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claudia von werlhof
In her important book, For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange, Genevieve
Vaughan states: “In order to reject patriarchal thinking we must be able to distin-
guish between it and something else: an alternative” (1997: 23). I fully identify
with this statement as I, too, have tried “to think outside patriarchy” although
being inside it most of the time. At the “First World Congress of Matriarchal
Studies,” held in Luxemburg in 2003, where Vaughan and I first met, she stated,
“If we don’t understand society in which we live we cannot change it; we do not
know where the exit is!” Therefore, “we have to dismantle patriarchy.” In this
article, I would like to add to Vaughan’s analysis of capitalist patriarchy and tackle
the task of dismantling patriarchy.
Capitalist Patriarchy and the Negation
The Struggle for a “Deep” Alternative
“A Different World is Possible!”
This has been the main slogan of the worldwide civilian movement against glo-
balization for years. I have to add: “A radically different world is possible!”—it is
not only possible but also urgently needed. But without a vision of this radically
different world we will not be able to move in this direction. Therefore we need
to discuss, first of all, a radically different worldview. For this purpose we have to
analyze what is happening today and why. Only then will we be able to define a
really different world, worldview and vision.
“Globalization:” An Explanation
A radically different worldview is necessary because today we are observing global
social, economic, ecological, and political developments that are completely different
from what they should be. “Globalization” is obviously not a movement toward
more democracy, peace, general welfare, wealth, and ecological sustainability, as
its propagators are pretending everywhere. On the contrary, the opposite is true.
Never in history are so many people dying from hunger and thirst, environmental
destruction, and war, most of them women and children. Never in history have
so many people been confined to poverty, income reduction, expulsion, expro-
priation, and extreme exploitation, again, most of them women and children.
Never in history has technological progress led to such intense and threatening
destruction of the environment globally. Never in history has the nuclear threat
been so acute. Never in history have the political systems been changing so clearly
in the direction of authoritarian, if not despotic rule in many parts of the world.
And never in history has such a tiny minority on the globe been so incredibly rich
and powerful. For transnational corporations and their “global players” today, we,
and the planet, are nothing but their “play material.”
This situation can be called the “development of underdevelopment” (Frank
1978). But this time underdevelopment is not only taking place in the South,
but also in the North. It is the result of a “new colonization of the world” (Mies
2004) that did and does not happen inexplicably, but is actively and aggressively
promoted by governments as their general and apparently “normal” policy, begin-
ning in the 1980s of the twentieth century. This policy consists in a “continuing
process of primitive accumulation” (Werlhof 1988) that leads to a forced eco-
nomic growth through the direct expropriation of the peoples of the globe and
the globe itself. The name of this policy is “neo-liberalism.” This new liberalism
serves exclusively the interests of the corporations. For the rest of humanity it
means just the opposite, totalitarianism.
Is this “New World Order” (Chomsky 1999) the “best of all possible worlds”
that western civilization pretends to develop? Or is the current development of
western civilization better defined as the peak and turning point towards its final
decline (Wallerstein 1974)?
Capitalist Patriarchy: A Historical Concept
Many people have provided descriptions of globalization as global crisis and
its dynamics (Chossudovsky 1966; Hardt and Negri 2000; Wallerstein 2004;
Ziegler 2002). There seems to be “no future”—astonishingly enough even for
the global players themselves. I call this situation west end: western civilization
is in its final decline globally (Werlhof 2002). With the self-given “licence to
loot” (Mies and Werlhof 2003; Werlhof 2000), the resources of the earth will
come to an end. The decline of resources is already underway. With the result-
ing “resource wars” (Klare 2001)—the new global wars for oil and water—we
are witnessing the beginning of the end of the “modern world system,” as a
But, there is almost no deeper analysis of the causes of this extraordinary situ-
ation or the dynamics that seem to exclude any alternative. There is no real, no
deeper explanation of the world’s dilemma and its causes. For example, is the
profit motive alone sufficient as an explanation? Why do most people believe that
human nature is nothing but ego-centric? What about control and domination
of nature? In what is it rooted?
