David A.J. Richards, Edwin D. Webb Professor of Law, and University Professor Carol Gilligan gave an informal talk on their new book, The Deepening Darkness: Patriarchy, Resistance, and Democracy's Future, on March 4 as part of the Brown Bags & Books series. The project grew out of the seminar they coteach on gender issues in the politics and psychology of democratic societies. Richards, with his expertise in the ethical and political aspects of law, and Gilligan, with her psychology and gender studies background, found new inspiration in their intellectual discourse. But it was Eva Cantarella, a Milanese classicist who participated in the seminar one semester, who convinced them that they couldn't fully understand the role of patriarchy in Western culture without taking a closer look at the culture of ancient Rome and the stories of Roman women who resisted that culture.
[Please note: audio from this event is available below on this page.]
The resulting book examines Roman patriarchy and its inherent violence, expressed through imperialist war and the aggressive pursuit of political power. “We began to see a connection between the traumatic breaks in intimate life in the Roman world and the capacity for almost illimitable violence by Roman men," Richards said. "There is a psychology of violence which links the disruption of personal life to violence in public life.” The authors argue that, while the Roman Empire may have collapsed, its psychology infected Western religion, thus perpetuating its latent violence. "Because religion shapes political culture so deeply," Richards said, "you begin seeing how patriarchy has been deeply imbedded in the structure of not only Western religion but its politics."
The Deepening Darkness then turns to sources of patriarchal resistance, including religious thinkers, civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., and novelists including Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, before considering the political movements of the 1960s and other, more recent indications of anti-patriarchy. "Our psyche is aligned with democracy," Gilligan said, "because we are born with a voice and interrelationship.... If you’re going to set up a patriarchal society or any kind of tyranny, you have to deform human nature."
Observing that antipatriarchal movements have often invoked sexuality, most succinctly in the slogan "Make love, not war," Gilligan explained, "If you want to follow the struggle between democracy and patriarchy, just keep your eye on the love laws—the laws that says who can be loved, and how, and how much. As patriarchy rises the love laws get tightened. What become lightning-rod issues in American elections under the resurgence of patriarchy in the Bush years? Gay marriage, abortion.... When you’re overriding human nature, one way to do it is to ban love, or channel it only into very specified things.... What was registering politically as injustice was registering psychologically as pathologies—dissociation, all kinds of deformations of human nature.”
"The patriarchal distortion of democracy...is alive in the United States in the resurgent fundamentalism which George Bush massaged and drew much of his power from," Richards said. "How is it in an advanced country like the United States that you can create democratic majorities on the basis of the hatred of free women and gay men and lesbians?... To us it shows the continuing power of patriarchy, which has never been questioned the way it should.... Not to take it seriously is not to understand where the real threats to democracy lie, not just abroad but here at home—all too intimately at home, inside us as Americans to the extent that we can’t see these things, so we can’t face them.”
Posted March 20, 2009