Thursday, March 01, 2012

Beyond the marital ideal

There's always a more radical liberalism. Case in point: a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by law professor Laura Rosenbury.

Laura Rosenbury wants family law to change so that it no longer privileges marriage - not even the most liberal forms of marriage. She believes that family law should focus on our relationships with friends.

Why? She explains her position in a longer article she wrote in 2007 for the Michigan Law Review ("Friends with benefits?"). Her starting point is that we should aim to be equal, autonomous, independent individuals and that this aim is better served through friendship than through marriage. Therefore, she wants family law to be rewritten so that we can freely nominate a number of friends (who might change over time) who will receive the state benefits which now go to our spouse or children.

In her article, Laura Rosenbury explains that family law has two goals of "achieving individual autonomy and gender equality within the family." These goals, she argues, as well as that of fostering pluralism, could be more fully achieved if family law began to consider friendship, as friends are able have a personal connection with each other "while simultaneously maintaining aspects of individual autonomy and equality that can be elusive in domestic coupling".

In other words, she believes that through friendship you can have the best of both worlds: "personal connection" as well as autonomy and equality.

To underline this point she goes on to write,
Andrew Sullivan has made a similar connection between friendship and the desire for autonomous living:

"[F]riendship is for those who do not want to be saved, for those whose appreciation of life is here and now and whose comfort in themselves is sufficient for them to want merely to share rather than to lose their identity. And they enter into friendship as an act of radical choice. Friendship, in this sense, is the performance art of freedom."

Friendship is choice, it is freedom, it is "autonomous living". That's the message. And, to be fair, if your aim is "autonomous living" then that's probably right. People don't generally marry in order to achieve goals such as equality, or radical choice or autonomy. They're seeking something else: a loving union with a person of the opposite sex which completes us and which provides a setting for our adult masculinity and femininity; the chance to have children and to fulfil ourselves as fathers and mothers; the opportunity to contribute to one's own tradition by raising the next generation and so on. Most people understand they are sacrificing a certain amount of autonomy in order to fulfil these other aims.

Laura Rosenbury, in other words, is not being illogical in what she advocates - not if the liberal aim of "autonomous living" is the starting point. Once you begin with that aim, then the family will always seem to be a compromised arrangement - even liberalised versions of the family - as the family can never be entirely fluid, never be entirely inclusive or non-discriminatory or non-hierarchical or non-gendered.

As an example of how liberals are unlikely ever to be satisfied with the family, consider Laura Rosenbury's next argument. She concedes that there has been a "revolution in marriage law" resulting from a "policy decision to treat spouses as individuals rather than as a unit".

However, this "process of individualization" isn't sufficient for Laura Rosenbury. Why? Because the two individuals in a marriage are still dependent on each other. They might be treated as individuals within a marriage by the state, but they still need each other to be recognised as a couple in order to get state benefits:
Although spouses are individuals, the law confers benefits to them solely because they are in a couple recognized by the state; if they presented themselves “merely” as friends, they would not be eligible for state recognition. The individuals in the couple are therefore dependent on each other for the continuance of state benefits and legal recognition. This state-induced dependence is at odds with recent processes of individualization, a conflict which has led to increased rejection of “the romantic dyad and the modern family formation it has supported.

So how exactly would Laura Rosenbury like family law to be reformed? She rejects the idea that people might nominate a "designated friend" to replace a spouse. That would still limit autonomy by making coupling too stable and exclusive:
Chamber's proposal permits unmarried couples to have only one "designated friend." Stable coupling is therefore privileged in Chambers' proposal...

The status of designated friends could therefore be described as a “marriage-lite” approach. Although this approach is designed to permit more autonomy and independence within the relationship the primacy requirement limits much of that autonomy.

Take note: in the world of the liberal autonomist it is thought wrong for "stable coupling" to be privileged in family law.