I suggest the reason why most people do not know why this crisis is happening
is due to the fact that the left as well as the right, and the sciences in general, have
never really analyzed patriarchy. And not having analyzed patriarchy also means
not really understanding capitalism, because the two not only share a time of being
together on this earth for 500 years now, but are deeply related to each other in a
way that has not been understood by most people, even feminists. Therefore, it
is time to take the necessary step of analyzing capitalist patriarchy from its roots
and as a theoretical concept for the subsequent analysis of society. Only then can
it be seen that patriarchy is much more than just a word for polemical purposes.
It can instead be understood as a concept that explains the character of the entire
social order in which we are living today, socialism included (Werlhof 2007).
Patriarchy: The Development of a “War System”
Recent studies of matriarchal societies and the development of patriarchy (see
G–ttner-Abendroth 2005) suggest mainly four things:
The Genesis of Patriarchy
Patriarchal society as we know it, did not exist “as such” and independently
from, or even before, matriarchal society, but began to develop after the armed
invasion, violent conquest, and systematic destruction of matriarchal societies by
armed hordes that had lost their own originally matriarchal culture after having
been exposed to “catastrophic migration” (forced migration due to climatic changes
and other catastrophes). This process is reported from the fifth millennium B.C.
onwards—concerning the “Kurgan” people and the Indo-European migrations
in general—and it occurred in China, India, the Middle East, North and Central
Africa, Europe, and the Americas as well (see Gimbutas 1994; Mies 2003). As
patriarchal society, “as such,” did not exist, we need to examine the conditions
that led to its development.
The development of patriarchal society is related to the invention of something
that from then on has been called “war,” and since then patriarchy has been
dependent on the ongoing existence of war(s) even in so-called “peace times.”
Without war, the people of conquered communities and societies could easily
liberate themselves from their conquerors’ rule. The logic of patriarchy is thus the
logic of war, which means that all the social institutions invented by patriarchy
are principally drawn from war experiences.
1) Patriarchy invented a political system based on the invention of the state,
which meant the hierarchical dominance of armed men over the conquered
people and the dominance of men over women, because women were at the
centre of pre-patriarchal society and were responsible for the maintenance of its
2) Patriarchy invented an economy based on the the plunder of other peoples’
property, since then called “private” property (privare = to rob), and on an always
more systematic exploitation of the conquered, especially the women, because
women in matriarchal society had control over the means of production, were
the producers and distributors, the providers of concrete wealth—life, food, and
security—and were responsible for the integration of everyone into the com-
munity (Vaughan 1997).
3) Patriarchy invented a society split into social classes, “races,” generations, and
“sexes.” This means, especially since then, that women were regarded as being
subject to men by nature, a belief fabricated by the patriarchs in order to prevent
women from ever again being able to re-establish a matriarchal society.
4) Patriarchy invented a “God-Father” or “male creator-religion” based on the
“great warrior,” plunderer, proprietor, or “big man” (Godelier 1987), who was
considered able to give life and was legitimized to take it. The Great Mother or
Goddess was replaced by the idea and the ideology of an omnipotent, violent,
and jealous single God, an abstract patriarchal “mother-father.”
5) Patriarchy invented a technology based on “war as the father of all things,”
namely by beginning to transform the pre-patriarchal philosophy of alchemy into
a patriarchal one. This means that since then men have systematically tried to
use existing (female) knowledge about life and nature in order to appropriate it,
to pervert it into a means of control over life and nature, finally, trying to replace
life, women, and nature themselves through “technological progress” (Werlhof
2004a), the project of a “second creation.”
6) Patriarchy invented a psychology that defined the ways men could develop
their “masculation” (Vaughan 1997), and their competitive, ego-logical patriarchal
individuality (Girard 1992), opposing community, women, and nature.
