Saturday, 10 July 2010

On Anglo-Saxon Puritanism: Guest Post by Monsieur Chauvin

This article appeared on Monsieur Chauvin's inactive blog. Superbly written and with many scholarly allusions, it ably discusses the intimate relationship between Anglo-Saxon sexual repression and strident Anglobitch feminism. Anglo puritanism permitted the rise of 'companionate marriage' which set women atop pedestals and allowed the 'rights plus privileges' agenda to triumph across the Anglosphere. Enjoy!

I am intrigued by the constant literary allusions I keep finding concerning the puritanical basis of much contemporary Western European culture and civilization, with especial reference to the Protestant Anglo-Saxon strain of Western-derived social organization in particular. Richard Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago, has written a fascinating book called Sex and Reason. The central thesis of the book gravitates around the subject of how the modern conceptualization of human sexuality can be fully integrated within both a jurisprudential and economic framework. However, Posner also manages to meticulously explore why many of the societies of the ancient past, such as Greece and Rome, as well as many existing Third World and Catholic Mediterranean societies, that happen to be very “machista” in both social atmosphere and tone, tend to be much more liberal towards human sexual expression than either their corresponding Western European complement in general or their Anglo-Saxon equivalent in particular.

Mr Posner’s understanding of the rigid nature of the prevailing Calvinist morality that undergirds the fundamental structure of the contemporary social institutions of the Anglo-Saxon world rests on a distinction he draws between companionate and non-companionate marriage. He defines companionate marriage as being a genuine partnership between husband and wife supposedly based on mutual love and respect, with both spouses expected to participate equally in the daily operation of the household economy. It is chiefly distinguished from noncompanionate marriage by the fact that male-female relations are no longer exclusively organized around the male need for sexual release or the assurance of paternity and patrilineal inheritance. In his book, Posner writes:

Companionate marriage fosters puritanical attitudes generally, so we should not be surprised by the puritanical strain in the Anglo-American sexual culture. A husband’s adultery becomes for the first time offensive , because it undermines love and trust and reduces the amount of time that he spends with his wife, which are elements of companionate but not of noncompanionate marriage. The patronizing of prostitutes by married men is a form of adultery, and so also becomes offensive. Moreover, as a male-female relationship signally lacking in love and trust – a relationship characterized, indeed, by the impersonality of the spot market – prostitution is incongruous in a society that has turned its back on the businesslike model of noncompanionate marriage. But because prostitution is a substitute for forms of extramarital sex that are more threatening to companionate marriage, and thus is a complement to as well as a substitute for such marriage, the effect of a social commitment to companionate marriage is not to condemn outright but to problematize what in a society of noncompanionate marriage would be an unproblematic institution. (Posner, 158)

Posner generally attributes the puritanical undercurrents of modern Anglo-Saxon culture to the rise of companionate marriage during the sixteenth century. This is brought about through the advent of a nascent Western capitalism and the English version of the Lutheran Reformation. It stands in sharp bas-relief to the more traditional noncompanionate forms of marriage which had previously dominated all of the societies of classical antiquity and other non-Western cultures before the advent of European exploration and colonization. As an interesting sidebar, it seems that wherever the shadow of the Pax Britannia fell, so fell the rigidly puritanical values it brought with it.

Consistent with this, many previous scholars and ethnographers once argued that the culture of the Indian sub-continent was positively licentious. As a matter of fact, pre-Mughal Indian culture was characterized by having a highly sexualized body of erotic literature (such as the Kama Sutra) and many of its most sacred temple complexes were decorated in a rich pornographic imagery. After the eighteenth century introduction of the British Raj, the East India Company, and the legions of evangelizing Christian missionaries who came trailing behind from the rear, the Indians became even more fanatically puritanical than the traditionally more repressed Englishman.

Maybe we should also be looking at the notion of the Protestant Work Ethic developed by German sociologist Max Weber. It is evident that much of the socially conservative, morally puritanical underpinnings of Anglo-American civilization (the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand) come from the rigid Calvinist morality preached by the first English pilgrims settling the New World. The reformer John Calvin, the theological idol of the first Puritans, did stress the value of hard work and the full completion of those religious tasks mandated by God as a means of determining who ultimately numbered amongst “the predestined Elect.”

Additionally, the only way any of the believers could be certain of his salvation was on the basis of how much wealth he had accumulated throughout an entire lifetime, eventually culminating in the “time is money” mantra of modern Western capitalism (secularized Calvinist morality). Thus, those who were either financially impoverished or deviated from the average code of conduct prescribed by Calvin and personally exemplified by many a Puritan believer, were regarded as social outcastes condemned to an eternity of hellfire and suffering.


  1. Another great post! Interesting how the "protestant work ethic" fits into all of this. Sexual repression and work alcoholism seem to go hand in hand.

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  6. It is incorrect to say pre British Indian culture was "licentious", there was a more open attitude to sex yes. For example prostitution was generally legal and in the classical Hindu period courtesans held important positions at court and were trained in the arts and literature. But there was a VERY strong emphasis on female chastity for the common female, much stronger than even in contemporary European culture then. For example there are instances of hundreds of females immolating themselves so as not to fall into the clutches of the Muslim invaders, just one example of the emphasis placed on female honor/chastity. The classical heroines like Sita from Ramayana are paragons of chastity similar to Homer's Penelope.

    But India had and still does to a large extent have marriage not defined by the foolishness of "romantic love" but by other considerations aka arranged marriage/non-companionate marriage. Marriage is seen as the union of 2 different families and romantic love has very little to do with it in rural areas, I have known of couples who only saw each other like for 15 minutes at their engagement still together married decades later. This is one reason why India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world (something like 2%) and this can also be seen in the Indian diaspora.

    I believe the roots of modern feminism began with the Victorian notion of "romantic love" as the basis for marriage, before this most marriages were arranged. This was when women were give the choice to pick and we all know what kind of men they gravitate to if given free choice.

    The following passage struck me as I was reading it the other day and I think clearly sums up the difference between companionate and non-companionate marriage:

    "A woman of [tribe] does not desire to be a "companion" or a "lover," but a mother; and not the mother of one child, to serve as a toy and distraction, but of many: the instinct of a strong tribe speaks in the pride that large families inspire, in the feeling that barrenness is the hardest curse that can befall a woman and through her, the tribe. Out of this instinct arises the primitive jealousy which leads one woman to take away from another the man whom she covets as the father of her children. The more intellectual jealousy of the great cities, which is little more than erotic appetite and looks upon the other party as a means of pleasure, and even the mere fact of considering the desired or dreaded number of children who are to be born, betrays the waning of the tribal urge to permanence; and that instinct for permanence cannot be reawakened by speeches and writing. Primitive marriage...was anything but sentimental. A man wants stout sons who will perpetuate his name and his deeds beyond his death into the future and enhance them, just as he has done himself through feeling himself heir to the calling and works of his ancestors."

    Its from Oswald Spengler's "The Hour of Decision".