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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
<sigh> I’ve explained it over and over, but here it is again: There is no legitimate purpose for government involvement in marriage, and through most of history government did not involve itself. The actual purpose of marriage is whatever purpose the couple has for entering into a marriage contract. The couple explicitly states that purpose in their marriage vows. Most commonly, it is to declare commitment publicly. And, the burden is on the government to prove something is actually harmful if it is going to ban it.
Very fair point, though I’d say that it’d be more akin to anti-miscegenation laws absent the rest of Jim Crow.
I don’t think Ed’s your best target here. Look, I agree with you that there’s an undercurrent of animus in a lot of SSM opposition (I’m generally amenable to “hate the sin, not the sinner” arguments, but it’s a different matter when you’re describing someone’s most intimate relationship). That doesn’t mean all traditionalists have chips on their shoulders, or that there aren’t perfectly cogent, rational arguments against SSM available to all who oppose it. I’ve only ever seen the latter from Ed.
By the way, Ed, the fact that you keep insisting that marriage is defined by some immutable “purpose” is what makes your argument teleological. That’s what teleology means. And the fact that you insist that this purpose exists without regard to the existence of a deliberative agent is what makes your argument Aristotalian. Me, I consider Aristotle’s reasoning to be specious. Things don’t have purposes; people do. A rock has no inherent purpose. A rock has no purpose at all, until someone picks it up and decides to throw it at an enemy or use it to build a house.
Would you elaborate what you mean by wondering whether Justice Kennedy was right?
You keep talking about marriage as an ethereal concept that has no consistent meaning when the only really issue is the granting of government privileges and subsidies. It is clear that government recognition of marriage and granting that institution certain privileges and subsidies does have a purpose. And it is clear from a casual reading of history what that purpose is, creating an institution that benefits children.
You used the miscegenation laws as the best analogy. I prefer the Handicapped Parking placard. That is a benefit that is clearly intended for a subset of population. Not granting it to everyone is inherently treating people unequal under the law. But if we just grant that privilege to everyone, we wind up hurting the people it was intended to benefit, the handicapped.
What is being outlawed? Not granting government recognition is not banning anything. SS couples can find still get married in a Unitarian church, they can publicly committ their love for each other, but a house together and live together for all of their natural lives.
No one is talking about banning or outlawing any of those things. All we are talking about is should they be granted government privileges and subsidies that were objectively intended for another purpose.
Stop talking as though if we don’t grant SS couples tax subsidies that are intended for traditional nuclear families we are “outlawing” anything or putting them “in chains” (to paraphrase Biden). It makes you look less than thoughtful.
And, perhaps more importantly until recently, the obligations that civil marriage imposes on the participants. The privilege and subsidy are intended to entice people to volunteer for the obligations, as opposed to the obligations being forced on them when the circumstances are unfavorable all around.
I don’t disagree, but would you elaborate on what you think the obligations are that civil marriage does or should impose on the participants?
How is that the nearest analogy? It’s only the nearest analogy if we accept your premise that civil marriage has no underlying meaning and purpose. Whether that meaning and purpose is mutable or immutable. Whether it is governmentally legislated, religiously imposed, or organically arising. And of course I think it’s a big deal because race has nothing to do with the core constant of marriage, unlike gender.
You want to then claim that gender was only the constant because of intolerance. I say recognition of the unique attributes of male/female coupling can coincide with and even supersedes intolerance of homosexual coupling. After all, not all straight coupling was privileged, and hatred of gays can be expressed much more successfully in more direct and effective ways than exclusion from marriage. No, civil marriage is a poor way to hate gays while it’s been a remarkably good way to address society’s interest in the unique results of male/female coupling (as much as you say that no such interest exists – most of history and culture disagrees with you). It’s been so good that straight-only marriage existed even in societies which were accepting of homosexuality.
No. My view on marriage has been discussed many, many times. I’m really not interested in rehashing it here. I’ve only been participating here in order to try to understand other viewpoints.
Ok, briefly: exclusivity and permanence, mainly. Physical responsibility for offspring and spouses, too. Joining of lives and interests in such a way that we have no interest in doing the same for mere roommates or business partners or best friends.
On your first point, agreed. And as I recall my history, anti-miscegenation laws were the last de jure remnant of Jim Crow, just as they are with SSM.
On your second point, it is not Ed’s express comments that make me wonder why he is so emotionally invested in this. It is his unwillingness to recognize the flaws (glaring flaws, in my opinion) in his argument, or to respond when I point them out.
That really isn’t a tough question. It’s a big deal to me because I believe that the public does have an interest in the unique result of male/female coupling and because I believe that draining civil marriage of purpose (or worse, adding ill purpose) will make marriage incapable of addressing the public interest it was made for.
Like replacing police officers with zombies would render the police force incapable of addressing the public interest it was made to address.
A^2, there is really no point in our discussing this, since we can’t agree on even the most basic facts. SSM is legally banned in many states. California’s Prop 8 was a vote to ban gay marriage. Pretending you have a marriage license not recognized by the state is like pretending you have a driver’s license not recognized by the state. It doesn’t help much.
Perhaps. But how far would you go? Inspectors checking in with the married to ensure that they’re getting it on? Revoke of marriage if no offspring are produced within the statutory time limit? There is certainly a point of diminishing returns. There is also the point that this institution, as flawed as it may be, has actually served us pretty well as is; we should at least be cautious about making large changes.
Part of why it’s a big deal to me is that proponents of SSM barely recognize that this is a large change, don’t demonstrate caution if they do acknowledge the change, have trouble articulating what the new scheme will be, and are reluctant to acknowledge that non-libertarian SSM proponents don’t agree with the zombie marriage approach that you, Larry, seem to favor.
