Individual Rights are Anachronistic

Stephen Clark on why saying that women did not have full rights in traditional societies is historically anachronistic. All is his except what I put in the brackets.

A second historical error [made by feminists] is the view that women have been deprived of full human rights since the beginning of human society and have only won these rights within the past two centuries-since the beginning of movements for women’s rights. In the past two centuries women have attained equal access to education; full rights to inherit, own, sell, and control property; full rights of citizenship; and access to most professions with equal compensation. Women may not always be treated equally with men in these areas, but these rights have a fundamental legal and moral recognition. To be sure, women in most societies did not have these “rights” before 1900. However, this is because traditional society made little or no use of the category of “individual rights” for anyone-men or women.  This concept is an aspect of the shift from a society based on relational groupings to a society based on a mass of individuals…Before the advent of technological society, men did not have these “individual rights” either; the structure of traditional society made these rights a meaningless category. Traditional society was based instead on the rights of relational groupings [Think classes, guilds, wealth, family ancestry, etc.] and the position of men and women formed their personal relationships within these groupings. 

Later he adds:

The purpose of this discussion of women’s rights is not to assert that women always received better treatment in a traditional society than in technological society. Such comparisons are difficult to make. Rather the key point here is that “individual rights” is an inappropriate category for making historical comparison between the status of women in traditional and technological society.  

It is easy to take a contemporary way of thinking and apply it to all men throughout history. However, this is a grave error.  Our fathers and mothers did not think like we do. If we assume they did we do not really learn to understand them.

The more I read the more convinced I am that the fundamental shift in the last 200 years has been from a society composed of groups that contain individuals who identified with those groups, were loyal to those groups, and lived within the parameters set by those groups to a society that is composed of a mass of individuals who easily cross lines from group to group with little loyalty to anyone but themselves.  I am no longer Peter, husband of Julie, father of Sam, Will, Ben, Calvin, Amelia, Cecily, Elijah, and Bronwyn, son of Jerry Jones, grandson of Nils Jones, a Protestant American Southerner loyal to my country, family and church. Now I am just Peter the isolated. I could be anyone or no one. I have no creed, no country, no family, no political party, no race, and no gender. I am not saying that family or country loyalty is everything. But when we can’t even be loyal to the body parts we are born with there is a problem.