Saturday, October 31, 2015

Marriage & a traditionalist counterculture

I thought Suzanne Venker made a good point in a discussion on why modern marriage is failing:
If women no longer expect or even want men to “take care of” them — since women can do everything men can do and better, thank you very much, feminism — perhaps the flipside is the assumption that women don’t need to take care of husbands, either. And if no one’s taking care of anyone, why the hell marry?

Her argument makes sense. It means that if we want to restore a culture of marriage we need to think through ways in which men and women can return to complementary gender roles (if we set up society so that men and women don't need each other, then sexual relations are likely to deteriorate.)

However, I don't think her argument explains everything. There are women out there who do want men to take care of them but who still carry the assumption that they don't need to take care of their husbands in return. How do we explain this phenomenon?

It possibly has to do with a misunderstanding of love itself. If you were to ask young women today what love is I expect that many would think of the physical or emotional sensations evoked by a passionate feeling of romantic love (butterflies in the stomach, not wanting to be apart etc.). What's missing is the understanding that genuine love instils a settled commitment in the will toward both fidelity and a desire to "do well toward", i.e. to serve and uphold.

This latter understanding of love has bit by bit leached out of Western culture. It was once applied not only to conjugal love (marriage); but to our wider families; to people and place; to our culture and tradition. It survived longest within a culture of family life, where love and commitment remained twin concepts at least for my parent's generation.

I think what survives now amongst the more responsible educated women is the idea that they should stay married out of a commitment to their children, i.e. that their children would be hurt if they abandoned their marriages. It's the last bit of culture that still supports marriage (at least within certain socio-economic groups) - and if that goes, then perhaps the whole thing collapses.

So how might a traditionalist counterculture push things back in the right direction? First, marriage can't be seen in isolation. If it is good to love, and if love is connected to loyalty, commitment and service, then that is true as well of our love for our own people and culture. A counterculture would need to promote as part of an ideal of personhood this understanding of love and of the higher nature of men and women.

Second, a counterculture would need to reassert standards. In liberal theory there is no morality per se, nothing inherently right or wrong, or higher or lower. What is moral in liberal theory is the act of defining your own good. This does then generate a kind of morality, in which it is thought wrong to oppose the "define your own good" ideal, so that the worst things are to discriminate, to be judgemental, intolerant, fundamentalist and so on.

A counterculture would need to erase this whole way of thinking about morality and instead reassert as a standard or ideal what is higher within human nature. How can you ask people to act to uphold the good, if there is no good, except for the act of choosing and not discriminating when it comes to the choices of others?

Finally, if there is to be change, it is likely to be carried through by a cultural elite - elite not in terms of money or political correctness, but in level of culture and character. To create such an elite will most likely require select entry schools and then some kind of supporting institutions.


  1. I can thoroughly recommend Defending Marriage by the Catholic writer Anthony Esolen. In it he paints and older view of marriage where it was rich, vibrant, wholesome and centred on the other, not the self. The "marriage" that gay lobbyists are arguing for is as thin as the piece of paper it is written on. No wonder it is weak.

    If I may be indulged, here are a couple of paragraphs from Esolen: "In the Land of Marriage, men and women cherish one another, delight in one another’s strengths, laugh at one another’s foibles, and bear with one another’s weaknesses. Gratitude, that virtue so close both to greatness of heart and to the wonder of a child, is the order of the day. When the women look upon men digging ore out of the heart of a mountain, or laying roads, or bending their strong arms and large hands to shave the marble one grain of dust at a time, and give it the smoothness of a baby’s cheek, they are grateful, not envious. It pleases them to see the men work. They see what the men do as gifts for them, and so, in the Land of Marriage, do the men intend it to be. When the men look upon the women preparing a meal, their hands dusty with flour, or adding to a celebration the dashes of care and grace that the men would not have conceived in a hundred years of blueprints, they are grateful indeed. It pleases them, it abashes them; they see what the women do as gifts for them, and so do the women intend them to be, and in the Land of Marriage, if there is rivalry between the sexes, it is like the merry raillery of brothers and sisters."

    There is much more of this fulsome writing throughout Defending Marriage. For anyone who has a thin view of marriage, this is a must read.

    1. What a great quote. Does make me want to read the book.

    2. Hi Mark, then let me whet your appetite just that little bit more. Esolen's writing is...virtuous.

      "Campaigns for mere abstinence fail because they miss the full human reality of sex, and so they shoot too low. The practice of abstinence is a negative merely."

      “I am the sort of being that can beget a child,” says the man, and “I am the sort of being that can bear a child,” says the woman. And each, beholding the other, sees the goodness of his sex in relation to the goodness of the other. To see the goodness of being male is to see the goodness of being female, and vice versa, since the man is so obviously for the woman and the woman so obviously for the man."

