritual respect for pudicitia lifted the female beyond the bitter descriptions of Schopenhauer.
This desire is often the case even despite the most superficially anti-woman phrasing of these various movements because, at heart, their stated goals involve restoring Woman to a state in which she was in fact admired in such a fashion. MGTOW is not so much a statement of hatred of the female as an admission that the man going his own way finds it impossible to love and commit to Woman in her present state and in the current culture. Pick-up artistry is merely the nihilistic response to Woman in her present state and in the current culture, in which the male concedes that the sentiment of sex is gone, and with it the prospect of meaningful marriage and family, but seeks to reap as much intercourse as can be obtained from the debauched and demystified females of postmodernity. The Incels acknowledge bitterly the fact they are the prime casualties of Woman in her present state and in the current culture, enduring sexual disenfranchisement as a consequence of the decline of monogamy and the economic impact of feminism. The advocates for “White Sharia,” and increased control over the behavior of women, are disillusioned by Woman in her present state and in the current culture, and are merely seeking the most radical form of reversal. Those seeking the “re-domestication” of the female are similarly disappointed with the position of Woman in her present state and in the current culture, and believe in the promotion of family values and wifely attributes as a corrective. Whether through gentle inducement or strict control, all groups are essentially unanimous in seeking the reinstatement of pudicitia in the life of Western women.
The actual feasibility of such schemes, even in the most extreme case, evades clarity. The demystification of Woman, such as has been witnessed over the last century, is unprecedented in the history of our culture. It may in fact be the case that feminism has brought the Western female to her lowest level of esteem among her male peers than at any time in history. Reversing this process, going from Tinder to Dante, seems nigh impossible. What has been seen, as they say, cannot be unseen. Any process of “remystification” in order to revive the sentiment of sex would almost certainly take generations to achieve, and would at the very least require the reintroduction of social controls concerning promiscuity, the elevation of pudicitia and marriage to a place of high socio-cultural esteem, the strict regulation or abolition of pornography as an industry, the remarginalization of homosexuality and the banning of homosexual marriages of all kinds, an end to abortion on demand, and, finally, the cultural celebration of essential gender differences.
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