Richard V. Reeves has written in The Atlantic a confident and illuminating account of the state of marriage in America today. College-educated American men and women “are reinventing marriage as a child-rearing machine for a post-feminist society and a knowledge economy.” On this front, the Americans have once again shown their superiority to the Europeans, who, in their socially self-destructive way, remain ambivalent at best about the value of being married. But a European might respond that only an American could be content with such a self-consciously mechanical view of a relational institution. It’s easy to hear the French man Alexis de Tocqueville laughing between the lines of his deadpan description of American men describing marriage in terms of “self-interest rightly understood.”
People used to think, Reeves reports, that marriage was about sex or religion or money. But today’s women can readily find sexual enjoyment without being married, and they no longer need men to prosper. Women these days earn their own money, and they are, in fact, soaring ahead of men on that front. And religion is no longer an important determinant of sophisticated personal behavior.
What’s left? Well, someone might say love! But Reeves seems to agree with the philosopher Nietzsche that any modern experiment to ground a social institution on something as whimsical as love alone is doomed to fail. Reeves explains that “romantic marriage” is typically irresponsible, because the focus is on the passionate, basically hedonic relationship between parents, often at the expense of the unsexy, all-too-routine, and physically taxing relationship between parents and children. “All you need is love” can’t, of course, be the slogan for facing the rigors on the knowledge economy in the 21st century competitive global marketplace. What we need—and what we’re getting from enlightened and high-achieving Americans—is the joint commitment of a man and a woman to “high-investment parenting.”
Whether he knows it or not, Reeves is updating what can be called the “bourgeois” or “capitalist” view of marriage as described by John Locke. Locke tried to re-describe all human relationships in terms of contracts between free individuals serving their self-interests. Locke even understands the beginning of marriage that way; men and women consent to have the right to one another’s bodies. But marriage becomes an enduring contract only when it produces children, who become the “common concern” of both parties to what begins as a sexual deal and perhaps also an ephemeral antidote to “being alone.”
Marriage, for Locke, is the one example of a contact rooted in a common good that can’t be reduced to self-interest. That means the contract must include the duty to stay together until the children are raised. Locke doesn’t think that the Biblical “until death do you part” makes any contractual or biological sense. But the biological situation of members of our species does require that parents stay together and work together for the kids for a very long time.
A modern problem we free individuals have encountered, of course, is Locke’s defense of this obligation to children contradicts his general effort to base every human choice as strictly consensual or based on rights. So our law today doesn’t make parents remain married and properly dutiful as parents until the kids are raised. Our “Lockeanism” has resulted in single moms and deadbeat dads (and occasionally vice-versa). Nobody much today would defend the restrictions on divorce Locke recommends. What was permissive for his time seems oppressive in ours. We haven’t been able to keep the Lockean spirit of contract and consent in the “Locke box” Locke himself put together for the good of our future as biological beings who are born to die.
In an article published a couple days ago, Time magazine endorses "Polyandry," which Merriam-Webster defines as "the state or practice of having more than one husband or male mate at one time."
"It Makes Economic Sense for a Woman to Have More Than One Husband," reads the article's headline. The sub-headline reads, "By pooling male resources, polyandry improves household incomes and combats child poverty."
Every time you think that we've finally touched bottom on Obamacare, some new problem emerges. So what began merely as a dysfunctional website became a broken and mis-designed system. When it turned out that lots of people were paying more for their plans, it then turned out that others were having their plans canceled—and that some people were even losing their doctors. And now we're finding that, along with everything else, Obamacare contains a marriage penalty, too.
The other day, I picked up my guitar and didn’t know what to play. This is happening more and more, and I guess it’s because I pick up the guitar less and less. When I was 15, I could strum my way through the entire Beatles catalogue, half the songs on classic rock radio, and any number of self-penned blues jams before I ever had to stop and think about what to play next.
While everyone else has spent the last few days obsessing about Gravity, the government shutdown, and the real possibility that the NFC East division champ will have six wins, it’s quietly been an interesting week for sociology nerds who think about marriage.
As the debate over gay marriage began heating up, supporters of the idea insisted that it was a matter of basic libertarianism. “Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t have one,” went the bumper-sticker-turned-rallying-cry. Of course, it was never going to be that simple with regard to something as foundational as marriage, and now we are starting to see there are real consequences to being publicly opposed to the practice.
Last month The Scrapbook reported on a slightly arcane, but important, change being proposed for the American Community Survey. The ACS is an annual survey conducted by the Census Bureau; it goes out to 3 million households and is one of the most robust tools we have for gathering demographic data about our country. For unknown reasons, the statisticians running the ACS proposed deleting a question about “number of times married.”
Whatever one’s views on gay marriage, it is appropriate — in a sense — that this issue, which was illegitimately thrust onto the scene by willful judges at the state level, has now been illegitimately advanced by willful judges at the federal level. Accordingly, gay marriage has been propelled forward at the expense of the separation of powers, and of applying state constitutions, and now the federal Constitution, as written. Even the policy’s advocates should view this as an unduly high price to pay.
The Supreme Court’s rulings on gay marriage effectively leave the issue very much alive in state and national politics. The four justices appointed by Presidents Clinton and Obama clearly would declare a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in a heartbeat, if they were to get a fifth vote.
Much will be written about Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the court in Hollingsworth v. Perry, holding that supporters of California's Proposition 8 lacked constitutional "standing" to defend in federal court California's ballot initiative against same-sex marriage. (Whether or not same-sex marriage will destroy traditional marriage someday, it's certainly destroying Twitter this morning.) But one ironic twist deserves immediate mention.
A key line from the Supreme Court's decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. "DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty."
'Time was when the whole of life went forward in the family,” the historian Peter Laslett once wrote, “in a circle of loved, familiar faces. . . . That time has gone forever. It makes us very different from our ancestors.” Laslett was writing in 1965, as he lamented the decline of the family over the course of England’s industrial age. But even then, after a century and a half of upheaval, families in Great Britain and the rest of the West were relatively large, divorce was rare, and illegitimacy was frowned upon.