A while back I wrote a post suggesting that chastity could improve the world in important ways.
The post sparked some interesting discussion on chastity — what it is, what it can do, etc — with some very clever people.
And though I am certainly interested in the importance of virtues like chastity, Iâm also intrigued by the power that plain ole monogamy — regardless of why it is practiced — has to make a society flourish or flounder.
Thatâs why I was fascinated to stumble upon the studies of J. D. Unwin, in his Sex and Culture, published in 1934. Studying eighty-six different societies, Unwin concluded that monogamy is directly tied to a societyâs prosperity.
[I must note that since this book is out of print and extremely rare, I have not actually read it. I have only read other peopleâs summaries/analyses of it. So forgive me if I am slightly off on a couple of points].
Seeking to test the Freudian idea that civilization is a byproduct of repressed sexuality, Unwin studied eighty-six different societies. His findings surprised many scholars, above all himself, because all eighty-six demonstrated a direct tie between monogamy and the âexpansive energyâ of civilization. In other words, monogamy was the single-most important predictor of a societyâs ascendancy.
âIn human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on prenuptial and post-nuptial continence,â Unwin wrote.
His explanation for this phenomenon (as I understand it) went something like this: monogamous marriage and premarital chastity increase the âmental energyâ or inner strength of those who practice it, enabling them to embark on long-term projects like agriculture, architecture, and conquest. In other words, the âlimitation of sexual opportunityâ enforced by monogamy creates the âmental energyâ necessary to build a civilization.
After examining the histories of Roman, Greek, Sumerian, Moorish, Babylonian, and Anglo-Saxon civilization, Unwin found without exception that these societies flourished most during eras that valued sexual fidelity.Â Civilizations such as these always began with the ruling classes being the chastest, with the middle class soon following suit, leading to increased prosperity. But as decadence among the upper classes increased, strict monogamy loosened. Sexual opportunity became easier, societyâs mental energy weakened, and it lost its ability to innovate, create, and expand, and was soon taken over by a robust monogamous society.
As a result of these discoveries, Unwin proposed that citizens of special promise in Great Britain — an âAlphaâ class of sorts — ought to take vows of chastity before marriage for the sake of the empire.
Of course, Unwinâs interest in the âexpansive energyâ of societies is troubling in a post-colonial era that is currently grappling with the evils of imperialism. Most of us arenât going to encourage monogamy for the sake of the Empire when we doubt the value of empire.
(I’m also a little perturbed by some of the organizations and blogs that have enthusiastically embraced Unwin’s teachings . . . I’m worried that I’m missing something important [and oppressive] in my cursory study of his work.)
But I think Unwinâs findings are interesting nonetheless. Does monogamy really encourage creativity, innovation, and progress in societies? Perhaps nonreligious people have reason to think twice about the value of monogamy. And maybe people of faith, who believe that God instructs them to practice chastity for a reason, actually know a little something about how to make the world a safer, more interesting, and more vibrant place than modern North Americans tend to give them credit for.
What are your thoughts?
Photo courtesy of Frisno.