Thursday, December 11, 2014

Marriage, Family & Liberty

     There are few societal issues or problems today that are not related, very often closely related, to the well-being of families; the family itself is dependent on the health of the institution of marriage; stable marriage, in turn, only flourishes in an environment shaped by sound morality.  This is a principle I’ve addressed numerous times, from various angles (here, here, here, and here, among others), but the most direct way of putting it is this: our moral choices do not affect ourselves only, but have an impact on society as a whole.  For this reason, issues that seem to be economic or political are often, at their root, the product of moral trends; the political and economic aspects are really only symptoms of the underlying cultural problem.  To the degree that our religious freedom is tied to liberty more generally (and I argue that it is), we ought to be concerned about some of the things that are brewing in the culture.

     Let’s start with something that is normally discussed as a partisan political issue here in the United States, but is actually something that goes much deeper: the so-called “gender gap”. In federal elections in the U.S. for the last forty years women have cast proportionally more votes for Democrats (who are generally more amenable to welfare state policies than Republicans) than have men, and since 1992 the overall female vote has gone to the Democratic candidate every time.  But there’s more here than meets the eye: as Kay Hymowitz points out in an article in City Journal [here],  women who are married have voted for the Republican every time, except 1996 when they chose Bill Clinton over Bob Dole by a slim margin; single women always have broken decisively for the Democratic candidate every time. In reality, the gap is between married and single women, and as the proportion of adult women who are not married grows, the apparent gap between women and men follows.

Rome in decay: The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

     Why the difference?  Meg McDonnell, writing at MercatorNet [here] offers the explanation that women who lack the support of a partner in the more traditional person of a husband are more likely to look for help from the government, and so support the candidate who’s offering more government services.  Hymowitz argues instead that the difference results from the fact that marriage is less prevalent in minority groups, who tend to favor the Democrats.  I don’t see the two causes as being contradictory; there are any number of factors in play, including the possibility that fewer intact families are among those things that draw minorities to the Big Government party.  Also, pollsters don’t seem interested in breaking down married women by race, but the information I’ve been able to find suggests that single white women do lean more to the left than their married sisters.
     Naturally, it is perfectly understandable that single women, who might be raising children alone or facing the prospect, would look for support.  I know from experience that even in a household with two healthy, well-educated parents who are committed to the family it can be overwhelming at times.  But this is also a reason why encouraging and supporting intact families is essential for maintaining freedom (which means not just political but religious liberty).  Not only are single mothers more likely to be dependent on government than women in intact families; their children, on average, are more likely to suffer from a whole host of issues, as detailed in my post “Where Have All The Fathers Gone?” [here], problems involving  “poverty, emotional/behavioral problems, maternal & child health, crime & incarceration, sexual activity & teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug & alcohol abuse, childhood obesity, education”.  In other words, they will be more likely to need government assistance, or other (less friendly) attention from the government.  Either way, the result is a bigger and more intrusive government, and citizens less equipped to take care of themselves.  And this problem is growing. McDonnell tells us that “for the first time in Census history, marriage rates are below 50 percent with only 48 percent of households married.”
     I have previously [here] quoted John Adams to the effect that “Our constitution was made only for the government of a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”  In other words, not everyone is equipped govern themselves.  Or, as Ben Franklin said after the Constitutional Convention, when asked whether the United States was going to be a monarchy or a republic: “A republic – if you can keep it.”  We could easily lose it, and with it any protections we have from a rapacious and ever more secularist government. The ancient Romans “kept” their republic for five centuries, twice the time that has elapsed since Franklin’s remark.  In the end, their republic collapsed, undermined by moral disintegration and the refusal of leading families, who were too busy with various amusements and self-satisfactions (and killing each other), to perpetuate themselves.  The direction of public affairs that had been in the hands of free Romans was subsumed by a sprawling tyrannical bureaucracy while ambitious generals killed each other for the brief honor of sitting at its head.  The same nation that produced Cincinnatus eventually gave itself up to Heliogabalus. Don’t think it can’t happen here.

      Today’s post is a revamping of an earlier piece published on May 5th called “Marriage and Liberty, part II", a follow-up to "Traditional Marriage: The Liberty Argument" [here].