Recovering All the Past with Amaury de Riencourt

Recovering All the Past with Amaury de Riencourt, a review by Frank Zepezauer (first published in the Jan/Feb 2000 issue of The Liberator)

Recovering All the Past with Amaury de Riencourt

By Frank Zepezauer, Resident Philosopher

In 1974, Amaury de Riencourt wrote a book which helped to recover a past that feminists were busily trashing. It was Sex and Power in History[1]. The title is somewhat misleading. Feminists at the time were trashing the entire past, all of humanity’s story going back to our departure from the higher primates. Which meant not only all of history, what has been written, but all of pre-history everything that happened before the written word.

And feminists were saying that the entire process, all of humanity’s history, started wrong and the woman’s movement was here to set everything right. Feminists always thought big and planned big, supplying us with a new example of “chutzpa.” The word means big time brazen boldness, breathtaking nerviness. An often-used example was the man who killed his parents and then begged for mercy on the grounds he was an orphan. Feminists have given us a better example: a small group of determined woman who believe they know how to reinvent the universe and are hell bent on getting the job done.

Among the critics who examined this megalomania was Amaury de Riencourt who went with feminists all the way back to the beginning, and concluded that they got the whole thing wrong. He then issued a warning, that if they ever got enough power to bring off their hare-brained project, they would generate a disaster. He said that the feminist revolt, “if not understood and coped with at its cultural root, could destroy Western society.”[2]

It’s now twenty-five years later and events have proved Amaury de Riencourt a prophet. We are just now beginning to understand the feminist project—what these madwoman ideologues really want to do—but we have not yet adequately coped with it. Radical feminists in the 1990s were the big gorilla in domestic policy, shoving through one piece of legislation after another, and, at the beginning of the 21st century, they enjoy enough power to push through still more, enough to destroy our culture right down to its roots.

Amaury de Riencourt is therefore worth reading, but his Sex and Power is out of print and hard to get. In this and following columns I will try to give you enough of a summary so that you will get the substance of what he said. At this point, I’d like to offer you an overview of his main ideas, but before I do that I want to say something that needs to be said as a preface to any discussion about women and power in society. It is the demographic reality that nearly every society seeks to perpetuate itself, to become a people with a future as well as a past. We see ourselves as Americans, for example, not only in terms of who we have been and who we are now but who we will be in the future. The “we” we talk about includes the living and the dead and those yet to be born.

To perpetuate ourselves we must have children who will continue our story. And to perpetuate ourselves at the same level, each woman living today must bear at least two children. Demographers take into account women who can’t or won’t bear children so the replacement rate is something like 2.2 children per woman. This demographic truth is not part of a patriarchal conspiracy. It is not something men conjured up to bedevil women. It is what each woman has to do to take us into the future. Simone de Beauvoir, who incidentally de Riencourt finds to be terribly wrongheaded, called this reality women’s enslavement to the species. It may be so. But it hasn’t been men who did the enslaving.

Throughout most of history, nearly every society not only wanted to keep its population at replacement level but to grow larger. That meant that each woman had to bear more than the basic two children. She had to bear three or four or five or more. And she had to bear them under circumstances that obtained in most societies throughout history. They included the fact that many children did not survive their infancy. It was a common experience to lose at least one child, and many families lost two or more. That meant that each woman had to bear more than four children to insure that at least two would grow into adulthood.

Another circumstance was the fact that many women did not survive childbirth. It is a terrible truth. In most societies in most of the past until well into the 19th Century, each woman risked her life to bear a child. It is a terrible truth but it is not a condition imposed on women by men and men have had their own terrible truths to live with. In most societies in most of the past right down to the 21st Century men have also had to risk their lives, often in defense of their wives and children. Throughout history, motherhood and fatherhood were risky professions and every decade has piled up casualties.

These facts have applied throughout most of history, but they do not apply to American society going into the 21st Century. We have since 1970 experienced a great fear of population explosion and have sharply cut back our birth rate. At present, it is just about at replacement level and we have achieved “zero population growth.” It is now going past that level to a point where our population will shrink. We have not noticed the effects because we have boosted our immigration rates. But even with immigration, if we continue the way we are going we will shrink.

A lot of people believe that’s a good thing and are celebrating. But Amaury de Riencourt sees it as a sign of cultural decline. It has happened before in Western history. The great Greek civilization died out fairly soon after it had reached its greatest achievements in the fifth century BC. And it died out in large part because Greeks were no longer reproducing themselves. Some spirit in them had shriveled and many of them stopped having children.

