A World of Slaves Under His Eye: Reproductive Justice Versus Totalitarianism

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Reproductive justice has always been a bugbear for reactionaries and totalitarians. A woman who enjoys bodily autonomy and controls her own womb is free of the control of male supremacist hierarchies—those associated with the fundamentalism problematised in the mentalities of official enemies, but warmly embraced when benefitting traditionally privileged classes and the ideological status quo that rationalised the power of propertied white males at home.

The contradictions of pro-life narratives aren’t new: for all their moral pretences, pro-lifers want to get government off people’s backs, and into their wombs. They maintain militant ignorance regarding the lives, right or freedom of the mothers, or the circumstances under which conception takes place. They don’t care about the child once it’s born, especially if it’s working class, female, not white, or wants to live in a world with hope for a future without hereditary class privilege, corporate capture of politics or ecocide. They are raging militarists who support imperialist wars of aggression. They shoot abortion doctors. They’re joyless moralists who suck all the oxygen out of the room; ‘that pro-lifer was hands down the life of the party’ said no-one ever.

We find then that the American Taliban exhibit the same haughty aristocratic attitude as everything they claim to oppose. They justify themselves by arguing the need to speak to others in a language they understand—most conveniently the one they had already decided on. This also appears to be why they need to demonise the left; the project of class society rests on the narrative of a protection racket, scaring the public with what H.L Mencken described as ‘imaginary hobgoblins,’ and then offering safety and token privileges in return for obedience, loyalty and tribute through submission to class and social hierarchies.

The American Taliban build affective communities built on abusive, co-dependent relationships with authority figures and maintain tribal cohesion through ideologically-driven theatrics against perceived deviants of their own demonising, looking to a sense of superiority in false pride rather than actual accomplishments for their positive self-image. Values like self-actualisation and personal growth never appear in their culture war narratives because they have no concept of them; they hide from themselves as individuals inside their tribes, where confirmation biases built on ingroup exclusivity take the place of understanding, and conspiracy theories built on endless conjecture explain why being criticised and being attacked are the same thing.

If you think for yourself, the communists win, even if it also happens that if you think for yourself, the enemies of communism win. Similarly, if you think for yourself, the enemies of God win, just as, if you think for yourself, the enemies of Allah win. Or Yahweh. Or whoever have you. It’s almost as through Taliban refers more to a state of mind than any particular group of one-dimensional religious fanatics and arch-reactionary theocrats. From the point of view of their underlying worship of authority and power and cultish culture of conformity and control, Dominionism and Wahabbism are absolutely indistinguishable from one another

History, however, tends not to agree with the contours of self-serving belief systems that justify themselves on the logic of sales pitches for standover rackets. Othering, as the go-to exclusionary logic of one-trick-pony reactionaries, theocrats and totalitarians, has a long history stretching back to antiquity. As far back as 8BC, the Greeks had savage Others in their mythology before they were attacked by the Persians, at which point Greek tragedies featuring depraved foreign savages at their very worst became all the rage.

The Greeks were colonised by the Romans, who absorbed much of their culture, including apparently its more markedly xenophobic aspects—reflected in their proclivity for exclusionary, self-vs-Other binaries associating Rome with civilisation and everything outside of and opposed to it with primitive savagery (not that there was ever anything savage involved in empire-building).

Essentially a standover racket with its own coat of arms and brass band, the business model of the Roman Empire was all up in its own moralistic self-righteousness about defending civilisation from the barbarians, with tribute for protection money. When Constantine co-opted Christianity, taking the early Christian association of the devil with the imperial hierarchy (one that survives in passages like John 12:31) and turning it on its head, such that the empire was understood to be the work of God, and dissent rebellion against Him (Gaddis, There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ).

This ideological switch was particularly useful for today’s Christian Taliban who seek to control women in the name of liberating them. The devil was originally one of God’s angels, working with his leave to do dirty work apparently consistent with Christian morality; he watches as Satan upends Job’s life as a test of his faith. In this sense, they are not adversaries, but rather partners in trying to neutralise Epicurus’ trilemma to the effect that, ‘If God is unable to prevent evil, then he is not all-powerful. If God is not willing to prevent evil, then he is not all-good. If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why does evil exist?’

This is, of course, supremely convenient. As a standover racket based on an inversion of early Christian theology to rationalise class hierarchy as God’s kingdom on Earth (even if John 12:31 says it’s the devil’s), the Christian Taliban knows it needs an ‘imaginary hobgoblin’ to maintain its business model. On this count, the construction of God (and more precisely, his alleged representatives on Earth) patently depends on the construction of imaginary hobgoblins.

The totalitarianism of the Christian Taliban habitually conflates criticism with attack; to this bolted-on victim complex, challenges to their will to dominate and control all life can only be seen in terms of complicity with the Deceiver. If you think for yourself, the diabolical enemy of the entire human race wins. The protection racket business model thus renders the aggressor answers to problems that must be either found or constructed.

It was supremely convenient then that the Satan who worked with the permission of God to instil terror in the natives and create demand for the protection racket should, in defiance of the alleged word of God in John 12:31, be behind any attempt to resist totalitarian theocratic controls. The fact that this logic informed the 300-odd years of the European Witch Hunts, and the burning of (at least) tens of thousands of most desperate unfortunates at the stake should lead us in no doubt as to the holocausts to which such thinking can give rise.

As to the outcomes of this mentality over the longer haul, the rest we sort of know. The Jews were said to be Satan-worshippers in a not at all dissimilar sense. The standover racket business model demonise on the one hand and lionises on the other. Evangelical prosperity gospel understands wealth to be the fittest fulfilling God’s Plan for the survival of the most rapacious and extractivist-dependent. The Christian mission to civilise the world by saving it from itself is the ideological basis for white supremacism built on Eurocentric definitions of the meaning of civilisation, while studiously and militantly ignoring the history of European Colonialism and the Witch Hunts.

