Find essays by keyword, title, or author name

On Civilizations and Sex

Henry Ford once famously said, “History is bunk.” As the inventor of the assembly line and the Model T automobile, Ford’s name is inseparable from the ideal of technological advancement as the driver of human progress. For those who hail modern scientific progress and advancement as the hallmark of a more intelligent, forward-thinking generation, Ford’s words are dogma.

One of the most impactful changes wrought by high-tech advances is shift in societal views of sexuality. Traditional sexual mores have been dismissed as outdated, especially in an age of artificial contraception and abortifacients that dissociate procreation from a fundamentally life-giving act. Society has reduced sex to a pleasurable pursuit, and as a result, sexual promiscuity and libertinism are increasingly common. Progressives praise the sexual revolution as a period of enlightenment, whereby now people can freely engage in the pleasures of sex divested of its biological consequences. Even today the sexual revolution is viewed by (some) people of all generations as an unquestionably good nexus of beliefs and actions.

So, is the tradition of sexual morality, in the words of Henry Ford, “bunk?”

Oxford-educated anthropologist J.D. Unwin tangentially addressed this question in Sex and Culture, an evaluation of the sexual practices and morality of 86 different cultures. Unwin’s impetus for the project was to test the Freudian theory that civilizational progress was the product of repressed sexuality. This theory of “sublimated sexuality” states that natural impulses and desires require energy to fulfill, and that this energythough finiteis fungible.

Unwin divided the collective energy of human beings into two categories, “expansive” and “productive.” Activities like exploring territory, conquest, colonization, and commerce were deemed expansive. Productive activities designated an advancement within society or a societal flourishing, such as the development of algebra or the power to harness electricity.  Thus, the sexual energy of human beings could be re-directed towards other aspects of civilizational advancement, such as technological progress, art, architecture, or conquering other peoples. (To anticipate an objection: it is worth noting that although Freudian theory has many shortcomings, one can’t blindly overlook the validity of certain aspects of his theories, sexual sublimation being one of them).

After a careful evaluation a variety of civilizationsincluding the Romans, Greeks, Sumerians, Moors, Babylonians, and Anglo-Saxonsa clear pattern emerged for Unwin: a perfect correlation between sexual fidelity and civilizational flourishing.* Unwin found that discipline in sexual matters appropriated social energy to more civilizational ends, validating Freudian sublimation on a societal level. Unwin remarks:

The evidence is that in the past a class has risen to a position of political dominance because of its great energy and that at the period of its rising, its sexual regulations have always been strict. It has retained its energy and dominated the society so long as its sexual regulations have demanded both pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence. … I know of no exceptions to these rules.

But what exactly were those strict sexual attitudes and regulations that contributed to societal flourishing? The answer: heterosexual monogamy.

For Unwin, the fabric of society was primarily sexual, and heterosexual monogamy was the optimal arrangement for planning, building, protecting, and nurturing the family. If enough heterosexual partners made a monogamous commitment, civilizational energy was directed toward promoting the firmest societal foundation possible: the family.

Unfortunately, each civilization allowed its success to alter its moral code and actions. Though each civilization’s success correlated with strict sexual ethics, attitudes toward sex became increasingly liberalized and loosened. The consequences of the myth that sexual activity and its impacts could be confined to the private sphere soon became apparent.  Premarital, extramarital and homosexual relationships proliferated and individuals began placing their individual desires over the common good. An increase in promiscuity corresponded to a subsequent decrease in the social energy required for civilizational maintenance and innovation. Ultimately, each civilization became less cohesive, less aggressive, and less resolute. Civilizations in this liminal phase then collapsed from either 1) an internal anarchic revolution, or 2) conquest by invaders with greater social energy.

Despite the differences between civilizational cultures, environments, and time periods, Unwin saw a clear civilizational cycle throughout:

These societies lived in different geographical environments; they belonged to different racial stocks; but the history of their marriage customs is the same. In the beginning each society had the same ideas in regard to sexual regulations. Then the same struggles took place; the same sentiments were expressed; the same changes were made; the same results ensued. Each society reduced its sexual opportunity to a minimum and displaying great social energy, flourished greatly. Then it extended its sexual opportunity; its energy decreased, and faded away. The one outstanding feature of the whole story is its unrelieved monotony.