I’ve also argued that if we knew more about fertility when these institutions arose and developed, then marriage would probably look different or maybe we would have done something else entirely. However it would have worked out, I have no doubt that most societies would continue to see the unique nature and uniquely impactful results of male/female coupling and would have attempted to address that, whatever they thought of homosexuality. But that’s all speculation. What actually happened was that all of these cultures had an institution centered around male/female coupling. Some (most) coincided with intolerance of homosexuality. If it were just or mostly about intolerance of gays, then, as I said before, there are far more effective and direct methods for expressing that intolerance than exclusion from civil marriage.
That is anything but obvious. First, I already gave you an example of a major society which was accepting of homosexuality yet still considered marriage to be exclusively about male/female coupling. Second, the two points are not mutually exclusive. I seriously doubt that everything in society was shaped primarily by intolerance of a very small portion of the population.
I already explained how these are not mutually exclusive either. The institution was created with the information as it was known. That it didn’t turn on a dime to account for new knowledge does not prove that it wasn’t instituted to serve a purpose.
I haven’t been arguing here that historical purpose defines the word or that the meaning and purpose is immutable. I have been arguing that there has been a remarkably consistent historical purpose driven by a remarkably consistent view of what marriage is.
I already engaged your microwave oven example. “Microwave oven” doesn’t change what “oven” means more generally; it is a variation. I suppose this might be where you think I’m making a teleological argument. As Shakespeare says, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. As I say, a clothes dryer being called an oven won’t cook your food. Things are distinct from one another whatever you label them. We can agree that two means the same thing whether we call it two, deux, due, or dos. To acknowledge that things aren’t one indistinguishable blob of sameness isn’t the same as making a teleological argument.
It’s not that they don’t justify SSM, it’s that their presence doesn’t mean marriage. It’s also that those things are accessible to individuals no matter what government does. None of it is outlawed. It’s also that what makes society’s interest actionable is the unique results of male/female coupling. Otherwise I’m very much interested in commitment and defining legal rights. However, breaking of same sex commitments doesn’t impact me like the breaking of commitments centered around heterosexuality might. Last, I’m all in favor of defining legal rights which is why I value property institutions like deeds and titles, and wills, and such. I support bundling certain legal rights into one package, but that’s fundamentally different from marriage since this would be for the convenience of the participants rather than to protect and broader societal interest.
If you’re going to use the obnoxious <sigh> thing, you should at least take care that you are correct. It is manifestly not true that government has not involved itself in marriage though most of history.
I haven’t been insisting here that marriage is defined by some immutable purpose. I have in fact been insisting here that marriage has been given remarkably constant fundamental purpose and meaning by deliberative agents throughout history and cultures.
Since you brought up the rock example though: a rock is not a feather. What I’ve also been trying to understand about your view is this – how do you identify a rock? how do you identify marriage? Regardless of the purpose that people find for the rock/marriage.
I suppose I do take an Aristotelian view that form does indeed inform function. That something is the way it is both limits the possible purposes of that thing and points us in certain directions.
But I haven’t been arguing that on this thread.
I’m not emotionally invested. I do acknowledge points of others. I have been doing nothing but responding to your arguments. (see throughout where I quote something and then issue a response) (repeatedly, for hundreds of comments).
I think it’s worth making a distinction here. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that same-sex marriage has been historically banned or that it is banned in every situation where it is not recognized. As you pointed out, Proposition 8 did in fact attempt to ban same-sex marriage in the state of California, but that is because California had previously recognized same-sex marriage. I think it is incumbent upon the supporters of same-sex marriage to acknowledge that what they are advocating is not really the recognition of a pre-existing right which has long been denied same-sex couples.
We are supporting a change to the long established laws governing who can marry. I support the change because I think its effects will be salutary, but I don’t see any point in denying than what I am advocating is an innovation in the law and not the remedy of a historical injustice. Throughout history homosexuals have been subject to a great number of grave injustices,but denying legal recognition to same-sex relationships isn’t really one of them.
When you don’t have a drivers license, you can be punished severely for driving anyway. When you don’t have a marriage license, what is it, exactly, which will earn you punishment for doing it anyway?
Or try it this way: are people earning $100,000 per year banned from the welfare program?
You want to discuss this as if any consideration of form, meaning, and purpose is driven by intolerance or whatever and therefore irrelevant. In fact, discussion of purpose and meaning are essential to a coherent practical operation.
I agree, there isn’t really any point in us discussing because you keep changing the frame of reference whenever it is convenient for you.
I do not agree that Prop 8 “banned” gay people from getting married, it only prevented SSM from being recognized by the state.
You say marriage must mean whatever the individuals in the relationship want it to mean, which I agree with. But then you effectively say that government must endorse and subsidize whatever definition of marriage a person can come up with, and there I disagree.
You simply can’t have it both ways. If marriage means whatever people want it to mean, then government is allowed to define what it believes is a marriage. That definition doesn’t ban anything.
I think the extent to which homosexuality was accepted by ancient Greeks and Romans is a bit overstated. In the ancient world sexuality was generally considered a matter more of what you did than whom you did it with. For example, much has been made of the institutional pederasty of ancient Greece. What is less commonly noted is that once a man reached adulthood it was considered much less acceptable to be the receiving partner in a homosexual relationship. Much the same was true in Ancient Rome. Both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony were widely reputed to have had affairs with partners of both sexes, but their political opponents slandered both of them with allegations that they were on the receiving end of homosexual relationships in early adulthood. Basically, I don’t think the practices of the ancient world are very relevant, one way or another.