The Economic Gulag

Patriarchy, Capitalism, and Inequality

by Robert Bahlieda (Author)
©2018 Textbook XII, 336 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 524


The Economic Gulag: Patriarchy, Capitalism, and Inequality is a trenchant critical analysis of the devastating ravages of capitalist patriarchy in our modern society and its pervasive and increasingly destabilizing negative influence on our views and values regarding power, gender, wealth, and inequality. It extends the investigation begun in The Democratic Gulag (2015) that argued that we live in a social and ideological gulag dominated by the meta-ideology of patriarchy that has defined and circumscribed every aspect of the social experience of humanity for millennia to the detriment of all. The Economic Gulag explores how patriarchy is infused within capitalist theory and practice. It offers a socially democratic critique and alternatives to reform its dominance. Through the lens of critical theory and the use of current empirical and statistical research, The Economic Gulag deconstructs the modern neoliberal capitalist wealth myth and its underlying theory of homo economicus. This book exposes a system rife with deception, inequality, human exploitation, and misery that is touted as the unchallenged champion of democratic individualism and success. The Economic Gulag makes a powerful case for the pressing need to dismantle the democratic and economic gulags in which we live and replace them with a new ideal social democracy based on true economic equality and fairness in a post-patriarchal and post-capitalist world. It concludes with fifteen radical, powerful, and transformative recommendations for change that will provide the "shock therapy" required to usher in a new socially democratic order liberated from patriarchy and all its vestiges.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for The Economic Gulag
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • References
  • Chapter 1. Ideology, Leadership, and Capitalism
  • References
  • Chapter 2. The Impact of Industrialization
  • References
  • Chapter 3. The New Global Economy
  • References
  • Chapter 4. The Profit Problem
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Solving the Profit Riddle
  • References
  • Chapter 6. The Social Case Against Capitalism
  • References
  • Chapter 7. Liberating the Gulag
  • References
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


With gratitude
Professor S. Steinberg

| 1 →


Unequivocally, patriarchy is the major roadblock standing in the way of democratic human progress and social evolution. It has been so throughout history. Its record and hallmarks are those of aggression, intimidation, violence, conquest, domination, control, war, competitiveness, and subordination as expressed by alpha-males. Society has existed in a constant war-like state. It has been and continues to be the major underlying social problem that bedevils humanity but that it has yet to confront. Rather than being the apex of human evolution, Homo sapiens are instead an evolutionary aberration that will lead to the extinction of the species unless we can change patriarchy and its corrosive influence on society and human behaviour. Until we move towards a post-patriarchal world, humanity cannot hope to fix the myriad of problems besieging it for the past seven millennia. Patriarchy has invaded and imperially colonized our entire social, intellectual, psychological, and physical landscape including our major social institutions of religion, economics, education, science, and politics; our leadership models; our science, literature, music, and art; and deeply shaped the reality we comprehend while appearing for all intents and purposes invisible and innocuous in the passing of human affairs. It has defined what we understand as knowledge and how we understand and apply it (Rich (1977) cited in Gaskell & McLaren, 1991, p. 225). ← 1 | 2 → Like genetic mutations, the longer society exists, the more amorphous, indistinguishable, and integrated patriarchy becomes and the more dangerous it is going forward. Like a cancer it has spread everywhere. The more successful patriarchy becomes at dominating our world—the more intense the threat of cataclysm. Our contemporary existence is riddled with apparently unresolvable, inexplicable, protracted, and entrenched violence, conflict, and tension perpetrated and fomented almost entirely by males yet we refuse to acknowledge the solution to all these perplexing complexities lies in the simple reform of a millennia-old ideology reflected in the male worldview. Reform patriarchy and we reform civilization at its core and all its intractable problems. It is the most efficient yet difficult long-term solution to social dysfunctionality.