What does Laura Rosenbury want then? It includes this:
...state recognition of friendship must be sufficiently robust to match, or counter, the signals currently sent by state recognition of marriage and family. constructions of family law can better recognize friendship by embracing the principles of nonexclusivity and fluidity. Nonexclusivity is vital to new constructions of family law because exclusivity risks reinforcing the primacy of one comprehensive relationship over others. relatively aggressive approach would gather all of the benefits, default rules, and obligations attaching to marriage and permit individuals to assign some or all of those forms of legal support to the individuals of their choice.

...In addition, such an approach would not necessitate a legal definition of friendship or family, thereby acknowledging the potential fluidity of family and friendship. Individual preference, rather than legal definition, would control which relationships are supported by the state and which are not.

She is reluctant to define family or friendship as this might limit the "fluidity" of such relationships; note too her emphasis on the idea of family law embracing the principle of nonexclusivity, which undermines in principle the "dyad" relationship between husband and wife.

Finally, it's interesting that Laura Rosenbury then pushes an argument that liberal autonomists always seem to arrive at, namely that if we reject marriage we can happily substitute same sex friendships:
Legal recognition of friendship could begin to disrupt these patterns, creating conditions under which women could more explicitly contemplate why they might prioritize domestic family life, particularly married life over friendship. As discussed earlier, Adrienne Rich called on women to engage in such contemplation over twenty-five years ago. Her goal was to challenge compulsory heterosexuality by creating opportunities for women to question why they have embraced marriage with men over relationships with other women.

Legal recognition of friendship could serve a similar function by presenting women with a socially recognized way of living outside of marriage or domesticity. Some women who are not currently living a lesbian life might gain sufficient strength from such legal recognition to prioritize relationships with women—whether the relationships be sexual or friendly in nature, or both—over interactions with men.

But there were feminists who heeded Adrienne Rich's call to set up female communities. The experiment did not have a happy ending.

The larger point, however, is that liberalism is not finished with the family yet. For Laura Rosenbury, relationships must be fluid, non-exclusive, non-gendered, undefined, individualised and independent if they are to meet the test of autonomous living. No version of marriage, not even the most liberalised, can completely satisfy these requirements, so Laura Rosenbury wants non-marital relationships to be legally recognised within family law instead.

And the task for traditionalists? We have to recognise the dissolving logic of liberalism and reject it at a level of principle.


  1. So this how you legislate love away...

    ...and replace it with a contract.

    Great find, Mark. I think there's even more devilry in this idea than you've brought out. I think it's a back-way into social equality for homosexuality.

    Currently, even if homosexuals gained every recognition and benefit from the State which normal, married people enjoy, they would still be denied some significant social recognition and benefits:

    1.) Numbers/Potential Partners. The vast majority of people are heterosexual, i.e., homosexually undateable. Homosexuals live in a segregated, sexual ghetto.

    2.) Visibility. Our entire culture centers on heterosexual unions.

    3.) Admiration. Tolerance is not desirability. Most of even the most ardent liberals don't think it's desirable to have homosexual sex, or else they' it.

    and there are more.

    None of these advantages/"inequalities" can be legislated away, which means that it appears there is little that homosexuals can do to gain social equality.

    That is until this ingenious little plan from Rosenbury came along.

    Right now, no one wants to be a homosexual. Accept it, sure, but want it, dream about it? No. Everyone recognizes that marrying, having kids and growing old with your spouse is the ideal. Rosenbury, probably operating from Kinsey's assumptions, figures that more people might be willing to have homosexual sex at least sometimes if they weren't so enthralled of marriage, children and all the other good things that go along with normal sex.

    Even if most people would only be willing to experiment once or twice homosexually, that still means millions and millions of new, potential hook-ups for homosexuals. And if "friends with benefits" and sexual "open-mindedness" could somehow replace marriage as the ideal that draws people, well a lot more people might be willing to engage in homosexuality just to gain status and otherwise live out the social ideal.

