In replying to Nicky Hart, let me begin by noting the discrepancies between what is in my book, Between Sex and Power: Family in the World, 1900–2000, and what she says about it. These are so large that it is difficult to believe she has read it very seriously. Here are some examples of the gap between my arguments and her representations of them:
The privacy of family life has always been linked to societal authority, through institutionalized rights and duties prescribed and proscribed by organized religious bodies, buttressed or licensed by political authorities or directly by state legislation. But the links may be distant and/or tenuous, largely lost in the labyrinths of individual family power structures, or modified by provincial or local customs. A global view of the family will have to catch something of the diversity in which these powerful canons of authority exist.footnote8
It is difficult to see how anyone could arrive at such a distorted version of what is, after all, an empirical historical investigation. Obviously, I have no certain answer as to why Hart has misread my book so thoroughly. But if I had to make a guess, I would hazard that her response to it combines a remarkably economic conception of knowledge with a passionately Whig interpretation of history, spiked with an enduring dose of Cold War anti-communism. By an economic conception of knowledge, I mean a minimization of cognitive effort. Nothing is more striking in her critique of my book than her apparently complete lack of interest in learning anything about the world—even North America, let alone all the other regions of the earth my book discusses at length—outside western Europe, or even anything about the history of western Europe itself. There is not a glimmer of a comparative sensibility in her comments. Hart has always known everything she wants to know. The only thing she might be willing to look at is a ‘strong theoretical question’ by a one-thesis ‘synthesizer’.
By her Whig interpretation of history, I mean the following. Hart is indignant at my definition of patriarchy, but at first glance it is not easy to understand why, as she complains of a construction that is almost the opposite of what I say. However, a possible reason—I am only guessing—may be this. In taking patriarchy as an authority structure of the family as my object of explanation, I make it possible to investigate its relationship to different social, economic and political systems. One implication of this position is that we must allow for the possibility that patriarchy may coexist with a ‘continuing penetration of urban industrial capitalism’, even that the two may under certain conditions sustain each other. If so, that would cast some shadow of doubt on Hart’s core conviction that the only route to an ‘authentic and lasting’ eradication of patriarchal practices has been ‘the progressive penetration of social life by the commodity form, alongside and in connection with the formulation of liberal ideologies’. For what her passionate belief in the benign progress delivered by commodification and liberalism evidently cannot accept is the reality that patriarchy is not exclusively pre-capitalist by definition. Hence she has no patience with comparative analysis of historical contingencies and actual political agency. The ‘commodity form’ and liberal ideologists do all the acting that is needed. It is this updated Whiggery that seems to be the key to her response. The anti-communism with which it is laced, reminiscent of the 1950s, is just an extra injection of adrenalin. Obviously, I would have preferred a more considered discussion of my book. But in a way it is perhaps encouraging that painstaking empirical research can provoke prevailing complacent ideology.