Throughout its evolution, in every dimension of human existence since the dawn of patriarchal societies over 6,000 years ago women and the rest of humanity struggled to free themselves from the forced domination of patriarchy and it’s regressive, dogmatic, male, elitist value set that is so pervasive and invasive. In our modern world, men continue to dictate every aspect of our social interactions from geopolitics to sexual politics under the deluded view that they are ordained to do this by some self-created higher power that conveniently explains their innate superiority (Walby, 1990). Since its inception the history of humankind has been punctuated by ongoing and often fierce resistance to the desire of males to control their world and the world of others around them in non-consensual ways.

Patriarchy is expressed through and impregnated within our religious, economic, political, educational, and economic institutions and our gender relationships. It is the meta-ideology of all ideologies that infuses all social institutions and human behaviour yet is critically ignored as the problematic keystone of human society. It is inexplicably everywhere and nowhere. As a result it is deeply entrenched in our social psyches to such a degree we struggle to even be aware of its presence and influence in anything other than superficial ways. In the postmodern civilization of the 21st century we are living in a state of willful patriarchal blindness that actively ignores, condones, and yet knowingly reinforces and conditions the all-encompassing problematic effects and influences while making only token efforts to resolve them. We blithely overlook and downplay the role and impact of our pervasive “male culture” and the brash bravado of male behaviour in our self-subordinating normalization and affirmation of the ideology of patriarchy. Each day legions of intellectuals, politicians, scholars, and ordinary citizens around the world are subject to and interpret the interrelations and meaning of human existence through ← 2 | 3 → the lens of patriarchy without so much as acknowledging its presence or the impact of the transparent, but ever-present, powerful and intimidating force of patriarchy on everything we do, say, and think. We are all living in collective denial about where the real source of the problem lies and it lies with male power and domination–patriarchy. We cannot move forward until we acknowledge that fact and begin to take meaningful steps to change it. Women who openly and aggressively criticize and challenge patriarchy are often vilified or marginalized as “feminists.” The vast majority of women who passively accept their subordinate role while offering only deferential, circumscribed complaints about their station in life that do little to really change the system are tolerated. Patriarchy is the social air we breathe everyday while being consciously oblivious of its role in our lives and actively denying its significance. Despite our apparently sophisticated social progress and self-awareness it continues to be who we are, why we are, how we are, and what we are and yet we steadfastly deny this reality and cling to the belief that society is somehow randomly and coincidentally balanced, fair, and organized rather than a consciously, purposefully, and forcefully structured entity that favours a specific group within it. To take this position is frankly ludicrous given the overwhelming evidence of male hegemony in our day-to-day life. It is even considered impolite, counter-productive, and disrespectful to excoriate males for their social shortcomings. Whether male or female we are deeply affected by the morays, values, attitudes, and beliefs of males acting out their patriarchal destiny and fantasies.

This denial is a persistent and serious oversight that prevents human civilization from advancing and from fully understanding the meaning of human events or adapting our world to respond to them. We overlook the answers to social problems that are staring us right in the face each and every day that all lie in one common source—patriarchy and patriarchal attitudes that are still proudly cultivated consciously and unconsciously by the global fraternity of men around the world. Patriarchy is the cult of the male and we need to deprogram society. All of humanity’s serious social problems can be traced back to this one, single source and much of humanities’ misery originates from this single location yet we do little to respond to its negative influence; in fact we more often celebrate it while simultaneously decrying it. This is the paradox of patriarchy. We are all happily oblivious to the key factors of its persistence and the pressing need for its change in our modern world. We ignore it at our growing peril. As Drucker (1939/2011) observes regime change occurs as long-brewing social unrest boils to the surface to sweep away the former beliefs. ← 3 | 4 → Unfortunately this usually is accompanied by social upheavals such as the two World Wars and economic depressions. In our modern world, global conflict is not an option any longer in the nuclear age making the continuance of patriarchy an extinction philosophy. Males have been so obsessed with eradicating their own kind whom they consider enemies, they have perfected the art to such a degree as to eliminate it as a possibility. While we consume ourselves with the vagaries of narcissistic materialism and daily human life we ignore the primal source of those issues that could well sweep us all away. In looking at the trees we cannot see the forest. We would be well advised to adjust our perspectives and our behaviour before they are adjusted for us.

