Today I am pleased to feature this essay from first-time Mere O contributor Josiah Peterson.
The legal status of marriage was a hot button issue in the 2012 election cycle. Where has it gone in 2016?
The third presidential debate offers a clue. The opening segment—on the Supreme Court—gave Donald Trump an opportunity to appeal to social conservatives tempted to jump ship after the fallout from the hot mic tapes in which Trump brags about sexually assaulting women. But moderator Chris Wallace didn’t ask about marriage. Clinton briefly referenced losing “marriage equality” from her list of concerns about a potential Trump appointee to the Court. And Trump? He didn’t mention marriage at all. Marriage was a non-issue in this debate, even though Chris Wallace’s questions provided the best opportunity of any debate so far. Our slate of candidates lack the conviction or pressure to defend the institution of marriage.
Looking at the two major party candidates in 2016, one might easily assume “marriage equality” is a settled issue. Hillary Clinton—who supported traditional marriage in 2008 and whose husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act that Obergefell struck down—only brings up the issue to tout Democratic accomplishments and galvanize the progressive wing of her party. On the Republican side, the once “very pro-choice” Donald Trump regularly reiterates his nominal pro-life position, but has been mum on marriage since a brief comment during the March GOP primary debate, where he said he wished the Court had left marriage policy to the states. Trump’s campaign website is devoid of any mention of marriage or family policy and Trump’s position on marriage—or absence of one—has worried some evangelical leaders since they met with him in New York City last June. The Republican Party Platform offers a robust defense of “natural marriage” as the “foundation for civil society,” but it’s unclear Trump has ever read it.
The two leading candidates, with marriage histories that literally read like tabloid filler, are unlikely to champion marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. When lifelong fidelity is no longer an expectation in marriage, marriage devolves into an arrangement for personal gratification and structures that would promote full interdependence, societal stability, and the rearing of children become expendable.
But it’s not just the two major party nominees who fail to defend the marriage-based family. There is not a single major candidate running for president who is openly pro-marriage. Gary Johnson, the purported Libertarian, rather than leave the matter of marriage to the states or have the government pull out of marriage completely, embraces so-called “marriage equality” and would compel religious objectors to participate in the weddings of homosexual partners. Green Party candidate Jill Stein proudly identifies herself not only with the LGBT movement, but with the LGBTQIA+ movement and is probably quite happy to support anything that undermines the heteronormative family structure that’s contributing to the overpopulation of the planet. The Constitution Party nominee Darrell Castle makes no mention of marriage or family policy in his speeches or on his website, though the Constitution Party Platform reaffirms traditional marriage. (It does not, however, deem marriage a “key issue”).
Evan McMullin, House Republican Policy director turned NeverTrump independent candidate, claims to be “the only true conservative in the race,” and should be the likeliest candidate to run on a platform of family values. Just one day after the young Mormon jumped into the race, he discussed marriage with Bloomberg News:
I want to start by asking you about an issue that’s been big in our politics for the last couple years, same-sex marriage. It’s happened very quickly that it’s now legal. Are you comfortable with the way it’s happened and the current state of the law of the land on same-sex marriage?
Well my position on that is that as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I believe in traditional marriage between a man and a woman but I respect the decision of the court and I think it’s time to move on.
When in the same interview another journalist offered McMullin the chance to punt the issue to the states, McMullin responded that while a federalist approach is ideal, “it’s been handled by the Supreme Court, and that’s where it is.” He went on, “This is a decision of faith for me…But my faith isn’t everybody else’s faith and I make my decision for me on those kinds of things.” When asked if he would nominate justices who would seek to overturn the decision he replied, “I wouldn’t on that.”
We might chalk up McMullin’s position to strong views of judicial review or separation of church and state, but for his exchange with George Will a week after the Bloomberg comments:
G.W.: “Social conservatives are particularly unhappy with the choice they have this year.”
E.M.: “Of course they are.”
G.W.: “But they’ve looked at your website and they’re not encouraged. They say you say that as a Mormon you believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”
E.M.: “I do.”
G.W.: “But you say the court has spoken, you respect the court’s opinion and we should move on. Does that not also apply to Roe vs. Wade which has been the law of the land for 43 years and would you, in appointing judges, appoint judges who you think or ask would overturn Roe vs. Wade?”
E.M.: “Yes it’s a good question, and a fair question, but I see the issues differently. On the matter, on the issue of life, it’s, it’s life, so I actually would pursue appointments, court appointments, that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. So that’s my view. But I do believe on the issue of gay marriage the American people have a certain positioning, the court has spoken, and again that’s not a matter of life, so I, I respect the decision and I do think it’s time to move on. But on, on a matter of life, I, I remain committed to overturning Roe vs. Wade.”