The patriarchal order of society thus involves a total break with the matriarchal
or gift giving social rules, traditions, and taboos, which had existed from time
immemorial, and the development of a “war system” (Werlhof 2004b). And
even if there have been times and places that did not at all fit this picture, the
development or “evolution” of patriarchy has, nevertheless, been continuous,
and women could not prevent it from happening. This can be seen more clearly
today than ever before.
The Negation of Matriarchy
In patriarchal societies we can always find vestiges of former matriarchal societ-
ies—matriarchy as “second culture” (Genth 1996)—left over or newly re-organized
after the patriarchs had started to deny the reality and quality of matriarchal society
(Werlhof 2004b). This matriarchy as second culture can be observed everywhere,
for example, in mother-child relationships, and other love relationships, and in
gift giving generally (Vaughan 1997). It contradicts the patriarchal order, but also
helps it to exist, because a society without any matriarchal relations could simply
not survive. Therefore, patriarchies are always somehow “mixed” societies, whether
to a higher or lower degree, and they are hiding this fact as much as they can—for
obvious reasons. But today it it is clear that patriarchy is trying to complete its
negation of matriarchy in order to replace it with itself, a “pure” patriarchy, as
much as possible. This destruction and the fading away of the second culture in
patriarchy, and of much of the still existing gift paradigm within it, is one of the
main reasons for the depth of the crisis of in contemporary civilization.
The negation of matriarchy consists in presupposing that there have never been
any matriarchal societies; that patriarchal society has existed from the beginnings
of human life on earth; and /or pretending that a violent and evil “rule of women”
had to be broken before patriarchal society could develop so-called “civilization”
and “progress.” Due to this patriarchal mythology, most people today still think
that matriarchy never existed, or that it meant “rule of women” instead of “rule
of men,” which indeed was never the case in matriarchal society, but may be so
in patriarchal society instead. Most people, therefore, do not understand that the
terms “matriarchy” and “patriarchy” are not just referring to men and women, or
“male” and “female,” but to the character of the whole social order, so that both
men and women living in matriarchy have to be considered “matriarchal,” and
likewise men and women living in patriarchy have to be considered as principally
“patriarchal” in their thinking, acting, and feeling.
The negation of matriarchy furthermore consists in:
•Destroying matriarchal society as a social order on its own.
•Appropriating everything from matriarchal society that seems important to
the patriarchs, robbing and usurping these things, especially the image and
the abilities of the mother (and the goddess), because patriarchy does not
have an original culture of its own and can destroy but cannot originate life
on its own.
•Perverting everything matriarchal into its opposite, which is the way “pa-
triarchal” is defined.
•Transforming the original matriarchal society into a patriarchal one by
developing policies of “divide and rule,” by dissolving and abstracting the
interconnectedness of people, communities, genders, generations, culture,
commons, and nature in general; and by
•Replacing these and the entire matriarchal order with a “purely” patriarchal
The crucial significance of especially this last process of the transformation and
substitution of nature and women has almost never been recognized.
The “Gnostic” Worldview of Patriarchy
Peoples’ experiences with patriarchal society, war, despotic rule, and ceaseless
violence logically led to a complete change in the general worldview, too. The
Gnostic worldview thus appeared (Sloterdijk and Macho 1991). Gnosis means
recognition: It is recognized that the world is “bad,” “evil,” “low,” primitive, violent,
sinful, and not worth living in. A better, “higher,” more developed, “noble” and
civilized world, therefore, is the ideal for people living in patriarchy. However, this
“higher” world cannot be found on earth, even less so in the matriarchal past or
presence elsewhere. The “higher world” is thus perceived as a metaphysical world
that can only be envisioned through the imagination.
A metaphysical world beyond physics was not thought of in matriarchal soci-
ety. So, the words mater and archÈ together do not mean “rule of mothers,” but
instead mean, “in the beginning the mother,” life stems from mothers. ArchÈ is
beginning and “uterus” (Markale 1984: 207). Therefore, life, death, the mother,
and the goddess, are always here in this world, and they all belong to each other,
so that there is neither the need for, nor the idea of, another (metaphysical) world
than the one in which we live every day (Chattopadyaya 1973).
