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Secular Conservatism, Libertarians, Progressives, and Marriage
I take conservatism to be an appreciation and defense of what has been proven to work, and which benefits society and the individual in a balance.
If that seems overly-broad, let me provide an example. Morality is effective in curbing largely destructive impulses and reactions, therefore morality is worth defending in principle, with some room for debate on many fronts. Not all morality is the same, and it is not always helpful in the particulars. But to hold that morality is not a necessary part of society is anti-conservative in my view, as morality is the most tested method for a society to control its own behavior with respect for the society and the individual in balance.
Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body, and progressivism is a radical extreme that places no value on the individual. Conservatism is the compromise position arrived at through experience, and stored in our cultural traditions as the wisdom of the ages. To a secular conservative, the Bible is one of many instruments to this end. Just because there is a religious proscription against adultery doesn’t mean that only religious people can defend a belief that adultery is harmful to individuals and society. Likewise with other religious proscriptions.
Religion is, of course, a large component of the conservative movement, but philosophically it is not a necessary component of a thoroughly conservative position. Not even for marriage. I view the partnership between religion and conservatism as a co-development from a common origin. Shared predicates yield shared conclusions, and therefore common interest. Where religion ascribes things to God, secular conservatism agrees to the extent that it is destructive of society and the individual for mankind to mess with certain things. Progressivism on the other hand is the confidence that a small group of people in the present know better than (on the one hand) everybody else across time, and better than (on the Other hand) God in His infinite wisdom. Secular conservatism and religion get along just fine as defenders of our culture.
I see value in describing much of libertarianism as allied with progressivism, because conservatism is where the middle is, and to pull us off that mark either this way or that is just as destructive. If a movement seeks to abolish our traditions as proven over time, it is not conservatism. Progressivism and libertarianism get along just fine as disruptors of our culture.
There is already a philosophical position consistent with conservatism which enshrines human rights and the liberty of the individual: it is called conservatism.
Now, not every tradition is valuable, and a slavish devotion to traditions which are not good is not conservatism; that’s mechanism, on the process level. Radical opposition to a flawed and failing government is not anti-conservative, but radical opposition to the institutions of our culture, most definitely is.
For example, you could argue that big spending by government is now a tradition and that it is therefore conservative to defend it and radical to oppose it, but this is wrong for a number of reasons. First, it may be a tradition, but empirically it has not been proven to be a useful one. Some spending is necessary, some spending is excessive — making judgements is important, and at any rate, even if all projects were equally worthy, the sheer sum of spending which displaces other worthy but non-government projects must be taken into account and weighed for relative merit. Big spending is anti-conservative because it is destructive.
Second, the dependencies come to play in that objects and policies are not the only subjects to be appreciated and defended. The decision to spend less is no less valuable than the process by which we arrive at that decision, and its implications. If we feel that the accumulated wisdom vouchsafed in our culture is probably more valuable as a guide for society (in the aggregate) than the intellect spawned in a few brilliant fellows, then a process which lends itself to operation gently over time by many rather than abruptly, once, by the few is an inherently conservative method of arriving at conclusions. Big spending is anti-conservative because it operates through an anti-conservative process.
As the free market is operated gently by many, and government spending is operated forcefully by few, any problem not specifically recommended for government remedy is probably better handled outside of government. So no matter how “traditional” big spending may have become, it is not conservative in itself, and it is not conservative to defend it merely because it is the status quo.
Marriage pre-dates any law. It simply is, and it is between one man and one woman. This may sound circular, or like a “no true Scot” defense, but I assert it as a foundational fact. Marriage is not produced by law any more than our rights are. Marriage is enshrined and defended by law in our culture, and if the law should fall, marriage would remain, just as our rights do. The law does not trump marriage.
