Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Gallagher on Blankenhorn on Marriage

Maggie Gallagher examines David Blankenhorn’s book The Future of Marriage and finds much to recommend it. Her article rightly points out the crux of the matter--which is also a bit of an irony--in the debate over marriage: the clamoring for "gay marriage" seems to subtract from rather than add to the definition of marriage. A taste: In a court brief recently, 30 professors of history and family law told judges that marriages are "committed, interdependent partnerships between consenting adults." What’s missing from our understanding of marriage these days, she points out rather incredulously, is love and eros. By stretching the limits of marriage to include every conceivable union between two consenting adults, don’t we make it rather milquetoast and unappealing? Exactly.

While I don’t doubt that there are sincere and good people who advocate for the "right" of homosexuals to marry each other because they wish to fulfill some romantic longings, it would be foolish to ignore how unromantic marriage becomes when it is no longer an institution that ties eros to a social purpose. The social purpose is now the protection of a "right" and the eros (if it even exists) is incidental and no longer essential to that purpose. From the expectant longing of a Jane Austen novel we now descend into the mind-numbing morass of a legal brief. Hooray for us.

Discussions - 7 Comments

This definition is nonsense. Marriage is a socially-binding contract between a man and a woman. Society has vested interests in this bond...that’s all it is. You don’t need "marriage" for shacking up or forming "partnerships."

The ’social purpose’, whether tied to eros or not, is still lacking. Marriage has a ’social purpose’ in that it ties love, family, and society to something outside itself (i.e. God). A materialistic argument (even in defense of otherwise ’conservative’ concepts) always falls to the more radical materialistic argument. Either we (and all life, universe, everything) are merely materialistic and atomistic or not. If we are, then the radicals are right. If we are not, then marriage is sacramental. There really is nothing to stand on in between...

I disagree, of course. There are "materialist" reasons to favor monogamous, heterosexual marriage above all other forms, and these reasons are deeply rooted in natural history and logic. It is only when we allow people to shift the debate from "social purpose" to "personal happiness" that we lose the argument.

As for God, I’m afraid the population will not be persuaded by metaphysics. Perhaps "because God wishes it so" works in Muslim lands, but it increasingly doesn’t wash in the West. That’s just a fact of’s best to build up your "materialist" armory...if you want to prevail, anyway.

Social purpose and personal happiness will always trump natural history and logic. The reason is that even in the materialist world view, everything eventually breaks down to the pleasure principle. Even if we are merely conscious apes we are still conscious, and therefore to some extant self directed (even if it is just an illusion or a will to power).

So, you can’t have it both ways. The radicals are simply taking materialist logic to it’s logical conclusion, and not stopping somewhere in between...

Well, then, I guess we’re donefor. All polity is governed by either "if it feels good, do it," or "God hath forbidden/ordained it."


I think it’s always been about personal happiness--it’s just that for most of human history the threat of eternal perdition had to be included in the calculus of happiness. For most of us today that doesn’t even enter into the equation.

Wheat & Weeds reminds us that a brilliant defense of eros can be read here. I can’t speak to eternal perdition--but isn’t the promise of true eros incentive enough? I tend to think that a great number of people today don’t know the difference between ordinary "erotica" and the truly erotic. Somewhere in there is the real problem. When we start fixing that--particularly among young men and women--then I think we may see some modest improvements.

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