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Modern feminism has been with us for decades. Are you of the opinion
that it has done more harm than good, that society is suffering
as a result, or that it goes against the most fundamental nature
of the human condition, specifically that of the human psyche?
If so, then this book may be what you have been searching for.
Howard S. Schwartz analyses the psychological forces responsible
for feminism and political correctness through the lenses of a
modern Freudian theory, since he believes that psychoanalysis
provides the best means for making sense of irrational mental
processes. What appears to be a "war between the sexes"
is something much more dangerous, "it is nothing less than
a revolt of the primitive against the mature, driven by the most
powerful forces within the psyche" (p. xiv). He therefore
endeavors to show that underlying any of the forms that give feminism
its expression is a fundamental unconscious force. "Properly
speaking, it should be called 'primitivism' because it represents
the expression of the deepest and most primitive elements of the
psyche" (p. xv).
Is this book commendable? It rightly attacks much that is problematic
in political correctness, such as that subjectivity has precedence
over objectivity, i.e. subjective approaches select those "facts"
which are in accordance with preconceptions and ignore those facts
that do not accord with them (p. 28). Political correctness therefore
is often not in pursuit of what is correct, but rather of what
is subjectively held to be good or politically expedient (p. 124).
The book, however, has numerous shortcomings and bases on which
it may be criticized to which I wish to draw attention. These
pertain to fundamental problems of psychoanalysis, method of argumentation,
and the absolute discrediting of feminism.
I wish to question the premises from which Schwartz argues. The
first is that his argument rests on psychoanalytic foundations.
Since the rise of psychoanalysis, the question of whether the
discipline is a science, a pseudo-science, or something sui
generis has not been definitively answered. Moreover, the
psychoanalytic movement has given rise to many separate theories
without any decisive way of deciding in favor of one or another.
On this basis the revised Freudian theory presented by Schwartz
has to be questioned too. The difficulty pertaining to psychoanalysis
is that it is not easily subjected to testability and does not
readily capitulate to falsification reports. The narrative account
of psychoanalytic approaches is also not always convincing due
to the difficulty in verifying them, which makes The Revolt
of the Primitive all the more unconvincing.
When confronting feminist claims, such as that men commit more
violent crimes than women, Schwartz misses the point by arguing
with counterexamples that women are capable of committing violent
crimes too (p. 14). Furthermore, the claims made by Schwartz do
not always accord with fact. For instance, when arguing against
women in the military, he states that those countries that have
tried it abandoned it shortly there after and that the consequences
of making a mistake in adopting it are incalculable (p. 163).
Counterexamples abound; Israel is an obvious one.
Schwartz fails to draw distinctions where they are necessary.
He argues against feminism, all forms of feminism, as though there
were only radical feminism. It ought almost to be unnecessary
for me to point out that many feminists do not identify themselves
with the conceptions, aims, or methods of argument employed by
radical feminism, but are rather of a different kind, such as
liberal feminism. This, however, leaves Schwartz unperturbed:
"I do not wish to get into dealing with the usual distinctions
among types of feminism .... My point is rather that there is
an unconscious element in much of feminism that underlies the
conscious views of many who think of themselves as feminists,
independent of the conscious content of their feminism" (p.
Feminism is depicted as a destructive force, having only adverse
consequences for society, employing means that are not always
ethical, such as when they falsify research results so as to tailor
them to the aims of their movement, operating with the conviction
that the end justifies the means. Schwartz rightly points out
numerous such examples. Yet although such occurrences are regrettable,
not all that feminism has brought about is negative - feminists
have many ways of achieving their goals.
Feminism has undoubtedly achieved significant improvements for
women: the right to vote, access to education, property rights,
the liberty to choose from a diverse group of careers, and equal
opportunity legislation. Are these achievements detrimental to
society's well-being? I cannot agree with Schwartz that they are.
The depiction of the whole movement as destructive is wrong at
best and ultraconservative propaganda at worst. I therefore cannot
agree with Schwartz who believes that feminism, or the revolt
of the primitive, has produced a generation of "confused
and helpless male children, of women intoxicated by self-worship
and victimized by their own grandiosity, decomposition of the
family, destruction of the educational system, castration of the
military ..." (p. 212).
With this review, I do not commend this book. Doing so would undermine
my credibility as a reviewer. Although, as I have stated, if you
believe that feminism has done more harm than good, that society
is suffering as a result, or that it goes against the most fundamental
nature of the human condition, specifically that of the human
psyche, then this book may indeed be for you.
© 2001 Markus Wolf
Markus Johann Wolf is
a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of South Africa,
a distance education institution, and lives in Austria. He has
particular interest in philosophical problems of social and ethical
matters, his main field of interest being ethics. His doctoral
thesis deals with the ethical justification of punishment.