Throughout history men have imperially, self-righteously, and forcefully conscripted every aspect of human existence to serve their personal, idiosyncratic needs and whims and to reflect their self-effacing perspectives to the exclusion of all others and particularly women. Males have placed themselves at the center of the human solar system. It is males’ view of everything in life as their chattels to be possessed, used, and discarded that is at the core of our social miscalculations throughout history and today. This view is not restricted to simply economics but as The Democratic Gulag: Patriarchy, Leadership and Education (Bahlieda, 2015) argued it pervades religion, politics, and all other social institutions as we know them. Such a value set dehumanizes existence itself while putting it at the disposal of the male of the species. The latter have arrogantly, arbitrarily, and self-righteously decreed that humanity shall be made in their image without any fundamental moral or social right to do so starting with their conscription of religion and religious belief in the service of male interests. There is little criticism even in modern society of the glaring misogyny of religion and its usurpation of divinity for crass worldly male designs (Hitchens, 2008). God has no daughters. Males have unilaterally taken that right leading to the history of conflict and resistance to this assumption ever since. Humankind’s fundamental and intrinsic core of equality and autonomy that is held in every person has been trampled on by males since time began. This is still the source of the tension, conflict, and discord that continues to torment our world even today where we continue to be governed by antiquarian male dogma. The multi-dimensional nature of patriarchy presents scholars and humanity with the not insignificant challenge of how to kill the Hydra. Cutting off one of the heads simply allows the others to continue to live while the severed one regrows. Changing patriarchy requires changing our entire world and everything in it. ← 4 | 5 →

Many of these expressions of maleness are deeply ritualized and problematic and without openly recognizing and confronting them we have no hope of improving our future collective social lot. Patriarchy is the elephant in the room and it must be named and acknowledged before we are able to address it (Goettner-Abendroth, 2013). One of the most difficult and disturbing elements of it is that it is almost always associated with violence and repression for this is the only way that dominance can be achieved—against the will of others. Whether it is psychological brainwashing, socialization, or physical domination the result is the same. This is essentially the flawed and problem-ridden traditional definition of leadership as male, heroic, charismatic, messianic, and singular that has and still does dictate our social interactions and organizational cultures everywhere (Gilbert & Matviuk, 2008; Gilligan & Richards, 2009; Leo & Barton, 2006). It is authoritarian, bureaucratic, hierarchical, and positional at its core despite postmodern rhetoric about empowerment and individual freedom (Ryan, 2006). In contrast, power without dominance leads to real equality and democracy yet we continue to cling to adversarial, confrontational, power-based, patriarchal models of leadership and geopolitics around the world. The violence of leaders has always been accepted and celebrated in our history books and social accounts as a normal and celebrated facet of historical evolution and social reality rather than as an evolutionary aberration that must be problematized and expunged from our social vernacular (Fukuyama, 2011). We also have a gender-biased patriarchal history that provides no record of the views, beliefs, and aspirations of women or those who were on the losing side or who were simply the cannon fodder of vainglorious leaders and their cohorts. Our history is the account of elite, ruthless, and powerful egocentric males—the 1%—written by other admiring males about those who through guile, artifice, violence, or political intrigue were able to force themselves on a most often unreceptive and resistant society (Polanyi, 1945/2001). The true reality of the history of society that should be acknowledged and celebrated is the reality of ongoing resistance and defiance to dominance in the face of overwhelming male oppression while demonizing the brutal and vicious male leaders and their cohorts who slaughtered and pillaged their way through time and continue to do so today.

