© Errol Miller 2018
It’s All about Power Part 1: The Metamorphosis of WASP traced major changes in the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) ethnicity of countries that had their beginnings in the British Empire, particularly the United States and the Commonwealth Caribbean. It sketched the broad contours of those changes from the 17th century to the present time. It established that ethnicity was challenged fundamentally by the generation coming to maturity after World War 2.
By and large, in their youth, this generation became committed to diversity, equality, and equity in pursuit of non-ethnic national society promised by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. A culminating success of the civil rights, women’s and students’ movements this generation spawned, was the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.
He is the first non-ethnic President of the United States. Barack Obama was a President of the United States who is an African American. Obama was not an African American President just as President John Kennedy was not a Catholic President. Both shattered the ceiling of religious affiliation and ethnicity that had obtained but did not conduct their presidencies primarily in the interest of their religious affiliation or ethnicity. In contrast, President Donald Trump, elected in 2016, is a throw-back to the conduct of his presidency primarily in the interest of the WASP ethnicity in its present metamorphosed form.
It’s All about Power Part 2 considers patriarchy, as it currently exists in the United States, particularly with respect to power and politics. It must be immediately acknowledged that what is taking place in the United States is by no means unique. Ethnic politics and contemporary patriarchy are inter-related in the competition for power in many nations. BREXIT and the rise of English nationalism; the resurgence of nativist politics in Western Europe; and failed states in other parts of the world are testimonies to this reality. Further, ethnic politics and patriarchy are testing the cohesion of many nations including those in which tribe or clan or caste or race or religion, or some combination of these, continue to be criteria in a societal organisation.
The resurgence of ethnic politics in many Western nations, the self-acclaimed champions of democratic governance and elections, indicates that the transition from patriarchal to national society is incomplete. The implications for democratic governance and electoral systems are global. In this regard, the United States occupies a special position. The United States is a pioneer among nation-states premised on written constitutional laws that accord nationals of diverse ethnic origins and religious beliefs equal rights and justice. Legally in the United States, ethnicity and patriarchy ought to be legacy constructs limited to the private sphere. Yet ethnicity and patriarchy are very much a part of the public discourse of whose lives matter. It is evident, even from a cursory glance, the differences between the ethnicity of males at the pinnacles of power, wealth and status; males falling down the income ladder annually; and the increasing number of males that are forming an underclass of American society.
Demographic trends suggest heightened and vigorous challenge to ethnic and patriarchal politics in the 21st century. Demographics are about numbers and rates relative to birth; deaths; and migration and to the size and structure of populations within and among nations. Demographics are statistics. The conceptual framework that gives meaning to these statistics must come from elsewhere. It’s All about Power Part 1, considered ethnicity. Part 2 examines patriarchy.
Patriarchy as a Social System
At its core, patriarchy is a social system of both domination/subordination on the one hand and shared identity, group solidarity, common bonds and mutual obligations on the other hand. On the one hand, patriarchy indicates whose agenda will prevail in the arena where power is contested. On the other hand, patriarchy involves a shared sense of belonging, common bonds, group solidarity and mutual obligation among those exercising dominance as well as among those being subordinated. The line drawn between ‘us’ and ‘them’, is clear and often visible.
The Wikipedia definition of patriarchy, embraced by many, is that social system of society in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property. By this definition, patriarchy is conflated to gender. It is single dimensional, in that it recognizes only the domination of women by men. But gender is not the only source of domination/subordination in societies. Not all men are powerful, nor are all women marginalized. Powerful women and marginal men have been present in society throughout the history of human civilization. Men and women have cooperated in exercising dominance as well as in resisting subordination.
Understanding patriarchy as gender is narrow and limited because it treats all men and all women as separate monolithic and undifferentiated groups that have maintained their coherence over time and cultures. In addition, gender is only a partial definition of patriarchy because it omits other axes of domination/subordination; bases of solidarity: common bonds; and foci of reciprocal obligations that exist in society.
