Western Patriarchy

This was written for the Wikipedia article.  Much of it was deleted in a dispute.  

Patriarchy is a social system in which the father or eldest male is head of the household, having authority over women and children. Patriarchy also refers to a system of government by males, and to the dominance of men in social or cultural systems. It may also include title being traced through the male line. (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

Within feminist theory, patriarchy refers to the structure of modern cultural and political systems, which are ruled by men. Such systems are said to be detrimental to the rights of women. However, it has been noted that patriarchal systems of government do not benefit all men of all classes.

While the term patriarchy generally refers to institutions, the term is sometimes used less effectively in describing societal attitudes. It has been argued, “Institutions are very persistent and may last, with little change, into a period in which attitudes have altered considerably since the institutions were devised.” Gordon Rattray Taylor used the words “patrist” and “matrist” to describe attitudes (as opposed to institutions), and noted that the outlook of the dominant social group seems to swing between the two extremes. however, the patrist assertion that the patriarchal system of authority was the original and universal system of social organization inevitably leads to the establishment of corresponding institutions.(Taylor, Gordon Rattray. Theories of Matriarchy and Patriarchy. Sex In History Appendix II. March 18, 2012. Available: http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/taylorgr/sxnhst/chap18.htm)



In the third century BC, Aristotle taught that the city-state developed out of the patriarchal family, although he thought the two were different in kind as well as in scale. (Lock, John. “Two Treatises of Government, with a supplement Patriarcha by Robert Filmer. edited with an introduction by Thomas I. Cook. New York. Hafner Press. 1947)) He wrote that the highest form of human community is the political community. In the Politics, Aristotle attempts to illustrate the nature of the hierarchies that exist in the political community and its subordinate communities. He argues for an origin of male rule. In Chapter Thirteen he states that men and women have different kinds of virtue, “just as those who are natural subjects differ (from those who rule by nature.)” Other types of community, such as the household, are subordinate and inferior to the polis. Aristotle proposed that the household is subordinate to the political community because the aim of life in the household is the mere preservation of life, or the satisfaction of life’s daily needs, whereas the aim of membership in the political community is to live well. He also proposed that the household is inferior to the political community in the character of its rule. In the household, the man rules by virtue of his age and sex, monarchically at best and tyrannically at worst, while in the polis, citizens choose their rulers on the basis of merit. (Stauffer, Dana Jalbert. The University of Texas at Austin. Cited March 18, 2012. Available: http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/files/e5Vjfa/Aristotle_s%20Account%20STAUFFER.pdf)


Both Plato and Aristotle seem to have followed the lead of Socrates, who denied that citizens had the basic virtue necessary to nurture a good society and equated virtue with knowledge unattainable by ordinary people. During Athens’ struggle with undemocratic Sparta, Socrates favored Sparta. (Linder, Doug. The Trial of Socrates, 2002.  Cited March 18, 2012. Available: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/socrates/socratesaccount.html)


Plato never mentioned Socrates’ sedition against Athens, but the cosmology of the Timaeus includes the idea that a man who lives well will live a happy and congenial life on his consort star. Failing this his second birth will be as a woman. (41E-42D, on the Creation of Souls).

The Athenians and the Egyptians Compared

Other ancient societies contemporary with Aristotle, as well as many Athenians, did not share these views of women, family organization, or political and economic structure. (del Giorgio, J.F. The Oldest Europeans. Guadeamus, Caracas, Venezuela, 2003) Egypt left no philosophical record, but Herodotus left a record of his shock at the contrast between the roles of Egyptian women and the women of Athens. He observed that they attended market and were employed in trade. In ancient Egypt a middle-class woman might sit on a local tribunal, engage in real estate transactions, and inherit or bequeath property. Women also secured loans, and witnessed legal documents. Greek influence spread, however, with the conquests of Alexander the Great, who was educated by Aristotle. (Bristow, John Temple. “What Paul Really said about Women: an Apostle’s liberating views on equality in marriage, leadership, and love”, Harper Collins, New York, 1991) Eventually, when Alexander wanted to unite his two empires in equality, Aristotle was adamant that all non-Greeks should be enslaved.

Aristotle and the Jews

About 200 BC the Jewish Philosopher Aristobulus of Panaeas claimed that Jewish revelation and Aristotelian philosophy were identical. Before another 200 years had passed it was said that Aristotle derived his doctrine directly from Judaism. In the 12th century Aristotlianism was harmonized with Judaism by the Talmudist, philosopher and astronomer, Maimonides.Subsequent rabbinical thought includes such pronouncements as “Eve was not created simultaneously with Adam because God foreknew that later she would be a source of complaint. (Gen. R. xvii), and “Nine curses together with death befell Eve in consequence of her disobedience” (Pirke R. E. Xiv.; Ab. R.N. ii. 42). While Maimonides dared to contradict Aristotle’s ideas in matters of faith, it wasn’t long before the Islamic Philosopher Averroes, endorsed them without reserve. Aristotle in Jewish Legend. (The Jewish Encyclopedia. Cited March 18, 2012. Available: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1774-aristotle-in-jewish-legend)

The Christians

For the last 1800 years Christian leaders have placed great emphasis on the creation of Eve, believing that the story was historical fact, rather than androcentric myth. Combined with the account of the Fall in Genesis, Chapter 3, it has been used as evidence of insurmountable character defects, not just for Eve but for all women. In the 2nd century Tertullian, the son of a centurion and a pagan until middle life, told women believers, “Do you not know that you are Eve?…Because of the death which you brought upon us, even the Son of God had to die” (De cultu feminarum, libri duo I, 1).