No gender, culture, race, or geographic, political, religious, or economic strata are without patriarchal nomenclature and thus patriarchy is a contemporary universal phenomenon and problem in all societies around the globe (Orelus, 2010). It is patriarchy that is Hobbes’ leviathan. Only patriarchy and the innate capacity for religious belief (Eliade, 1975; Fukuyama, 2011) ← 5 | 6 → are universal and complementary in their action in the world. Religion is the mythological expression of the ideology of patriarchy. Both reinforce the other since religion arises from the conceptions of patriarchal males justifying their elite authority. Despite having varying expressions due to cultural and religious differences the core values of male supremacy, superiority, and hegemony of males oriented in a war-like culture are consistent everywhere and are practiced to varying degrees by all males and females worldwide. They are expressed in the majority of religions in a similar manner—hierarchies of power than culminate with a single dominant and often divine and all-knowing male at the top. This patrimonial, messianic, and warrior culture and mentality has invaded, colonized, and conquered society not only at the external, observable, and practical level but more importantly at the subliminal psychological, emotional, and intellectual level creating a psychosocial Orwellian patriarchal Big Brother inside the head of every person on earth and in every home in every country to self-monitor society for compliance according to the patriarchal code, both literally and figuratively. We are our own jailers.

We have all been co-opted into the patriarchal universe in one form or another. Thus we have the anachronistic and dislocated reality of contemporary, well-educated, intelligent, and otherwise self-assured Muslim women who willingly wear the niqab, hijab, and even burka in Islamic cultures with little apparent thought about its oppressive patriarchal religious origins in a male prophet’s conception of chastity, morality, and belief in an imagined god some 1,500 years ago that is being imposed on women today through subtle antiquated social, religious, and cultural intimidation. We have innumerable examples of the acceptance of the patriarchal code by similarly contemporary and well-educated women in all walks of life. This is all part of the centuries-old expectation of a patriarchal religious belief or the passive and inexplicable willing subordination of women to the glaringly obvious patriarchal practices and history of the Christian and Islamic religions that equally deny women a substantive self-determining role in the construction of their own belief and religious expression. It is equally expressed in the acceptance of traditional domestic roles by modern western women despite their knowledgeable and liberated lifestyles that allow them the freedom to achieve in their democratic societies. The prisoners in the exercise yard have great latitude. Highly accomplished women continue to carry out traditional domestic patterns in their personal relationships while compartmentalizing the paradox. While feminism aggressively challenged male patriarchy in society it has had little to say regarding the failure of liberated women to internalize ← 6 | 7 → and actualize their rights regarding their own faiths and domestic lives and this is part of its failure. The placations of gender equality and circumscribed independence have become a palliative for real freedom that women have accepted in making their “patriarchal bargain” with males (Kandiyoti, 1988 cited in Acker, 1994, p. 195). Thus patriarchy continues to distinctively and specifically colour our worldview on innumerable seemingly unrelated social and gender issues leading to widely different human outcomes particularly for women than a more diverse, non-patriarchal, inclusive, fully gender-neutral democratic and cooperative social structures that would eschew the core values of domination, violence, and control practiced and accepted by men. Women in leadership positions more often than not take on the mantle of patriarchal behaviour rather than rejecting it. While most social problems around the world have their source in patriarchy, it is rarely the focus of serious and comprehensive change strategies aimed at resolving these issues.

In its ideological worldview and its operation and influence, patriarchy is akin to global social, cultural, and ideological violation as the preferences of males are forced upon all others whether they want them or not or whether they resist or not. It is non-consensual dominance based on power and that is what physical rape is all about as well (Brownmiller, 1975). We can only conjecture about the real history of the world as fully experienced by the other 99% because their story was never recorded or valued. In fact what we have is a distorted male fairy tale masquerading as global history that is by-and-large uncritically accepted by most politicians, business leaders, academics, scholars, historians, and the general public without comment or thought. In essence we must engage in a revisionist approach to history in order to reconstruct and tell a full and balanced account of past events since our accepted history is so skewed and tainted by the views of the male victors that it is all but useless to real historians. We need to retell and revision our history to make it reflect the lives of all those who experienced it including the full range of the horrors that most endured not just the experiences of the privileged and arbitrarily lucky few who survived. We need to move the footnotes of history into the body of the text. The vast majority of the violence throughout time has been perpetrated and excused by males and this continues to be the case such as with Bashar Al Assad in Syria and the fanatic Muslim movement of Daesh. Males (and females) have been apologists for males’ abuses of society since the inception of patriarchy. We all suffer from a collective form of Stockholm syndrome in which terrified hostages begin to identify with their captors after being held in captivity for a long period of time. Thus patriarchy is the crucial ← 7 | 8 → factor to be examined and altered if humanity is ever to live in a more peaceful and sustainable world. It is the keystone to change in global society and to its very survival.

