Essays

Our Dance Has Turned to Death

ruined_aphroditeHabits change into character. — Ovid

by Raymond Martin

IT SEEMS plausible to me to say that with respect to social life, family life, and sexual life, more has changed in the past hundred years — and certainly in the past two hundred years — than in the previous two millennia. (ILLUSTRATION: a ruined statue of Aphrodite)

A citizen of Republican Rome would recognize life in mid-19th century Germany or in 1915 America as being variations on what he himself knew. But such a person would scarcely be able to grasp 2015 America.

A citizen of the Roman Empire would probably be better able to grasp 2015 America, perhaps thinking that it constitutes a new age of Caligula in which the tastes and practices of the worst Roman emperors have become universal. Yet in truth, things are far worse even than that!

* * *

Appendix; moral values in Rome from the Republic to the Empire to the end, a paraphrase of Unwin and Wilson:

IN HIS 1934 book, Sex and Culture, British anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin chronicled the historical decline of numerous cultures, including the Roman Empire. He found that cultures that held to a strong sexual ethic thrived and were more productive than cultures that were “sexually free.”{8}

In his book Our Dance Has Turned to Death, Carl Wilson identifies the common pattern of family decline in civilizations like the Roman Empire.{9}

In the first stage, men ceased to lead their families in worship of the gods. Spiritual and moral development became secondary. Their views became more wealth-oriented.

In the second stage, men selfishly neglected care of their wives and children to pursue material wealth, political and military power, and cultural development. Material values began to dominate thought.

The third stage involved a change in men’s sexual values. Men who were preoccupied with business or war either neglected their wives sexually or became involved with lower-class women or with homosexuality. Ultimately, a double standard of morality developed.

The fourth stage affected women. The role of women at home and with children lost value and status. Women were neglected and their roles devalued. Soon they revolted to gain access to material wealth and also freedom for sex outside marriage, which was actually a way in which they devalued their own roles even further. Women also began to minimize having sex relations to conceive children, and the emphasis became sex for pleasure.

In the fifth stage, husbands and wives competed against each other for money, home leadership, and the affection of their children. This resulted in hostility and frustration and possible homosexuality in the children. Many marriages ended in separation and divorce.

In the sixth stage, selfish individualism grew and carried over into society, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller group loyalties. The nation was thus weakened by internal conflict. The decrease in the birthrate produced an older population that had less ability to defend itself and less will to do so, making the nation more vulnerable to its enemies.

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