Thanks to the rationalist generations that preceded them, the first generation of a society setting aside its sexual restraints can still enjoy its new-found sexual freedom before any significant decline in culture, but the data shows that this “having your cake and eating it too” phase lasts a maximum of one generation before the decline sets in. Unwin wrote:
The history of these societies consists of a series of monotonous repetitions; and it is difficult to decide which aspect of the story is the more significant: the lamentable lack of original thought which in each case the reformers displayed, or the amazing alacrity with which, after a period of intense compulsory continence (sexual restraint), the human organism seizes the earliest opportunity to satisfy its innate desires in a direct or perverted manner. Sometimes a man has been heard to declare that he wishes both to enjoy the advantages of high culture and to abolish compulsory continence. The inherent nature of the human organism, however, seems to be such that these desires are incompatible, even contradictory. The reformer may be likened to the foolish boy who desires both to keep his cake and to consume it. Any human society is free to choose either to display great energy or to enjoy sexual freedom; the evidence is that it cannot do both for more than one generation.
Looking at our own sexual revolution, the “having your cake and eating it too” phase would have lasted into the early 2000’s. We are now at a stage where we should begin to observe the verification or falsification of Unwin’s predictions.
Unwin found that when strict prenuptial chastity was abandoned, absolute monogamy, deism, and rational thinking disappeared within three generations.
Unwin found that when strict prenuptial chastity was abandoned, absolute monogamy, deism, and rational thinking disappeared within three generations of the change in sexual freedom. So how are we doing as we enter the second generation since our own sexual revolution at the end of the 20th century?
As predicted, absolute monogamy has already been replaced with modified monogamy. Common-law relationships are becoming the norm. Although divorce occurred prior to the 1970’s, the mainstream of our culture still maintained the view that marriage should be for life, and common-law relationships were regarded with some distaste. That has clearly changed. Those who actually practice life-long commitments in marriage have become the minority, with couples born prior to the sexual revolution much more likely to maintain a life-long commitment in marriage.
Deism is already rapidly declining, exactly as predicted. Prior to the 1960’s, a combination of rationalism and a belief in God was the norm for mainstream culture. Not only has belief in God greatly decreased since the 1960’s, but there has been a trend to remove the concept of God from government, the educational system, and the public forum. Those who still believe in God sense a strong societal pressure to keep deistic beliefs private. In its place, is a surprising rise in superstition, classified by Unwin as a “monistic” culture, two levels down from the rationalist culture we had prior to the sexual revolution. There has also been a huge increase in the percentage of the population that classifies itself as non-religious, a symptom of the lowest, “zoistic” level of Unwin’s categories.
The swiftness with which rational thinking declined after the 1970’s is astounding. In its place arose post-modernism, characterized by “scepticism, subjectivism, or relativism” and “a general suspicion of reason”. But it gets worse … post-modernism is giving way to “post truth”. In direct contrast to rational thinking, a post-truth culture abandons “shared objective standards for truth” and instead, stands on appeals to feelings and emotions, and what one wants to believe. People can now “identify” themselves as something which flat-out contradicts science and rational thinking and, in many cases, receive the full support and backing of governments and educational systems. Not only do people feel they have a right to believe what they want, but any challenge to that belief, even if supported by truth and logic, is unacceptable and offensive. Here is a quote from Unwin that has become particularly a propos in the last couple decades since our own sexual revolution …
If I were asked to define a sophist, I should describe him as a man whose conclusion does not follow from his premise. Sophistry is appreciated only by those among whom human entropy is disappearing; they mistake it for sound reasoning. It flourishes among those people who have extended their sexual opportunity after a period of intense compulsory continence. 
Summary of where our culture is going, given Unwin’s findings
For the first part of the 1900’s, mainstream Western culture was rationalist and experienced enormous technological advances — from horse-and-buggy to cars; from hot air balloons to supersonic flight and spacecraft landing people on the moon; from slide rules to computers. Unwin’s three main predictions — the abandonment of rationalism, deism, and absolute monogamy — are all well underway, which makes the ultimate prediction appear to be credible … the collapse of Western civilization in the third generation, somewhere in the last third of this century.
Unwin’s three main predictions — the abandonment of rationalism, deism, and absolute monogamy — are all well underway, which makes the ultimate prediction appear to be credible … the collapse of Western civilization in the third generation
Will our culture be the exception?
