The political solution to our gender neuroses is to reject the Left’s categories altogether.
The political solution to our gender neuroses is to reject the Left’s categories altogether.
“Both implicitly and explicitly, our ruling classes express contempt for homemaking and motherhood. But this closes off the most primal path to resolving the body crisis. Women, by creating new life, bear witness to the possibility that body and soul can in fact be reconciled: in childbirth, human flesh becomes the medium of the divine. Poets have expressed this as the “eternal feminine,” the strangely luminous power of women like Dante’s Beatrice or Faust’s Margarete to act as physical conduits for the life-giving power of God. “Woman, eternal, beckons us on,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the closing lines of his Faust. This is the meaning of the Virgin Mary’s consent to bring God into the world: her body will become the medium to deliver divine life, God made flesh.”
In the excerpt “Soul Dysphoria” from his forthcoming book How to Save the West, Spencer Klavan clearly and compassionately posits that liberal feminism, transgenderism, and transhumanism are connected by a single thread: inordinate hatred of the human body. Klavan suggests that these ideological movements exist on a spectrum defined by the desire to transcend the limitations of the physical body, differing only in the relatively superficial matter of subject.
In this radical thesis, informed by his wide-ranging knowledge of the classics, Klavan has inadvertently grasped at a third rail of contemporary politics: in a time of great political flux, with nascent political movements still determining proper demarcations between us and them, the long-term political viability of alliances united by a common enemy is thrown into question.
Take, for example, “gender-critical” feminists and outspoken conservatives. Though temporarily united by a common enemy in transgenderism, they remain fundamentally opposed to one another on the subject of abortion, an outright denial of the reality of life and the virtue of womanhood which conservatives abhor and feminists endorse. Without men in lipstick invading women’s restrooms, these fast friends would immediately become enemies.
This tension is mirrored by similar bifurcations within the pro-life movement. There, certain factions advocate for contraception and surrogacy—perhaps unwittingly making themselves proponents of the very ideology, one might say the God-complex, that underpins the abortion industry itself.
When you’re losing the war, you don’t get to be picky about allies. Purity spiraling in the heat of battle is a great way to lose. But despite this tactical truism, brushing fundamental differences under the rug entirely is also a great way to lose the plot over time. This has been the apparently unlearnable lesson of conservative political action since the mid-century: without a positive and coherent political program of one’s own, new principles will be happily provided by new arrivals—who are often enough refugees from the enemy camp.
Fundamental differences in politics boil down to a basic question: what are human beings for? The notion of purpose precipitates moral judgements; to defy the purpose of a thing is to use it incorrectly and, on the other side, a thing that serves its own purpose well is an objectively good thing. So the concept of the objective good is an essential component of any meaningful and coherent account of human action. In the classical political tradition, that objective good is discovered in and through creation, which indicates something of a given object’s, or a person’s, purpose. Happiness follows habitual conformity to that objective good, informed by the physical, situational, and rational aspects of the human person. This conformity is otherwise known as virtue.
Klavan notes that, in addition to their basic denial of the concept of objective good, the many forms of ascendant anti-humanism are united by the impulse to disaggregate the physical, situational, and rational aspects of the human person. This makes us seem fungible, and, by extension, makes man look to himself like his own Creator. As I remarked at the most recent National Conservatism conference, this simply cannot be done without lying.
According to the principle of anima forma corporis, which comes to us from Aristotle by way of Saint Thomas Aquinas, “the soul is the form of the body.” The soul is “the essential ‘whatness’ of the body,” the principle that explains its organization and makes it really alive. Our bodies are not appendages for our souls to play with or lumps of clay in which our souls are trapped. Rather, the body is like the language in which the soul is expressed, through which the soul makes contact with the outside world, cultivates knowledge and virtue, and lives an ethical and political life. There is no such thing as a body being “wrong” for its soul for the simple reason that each is fully known only with reference to the other. It follows that “male” and “female” are aspects of complete persons, which is to say of embodied souls—not of souls or bodies only in isolation from one another. There can be no dualist separation between the “sex” of the body and the “gender” of the person or the soul.
While originally written as a response to transgender ideology, this account of human nature, and the connection between body, soul, and purpose, can be easily applied in service of a more general pro-human perspective. It isn’t just transgender ideologues who seek to disintegrate the connection between body and soul. As Klavan goes to great detail to explain, liberal feminists regard the embodied reality of womanhood with disdain: “The feminist injunction for women to ‘lean in’—to hunt out positions of power and dominance in traditionally male industries and pursuits—comes freighted with the implication that traditionally female pursuits are weak, contemptible, and dull.” Further, the transhumanists regard the embodied reality of even degendered humanity with a similar contempt. Klavan quips: “The most cutting-edge current expression of the body crisis is not the hormone injection but the digital avatar.”
Transcending the Binary
Conservatives tend to respond to prevailing liberal norms by negating them, asserting that the opposite of the original assertion is in fact the truth. While this is a licit form of argumentation for those who know their interlocutors are operating in good faith, it is a losing battle when dealing with people whose explicit mission is, through rhetoric, to manipulate objective reality in service of their own personal pleasure and power. That is the game the Left is playing by their own admission, which Klavan mentions earlier on in the chapter: philosophers like Judith Butler proposed
that sex too is an invented idea applied to the body, so that even the most basic facts of our physical selves are subject to transformation and reinterpretation: ‘gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which ‘sexed nature’ or a ‘natural sex’ is produced.’ Gender is a performance; binary sex is a social construct; our bodies are objects of hostile interpretations fabricated by the powerful. At the time these were explosive statements. Today, they are practically commonplace.
The concept of soulless bodies as claypieces whose purpose is applied through rhetorical force has become commonplace precisely because conservatives have given up on the concept of objective good. The best the conservative movement has come up with as a response to transgenderism begins with “you can do what you want with your body but” 1) “if you want me to use your pronouns, you have to pass,” 2) “stay out of my bathrooms,” and 3) “kids should wait until they are adults to do the same.” We have accepted the Butlerian terms and crafted a response that fits safely within them.
By arranging a thesis entirely independent of the terms of his adversary, Klavan implicitly agrees that the political answer to these problems lies outside of the current framework entirely. The answer is not a libertarian one nor is it in the biological facts we can cite about the human body disaggregated from a soul or in an unexamined and uncritically hedonist love of the body. Rather, the answer lies in the ensouled person, which must be conceptually and culturally revived as an objective reality in itself. The human soul is that objective reality which, when conformed to its proper ends, can point us not just to goodness but to greatness. Even and especially for the body-dysphoric, the human soul is what cries out for recognition.
We are souls with bodies, not the other way around. In saying so, Klavan has offered a political path beyond the superficial alliances that seem only to move the Right leftward over time. Indeed, he offers us a roadmap for defeating the new Leviathan.
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