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The Revolt of the PrimitiveReview - The Revolt of the Primitive
An Inquiry into the Roots of Political Correctness
by Howard S. Schwartz
Praeger, 2001
Review by Markus Johann Wolf
Dec 9th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 49)

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. xv).

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.


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