It is no secret that America is the current world superpower, and the increasingly liberalized attitudes towards sex in our nation parallel those of the 86 civilizations during their periods of decline. It is also true that American society has achieved an unprecedented amount of scientific and technological progress, and many would argue that American progress has cast aside ancient notions of the importance of sexual propriety. Unwin’s research identified this attitude as a salient opinion in each of the preceding societies as well:

…convinced that the cultural process is a progressive development and that our own culture is the most developed of all cultures, we assume that every change in our cultural condition is evidence of a higher cultural development.

The American idea of being the most advanced of human civilizations is just one more example of the “unrelieved monotony” Unwin identified when uncovering social patterns. Over 5,000 years of human history argue for the prevalence of this same mentality in all of these extinct civilizations, and not one of them has managed to break the cycle.

One can choose to see Unwin’s work as the foretelling of a doomed American civilization, or merely a historical continuity that Americans will overcome because of technological and scientific progress. Whatever the case, the importance of sexual morality in everyday life should not be overlooked due to its strong correlation with civilizational flourishing. Sexual restraint and ethics are not products of an ancient past that progress can suddenly replace; they are arguably the lynchpin of all of the technological and scientific progress of today.


*Correlation does not imply causation. For example, it is possible that civilizational decline caused increasing promiscuity, or that both decline and promiscuity are related to a yet-to-be-identified variable. But acknowledging the fact that causation is not implied does not necessarily mean that the two variables are not causally related. The only way to know if this is or is not the case would be to conduct a statistical or quantitative analysis of the qualitative patterns and causal mechanism proposed by Unwin. Until such research is executed, claims of both causality and non-causality stand on equally tenuous ground with respect to the study itself; yet my argument loses none of its force no matter which interpretation of the data is sound.


Readers are invited to discuss essays in argumentative and fraternal charity, and are asked to help build up the community of thought and pursuit of truth that Ethika Politika strives to accomplish, which includes correction when necessary. The editors reserve the right to remove comments that do not meet these criteria and/or do not pertain to the subject of the essay.

  • JD

    This is an extremely offensive article masked in psuedo-science performed almost a century ago. The main point of the article is essentially that gay people will be the downfall of American society.

    Categorizing an entire group of people as dangerous/detrimental to “civilized” society is wrong.

    • Alberto Hurtado

      Is it? Could not the argument be about monogamy and family formation, and not per sea out homosexual relationships?

    • sythe100

      1. Just because research was performed many years ago doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

      2. The article includes homosexuality in the problem but more correctly is about fornication in general. The article states that monogamous heterosexual relationships are the best way to promote the family, which is the fundamental building block of society. It then goes on to state that promiscuous sex, homo or hetero, is inevitably bad for society. It is not an attack against homosexuals specifically, but against fornication in general. In fact, homosexuality was only barely mentioned. It wasn’t the ‘main point of the article’.

      • fab4mattmarklukejohn

        Absolutely right! Homosexuality is a distant echo of a widespread acceptance of divorce, adultery, and promiscuity, probably in that order. Same sex marriage is, more like a dead cat bounce, regression to the norm (which can’t work for males because male homosexuality is predicated on fornication).

      • Catharine

        But why bring up sexual orientation at all? Nor is the tradition of having a wedding important. What is significant is the security provided by the institution we call “family.” A family’s members do not have to be heterosexual to provide security. But they must be able to trust one another. That human unit of trust allows for its members to advance and develop creatively. The growing acceptance of homosexuality in American society is perhaps why more LGBT people are marrying and living monogomously. This in turn has perhaps freed up energy and made the US a technologically creative society. Ethics is about caring for and about the Other.

        • barney rubble

          You are confusing caring for others with codependence and denial. It is completely possible, in fact, admirable, to care for homosexuals and to be concerned with their well-being. It is another thing entirely to reform society in such a manner that the behavior of a tiny minority is viewed as normal. By definition, “normal” means the average, and in statistics, observations outside of 1.86 standard deviations of the norm (which encompasses 95% of the data) are outliers. Homosexuality is abnormal, and unnatural. Despite the popularity of boutique studies that claim homosexual and non-procreative sex occurs in other animals, even a casual observer of nature can determine that nature is heterosexual. Every human being came from the union of a man and a woman. The links between heterosexuality, procreation, childrearing, family, and society are self-evident. Those that tell you otherwise are encouraging delusion.

