The Democratic Gulag

Patriarchy, Leadership and Education

by Robert Bahlieda (Author)
©2015 Textbook 325 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 488


The Democratic Gulag is a provocative, comprehensive investigation of the pervasive and transparent power of patriarchy in social evolution and contemporary society. It asserts that we live in a well-constructed ideological, intellectual and social gulag of patriarchal values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors that is created through the primary social institutions that we see as the foundations of modern civilization. The book is an in-depth academic study of the role of patriarchy in shaping modern social values and a comprehensive and contemporary cross-contextual analysis of the seminal role and paradoxes of patriarchy as the meta-ideology of human history. Employing the perspective of critical theory, it traces patriarchy through history to our contemporary world by examining its role in shaping democracy, education, religion, politics, economics, leadership and gender relationships. It suggests that rather than a social/historical curiosity, patriarchy is an under-theorized, active and virulent agent that continues to be the foundational source of our global social dysfunction. Without deconstructing and altering its ideological core as well as its complex and multidisciplinary role in our present and future society, positive human social organization is unsustainable. It argues for the necessity of developing democratic and open leadership and governmental and personal relationships that will liberate humanity and create a post-patriarchal world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The legacy of patriarchy
  • Where to Start?
  • The History of Patriarchy
  • The Meaning and Influence of Patriarchy
  • Patriarchy, Gender, and Violence
  • Beyond Patriarchy
  • Chapter 2. The new patriarchy
  • Patriarchy in a Postmodern World
  • Neopatriarchy
  • Historical Confluence
  • Gender Socialization
  • Jingoism and Sport
  • The Role of Media
  • Chapter 3. Leadership
  • Leadership and Power
  • The Leadership Paradigm
  • The Leadership Industry
  • Patriarchy, Gender and Leadership
  • The Dark Side of Leadership
  • Leadership Reform
  • The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
  • Chapter 4. Education
  • The Historical Context of Education
  • Education Today
  • The Educational Bureaucracy
  • Leadership and Education
  • Educational Leadership and Resistance
  • Critical Resistance and Education
  • Education and Change—Changing Education
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index


This book is about patriarchy—its evolution, expression, and dominance as a social ideology—the patriarch of all other ideologies that continues to influence and direct our social beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors, despite numerous assertions to the contrary. It is the culmination of a lifetime of experience and work as a full-time educator in elementary schools and a career-long part-time pursuit of academic study during which I reflected deeply upon why our world and social experience are so dysfunctional, dissatisfying, and problematic.

In modern Western society we exist in a “democratic gulag”—a mythological prison of ideas, values, and beliefs constructed within a historical tradition of patriarchy, religion, leadership, education, politics, and capitalism that has been refined to the point that we no longer question the prison or its bars; they have become all but invisible to us (Lerner, 1986). Patriarchy has become deeply embedded in our human conscience and has become our consciousness (A. Johnson, 2005).

Like modern Western democracies, our institutions and organizations are built on a foundation of patriarchal values, beliefs, and attitudes about power, economics, religion, and leadership. These values, for example, have created our contemporary capitalist democracy—a concept that has heavily ← 1 | 2 → influenced what we perceive as democracy and that is dramatically different from a substantive, participatory democracy. It has also deeply influenced our education system and everything else in society. Understanding patriarchy demands that we understand its integrated and integrating influence on all major social institutions and every detail of our everyday life. We currently live in an elaborate democratic gulag built on domination, control, and violence—a biased, complex, and patriarchal ideological prison as real as the Soviet gulag described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn but far more insidious in its effects because for all intents and purposes we are not aware that it exists (A. Johnson, 2005). It is constructed of distorted conceptions related to democracy and a democratic way of life, leadership, education, religion, politics, and gender relationships that we accept as normal. We have been progressively socialized to accept these values without question or resistance. This contemporary prison is not made of concrete and steel but self-made abstract ideas where the reality of the patriarchy that underlies them has been disguised to create a superficial illusion of democratic freedom. Western democracy is an unrealized concept—the prison exercise yard of a much larger ideal world experience. We have become complacent in the West about democracy and its meaning and we have rarely, if ever, looked critically and seriously at the concept in its modern incarnation. As Rueshemeyer (2001) states, true democracy contains a different view of power:

Democracy is a matter of power. It is an approximation of equality in the political sphere of collective decision making, however imperfect in reality. A certain balance of power in society is a necessary precondition for democracy. In particular, democracy comes about and gains in quality if previously weak groups and classes gain in power (Rueschemeyer, Stephens, and Stephens, 1992). (p. 80)