Defiant about being replaced, the white supremacist American Taliban is just as steadfast in demanding to be the last ones to go under when the historical bills of colonialism and its metabolic rifts in the world-ecology become due. This is entirely in keeping with its history; if  what Gerald Horne (The Counter-Revolution of 1776) has to say holds, the Gadsden flag was part of a counter-revolution designed to uphold slavery and the power of the slaveholding classes in the US. The British wanted to abolish slavery because of the costs of defending the colonies from the ever-present threat of slave revolts; on a similar basis, they wanted to limit westward territorial expansion due to the costs of fighting Indian Wars.

As is generally fairly well-known and understood, the US founding fathers did no more for women than they did for their chattels on the cotton plantation; it was a democracy of white male property owners, and always has been. Now that the wheels are falling off the bandwagon, the classes that traditionally benefitted from that arrangement are going back to fundamentals. This would appear to be the essence of fascism—an ideologically codified tantrum over the party of accumulation for the opulent few being faced with its outstanding historical bills on the one hand, and traditionally oppressed groups (anyone other than propertied white males) demanding to share the rights they have always taken for granted.

Hence we find culture war tantrums over the teaching of US history in the United States of America; acknowledging and trying to understand a divided history is the same thing as creating it—according to those who created it and who continue to benefit from such divisions at least. The penchant of the American Taliban for a good culture war and ideological wedge for polarising public discourse and sabotaging any possibility for calm, dispassionate exchange of ideas and experiences might be accounted for in terms of the need to maintain the standover racket of ruling class protection business model.

Fascists are, after, partisans to their dying breaths of indefensibles like class hierarchy and wage-slavery. They can only uphold them in the final analysis through cultish supremacist ingroups where affective tribalism acculturates bonded captives to the mentality that independent thought only gives aid to the communistic, anarchist, terroristic, Jewish, muslamic, devil-worshipping brides of Satan feminists who, in the words of Pat Robertson, “encourage women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” If you think for yourself, the terrorists win.

All of this begs the question as to where the mentality that policing women’s reproduction first arose. If we return to the history of the European Witch Hunts, we find plenty of evidence that this was the historical moment when European society suddenly discovered the sense of God-given entitlement to police wombs. Given the historical reversal of the early Christian association of Satan with very earthy power and control, to its later Catholic associated with defiance of very earthly power and control, it would appear to have something to do with crack smoking medieval totalitarians confusing God’s will and their own, on purpose. Building empires is God’s work.

The Black Death, which preceded the European Witch Hunts by about a century, had killed off a lot of the owned slaves (about half of all of them), and they needed the peasants to breed more slaves that they could rent instead. This is what gets called historical progress. Renting slaves also frees up capital costs (it’s sound fundamentals of entrepreneurialism, no one would dream of buying slaves these days), but if they’re allowed to abort them there are less Walmart greeters.

As we have already seen, the self-appointed arbiters of public morality do not give a solidarity ratfuck about the foetus after its born, no more than they care about being the raging statists they claim to oppose in policing abortions or protecting profits from grassroots movements aiming to redistribute wealth and rights to the mass. Most of the foetuses they’re willing to kill for in the womb are just destined to be hireling slaves when they pop out after all. A lot of them are like women, and some of them are not even white (the original draft of the Star Spangled Banner mentioned hireling slavery as a bad thing, in those terms; wonder where that line went).

In aid of these purposes, the Catholic Church aided by the remnants of the feudal gentry ran a 300 year-long campaign of theocratic terror (based around a witchcraft conspiracy theory and burning the Satan-worshipping terrorists, I mean truly desperately unfortunate women at the stake) to instil in the peasants of Europe the belief that we’re born to be hereditary wage slaves. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, rented peasants, pay tribute in the form of your freedom and the products of your labour for your protection from Satan-worshipping liberals, communists and anarchists, now get back to work while we run some culture war shit to distract your attention from the class war we wage against everyone permanently.

The ongoing existence of this shakedown-racket mentality in public affairs, and the pre-eminence with which evangelicals and their corporate dark money backers give to the issue, does beg the question as to whether control of reproduction of slaves isn’t the lynchpin issue of class hierarchies, such as the one that has defined the western-backed world order since the Long Sixteenth Century. It suggests that Roe vs Wade is about far more than pious appeals to life, which for all the reasons discussed at the very start here are completely discredited outside of the cultish ingroups of capture-bonded hauntlings of Satan.

If control over reproduction and the denial of bodily autonomy to women isn’t about discredited moral pretences, maybe it’s about something else. Maybe it’s about gender supremacism being a facet of class supremacism and maintaining control over vast populations of slaves. Maybe the discourse around rationalising the sense of God-given entitlement that we might legitimately police the biology of our slave population is actually about protecting one of the main prior assumptions underwriting the police mentality of the class order and the collective God-complex of the ruling class. It is certainly one of the main prior assumptions underwriting patriarchy and male supremacism.

In this sense, it is almost as though the issue of reproduction justice is about whether society evolves past slavery or not. This is arguably the most practical threat that Roe vs Wade presented to the age-old protection racket business model of gender, class and imperial hierarchies. The fever-pitch tantrums and acting out of various theocratic and corporate interests, backed by dark money, over the kid-killing, witchcraft-practising lesbians who want not to have their wombs policed by ‘government off your back conservatives’ tends to indicate ultimately that the only lives the American Taliban care about are their own.

Ben Debney is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).