In patriarchal society, on the contrary, another world beyond the existing one
had to be invented, because the words pater and archÈ together do not simply mean
“rule of fathers,” but, instead, “in the beginning the father”—a word unknown in
matriarchal times. Or, rather, life stems from “fathers” instead of from mothers;
fathers are men with uteruses who are able to give life without needing women
at all! (The Pharaoh Echnaton, for example, had himself painted as a pregnant
man [see Wolf 1994]). Only on the basis of this fantasy would men be legitimized
to rule over those who are not “fathers,” the people, and especially the mothers.
The “father,” therefore, is defined as somebody who is a ruling man and as such
not only able to take life, but also to give life.
In patriarchy the word archÈ thus did not only mean “beginning, origin, uterus,”
but also “rule” and “domination,” too. This second meaning of archÈ did not exist
before patriarchy, therefore, in matriarchy archÈ could have never meant domina-
tion, much less mothers’ or women’s rule. There simply was no domination, and
therefore there was no word for it. Etymology shows that 1) a matriarchal society in
which women were in power the way men are in patriarchal society never existed,
and that 2) the “father” in patriarchal society has to be related to power as a system
of domination, at least as long as he cannot replace the mother.
This means that the political system of patriarchal society can be regarded as a
first step in the direction of the development of a pure, fully elaborated patriarchy,
in which the fathers would really be “men with uteruses” or with something like
“uterus-machines,” who would then no longer need to dominate, because they
would be able to do without nature, women, and matriarchal society. The politi-
cal system of patriarchy would only be needed for the period in which patriarchy
moves toward its final realization, toward a “full patriarchy,” conceived of as the
end of history. From this point of view, history is only the time in which patriarchy
appeared and “evolved” until it became one hundred percent reality.
The patriarchal usurpation, destruction, and perversion of the mother and the
wish to replace her thus led to an early sort of “science fiction”: to the idea that what
is only—and absurdly—supposed, namely that life stems from the father and not the
mother, is considered even more real than what is experienced every day, namely the
opposite. This credo quia absurdum—I believe in the absurd—of the early church-
patriarchs, began from then on its nearly uninterrupted career on earth.
Gnostic metaphysics and the belief in another, “higher” reality appeared every-
where, in every theological as well as philosophical tradition until today. Since
then the belief in metaphysical assumptions has become much more important
than knowledge about the world in which we live, even more so in the secularized
modern sciences of today, as we shall see below.
The historically new concept of the “father” is a triple fiction: it imitates the
fiction of a powerful patriarchal “mother” and/or “goddess” and imagines to have
successfully replaced her. This way the “father” is defined as a “patriarchal mother,”
the god as patriarchal goddess, who—as a contradiction in itself—could never
have been thought of before.
This shows that the father originally is not regarded to be a man who relates to
a woman with whom he has a child. This type of a father, as we normally define
him today, is much less the “idea” of the father than the early fiction of a man
with a uterus. The reason for this “loss” in defining the father is very simple: It
has until now really been impossible to have new life without women.
But we know that biotechnology and genetic engineering are working hard to
resolve patriarchy’s main problem: the desire that only men should be the cre-
ators of life. Having to be born from women seems to be the biggest disgrace for
patriarchal men and society (see Anders’ 1994 description of the “shame of being
born instead of being made”). Our actual “soft” understanding of the father who
is still dependent on a mother proves every day that patriarchy in reality does not
yet exist at all the way it is supposed to. The world—at least in this respect—basi-
cally still functions in a matriarchal way.
From Idealism to Materialism
But the fiction is the program. The idea of patriarchy has become its political
and technological project. Patriarchy as a society in which life stems from fathers
and not from mothers has to be artificially produced, or it will never really exist.
The project is this: life—or what is considered to be life—should be born from
or be made by men. And, only what men produce is considered to be “real life”
and to have a “value,” as if patriarchy had been realized already.
