This article is taken from the July 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Given the initial reactions on social media to an extract from Louise Perry’s new book, there is reason to wager that The Case Against the Sexual Revolution will provoke waves. Perry affirms, however, that she’s merely seeking to inject some “common sense” into some of today’s hottest debates: the differences and sense of harmony between men and women; the nature and telos of desire; love within sexual relationships; the issue of consent as a grail for balancing sexuality’s chaos; the consequences of violence’s glamourisation; the commodification of people; the benefits of marital institution.
Nothing in Perry’s book should truly be “ground-breaking” to anyone. Her closing remarks bang this drum a final time: “Listen to your mother!” Whether we like it or not, we should probably pay attention to what older generations have reaped through the ages, so as to inform our own sense of discernment. When it comes to something as fundamental as sexual relationships, collective knowledge seems, indeed, a good place to start when in doubt.
If things were that simple, of course, there would be no need for such a book. The mention of “common sense” turns out to be teasing. Far from dealing in polite self-deprecation, Perry swiftly suggests that, unfortunately, the degradation of the state-of-affairs means that ancestral prudence is now lost among the youth, often to mind-boggling levels.
At the heart of Perry’s work lays the claim that liberal feminism, instead of solving issues specifically related to male violence, has not only permitted its expansion under various forms but has also deceived women by selling them a Faustian bargain. Fucking “like a man” (or, more precisely, like a “cad”) when you’re a woman turns out not to offer much in the way of “progress”, “empowerment” or “liberation”.
Against the derailment of the system, the ultimate answer of liberal feminists has been to advocate a one-way re-education of males. Yet there is so much that we can reformat before reaching some sort of bedrock. For all their fancy university degrees and circumvoluted intellection, these feminists seem incapable of undoing the wrongs created by the deconstruction of past rules.
The hyper-sexualisation taking place in postmodern culture hides a deep malaise, that of our increasing incapacity to make sense of sex. It is probably one of Perry’s most incisive insights when she argues that “liberal feminists don’t have the conceptual framework necessary to resolve [the current] distress”. In short, people are now sexually illiterate. How to break free from the liberation narrative then?
Natural instincts find their way through the cracks of liberal mottos
Nevertheless, Perry believes the precursors and supporters of #MeToo and other related movements have started to realise that sex requests a norm. Whether they are capable of achieving a post-Christian Humanae Vitae or to discover their very own maxima culpa, it is hard to say. Paving the way for a counter narrative, Perry’s book suggests a renewed bibliography that enables the reader to grasp the paradoxes at play within liberal feminism’s theses. Careful not to trade one evil for another, she reminds her reader that she’s also “writing against a conservative narrative of the post-1960 era”, one that argues “returning to the 1950s is neither possible nor desirable”.
Instead of Biblical proverbs and maxims for “offer[ing] readers some real guidance on how to live”, Perry employs a different strategy and tone. The introductory tale of Marilyn Monroe calls to mind Jordan Peterson’s lobster in 12 Rules for Life, although in a much more straight-to-the-point manner. Generally speaking, Perry masters the art of historical anecdote. Monroe’s example treads the path for other significant case studies that convincingly back up the different sets of data.
Feeding her Case as a diligent private investigator, Perry lays out a vast array of scientific literature that carefully exemplifies how natural instincts find their way through the cracks of liberal mottos. Men, far from being tamed by relentless orders, take advantage of them. Women find themselves in situations where they submit to male desires, sometimes with the price of their own lives.
This could be disparaged as a mistake in the cogs of the liberal machine, but the truth is that is it not. The limitations of consent, often turned to in ridicule by pop culture (such as South Park’s PC Principal frat gang), are one of the most self-evident examples which proponents of atomised sexual agency find impossible to grapple with. Our current sexual framework encourages harmful behaviour, even when it doesn’t glorify it.
Reflections around post-modern prostitution are particularly persuasive. Although liberals posture as defenders of the economically marginalised, Perry outlines how “when it comes to prostitution, that position is slyly reversed”. The hypocrisy pointed out by the author is typical of progressive mindset that pretends it cares for the poorest while displaying luxury beliefs when it suits the interests of its elite class.
As much as Perry decries the crumbling of suitable concepts regarding sex, however, she also seems hesitant to dig deeper underneath the veneer of numerous assertions. The “guidance” she aims to provide sometimes consists in a list of virtues. At some points those accumulations become superficial to the point that they force the reader to beg the following question: why is Perry not probing further?
Morality is an area of inquiry that has been branded as old-fashioned
After much effort digging down into the core issues lurking behind the glossy veneer of the appealing “liberation” narrative, Perry hesitates. She engages with fundamental moral questions, yet remains shy about it. Doing so, Perry seems to swerve the basis on which she’s seeking an alternative claim.
One can easily imagine why: just as issues related to biology are now low status, morality is an area of inquiry that has been branded as old-fashioned — not to say cringe — within the almighty liberal worldview. Nevertheless, the fundamental loss of “conceptual framework”, rightfully identified by Perry, is crucially bound to the denigration of morals. “Common sense” itself can only manifest as a sturdy form of judgement if it is soundly rooted in deeper hierarchical standards, deemed good for specific reasons.
If liberal feminists have convinced themselves that they are part of the cure when they are in fact part of the disease, Perry’s work cannot satisfy itself with being a mere diagnosis embellished with a few rules. The Case must be carried further.
The real battleground is the claim for authority. Setting lines in the sand necessarily means breaking up with the decayed liberal motto that only accepts people’s sets of differences if all differences are somewhat more or less equal. It is evident that Perry believes this, since she continually affirms that specific things “ought” to be pursued instead of others or that the suppression of feminist moral intuition leads to catastrophic results for themselves and others. “How should we behave sexually?” comes down to “How should we behave?”, as Perry herself affirms in her introduction. On that point, “common sense” might not be enough.
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