Jon Stewart: “You write that marriage is the bedrock of our society.  Why would you not want more couples to buy into the stability of marriage?”


Mike Huckabee: “Marriage still means one man one woman life relationship.  I think people have a right to live any way they want to, but even anatomically . . . the only way we can create the next generation is through a male-female relationship.  For 5,000 years of recorded human history, that’s what marriage has meant.”


Jon Stewart: “5,000 years . . . takes it back to the Old Testament where polygamy was the norm . . . Marriage has evolved greatly over those 5,000 years, from a property arrangement . . . we’ve redefined it constantly.  It used to be that people of different races could not marry.  It’s very convenient to go back to the Bible and say ‘Look at how they defined marriage.’  Why don’t we look at how they did slavery?”

Why go on?  Poor Governor Huckabee was slaughtered by the host of The Daily Show.  He refused to confront honestly either polygamy or slavery, and he took refuge in the fact that, in the 30 states where same-sex “marriage” has been on the ballot, 68 percent of the voters rejected it.  Huckabee had, after all, subscribed to the liberal notion that “all people are created equal,” and now he was restricting the equal rights of homosexuals.  When he could only defend his position by citing the law, Stewart quite appropriately asked, “What if we make it that Hispanics can’t vote?”

Huckabee’s feeble response was, “I don’t think that’s a really good idea.”  So much for the champion of the Christian Right.  Huckabee’s complete inability to defend traditional marriage is one more illustration—as if we needed it—that conservative principles can never be successfully defended by liberal arguments.

The current controversies over same-sex “marriage” and no-fault divorce reveal the effects of several generations of bad education and leftist indoctrination.  Many of the participants in the public debate, because they begin with a serious misunderstanding of marriage, rush headlong into false conclusions that are subversive of the moral, social, and political order.  Mental confusion, in nearly every case, is at the root of the profound social dissolution we have created in this country.  A people who cannot get marriage right will not be able to get anything else in their social and political life right, because marriage is the foundation of all good order in society.  To put it simply and stupidly: In misunderstanding and perverting the nature of marriage and its relationship to the state, we make it difficult to retain what little freedom is left to us and impossible to begin the task of recovering the liberties bequeathed to us by our ancestors.

In the marriage debate, the champions on each side make fundamental mistakes that corrupt the discussion and make it impossible to begin the process of defending marriage.  It is easy to spot the errors of the left, both the Marxist left and the libertarian left: They hate marriage as it has existed throughout our history and would replace it with a voluntary ad hoc attachment that can be entered or abandoned with ease.  For them, marriage is no longer a serious contract, as liberals once wanted it to be, but only the sort of paperwork a tourist fills out when he is renting a car.  Naturally, he agrees to take out certain insurance, pay traffic tickets, and be held liable for damages.  Beyond that, he only expects to drive the car—or bed the woman—for a limited time.  For them the purpose of marriage is (as Jon Stewart and his “gay” friends might argue) mutual affection within a stable relationship.

Conservatives, although they are right in their instinctive reverence for the institution, typically make the mistake of accepting the old liberal view of marriage, which made it a contract between individuals that is enforced by the state.  As a result, they concentrate their efforts on beefing up state regulation of marriage and divorce—as if governments had not already done enough damage—and, by forever speaking of marriage as made between two individuals, they can never entirely escape the liberal-libertarian trap.  If a man and a woman can enter freely into a contract, why can they not, by mutual consent, find an exit?  In forever speaking of marriage as a human right—and, to use Mr. Huckabee’s first-grade syntax, “a one man one woman life relationship” formed by two individuals—they will always have to fall back on law or prejudice as their ultimate defense of normal marriage.

The fundamental problem reveals itself in the vague language, a distant echo of Rousseau and Marx, used to defend traditional marriage.  By “life relationship,” did Huckabee mean an unbreakable bond throughout their lives or merely a relationship to enjoy life together?  As a Southern Baptist preacher, Huckabee knows that Baptists have a very high divorce rate.  Conservatives in general, as eager as they are to oppose same-sex “marriage for non-believers,” have walked away from the more serious problem of Christian divorce.  As conservatives, naturally, they will want to protect any children that have been born, and they will insist on fulfillment of contracts, waiting periods, child support, etc.  In other words, they would return us to the status quo ante 1970, when California first permitted no-fault divorce.  Even if this restoration of the postwar moral order represented an improvement, the benefits would be trivial: Before 1970 any number of legal fictions were employed to make divorces relatively easy to procure.  To accept the conservative solution is to be content with not half a loaf but only a few breadcrumbs.

Then, if I am dismissing both the conservative and leftist view, what do I say that marriage is?  I would like to give the Christian answer, that marriage is an indissoluble union established by God for the procreation of the human race and the mutual comfort of men and women, but there are so few Christians in the world today, the voice of Christ Himself would hardly be persuasive: “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.  And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery” (Mark 10:11-12).  In Matthew 5:32, a fuller form of the sentence is given, with the concession “saving for the cause of fornication.”

Who in the United States will accept such a strict repudiation of divorce?  Certainly not American evangelicals, whose members turned out in force to support Mike Huckabee.  These churches do little or nothing to punish or excommunicate divorced people, and they even, in some cases, refuse to defrock divorced pastors.  Certainly not American Catholic bishops who hand out annulments as if they were coupons for a free car wash, or the nearly one fourth of the Catholic laity that has been divorced at one time or another, or the 93 percent of Catholics who say that divorce is acceptable in some or all cases.  Compared with ignorance (apparently invincible) and perversity (incurable short of a miracle) a robust Christian position on marriage and divorce would appear to be irrelevant, not only to the pagans among us but to most self-described Christians.