This way patriarchy becomes not only a theory (vision of God), but also a
theology (the logic, the true words of God, his creation by the word that was “in
the beginning”), a theo-gnosis (proof of the existence of God), and a theophany
(God is appearing), and structurally theo-morphical and theocratic. Furthermore,
patriarchy seems to prove its entelechy (its capacity to evolve its “naturally” given
form to its perfection) and its potential for eschatology (end and new beginning
of the world, death, and rebirth).
Once all this is the case, even the system of domination is imagined to eventu-
ally be abolished, because there would really be no alternative to patriarchy any
longer.1 Only if/when men become “real” fathers, will patriarchal society—in
the long run—not have to fear women and matriarchy or the gift economy as an
alternative any longer (Sombart 1991).
Since Artistotle, patriarchs not only pretended that their theory about life was
true, even if they could not prove it, but they started to do something about it.
This is how the Gnostic view became practical and “materialistic” in the patriar-
chal sense of the word. From the patriarchal viewpoint material is mater (matter),
“mother-material,” generally called “raw material,” which is given by God/nature
in order to be transformed into patriarchal “life,” being a “resource” for “value-”
or life-production, for something like a “mother-machine” (see Corea 1985).
From this perversion stems fetishism as the confusion between dead things and
This materialistic becoming of the Gnostic worldview, nevertheless, did not
mean a return from metaphysical adventures. On the contrary, it meant trying to
realize on earth what had been imagined beyond it; Plato’s “ideas,” for example.
The Gnostic view, therefore, was not abolished. It became the program for pa-
triarchal society, instead.
It is as if today, for example, the electronic production of the “virtual world”
were considered to be the only “real world,” and the real world were considered
to have already been replaced by the cyber world, continuing its existence as the
former real world only in imagination—so to say as a new “metaphysical” world
“beyond” the virtual world. But this time metaphysics are no longer welcome.
On the contrary, they appear outmoded and old-fashioned, if not reactionary,
because they remember the natural world. This would be the real patriarchal
perversion! And it has entered the thinking of women as well, even if they did
not care much for the invention of machine-technology (Genth 2002). But this
form of so called “post-materialism” can be found in many “gender-studies” that
criticize, for example, the discourse on “nature” as being “essentialist” which means
being metaphysical, because nature is supposed not to exist in reality - any more!
(Werlhof 2003; Bell and Klein 1996).
In short, the Gnostic view, which is so typical of all the other patriarchal ideologies
until today, did not work against patriarchy, though it correctly “recognized” many
of the evils that it brought to the world. For the conclusions drawn from of this
recognition were no longer oriented toward a matriarchal world. The evils recognized
by the Gnosis were not considered to be those of a patriarchal society. They were
considered, instead, to be of society in general, of “the world,” of people, and even
nature everywhere. The difference between a matriarchal society and a patriarchal
one, or between society and nature, or between the ruling and the ruled, was no
longer thought of. At that time, patriarchy was already taken for granted.
The Gnostic view had accepted the State. It did not question it any more, and
those who could afford it tried to flee its consequences and its ugliness. In this
way, the two main tendencies in thinking about patriarchal society came about:
idealism and materialism. The two should not therefore be regarded, as usual, as
pure contradictions, but as two sides of one coin, the “Siamese twins” of patriarchy:
the “materialistic” side fighting actively against the lasting importance of “mat-
ter,” the mater-mother, nature, the goddess, and life, in order to get them under
control, and the “idealistic” side propagating the ideal of a motherless world, a
purely patriarchal utopian paradise that seems peaceful because it appears to have
finally resolved the contradictions with the material, matriarchal world or what
remains of it. Idealism thus proves to be no less violent than materialism, because
it is formulating the idea that became the project of a material realization, which
cannot be other than radically violent.