McMullin’s deference to the Obergefell ruling stems not from a belief that Court opinions are sacrosanct, but from his unwillingness to alienate the disaffected millennials and independents he hopes to win over from Trump and Clinton. McMullin jumps from the Supreme Court decision to an assumption that “the people have spoken”—even though voters in 31 states voted to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. George Will was right to pursue the comparison with abortion. McMullin’s “personally opposed” position on marriage closely resembles the arguments made by the pro-abortion Catholics like Tim Kaine and Mario Cuomo.
The current set of major political candidates lack either the internal conviction and courage, or the external pressure and support to defend marriage on the national stage. What happened?
As recently as 2010, Gallup polling reported that a majority of Americans believed that marriages between same-sex couples should not be recognized as legally valid. In more recent polling the number hovers around 40%, which is greater than the percentage of people Gallup reports want to overturn Roe vs. Wade at 29% (though the same polling shows an overwhelming majority disagree with Roe’s result of legalizing abortion through all stages of pregnancy for virtually any reason).
Why isn’t 40% enough to garner the support of at least one serious political candidate? The popularity of candidates like Trump and acceptance of candidates like McMullin suggest that marriage hasn’t risen to the level of “deal-breaker” for enough voters. Evan McMullin shouldn’t be able to conceive of running a Trump-alternative campaign without a strong marriage platform. Whether out of despair of finding a reliable candidate, a misguided “Benedict Option” mindset that despairs of winning the battle politically, or fatigue over being called bigots, marriage supporters have remained fairly quiet this campaign cycle. Marriage supporters’ silence allows the sexual nihilists to declare a de facto victory. Candidates took notice.
Why have the defenders of marriage gone silent? Too many proponents of marriage are not confident in their ability to explain and defend the definition of marriage. With beliefs often rooted in religious convictions, marriage supporters often aren’t able to demonstrate the importance of marriage to a secular society. Up until the recent societal shift on gay marriage, it wasn’t necessary to defend these basic assumptions. Now believers in marriage find themselves at a loss for words while being belittled in mainstream media and shamed on social media.
But there is hope. While there may be 700 gender studies programs in America churning out graduates every year, there are over 425 times as many churches with over 60 million weekly attendees. The infrastructure exists for disseminating the fundamentals of natural marriage if pastors and laypeople will avail themselves of the resources available. The Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice are defending those with traditional beliefs about marriage—not just on the grounds of freedom of speech (the “freedom to be wrong,” as opponents put it) but on the principle of marriage itself. The Love and Fidelity Network conferences and local chapters have been growing in number, challenging the sexual nihilism of the college campus with guest speakers such as Robert George and Helen Alvare, who expose the “False Catechism of the Sexual Revolution,” and outline how to go about “Restoring Culture from Confusion.” John Stonestreet at Summit Ministries and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview publishes resources that ground readers in both the religious and civil foundations for marriage. Scholars, clergy, and laymen, anticipating and responding to the cultural shift, wrote books such as What is Marriage?, The Meaning of Marriage, Same Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, and On the Meaning of Sex. And of course there is the faithful work of publications like, Mere Orthodoxy, Public Discourse, First Things, and World Magazine.
It’s important for marriage proponents to come out of the shadows. The stakes are too high for the other side to be allowed to declare victory unchallenged. Marriage proponents must openly commit to higher standards for politicians seeking to earn their votes. Defenders of marriage must do more than tout the importance of religious liberty, carving out a space for their retreat. They must do the work to defend marriage itself.
Josiah Peterson is the debate coach and adjunct instructor of Argumentation and Debate, Persuasive Writing and Speaking, and the Debate Practicum at The King’s College (NYC). He earned his M.A. in Liberal Studies from St. John’s University and his B.A. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at The King’s College. His writings have appeared in Public Discourse, The Federalist, and The Orlando Sentinel, and he has twice presented papers at C.S. Lewis Foundation summer conferences. He lives with his wife, Rachelle, in Brooklyn, NY.
The comment that Darrell Castle does not discuss marriage issues is simply false. His campaign statement for the defense of marriage is that as a Christian he does not recognize gay marriage as marriage. Only God defines marriage in his opinion and that is between one man and one woman. He refers to his marriage of 38 years to only one woman. Would he support a federal law against gay marriage? No, because he believes that the federal government has no authority in the area of marriage and we should not have to get a license to have a relationship with whomever we want to have a relationship. That issue is between the individuals and God. That is what liberty is about.
Please clarify with your readers as this information is clearly in his speeches and the Party platform. Apparently no one looked for it or asked.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
I reference the party platform accurately above. It affirms natural marriage in the platform but does not consider marriage a “key issue” (nor religious liberty for that matter).
When you look at Castle’s “Issues” and “Platform” and all the videos he has posted on his website, you will find no mention of marriage or family policy.
The only reference I can find of Mr. Castle addressing the issue is in response to other people raising the question. It’s not one he raises himself. In the interview with Peter Gemma, he says “Since there would be no governmental financial advantage to this relationship it is not a governmental concern.” I’m not sure how he jumps from the lack of financial advantage (or penalty) to the lack of a need for government recognition of marriages. Laws regarding child custody, parental rights, inheritance law, power of attorney, etc. all are influenced by what the government does and does not recognize as marriage.