This should not be too alarming; conservatism is a platform, a set of positions. Some planks rest upon others and not all must be as heavily pedigreed. I hold that marriage is a foundational plank in the conservative platform. I hold that marriage is an emergent cultural defense against various destructive impulses and reactions, including those of jealous males, engineering females, and hostile out-group sentiment. Good manners are a defense against some offenses which can become lethal, and marriage is a defense against outrage.
Humans are sexual beings (as our grade-schoolers are reminded every minute by government busybodies), and many of our impulses and reactions are not rational in the way we would like, no matter how logical they may be from a chromosome’s point of view. As manners are typically maintained by society itself, morality is often maintained by religion as a specific example of a philosophy operating in context.
As the male-female pairing is not up for debate in conservatism (I challenge you to convince me that it is not what has been proven to work), so the societal adaptation which defends it is a necessary component of conservatism. I realize that many “conservatives” disagree with this, but they are mistaken about either their conservatism or their conclusions.Published in General
It seems I’m shadowing A2’s comments somewhat. Sorry for any overlap and repetition.
That is simply not true. The ancient Israelites were polygynous. Similarily, marriages in China weren’t restricted to one man/one woman until 1950. Marriage between cousins has vacillated between different levels of acceptability all throughout history. Marriages weren’t even registered until the 16th century they occurred by mutual consent of the parties involved. Different cultures have used arranged marriages. Marriages have been used primarily as a means of property transfer between different families. etc. etc. etc.
The idea that marriage has had one constant definition throughout history is risible.
It is true. I stipulated that there have been many variations, as you and others and I have detailed before. However, throughout all of those variations there has indeed been a fundamental core common to them all: male/female coupling based on the unique procreative power of that coupling. This is true throughout history and culture with the two exceptions I noted earlier (one province in ancient China and Nero’s Rome).
Like hamburgers. So many variations on condiments, bread, cheese, other toppings, spices, filler, number patties, etc. However, without the beef patty it’s not a hamburger – despite the truly staggering amount of variation people have come up with.
There really isn’t a huge amount of emphasis on who can marry in modern family law. Aside from prohibiting bigamy and consanguinity and requiring valid consent and the appropriate paperwork, family law isn’t really about the formation of marriages. It’s much more about divorce than marriage, but you’re right, love isn’t a requirement (though neither is procreation).
If it’s not true, then show me the other examples where marriage was not male/female. If there are other examples then I’ll add them to the list of rare exceptions. If the list grows long enough then I’ll consider whether to stop using this argument. Until then, though, I think the truth of what I say is apparent and verifiable.
Heck, even societies that accepted homosexuality (e.g. ancient Greece, that I’m aware of) still had marriage that was exclusively heterosexual.
The one consistent theme in everyone one of those variations is that, if everyone honored the contract of marriage, the paternity of any child of the marriage was known.
Polygyny and arranged marriages don’t redefine marriage if marriage about children.
When you say family law isn’t really about the formation of marriage, and more about divorce, are you referring the absolute number of laws or where much of the case law or where lawyers spend their time. It seems to me those are two different things. It seems obvious that lawyers would spend time in disputes, which gives rise to case law, and that there is more dispute and litigation around the dissolution of marriages than their formation, but I was referring to the underlying laws themselves, not case law.
Bit of a tangent, but what do you understand the purpose to be of banning consanguinity?
Three questions: So what? So what? and So what?
Every society has had prostitution. Every society has had gambling. Every society has had drinking. Every society has had crime. What the hell does it prove that “every society” had something? You keep making this point as if it had some sort of self-evident conclusion attached to it. It doesn’t. If you can’t answer the question “So what?” you are not making any kind of an argument at all.
1) It’s not about the formation inasmuch as what counts as marriage has been solidly assumed.
2) traditionalists already admit that civil marriage is in a decrepit state.
3) the reason there is civil marriage is because of the public interest is the procreative capabilities of the male/female coupling and recognizing that the project is a long term one which leaves one or both spouses more vulnerable than if they had refused the project.; even though we know much more about fertility now and can narrow things down a bit more, civil marriage arose and developed when the scientific knowledge was much more basic.
