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

On Francis Fukuyama

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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.

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