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Taming Passion for the Public Good

Taming Passion for the Public Good: Policing Sex in the Early Republic

Mark E. Kann
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Taming Passion for the Public Good
    Book Description:

    Kann's latest tour de force explores the ambivalence, during the founding of our nation, about whether political freedom should augur sexual freedom. Tracing the roots of patriarchal sexual repression back to revolutionary America, Kann asks highly contemporary questions about the boundaries between public and private life, suggesting, provocatively, that political and sexual freedom should go hand in hand. - Ben Agger, University of Texas at Arlington The American Revolution was fought in the name of liberty. In popular imagination, the Revolution stands for the triumph of populism and the death of patriarchal elites. But this is not the case, argues Mark E. Kann. Rather, in the aftermath of the Revolution, America developed a society and system of laws that kept patriarchal authority alive and well - especially when it came to the sex lives of citizens. In Taming Passion for the Public Good, Kann contends that that despite the rhetoric of classical liberalism, the founding generation did not trust ordinary citizens with extensive liberty. Under the guise of paternalism, they were able simultaneously to retain social control while espousing liberal principles, with the goal of ultimately molding the country into the new American ideal: a moral and orderly citizenry that voluntarily did what was best for the public good.Mark E. Kann, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and History, held the USC Associates Chair in Social Science at the University of Southern California. He is the author ofRepublic of Men(NYU Press, 1998) andPunishment, Prisons, and Patriarchy(NYU Press, 2005).

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5946-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 In the Shadow of Patriarchal Authority
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book tells the story of how American leaders were able to conserve, legitimize, and perpetuate patriarchal authority over the sex lives of the first few generations of Americans to reside in a newly emergent liberal society. America’s early elites rejected the rule of English kings and transformed the nation into a liberal society of rights-bearing citizens who consented to limited, lawful government.¹ An important litmus test of elites’ patriarchal authority and police power was their ability to regulate the most intimate aspects of citizens’ private lives, including their sexual language, behavior, and partners, without provoking widespread citizen anger, protest,...

  5. 2 Resilient Patriarchal Authority
    (pp. 23-48)

    By what authority did civic leaders and public officials police sex in the early Republic? They believed their historical and intellectual forbears bequeathed to them patriarchal authority under God. Sir Robert Filmer claimed that God delegated authority to the first father, Adam, as well as to “succeeding patriarchs [who] had, by right of fatherhood, royal authority over their children.”¹ Patriarchal family authority was the original basis for political authority. Family fathers governed their wives, children, servants, poor relatives, slaves, and other household dependents. They also governed their children’s families and then successive generations of heirs. Ultimately, men’s extended families became...

  6. 3 The Need to Police Sex
    (pp. 49-76)

    On the eve of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin published a satire that instructed the British on how to humble their American vassals. The British had to reduce the growth of the American population, which could be accomplished by castrating all American males. He outlined the logistics: “Let a company of sow-gelders, consisting of 100 men, accompany the army. On their arrival at any town or village, let orders be given that on their blowing of the horn all the males be assembled in the market place. If the corps are men of skill and ability in their profession, they...

  7. 4 Policing Impassioned Men
    (pp. 77-102)

    How did the nation’s early leaders go about policing sex? Their strategies were gender based. They perceived the American male primarily as a creature of passion who, under some circumstances, would do nearly anything to satisfy sexual desire. The American male would not and did not naturally fit into the newly emerging middle class and its clean sex ethic. Rather, his natural tendency was to contribute to the social chaos and sexual anarchy associated with the urban masses. Who would police him and how? The new nation’s first generation of leaders perceived the American female quite differently. She too was...

  8. 5 Policing Women’s Sex Lives
    (pp. 103-128)

    Thomas Jefferson proposed different approaches for policing men’s and women’s passion and sexual behavior. He assigned to both high-status males and the state ultimate responsibility for governing males, preventing their misconduct, and punishing manifestations of it. Men wielded patriarchal authority over other men. By contrast, he relied primarily on heads of households—husbands and fathers—to police female sexuality by confining women to domesticity and ensuring their proper behavior there. Jefferson claimed that American women tacitly consented to this arrangement. They were mostly content to lead lives that did not “extend beyond the domestic line.” They chose not to “wrinkle...

  9. 6 Policing Prostitution
    (pp. 129-160)

    Public officials in the early Republic had the unquestionable authority to police prostitution. Generally, they could count on parental, political, and judicial support for their efforts to arrest prostitutes and to shutdown brothels, and they expected the concurrence of neighbors, ministers, and reformers for crusades against public licentiousness and commercial sex. Given so much support, policing prostitution became the ultimate testing ground for determining how serious, how dedicated, and how steadfast politicians were when it came to policing sex in early America. We shall see in this chapter that their commitment to policing sex was quite limited. It was a...

  10. 7 The Patriarchal Core of Liberalism
    (pp. 161-182)

    Patriarchal authority is the core of liberalism. Governing elites lay claim to broad discretionary powers to do whatever they think necessary to contribute to public welfare, regardless of supportive or adverse public opinion. Their discretionary decision-making enables them to limit people’s liberty, to restrain public passion, and to ensure social order. Their efforts to police people’s desire and sex lives is a major component of their contribution to public welfare because they believe, following their forbears, that sexual desire is the most powerful and therefore the most difficult passion for people to self-monitor and self-master. Civic and governing elites believe...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 183-212)
    (pp. 213-228)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 229-236)
    (pp. 237-237)