Marriage Tactics

John Michael Wright

Image via Wikipedia

I suppose it must be theoretically possible to create an ethic without God or a god, but historically in the west it’s been a problem.

When Machiavelli developed the first utilitarian handbook on politics, that is to say, a book on politics that approached them without religion (except considered as a tool), he laid the foundations for Thomas Hobbes to develop his Social Contract.

Hobbes argued, following Machiavelli, that we are driven, not by reason, but by our appetites. That being the case, and to both it seems self-evident, though in Hobbes perhaps more explicitly so, society is not arranged around or by a moral law, but by people’s desires and passions.

The only way to organize such a society is through a continuous negotiation among its members. The fruit of this negotiation was the social contract. To maintain order, Hobbes argued, we need Leviathan.

Thus political tyranny and the whole western stream of politics-without-God walk hand in hand.

In the social contract we discern the basis of modern political theory, one that permeates economics as well, as it was applied by Adam Smith.

Without this notion of the social contract, we would have no Locke, no Rousseau, no American or French Revolution, no Marxism, and no special-interest industry negotiating their share of the social market with the representatives of the various parties appointed to oversee this great negotiation in Congress.

The reason the idea had such staying power in Machiavelli and Hobbes was twofold: one, much of the intellectual leadership of Europe was trying to escape the dominance of the Roman Catholic church and its appeal to a law of nature, and two, in a dynamic day to day sort of way, it is true that we are continuously negotiating the terms of our contract.

Under Machiavelli, Hobbes, and most other modern philosophers, the basis of that negotiation is personal advantage. We laugh at honor. We snicker at the idealist who would abandon his advantage for right and wrong.

Do not believe for a moment that I am referring primarily to financial transactions. On the contrary, I am talking about friendship, marriage, parent-child relationships, teachers and students, and so on.

Our underlying premise in every relationship is that we are engaged in a negotiation.

Think, for example, of the transition from the marriage covenant to the marriage contract. Think of the way people time their weddings to optimize tax benefits. Think of how parents are afraid to exercise their natural authority over their children for fear the children will reject the terms and hurt the parents.

I’m not sure, in such a context, good and evil are relevant terms. We have got “beyond good and evil,” to quote Nietzsche and Skinner.

Tom Wolfe expresses well the post-humanity of our condition in his 1998 novel A Man in Full:

Should he pour his heart?… Something told him that would be a tactical mistake. A tactical mistake. What a sad thing it was to have to think tactically about your own wife.

Sad indeed, and yet that is precisely how we are conditioned (and I use that word carefully) to approach these most foundational of human relationships.

Family, marriage, is a form. Form creates by limiting. We despise limits. Form is truth. Living in the form of the truth is virtue. Virtue is freedom.

We are no longer free to be married or to raise our children. Unless, of course, we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Then all is restored, no matter what is lost.

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Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll

It’s Christmas, but I have to express a concern I’ve felt over the past few years and especially this last year in the political realm. With President Obama in office, the tone truly has changed in the daily discourse in the news and blogs.

Two years ago everybody was talking about how incompetent Bush was. Now he’s off the table, more or less forgotten it seems.

And the tone, from what I’ve read and seen, has been an unleashing. This is my way of putting it:

Those who are opposed to our cultural tradition and want to use the institutions in place to bring about radical change are energized and empowered in a way they were not previously. If they were, they were much more quiet about it or I was not as aware of it.

They’ve always been there, of course, with their journals, newspapers, and blogs. They’ve been using the schools for 60 or more years now. Rolling Stone magazine continues to promote the pop-culture side of it.

But now it seems like more and more outspoken radicalism is making its voice heard and more and more tightening laws are being passed.

The internal contradiction of radicalism has always been its need to use the State to achieve its ends. That leads to an almost anarchic approach to life, like the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s, that promotes more and more State control over our lives.

Thus in North Carolina a new law was recently passed that placed on a standard on charter schools that doesn’t apply to the “regular” schools. Why do they fear charter schools and magnet schools and private schools?

In a word: parents. The more involved parents are in what happens in the school, the more they want the children to get an education and not be formed by the latest public school visionary.

The great enemy of Radicalism (by which I mean the drive to overthrow the cultural traditions) has always been parents. They love their children more than abstract ideas. Their love is practical rather than idealistic. They are inclined to love and honor their parents, which leads to a respect for the traditions they received from them. They are usually quite humble in the daunting task for raising children, so they don’t think rational speculation or romantic imagining will save the world. They know it takes hard work, personal, concrete, intelligent acts of wisdom and virtuous love.

So the radicals have always and will always want them out of the way.

Ironically, this is one of the great political dangers of the car, but I’ll leave that for now.