This article does not deny that he believes in natural marriage, but rather that it’s not an issue he’s been concerned with as he’s been running for president.
If you have other speech transcripts or videos you can share to indicate otherwise I’m sure I and other readers would be interested to see them.
Perhaps the problem here is that virtually no one in this culture (which is habituated into the outworking of Modernistic Western Romanticism) has a clue (much less a robust doctrine) regarding what it is that they would have to be defending consistently. Plenty of folks on the Right have the same fundamental flaw in their view of marriage as those on the Left do.
Exactly. I’m old enough (46) to remember a time when homosexuality wasn’t that big of a deal. When I was growing up in a mid-sized city in the Midwest, we all knew that one of our neighbors was gay. That said, he was a successful attorney and a two-term Republican state senator. He was a two-time recipient of the state’s highest award for public service, and was a member of the Electoral College in 1980. Then the AIDS crisis hit, and religious conservatives sought to use “the gays” as a wedge issue to help them win elections. Our neighbor’s practice suffered, he lost his re-election bid, and moved away a few years later. It was disturbing to see how quickly the public turned on people who otherwise were contributing, law-abiding members of society. Finally, after thirty years, the insanity is slowly dying down. I’m still a little haunted by the memory of the moving van parked in front of our neighbor’s massive tudor when, as a man of 50, he walked away from the life he’d built.
This strikes me as something that should be a rhetorical question. I’ll respond as a theologically conservative Christian who has no objection whatsoever to the issuance of civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
A first clue to your answer comes in the fact that you’re dancing around what you’re really seeking to do. You’re seeking to re-institute a regime where states can deny civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples and thereby deny them a litany of legal benefits that the law affords by default to the parties to a civil marriage. But instead of saying that, you use euphemistic phrases like “defend the institution of marriage.” But where’s the nexus between defending marriage and denying rights to same-sex couples. Why does defending the institution of marriage require denying same-sex couples access to that very institution? I just don’t see it. In fact, the opposite conclusion strikes me as making far more sense: Extending civil marriage laws to encompass same-sex couples would seem to provide legal certainty to the parties to such relationships, the effect of which should be to strengthen the institution of marriage in our society. Conservative jurist Richard Posner made exactly that observation in his opinion in Baskin v. Bogan. I see no reason why marriage’s defense requires excluding same-sex couples who are seeking its benefits. And I’ve heard nothing in the multi-decades term of this public debate to convince me otherwise. (Jason Steorts also had a good article in the National Review to the same effect in May 2015.)
Use of the term “traditional marriage” is equally disingenuous. Under your use of that term, it merely means “a civil-contractual marriage between two people of the opposite sex.” Thus, by that logic, Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries was “traditional.” Such a minimalistic, contractarian view of marriage is a rather recent innovation. It has little progeny before the 1960s. In fact, coverture didn’t disappear as a de jure fact of married life in the US until about 125 years ago. Are you proposing that we go back to that? I doubt it. And interracial marriage was criminalized in many states as recently as the late 1960s. What “tradition” are you seeking to defend? Yes, civil same-sex marriage clearly cuts against the tradition of coverture. But when I look at the civil-contractarian view of marriage that prevails in our culture–which is our current practice, even if it’s a departure in many ways from tradition–I have a hard time seeing how civil same-sex marriage upends that view. In fact, as Carl Trueman noted some time ago in his piece “The Yuck Factor,” same-sex marriage is remarkably consistent with the view of marriage that we generally practice today in the US. So, if you’re going to invoke some “tradition,” then you’d better be prepared to identify that tradition and explain whose marriage licenses you’d take away as a result of enacting that tradition into law.
Further, it’s a minor point, but be aware that the constitutionality of DOMA was not under consideration in Obergefell. Section 3 of DOMA was found to be unconstitutional in the 2013 case of US v. Windsor. In my view, the facts of the Windsor case illustrate a key reason why broadening the scope of civil marriage to include same-sex couples makes good practical sense.
What makes you so sure that your fellow Christians, even those with conservative theological convictions, agree with you? In last year’s Pew religious landscape survey, researchers found that 40% of members of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), favor civil same-sex marriage. If you include non-members who regularly attend (who tend to be younger, more mobile folks), the number likely crawls closer to 50%. As a Protestant, I believe that the eschatological purpose of marriage was fulfilled in Christ, and that marriage is an institution limited to this eschatological age whose contours are defined primarily by pragmatic considerations. I recognize that some Protestants opt for a more Catholic view of marriage. That’s their prerogative, even though I tend to believe that they’re wrong. Even so, I see no reason why my Christian faith requires me oppose civil same-sex marriage.