Max Weber defined patriarchy as that form of social organisation of society in which male heads of households have final authority in families. Simply put, Weber defined patriarchy as the rule of fathers over younger males and women in families. Patriarchy as the rule of fathers implicitly includes blood relationship between fathers and other members of the families as well as reciprocal obligations in the family. Fathers have the obligation to protect and provide for their families, while family members in return are obligated to honor, accept and abide by decisions of the patriarch.
The Weberian conceptualization of patriarchy combines two axes of domination/subordination in society: gender and generation. Also, gender and generation are identities, bases of solidarity and foci of mutual obligations. In power relations, males ranked before females and older members rank higher than younger members. Accordingly, older males exercise authority over females and younger males. However, because age is mutable, younger males are the successors of older males and are mentored as such. Female subordination is thus more permanent. Further, domination/subordination by younger males in the family is mitigated by their shared identity with and obligations as sons and brothers to the females. The Weberian definition connects more accurately with earlier eras of human history as well as with some segments of modern societies that have continued to practice the rule of fathers. However, the greatest flaw of the Weberian definition is that it confines patriarchy mostly to the private sphere. It requires conceptual gymnastics in its application in the public sphere.
In Men at Risk (1991) and Gender, Power and Politics (2001) I broadened Weber’s definition to mean the rule of older males of kinship collectives, whether kinship is factual or fictional. The term kinship collective is wider than family, nuclear or extended. It includes clans, tribes, castes, dynasties and racial groups predicated on blood bonds as well as voluntary associations such as political parties, unions, and religious organisations rooted in common interests, values, and views. This definition includes three axes of domination/subordination; shared identity; solidarity and reciprocal obligations in society. Patriarchy is defined as genealogy, gender, and generation. Genealogy is the most inclusive of the three. It also sets the external boundary of the kinship collective/voluntary association while generation and gender determine internal rank with the collective.
Patriarchy in Ancient and Modern Societies
This broader definition allows patriarchy to be understood in both ancient and modern societies and in the private and public spheres. It provides space for interactions between genealogy, gender, and generation which produces different segments within society. It shows how genealogies create covenants of kinship to resolve conflicts and the established order within its ranks.
This definition also provides the framework for understanding, contests, conflicts, and conquests between competing kinship collectives/voluntary associations since such are outside of the covenant of kinship. Genocide, killings of captives, castration of males and enslavement are all practices related to conflicts between rival lineages whose genealogies fall outside of the kinship covenant. A discussion of the modern equivalents of these ancient practices is outside the scope of this discussion.
The central point here is that this more comprehensive definition of patriarchy is particularly useful, conceptually, in the analysis of power as it is contested in nation-states, the constitutions of which confer equal rights to all nationals; require the application of due process of law to all nationals; practice democratic governance through elections based on one national, one vote. In a nutshell, patriarchy is unconstitutional, illegal and unethical if practiced in the public spheres of the modern nation-state.
Patriarchy and Demographics
Understanding patriarchy as genealogy, gender and generation provides a new conceptual framework of understanding of demographic counts, say of old white males; young Hispanic females; old white females, young black males and old Native American males in American society. This conceptualization of patriarchy locates counts of these demographics within a hierarchy of power in the United States. It also sketches the shared identity, common bonds of solidarity and reciprocal obligations that are likely to exist within these social segments thereby facilitating their members to act coherently without conspiracy as well as to cooperate and contend with other segments. Freedom to believe, to speak, to travel, to join with others and guaranteed individuality are rights shared by all demographics.
The simplest way to conceive of the complexities of patriarchy, understood as genealogy gender and generation in a nation-state in a transition from ancient to modern, is that of a three-dimensional box in which genealogy/voluntary association constitutes its length, generation its height and gender its width.
In the United States length would have two tiers. One tier would be ethnic groups that are counted White, African American; Hispanic, Native American and Asian and the other count would be registered political affiliation: Democrat, Republican, Independent; Green, and Libertarian.