This is why radicalism focuses so much energy on sex and sexual relations. Frankly, civilization rises and falls on the respect accorded the marital relation. So radicals typically begin by removing parents from oversight of courtship.

In the 1930’s and 40’s, George Kennan was serving as a diplomat in Germany. In his journals (highly recommended) he described the difference between German and Swiss girls. I wish I had the text in front of me, but the gist was as follows:

In Germany, in the 1920’s, German parents were gradually removed from the courtship of their children. (Aside: part of this may have had to do with mobility. Certainly children who go to college and find spouses there are free from their parents influence, which may be one of the reasons why colleges tend to be radical politically – it always comes back to marriage and sex). In the 1930’s in Switzerland this was not the case.

What stays in my memory from Kennan’s journal was his description of the way they dressed. Because German girls were left to their own resources to find a husband, they used what they found most effective to get the available men: seduction. He said that the girls in Berlin tended to dress much like the prostitutes did: short skirts, tight clothes, showing off their physical qualities precisely because that is what attracts young men who get to choose based on their own appetites, with little to no regard for the values of the community. In other words, the young are turned into radicals so they can find a spouse or have easier sex.

The Swiss girls of the 20’s and 30’s would, no doubt, earn our pity or at least sympathy. The poor girls were not allowed to walk the streets and bars to look for a husband. They were expected to work together with their parents and with the parents of the potential suitors to find a suitable partner. They were expected to form a mini-community that would sustain and nourish the traditions they received so they could hand them on to their children in turn.

Oh, the cruelty.

And of course, what do you expect. Few of them went to college where they learned that Kant had shown that you can’t know anything and that Nietzsche had proven that Christianity was a religion for slaves. Sure they could run a household with consummate skill, raise and discipline children to function in the world they knew, fulfill a vow at all costs, fix the machinery and tools they needed for day to work, and sing like angels in the community gatherings.

They were utterly incapable of sitting in front of a videogame for endless hours, to be numbered among the most educated society in the history of mankind. They would be hopeless even to find an I-tune, much less download it. And were they ever hopelessly uncool.

On the other hand, I have held in my hands the fine stitching of a swiss dress, the eyelets perfectly placed around the puffy sleeves, the apron and smock perfectly fashioned to sing the beauty of the Swiss Alps, her people, and the work they had done for 1000 years.

It’s pretty cool. Our educated elite seem unable to perceive its beauty and why it ought to be sustained, but a world without Swiss dresses will be a world that has lost something more important than a species of beetle.

But because the Swiss girls saw marriage as the means to continue something bigger than themselves and their invidivualized marriages, those marriages had a meaning that kept them from both divorce and from radicalism.

When the dogs of sex were unleashed in our culture, through the shift from courting to dating, the placing of children in schools for most of the day, the widespread requirement for a college degree, the raising of the marriage expectation, the invention of new forms of birth control, the spread of infanticide, the Hollywood obsession with sexuality and sexual behavior, and the many, many other direct and indirect assaults on the institutions of marriage, we became, as surely as explosions follow the ignition of gunpowder, a slave people.

Because the sexual revolution is a tool by the radicals. When marriage is weakened, everything that marriage sustains is weakened. That is why there was a visceral, non-philosophic reaction to rock and roll music and especially Elvis in the 50’s and another one to the Beatles and the hippies in the 60’s and another one to the Sex Pistols in the 70’s and another one to Madonna in the 80’s and yet another one to whoever – oh wait, by the 90’s people were so beat up by not understanding why they were frightened by the sexual revolution that they fell into despair and said, “Well, then, go to it.”

And oh my, have we done so.

Jesse Jackson once got the students at Stanford University chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Cultures gotta go,” thus demonstrating how our best educated students function rationally in tight spots.

Jesse, it’s gone. Congratulations. I hope you like this new version of freedom; it won’t last long. The state that you have helped expand will not always be friendly to those who make demands of it.

Poetry, Marriage, Definitions, and Meaning

A marriage cannot include everybody, because the reach of responsibility is short.

Wendell Berry: Standing By Words
Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms (1982)

That is to say, it is the nature of marriage to define limits. The word define literally means to set limits (that’s why the Latin word for neighbor is “finitimus”).

Certain limits, in short, are prescribed–imposed before the beginning.

Here Mr. Berry approaches the heart of our cultural crisis: imposition. One must not impose one’s values on another. But what if nature itself imposes values on us? What if we only have values at all because nature has determined that we must?

Then it is no longer a question of one person imposing his values on another, but of a person with authority given that one by nature itself (e.g. a father or mother) defending, on behalf of the “subject”, the claims of nature itself. In fact, if nature itself does not establish values, then it is not possible to live in a world where people don’t impose values on others. It’s the nature of the case.

