Whoever still claims that we are living under a “patriarchy” is probably unaware of the actual meaning of this term. Because patriarchy does not mean “a rule of men,” but a rule of fathers. And sadly, fathers have almost vanished from contemporary society. This does not suggest that modern men inevitably make for bad fathers, but rather, that as a universally accepted symbol of authority, a presence felt within society keeping it in order, fathers have lost nearly all of their former power. The results are everywhere apparent: from juvenile delinquency to the growing depression among young men. Fueled by a silent rage that no longer finds expression in the figure of an actual, authoritarian father, the young increasingly direct their anguish to the past, tearing down statues of fore-fathers, deconstructing their literature and ridiculing their faith, the faith of the “Heavenly Father.” Raised by a system of education that does little but help them masquerade their anger as “social justice,” what these young men fail to notice, is that behind most of the problems closing in around them – the crony capitalism of global banksters, the mass surveillance of big tech – lies a young, fatherless boy who can’t grow up.
When the French Republicans stormed the Palace in 1789, they were angry at two things: the King and God. They couldn’t kill God, so they killed the King. And when they did, the figure who stood next in the hierarchy, the father, suffered a terrible blow. Many things happened between those days and ours, but two events stand out by way of explaining the final abolition of fatherhood. First, the Industrial Revolution, that took men away from their farms and workshops, where the tensions that arise naturally between father and sons would be worked out in the course of the apprenticeship, sometimes lovingly, others violently, but always explicitly, and the First World War, where a generation of young men would be sacrificed in the name of a fatherland they would eventually see as having betrayed them. It has been observed that contrary to popular belief, it was not as much the rise of modern science that shook Europe’s faith in God, but that terrible war of 1914, where the nations of Europe plunged into the most dehumanizing battles ever fought, each believing it was following God’s will. It was for King and Country, for King and God that these young men fought until they left the best parts of themselves on that battlefield.
In his memoirs, the writer Stephan Zweig wrote how before the War, most men wanted to look older, and how pharmacies sold bathing creams that turned black hair into grey, bestowing status on young doctors who struggled to be taken seriously at the “tender” age of 35. During the time that Zweig called “the world of yesterday,” and writing just near the end of the Second World War, he could already observe the shift that would eventually culminate in the “cult of youth” has prevailed ever since. It has become somewhat commonplace among the dissident Right to blame the counterculture of the 1960s for much of the degeneracy that followed. Still, following Zweig’s observations, we can say that, in many ways, when the youth of Paris “revolted” in May of ‘68, the father was already gone. And perhaps, that is what fueled their anger more than anything else: that there was no one actually there to revolt against. So they dreamed up a new reality, one we are living through today, a reality in which an authoritarian “patriarchy secretly directs the whole of society,” a rule of fathers that, sadly, the more one tries to find, the more one finds they are not there. An absence is what most radicals seem to be fighting against today, and in that respect, they are but the shadow-side of the young tech oligarch. Because when real “patriarchs,” like Henry Ford, were captains of industry, they also had paternal feelings towards their employees and saw that each of them could buy the fruit of their labour. But when the 28-year-old CEO downsizes his company by exchanging a few emails, he has none.
The dominant emotion of this “society of children” is no other than envy, where instead of rising through the ranks of a well-established hierarchy, everyone tries to pull everyone else down. Media outlets know well how even the most admired pop stars will create a news sensation once they are dragged through the dirt when their drug abuse and sex scandals are revealed. Soccer fans will oscillate between worship and ridicule towards their “favourite” players, while politicians, who are increasingly younger and childless, command little respect and are obeyed much like a babysitter left behind to keep watch. This condition is telling of a new form of identity that is being formed. In traditional societies identities were vertical (i.e. hierarchical) where children looked up to their fathers to get a glimpse of a mysterious world in the waiting, and where leaders could tap into that feeling when steering their nation’s course. In a “society of children,” identities are horizontal, where everyone looks around rather than up to find a mass society of mostly homogeneous world-citizens. Horizontal identities are identities that connect people across the same maturity levels, and those who espouse them prefer to relate with someone across the globe wearing the same kind of clothes, listening to the same music, or taking the same drugs, then with their ancestors whose opinions about these habits they no longer want to hear. In this light, the decline of heritage, religion, and the nation-state is perhaps partial applications of this new identity. The vertical society was about authority, which is nowadays misunderstood as a force. Still, the horizontal one, lacking any authority, can only resolve to power-politics to keep a semblance of order. The planetary society that will soon arise will be one of top-down control, yet, with no one personally in charge to take any real responsibility.
From a sociological perspective, the relative stability of this new “society of children” suggests an internal cohesion. Still, if that’s the case, then it’s a cohesion that we do not yet understand. Alexander Mitscherlich (b.1908), whose “Society Without the Father” inspired much of this essay, observed how the youth of the 1960s had strongly believed that the French democratic state was secretly a Nazi dictatorship, with Charles DeGaulle, a war hero and father figure par excellence, being caricatured as “pulling away” his face – as if it were a mask – to reveal the face of Hitler. Mitscherlich, who was an advisor on the Nuremberg trials and knew well the true face of Nazism, believed that these fantasies were not caused by what they proclaimed: fear of rising authoritarianism in France, but their exact opposite, a lack of paternal authority, and saw the youthful attacks against the government as a desperate call for a strong father-figure to emerge and take control. Their call was unanswered and remained so to this day. But many years later across the Channel, a true child of the 60s, future Prime Minister Tony Blair, proclaimed during his electoral campaign that he was part of the “rock and roll generation” to win a landslide election. The measures he took would be the final blow to the English family, and perhaps it does not take an analyst with the weight of Mitscherlich to figure out why.