The first issue is that of delayed family formation. As I reported earlier this month, the Catholic Church in Victoria has warned women that in delaying family formation for too long their prospects for marriage diminish.
Jeff Kennett doesn't seem to get the argument. He writes:
TODAY, I call on the Catholic Church and the community to review its position on marriage.
The Catholic Church has suggested to women they should, in effect, lower their standards and marry the second or third-best male available.
Those pronouncements I found belittling to, and of, all women.
Kennett doesn't seem to have thought this through. The Church gave a statistic that there were only 86,000 single men in Australia earning over $60,000 in the prime 25 to 34 age bracket. Therefore, women shouldn't assume that by delaying family formation they were improving their prospects.
Kennett somehow seems to think that if a woman waits until she's 35 that she's going to get Mr Right. A few might, but the odds are against it. She'll just be competing with younger women for a relatively small pool of available men.
Then Kennett seems to contradict himself:
The sanctity of marriage has changed substantially in my lifetime. Vows given are so often quickly forgotten.
In many ways we have become a disposable society, where self is so often more important than the responsibilities we agree to enter into or take upon ourselves.
...That anyone or any institution should suggest we turn the clock back, that people should accept less than their ideal, represents an amazing failure of relevance.
But if Kennett is right that we have become a disposable society then why wouldn't we aim to turn the clock back? Do we really prove our relevance by accepting damaging social trends? And Kennett is foolish to suggest that people should never accept less than their ideal. What if our ideal is unrealistic? What if we get to age 30 and we've never come close to meeting our ideal? Isn't it then time to think about what we can and cannot compromise on?
And, anyway, a woman at age 25 is more likely to be able to attract something close to her ideal than a woman at age 35.
Kennett then tackles the issue of homosexual marriage. He is for it, but on the flimsiest of grounds:
As long as we all respect each other, and obey the laws of the country, surely that is all that matters.
If I want to live my life with Tom or Harold, surely that should be my right as much as it is if I want to live my life with Felicity or anyone else of the opposite sex.
And if I choose a partner and wish to marry, why should anyone be denied that comfort?
You get a sense of why the West has declined when you read comments like that. Under Kennett's principles you could justify just about anything.
For instance, Kennett earlier lamented the emergence of disposable relationships. But why should people uphold promises or commitments under Kennett's liberal principles? The people doing the disposing aren't breaking any laws and they might well continue to respect the people they leave behind. And such people could well argue, just as Kennett does, that life is short and that they have a right to choose who they wish to live with.
Similarly, the only thing stopping polygamy under Kennett's principles is that it's currently illegal. But a man could easily justify living together with a couple of de facto wives. He could argue that everyone in the marriage respected each other and that he should not be denied the comfort in life of two wives.
As I mentioned, Kennett was (is?) a member of the right-wing party here in Victoria. But his philosophy really is a liberal rather than a conservative one. And it is a dissolving liberalism. He believes that it is individual desires that define what is moral, rather than that desires should conform to a real moral good.
Where does that leave the importance of character? Of virtue? Of a love for, and commitment to, our families and the larger communal tradition we belong to?
The great pity is that educated Westerners in the political class came to believe that nothing mattered except the desires that can exist or be realised at the level of an atomised individual. A lot was lost when this shift in thinking took place.