From then on nature and women were no longer respected in their own subjectiv-
ity, beauty, truth, goodness, and strength, their inventions, abilities, products and
culture, their gifts to the world since time immemorial. They were seen, instead,
as representing the “chaos,” the “sin,” and the “evil” that had to necessarily be
subjugated under and transformed by the socio-economic-political-ideological-
religious-technological project of patriarchy. From this point of view, women and
nature had to be oppressed, exploited, expropriated, transformed, and destroyed
in a way that could be used as proof of male superiority, strength, and creativity.
Capitalism: The Latest Stage of Patriarchy
Having defined patriarchy, what does this mean for defining capitalism? From my
analysis of patriarchy it follows that capitalism and modernity, including so-called
socialism, far from being or becoming independent from patriarchy, are the latest
stage of patriarchy. My hypothesis is that patriarchy crystallizes into capitalism.
Capitalism is the period in which patriarchy becomes really serious. Homo faber
is supposed to be finally replaced by “homo creator,” a sort of secularized God.
This means that with capitalism there is a break as well as a continuation in
patriarchy. But both tend in the same direction, namely fostering patriarchy. The
logics of patriarchy led straight to the modern epoch, because capitalism is the
promise to finally realize the futuristic Gnostic utopia materially and on earth. It
consists of the intent to produce a purely patriarchal society, “cleaned” of all its
matriarchal vestiges, and propagated as a male-created second paradise, including
the invention of a finally “good” patriarchal “mother.”
Metaphysics are to become the new physics. This is the propaganda of mod-
ern society as a whole, its politics, economy, religion—especially in the form of
Gnosticism becomes secularized. The content is the same, but the program has
become one of action. The times of mere contemplation are fading away, the vita
contemplativa is followed by a new kind of vita activa (Arendt 1987).
Since the Renaissance, the always increasing numbers of inventors and coloniz-
ers, scientists and soldiers, entrepreneurs and explorers, settlers and missionaries,
merchants and money lenders are the modern activists on their way to the proposed,
second, man-made and final paradise on earth (Rifkin 1998).
This is the beginning of the “Great Transformation” (Polanyi 1978) for which
modern Europe became so famous. The new epoch was for the most part not seen
as a continuation of an earlier one. It seemed, instead, to be the birth hour of a
totally new society, not bound to history any more, a society that would be able
to solve all the problems of mankind (indeed, not of womankind) for ever—like
the U.S. today.
From the point of view of patriarchy, capitalism is the epoch in which women,
nature, and life in general are finally successfully replaced by the artificial products
of industry: gifts by exchange; subsistence goods by commodities; local markets
by a world market; foreign cultures by western culture; concrete wealth—gifts by
money, machinery, and capital—the new abstract wealth; living labour by machines;
the brain/rational thinking by “artificial intelligence”; women by sex-machines and
“cyber-sex”; real mothers and/or their wombs by “mother-machines”; life energy
by nuclear energy, chemistry, and bio-industry; and life in general by “artificial
life” like genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The only problem that remains
today consists in how to “replace” the elements and the globe itself.
Therefore, technological progress, through the development of modern sciences and
the invention of the machine as a totally new techno-system, is the logical backbone
of the modern patriarchal epoch. Patriarchy itself is progress, and all “progress” today
is patriarchal. It serves the project of a materialization of metaphysical images via an
industrial “life”-production which I call the “alchemical system” in development,
because the idea behind it is as old as patriarchy and its first attempts to progress
used the methods of a patriarchally-modified “alchemy” (Werlhof 2001).
The invention of profit that could be drawn from this adventure of the whole
world’s transformation convinced always more people, mostly men. But many
people, especially women, had to be violently forced to participate in the new
game. The political means consisted in processes of “original accumulation,” which
deprived the peasants of their means of production, and the women, through
“witch”-hunts, even of the control over their own bodies, leaving nearly no way
to survive beyond capitalism (Federici 2004).