    An awful lot of people do even worse just for the sake of a little social status and recognition.

    This is a deeply evil and dangerous essay by Rosenbury.

    A few posts ago, someone suggested that maybe we conservatives should give up on the gay marriage wars and move onto some other battle. They couldn't have been more wrong. The marriage ideal must hold. If it does not, it will be replaced by another. And if it's replaced by another, the sexual degradation of posterity is soon to follow.

  2. To change social norms is the aim for these civilisational destroyers. Yet they can't change our human instinct. It's an up hill battle for them either way, they must be checked.

  3. Note that this fool believes that marriage is the result of human law and not the other way around. She believes that all human institutions derive from the State.

    This proposal is not only an example of the consummation of autonomy but of the need for ever more expansive and expensive bureaucratic life-support of degraded family formations. Think how intrusive the current family agencies are and imagine how it might be impacted by subsidizing the sort of arrangements suggested by the author.

    (One more thing: just as gay marriage requires the redefinition of marriage/husband/wife/spouse, note the redefinition of "friends/friendship" required by this proposal)

  4. This is how the world ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with the endless prattle of nonsensical idiots.

  5. No doubt these academics are childless.

  6. This reminds me of a beautiful idea I read in Chesterton: "Some sages of our own decadence have made a serious attack on the family. They have impugned it, as I think wrongly; and its defenders have defended it, and defended it wrongly. The common defense of the family is that, amid the stress and fickleness of life, it is peaceful, pleasant, and at one. But there is another defense of the family which is possible, and to me evident; this defense is that the family is not peaceful and not pleasant and not at one." (“On certain modern writers and the institution of the family”, in Heretics) What is implied here is that, as you point out quite justly, the family is naturally opposed to the aspirations of individuals, and that is precisely why it is so important; it is a place where individuals are forced to establish a close relationship with Others in the strongest sense of the word, i.e. with people they have not chosen and who don't necessarily resemble them or share their interests - people who are NOT their friends... How can a time like ours tolerate such a limit?

  7. One is reminded of the episode of Boston Legal where Alan Shore and Denny Krane marry each other, despite both being straight, for financial reasons and also to ensure Alan will have the ability to provide unrestricted care for Denny as his illness progresses.

    You'd also have to ask how many MRA's would be in favour of these kinds of "friends with benefits" arrangements? Freed from the obligations of "being a man" or having to marry, they could hang out with their mates in a legally supported setting and live the life so to speak. Oh why hasn't this proposal come about sooner?

  8. Mark Richardson check the female creatures lurking in the University departments of Australia here . She's a female professor arguing for infanticide. Lovely ethicist isn't she?

  9. As Jesse says, the MRA types might be happy under such an arrangement. If marriage is replaced with a contract, what is the basis for extracting money from one party after the contract dissolves? After I "divorce" a friend, they have no right to my money.

    "For Laura Rosenbury, relationships must be fluid, non-exclusive, non-gendered, undefined, individualised and independent if they are to meet the test of autonomous living."

    Why, that sounds like the perfect arrangement for raising children!


  10. She gives away that the entire piece is really a stalking horse for lesbian "recruitment". The idea being that "heteronormativity" exists due to heterosexuality being privileged legally and socially, and this has "held women back" from freely choosing to have lesbian relationships (sexual or non-sexual) instead of even "interacting" with men. This is really just the latest, dressed-up, attempt to recruit more women into lesbian relationships -- the lesbian relationships that the law and society are "coercing them to not consider fully" due to heteronormativity and its legal privileging.

    Piffle, of course, but not new, really. Lesbian recruitment has been a feminist priority from day one.

  11. To finish off Brendan's comment: Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.

  12. Lots of good comments...Elizabeth I read the source article of the story you linked to. It's unbelievable. I'll write a post on it some time in the next week, but the long and the short of it is that the "ethicists" define personhood in an oddly liberal way which makes animals persons and newborn humans not persons.