The stakes are high? Give me a break. There’s a same-sex couple a few condos down the hall from me. I have no idea whether they have a marriage license or not. And I have a hard time seeing what stake I have in whether they obtain one or not. In fact, it pains me even to identify even a single way in which it would affect me in the slightest. So, if you’re going to tell me that the stakes are high regarding this issue, you’d better be prepared to set forth cogent ways in which my neighbors’ acquisition of a marriage license imposes material harm onto me. Absent that, I have little choice but to laugh at the suggestion.
In sum, no one is standing up to oppose civil same-sex marriage because there are few good reasons to oppose it. This battle has raged throughout my adult life. In fact, I was 18 when Andrew Sullivan penned “Here Comes the Groom.” I read Sullivan’s piece at that time, found his arguments to be persuasive, and haven’t heard or read much since that would lead me to reconsider.
I think I’d echo a good deal of what you had to say, and I do sympathize.
I’d put forward a natural (creationistic), ministerial, and “tragic” view of marriage. Shadow marriage (what we normally refer to by marriage), that of one man and one woman, was and is meant to be a stable institution directed toward producing and bringing up children, the point of which is to fight against death and grow a civilization (the actual solution to the aloneness of Adam). And if that’s the point, then I see why it would be of public interest and fitting to receive legal benefits for the sake of the public good. It’s the only view of marriage that I can see making a consistent defense for as public policy if there’s going to be one. But it sounds almost totally alien to the culture we live in.
And, of course, True Marriage is that of Christ and the Church, the fulfillment of the shadow. It’s why the Resurrection and the Eschaton bring an end to shadow marriage. Because death will be defeated, there will be no more begetting of natural offspring and thus no need for shadow marriage.
Even now, living between two ages after Christ’s Resurrection which inaugurated the Eschaton but before the General Resurrection which will consummate the Eschaton, the Risen Lord as the firstfruits of the Resurrection has already profoundly altered marriage (at least for Christians in particular). And I think that’s Paul’s argument in the warp and woof of 1 Corinthians. Christ has expanded and changed what it can mean to give life and have children. Think of the Song of the Barren Woman (Isaiah 54:1), think of all the offspring that the Suffering Servant has and how he begot them (Isaiah 53:10; Hebrews 2:13), and so on. I think a reasonable way to read the whole of 1 Corinthians 7 (which calls marriage a concession in some regards) is that there is no longer a need for marriage in quite the same way as it was before the resurrection of Christ, and that whether married or single, Christians have an obligation to occupy those callings in a such a way that it becomes a means of discipleship to ourselves and a means of life-giving ministry to others.
The moment the essence of marriage gets wrapped up in people meeting their own psychological needs (i.e. Modernistic Western Romanticism) is the point at which everything goes off the rails. Theologically conservative Christians really shouldn’t be surprised that if we implicitly propagate this as essential to the nature and purpose of marriage, we then set loose the impulse and logic that gave us no-fault divorce and now same-sex marriage.
In my opinion, a view of marriage within the church that gravitates toward a sanctified and baptized version of the “world’s greatest romance” as its core characteristic is a distortion of marriage in Scripture and is not what is typifying the marriage of Christ and the Church. Marriage as a man and woman navigating the decisions and actions necessary for the work of ministry, whether toward children or community, is what typifies Christ and his Church ministering life to the world.
My two cents, anyway.
I would have no problem with a legal regime that required those seeking marriage to have specific intent to procreate. Then, some form of domestic partnership could be available for everyone else.
And, yes, the modern evangelical view of marriage–where marriage primarily centers on the expression and satisfaction of sexual desire–creates certain problems. I see very little of Paul reflected in the marriage-related writings of those connected with the New Calvinist movement, e.g., Mark Driscoll, Tim Bayly, etc.
Arguments against same-sex marriage.
1. It is a further extension of state power especially in the context of “anti-discrimination laws” (all of which ought to be abolished). Also, George Washington did not have a marriage license.
2. It unilaterally changes the marriage contracts prior to Obergefell (as did the introduction of no fault divorce by Reagan). By treating same-sex and heterosexual marriage the same it inverts what actually constitutes marriage including consummation. This may seem trivial but it is hugely important when it comes for grounds of divorce because of what constitutes adultery. It also has implications for inheritance.
What should be focused upon is abolishing inheritance taxes entirely and allowing secular and religious non-governmental institutions to conduct ceremonies.
I agree that antidiscrimination laws can–and often do–represent excessive government overreach. Even so, antidiscrimination ordinances have minimal nexus to the question of whether or not the state issues a marriage license to a same-sex couple. The Kim Davis situation is the exception. But one can run afoul of an antidiscrimination law regardless of whether the state had issued a marriage license or not. For example, I believe that the case in Oregon arose before Oregon began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But if antidiscrimination laws are the issue, then focus on that issue. Denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples does almost nothing to address that issue, and just makes you look vindictive and petty.