Through all this progress mother earth will be more and more destroyed. Some
of this rapidly increasing devastation is already irreversible, especially if caused by
nuclear and the genetic modifications (Anders 1995; Chargaff 1988). Artificial
death and artificial wealth—the violent “nothing”—a lot of money, is all that is
left. The earth is on the way to being transformed into dead “capital,” full of empty
holes on the one side, and trash-hills for the next billion years on the other.
That all this is possible shows that most people believe in the violent nihilism
of patriarchy and its dangerous delusion that has become “real.” This astonishing
fact can only be understood when one considers that the “alchemical wonders”
patriarchy is promising, do not stem just from modern times, but are prophe-
cies already 5,000 years old. Therefore, the destruction and desertification of
the global ecology, including the human one, has not led to a general panic. On
the contrary, it seems that, at least in the West, it is believed that only when the
natural world has gone, can the patriarchal one finally be constructed, in all its
glory, in its place.
Capitalism—as well as socialism— with its activism, optimism, positivism,
rationality, and its irrational belief in patriarchy, world domination, money, sci-
ence, technology, and violence, is not just capitalism, but has to be defined as
“capitalist patriarchy” (and, by the way, not as “patriarchal capitalism” because
there is no non-patriarchal capitalism). This epoch is still on the march because
it has not yet reached its destination. Therefore, there is no post-capitalist, post-
industrial, post-modern or post-materialist epoch in sight—unless capitalist
patriarchy is stopped by a breakdown of its resources, technologies, markets, and
money systems, by huge natural and or social catastrophes, or by an upheaval of
the people who do not want to lose their lives, their planet, and the future of their
children. If the “matter” of capitalism, its mater, its mothers, its women, and its
matriarchal remains do not “obey” any more, and if nature fails to as well, only
then will capitalist patriarchy disappear. And as capitalist patriarchy is obviously
not a society for eternity, all this may well be happening today already.
The “Deep” Alternative
What Has to be Recognized
The alternative to capitalist patriarchy has to be a “deep” one, or it will fail. First
of all, the “roots” of this war system will have to be recognized at all levels of society,
individual life, history, and the globe. This will occur like a huge transdisciplinary
research-project of and for the people. Out of this experience, the alternative will
be a systematically non-capitalist and non-patriarchal one. It will be based on the
remains of the “second culture” of matriarchy and of the gift-paradigm within
patriarchal society, because they offer a body of concrete experiences people have
been familiar with ever since humankind began on earth. Even though they have
been underestimated, hidden and made invisible to most of us, they can be made
conscious again, and this is happening already in many parts of the world (see
Bennholdt-Thomsen, von Werlhof and Faraclas 2001)
Even if it appears overwhelming to overcome not only 500 years of modernity,
but 5,000 years of patriarchal traditions, this is actually very little in comparison
to the hundreds of thousands of years of human experiences outside patriarchy
that we have to draw upon.
On the other hand, partial change/reform that maintains features of capitalist
patriarchy will most probably, and quickly, lead back to the system that must
to be overcome if we want to continue life on earth. Whether the alternative/s
that can be found on this basis will again be matriarchal ones or not, cannot be
foreseen. At least they will be post-patriarchal. At the moment it is historically
open if matriarchy can be re-invented, and/or what a matriarchal society and a
gift-economy would mean today.
What Has to be Done
What is needed is a re-version of a perverted parasitic society and (wo)mankind.
