Sow the Free Love Wind, Reap the Sexual Debasement Whirlwind

The bitter fruit of a destructive generation.

Bruce S. Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

The explosion of sexual harassment and assault claims, some going back forty years, is the inevitable consequence of the sexual revolution. Long before Bill Clinton’s sordid sexual escapades led him to impeachment, our culture had normalized public sexual behavior and mores once hidden away in the private realm, and kept there by laws, morals, and customs. Like many of our social pathologies today, our sexually saturated public culture and the unleashing of sexual predators are the bitter fruit of the free love movement of the Sixties.

Those who didn’t live through that period cannot imagine how quickly and radically our society was transformed. And that change was encouraged by certain species of dubious Pop-Freudian psychological ideas that had been combined with left-wing theories of political revolution. This synthesis was predicated on the delegitimization of the “bourgeois” virtues, morals, and values that had created the “false consciousness” empowering capitalist oppression. “If it feels good, do it” and “Fuck authority” became the most important personal and political imperatives.

Thus sexual liberation became an instrument of political “liberation,” and both revolutions enabled personal liberation, a weird mash-up of radical individualism and communist collectivism. Listen to Herbert Marcuse, denizen of the Frankfurt School and guru of the New Left:

The civilized morality is reversed by harmonizing instinctual freedom and order: liberated from the tyranny of repressive reason, the instincts tend toward free and lasting existential relations––they generate a new reality principle.

So too another popular intellectual of the Sixties, renegade classicist Norman O. Brown:

The life instinct, or sexual instinct, demands activity of a kind that in contrast to our current mode of activity can only be called play. The life instinct also demands a union with others, and with the world around us, based not on anxiety and aggression but on narcissism and erotic exuberance.

One can see this political justification for “free love” in the 1969 Wellesley commencement address of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote her senior thesis on the most consequential theorist of modern left-wing activism, Saul Alinsky. “We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living,” Rodham said. Her three sexually charged adjectives reveal the by then preposterous union of the sexual and the political revolution that starts with “questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government,” Rodham continues, and enables “human reconstruction,” a phrase echoing the leftist “new man” necessary for achieving the collectivist utopia of social justice and equality.

The women’s movement in particular embraced this theory. Sexual mores were a tool of patriarchal power, the means for keeping women “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen,” as the cliché went. Taking away women’s sexual agency and autonomy prevented them from “raising their consciousness” and “acknowledging their repression” by the bigoted, puritanical values of retrograde Catholics and “fundamentalist evangelicals” striving to “roll back the clock.” Emboldened by sexual liberation and its empowering pleasures, women now could demand freedom from “bourgeois” rules that denied them sexual ecstasy and personal expression. Now the “double standard” of sexual codes would be abolished, and women would become the equals of men, needing only laws to be changed or written that encoded that equality.

Validated by such ideas, the powerful human sex-drive, which smarter peoples before us knew had to be controlled to minimize its destructive consequences, now began to run riot. No one has captured the consequence of “revers[ing] civilized morality” as well as Tom Wolfe does in his brilliant 2000 essay “Hooking Up.” The “sexual revolution” had by then become a “lurid carnival.” Public life and popular culture from movies and magazines to television and the Internet were filled with pornography both soft and hard. Perversions like sadomasochism became chic, its appurtenances fashion statements, and later its practice the theme of a best-selling series of novels. Divorce lost its stigma, and men were now free to dump the mother of their children for “trophy” wives half their age without tainting their careers or prestige.

Meanwhile, Wolf goes on, sexual stimuli bombarded the young so incessantly and intensely they were inflamed with a randy itch long before reaching puberty. At puberty the dams, if any were left, burst . . . From age thirteen, American girls were under pressure to maintain a façade of sexual experience and sophistication. Among girls, “virgin” was a term of contempt . . . The term “dating” was now deader than “proletariat” or “pornography” or “perversion.”

The consequences of this casting aside of traditional morality and embracing the “liberation of the instincts” have by now become obvious: Children raised without fathers, the dismantling of the family, venereal plagues, high rates of divorce, the sexual precocity of teenaged minors, millions of abortions and their psychological trauma, the humiliation and dishonor that comes from being used as a thing for another’s pleasure, and all the wider social dysfunctions that have followed.

And women have borne the brunt of these changes. No amount of pop-theorizing or feminist bluster has erased the natural differences between the sexes. And men, by nature sexually predatory, have been the biggest beneficiaries. Wolfe again:

The continuing vogue of feminism has made sexual life easier, even insouciant, for men. Women had been persuaded that they should be just as active as men when it came to sexual advances. Men were only too happy to accede to the new order, since it absolved them of all sense of responsibility, let alone chivalry.

And for progressive men, who are receiving the bulk of today’s charges of harassment and assault, the specious leftist theory of “liberation” that enabled sexual excess provided the perfect camouflage for their sexual predations. Likewise, the therapeutic cult of feeling––which replaced Christianity’s contrition, repentance, and penance––has given harassers and assaulters a cheap atonement merely by mouthing treacly clichés of sorrow for hurt feelings, and promises of self-improvement, especially a recommitment to the tenets of institutional feminism that they habitually had mouthed even as they preyed on women beholden to their power and influence.

The notion that sex identity is not a product of nature, but a cultural construct serving political power, led women to believe that they could act like men. But millennia of human experience have shown that men and women are fundamentally different. Before modern science, women were hostages to their bodies, especially the unpleasant monthly reminder of the reproductive imperative, the existential risk of childbirth, and their physical weakness compared to men. All these natural limitations have been mitigated by modern technology and changing social mores. But the emotions and mentalities attendant on their subjection to the reproductive imperative have not.

Finally, sexuality is not a cost-free vehicle for pleasure and liberation, as the ancients understood. “Eros [is] a killer,” as Sophocles wrote, a powerful force filled with the potential for destructive behavior. If women want to enter that venue of unfettered sexual agency, they need to remember that, as Camille Paglia’s prophetic 1994 essay is titled, there is “no law in the arena.” In the bad old prudish days, religion and social customs like male chivalry and female honor helped to defend women from the sexual predator. Now the regulatory state has attempted to perform that role, but its agents can’t be everywhere, and its motives cannot be separated from partisan politics. This means that an ethic of self-reliance and personal responsibility must be a woman’s armor. Unfortunately, with a culture of riotous sexual freedom, an ideology that equates hedonism with political revolution, and an educational system and popular culture that have endorsed this dangerous narrative, such advice will be dismissed as “blaming the victim” and “slut-shaming.”

So here we are, watching self-proclaimed feminists who once sang “I am woman, hear me roar,” but now cower like Victorian ingénues, whimpering victims who turn to the statist Big Daddy for protection and redress.

Obviously, sexual violence against women is a despicable crime to be severely punished. Men who use any sort of coercion to obtain sexual favors are cads and creeps whom every respectable person should look on with contempt. But apart from the charges of sexual violence, the bulk of the current sexual harassment complaints involve clumsy flirting, juvenile humor, unwanted touching, unsolicited sordid cell-phone pictures, sexual quid pro quos, and other techniques of the inept sexual suitor.

Women who have been raised with a healthy suspicion of the male’s potentially canine proclivities, with a character of proud self-reliance and confidence, and with a self-respect that will not allow them to sacrifice their dignity for career advancement, will be better able to handle these Beta Males. And then they will be truly liberated.

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