I’m not aware of any state that requires consummation as a condition of having a valid marriage. Moreover, there’s not a single state that requires one to cite grounds for requesting a divorce. This hearkens back to the point that Carl Trueman made in his piece, “The Yuck Factor.” The relevant redefinition of marriage occurred half a century ago, and had begun earlier than that. It makes no sense to derogate same-sex marriage due to its failure to conform to legal standards that we stopped imposing on opposite-sex couples generations ago. That’s my objection to Robert George’s arguments concerning this issue. They’d make sense if this were 1925.
Yes, it does have implications on inheritance, but this that strikes me as an argument in favor of same-sex marriage. The purpose of inheritance laws is to establish default rules that are consistent with people’s settled expectations. By denying same-sex couples the ability to obtain marriage licenses, the law is imposing onto them a set of default rules that likely run counter to the couple’s settled expectations. And, in certain cases, the law imposed default rules onto them around which they have no power to contract.
I agree that much of the kerfuffle over same-sex marriage could have been avoided if social conservatives had worked with social libertarians to establish a legal regime under which same-sex couples could enjoy the legal benefits of civil marriage, while protecting marriage’s central focus on procreation and the nurturing of children. Such a regime would also be more appropriate for people who are remarrying later in life or for people who are entering into a childless companionate marriage. But social conservatives fumbled the ball on that, and did so in a way that led to the inescapable conclusion that many of them harbor an improper animus against non-heterosexual people. As a result, social conservatives painted themselves into a corner. Now they’re stuck, and, in my opinion, deserve every last bit of public opprobrium they receive for their past animus-motivated conduct. I spend a fair bit of time in Switzerland for work. There is still no same-sex marriage in Switzerland, largely because social conservatives in Switzerland pursued a sensible middle-ground solution and did so without giving into certain atavistic urges. American evangelicals failed in that respect, and now they’re facing the legitimate and foreseeable consequences of that failure. Being stupid often has a high price.
Which change in marriage 50 years ago are you referring to?
My point about no-fault divorce was that it did the same unilateral change to contracts that same-sex marriage did- both were bad. Even if you don’t now need to show cause for a divorce, adultery makes no sense within same-sex marriage. Also these circumstances can be pointed to in family courts in regards child custody.
BTW did you have a read of that Alt-Right summary article I linked?
I was referring to the social changes that occurred in the way that marriage was viewed. Prior to WWII, the culture primarily viewed marriage as existing for the benefit of third parties. In the postwar period, the culture gradually embraced a view that rejected third-party obligations in favor of the contracting parties personal and sexual satisfaction.
My point is that social conservatives largely embraced that shift, including no-fault divorce, without much complaint. Therefore, they can’t derogate same-sex relationships as failing to satisfy the standards of conjugal marriage when they long ago stopped imposing standards onto opposite-sex couples.
I perused it briefly. I’m sympathetic with its recognition that there’s little meaningful difference between the rising family of right-wing reactionary movements. I would argue, for example, that Rod Dreher and David Duke simply represent two sides of the same reactionary coin. Their ultimate goal is the establishment of an authoritarian, hierarchical culture where the “right kind of people” rule over everyone else. Even so, I’m struggling to understand the thesis set forth in the last full paragraph of the piece. The author is suggesting that there needs to be some kind of authoritarian force in place to create the conditions in which libertarianism can thrive. I get what he’s trying to say. For example, libertarianism works in Switzerland because the Swiss have developed a strong sense of personal responsibility and self-restraint. But the Swiss don’t do this in response to an external authority; they do it almost unconsciously. I’m not sure that libertarianism would work in a culture where people were conscious of their submission to such an authority.
OK, so you’re essentially saying the conservative movement has no case against same-sex marriage given their historic complicity in the changing social/legal meaning of marriage. This however different to say that there are no arguments one could make against it.
I think the author may well be making reference to Hoppe’s concept of the Natural Elites. Those people who rise to the top due to their superior intelligence and judgement. They become defacto leaders and resolve disputes (a judicial role). Crucially however unlike a modern state not one is a monopoly, there is freedom of entry and exit to provide such services.
If you’re interested in this, this article is a good primer:
I’m basically suggesting that George et al. don’t really believe the arguments they’re making. After all, the most egregious violations of conjugal marriage relate to our society’s accepted trends in opposite-sex coupling. But George et al. largely give a free pass to opposite-sex violators and focus their attention almost exclusively on the tiny number of same-sex couples seeking the benefits of our civil marriage laws. It strikes me that social conservatives are far more interested in maintaining society’s fixation on “compulsory heterosexuality,” but it’s hard to find a traditional or biblical reason to justify one’s continued fetish with Freudian social theory. Conjugal marriage is just a cute way of hiding one’s ultimate allegiance to Freud.
For what it’s worth, I tend to believe that sexual orientation is a fairly useless concept. A lot of our cultural confusion on these kinds of issues ties back to Freudian social theorists’ efforts to link sex with romance, to define a biological origin of “normal sexuality,” and to pathologize everything else. Then, via the “family values” movement, Freudians like James Dobson sought to pawn off their crackpot theories onto the church. Soon enough, silly notions like “biblical masculinity” and “biblical femininity” were born. The sooner we can dump this stuff, the better.