        • “Family” is a more fleeting thing when it isn’t ritualized by a concept that means “forever.” Theres a fundamental difference between cohabitation and marriage.

          Now you can argue that marriage isn’t forever either because of divorce. That’s exactly the problem. Divorce needs to go. Divorce undermines the concept of marriage being forever.

          You can’t have a stable unit of society — family — without permanence. A family doesn’t have to be heterosexual, but the concept must be uniform, and it must be forever.

          The big problem here is that homosexual culture is currently very promiscuous. It’s what gay culture is. You’ll find exceptions of course, but gay culture in general does not support the notion of family.

    • Bob Burkett

      I was not writing this article to be uncharitable, nor was I
      writing to condemn a specific group of people. My writing was merely an
      explication of the most comprehensive study of civilizational decline known to human history and the conclusions drawn from the study.

      I am earnestly seeking the truth, and if you have evidence to present that contradicts the points I have written above, then I would love to read it.

      It is unfair to dismiss Unwin’s conclusions offhand and condemn them as pseudoscientific merely because you might not agree with them. Unwin is not alone in reaching many of the conclusions I expanded upon here; a
      number of respectable academics throughout history have complemented his work in various ways.

      Margaret Mead, for example, was a key academic who backed
      the Sexual Revolution and published a book highlighting the supposedly
      consequence-free world of sexual liberation in “Coming of Age in Samoa” (a book in which participants in the ethnographic study later admitted to lying to Mead for fun, thus rendering her utopian world of sexual libertinism unrealistic.) Regardless of her support of the Sexual Revolution, Mead acknowledged that the
      central role for a successful society was to “define appropriate roles for men.” In a largely monogamous society, men could choose to marry or remain celibate. Those men who married become committed husbands, providing the greatest opportunity for raising well-adjusted children, who in turn perpetuate societal growth.

      Economist Joseph Schumpeter similarly equated the success of
      capitalism to love of the family, for without family the male would have less incentive to sacrifice and save money out of love for his wife and children, and would probably spend his money on more pleasurable endeavors.

      Other works supporting the one male, one female familial
      structure as the most stable in society are:

      Carl Zimmerman, Family and Civilization

      Robert Nisbet, This Present Age

      Pitirim Sorokin (the founder of Harvard’s sociology department),
      The American Sex Revolution

      Again, this is a pattern found by numerous academics. It is
      not the knee-jerk conclusion of a rogue anthropologist and it is not the unfair treatment of a specific people by a dilettante anthropologist like myself. Take the argument as you will, but if you are going to dismiss it as pseudoscience, I would appreciate seeing some evidence that backs your points to the contrary.

      • JD

        OK, I retract my point about it being “psuedoscience,” perhaps that was a bit too harsh on the referenced text itself. However, what I find troubling are the conclusions drawn from this article. The article essentially states that sexual “liberalization,” including homosexuality, will lead to a less productive society. So, then, what do you propose we do about it?

        I’m sorry to appear nit-picky about one particular point in the article, but I believe it is important, and differs from the points about “promiscuity” or non-monogamy. There are many same-sex couples that are monogamous, and are raising a family. While I can’t be certain, I believe they would take offense to the notion that their natural variation of human sexuality is somehow causing society to decline.

        • TomD

          JD, not a cause of societal decline, so much as a reflection of that decline. The “natural variation of human sexuality” is not necessarily a “good.” Sometimes, very often in fact, we need to curb our sexual impulses, toward the ideal of monogamous, married, heterosexual love. Today, in the United States and in the West, this long-accepted notion is in steep decline.

          Looking at some aspects of that decline, in 2010, 51% of adult Americans were married; in 1960, 72% were. In 2010, 40.7% of births were to unwed mothers; in 1960, less than 5% were. In the US elections in 2012, 39% of voters were unmarried; in 1972, 24% were. According to a 2012 Pew Center study, 40% of American young people now believe that marriage is “obsolete.” Many young people no longer see a link between having children and being married. Cohabitation is gradually replacing marriage in the United States as the dominant household type. Marriage is declining in America, and in the West generally, and married people are less prominent and influential within our society, both culturally and politically. There will be negative civilizational consequences from these changes.

          The notion to radically redefine marriage has emerged from this reality. It is important to note that same-sex marriage won’t cause the decline of marriage; it is a reflection of that decline.

