Marriage: Not An Issue We Can Afford To Lose

In politics, we often don’t realize which battles we should be fighting until they’re already lost. To some extent, conservatives have experienced this with respect to public institutions. As the sort of people who shy away from government, and in particular from tangled government bureaucracies, conservatives mostly allowed liberals to have their way with the public institutions such as schools. Now we are belatedly realizing the extent to which this has put us at a disadvantage. I think w…

  1. Blue State Curmudgeon

    I agree with your arguments on the importance of marriage.  It’s truly the foundation of our society.  However, I also believe that we need to take marriage off the table as a federal issue.  It’s an issue that needs to be determined at the state and local levels as the constitution intended.

  2. Illiniguy

    Marriage is an institution that predates our government, and frankly is an institution that will survive just fine without government involvement. It isn’t the role of government to define the manner in which individuals choose to arrange their affairs or with whom. If we were to eliminate those programs and laws which lavish their “benefits” upon one class or another, you’d find that marriage is the one institution that would probably be strengthened as a result.

  3. The Mugwump

    There is nothing in this post I would disagree with except to argue that the dominant paradigm has already declared that marriage is either unnecessary, or that other arrangements such as gay marriage are viable equivalents.  These ideas represent an enormous error, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t reached critical mass.  As such the only likely outcome is to suffer the consequences until enough people wise up and return by their own volition to traditional norms.

    As individuals we can choose marriage.  We can also make the case to those we know, and explain the advantages of raising children in a married family of one man and one woman.  But it’s unlikely that we will change the dominant paradigm as long as the our new masters control the schools and the media.  The truth will win in the end, but only after a lot of pain, a lot of ruined lives, and a fair amount of societal chaos.  Such are the consequences of a bad idea when it reaches critical mass.  

  4. The King Prawn

    Well said. I heard a song this weekend that got me pondering the cultural challenge we face. There is a whole nation out there we may not ever interface with or understand.

  5. katievs

    Yay Rachel!

    I couldn’t agree more.

  6. Fredösphere

    I think the world’s attitude towards marriage can be compared to its attitude toward Marxism exactly 100 years ago. We’re being offered a utopian future by a group of ardent revolutionaries, and the counter-arguments are simply to theoretical to succeed. With marriage, mankind will insist, as it did with Marxism, on being schooled by experience alone.

    Expect this poison pill to take at least 70 years to pass through our system. That’s how long it took with Marxism.

  7. Mendel

    Rachel, you make many strong points in favor of marriage (which I agree absolutely needs to resurge in America), but I think we need to realize that the benefits of marriage arise from a set of virtues, but these virtues do not automatically arise from marriage. 

    You write eloquently about how difficult marriage can be, and indeed it takes hard work to stay together and raise children well. But this lays the main problem bare: marriages will not work if uncommitted partners are induced to marry.  Couples may stay together with the proper financial incentives, but cohabitation does not ensure stable offspring if the emotional commitment is lacking. 

    Successful marriage and child-rearing require a healthy dose of virtue. Simply having more people marry without changing the underlying mores gets us nowhere – indeed, is probably counterproductive.

    (con’t)

  8. Mendel

    Which raises the question: how can government (even at the local level) supply the virtue required for marriages to succeed not only on paper, but in practice? The answer is it can’t.

    Most interventions proposed to support marriage involve either financial incentives to marry, punishments for divorce, or prohibition of certain acts. But none of those options increases virtue – they simply make it marginally easier for those who already have a modicum of virtue to maintain it.

    Our marriage problem is too deep to be fixed by solutions on the margins. Where our country needs help, no government fix is sufficient.

  9. Mendel

    One last point (and hopefully concise, this time):

    Social conservatives are constantly putting the cart before the horse.

    Marriage isn’t an end, it’s a means – to raise a responsible next generation.

    But in most public discourse, the emphasis from social conservatives is 90% on the means, 10% on the ends – we talk far too much about what marriage should look like, and far too little about what the outcome of marriage (i.e., stable children) should be.

    Perhaps if there was more focus on the children, and less on the parents, some of these arguments might actually find more resonance among the public.

  10. The Mugwump
    Fredösphere:  We’re being offered a utopian future by a group of ardent revolutionaries, and the counter-arguments are simply too theoretical to succeed.

    Not quite.  The left doesn’t offer debate.  Their usual reaction is to truncate the debate with an accusation.  Don’t believe in gay marriage?  Then you’re a bigot.  Don’t believe in global warming?  Then you don’t understand science.  Don’t believe in socialism?  You’re just a greedy bastard who doesn’t want to share.

    We’ve had numerous debates about marriage right here on Ricochet between social conservatives and libertarians.  But the left isn’t listening.  The issue for them is all about “fairness” – case closed.  Same thing for global warming.  “The science is in” – case closed.  Logical debate is not part of the liberal methodology.  For them these things represent a revealed truth.  And they control the message through the media and the schools.  It’s for these reasons that so many of us have given up arguing.     

  11. Lucy Pevensie

    I agree completely with Rachel’s points, and want to say that I think it all comes back, eventually, to the school problem.  We have let the Left infiltrate the public schools, and now instead of teaching our kids morals and ethics, they teach them how to use condoms for promiscuous, nonmarital, teenage sex. 

    With the current governmental structures, there is no way to take the public schools back and get them to teach kids what they need.  We need to set up alternate, free schools that will take kids who have literally never seen a functioning marriage and teach them life skills like how to resolve conflict, how to balance a budget, how to get and keep a job, etc. 

    Some of the school innovators working in poor areas have offered kids free tuition if they can get into college.  But why should we encourage the modern, useless college educations?  We should be giving financial rewards to graduates when they get married, and for every anniversary that they are still married.  That would be a worthwhile use of funds.