Men are incredibly lonely in our society. But they have difficulty forming genuine, emotionally fulfilling connections with other men because of our society’s belief that all *real* relationships must have a genital-erotic component. I grew up in a cultural bubble in an ethnic and religious enclave in the rural Midwest. Patterns of life were much more reflective of central Europe than anything particularly American. I didn’t realize until I left home that most Americans didn’t eat spaetzle several nights a week (or ever). And I recall being confused as to why Saint Nicholas visited about half of the homes in my town on December 6 and left the rest for December 25. Did he get tired and need to take a rest for 19 days? Coupled to that was the fact that my entire religious formation was Anabaptist in character. Thus, even today, I have a difficult time seeing myself as an American. Identifying myself as such seems petty and short-sighted. But there was one huge benefit to that cultural insularity: I was never polluted by the broader culture’s Freudian notions of normative masculinity. Thus, I’ve never felt a need to avoid forming deep connections with other men for fear that those connections would evolve into genital-erotic desire. Nor have I ever felt a need to conjure up sexual desire for a girlfriend as a condition of legitimizing that relationship. In fact, I rarely ever thought about sex while growing up. And that was largely true of most men in the world in which I was raised. On the other hand, there was very little legalism around such issues. It was a world where there were few anxieties concerning nudity, sex, etc. Were we all just asexuals? I don’t think so. I think we simply had a firm sense of our place in the world, and felt no need to live up to some notion that “real men” view sex like an un-neutered dog. So, I’m largely convinced by the anarcho-capitalist thesis, as the world of my youth largely conformed to it. That especially makes me a skeptic concerning “scientific” efforts to describe what it means to be a “normal” man or woman.
Thinking about Hoppe’s notion of a natural elite, I tend to see “compulsory heterosexuality” as an ill-fated populist effort to identify an new elite through some kind of pseudoscientific means. Along with other pseudoscientific theories, it sustained the notion that middle-class Christians of Anglo-Saxon descent represented some new kind of elite whose status was validated by scientific means. Our culture has now moved away from that, and has moved toward the meritocracy or the managerial society, where the managerial-professional class make up a new elite. In many ways, “social conservatism” is merely a slightly Christianized effort to strip this new elite of its cultural authority and to restore that authority to middle-class white “heterosexuals.” But I see no more reason why members of the professional-managerial class are any less entitled to serve as elites than middle-class white heterosexuals. In other words, why is one class of non-natural elites any better or worse than another class of non-natural elites? It’s hard to say. That’s where I find comfort in Christ’s victorious reign over it all.
One further thought…
In thinking about Hoppe’s and Rothbard’s notion of a natural elite, what makes their alt-right prolocutors so sure that the meritocracy isn’t indeed allowing the natural elite to rise to the top? Yes, the meritocracy has its imperfections. But, whenever I read this stuff, I’m left with the inescapable feeling that these folks’ real objection to the meritocracy lies with the fact that “the wrong kinds of people” (namely, women, non-whites, non-Christians, etc.) are allowed to be elites. Moreover, in a world where elites were identified by lineage, the common man could at least comfort himself that his non-elite status said nothing concerning his own personal inability. The rise of the meritocracy prevents the common man from assuaging himself with such lies. In a meritocracy, non-elites face the uncomfortable fact that their non-elite status resulted from some personal defect that they possess relative to others.
Of course, that’s nothing new. What’s changed is the common man’s inability to celebrate in the rise of his more competent neighbor. When Richard Lugar started his career in the Senate in the 1970s, folks in Indiana looked upon his status as a Rhodes Scholar as a positive. There was a sense of pride that a Methodist farm boy could emerge from common beginnings to achieve what he did. When he lost the GOP primary in 2012 to a misogynist knucklehead, his status as a Rhodes Scholar was viewed as a negative.
Our current political dysfunction did not arise due to the fall of the Habsburgs and other would-be natural elites. No. It grew out of tendency for the common man to rebel against the notions of elites altogether. Incidentally, it started occurring at about the same time that many non-whites began gaining admittance to elite circles in the meritocracy. It’s also around the time when right-wing populist news outlets arose, and profiteers recognized that there was profit to be had in stirring up resentment among the common folk by exposing them to an endless diet of outrage porn. Whether we like it or not, societies function by our tacit agreement to certain noble lies. And responsible leadership often requires resisting the temptation to complicate the decisions of common folk with what’s happening behind the curtain. The GOP broke that agreement following the 1992 Presidential election. And our politics have been in decline ever since. The GOP’s “populist chic” is no less stupid and far more destructive than the “radical chic” that governed much of the Left in the 1960s and 1970s. Incidentally, this populism only exacerbated the trends it was reacting against. As our government became increasingly captivated by meaningless debates over totemic indicators of social-class membership (abortion, gay rights, etc.), a power vacuum emerged. Ironically, that power vacuum was filled by the very private institutions that were the power base of the meritocracy’s elites. This trend will only be exacerbated by the election of an utterly ineffectual leader like Trump. The right-wing populists just can’t seem to help themselves from scoring own-goals for the other side.