        • DR

          “Natural Variation”? Theres nothing natural about fundamentally sterile and physically wounding sexual practices.

        • barney rubble

          “Natural variation?” War is clearly a part of the spectrum of natural human assertiveness, as gluttony also is on the spectrum of our natural desire to nourish ourselves. Are you suggesting that that permitting unrestrained exploration of our “natural” impulses is harmless? While there are monogamous homosexual couples raising children, any child in such a home will inevitable ask, “Where is my mommy,” or “Where is my daddy?” Children instinctively know that procreation requires the two sexes. Again, progressivism, which posits that morality is relative, and dynamic with our current understanding or feelings, is the culprit.

          • Those questions are not instinctive of children. They come about when the child sees his friends having mothers and fathers, but he does not.

            It’s a matter of there being clashes in family values. Differences between what they have and what I have.

        • Obviously the answer is to keep sexual morality uniform.

          We don’t know what’s right or wrong really here, but a same-sex couple that raises a family will have different values from the rest of society.

          The studies place an emphasis on the family unit, but another aspect is the directing of expansive or productive energies into a cohesive, directed force.

          Clashing values will probably direct those energies at each other instead of towards a common goal. Of course, that’s just conjecture on my part.

        • Reinhard_Wolff

          Return to traditional values.

          Regardless of how repugnant homosexuality is, feminism and “women’s liberation” is far worse.

          A civilization that doesn’t produce enough children to sustain itself is surely doomed for destruction.

    • barney rubble

      To characterize and dismiss a study as “pseudo-science,” one ought to know what science is. What are your credentials? I am an epidemiologist and statistician, and I assure you, and all other readers, that the statements made in this article are scientifically valid. The author clearly differentiates between correlation and causation; however, e.g., although hepatitis is not caused by heroin use, socially, there is no reason to normalize heroin use.

      You state, “Categorizing an entire group of people as dangerous/detrimental to ‘civilized’ society is wrong.” This is a fine example of the hypocritical and reality-denying nature of progressive dogma. Clearly, progressives are comfortable categorizing religious fundamentalists, “homophobes,” chauvinists, and pedophiles (at least for now) as dangerous to society.
      The progressive’s plea is that man is separate from nature, that we can determine for ourselves what is wrong and what is right, despite ample evidence from nature itself that this is not the case. Man is the social animal. In the absence of an objective moral standard, the species will degrade and its institutions will collapse. It is only the arrogant conceit of current liberal progressives that blinds them to the historical reality of this fact – an arrogant conceit shared by every civilization that reached this stage.

      Homosexuals are not evil, nor should they be mistreated or shunned – to the contrary, they deserve the same loving kindness and support as we all do. But to normalize their behavior by promoting the mockery of same-sex marriage, and continuing to view sex as a value-free and consequence-free exercise of self-expression will destroy western civilization. It is no different from normalizing the overeating of an obese person, or the drinking of an alcoholic. As Unwin clearly noted, there is no example of a civilization that accepts homosexuality and other forms of sexual deviance surviving. We are fools to believe we are different, and greater fools to listen to those who tell us we are different.

    • D_Smith2020

      It’s already happening JD right before your eyes and it’s about to accelerate. J.D.’s work was of the highest academic scholarship and has never been refuted nor rebutted (though his excellent data has been applied to other hypothesis). In fact, it’s been progressively substantiated beginning with the founder of Harvard’s sociology department Dr. Pitirim A. Sorokin in ‘The American Sex Revolution’.

      As for your assertion that “categorizing an entire group of people as dangerous/detrimental to ‘civilized’ society is wrong.” Watch me refute it with two words: serial murderers.

      Obviously serial murderers are “an entire group of people” that ARE “dangerous/detrimental to ‘civilized’ society” and it is NOT wrong to categorize them as such!

      Now certainly sexually immoral people usually are not serial murders.. just a miniscule fraction of them are in reality… thankfully. But the point is that sexually immoral people are bad for civilization and when their numbers reach a point that they can finally take the reigns of government power and use it to legalize immorality and persecute the righteous, history shows that civilization is on its way out. We’ve already entered that stage in the U.S..

      So enjoy the sodomy I guess JD. Enjoy the decline knowing you contributed to it.

    • wimsy

      Interesting that the minute women get rights, society starts
      declining, according to Unwin — who might just be what we today would call a sexist pig.