4) If we are to continue attending to the underlying public interest in civil marriage in light of scientific knowledge of fertility then we only have a few basic options: keep civil marriage going as before, get more specific in our regulation of civil marriage (eg exclude the infertile), ditch civil marriage and get more specific in our regulation of the circumstances that give rise to the public interest, or renounce any public interest.
Both. The amount of law on the creation of a marriage is minuscule compared to the law of divorce and child custody.
First, I’m answering the claim that people make from time to time that marriage hasn’t had any consistent or constant or objective meaning. Some use this as the sole basis for their support of SSM as just another variation.
Second, I think this supports my argument that the fundamental purpose of civil marriage (and religious and private marriage too, for that matter) becomes pretty obvious when we consider that common constant and why there is such uniformity among cultures and history in this respect. Even if you disagree with the various cultures throughout history you can surely identify the terms of the argument.
Third, you’ve been arguing the whole time here as if marriage doesn’t really have any identifiable fundamental meaning so therefore that it’s useless to have our current policy position on SSM informed by that because it’s so subjective. You’ve been arguing as if I’m just making up my conception of marriage or trying to impose my unique view on everyone else – and probably because of intolerance too – precisely because it’s so subjective and there’s little reason to argue that way otherwise.
If it’s not subjective then you are the one suggesting the fundamental change to civil marriage and you are the one obligated to justify your change. I oppose that change because I can’t think of any good reasons to make the change and because I think it will make civil marriage even weaker and more meaningless than it has become; I also oppose the change because proponents have never been able to describe exactly what’s being changed (what will civil marriage now mean and be for) and how that would serve the public interest. Tom Meyer excepted. Sal is almost excepted since he explained that he doesn’t see SSM as a fundamental change, but considering history I really don’t see how that is a sustainable assertion in light of the strong evidence that marriage has had a consistent fundamental meaning and purpose no matter what other load it was made to carry.
Ed, it doesn’t even come close to supporting your argument. If you wanted to look at some piece of history which might support your argument about the “purpose” of marriage, you would look at whether infertility has been treated as grounds for divorce. And it often hasn’t, to the dismay of Henry VIII and the greater dismay of Anne Boleyn.
Beyond that, do you actually believe that various historic cultures have given some kind of reasoned consideration to whether SSM should be allowed? Or that it ever even dawned on them to consider the question?
Honestly, your argument is like saying that a microwave oven isn’t really an oven because in every society throughout history ovens were powered by burning wood or other carbon fuels. And the question remains, so what????
Look, I think the objective history of civil marriage and its purpose is relevant to the consideration of the topic of whether and how to change civil marriage. I was bringing it up in this discussion in an attempt to understand the purpose of civil marriage that was going to be substituting in for the traditional purpose in the new SSM scheme. First step in that is to agree that there even was a traditional purpose or fundamental meaning. Step two is to determine what it’s replacement will be. So far, my understanding is that there will be no replacement yet the institution will continue on, zombie-like, unable to do much of anything except serve as a basis for tax deductions and deeper intrusions into freedoms of religion and association. If your intent in supporting zombie marriage is to bring us closer to your real goal of eliminating civil marriage altogether, then you could have saved us several hundred comments by saying that instead of denying history, denying that a change is truly being made, and denying that there is any rational basis to opposing this change (even bases that you disagree with can be rational).
By the way Ed, if you must make this teleological argument, which I consider to be just plain silly, you should at least be invoking Aristotle. Aristotle’s epistemology was as wrong as his physics, but it would put some intellectual heft behind you.
Catherine of Aragon wasn’t infertile. Anyway, my understanding is that infertility is indeed mostly considered grounds for annulment, even if not divorce; where was it not so?
Besides, you keep citing specific couples as if specific exceptions always invalidate the categorical rule. It’s all about the coupling type and has been. It’s about the type rather than individual circumstances because of the unique result that was intended to be addressed and because of the state of fertility knowledge when civil marriage arose and developed.