  13. Mark says "We must reject at the level of principle"

    An old knight came back from the crusades. The church leaders had invited the Jews to discuss Christianity. The Knight walks up to the Rabbi and says "Do you believe Mary is the mother of God" and the jew says "No, it's preposterous" and the Knight hits the guy on the head. The rabbi gets dragged out of the church. The knight turns to the priest and says "Don't invite these people in to your church. They are the master of words. You cannot argue with them, unless you are an expert theologian. In the meantime they will distort the minds of your congregation."

    And that is why You cannot argue with these people.

    You will always lose.

    This woman knows she's writing b.s. She doesn't believes a single word of what she is writing, and she and her children laugh over the dinner table at her 'policy reports.' That's why arguing is futile.

  14. Anon,

    I disagree. The goal of "autonomous living" is held across the political class - it is just as strong amongst WASPs in the political class as it is amongst other ethnic groups.

    And once you hold that aim, then it becomes exceptionally difficult to defend traditional community life.

    So we have to criticise it. And one way of doing that is to show what it logically leads to, i.e. what its radical ends are.

    Too often in the past conservatives have criticised particular policies whilst at the same time endorsing the principles giving rise to those policies.

    No wonder society kept moving in a particular direction.

    We have to clarify the situation at the level of principle - we have to force the debate back to first principles.

  15. "The goal of "autonomous living" is held across the political class - it is just as strong amongst WASPs in the political class as it is amongst other ethnic groups.

    And once you hold that aim, then it becomes exceptionally difficult to defend traditional community life."

    The goal of the political class (liberals) is to destroy traditional community life. That is why they embrace "autonomy", which in fact does not make people autonomous, but makes them dependent on the state rather than on family, church, or other traditional institutions.

    So, the elite is not failing to defend traditional community life as an unintended, coincidental byproduct of the drive for autonomy. That destruction is the whole point! If autonomy did not undermine traditional community life it would not be central to their ideology.

  16. Anon,

    But even if that's true, we still need to make the destructive ends of liberal autonomy theory clear to those who don't want to undermine traditional community life.

    In other words, we have to be able to argue "Established politics puts forward principle X, this principle leads to destructive ends Y and Z, therefore we should reject principle X."

    Otherwise people who really ought to be defending their tradition end up supporting a principle that ultimately dissolves it.

    Also, there is a lot of pressure brought to bear on people to accept that liberal policies Y and Z are the moral ones and that anyone rejecting them is therefore a moral outcast.

    If it is explained to people that these moral claims are based on particular, and dubious, ideological assumptions, then much of the moral force applied to these policies is countered.

  17. I think it is especially important to emphasize "this policy leads to destructive outcome Y as an intended consequence not an unintended one" because the Left is always given credit for "good intentions".

  18. Hey Mark, James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal agrees with you in part about the logic of feminism. I think he's missed a point or two and hasn't filled in the whole line of reasoning as well as you would have, but it's something. I hope this is a sign that your analysis is catching on.

    "But contemporary feminism does not actually value choice, except as a means to an ideological end, which is the obliteration of differences between the sexes. The biggest such difference consists in the distinct and disparate demands that reproduction makes on women. Thus in order to equalize the sexes, it is necessary to discourage fertility. Implicit in contemporary feminism is a normative judgment that having children is bad.

    If this were made explicit, of course, the whole project would fall apart. Feminism is politically unviable without the support of at least a substantial minority of women, and women (or at least most women) do have a maternal instinct. So feminism has to wage its war against fertility covertly, rationalizing it in terms of other goals. A revealing example..." (etc.)

  19. "But even if that's true, we still need to make the destructive ends of liberal autonomy theory clear to those who don't want to undermine traditional community life."

    They'll just find something else.

    Blacks envy whites. Queers envy love between men and women. Atheists envy Christians. These people found a way to defeat those who they know in their hearts are better. They will play the victim card to judgement day. You cannot reason with people who arrive at their position through unreason. Even the waiverers are like a scene from Dante - following one flag then another for eternity.

