“Oh, I have still not said my final word about women.” -Arthur Schopenhauer
If modern women were familiar with the philosopher, this pronouncement would make them shudder. In this day and age, however, nobody is familiar with him–even though he was the undisputed “original hipster.” Today you can pass for a misogynist just for saying “I disagree with the idea of patriarchy,” so I have often fantasized about introducing feminists to Schopenhauer just to acquaint them with the real deal. However, as far as this quote is concerned, it was given near the end of the philosopher’s life and he was speaking with a female friend, appending these words with kind ones towards her gender. It looks like the MGTOWs have found him, but in this case Schopenhauer’s actual life is more instructive than his famous—and likely peerless—polemic against women. It is tempting to indulge in some woman-bashing alliance with the old curmudgeon, just for the thrill of uttering heretical words against a now tyrannical and sacrosanct feminism. However, we would do better to look to the man’s biography before going for that juicy invective, as it is here that we will truly find wisdom.
Believe it or not, Schopenhauer somewhat softened his position on women later in life—perhaps due to fame, or perhaps because he was not by that age assailed by that nagging drive for sex. It is also possible that he grew wiser! Furthermore, he is only really a misogynist on paper, treating women very differently in his actual life. He clearly liked women—and not just as convenient avenues for relieving his manly appetites. He quoted Byron in his personal diary: “the more I see of men, the less I like them; if I could say the same of women too, all would be well.”
This MGTOW video wants to highlight that great men could already see that marriage was a bad deal in the 19th century, when it was in fact a far better deal than it is today. This is a powerful point, to be sure. If back then it meant “to halve one’s rights and double one’s duties,” then today we need a more drastic piece of libel than Schopenhauer can offer us. However, one must keep in mind that marriage back then was hardly about romantic love, but instead, children and politics. Some people married for love, but much more often the “love story” was just that, a story to cover over unseemly practical, political, and procreative functions. There must have been enough romance at the time for Arthur to be disappointed with his parent’s marriage:
I am acquainted with women. They consider marriage only as an institution for their care. As my own father was sick and miserably confined to his wheel chair, he would have been abandoned had it not been for an old servant who performed the so-called duty of love. My Frau mother gave parties while he was wasting away in solitude and amused herself while he was suffering bitter agonies. That is the love of women!
I don’t want to get buried in a discussion about his relationship with his mother, significant as it was, so let’s just dismiss Freud for practical reasons here. Any man familiar with dating will have had plenty of experience with nasty manipulative women to base his misogyny on without needing to hate his own mother—not to mention rejection by these women, or worse, rejection by the truly desirable ones. But again, Schopenhauer was not just a misogynist: he deeply loved his sister, and was madly in love with a woman at least once. Arthur reflected to a friend that “as far as women are concerned, I was fond of them—had they only wanted to have me.” As Cartwright points out:
This summarizing reflection on his relationships with women by the sixty-eight-year-old Schopenhauer reveals one of the significant bases for his misogyny…he devalued what he desired but could not have.
He slept with plenty of women, many of them prostitutes, knocked up at least two women, and for years had a secret affair with a woman that he loved quite deeply, calling her “the only being to which I was genuinely bound.” She had agreed to follow him after he left Berlin but decided against it, breaking his heart. Another biographer, Rudiger Sfranski, notes that most of the misogyny came from “the bitterness of a rejected lover. Over and over again, Schopenhauer fell in love with women who did not want him.” The philosopher’s official misogyny must be chalked up to professional frustration, loneliness, a bad female landlord/neighbor, a selfish mother, bad dates, and a broken heart. If you sat the man down to share a pitcher of beer, he would likely have a much different take on women. He was taking his revenge on women in print, but let’s not forget that he didn’t abuse them physically in the real world.
If I were to share a pitcher with my favorite philosopher, I would remind him that nearly the first piece of wisdom given to readers of his “The Wisdom of Life” is to never trade health for any other good–and it just so happens that love and affection are extremely good for your health. However, this is easily countered: as Nietzsche so perfectly states it, women make the highs higher and the lows more frequent. Again, this is at a time when women were more “behaved” than today; so much so that they manifested hysterical symptoms from repressing so much of themselves–symptoms which pretty much disappeared along with their culture. That is, it should be uncontroversial to say that modern women are far more difficult to live with than your good, cultured German housewife of 1815. Today you might find yourself dating a “woman” who has been educated on nothing but “Sex and the City” and feminist “literature,” whose situation is far different than the German housewife, but who will expect the very same things of you–and far more. Today, marriage might mean the tripling of one’s duties and the eradication of one’s freedoms. This is what gives rise to MGTOW, though of course some men (i.e. all religious ascetics) have always gone their own way. There are all kinds of MGTOWs as well, some that are still dating, etc, but it looks like a core tenet of this movement is an acknowledgment that they are no longer capable of love. This is terribly sad. At a time in history when women have enormous social, political, and financial power, when they can provide for themselves and don’t need to rely on men so much, when they could always pursue love and not money, many nevertheless treat him with utter contempt and try to con him.