All that to say that I don’t buy the notion that the meritocracy is failing to identify and elevate natural elites to power, at least as best as we could expect in a fallen world. Thus, I reject the conspiratorial notion that there’s some disaffected natural elite within our Republic who is being thwarted in achieving their rightful opportunity to rule.
Freud and Marriage-
I do think Freud has definitely caused an erotisisation of relationships especially with between unmarried men. However I don’t see sexual orientation per se as an intrinsically Freudian concept. Further, I don’t think the idea of a normative masculinity or sexual practices is necessarily pseudo-scientific but rather can be based around a solid metaphysics of nature (Essentially returning to a form of Aristotelian-Thomistic view)
The different non-natural elites can be better than one another in relation to how a natural elite would look. This of course depends to what extent you think there would be commonality between the natural elites of different cultures.
In respect of your thought that what motivates these people is that the wrong elites exist I think that is broadly true to some extent but is not without justification. Let’s take immigrants (in many cases non-white). Under Hoppe’s view, in Planet AnCap all land is private so to move between different areas requires the consent of the property owners. With the existence of government land however this ceases to be the case and further this movement is also subsidised by the welfare state. How who should be considered the owner of government land, well the taxpayer since it was their money which was used by the state to secure it. Thus immigration to be approaching voluntary must have the agreement of at least one taxpayer (the immigrant must be invited). Further, the situation is akin to a residential golf club and an immigrant is a guest (unless of course he purchases residential property which would indicate voluntary immigration)- thus the invitee must makes sure he imposes no costs on the other members so would need to assume responsibility of his ensure cost including any criminal damage by the guest. It is clear then that the present immigration system bears very little resemblance to this and thus can accurately be described as forced integration.
The situation for the subsidy of childcare thus making female participation in the labour force higher is better known. However the point of this is that the present elites, and also make-up of the social order, is radically different than would pertain in a natural order.
Thanks for the explanation. I agree with the invitee analogy. I agree that it also makes sense to make the costs and benefits of immigration more explicit. For example, I often hear complaints that we have a shortage of scientists and engineers. Even so, salaries for scientists and engineers haven’t even kept pace with inflation over the course of the past 30 years. That’s because we’ve imported a large number of scientists and engineers from developing countries who will work for less money than American-born scientists and engineers (who have a wider array of alternate career options open to them relative to their foreign-born counterparts). For example, nearly 1 in 6 of my law school classmates had a science or engineering background. And a large swath of finance professionals have science and engineering backgrounds. Of course, a number of professionals had already settled into career paths when we started forcing them to bid for wages against immigrants from the developing world.
There was no national need to require this kind of immigration. The need emerged because corporate managers wanted to cut the salaries of mid-level technical professionals. Their limited supply gave them bargaining leverage. So, we imported foreign talent in an effort to take away that bargaining leverage. This represents a kind of taking. This, it would be proper for the invitees of such immigrants to be required to pay for the economic losses of imposed onto those who invested in science and engineering training.
I was thinking on this subject only this morning.
Firstly, I think Christendom gave up a lot of ground when it allowed liberal freedom to become the controlling virtue. Virtue is virtue. Holiness is virtue. Liberal freedom is good in the right place and right time, but as an absolute is folly.
And despite the rhetoric, no-one really believes in absolute freedom. Conservative commentators have failed to strongly point out the hypocrisy of communities that want to govern what people eat or smoke but reject any controls on who they have sex with, in the name of freedom. That’s just selective freedom, but with a different criteria for selection. And once you are selecting, it’s about the goodness of the criteria, not the fact of selection.
And the critical problem in the “why marriage” discussion is a shift in focus and meaning. As an analogy, consider the car engine. A good engine is vital to a car. But an engine without a car fails to carry out its purpose.
The same has happened with marriage. We’ve taken the bond of commitment and affection between husband and wife, the glue that holds the marriage together, and defined this as the marriage. But just as a car engine without something to move is not a car, so the bond of marriage affection alone is not a marriage.
In many ways, marriage is not about freedom; but is in fact anti-freedom. It’s taking two individuals and – in the presence of society – swearing them into a set of roles. In doing so, they gain privileges with respect to each other and standing in society, but society’s interest in the marriage is vested in their responsibilities: to their families, to society, to their children, and to each other.
Modern marriage is nothing like this. The only real obligation left is to the other partner, and if the statistics are to be believed, that’s usually just formalising an existing ad-hoc relationship, and not with any great permanence.
