Yes, the old order is dead - and it's women you should be thanking

On Francis Fukuyama

Related Topics
We are living now in a frightening era called "The End of Order" - a society dislocated by the breakdown of the family, our social fabric trailing in the gutter. Crime and mayhem, anti-social children, plummeting education standards, we are slip-sliding into the abyss. Who is to blame? Women.

Francis Fukuyama, the social guru who brought us The End of History, this week publishes his grand new theory, The End of Order. He warns that this is the result of what he calls The Great Disruption - a time of social upheaval as great as the Industrial Revolution. It started in 1965, 30 years of rising divorce, illegitimacy, crime, working women and social chaos. Who started it? Women.

First, I think he is right. We are living through a social revolution as profoundly earth-shaking as the advent of communism in Russia, or indeed the Industrial Revolution. Those were external forces, organised by savage governments or ruthless millowners and landowners, pushing reluctant people to live and work in new, hostile ways. They never changed hearts and minds, they just bullied and starved people into change.

But this Great Disruption came not from any grand plan or economic imperative, but by ordinary people individually marching with their feet, without orders from anyone. For the first time ever, in the 1960s, people were at last rich enough and free enough to throw off their social shackles. And Fukuyama is right, it was mainly women who made the change. It is a revolution right in the heart of the family, behind the closed front doors where politics never penetrate. It is a revolution that has changed for ever the balance of power, money and freedom between women and men.

As we are still in the middle of it, we cannot see clearly where it will lead or how it will end. This is a transitional time. Those who detest it are quick to point to its worst effects, the social fall-out of any great change. Those of us who celebrate the new freedom protest that society has been too slow to accommodate itself to the change and find ways to pick up those who have fallen into the crevasse between the old order and the new. Women's earning power is still too low for most to become breadwinners for their families, so welfare bills have soared, too many women and children are poor, there is no childcare, men have refused to adapt - and so on.

Fukuyama is apocalyptic. He does not consider any social benefits in his catalogue of woe. All is disorder. He dates his End of Order from the arrival of the Pill, and increases in welfare. By the 1980s, half of new marriages could be expected to end in divorce. At the same time women were entering the labour market in droves, and their fertility fell. "Women best able to care for and raise children were having fewer, while those less able to do so were having more." Crime and murder rates shot up. Children reared without fathers were the problem: "Just as male promiscuity needs to be controlled by the institution of marriage, male aggressiveness needs to be controlled by paternal authority." Women at work or on welfare could fend for themselves, so men were absolved of all fathering responsibility.

His Industrial Revolution analogy is useful. He writes: "The Industrial Revolution had, by the early 19th century, produced a host of social pathologies including high levels of murder and robbery, family breakdown, abandonment of children, alcoholism and the like. Deviance rates rose steadily through the middle of the 19th century, and thereafter began a long, slow decline." Yes, revolutions cause painful dislocation. But what does that make him? A social Luddite who wants to return to the old world.

What is the old order he craves? Strict social control: "As late as the 1950s in the United States, over 60 per cent of all brides were pregnant at the altar and their bridegrooms coerced into marriage (usually through the efforts of the girl's male relatives)." Oh happy days! Shamed women were shackled for life to men who didn't want to marry them and this is what he calls the "co-operative social norm". Everything that now fails to conform to that norm he labels "deviant".

Japan is his shining example of a highly developed society that has managed to avoid the Western "deviant" fate. How did they do it? Most important, he says, is that Japanese women do not work, or not after marriage. Japanese labour law permits wage discrimination against women, and divorce law favours fathers. Without welfare, the economic prospects for a single mother in Japan are grim. He notes that the Pill was only legalised in Japan in 1996 and abortion carries a strong social stigma. "The reason why Asian societies, beginning with Japan, have been able to avoid the kinds of social problems facing North America and Europe is because they have more strongly resisted female equality."

I am sure he is right. Women's striving for equality is what has caused this revolution. He writes of women in society as if they were "other" - perhaps even the enemy. Keep them out of the labour market, give them no welfare or contraceptives and they will go back to the kitchen and cook and mother like the good geishas nature meant them to be. (There is much socio-biological determinism in this too.) He writes as if society were constructed for the convenience of men, which of course it was. But it is a while since I have read such an unself-consciously male view of the world. It is rather refreshing to read an analysis of social order so blatantly self-interested.

What is deviance, and what was his social order? It was a time when everything difficult and unhappy was kept safely behind the front door. As long as none of it spilled messily out into the streets, politicians and social theorists didn't need to worry. Private unhappiness is not a political or economic issue. When feminists first said the personal was political, they meant that what happened in real life where it is lived by most people most of the time, in their homes, in their families, is indeed the proper concern of politics. Forcing people through poverty and public shame to stay in miserable and often violent marriages was politically and economically convenient. But what is politics for, if not to try to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number? And that includes women, wanting to escape dependence and exclusion from mainstream life.

What's more, The Great Disruption has given men the chance to be happier and freer too. Some, like Fukuyama, may resent losing their hegemony; many others wouldn't return to the shotgun wedding era. Men have been slow to adapt, and that's why the revolution is only half-made. But things can only get better. As for the fall-out, Fukuyama is one of a torrent of commentators to plunge down into the entrails of the underclass to seek in that exceptional milieu a mirror for the whole of society. For most of us, the last 30 years have been a transformation, a new revelation of human potential and fulfilment. I would guess even poor women are better off too, if he bothered to ask them.

`The End of Order' by Francis Fukuyama is published by the Social Market Foundation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

KS1 & KS2 Teacher

£115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: We are looking for infants and...

Secondary Trained Teachers for the watford area

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Qualified secondary teachers - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Ebola virus in the US: How did the disease ever spread this far?

Sophie Harman

The most common question I am asked is 'How do I become a YouTuber?' This is my reply

Jim Chapman
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?