      And this gem: "The sexual revolution is essentially a lonely one. That’s not just a matter of the results. Loneliness is its brick and mortar. For the sexual revolution isolates. The man says to himself, “I will have this woman now, because it is convenient, but I’ll make sure she doesn’t press things further.” The woman says to herself, “I’ll let this man have his way, because he’s weak and I can manipulate him for my pleasure.” Each one says, “We must make sure that no third person intrudes upon this arrangement,” the third person that is the natural, biological result of what should be married love but which instead is idle lust. If that third person does so intrude, he may well be dispatched, with cold steel and antisepsis. His remains will be deposited in a bag labeled “biohazard.”"

      Better finish on a brighter note: "On three great bonds of love do all cultures depend: the love between man and woman in marriage; the love between a mother and her child; and the camaraderie among men, a bond that used to be strong enough to move mountains."

      I better stop, so I don't breach copyright.

    3. Interesting that Esolen mentions camaraderie amongst men, as I left that out of my post, but do think it's important in the forming of culture. There aren't many avenues for it today, but there's no reason it couldn't find expression in a counterculture, for instance, through a boys school, or sporting clubs, or a service organisation, or through some sort of leadership groups within the community.

    4. Apologies for this longer quote, but Esolen does opine the loss of male camaraderie. The full quote, to the end of the chapter, reads thusly:

      "On three great bonds of love do all cultures depend: the love between man and woman in marriage; the love between a mother and her child; and the camaraderie among men, a bond that used to be strong enough to move mountains. The first two have suffered greatly; the third has almost ceased to exist. Think about that friendship the next time you see the aging adolescents parading in feather boas or leather underpants as they march down Main Street, making their sexual proclivities known to everybody whether everybody cares or not. With every chanted slogan and every blaring sign, they crowd out the words of friendship and appropriate the healthy gestures of love between man and man. Confess: has it not left you uneasy even to read the words of that last sentence? What do the paraders achieve, with their public promotion of homosexuality? They come out of the closet, and hustle a lot of good and natural feelings back in. They indulge in garrulity, and consequently tie the tongues and chill the hearts of men, who can no longer feel what they ought, or speak what they feel. Reader, the next time you feel moved to pity the kindly and delicate man in the workstation near you, give a thought also to an adolescent somewhere, one among uncounted millions, a kid with acne maybe, a kid with an idea or a love, who needs a friend. Know then that your tolerance for the flambeau, which is little more than a self-congratulating cowardice, or your easy and poorly considered approval of the shy workmate’s request that he be allowed to “marry” his partner, means that the unseen boy will not find that friend, and that the idea and the love will die. No doubt about this. If you are a modern man, a half-man, many such ideas and loves have already died in you. For as much as you can admire them wistfully, from a half-understanding distance, you can be neither Frodo nor Sam, nor the man who created them. You dare not follow Agassiz, alone, to the Arctic. You will not weep for Jonathan. You once were acquainted with Enkidu, but that was all. Do not even mention John the Apostle. Friendship, rest in peace."

  2. I have seen people suggest that defenders of traditional marriage should argue in favour of marriage at the same point as the gay advocates; in other words, as a relationship only. I think this is fundamentally flawed, as it presumes the same starting point: that marriage is merely a relationship.

    If defenders of traditional marriage start from that far along in the debate, we will always lose. No, marriage is a package of relationships and structures, within the broader construct of family.

    One of my favourite quotes regarding family, is from the award winning article called, Dan Quayle Was Right: "...disaggregating data can make family structure less significant as a factor, just as disaggregating Hurricane Andrew into wind, rain, and tides can make it disappear as a meteorological phenomenon" - Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

    The legal aspect of marriage is but one attribute of marriage, just as marriage is but one attribute of family. To be sure, a primary attribute, but by no means the only one.

    The fullness of marriage and family as an attitude, in my humble opinion, is what needs to be restored.

    1. The fullness of marriage and family as an attitude, in my humble opinion, is what needs to be restored.
      Yes, some people don't seem to get the larger culture of family life; unfortunately, there are some women in particular who seem to think of the marital relationship as something that exists separately to family, as a discrete personal relationship that stands or falls on its own, separately to considerations of the existence of a family.

  3. When one simply takes the equation homo=same=EXACT SAME=self then one can "see" that the "exaltation" of homosexuality is exactly the radical sexual autonomy that is the "bricks and mortar" of "loneliness" that is so feverishly sought by those desirous of a pleasurable self-annihilation. The "right" to pleasurably self-annihilate via homo-sexuality is the most "cherished right" of the modern radical autonomist.

  4. The traditional concept of Marriage in Christian (an indeed all major religious) tradition is of a social institution and not a personal relationship. Marriage, like other social institutions, must have a vision and goals which are in line with the common good of the society and families from which the bride and groom originate.

    The principle functions of marriage are the procreation and enculturation of children, and the care of the elderly and the sick. Marriage does not, therefore, exist primarily to fulfil personal emotional or sexual gratification needs. Its primary purpose is the preservation and perpetuation of the social order.

    The Christian view of Mary and Joseph as the model family requires that the righteous man marries within his own tribe. Husband and wife should, as Mary and Joseph, be of common ancestral descent. Thus the genetic heritage and gifts which God created in each ethnic group be preserved.