Height would be differentiated as Generation X, Baby-Boomers, Millennials and Generation Z. The US population is living longer. Age cohorts are becoming more discrete, cohesive and coherent with respect to views and values. Currently, in the US, it is popular to speak of Generation X; the baby-boomer generation; Generation Y, aka Millennials; and Generation Z to describe people coming to maturity since 1945, the end of World War 2.
Width would be differentiated into Male, Female, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning.
The product of the interactions between length, height, and width, in other words, genealogy, generation, and gender, are cubic cells: demographics. Attached to each cubic cell, demographic, are socioeconomic factors such as income bracket, education level, and region of residence, a geographic location which serve as cross-cutting connectors exercise some degree of pull.
The Demise of Patriarchy
Viewed through this lens, several different adjectives and phrases can be used appropriately to describe the essence of patriarchy in modern nation-states. These are ‘atomized’, ‘fractured’, ‘splintered’, ‘fickle’, ‘lacking incoherence’, ‘diminished in capacity to mobilize’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘in crisis’ and ‘at a point of demise’.
The implication of this state and stage of patriarchy as a social system of domination/subordination; shared identity, solidarity, common bonds and reciprocal obligation is devastating. This is particularly so for any ethnicity that claims to be owners or founders or patent-holders of the nation-state. This is primarily because its claimed position of heritage cannot be assured by democratic or constitutional or ethical means. The alternative choice of actions to ensure its position is undoubtedly undemocratic and shamelessly unethical.
The runup to the 2018 Congressional Elections is replete with examples of undemocratic and unethical actions. These include providing only a single voting precinct for a town where approximately 13,000 Hispanics are registered to vote in contrast to one precinct for approximately twelve hundred voters for towns that are predominantly White; the Secretary of State responsible for conducting elections in a State being also a Candidate running for Governor for that State; a State Legislature banning voting on Sundays just prior to Election Day knowing that such Sundays are days of which many Blacks usually vote; using voting equipment with known defects mainly in areas populated by minority groups; requiring Native Americans to have street addresses on reservations in order to be registered to vote where for decades prior, Post Boxes have been accepted and used for voter registration. These actions have been taken by election officials who are registered Republicans, using the power of their office to prevail in such actions. These examples are not exhaustive.
Whatever the actual number of such actions by registered Republicans, they are all about power. Interestingly, condemnations that have come from the leadership of the Republic Party have been about the rhetoric of a few errant candidates. There has been no rebuke nor demand for reversal of these undemocratic and unethical actions. The silence of Republican and Conservative leaders shout loudly of complicity. These leaders are comfortable with these actions because the outcome could possibly be victory at the polls. What is pitiful is the convenient abandonment of principles of democratic governance for all the world to see. The demographic involved in this betrayal of democracy are mainly older White males who previously were such ardent and eloquent exponents of the values and the virtues of free and fair elections. What is underscored is the corrosive effect of power when it is sought for narrow self-interest, devoid of conscience and the common good.
My bet for bringing about the demise of patriarchy in the public sphere in the United States in the 21st century and for bringing about the redemption of the backsliding leadership of the Republican Party and Conservative movement is on a coalition of the following demographics:
Students and young males and females who conclude that abstaining from voting is not an option.
- Males and females of all ages of minority groups that realize that their life chances and well being are being decided in the voting booth.
- Educated white middle-class women, married and single, living in suburbs who are conscious that ‘me too’ not only involves sexual harassment but includes income, security of tenure and conditions of service exploitation by managerial bosses, male and female.
- LGBTQ of all income brackets that fully understand that their civil and human rights are at stake.
- Poor white men and women living in rural areas that have an epiphany of having been taken for a ride with respect to their health and livelihood.
- White men and women, young and old, of conscience who are offended and even outraged at the injustices embedded in the social system.
It’s all about Power, but throughout the history of civilization, in periods characterized by disruption and technological transformation, it is the power of the marginalized in conjunction with men and women of conscience which has prevailed.
Errol Miller (2001) Gender, Power and Politics: An Alternative Perspective. In Gender, Peace and Conflict. Editors. Inger Skjelsbaek and Dan Smith. International Peace Institute and Sage Publications. Oslo and London. Pages 80-103.