Employing the theoretical perspective of critical theory, this book like The Democratic Gulag before it will assert that until we actively and openly problematize, critically analyze, engage, confront, and hold accountable the role of the male gender in history and the world we will not be able to solve some of the most intractable problems plaguing humanity (Fukuyama, 2011). We cannot solve the problem without naming it and its name is patriarchy. To complicate this challenge, we are living in an age of the re-ascendancy of traditional, fundamentalist retro-patriarchy in our current postmodern society and the re-assertion of traditional autocratic, extremist, patriarchal values of violence, domination, and control in their various incarnations whether in the sectarian violence and extremism of certain Muslim sects or the hard shift to the right in global politics bordering on neo-fascism. We are living in a pivotal period of a polarizing struggle between forward-thinking, democratic, egalitarian, civilized, and progressive forces in society who continue to desire constructive and non-violent change and the simultaneously retrograde and oppressive forces of anachronistic patriarchal hegemony and practices evoked by extremist right-wing elements of various types. Instability and extremism are becoming the “new normal.”

These disturbing recent developments should be a harsh wake-up call to all people who have passively taken for granted their comfortable dominant white, western, democratic lifestyles and assumed their ongoing existence without holding our political processes and societal beliefs to account. Society is a living, breathing, continuously changing entity that must be constantly attended to if we wish it to deliver the kind of society we desire. The danger is similar for those self-assured modernists who believe that the advance of civilization is a linear progression and not a random, circuitous, and easily reversed one instead. The ultimate irony is that when viewed from a critical perspective even our western democratic societies are carefully constructed social gulags that create a chimera of democracy and freedom but not its substance (von Werlhof, 2011). We cannot abdicate human responsibility to any third party to justify our own moral failures and culpability. In particular we ignore patriarchy and its destructive and caustic influence on human relations and autonomy at our collective peril. We must lift ourselves from our self-induced, materialist, consumerist reverie and re-engage with our social processes to protect the kind of human existence we want and will accept and to demand ← 8 | 9 → that our political and social leaders deliver this type of reality (Harvey, 2010). Open, democratic societies do not happen by accident but must be crafted through continuous hard work and change. Complacency, passivity, and apathy are the values of the victim and the subordinate. Authoritarianism, violence, domination, and control are the values of the oppressive victor and the patriarch. Both must be eradicated from our social vocabulary and replaced with a new equal democratic social reality.

As a society we must unilaterally reject the ideology of patriarchy in all its forms and condemn its regressive values while replacing them with more gender-balanced ones. We must change this one-way “dialogue of dominance” into an androgynous, interactive one of a balanced gender identity and behaviour that reflects the full potential and authority of both men and women. We must find the path between these two polarities employing inclusive critical discourse and debate and honest consensus in addition to binding decision-making processes that reflect the wishes of the diversity, complexity, and humanity of society as its primary mandate. This must also be done in a climate of balanced power that permits true consensus. We must also demonstrate a willingness to comply with shared decisions without resorting to violence if we ever hope to survive as a human species. The best hope for this new future is one based on ideal socialist values.

Particularly we must begin to realize the importance and necessity of critically analyzing the ideology of patriarchy and its deep tendrils that permeate and dictate the very nature and texture of our sentient world in addition to the dysfunctional impacts it has, has had, and continues to have on human existence. We must begin to pay far greater attention to the phenomenon of patriarchy and cease treating it as a benign, naturalized, anachronistic, and remediated element of human relations rather than a pervasive and pernicious socialized form of gender dominance that we have ignored for far too long. This book will continue the examination of the influence of patriarchy begun in The Democratic Gulag by focusing on our capitalist economic system and the globalization of inequality under neopatriarchy.