The patriarchal “mother-father” as a “cyborg,” which is the alchemical materi-
alization of a metaphysical fiction has to fade away as soon as possible. We can
accomplish this in a number of ways, mainly:
•de-constructing patriarchal institutions, policies, economies, technologies,
•making visible matriarchy as the second culture and the gift paradigm and
recognizing their importance in every day life;
•giving up the metaphysical Gnostic worldview, including the belief in patri-
archal religions and the patriarchal philosophy of idealism-materialism;
•re-gaining a matriarchal spirituality that leads again to a recognition of the
interconnectedness of all life;
•not defining technology/progress any longer as having to produce a substitute
for life, women, and nature in general;
•not defining economy any longer as having to produce a “value” and a
•recognizing that the paradise which is supposed to be invented, is already
here: It is the earth as the only planet in the known universe that is full of
life and the only one on which human beings can survive;
•taking action to save the earth from further human destruction;
•liberating ourselves from the idea that “material” [physical] life on earth is
unimportant, sinful, humble, and something that has to be overcome;
•liberating ourselves from the delusion and the hubris that there can ever be
a substitute for life and nature on earth;
•learning the lessons of nature again, recognizing that the destruction of
nature for the purpose of its transformation does not lead to a better world,
but to its destruction;
•giving up war, believing in violence, and seeking to rule over others;
learning instead to live in commonality and organizing around egalitarian
•taking seriously what we are doing in and to the world, and accepting our
responsibility for the maintenance of life on the planet;
•learning to rehabilitate and love life, including our own, and the life of
•seeking creative ways for the maintenance and culture of life on the earth;
acting in favour of and not in contradiction to them;
•giving up “masculation” (Vaughan 1997), “egotism” as the search for com-
petitive “identity,” and identifying instead with gift-giving and the traditions
of men and women in matriarchal cultures;
•learning that women can teach us a lot;
•giving up belief in patriarchy and joining with others in order to stop it;
listening instead to the joyful song of mother earth.
We need to be able to perceive an alternative to capitalist patriarchy and see
that this alternative is already in the making. Soon we will not be able to under-
stand how or believe that men and women supported and even admired such a
destructive delusion for such a long time!
Many alternative movements in the whole world are already in this process, for
historical reasons most of them initiated by the global South (Kumar 2007) and
most of them guided by women. This is the case because the South and women
have and had to bear most of the negative consequences of patriarchy and especially
capitalist patriarchy. This is why they are at the forefront of the new movements.
Additionally, for women it is still much easier to remember matriarchal society and
culture, and gift giving, because the remains of matriarchal culture and practices
have for the most part been maintained by them. The way into a post-patriarchal
society, therefore, is much more logical and visible for women than for men. The
thinking, acting, and feeling of women, especially of poor women in the South,
often shows a high level of dissonance with western globalization and culture.
They defend life on “two fronts” of the conflict: against the war system of capital-
ist patriarchy and in favour of a new society (Bennholdt-Thomsen, Werlhof and
Faraclas 2001; Werlhof 1985, 1991, 1996).
At the University of Innsbruck a new international research project is planned,
the title of which is “On the Way to a New Civilization? Examples Of.... ” For
this research project, current alternative movements worldwide will be compared.
Movements that are active on only one of the “two fronts” we are facing today,
or that do not address the most important aspects and dimensions of life under
patriarchal attack, will find themselves in crisis, sooner or later. This is still the
case with many movements in the North and of those traditionally guided by
men (Werlhof 2007).
It seems as if a larger and deeper movement in the North will only be possible
when the illusions of moving upward within the system have been lost and the
daily conditions of life have worsened further. But, in the meantime, extremists
of the far right and “religious” fundamentalists everywhere are preparing their
field of action, too.
Nobody knows what will be left of alternative movements and “deep feminism”
in North and South when the patriarchal system and order of society is imploding
and dissolving itself, and when the conflicts within it become increasingly violent.
But if anybody has a chance to move in the right direction, it is the truly alterna-
tive post-patriarchal groups, communities, and movements worldwide.
Claudia von Werlhof is a women’s studies professor in the Department of Political
Science and Sociology at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. She has published nu-
merous articles and books on a feminist theory of society, critiques of and alternatives
to capitalism, and on globalization and patriarchy. Her most recent publications are
There is An Alternative: Subsistence and Worldwide Resistance to Corporate
Globalization (2001), “Using, Producing and Replacing Life? Alchemy as Theory and
Practice in Capitalism” (2004), and “The ‘Zapatistas’, the Indigenous Civilization,
the Question of Matriarchy and the West” (2005), and “No Critique of Capitalism
Without a Critique of Patriarchy! Why the Left is No Alternative” (2007).
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