I suppose we can hope, but there is always a tendency to want to believe “it cannot happen to us.” Unwin describes this attitude as a “pardonable egocentricity” and a “quaint and comfortable doctrine”, that flies in the face of data, which indicate that the pattern of decline happens with “monotonous” regularity. That’s another way of saying that “insanity is doing the same thing yet again but expecting different results.” The primary predictions are already unfolding with alarming “alacrity”.
Why is there such a “monotonous” perfect inverse correlation?
The old adage, “correlation does not entail causation”, probably holds true here as well. Unwin makes it clear that he does not know why sexual freedom directly leads to the decline and collapse of cultures, although he suggests that when sexual energy is restrained through celibacy or monogamy, it is diverted into more productive social energy.
Perhaps, but I find it difficult to accept it as a primary cause. Mary Eberstadt’s recent research into mass killings, the substantial rise in mental health issues including depression, and the explosion of identity politics is a “primal scream” due to the loss of identity that was once provided by growing up in a long-term, immediate family with siblings and a sizable group of cousins, aunts and uncles, all of which provided identity—essential for well-being. Eberstadt shows and documents from various studies that this decimation of the family was a direct consequence of the sexual revolution at the end of the 20th century.
Eberstadt shows and documents from various studies that this decimation of the family was a direct consequence of the sexual revolution at the end of the 20th century.
Her research indicates that increased sexual freedom led to the decimation of the family, which resulted in the loss of family identity, which produces Eberstadt’s ‘primal screams’—a massive increase in mental health issues, mass killings, and the rise of extreme identity groups at war with each other … all symptoms of a society rapidly spiraling into collapse. This appears to have greater explanatory power than Unwin’s psychological suggestion, although the two may actually be closely related, given what Eberhardt shows.
Both Unwin and Eberstadt provide substantial evidence that a sexual revolution has long-term, devastating consequences for culture and civilization. As Unwin states, “The history of these societies consists of a series of monotonous repetitions,” and it appears that our civilization is following the same, well-travelled road to collapse.
Back to the philosophical thought
So back to that afternoon in the philosophy seminar when it occurred to me that some moral laws will seem to limit human pleasure in the short term, but will prevent great suffering or maximize happiness and fulfillment in the long term. For years, it has been my thinking that God’s moral laws are not simply a bunch of arbitrary rules given to restrict mankind’s freedom. Instead, they are like operating instructions designed to spare people from suffering while maximizing human flourishing. Unwin’s and Eberstadt’s research provides strong rational justification for the inference that God’s moral laws pertaining to our sexuality, although they may restrain us from some immediate pleasure, protect us from enormous long-term suffering while maximizing our long term flourishing.
References and Notes:
A downloadable, pdf version is available here.
I have prepared a 26-page collection of quotes that can provide a more detailed understanding of Unwin’s book, but it is highly recommended that the reader, at minimum, at least skim Unwin’s book to get a better idea of the rigour and breadth of his research, as well as some of the many examples the data provides.
See section 7, Unwin, page 13 for a fuller understanding of these terms.
Unwin, page 341.
Unwin, page 342
Unwin, page 412
See, for example, Stuart Vyse, ‘Why are millenials turning to astrology?’, Skeptical Inquirer, 2018. (https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/why_are_millennials_turning_to_astrology/ ) and Denyse O’Leary, ‘As traditionalism declines, superstition—not atheism—is the big winner’, Intellectual Takeout, 2018. https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/traditional-religion-declines-superstition-not-atheism-big-winner )
Note: A non-religious culture is not necessarily an atheistic culture. They do not deny or accept the existence of God or gods. Rather, belief in a god or gods is simply not part of their lives; it is irrelevant.
Description of Post Truth
Unwin, page 413
Mary Eberstadt, Primal Screams: How the sexual revolution created identity politics.
A loosening of sexual constraints probably does not occur in one year or even one decade. In our case, one could argue that the sexual revolution began in the late 1960’s, lasted throughout the 70’s and possibly into the early 1980’s. According to Unwin, only small changes in a culture occur in the first generation, due to the cultural ‘momentum’ of the previous generation, which still continues to be a heavy influence in the generation after the loosening (or strengthening) of sexual restraints. The changes become more prevalent in the second generation, but it is not until the third generation, after the initial generation has completely died off, that the changes reach their full effect, occurring rapidly over the course of that third generation. By the end of the third generation, the changes have fully taken place and the culture stabilizes at its new level. However, if it has stabilized at the highest level, then the flourishing of that culture continues to increase in subsequent generations (though Unwin observes that no culture maintains that state very long). If it has stabilized at the lowest level (i.e., a “collapse”), then that culture is destroyed from within, or conquered or taken over by a more “energetic” culture.