Despite a robust and substantial body of expanding feminist research (French, 1985; Gilligan & Richards, 2009; Johnson, 2005; Lerner, 1986, 1993, 1997; Walby, 1990, 2004, 2007), the study of patriarchy continues to be an undertheorized, relatively neglected, and narrow field of scholarship restricted primarily to female academics (Friedman, 1996) that merits far more serious and sustained widespread public and scholarly attention (particularly by males) than it currently receives given its significant importance to social ← 9 | 10 → function and dysfunction already noted. Fukuyama (2011) discusses the analogy of ideological or institutional orthodoxies that support social structure being compared to turtles standing on each other’s backs. He underscores the importance of understanding the first turtle that supports all others as a key to informed historical study. He asserts that one cannot understand historical developments fully without going far enough back to find the primary turtle upon which current society is constructed. While he identifies religion and economics as key turtles in the formative chain he overlooks the foundational turtle of patriarchy upon which all other institutions and ideologies are standing in his turtle hierarchy. In light of the fact that for the past five to seven millennia patriarchy has been the recorded historical values core of virtually every global social institution and civilization including capitalism, patriarchy warrants intensive and appropriately rigorous scrutiny regarding its impact and effect on everything in our social reality. Yet despite this, it receives relatively scant attention from political scientists, economists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, and numerous other academic disciplines and their experts (both male and female) who often completely ignore or rarely mention the central role of patriarchy in their interpretation and understanding of their respective disciplines. This is a major scholarly oversight and reflects even the academic deference we accord to patriarchy. They also pay little attention to the equally pivotal but completely ignored role and relevance of matriarchy and matricentric societies and values in human history and contemporary society and the role of women in pre- and post-historic indigenous societies (Goettner-Abendroth, 2013).

So whether it is patriarchy or matriarchy, scholars appear to be reticent to give appropriately serious attribution to either gender ideology as key factors in social history and evolution. As the all-encompassing and most recent theoretical source of the vast majority of human activity patriarchy is repeatedly overlooked as a causative and complicating factor in human affairs. It has been relegated to the dustbin of theoretical study however this neglect is more a case of intentional, rather than legitimate oversight. The reason for this is that patriarchy represents the absolute core of human history and demands global and comprehensive social change to alter its course which in turn demands full responsibility from society for its past, including men. A myriad of renowned and respected scholars in most social science disciplines and academic areas other than feminism (including many female scholars and writers) analyze complex and weighty issues related to their field without ever once mentioning or indicating any scholarly awareness of the presence and ← 10 | 11 → role of patriarchy in the meaning of events or the practices of society that they are investigating despite its impact being unavoidable.

Its uncanny ability to hide while in plain sight is the perplexing problematic of patriarchy. For example, the eminent and prolific philosopher A. C. Grayling neglected to include a definition of the term in his book Ideas That Matter: A Personal Guide for the 21st Century (2010) as did the noted social and literary scholar Raymond Williams before him in his book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976) both of which are intended as explanatory compendiums of important terms for the intellectual understanding of the social landscape of modern society. The study of patriarchy continues to be a small percentage of the total number of research articles and books published each year. Patriarchy continues to be vastly undervalued, under-analyzed, and unappreciated intellectually as the most serious global problem facing humankind nor is it given its proper due given the magnitude of its impact. As Gilligan and Richards (2009) note, the study of patriarchy has almost become passé. This indicates the paucity of serious concern or attention by the academic and public community to its primary destabilizing role in the modern world other than as a persistent historical curiosity to be summarily noted and dismissed that is being slowly remediated through social awareness while nothing could be further from the truth. At no time during our human history has it been more important to acknowledge, characterize, and change patriarchy and in doing so change the termination path of humankind. Rather than being remediated, patriarchy is becoming more integrated, entrenched, and sublimated in our social psyches in ways never before conceived possible before the appearance of modern information technology and the growing capacity of social forces for global brainwashing and propagandizing (Herman & Chomsky, 2002). Whereas in the past the influence of patriarchy was confined to the single individual, family, kin unit, clan, or local society, today the actions of one individual can have global impact in seconds. Mass socialization and mind control is now possible and practical. We need look no further than North Korea to see a contemporary example of this effect in action. What is fascinating is how patriarchy evolved so uniformly across the globe before mass communication and contact between cultures, something that underscores the genetic roots of patriarchal values.