That human nature, at least as we possess it, inclines toward abusing this natural state and claiming more authority than nature allows hardly means that we should abandon the only thing that could possibly restrain the tyrant or the self-indulgent.

The pious are inclined to react to that statement by appealing to God as sufficient without nature, but I must point out that God is the maker of nature and to separate the two is harmful in the extreme and leads to the dissolution of the religious mind – forcing a dichotomy between the spiritual life and the supposed secular life. It’s a pious sounding theory, but it doesn’t correspond to reality.

In fact, it’s what leads to the religious varieties of tyranny that the modern mind is so afraid of. When God starts asking everybody to offer up Isaac, it’s hard to see how He could love the world.

Even religion has a nature. The religious have to function within the limits established by the nature of religion. Otherwise, there is no religion. Because nothing but God exists if it is not limited to what it is.

The contemporary nonsense about living without limits is an appeal to death and negation. And the absence of the category of nature makes the modern mind incredibly gullible to such meaningless words.

To see how dangerous this is, ask yourself how you would like to live under a government that does not regard itself as limited.

This Dumbledore thing

Like many, I’ve been following the reaction to Rowling’s “outing” of Albus Dumbledore with bemusement and some wonder. It seems to be a social event of some signficance and one worth thinking about from many angles. I expect I’ll be doing that for the next little while, because I can’t possibly contain the various tracks in a single blog post. A lot of questions arise from this event: the role of the author, ethics, education, parenting responsibilites, values, etc.

Maybe the best place to begin would be to make as clear as possible my understanding of what actually happened. Here’s how Publishers Weekly described it:

 In answering a query about whether Professor Dumbledore had ever fallen in love, she said, “I always saw Dumbledore as gay,” causing screams and a standing ovation. Noting the reaction, she added, “If I had known it would make you so happy, I’d have announced it years ago.”

The setting was New York’s Carnegie Hall at the end of a week long book tour in the United States.

So is it a big deal? Even those who deny that it is seem to think it is. “Calm down!” is the excited imperio of frequent commentors on blogs where the issue is being discussed. Here’s a posting from The Lede, in the UK I believe:

Imperio! Everyone- Just calm down.

Rowling was asked a question; she answered. Writers develop full lives for their characters…not everything makes it onto the printed page. Don’t want to know that Arthur and Molly Weasley are into rubber? Don’t ask.

As far as “uncomfortable conversations” are concerned, if this small revelation causes a bustle in your hedgerow, buckle up for the future. Flip the situation. Parents can use Dumbledore as a perfect example of discretion and good behavior in the Romantic Arts.

— Posted by Loam

A bit preachy for someone who wants us to neutralize. Then Loam goes on to show precisely why some people think this is such a big deal.

Whether it provokes an emotional explosion in everybody’s chest, there seems to be no question but that people recognize that something significant took place. At least in terms of peoples hopes and fears.

Andrew Sullivan was ecstatic. It was a glory day for gays. Dumbledore is gay! Dumbledore is gay!

On the other hand, people who hold to what are sometimes derisively called traditional values are suffering angst.

Why? There seems to be a sense that a cultural barrier was breached, that a taboo was broken. Christians have argued for, what, ten years? about whether Potter is wholesome fare. We were wondering primarily about Rowling’s use of witchcraft, which I have felt was naive on Rowling’s part, maybe foolish, but, I thought, not sinister. Many Christians defended Rowling from the attacks of their naive brethren, arguing that she had been presenting the Christian worldview in her writings.

On the surface, at least, that argument would seem to be in tatters. Only in the Anglican communion (I don’t know how the Church of Scotland, of which Rowling was a member last I heard, relates to the Anglican communion) can one call oneself a traditional Christian and still support and defend homosexuality. Christianity has always made sexual purity and fidelity a central pillar of their ethical system. To engage in sex outside of the marriage covenant has always been forbidden by Christian teachings. So, it should be pointed out, has withholding sex inside the marriage covenant.

So the multitudes who hold to the Christian ethical tradition, especially the many, many Christians who defended Rowling, may well feel betrayed. The muultitudes of tolerators regard these Christians as hopelessly naive.

On the other hand, a growing number of global citizens believe that an individual should be able to do whatever he wants sexuality, usually as long as the partner consents. Christians regard this notion as hopelessly naive and the means to a cultural meltdown. They don’t want their children left unprotected in a world that lives that way, feeling that they will be placed in horrible positions.

 In a preceding blog, I wrote about grammar and the war between nature and convention. Grammar is an intellectual area where this war occurs. The conflict over homosexuality is the crucial moral area. If sexuality is defined only by conventions, then nobody has the right to deny the rights of homosexuals. On the other hand, if sexuality is defined by nature, then nature itself may well deny them these rights.

Rowling has come down determinedly and decisively on the side of what she calls tolerance.

This is a very big deal.