      • nimvin

        At what point did “women’s rights” enter into this conversation? Are we to assume, from your statement, that you believe the overt primary goal of women’s rights was to achieve the right to promiscuity in general and the legal sanction of lesbian marriage specifically? (That’s funny, because I thought it was supposed to be about human dignity and equal opportunity.) THIS article deals with the possible historical correlation between sexual mores and cultural success or failure.

        If the denigration of “women’s rights” is what YOU find in this discussion, then perhaps you have managed to answer for us the $64,000 question about the women’s movement. (There was no need for your input, though, as most of us knew the answer all along anyway – but thanks for confirming it yet again.)

      • Ernest

        Women’s rights in no way are guilty of civilization’s decline. And Unwin states in his book that, in fact, equality between sexes is necessary to achieve absolute monogamy and prosperity:

        “If, on the other hand, a vigorous society wishes to display its productive energy for a long time, and even for ever, it must recreate itself, I think, first, by placing the sexes on a level of complete legal equality, and then by altering its economic and social organization in such a way as to render it both possible and tolerable for sexual opportunity to remain at a minimum for an extended period, and even for ever. In such a case the face of the society would be set in the Direction of the Cultural Process; its inherited tradition would be continually’ enriched; it would achieve a higher culture than has yet been attained; by the action of human entropy its tradition would be augmented and — refined in a manner which surpasses our present understanding.” (Joseph Unwin — “Sex and Culture”, page no 432).

        The problem is not in women. The problem lies in the double standard, which allows men to be promiscuous. Society only imposed chastity on women. Obviously, because of men creating laws and traditions. Women played a role of restraint for males’ lecherousness. That’s why men had to keep women in unequal position — to use them for their pleasure and in the same time to keep society from too much sexual freedom. This is, of course, an illusion. Then women decided to return their power back. They started condemning males’ for their lust. But stupid promiscuous males interfered this process. They turned the feminist movement into liberating women’s sexuality instead of condemning sexuality of men. That’s why equality between women and men is necessary. And Unwin wrote this. There is only one way to prevent society from decline. And, sadly, no one sees it. We have to condemn males’ promiscuity. We have to raise and nurture a new type of men. For whom chastity and faithfulness will be the main qualities and values. That’s the only way now to stop society from destruction.

    • Unless it is right. You don’t know if it’s right or wrong. You’ll need to study it yourself, but a blanket generalization like that serves nobody but your ego.

      Ita perfectly fine to categorize a group of people as detrimental to society. I do it all the time. I am sure you do too, if you were honest and not hypocritical about it.

      Taking a stance is important as a human. Failure to do so means you’re just a wishy washy person destined to be swept away by the current. But that’s exactly what excessive liberals who think, “it’s okay as long as if doesn’t hurt anyone” say.

      And that thinking is wrong. Everything you do… Whether by your lonesome of with a group — has effects which affect others. Such is the nature of the web of life. Everything is connected.

    • Reinhard_Wolff

      Being offended doesn’t confer you any special privileges.

      It’s just makes you look like an infant.

    • gdod25

      Not a people but a behavior.

  • Kate N

    I have a problem with the initial division of all human energy into categories of expansive or productive. There are many pursuits on which I expend energy that I would not place in either category. I enjoy playing soccer. Is that productive because it improves my health? I have a strong faith. Is that productive because it’s somehow advancing civilization? I invest time in many relationships. Is that advancing civilization? I would say the answer to these questions is no and that my entire human energy cannot be classified by 2 categories.

    However, If you answer yes to these questions, does not sex also advance civilization then? Even monogamous sex divested of biological procreation (think infertile couples as well as same-sex partners and couples using artificial birth control), in that it increases intimacy and connection between 2 people? Perhaps your argument is really moderation in all things correlates with a successful civilization (how very Benedictine of you), which I would agree with. But that’s not what you said.

    What you said is energy devoted to sex can only advance society if that sex is monogamous heterosexual sex for the purpose of raising a good family. When sex is anything else, that energy is a waste to society which produces (because you are arguing causation here) social decline. Your evidence is a correlation between sexual promiscuity and social decline.

    Contrary to what you said, I believe this iteration of your argument loses a lot of ground if sexual promiscuity does not cause civil decline. Perhaps civil decline causes deviation from societal norms, which would mean moving to sexual promiscuity. Perhaps some yet-to-be-identified factor caused civil decline independent of sexual promiscuity. There are many possibilities here.