Patriarchy, like democracy and other widely assumed benign concepts is a term that society appears to firmly believe is fully understood and actualized in western societies and requires little further attention or comprehension while in reality it is an active and subtle background factor in all human activity ← 11 | 12 → much like the virulent form of capitalist democracy in which we currently and so obliviously live. This modernist acceptance masks the insidious nature of patriarchy and its powerful and hidden ongoing influence on our contemporary world through leadership, economics, religion, education, and politics. In the field of human endeavour wherever men are, patriarchy is present. In contrast, as this book and The Democratic Gulag: Patriarchy, Leadership and Education (Bahlieda, 2015) before it would argue it is the most important, daunting, complex, all-encompassing, and critically challenging social research focus to undertake today if we truly want to understand the full pathology, sociological complexity, and diversity of human behaviour and its resolution. As noted earlier studying patriarchy means taking on the intimidating multidisciplinary task of studying society as an integrated and interdependent whole in a world dominated by the detailed particularism and specificity of a fragmentary empirical rationalism and social experience. As both Peter Drucker (1939/2011) and Karl Polanyi (1945/2001) posit, the analysis of the meaning of social forces and their primacy in social meaning and understanding is critical to the progress of humankind.

Answering the why question of social events goes beyond reporting on the historical facts but extends to understanding the social impacts of those facts on real people. The study of patriarchy requires a holistic approach to effectively understand its integrated impact and global dominance but also a specific approach to understand its detailed expressions in society. A dialectical method is required. Patriarchy is the lodge pole of this capability. It is the corrupted source code of humanity that must be rewritten and at the root of the innumerable challenges plaguing the world today. By addressing and understanding the dysfunctional dynamics that patriarchy generates we have the ability and capacity to effectively and profoundly alter the future course of our entire human species in varied and constructive ways that are far more practical in the long run than constantly responding to the unending blizzard of individual crises that it perpetually generates. While dealing with its manifestations is important and often unavoidable in the short term it does nothing to solve the ongoing root causes of these dilemmas found in the patriarchal socialization patterns of human society thus allowing them to continue undiminished in a repetitive dystopic historical cycle; whether it is the barbarity of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), the scourge of domestic violence, the unrelenting psychological oppression and misogyny of organized religion, the objectification of society for male gratification, the social and economic caste system and its resultant stratification of class and gender, pornography, ← 12 | 13 → geopolitical conflict or a host of others. Employing patriarchal short-term confrontational approaches to social problem solving is a futile, destructive pursuit and must be ended. While this task often seems overwhelming to the individual person it is crucial to a different future for humankind and can only be achieved by altering attitudes, beliefs, and values through altered socialization patterns (Brookfield, 2005). If force is not the answer, patriarchy isn’t either. The most important fact that we all must remember is the undeniable reality that anything in human existence, whether economic, religious, political, educational, or otherwise is conceived of by the conscious human mind and thus we are all ultimately responsible for our behaviour—not to a distant, all-powerful mythical supreme male being or other external source but to each other and ourselves—and only ourselves (Polanyi, 1945/2001). If all the people (particularly males) throughout history had made positive, affirming, individual choices to act ethically, honestly, responsibly, compassionately, and democratically the horrific history of humankind could have been largely avoided. We cannot change the past so we need to attack the present to alter the future—and time is running out.