Uh, it has been, even in the US
“The specific grounds for receiving a fault divorce include adultery, impotency, infertility or homosexuality of the other party that was not discussed before the union…”
Teleological argument? Not in this thread. No matter how I’ve tried to frame the argument, I can’t seem to get you to understand that I’m not trying to convince you of my views on civil marriage here, but rather to understand your views on it. That you would rather not have civil marriage at all would be sufficient answer and fair enough, except that you then go on to say “if we’re going to have it anyway though…”. At which point you need to explain the basis on which civil marriage should operate, then, if it’s not the objectively historical basis I’ve been describing.
Yeah. It’s almost as if I believed that individuals have rights that governments shouldn’t trample in the name of enforcing uniformity. And, by the way, a rule isn’t “categorical” if there are millions of exceptions.
No. But I do think that various cultures have given reasoned consideration to what marriage actually is and concluded that it is about male/female coupling, therefore making consideration of allowing SSM a non sequitur.
No, my argument is like saying that a clothes dryer isn’t an oven simply because they both need electricity, a gas hookup, a flame, and they both heat things up. So what???????????????? They serve different purposes. That’s so what. So why are you so insistent that we try to treat an oven like a dryer?
Comments like this are most unhelpful, Larry. First it demonstrates a lack of understanding of what I’m actually saying (that’s the charitable interpretation of your mischaracterizations and omissions, btw) and implies ill motive on my part. I don’t demand that we enforce uniformity; gay couples are free to live as they please. Second, I’ve already acknowledged the inconsistency in civil marriage (ie that we don’t seek out infertile people to exclude) and I already explained what I thought the potential corrective actions might be. Rather than engage on those, you continue on as if I didn’t even propose any arguments.
So, like I said before, I need to drop out of this conversation to move on to more productive things.
Except to get married.
Okay, here I’m actually with Ed. While one might — as I do — say that it’s better for gays to be able to marry, it’s not as if not having your marriage legally recognized is truly awful, especially if you’ve access to some kind of civil partnership arrangement that deals with matters such as power of attorney, visitation rights, etc.
Personally, Tom, I would agree with that. If it was me who was legally limited to a civil union, rather than marriage, it wouldn’t bother me much. On the other hand, I can understand why full equality in law is important to people who have long been stigmatized by society.
In evaluating this type of thing I always try to consider the nearest analogy, which in this case would be anti-miscegenation laws. If inter-racial couples were required to enter civil unions rather than get married, I think we can all agree it would be kind of a big deal.
The tougher question is why it seems to be such a big deal to Ed. It really is beginning to make me wonder whether Justice Kennedy was right.
If tomorrow we developed the technology to perform a simple, very cheap, and perfectly accurate test to identify infertile couples, would you then support a law banning those couples from marrying? If such a test had existed in all those past societies, which form the entire basis for your argument, do you honestly believe they all would have banned marriage for infertile couples?
As I have already said, I utterly reject the first three steps of your argument; i.e.: (1) That gays have been historically excluded from marriage because they cannot procreate. (This is obviously wrong, since gays were excluded from all aspects of society, not just marriage.) (2) That this proves that the primary historical purpose of marriage was procreation. (This is obviously wrong, since lots of easily identifiable infertile couples have always been allowed to marry.) And (3) That the historical purpose defines the word, eternally and immutably, notwithstanding changes in technology and culture. (This is obviously wrong, since society finds new applications for old words all the time, like “microwave oven.”)
But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all of this is correct. That the primary purpose of marriage is procreation. Even you have conceded that the primary purpose is not the only purpose. So please tell me why the other legitimate purposes of marriage, such as declaring commitment, encouraging family stability, and defining legal rights, do not justify SSM. Also are there any other activities society should outlaw, even if the activity serves legitimate purposes, just because it does not serve some “primary” purpose?