  12. The Mugwump
    Lucy Pevensie:  

    With the current governmental structures, there is no way to take the public schools back and get them to teach kids what they need.  We need to set up alternate, free schools that will take kids who have literally never seen a functioning marriage and teach them life skills like how to resolve conflict, how to balance a budget, how to get and keep a job, etc.

    Exactly.  Leviathan is too big to oppose.  We need to create parallel systems that offer an alternative.  

  13. jrad22

    Sorry economic freedom is far more important. We need to win the argument against Keynes. 

  14. Mendel
    Lucy Pevensie: it all comes back, eventually, to the school problem.  We have let the Left infiltrate the public schools, and now instead of teaching our kids morals and ethics, they teach them how to use condoms for promiscuous, nonmarital, teenage sex.

    As the husband of a middle/high school teacher, I must disagree.  The place children learn morality is at home.  The fact that schools support loose morals is not an idictment of the schools, but a reflection of the vacuum these children have in the rest of their lives. 

    My wife has stated clearly many times: teachers have almost zero influence on the morals of their students – what their family provides them is almost impossible to change.  If kids got a solid dose of ethics from their parents, condom distribution and sex ed would be sideshows.

  15. Lucy Pevensie
    Mendel

    Lucy Pevensie: it all comes back, eventually, to the school problem.  We have let the Left infiltrate the public schools, and now instead of teaching our kids morals and ethics, they teach them how to use condoms for promiscuous, nonmarital, teenage sex.

    As the husband of a middle/high school teacher, I must disagree.  The place children learn morality is at home.  The fact that schools support loose morals is not an idictment of the schools, but a reflection of the vacuum these children have in the rest of their lives. 

    My wife has stated clearly many times: teachers have almost zero influence on the morals of their students – what their family provides them is almost impossible to change.  If kids got a solid dose of ethics from their parents, condom distribution and sex ed would be sideshows.

    Yes, but they don’t get those things from their parents, because their parents have already been indoctrinated themselves.  So what do you want to do, give up? Or try hard to reverse the process? 

    Besides which, there is a fair amount of evidence that peers have more influence than parents, and we can sort of, kind of, influence the peers.

  16. The Mugwump
    Mendel

    Lucy Pevensie: it all comes back, eventually, to the school problem.  We have let the Left infiltrate the public schools, and now instead of teaching our kids morals and ethics, they teach them how to use condoms for promiscuous, nonmarital, teenage sex.

    As the husband of a middle/high school teacher, I must disagree.  The place children learn morality is at home.  The fact that schools support loose morals is not an idictment of the schools, but a reflection of the vacuum these children have in the rest of their lives.

    I’m a teacher, too.  I know a lot of liberal teachers who deliberately subvert the morality taught at home.  The state has become the parent.  It’s all part of the collectivist impulse to replace the family.

  17. KC Mulville
    jrad22: Sorry economic freedom is far more important. We need to win the argument against Keynes. 

    I’m curious. Why?

  18. Astonishing
    Illiniguy: . . . Marriage . . .will survive just fine without government involvement. It isn’t the role of government to define [how] . . .  individuals choose to arrange their affairs .  . . .

    Everywhere and always, politics and family influence each other greatly. 

    The nature of the relationship between politics and family (or tribe) is one of the fundamental questions of politics. See The Republic, wherein Socrates, with a noble lie and another minor expediency, pretends to solve the question by extirpating biological family. (Socrates’s outrageous “solution” is not meant to be taken literally, but rather is meant to illuminate the permanence of the question.)

    To assert that “it is not the role of government to define [how] . . . individuals choose to arrange their affairs” does not address that inescapeable question, but merely attempts to wave it away.

    Rachel is right that if you want “less government,” then you should want “more family.”

    But even saying that, one must  understand that government policies necessarily will affect family one way or the other. Therefore, it is not only a question of having more laws or fewer laws affecting family, but of having good laws affecting family.

    Good laws affecting family are not contrary to a correct understanding of liberty.

  19. Mendel
    ~Paules

    Mendel

    Lucy Pevensie:

    I’m a teacher, too.  I know a lot of liberal teachers who deliberately subvert the morality taught at home.  The state has become the parent.

    Yes, but if the families were actually doing a decent job of teaching morality, the power of teachers to subvert it would be much less.

    Most parents seem to give their kids a lip-service “don’t do bad things” talk and send them on their way.  It’s no wonder that those kids are highly susceptible to the influence of teachers (and other kids).

    In order for the state to become the parent, the real parents must abdicate responsibility first.  The only reason it’s happening today is because so many parents are so eager to abdicate that responsibility.

    Let’s stop making the state the evil force behind everything.  In the case of parenting, it’s the parents of America asking the state to do their job for them, not the state viciously plucking kids from unwilling parents.

  20. Astonishing
    Lady Egoist: I would say the nanny state is what’s weakening marriage, not the other way around.  To strengthen marriage, we need to weaken dependency on the government–we’d be wasting many resources by getting the causality backwards here.

    While it’s true that unmarried dependents vote for more dependency, the root cause, if you will, is big government.

    The causal arrow between politics and family points both ways.

    It’s now a vicious circle.

    But it could be a virtuous circle.

    The inescapable reality–the reality Libertarians wish to ignore–is that politics will affect family and family will affect politics–the only question is whether it will be for good or ill.

Want to comment on stories like these? Become a member today!

You'll have access to:

  • All Ricochet articles, posts and podcasts.
  • The conversation amongst our members.
  • The opportunity share your Ricochet experiences.

Join Today!

Already a Member? Sign In