In contrast, patriarchal democracy contains a significant imbalance of power. The influences of patriarchy for the most part are gender biased, negative, destructive, adversarial, and violent and restrict the ability of modern society to imagine or achieve true autonomy or to move past their control to a more formally empowered democratic, collective, and sustainable human belief system that gives primacy to all life and its right to control its own individual and collective fate, free from the intimidating, exploitative influences and the socially blinded self-awareness that patriarchy has spawned. Patriarchy is not only a dysfunctional and destructive ideology in its own right but also actively suppresses the ability of society to achieve real democratic ← 2 | 3 → freedom. Achieving a fuller humanity is about looking beyond patriarchy to envision what a post-patriarchal world would and could look like, and why it is critically important that we realize this goal.

Patriarchy is the universal, defining paradigm of social history that has been evolving and growing for thousands of years, always beneath the surface of human interaction and behind the scenes of human activity (A. Johnson, 2005). It requires and deserves our full attention as a society, as individuals, as men and women, and as a human species because it determines who we are, how we behave, what we believe, and how we act. All social behavior and structures are governed or influenced by it, either abstractly or physically. Gender relations, family dynamics, economics, history, politics, culture, leadership, education, or religion—no major theory, practice, or belief (including matriarchy) has been untouched by patriarchy. We are caught in what Eldstrom (1992) refers to as “paradigm paralysis” where we cannot break out of one ideological paradigm to envision anything new:

Paradigms are common and most often useful; however, there are occasions when a paradigm becomes “the” paradigm. When this occurs the phenomenon is referred to as “paradigm paralysis.” This paralysis is a disease; a disease of certainty wherein one believes that the paradigm is the only way, the right way, the unchangeable way. New ideas, new concepts, and new theories cause concern and create tension within the paradigm. New ideas are met with resistance and changes are seen as a threat to the status quo. Individuals who strive to create new paradigms are usually outside the old paradigm. (p. 3)

Paradigm paralysis and patriarchal ideology are synonymous. Beliefs that have crystallized in one form or another and become dominant and unwilling to change are ideologies that resist reason or modification. We have been in a patriarchal paradigm paralysis for most of human history. Generation after generation have been socialized into its ways and mores and dutifully and unquestioningly have taken their place and played their role in its ideological value pyramid that ranks individuals, groups, races, and genders and all living species in a complex hierarchical order of power, valuing, and dominance (Daly, 1978 cited in Walby, 1990; A. Johnson, 2005). However, people throughout time have also aggressively resisted patriarchy as a social currency, including women—even if they have done so unsuccessfully while being ignored by the annals of history. The lives of billions of people throughout time have been given up rejecting the ideology of patriarchy. Throughout the ages people have harbored significant misgivings and ← 3 | 4 → doubts about its fundamental validity and efficacy (Eisenstein, 1999). Those who oppose it far outnumber those who support it, yet through the power of force and numbers, patriarchy has prevailed. It imposes its dominance by depending on each level of the hierarchy to acquiesce to its demands and to ensure their relative control over those below them to maintain or advance their position in the hierarchy of valuing that patriarchy creates (A. Johnson, 2005; Lerner, 1986; Miller, 2003). Patriarchy creates an ideological caste system in society. It has evolved into a complex matrix of benefits and deficits that maintain its allure. The balance between the positive and negative perceived effects must always be slightly tilted in favor of the former to maintain social stability and support for patriarchy—sometimes referred to as “pareto optimality” in other applications—a view expressed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto that held that, in sum, more people must benefit from a change than not for it to be ethically valid and supported (Dunleavy & O’Leary, 1987). It also holds that improvements in another’s condition can only come if not at the expense of others, which is most often not the case within capitalism. Unfortunately, this view describes a divided, polarized society that is constantly in competition to gain ground.