Critical theory and other scholarly perspectives are often critiqued for their reductionist essentialism and conceptual density (Cohen cited in Resai-Rashti, 2005; Sleeter, 2013) yet this denigration of the over-simplification of modernist theoretical thinking by postmodern thought is in itself too often dismissive, elitist, and overstated in itself. As Harvey (2010) notes: “Broad adhesion to postmodern and post-structuralist ideas which celebrate the particular at the expense of big picture thinking does not help” (p. 238). Reductionism and essentialism, rather than being obscurantist, are in fact part of a larger comprehensive intellectual and theoretical dialectical approach to understanding complex issues arising from disparate singularities as has been noted already. This fluid complexity of theorizing between the micro and the macro is crucially necessary to fully understand global epistemologies like patriarchy, power, capitalism, or religious belief because there are elements of universality in their influences and effects that work in concert with or grow out of the specific applications of their universal logic to create social frameworks that endure. As Lynd (1968) states: “The need is to view contemporary power not piecemeal but as a whole, in its full setting, and when one writes about detailed aspects of power to do so in this perspective” (p. 105). Ignoring or dismissing the revelatory essentialisms of theory as simplistic and inadequate generalizations leaves its comprehension incomplete by ignoring the dialectical nature between a core truth of a concept or ideology ← 13 | 14 → and its specific variants expressed through human experience. Both are informative and informing. The dialectical tension between the individual and the totality, between the end and the means as Garaudy (1970) describes it is a cohesive meaning of their dualism together in a dynamic relationship. As Harvey (2010) states of interaction of what he describes as seven “social activity spheres” within capitalism: “The relations between the spheres are not causal but dialectically interwoven through the circulation and accumulation of capital” (p. 128).

A beach is most often comprehended as a visual totality but we are also aware that it is made up of billions of individual grains of sand. Studying a single grain of sand cannot ever hope to provide full comprehension of the concept of the beach or its composition but without each grain there would be no beach. Similarly, we cannot conceive of a beach without being aware of its infinitesimal granular nature. We are aware of both simultaneously. It is in the interplay between essential knowledge of larger understandings and the specific variations of individual ideas and human behaviours that a comprehensive and fully integrated appreciation is achieved. As the blind men exploring the elephant discovered specific knowledge without broad comprehension cannot help one to know what an elephant is. This is how intellectual analysis works best. This is the view of Marxist dialectical materialism and reason that acknowledges the constant tension and interplay between absolute and relative truths. Every scientific, economic, or educational fact exists in relationship to a collective body of facts and more expansive understandings of the field that form a larger absolute reality of that discipline. Everything exists in context. As Lynd (1968) further points out:

This is very similar to Michel Foucault’s (1995) understanding of power. The forces and expressions of patriarchal power exist in a dynamic tension between each other that creates a more refined and powerful meaning as a whole than each individual part could provide. The micro/macro, essential/particular dichotomies simultaneously exist in tension and are both required to properly theorize and understand human existence. Thus grand theorizing on its own or scientific particularism and detail by itself cannot result in a complete understanding of human life and can descend into authoritarian ← 14 | 15 → dogmatism much like religious belief (Garaudy, 1970). Scientific empirical particularism has dominated knowledge and theory conceptions for centuries and isolated problem solving into disconnected silos of research mediating against comprehensive cross-disciplinary solutions that are critical in today’s world. The process of scientific analysis is also glacially slow and cannot respond to many pressing human needs effectively. To do this certain summary judgments and decisions must be made based on the best evidence, common sense, and perception of society as a whole available at the time—something that unfortunately is often in short supply. Both forms of knowing must interact in a dialectical way to create a fuller meaning in the context of humanity. We have become so caught up in examining the minutia of life, we often fail to discern the larger important patterns that can lead to change. In addition, although we are often good at recognizing issues, we are very poor at responding to them in any meaningful and pragmatic way that actually changes things. To put it simply—talk is cheap. As Garaudy (1970) concisely states regarding the relationship between an essential core concept and the specific expression of it:


XII, 336
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XII, 336 pp.

Biographical notes

Robert Bahlieda (Author)

Robert Bahlieda is a retired elementary school principal (2008) and academic theorist with 37 years of experience working in education in Ontario, Canada. He holds a Master’s Degree (M.A.) in English from York University in Toronto and a Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) from the University of Toronto (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).


Title: The Economic Gulag