The other argument for same-sex marriage (which is a small subset of modern marriage) is for various legal rights of attorney. There’s a certain consistency here – if we’ve stripped modern marriage of most of its obligations, it seems unreasonable for some couples and not others to gain certain rights based on whether their coupling shadows a historical form. Unless, of course, that historical form captured what marriage was really about, and our modern marriage is just a cosmetic imitation.
So what of our politicians?
Naively, one would expect the socialists to be the biggest champions of marriage. They already view society as being bigger than the collection of individuals, and thus should be most comfortable legislating what people ought to do. And yet personal morality is the one social obligation today’s left are not willing to legislate, and sexual licentiousness the one freedom they hold sacrosanct.
Meanwhile, society lives in an unbridled age of prosperity. Despite frequent complaints, all but the most desperate poor in the modern west live lives beyond imagining of most people anywhere else in the world or history. Yet this very success has bred isolation, where we seek ever more freedom and the desire to be our own masters. Even so-called conservatives are leery of calling for people to rediscover cultural norms that replace “follow your dreams” with “know your place”. Politically speaking, a conservative is merely an anchor. What is needed are reformers and rebuilders.
I really like this article Josiah. I too have marveled at the quick acceptance of Obergefell as a final settlement of the same sex marriage issue, as opposed to Roe. And I have found the collection of links near the end of your piece very helpful in pointing to the way social conservatives are continuing the conversation on the meaning of marriage, many of which I was not aware.
I wonder if the immediate path forward is not to tackle same sex marriage issue directly, but to challenge the culture’s contractual, individualist view of marriage in other ways. One first step would be to reform divorce laws so as to mend or end unilateral divorce and no-fault divorce. More thinking on these questions is needed, but perhaps a focus on ending no-fault divorce in marriages with children under the age of 18 could help develop an understanding of marriage as a social good rather than a private arrangement.
I am also reminded of Tim Keller’s comment that politics is downstream of culture, and so Christian engagement in politics must recognize that they are channeling currents that flow from the deeper wells of philosophy, academic debates, and works that capture the public imagination in movies and novels and television. Perhaps more Christians should engage in these cultural spheres as well as continuing to advocate for marriage as a legal commitment between one man and one woman for life.
Side Note: I also hope more Christians will think more deeply about the connection between our faith and legal theory, particularly with more robust engagement with natural law. At the elite law school I attended, natural law was gestured to as a quaint theory where judges understood themselves as “discovering” rather than “making” law as a cover for their power grabs, before the veil was torn and legal realist and positivist schools came into ascendance.
I’d suggest that legal realism along the lines of Holmes and Posner represents a fairly reasonable embodiment of natural law. The type of natural law that was rejected is Christian natural law, which generally tended to situate natural law within a deontological ethical system.
Also, at what law school does legal positivism still have any hold over the faculty? I’ve been out of law school for almost a decade. There were a few dinosaurs around who were touting the merits of legal positivism, but that’s it. The faculty overwhelmingly favored some kind of “critical studies” approach, which, in my view, made it far easier to engage as a Christian. After all, so-called “Christian natural law” is not natural at all (in any kind of objectivist sense). Rather, it was simply the means by which Christian judges justified the fact that they were using their positions to further the political interests of their own tribe.
One of the most enlightening discussions from law school involved a discussion of the well-known piece by Guido Calabresi and Douglas Melamed (“Property Rules, Liability Rules and Inalienability”). The discussion was enlightening because nobody disagreed with the basic thesis of the article–a thesis that vitiated any kind of positivism in favor of a realist, economics-focused pragmatism. In fact, in my three years at a relatively left-leaning law school, I never once heard someone mention H.L.A. Hart. By contrast, hardly a week went by without my encountering something written Judge Posner.
I think it’s difficult to overstate the degree to which Judge Posner revolutionized the way in which judges and lawyers view the law. Positivism is absolutely awful because it allows judges to write their personal policy preferences into the law without even having to account for it. But I don’t see “Christian natural law” theory as being any less awful, and for the same reasons. I’m quite comfortable with a legal regime that acknowledges the existence of personal bias and seeks to avoid it by focusing narrowly on achieving transactional efficiency.
This is where your proposals are likely to have little traction. It’s not that people have accepted some normative ideal of marriage that differs from your ideal. Rather, they’ve rejected the existence of any normative ideal of marriage, and have instead adopted a consequentialist view. But that’s not the end of the world. For example, this consequentialist view is most common among educated professionals, the very class of people who marry at the highest rates and who divorce at the lowest rates.
I am still confused as to how allowing SSM threatens my marriage. And to call those who oppose SSM ‘pro marriage’ is equally confusing. Without marriage, people are more encouraged, if not pushed, into having multiple sexual partners. And it is people having multiple partners that causes many social problems today such as the spread of STDs.
What is next? Do social conservatives want to change the marriage laws so that unless one gets divorced for biblical reasons, one is legally prohibited from getting remarried? Or do we only wish to enforce biblical teachings on marriage on those from the LGBT community?