Then let us go back to the beginning and address Jon Stewart’s entirely relevant question.  If we applaud the evolution of marriage into a free contract between two individuals, then why should we be afraid to take the next step?  If we refuse to step gaily into the future, the most obvious answer is to reject the progress that has brought us to this abyss: the overall transformation of marriage from a social to an individual-juridical institution—that is, from being a relationship between families for the good of the families to being a contract between individuals enforced by law.

Christians, naturally, will balk at polygamy or at least regard it as morally inferior to monogamy, but there is every reason in the world why they should reject the Enlightenment’s redefinition of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman who wish to live and enjoy life together.  To begin to understand the errors of this redefinition, let us go back to the shadow-boxing match Governor Huckabee forfeited without putting up a fight.

When Jon Stewart suggested, by way of criticizing marriage in the Old Testament, that marriage and property in ancient times were related, he was referring (consciously or not) to the long-exploded thesis of Engels and Marx, that property, marriage, and the state were invented by power-seeking males.

The real connection is a bit less conspiratorial.  In any free society, households can only be independent if, first, they are embedded in a wider network of kin and clan, whose members will aid them, and, second, if they possess sufficient property to maintain their existence and keep from falling into dependency, either on the rich and powerful or on the government.  This link between property and marriage endured, for the responsible classes, down to the end of the 19th century.  Men often put off marriage until they were sufficiently well fixed to be able to provide a home and necessities for their future family.

In the 20th century, however, governments have made it possible to buy a house on easy terms—and at perhaps three times the price.  We no longer have to take care of our children or provide for their education, and we no longer expect our children to take care of us in old age.  The lord—that is, the government—will provide.

Stewart’s best argument—and it is always the left’s best argument—is to play the race card: Christians want to deny homosexuals the right to marry on biblical grounds.  On the same grounds, they once denied racial intermarriage.  Once upon a time in an America that no longer exists, an answer might have been given that is not possible on network television (even when the network is Comedy Central): So what?  Slavery was a common institution in the Old Testament, and so far from being repudiated in the New, it was reinforced by the injunction to slaves to obey their masters.  Slavery was virtually universal in Christendom down to the Enlightenment, and in some parts of the Christian world it was not eliminated until the late 19th century.  However undesirable it was and is, slavery is not, pace Hilaire Belloc, incompatible with Christianity, and, therefore, the reductio ad servitudinem is irrelevant to us.

In this era of thought control, though, the best answer is the truth that traditional societies are always interested in restricting the right of connubium (lawful marriage with a citizen) and in defining legitimacy and inheritance rights.  The republics of Athens and Rome set restrictions on marriage with noncitizens, partly to maintain the loyalty and patriotism of the citizen class but also to make inheritance secure.  The offspring of an Athenian who married a noncitizen could be sued by a citizen-kinsman who claimed the inheritance.  Yes, of course, there were racialist reasons for outlawing mixed marriages in 19th-century America, but the basic principle is quite common and justifiable, so long as we understand that society’s only role in marriage is to encourage the procreation and rearing of good citizens.

And here is where the errors of Stewart and Huckabee converge: They both think that, because marriage is the bedrock of society, it should be defined and protected by government, and they both regard the right to marry as a universal human right derived from natural equality.  So long as conservatives accept this argument, they can never win, either in a debate on Comedy Central or in the political sphere.

If there were universal/international human rights to life, marriage, education, welfare, and plasma TV sets, and if, “to secure these rights,” governments really “were instituted among men,” then the argument is over, and the defenders of marriage and life and virtue have all lost as badly as Governor Huckabee.  On these terms, government, along with rights, will always be expanded, because only government can stop parents from interfering with a daughter’s right to sex without fear of procreation or the child molester’s right to buy kiddie porn—so long as no real children can be shown to have been exploited.

The ancient conception of marriage and family—from Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas, Dante, and Althusius—as the foundation of the social order means exactly the opposite of what Huckabee and Stewart would like it to mean.  The family constructs the lower orders of society, which in turn construct the state; therefore, no legitimate state, whether a republic or a monarchy, will strip the province, village, and family of their traditional prerogatives.  A healthy society may, indeed, pass laws, good and bad, to confirm the family forms that have been inherited from earlier generations, but it will never innovate, for example, by liberalizing divorce or legalizing same-sex marriage.  The first government to stage a divorce revolution was the Jacobin government of France, and it is no accident that this revolution was imitated by the Reconstruction government imposed on South Carolina at the end of the War Between the States.  The radicals revoked the strictest divorce law in the Union and replaced it with the most liberal.  When Wade Hampton and the Redeemers ended Reconstruction in 1876, one of the first acts of the restored government was to revive South Carolina’s very conservative divorce law.

Private property and marriage are intertwined institutions, and governments that interfere in them, by stealing wealth and property or by en-couraging lethal perversions, are not republican governments, and nations that submit to such tyranny are not free.  We understand why leftists wish to enslave us.  What is harder to understand is why so many self-described conservatives have accepted the language and reasoning of the enemy.