In the 4th Century, the basic attitude was one of puzzlement over the seemingly incongruous fact of woman’s existence. Augustine of Hippo said he could not see how a woman could be any help for a man if the work of childbearing is excluded. However, it was only with Thomas Acquinas in the 13th century that Aristotle’s teachings emerged in the official teachings of Roman Catholicism. Aristotle’s assertion that women are misbegotten males can be found in the Summa Theologica, I 92 I ad 1. The influence of combining Aristotle’s theory with Biblical interpretations can’t be overestimated.

Christine de Pizan on the Christian Canon

In about 1404 Christine de Pizan wrote “Le livre de la cite des dames”, a systematic feminist treatise arguing against the misogyny in classical works and the Christian Canon. After the advent of printing the discourse became known as “the Querelle des femmes” and continued for the next 400 years. (Feminism, Answers.com. cited March 18, 2012. Available: http://www.answers.com/topic/feminism)

Sir Robert Filmer and the Divine Right of Kings

From the time of Martin Luther, Protestantism regularly used the commandment in Exodus 20:12 to justify the duties owed to all superiors. ‘Honor thy father,’ became a euphemism for the duty to obey the king. But it was primarily as a secular doctrine that Aristotle’s appeal took on political meaning. Although many 16th and 17th century theorists agreed with Aristotle’s views concerning the place of women in society, none of them tried to prove political obligation on the basis of the patriarchal family until sometime after 1680. The patriarchal political theory is associated primarily with Sir Robert Filmer. Sometime before 1653, Filmer completed a work entitled patriarcha. In it he defended the divine right of kings as having title inherited from Adam, the first man of the human race, according to Judeo-Christian tradition.

John Locke on Filmer

In 1688 John Locke called Filmer’s all-powerful prince “…this strange kind of domineering phantom called the ‘fatherhood’ which, whoever could catch, presently got empire and unlimited, absolute power.” Locke asserted that if ‘honor thy father’, places everyone in subjection to political authority, then it couldn’t mean the duty owed to natural fathers, since they are subjects. By Filmer’s doctrine fathers have no power since power belongs solely to the prince. Locke also observed that those who propose political rights based on this commandment invariably omit the word ‘mother’ which is present in the Biblical verse. (His editor, however, made a note of Locke’s inconsistency in attributing natural law to the governance of relations between a father and his children, while stating that the law governing relations between a man and his wife is based on legality, or on Eve’s punishment after the Fall. Two Treatises of Government)

Aristotle’s view, by Locke’s time elevated to an anthropological doctrine, was not weakened by this argument, and subsequent writers continued to give credence to Filmer’s views.

Nineteenth Century Feminism

In the 19th Century, Sarah Grimké dared to question the divine origin of the scriptures. later, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton used Grimke’s criticism of Biblical sources to establish a basis for feminist thought. She published The Woman’s Bible, which proposed a feminist reading of the Old and New Testament. This tendency was enlarged by Feminist theory which denounced the patriarchal Judeo-Christian tradition. (Castro, Ginette. American Feminism: a contemporary history. New York University Press. 1990)

Theosophy, evolution and Racism: Patriarchy at it Worst

In Europe, from about 1770, the rationalist Enlightenment and the desire for mystery had brought about a resurgence of a synthesis of Gnosticism, neo-Platonism and Cabbalistic theosophy. This particular version arose first in the utilitarian and industrial countries of America and England, with the theosophy of Madame Helena Blavatsky. This had a profound impact in Germany where it fit into the Libensreform movement. It is likely that Adolf Hitler was influenced by Blavatsky through the writings of Guido von List and Lanz von Liebenfels.

List sought a chauvanistic mystique for the defense of Germandom against the liberal, socialist and Jewish political forces in the late Wilhelmian Era. His blueprint involved ruthless subjection of non-Aryans in a hierarchical state; qualification of candidates for education or positions in public service, as well as in professions and commerce, based on racial purity. All non-Aryans were to be slaves. His political principles included racial and marital laws, and a patriarchal society where only male heads had full majority and where only Ario-Germans had freedom and citizenship. Each family was to have a genealogical record, proving Aryan lineage. he proposed a new feudalism where only the first-born inherits. These ideas were published as early as 1911 and were similar to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.

Darwinist writers, who wrote of blond, blue-eyed Aryans, were influential in the writings of von Liebenfels. Von Liebenfels had illiberal, pan-German and monarchical sentiments. He believed the lower classes were inferior races and must be exterminated along with the weak. Socialism, democracy and feminism were his most important targets. Women were a special problem in his view because they were more prone to bestial lust. He advocated brood mothers in eugenic convents, sterilization and other practices that later influenced the Third Reich, apparent in Himmler’s anticipation of polygamy for his Schutzstaffel (SS), care of unmarried mothers in SS homes, and musings on the education and marriage of chosen women. (Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan cults and their influence on Nazi ideology: the Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890-1935, New York University Press. 1992)

Romantics and Marxists

By 1673, Francois Poullain de la Barre, “On the Equality of the Two Sexes”, had turned feminism into a systematic Enlightenment philosophy (as opposed to the previous Renaissance feminism).(Feminism) However, in 1861, Johann Jakob Bachofen, a German romantic and writer of the counter-Enlightenment said that matriarchy preceded patriarchy, and is superior to patriarchy on moral grounds. Bachofen influenced Karl Marx and Frederick Engles. Marxist analysis has been a basis for subsequent feminist thought. (Mestrovic, Stjepan Gabriel. Durkheim and postmodern culture. A. de Gruyter, New York. 1992) From the beginning, socialist feminists in France, for example, were challenged by the republic, which “oppressed them as workers and women; by Marxism, which ignores gender; and by the misogyny of their socialist brothers. This struggle continues within all parties of the left.(Feminism)

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