Ah, the resilience of our Western values! Where did I read the other day, numbered among the many reasons for us to stay cheerful, no matter what plagues are visited upon us by our enemies, of Kylie Minogue – fun, feminine and semi-naked, everything the Taliban abhor. Shouldn't we, then, be dropping her on Kabul?
Myself, I've gone the other way on this, finding some consolation, at least, in the absence of inconsequential celebrities from the front pages of our newspapers over the past fortnight. Instead of the fun loving, the feminine and the semi-naked, what we have been waking to each morning are photo-montages of men in long beards – the serious, the masculine, and the fully-clothed; not always old men, but authoritarians decidedly, men of ancient certainty, conviction, and decision. Call it retro-chic – the return of the patriarch. Yes, yes, I grant you that some of the patriarchs in question happen to be murdering fiends from whom the devil himself would shrink in distaste if not in terror, but they make a change, that's all I'm saying.
Of the cultural ills of our time – don't ask me to name them all again – a good many, I have always believed, can be sheeted back to the ritual murder by intellectuals of the idea of the father. I can no more tell you when exactly this happened than Freud could date that original act of patricide on which, he argued, all religions are based. Maybe we've been killing fathers ever since they started fathering. But the last century saw a concerted assault: from feminists, for whom the dirtiest of all words (saving, perhaps, phallocentric) is patriarchal; from liberals, to whom all notions of authority are anathema; from educationalists, who distrust the past and anyone who offers to speak for the past, and who resist even knowledge itself as a masculinist imposition.
You can see the appeal of patricide. Daddy stands for rules, therefore whoever would find freedom must first kill daddy. Daddy stands for inhibition, therefore ... And so on, until you get to such disgusting perversions as skewering daddy because he sleeps with mummy. The problem, of course, is that no sooner is daddy dispatched than another daddy comes along. After the Tsar, Lenin. After Lenin, Stalin. Matriarchy might have been the alternative: after Stalin, Mrs Stalin, but we who have had Mrs Thatcher know that between patriarchy and matriarchy the only difference is high heels and hairspray.
As a society, you pay a heavy price for expelling authority. You elect prime ministers who face all ways at once so that everyone can go on seeing the likeable boy in them, you frame insipid laws – human rights laws, for example, which do not take into account that some rights are more human than others – and in matters that might loosely be called cultural (Kylie Minogue, say) you grow stupid. If one of the besetting intellectual sins of our times is camp – affecting to admire what is worthless precisely because it is worthless – then we would do well to remember that camp, too, is an anti-patriarchal phenomenon, refusing the seriousness and censoriousness of the father.
In the end, nothing proves the pertinacity of the patriarchal, if only at the subconscious level, quite like camp does. Would we enjoy the flouting of the father if he did not exert such a powerful hold on us still? Would we laugh quite so much at the camp comedian's elevation of trash if we were not troubled by the existence of trash's opposite? The day we truly stop believing in the father as a repository of tradition and a force for repression is the day we will stop finding camp funny.
Which is not to say we aren't making steady progress in that direction. Or that we shouldn't press on until the job's done. I confess I hanker after patriarchy myself. Actual fatherhood I made a dog's dinner of, but pronouncing to the nation from a mountain top, with the tablets raised above my head, would be fun. Thou shalt not do this. Thou shalt do that. Thou shalt listen to nobody but me. I was cut out for it. I have the necessary intemperance. But I acknowledge that the first aim of civil society is not the finding of suitable employment for me. What is more, when I study the front pages of our newspapers and see what patriarchy leads to when it goes unchecked, I thank the Lord – or I would thank the Lord were he not ipso facto a patriarch himself – for latitudinarians the world over.
Yes, you did right, you feminists and libertarians, to try to get rid. Enough of the certainties of old men. Enough veneration for ancient texts. Enough long white beards. We know what they are about now. We have seen the fruits of their destructive will. Better to be morally at sea, fatherless, born as if yesterday, our highest idea of human achievement Kylie Minogue.
A world without patriarchs. Suddenly I'm all in favour of that. Let's go for it. Let's see where it lands us. But there is one serious problem. For this experiment to work, we all need to get rid of the father together. There's no point some of us shaving off our beards, and some of us not. As things stand, half of us are left dithering, without any certitudes, accepting that there is something to be said for this point of view, and something to be said for that, while the other half, the bearded half, formulate their single aim and prosecute it ruthlessly. Doesn't that make it a bit of an unequal contest?Reuse content