The same thing happened later to the Romans, which is why I will now repeat de Riencourt’s warning, this time quoting it in full: “…the feminist revolt which, if not understood and coped with at its cultural root could destroy Western society as a similar movement destroyed Roman civilization. [3]

The “feminist revolt” de Riencourt is speaking of began in Augustan times and was a major cause of Rome’s decline. There had been a similar feminist revolt in Greece, which began at the end of the great Periclean Age. There have also been feminist revolts since then, during the Renaissance for example, at the beginning of the 19th Century, and once again in the middle of the 20th Century.

These revolts constitute evidence for a point that de Riencourt makes throughout Sex and Power in History. It is that Western Civilization is the only civilization that has had feminist revolts. He attributes that fact to a fundamental imbalance between the masculine and the feminine principle that set in at its very beginnings. De Riencourt follows Jungian psychology on this point, that each individual as well as the society at large has a combination of anima, the feminine principle, and animus, the masculine principle. In a healthy individual both principles are at work, but in men the animus should dominate and in women the anima should dominate, but it should not prevail exclusively. Each man should have some anima and each woman should have some animus. In that sense, de Riencourt says, we are all psychologically androgynous.

(This is, incidentally, not the kind of androgyny feminists have tried to foster. Feminists believe that masculinity and femininity are social constructs, essentially fictions created by the patriarchy. Thus neither exists naturally in the male or female. It is only imposed on them by society. All we are, feminists believe, are packages of human potential. Each male or female has the same potential, all the same feelings and appetites and instincts, and, in the kind of society feminists would establish, each male and female would be free to develop their potential as they please without having to accommodate to artificial “sex roles.” Thus, in the feminist view, we are all born free androgynes and are enslaved by the imposition of a femininity and masculinity which pleases the patriarchy, and enslaves the individual man or woman.)

By the same token a healthy society has a balance between the anima and the animus. In that sense Western Civilization has not been as healthy as it could be. From its beginning the animus has been too dominant, suppressing the anima almost, sometimes, to the point of extinction. This is due in large part to the fact that it was formed by a blending of Jewish and Greek culture and both cultures were emphatically, exuberantly masculine.

De Riencourt’s theory is that both cultures were founded by nomads and nomadic societies tend to be strongly masculine. Agricultural societies, which prevailed during a great part of pre-history, tend to emphasize the feminine. In such societies women are involved in the farm work, and women enjoy more social equality. In addition, farmers rely on the bounty of “Mother Earth” and adapt themselves to a seasonal cycle which sees growth, harvesting, death, and rebirth… and this cycle inclines societies toward worshipping female deities, in particular “the Great Mother.” In those societies the anima is very strong if not dominant.

Nomadic societies, on the other hand, are less bound to the earth and its cyclic rhythms. They develop no attachment to any particular piece of terrain and guide their movements by the sun and the stars. They are thus inclined to worship sky gods, particularly the sun. Historians who traced a major shift in mythology from Great Mother families to sky god families, call the shift “solarization.” Worshipping the sun was a guy thing and that’s what nomads tended to do.

The early Hebrews, for example, were mostly sheepherders who moved up and down the fertile crescent. They had little to do at that time with farming, a disinclination which appears in the story of Cain, the farmer who is rejected by Jehovah and Abel, the shepherd who enjoys his favor.

Orthodox Judaism has since remained heavily masculine, retaining for example an all-male clergy and sharply dividing the sexes. To this day a woman may not pray at the Wailing Wall.

The early Greeks were also herdsmen but they did not originate in what is now Greece. They came in from the Asian steppes where they had roamed for centuries. They were tough and warlike and macho, and when they came down into Europe in the second millennium BC, they tore up the place. This event is called the “Dorian Invasion,” and it initiated a dark age.

Little is known about what happened during a three century period. What little we do know tells us that the existing civilizations, based on Great Mother worship, were all but extinguished. By the end of the period the Greek pantheon was headed by a male god, Zeus, and the entire mythology was male oriented. However, the barbaric Dorians slowly became civilized themselves, largely by assimilating the cultures they conquered. We see them moving in that direction in the Homeric epics where they are still tough, warlike, and macho but are showing signs of the cultivation which flowered in the Periclean Age.

But that great epoch was so heavily masculinized that women, who had more status and power in the pre-Homeric ages, rebelled. I will tell about that event in Part 2 of this series.

It turns out that Western Civilization was not only founded by two heavily masculine cultures. It has been periodically reinvigorated by still other masculine cultures. There have been a number of invasions into Europe initiated by barbaric Asian tribes, such as the Goths, the Huns, and the Mongols, all of them herdsmen, all of them super macho. I’ll tell more about them in parts of my review of Sex and Power in History. Till then, have a happy new year, century, and millennium.


1.Amaury de Riencourt, Sex and Power in History, (New York, NY: Dell, 1974.

2.Amaury de Riencourt, p. ix.

3.Amaury de Riencourt, Sex and Power in History, p. ix. My emphasis.

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