For literally millennia, philosophers have debated the question of why man does what he does, why he behaves or does NOT behave in certain ways. Some traditions posit that man does precisely what God wills him to do, no more, no less. Man is predestined to behave in certain ways. Others presume that man has free will but also has a strict set of tenets set out before him as to manage his choices. More complex, philosophical accounts suggest that man is motivated by pleasure and pain. John Locke, for example argued that man is motivated to avoid pain and to seek pleasure, and that “natural law” is that which is compatible with avoiding pain and achieving pleasure, both in this world and in the afterlife. That which is not compatible with God’s will – as expressed by the notion of accomplishing one’s duty and achieving salvation – cannot be a considered a “good” in human terms.
In a practical sense, the way that this quest to understand why man behaves as he does has, in the Western world, traditionally taken the form of a tripartite scheme. Man is motivated to avoid pain and increase pleasure by moral codes, social norms, and legal limitations. Or to put it another way, man’s behavior is constrained by fear of God, fear of societal rebuke or shame, and fear of the law.
Or at least that’s the way it had been for centuries.
With the arrival of the Enlightenment, the old order began to crumble. And the philosophes intended to replace this broken order with a new one, based solely on reason and providing new, “rational” moral and social customs. Instead, the Enlightened first unleashed moral chaos upon Western Civilization and then, in response to the chaos, turned to aggressive legalism, i.e. replacement of the old constraints with new, legalistic constraints intended to quell the disorder.
The first and most obvious example of the effects of the Enlightenment Project on the nature and disposition of Western society followed immediately in the Enlightenment’s wake and in the very bosom of its salons. The French Revolution was an undertaking unlike any before in human history. It sought to wipe clean man’s slate and to remake him and the world, complete with a new social and moral order. Or as Tocqueville put it:
No previous political upheaval, however violent, had aroused such passionate enthusiasm, for the ideal that the French revolution set before it was not merely a change in the French social system but nothing short of a regeneration of the whole human race. It created an atmosphere of missionary fervor and, indeed, assumed all the aspects of a religious revival — much to the consternation of contemporary observers. It would perhaps be truer to say that it developed into a species of religion, if a significantly imperfect one, since it was without a God, without a ritual or promise of a future life. Nevertheless, this strange religion has, like Islam, overrun the whole world with it apostles, militants, and martyrs.
Of course, the fervor and the joy in the Revolution lasted only briefly, and the chaos it unleashed was, in short order, stopped by a man with the power of state behind him to impose the “proper” restraints on man in the absence of traditional social and moral norms. That man – Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre – used his Committee of Public Safety to slaughter some 40,000 of his countrymen in the vain attempt to allow “reason” and “law” to serve as the sole arbiter of man’s behavior.
And thus has it been with revolutions ever since. In the wake of his revolution, Lenin and his successor, Stalin, murdered some thirty to forty MILLION of those he professed to wish to help. In China, Mao Tse-Tung nearly doubled those numbers in his attempt to create the “new man.” All were far more effective killers than the bloody Robespierre, but all fought the same battle he did, the battle to enforce “proper” behavior through the force of law alone, with traditional social and moral constraints laid low.
The Sexual Revolution – which began in the 1960s, hit hard in the ‘70s, resulted in a great deal of pain and death in the ‘80s, and has been advancing, slowly but ever so surely since – is no different than any of the other great post-Rousseau/post-French revolutions. It too started with a massive upheaval, designed to remake man anew, to change the human condition, and specifically to destroy the old ways, the old institutions, and the mores and the taboos that had existed since time immemorial.
For most of the twentieth century, Western intellectuals laid the groundwork for their revolution. The postmodernists, gave rise to the critical theorists, who in turn advocated sexual promiscuity as the means by which to destroy traditional religion once and for all. And this, they believed, would enable them to advance their broader agenda, complete extermination of all of the institutions of traditional Western and Anglo-American society. And sadly, they’ve had a great deal of success.
Like many of their post-Enlightenment brethren, the sexual revolutionaries were successful in breaking down both the social and the moral constraints on human behavior. In other words, they won, which is to say that all of the traditional injunctions that had stood for thousands of years were wiped away in almost the blink of an eye. But, again as with the other revolutionaries before them, their victory was short-lived, and they were unable to supplant the traditional sexual codes with anything even remotely serviceable as a replacement.
Today, we are on the cusp of what others have already called the “Reign of Terror” stage of the Sexual Revolution. The moral consensus that existed prior to the “revolution” has been destroyed. Left in its stead are innumerable behavioral codes based on various definitions of “reason,” which is, of course, subjective. There are no restraints on man’s behavior, save those of the law, and the law must now try – as did Robespierre – to impose order on chaos. The great moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has argued, given the state of post-Enlightenment moral confusion, that the law itself can only be arbitrary – and malicious. “Modern politics cannot be a matter of genuine moral consensus,” he writes. Rather, it is “civil war carried on by other means.”
The men whose actions precipitated the “#Metoo” movement believed that no sexual behavior was off limit to them, because the Sexual Revolution had convinced them that no sexual behavior was immoral. Going forward, many innocent men, and indeed society itself, will pay a heavy price as the civil war of modern governance attempts to impose order, and does so arbitrarily, brutally and without remorse.