    Thanks for the piece. These are ideas that need serious attention.

  • Ralph Coelho

    may have been true that the introduction of reliable contraceptives or abortion
    “has reduced sex to a pleasurable pursuit “. This continues to be the reason
    for condemning contraception, promiscuity, etc. This activity occurs only between
    two (sometimes more) human beings. Its objective was primarily to procreate new
    life in the image of God; new life whose care was committed to the parents who
    procreated in unconditional love. NOT

    first human person was created in sin and we know what happened. It set off a
    sequence of increasingly degrading acts between human persons where the “badness”
    makes the pleasure an insignificant benefit. Compare this with how eating the apple was the
    precursor of a variety of degrading (as against ennobling) acts where others
    things created by God are abused and their goodness debased.

    records that before religion confirmed that marriage was meant to be between a
    man and a woman for the procreation of children and the continuation of
    society, the improvement of the quality of man and his works.

    and abortion were known to society and were intuitively rejected. Man chose to
    call it wrong but did not have the omniscience to see the consequences. When
    the wise (and undoubtedly honest) men of the Anglican Communion legitimised the
    “limited“use of contraception amongst married couples they did not visualise
    the consequent damage. A large number of socially conscious people (personal psychology
    and sociology were in their infancy notwithstanding Freud)
    intuitively predicted the destruction of family and “civilised” society. Even they did not foresee the contemporary deconstruction
    of human sexuality. Given the widespread sexual exploitation of women and children
    in peaceful society (apart from the practices in war where rape was used to punish
    the losers, of domestic violence in all segments of society, we cannot even
    think of sex in Civilised society. We have forgotten what its true form and expression

  • Dante Aligheri

    It does seem like correlation to me rather than causation. One could say that tradition-based, tight-knit societies, similar to Emile Durkheim’s gemeinschaft, will be clan-based and monogamous precisely so as to carry that tradition. As other structures become the basis for security, education, feeding, etc., as in gesellschaft societies, and legal jurisprudence rather than social ostracization from that small and well-knit group, becomes the norm, family structures also become less strict. In correlation, gemeinschaft societies tend to be more self-protective and provincial in the interests of the tribe – thus more aggressive, expansive, etc. I am curious as to why Unwin seems to play down the polygamous nature of these early groups.

    My second thought is that Unwin reminds me very much of the macro-scale thinking of sociologist Pitirim Sorokin who seemed to probe much of the same phenomena with very different and possibly better explanations. I think Sorokin is probably more accurate in this regard.

    Like Mary Douglas and her work on cultures as unified wholes, he basically divided all cultures into macro-structures which have inherent stances – either focusing towards an inner meaning, changing oneself to conform with a “Tao” (ideal), or outward (sensate), changing the world to conform with oneself, with both virile and spent forms of those. He explained the energy levels of civilizations as when a particular form has been exhausted or shifted.

    I think we could at best explain Unwin’s data by characterizing our own era, America as distilled by the prevailing ethos, as late sensate and gesellschaft-oriented [i.e., permissive, legalized, and depersonalized] without resorting to the idea of somehow quantifying our human energy expenditure.

    • Dante Aligheri

      Oh shoot. I just realized you mention Pitirim Sorokin in the comments section.

    • Julien Benney

      ‘Dante Aligheri’,

      your point that

      “as legal jurisprudence rather than social ostracization from that small and well-knit group, becomes the norm, family structures also become less strict”

      sounds almost like Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s ‘Democracy: the God That Failed’, which argues that as political power becomes available to those with little or no property, governments take over from the private sphere and society declines. This is because the poorer classes are much more present-oriented than property owners and will wish for legislation to favour rather than have natural law ostracise them, such as legalisation of homosexuality and extramarital sex.

      Sorokin reminds me of Benjamin Wiker in ‘Moral Darwinism: How We Become Hedonists’ arguing that, since Alfred Kinsey (though the idea is much older than Kinsey no doubt) exactly that shift to change the world and the laws to conform to one’s own behaviour, rather than trying to conform to “natural law”, has become the norm. A recent article titled ‘The Ecology of Religious Beliefs’ – online at ‘’ and published a few months ago by Carlos A. Botero, Beth Gardner, Kathryn R. Kirby, Joseph Bulbulia, Michael C. Gavin, and Russell D. Gray – suggests that in fact environmental conditions of reliable rainfall and seasonality have long pushed the populations of Europe and the Americas towards atheism.

