Marriage, as we know it is all but gone. And it’s our fault. People will still get “married,” of course. Couples will hold a ceremonies in front of friends and family pledging to build a life together. For a little while longer, at least.
Marriage has devolved into a mere cultural habit, effectively ceasing as a cultural institution. Regrettable, given my strong advocacy or Western Civilization.
Considering our recent social upheaval, the de-valuing of marriage was inevitable. No surprise, given the Church’s unconditional surrender to the State.
Why The State?
The State did not always play a role in marriage. Colonial Massachusetts began requiring marriage licenses in 16391. Colonial America of course drew much of its civil procedures from English Common Law, which in turn borrowed from Roman law2.
Roman marriage was a contract between families. No one expected state involvement, beyond civil mediation or enforcement. Also important, the State did not issue marriage licenses, which meant less meddling. A member of the priestly class presided at the ceremony. The wife often brought a dowry, depending on her family’s wealth. The husband would have to return this dowery in the event that he initiated a divorce. Thus, both parties were unable to cash out and this in turn dis-incentivized the break-up of the family. Practical considerations played their part. But I don’t advocate a mercenary approach to marriage. Our nation has had a front row seat to what that looks like. I don’t want to be a part that and I doubt you would either.
Rome became strong because its families were strong. The family served as both the foundation and steel framework. The Republic laid the building blocks upon this foundation. This was true up and down the socio-economic ladder.
One Man, One Woman.
The Romans, along with the Greeks and the Jews of the ancient world held monogamy to be the standard. These three societies laid the foundation for Western Civilization, which should come as no surprise.
Monogamy was far from the only factor that set these early societies apart from their contemporaries. Monogamy still played a significant role. The social conventions of Rome encouraged the shaming of philandering and hypergamy. This lent tremendous value to social cohesion. In the ancient world, the norm in a given community was for 80% of the women to mate with the top 20% of the men. The middle 60% of the men shared the remaining 20% of the women in the usual way that matriarchal societies sort out the sexual market place. The bottom 20% of men did not mate at all. This meant that the feeble and the socially inept would not pass down their genes.
A Gentlemen’s Agreement Between Classes.
The Romans forced their last king to abdicate in 509 B.C. and established a republic. The established residents self-identified as Patricians – those who could name their father. Asserting themselves set them apart from the wanderers and opportunists flocking to the fledgling city. These new men, the Plebeians, soon learned that numbers equated to power and they were able to wring numerous concessions from the ruling caste3.
The Plebeians took their place in the ranks of the Legions. They were expected to fight and possibly die in service to the Republic, therefore a strong incentive was required. Wives. Rome demanded loyalty from its citizens, therefore Rome needed to give something in return. The Patricians, unlike their counter-parts inhabiting the deserts East of the Mediterranean, would not keep large seraglios at the expense of those working the forge, or harvesting the crops. The top 20% would have to concede some power to the middle 60%.
Marriage & Owning One’s Labor.
Every man able to provide for a household with his excess labor was permitted to do so, providing for a more prosperous society as a whole. The middle 60% were given a reasonable expectation for marriage and children, which gave the productive class more of a stake. Even the poorest of free men could conduct his household affairs in relative peace without meddling by the State. Today, that has all but disappeared.
In modern times, the State has displaced countless husbands in minority communities, while making significant inroads within the majority. This is why I have nothing but derision for homosexuals that agitated for civil recognition of their unions. All they did was invite the State to stick its mitt into their household.
The Church, has long ago transferred it’s oversight responsibilities to the State, thus resulting in that much less liberty for the rest of us. With those responsibilities, came the effective surrendering of it’s moral authority. Furthermore, the State’s oversight is augmented by judicial and executive powers which are enforced at the point of a gun.
Wrestling power back will prove to be an Augustinian task, since the State rarely, if ever gives up power on its own volition.
The solution? I propose a universal rejection of all marriage laws. No applications for marriage licenses, no civil involvement. Return marriage as a contract between two consenting parties presided over by the Church, the Synagogue, and yes, the Mosque. Does that sound radical? Why? Give me a rationale for involving the State in a covenant between husband and wife.
- Legislative Guide to Marriage Law, Iowa Legislative Services, Legal Services Division, 2005.
- Edward D. Re, The Roman Contribution to the Common Law, Forham Law Review, 1961.
- J. Langguth, A Noise of War, Simon & Schuster; 1994