Academic journal article
By Budziszewski, J.
Journal of Church and State , Vol. 49, No. 3
The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals. Edited by Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain. Dallas, Tex.: Spence Publishing Company. $29.95. 336pp. np.
Future historians of the contemporary crisis of marriage and family may view this extraordinary book as a turning point. It may seem strange that things have come to such a pass that it is necessary to write books to make the case that marriage serves the common good; yet we have. Perhaps few scholars believe that traditional marriage is simply bad. For two generations, however, the influence of these few on law and social policy has exceeded their numbers. Perhaps a greater number of intellectuals believe that traditional marriage is in some sense good, but that the defense of the institution and articulation of its boundaries is not important-that somehow it would take care of itself. This has turned out to be untrue. Influenced by the spirit of the age, even those who do wish to defend it are often cloudy about its meaning. Plain things are often the hardest to see. This book remedies all of these deficiencies.
The distinguished editors Robert P. George and Jean Bethke Elshtain have done a fine job of selection; the collection is balanced not only among fields of learning but also among points of view. To be sure, the contributors join hands in the defense of a traditional view of marriage and family. However, as Elshtain points out in her weighty preface, they range over the spectrum from moderate liberals to traditional conservatives. In a series of highly readable but impeccably scholarly essays, these thirteen scholars combine the empirical heft of the contemporary social sciences (especially sociology, political science, and economics) with insight from the traditional wisdom disciplines (law, history, literature, philosophy, and theology). Their penetrating discussions cover the value and meaning of marriage; its past, present, and future prospects; and its relation to the other important things in life.
In his subtle essay "Sacrilege and Sacrament," a survey of marriage in law and literature throughout .Western history, philosopher Roger Scruton argues that traditional marriage is superior to the alternatives whether viewed "from outside, in terms of its social function," or "from inside, in terms of the moral and spiritual condition that it creates." The rest of the argument unfolds these dual perspectives.
In "What About the Children? Liberal Cautions on Same-Sex Marriage," sociologists Don Browning and Elizabeth Marquardt propose a "critical familism" for the purpose of reconstructing the historical linkage of sex, affection, generativity, child care, and mutual assistance. These five things were traditionally bonded by the institution of marriage, but their union has been endangered by modernization. A key point of the essay is that although law and government regulate marriage-and this is important-they do not create its meaning or substance.
Political philosophers are familiar with the liberal argument that in order to guarantee justice among individuals across generations, the state must intervene dramatically in family life. Harold James, in "Changing Dynamics of the Family in Recent European History," maintains that when we consider how families actually work we find that just the opposite is the case. Because of the interest of parents in the welfare of their children, the family itself turns out to be the best assurance of inter-generational equity.
Economist Jennifer Roback Morse argues in "Why Unilateral Divorce Has No Place in a Free Society" that libertarian support for unilateral divorce is based on a misconception. In fact, the ideal of limited government is incompatible with legal arrangements that allow the dissolution of marriage by either party "for any reason or no reason," and the transference of laissez-faire principles from the marketplace to the family is a distortion rather than a realization of freedom. …