  • Thomas Storck

    I wonder that you equate flourishing of a civilization with science and technology, exclusively or mainly. I’d think that piety, the common good of all, literature, music and all the fine arts, are a much better index of the flourishing of a civilization.

  • Julien Benney

    One interesting point is how Unwin relates the rise of dominant classes to sexual continence among that dominant class rather than amongst the masses. (Of course, less may be deduced about the sexual behaviour of the poorer classes than about the wealthy).

    This makes it tempting to think that sexual permissiveness among the masses always predates such among the ruling classes. In ideological terms, such was most definitely the case throughout Europe, the Americas and probably Asia during the industrial era.

    Working classes in Europe and North America were campaigning for the legalisation of contraception, abortion and probably homosexuality two or three generations before this was actually achieved, and this despite the fact that workers did not grasp undoubted links between radical egalitarianism and radical sexual freedom as they did from the 1980s. I recall reading about Michael Hennessy Higgins, the father of Margaret Sanger, actually campaigning a century beforehand for what his infinitely better-known daughter would achieve in the 1960s and 1970s. This from a man brought up in a very traditional Catholic family demonstrates how except in Australia and the American South no industrial working class has ever limited sexual opportunity even to the same extent as rural peasant classes could.

    More than that, I am one who believes the masses, not the élite, control the direction any society takes, and lack of emphasis thereon can be misleading. If decline is related to sexual permissiveness among the masses then it is much more deep-rooted and perhaps irreversible after industrialisation. Unwin’s claim it was a “myth” sex could be confined to the private sphere may be much more true of industrial working classes even in their incipient stage than any previous class.

  • Benjamin Freedman

    Leave it to Burket to twist Henry Fords words inside out. What Ford meant was, that mainstream history was bunk. Take the war of 1812. Few people know that in 1811 the charter for the first bank of the united states expired. It was the real cause of the War of 1812. The mainstream history books site impressment of US naval personnel into the British navy as the cause. Why is this? Lord Rothschild the English banker who held the first charter and the folks who run the publishing houses are members of the same “tribe” The victors write history and the Second bank of the United States was chartered the following year , thus ending the war.

  • paulvew

    Unwin’s ideas are very interesting but on the other hand perhaps Unwin was wrong. A woman anthropologist Dr. Ruth Benedict, who reviewed his book said he completely ignored several tribes that were in the immediate area and time frame of other tribes he did consider that would have totally destroyed his hypothesis such as the Cheyenne and Menomini. She concluded,

    ‘It is impossible within the limits of a brief review to criticize the long list of absurdities that are involved in the correlations of this volume…..This volume is an extreme example of the manipulation of anthropological material to support private programs of social reform, in this case, a program of return to the immediate Victorian past. It makes clear, as has already been abundantly demonstrated in anthropological literature, that any thesis, no matter how unlikely, can be upheld by a suitable rearrangement of cultural facts from primitive peoples. Only insistence upon a greater scrupulousness and a greater intelligence can prevent the recurrence of such volumes of special pleading.’

  • Verner Hornung

    In addition to confusing correlation with causation, Unwin had only anecdotal information about the sexual mores of the societies he examined. He had no actual data on frequency of sex encounters or on family composition. And few psychologists accept Freud’s sexual sublimation theory. (Stephen Hawking doesn’t seem to burst with libido, for instance, yet from his wheelchair come idea after idea in physical cosmology.) Unwin is simply 100-year old junk science. There may well be sound arguments for ending the Western sexual revolution and going back to more traditional values, but this isn’t one of them.

  • FarNorthSolitude

    If you also consider Dunbar’s number where humans work best in groups of around 150 and the natural progression of civilizations from rural to urban environments along with the anonymity that brings then you get closer to a complete theory. One of the challenges then becomes to create a society that focuses on monogamy and family but still promotes freedom and tolerance along with the integration of various human behaviours and variations rather than reverting to restrictive traditional roles.

    If all this is correct then the future probably belongs to the Chinese, Indians, and Muslims who generally continue to maintain a focus on marriage and sexual repression, along with a smattering of Mormons. Except we have the rapidly approaching singularity as a wild card with AI, artificial wombs, and sex robots. Past dynamics will be a historical curiosity to Human 2.0