Women complain to me about being objectified physically, but I’m not sure they could fully appreciate what it would feel like to be objectified in that way, plus a host of others: to feel like you were valuable for your wallet, the social status and connections you could provide, and your looks only insofar as they make her friends jealous (raise her reputation)–or how about cannon fodder during wartime. Consider the truth in this little scene. Even when these don’t seem to be in play, and a girl seems genuinely attracted to me, this nagging doubt keeps whispering in my ear “well, she’s baby crazy, so clearly she wants your genetic material dude…if your being articulate turns her on at all, it just does so as a fitness marker—it has nothing to do with your soul, really.” This intuition was born in the 8th grade for me as I was struck by the fact that it was just words, just the right string of words and the panties dropped—it has nothing to do with who I am, really, but who I can pretend to be; what kind of show I can put on. Yes, this is precisely the same fear that women often complain about: courtship having more to do with objective, material considerations than matters of heart and soul.
Culturally, we are now, both genders, teetering on the edge of a precipice that no other species has encountered: we have lost most of the reasons to believe that love and sex aren’t just Nature’s “tricks.” We legitimately fear that women learn about a man’s mind only insofar as she needs to manipulate him in order to get resources, while the man only learns about her mind to get laid. There is this nagging suspicion hanging over everyone at the bar that whatever romantic or chummy feelings come up in this courtship are lies told by your body, later to be transformed into the lies you tell others—the “love story” of how we met, etc. Our philosopher was emphatic that the sex drive was nothing but this “trick” of Nature’s, but this also commits the genetic fallacy: who is to say what can be done with this trick? We’ve turned animal lust into the Eros that builds civilizations! Surely nobody would argue that we are incapable of spiritualizing our sexuality, but I digress…
One thing seems clear: modern women seem to expect the world to be full of gentleman without requiring there to be many ladies. They complain bitterly about men, but will shout down any criticism of women with the NAWALT reply (not all women are like that), but despite their criticisms of men, they don’t seem to have the foggiest idea what they actually want. Consider this scene (minutes 13-18). However, MGTOW philosophy is in disagreement with Schopenhauer on the NAWALT point, for they claim that women defend their gender because of innate “own-group preference,” where Schopenhauer would say the following:
He would argue that women are just taking your general statements personally, while they might relish such juicy gossip when you are not around. The NAWALT reply makes some sense from a woman’s point of view, but to a man, it is difficult not to answer the claim “me and my friends aren’t like that!” with “oh, yeah? And how many of your friends have you dated?!”
Yet, the possibility of truly liberated women, without anything to prove or any gender to bash while they proved it, could begin to restore our faith in love and marriage. As Schopenhauer remarked to a female friend, “when woman succeeds in raising herself above the crowd, she grows ceaselessly and greater than a man.” He would know: look at his mother. Well, she is finally in a great position to do this! Women have enough power in society today to support themselves and seek men only for romantic companionship. So how are women behaving? (I know some damn fine women, but I mean that dreaded concept, “women in general.”)
Then there is the question of children: can women divorce themselves from their biological drive to procreate? My last girlfriend was at least twice as pessimistic as me about the state of the world and its future, agreeing that it is a crime to bring another conscious being into this mess, and yet she was entirely baby crazy. Basically modern men want women that don’t exclusively think with their vaginas, and women want men that don’t exclusively think with their dicks. What a man wants to see is some connection there between a woman’s rational outlook and their biological, emotional self—some dialogue whatsoever. Otherwise he’s terrified that this whole “romance” thing is being driven by her unconscious biological imperatives and has little to do with who he really is. It would be unfair to say that MGTOW claims women are all gold-diggers–intentional con artists. Their fear is that women are unaware of their real motives: not that they are innately selfish, but innately slaves to selfish genes. Given the fact that they don’t seem to have reliable insight into what they want from men, this is a very real fear.
Anyway, I just wanted to encourage MGTOWs not to entirely give up on the idea of romantic love, on finding women similarly detached from their social and biological imperatives, and to correct their perception of this oft-maligned philosopher. It may seem rather strange that I bring the old pessimist to the discussion in defense of love. In fact, it might look something like the following:
And truthfully, his philosophy is not likely going to help you maintain a good romantic relationship. After all, much of it is about resignation from this world–not that he fully practiced the asceticism that he preached. He wrote that the thousands of prostitutes in London were “a bloody sacrifice on the alter of monogamy.” See what your girlfriend has to say about that little gem. Besides, pessimism is almost a crime in America. I’ve personally had this argument a few times…once for simply criticizing a vapid Ted Talk:
However, my point is that MGTOW is nothing new and would do well to thoroughly research the great men that came before them. What needs to happen is a female version–WGTOW– so that MGTOWs would have a pool of real women to date. There are certainly plenty of these women out there.
My last love presented the beautiful possibility of a sapiosexual woman: someone who gets turned on by intelligent conversation. I’ve now downgraded my expectations to simply finding a woman who likes sex and who likes good conversation, separately. While my heart is temporarily closed for business, I still retain my ability to love and hope that I find someone to have a good conversation with for the rest of my days–someone who can touch my soul with both her voice and her hands. Whether I’d sign a standard marriage contract, however, is a question for another post.
Lastly, I’d say that I wouldn’t have been able to hang on to my hope for love if it weren’t for Rollo May’s “Love and Will,” which brilliantly articulates the cultural shift that we are the epitome of, as well as Roger Scruton’s “Sexual Desire.” For you MGTOWs out there who found anything of interest in this post, you could do no better than read Irvin Yalom’s “The Schopenhauer Cure.”