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.
Harold Ramis died on Monday morning. Having written, directed (or written and directed) five of the funniest movies of the last 40 years, I think it's safe to put him on the short list for Funniest Guy of His Generation.
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."
Amiri Baraka, New Jersey’s controversial one-time poet laureate, died yesterday, aged 79. The poet, essayist, and playwright’s body of work will be remembered, if at all, as among the least humane in the history of American letters. An early 9/11 denier—a notorious 2002 poem suggested Jews were responsible for the attacks—Baraka embraced many of the last century’s worst ideologies.
The federal agency that oversees the Voice of America is seeking someone to produce a TV entertainment show to be broadcast in Iran in the Farsi language that includes "Hollywood news" and "other interesting aspects of life on the West Coast of the United States." The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), whose board members include Secretary of State John Kerry, is
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.
Big deal on Drudge yesterday about WWE wrestler Darren Young possibly breaking kayfabe and coming out to TMZ. (Although the timing of this suggests at least the possibility that this is a work and not a shoot.) Whatever. It’s been months since Jason Collins and the media is thrilled.
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.
The website Jewish Ideas Daily has been, for quite some while, a star of the web, featuring interesting original material as well as links to other worthwhile writing embodying a lively, serious, and committed approach to Jewish issues and ideas. Today, Jewish Ideas Daily has re-launched as Mosaic.
Donald Kagan is engaging in one last argument. For his "farewell lecture" here at Yale on Thursday afternoon, the 80-year-old scholar of ancient Greece—whose four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War inspired comparisons to Edward Gibbon's Roman history—uncorked a biting critique of American higher education.
Last night at the Kennedy Center concert hall, Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese delivered the 2013 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture. He spoke of the importance of preserving film and lamented the studios' fixation with box office grosses. The end of celluloid saddened him, but he reminded us that there were exciting new developments in film technology we shouldn't overlook. But mostly Scorsese focused on protecting the old movies—90 percent of silent films are now gone. It's an important subject, don't get me wrong, but couldn't he have talked about Goodfellas or Casino a little bit? I mean, c'mon!