A Time For Civil Disagreements

Why do these “elite” marriages work? First, because those entering into them – including the precious innocent lovely sweet darling straight-A-student goody-two-shoe tastefully-dressed ladies among them – are sexually active from, say, 18 until marriage at 28. Not necessarily super-active, but not, shall we say, “saving” themselves for marriage. Even if they stay “pure” in high school, they’re sleeping with people in college, sleeping with people after college, sleeping with – and living with – their eventual spouses prior to getting married or engaged. Like Léon Blum said back in the day, and before the Pill even made this route plausible, the way to make marriages stable is to make sure that men and women alike have explored other options before settling down. And the person with whom one is to eventually settle down ought to be premaritally explored as well, not for the sake of libertinism, but for that marriage to succeed.

Second, because if same-sex relationships are socially-accepted and (ideally) can and are expected to culminate in marriage, this promotes stability in a variety of ways. It makes gays themselves less promiscuous/eternal bachelor-ish, this most seem to understand. But it also takes a small but significant minority of sub-optimal potential spouses out of the straight dating pool. Sub-optimal, that is, as heterosexual spouses. Perfectly fine as homosexual spouses. A man who makes a commitment to a woman and might one day prefer another woman isn’t in quite the same situation as a man who commits to a woman knowing full well he can never be attracted to *any* woman. It is beneficial to “traditional” marriage to keep those whose inclinations lie elsewhere from entering opposite-sex marriages. And given that gays, like straights, tend to want the rest of what goes with marriage (stability, the possibility of raising kids), a good way to keep Elton John from marrying your daughter is to allow – no, encourage – him to marry another dude.

Thus the problem with the now-standard social-conservative line about how admirable today’s “elites” are in their behavior, how decadent in their rhetoric, is that the stability in the upper- and upper-middle classes actually results from an extensive embrace of the possibilities the Sexual Revolution allows. If “elites” are to be all patronizing-like, they’d have to do things like tell Those People There not to even consider having sex outside marriage without proper contraception, and not to think of sending Junior to de-gayification camp.

The theoretical, pseudo-nostalgic alternative social conservatives embrace – where homosexuality is repressed, contraception shunned – first and foremost smacks of an attempt to return toothpaste to its proverbial tube. But if it were feasible, all it would mean is the development of a new dichotomy (or, rather, an extension of an existing one), in which conservative elites would know perfectly well amongst themselves that contraception and acceptance of same-sex relationships are actually conducive to stability and success, and would behave according to those rules themselves, but god forbid The Masses catch on.

– Phoebe Maltz from her blog “What Would Phoebe Do” on February 23, 2012 (HT: “Athens and Jerusalem” blog)

Dear Phoebe,

I have to admit, when I first came across the above post and your follow-up comments to the “Athens & Jerusalem” post in response, my first reaction was to write a snarky and nasty blog post in response…basically one big face palm. But after the Sandra Fluke affair and after some other inflamatory episdoes I have read about/experienced in the blogosphere, I’ve decided that I need to do better. So even though I think you get just about everything wrong in the above exceprt, I have decided to carefully walk you through what I hope will be detailed and well-thought through arguments for why you are wrong and if I don’t change your mind (which I doubt I’m capable of) at least I can get you to understand that your views are too simplistic. So let’s begin.

You say that you think that Murray’s successful elites (in the sense that they do better at having kids within stable marriages and staying married and then raising those kids) are simply successful because, and I quote, “the way to make marriages stable is to make sure that men and women alike have explored other options before settling down. And the person with whom one is to eventually settle down ought to be premaritally explored as well, not for the sake of libertinism, but for that marriage to succeed.” Now the evidence you provide for this proposition is…crickets (sorry I couldn’t resist one bit of snark). That’s right, you provide no evidence. You simply make this assertion (probably based on your personal experience). Now without any Googling on my part or extensive review of the social science literature I know for a fact that whether or not this is true today, this was not always true — it is simply an historical fact that there was a time in American history (and indeed in most of Western history) when out-of wedlock births were rare, marriages were stable, divorce was rare, fathers were expected to raise their children, etc., etc. Sure, these historical periods didn’t feature all the wonders of modernity like birth control, abortion, no-fault divorce, the welfare state, bastardy approaching 50%, etc., etc. You get the idea. So there have been trade-offs. But it seems strange to praise the elites for taking advantage of modern sexual liberation when some of us in fact are not fans, do not support what this “liberation” has wrought and want to “put the toothpaste back in the tube”.

It should also be noted that not all social conservatives agree on particulars — some of us are O.K. with contraception within the context of marriage (e.g. Mormons, who still manage to value big families) but most of us do agree that men and women should wait until marriage before experiencing sex just as they did all those years ago (successfully!) We also mostly agree on the subject of homosexuality. Its practice is sinful and whether or not someone is born homosexual and will remain that way throughout their life they are committed to celibacy if they remain afflicted with same-sex desires. This seems terrible to the liberal who always thinks about sex but for the Catholic Church (which is what I know best) there is a lot more to life than the need to commit unhealthy sexual acts. There is friendship, charity, familial love (for nieces and nephews as an example), work, art, etc. Marriage is not about these virtues but about “the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together, and renewed by acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction.”

Finally, as I said above I understand that having walked through this argument you still might not be convinced. I suspect it will take time. I suggest you read the link I provided to Eberstadt on Humanae Vitae and the long article by Girgis, George, and Anderson on what marriage means. They are both good places to start to think deeply and seriously about these important issues.


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4 Responses to A Time For Civil Disagreements

  1. Lydia says:

    Here’s a link that comes up in a quick googling on cohabitation and divorce:


    Interesting to see the defensive tone in this article. “Cohabitation isn’t bad for marriage. It really isn’t. Or, at least, it isn’t that bad.” Basically, either cohabitation is going to be correlated with higher rate of divorce (which is what earlier statistics apparently found) or it is going to have no significant effect (which is what is being claimed from this study). No way it is being claimed to be _good_ for the stability of marriage. In fact, even in this happy-happy report on cohabitation and marriage, what appears to be important is that the couple was already committed to getting married when they started cohabiting: “The data show that those who live together after making plans to marry or getting engaged have about the same chances of divorcing as couples who never cohabited before marriage. But those who move in together before making any clear decision to marry appear to have an increased risk of divorce.” So it’s preciasely when they are “trying each other out” as Phoebe suggests and _not_ being committed to each other that cohabitation is correlated with marriage failure.

  2. Steve N. says:

    Dear Phoebe:

    The elites have always been better able than the poor and working classes to shield themselves from the temporal and social effects of their sins. They always will. All that has changed is that they used to be hypocrites and thus advocate a purity that they themselves could not, sometimes would not, consistently maintain. Now that hypocrisy is the greatest sin in the world, they are much more honest and therefore willing to excuse impurities, venial excesses really, in which they might occasionally indulge. To take notice of the body count would be judgemental… and so declasse.

    • Ken says:

      That’s a fine insight, Steve N. I’m not 100% sure it isn’t a trifle too pat — I need to think about it more — but even if it is, it’s still good.

  3. Fake Herzog says:


    Quite right — and as I suggest, a quick look at the historical record suggests that even if our elites are doing better than the proles at the moment (as Charles Murray argues in his new book) both social classes did much better before the ‘sexual revolution’ upset traditional sexual morality and ushered in this new age that Ms. Maltz seems so eager to extol.


    As La Rochefoucauld once said, “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue.”

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