Patriarchy is a self-sustaining and self-perpetuating system. We witness its power in the adherence of both men and women to its archaic dogmatic dictums; in the social relations of their respective faiths and their cultural and domestic relations; their approach to employment, and their willing acceptance of its inequities within their own familial relationships. While at various times and in various ways women in particular have railed against the injustices of patriarchy and brought superficial changes to its application, by and large they have willingly acquiesced to and colluded in its dominance and tacitly accepted its controlling influence (Lerner, 1986; Ng, 1991). It has been such an integral and pervasive part of human existence that it operates as an invisible, subconscious backdrop to all human life. It cannot be studied or analyzed in isolation, nor can other topics such as feminism, leadership, economics, politics, religion, or education. They are all an integrated, self-sustaining system that cannot be separated. Any study of patriarchy must necessarily take into account its effects on the other areas as well (J. Acker, 2006). In a similar manner, any study of the latter topics must necessarily take into account patriarchy, yet it is rarely mentioned in connection with these concepts. The oppressive reality and enormous power of patriarchy is revealed in its complexity, and in its ability to convince society that its influence is negligible. ← 4 | 5 →

The study of patriarchy is crucial to understanding every point in human history because it exposes the underlying forces, relationships, and human motivations that drive our society and have driven our history. Its investigation provides great insight into the origins of social problems. It also helps us to envision a post-patriarchal world. The system that patriarchy promotes generates unhealthy values, attitudes, and beliefs that govern the lives of people everywhere—from the breakfast table to the boardroom table.

The world is in desperate need of a renaissance of renewal that embraces the rights of the majority of humanity as the driving force for social decisions if we are to move toward what Schafer (2008) terms a new “age of culture” (p. 1). This age of culture, as he envisions it, will evolve away from an economic age where current destructive and unsustainable economic values are replaced by broader cultural and social values as the driving force in social decision making. While this is the necessary change required for the future of society it is utopian in its view and neglects the powerful and violent grip of patriarchy and its unrelenting influence on society. While Schafer (2008) correctly acknowledges the age of religion that dominated the Middle Ages, the aesthetic age that dominated the Renaissance and the economic age that currently contextualizes modern society, he fails to acknowledge the crucial role of the millennia-long age of patriarchy that has framed all these periods since the beginning of time as a controlling supra text or supra ideological cocoon. Patriarchy will also appropriate this age of culture and all other successive societal periods unless its pivotal role is recognized and changed. Nothing will change until patriarchy changes. Michael Apple (1995) points this out: “The cultural meanings and practices that grow out of the interaction of gender and class both penetrate to the heart of patriarchal power and class relations, and limit the possibilities for action if they are once again left unorganized” (p. 101).

We have been living in the age of patriarchy for thousands of years of recorded history. We have never known anything else. Throughout this time the male worldview has been tempered but has prevailed. The inertia created by patriarchy is significant and has prevented just such a cultural renaissance from occurring in the past. As French (1985) observes: “To understand a past age is difficult even when written records exist. Documents that are preserved usually serve the interests of the preservers, and all events are reported from a personal—that is to say, biased—perspective” (p. 43). In fact such renaissances when they have occurred have often been colonized by the patriarchal power of primarily male monarchies, military leaders, aristocracies, and economic ← 5 | 6 → elites (Lerner, 1993). In addition, war and conquest have often brutally ended a culture’s hiatus. In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein (2008) documents the destruction of Iraq by invading U.S. forces whose inaction subsequently allowed the looting and destruction of the Library of Antiquities and with it the cultural memory of the Iraqi people and the world in a misguided effort to remake the country into a new capitalist outpost. Culture has been no protection against primitive and insidious patriarchal brutality—then or now—as we are reminded daily in news reports of ISIL beheadings. If we deal with patriarchy, we deal with all the problems of society at their source rather than attacking interlocking parts of its support system. We also must begin to confront our collective social and personal demons. Engaging patriarchy is not about demonizing males but about demonizing authoritarianism and hierarchical power and control as methods of social expression and organization, whether practiced by males or females. We must re-socialize both genders to think and act differently with each other than they have for the past 5,000 years. As Stegemann (2009) asserts:

So what will this shift from a patriarchal society look like for us and our generation? My prediction is that it will not privilege one gender or the other but harmonize both. The new emerging society will be a society where human beings, both male and female, have the ability to transcend gender stereotypes. All people will live beyond the patriarchal myth of women being tender and men being tough. The myth will no longer control us and people will be free to live authentically and perform right action, rather than simply fulfill cultural expectations. (p. 25)


ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
Patriarchy Leadership Education
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 325 pp.

Biographical notes

Robert Bahlieda (Author)

Robert Bahlieda is a retired elementary school principal with 37 years experience in education in Ontario, Canada. He holds a Master’s Degree in English from York University in Toronto and a Doctorate in Education (EdD) from the University of Toronto (OISE).


Title: The Democratic Gulag
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336 pages