    Eventually the money will run out. Then it is going to get very interesting. In the meantime, they'll string you along.

  20. You cannot reason with people who arrive at their position through unreason.

    But what about younger white heterosexual men and women? Can't we attempt to provide a political alternative for them? Can't we try to break the strangehold of liberalism on that group?

  21. Daybreaker, thanks for the link. Yes, it's a interesting passage, with a good critical insight into the nature of feminism.

  22. "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, perverse disputing of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself." (I Timothy 6:3-5)

  23. "But what about younger white heterosexual men and women? Can't we attempt to provide a political alternative for them? Can't we try to break the strangehold of liberalism on that group?"

    Good question. I suppose you can try but the other side has more allure, an endless parade of new "things" they don't have to pay for (they think).

    I saw a documentary on Ronald Reagan a couple of months ago. It was mostly speeches. Those stirring speeches were made thirty or more years ago and are still being made today; yet moral chaos and demoralization have only grown. Reagan is generally considered the best conservative president of the 20th century, I believe. So, this is not a good sign.

  24. Daybreaker wrote...

    "Implicit in contemporary feminism is a normative judgment that having children is bad."

    The feminist idea of choice is that all women should be free to choose to be childless lesbian career women. They despise any woman who makes any other choice.

  25. "Can't we attempt to provide a political alternative for them?"

    We won't be able to do so soon, if the Gillard government goes ahead with its draconian plans to regulate the press and blogs. Blogs like this will be subject to government control. We are running out of time very quickly. This government clearly intends to crush all dissent.

  26. "No doubt these academics are childless."

    Leftists and feminists are breeding themselves out of existence. Given another three or four generations and there will only be a tiny handful of them left.

    They believe this will be counteracted by the arrival of millions of Third World immigrants who can be relied upon to vote for leftist parties. This is of course a pitiful delusion. The support of immigrant communities for the Left is purely a matter of tactical convenience - leftists are stupid enough to support mass immigration. Once the immigrant communities are large enough they will abandon the Left and form their own political parties (which is already happening in Europe). Those immigrant political parties will then proceed to undo the entire left-liberal political agenda.

    It's only a matter of time before Muslims will be demanding the banning of same-sex "marriages" on the grounds that it's offensive to Islam.

    So the Left will have destroyed our civilisation for nothing.

  27. "It's only a matter of time before Muslims will be demanding the banning of same-sex "marriages" on the grounds that it's offensive to Islam."

    Elite progressives are rather attracted to Islam. It fits in nicely with their essential views politically. As political elites they will control the mullahs as in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. [They really like Dubai.] Islam allows easier manipulation of poor, dependent people minus a skepical middle class.

    As privileged elites they can preach one thing (public education) while doing the opposite (sending their own kids to private schools). Elite Muslim women avoid persecution since the whole system is based on power. (Tony Blair's sister-in-law converted to Islam and is involved with some sort of Islamic NGO.) Homosexuality is widely practiced although not publicly. Blacks are attracted to the violence inherent in Islam and this would bring order to disordered lives.

  28. I should say: Blacks are attracted to the primitive honor system in Islam (which is based on top-down power and violence - the Big Man). Which also brings order to their disordered lives. And, since Islam makes most people poor, they will have a lot of company.

  29. Leftists like Rosenbury are obsessed with power relationships. They view absolutely everything through a microscopic focus on who is control. Of course, they are the ones who need to be in control.

    This particular issue is just an advancement of the goals of the gynocracy, in which women's sexual prerogatives are enforced by the state.

  30. Tradtional relationships are the product of millenia of give and take among the sexes and thus reflect the needs of both sides.

    Since feminism is a totalitarian ideology, all traditional relationships must be destroyed so that a one way contract can be imposed.

  31. Nothing new. Ever heard of Voltairine de Cleyre?