Deracinated Meritocrats and the Marriage “Debate”

by James Matthew Wilson on April 21, 2011 · 67 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low


Devon, PA.  I just received a link to a video that records the encounter of members of the TFP (The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property) with the insouciant and zealous undergraduates of Brown University.  It has everything: the selfrighteous squeals of the “gay marriage” undergraduates, an evident meathead who destroys a TFP banner and then runs away.  Spitting.  The video is worth examining in its own right.  I link to the page where readers may view it at TFP at Brown University, because Youtube has apparently removed the video without explanation.  As I watched it, it stirred the following reflection:

In my most recent FPR essay, I discussed Tocqueville’s account of individualism, which he describes as a “calm and considered” philosophical belief that society is a meaningless and uncompelling term, in consequence of which one turns inward to one’s immediate family (nuclear family) and a few others toward whom one bears affection.  Tocqueville himself associates this condition with the hypermobility of the Americans of the 1830s–a condition that has approached orthodoxy (or pathology) in our own day.  Lacking the stability that a landed aristocracy and a widely distributed hierarchy of duty and fidelity provide, and consequently lacking enduring intergenerational communities, Tocqueville observed that Americans move about in their compact nuclear units, while those units themselves dissolve and reconstitute every generation, glued together not so much by ”local habitation and a name,” but the unstable but real bonds of natural affection.  The loving but dissoluable family unit, he saw, served well to allow Americans to seek their fortunes in a society largely given over to the love of money and a deep sense of insecurity about the endurance of any shared institution.

What Tocqueville observed then has continued ever since.  In consequence, most persons have never lived in a place where real community exists.  They rather have moved through aggregations of individualist units called “communities” only in name.  They understand townships as nodes centered on highway exit ramps, areas where one may stop to work or consume or even to sleep, but which are essentially instrumental on the long drive to success.

One effect of being reared in an isolated nuclear family within a great mass of equal but indifferent fellow human beings is that one comes to doubt the relevance, authority, or authenticity of any claims upon oneself, save those that are based on personal affection.  Regardless of whether same-sex “marriage” ever becomes the legal fiction of our land, most persons have already assented to the principle on which it is based: the only thing requisite for a binding familial union between two persons is sincere affection (needless to say, the “binding” may be dissolved should that affection abate).  To speak of marriage’s broader social function, or the inadequacy of feeling as a basis for (rather than a complement of) the indisoluable tie of man and wife that makes possible the coming-into-being and the sustaining of households across generations is, at present, to speak a language that makes sense to almost nobody.  Most Americans bear a close resemblance to the Clark Griswolds, for whom the intelligibility of the immediate family provides a place to stand and mock the mysteriously connected but largely unintelligible cousins, grandparents, and great aunts who invade one’s home at Christmastime.  Who are these old, eccentric sacks of dust to whom, we are told, we are related?   We perist in the asking, because of the strange if slight affections for them that we can no longer explain away or justify as binding.

Despite Americans’ hypermobility, I am told that the majority of Americans still live out their lives within a narrow geographic area (about ten square miles).  The truly mobile are still a minority, and yet they are the “elite” minority, who are taken as the norm and exemplar of what our age deems a good human life.  The mobile are those who not only embrace but exploit an ethos that says upward mobility through measurable (quantifiable) merit is the only standard to which one may appeal in decisions of better-or-worse.  In order to be a good person, according to this standard (which most of us already accept even if we are the losers in it), one must disencumber oneself of all loyalties and obligations save that most ethereal one of affection, which itself entails no particular obligations.  Family serves great emotional needs, and therefore provides good therapy as one makes one’s solitary way from childhood to financial independence.  Like everything outside money, for the modern American, family is a kind of therapeutic technique — to be used so long as one feels the need, but no more (Welcome, Krustians!).

In brief, the present American standard for what makes a successful human being (I use the word “successful” pointedly) is one that views what used to be called community — one’s particular people in a particular place with a particular set of beliefs and a particular conception of obligations and goods — as a mere contingent bit of circumstance.  Requiring some sensation of belonging to a community, that person is permitted strong affections for a nuclear family — a nuclear family that is supposed to encourage him, in the words of Walker Percy, to follow his “hopes and dreams” wherever they may take him.  All that last phrase really entails is that the young person should rise through a “meritocracy” in order, at last, to attend an elite university (failing that, a business school) — a place specifically designed to reward those who already assent to a morality of merit and mobility.  Such places are, of course, the source of those who make public policy for our vast technocratic state.  So, it is precisely those who have risen through the absence of attachment to the citadels of achievement who will, in the future, be best positioned to affect the cultural forms and public policies of communities in which they do not really believe.

I find it unsurprising, then, that those campaigning to defend the nuclear family as the social form par excellence (that is, the being that gives form to society) should meet, not only with incomprehension, but intimidation and vitriol, when they enter the citadels of deracinated meritocrats.  For this latter group, the nuclear family is not a social form but a precious expression of one’s elective affections.  For the TFP and those like them, the family is sacred — it is something that cannot be created, but only submitted to and, if mismanaged, destroyed.  For the Brown students, the family is something like an epiphenomenon that simply puts a stamp of formality on consenual, precious, but easily dissolved feelings of affection.

Presumably, for the Brown students, as for most undergraduate students I know, the only real, binding institution is neither family nor country, but the corporate/welfare State.  The centralized technocracy that promises to order and regulate our lives, and indeed to keep us alive, is the only binding institution for them.  The State is distinct from country, because it does not ask of us either personal affection or patriotism, but only that we be docile, while it encourages some few of us to be ambitious.  And, of course, for the deracinated meritocrats, the State offers two great incentives: a) because it is not based on human affection, it will never abandon them in the fashion that they believe all human relations ultimately do; and b) as the tutelaries of merit, they have reason to hope they may one day enter and manipulate that technocracy in their own interests.

They make for a curious character, these deracinated meritocrats.  They become excellent servants of the state but lousy citizens of their communities.  They are positioned to be our “future leaders” (as the nauseating phrase echoes) but they are a more significant practical threat to American communities, such as they are, than any foreign legion of terrorists.  The meritocrat objects, of course, that he has every intention of helping those he has left behind with new social programs recommended by the highest standards of quantitative assessment.  Surely, he says, this is a service far greater than that offered by the poor slouches who remain in their natural communities and pump gas or run the daycare.  What he calls service, and plumes himself by thinking a “gift,” is in fact a force destructive of the communities it pretends to help.

You do not think so?  Look at those Brown students (not their faces, of course: because they are scrambled, but because they do not matter, either: in their book, everyone is the same, alone with his desires).

Their mockery is not directed only against those who defend marriage as a reality unalterable by human choice because determined by the dual-grip of natural law and divine sacrament.  They are counter-protesting against anyone who proclaims anything in this world beyond the power and genius of State administration.  They are dismissing as “bigots” anyone who thinks anything outside the individual is governed by laws beyond those of consensual affection.  They are laughing cynically and in secreted misery against those who cling to the superstitions of family and community, for they believe that nothing in social life endures, and that human life is a story of isolated wills seeking pleasant feelings and the satisfaction of their arbitrary and ever-shifting goods.  They are elite “angels,” who believe a continuous freedom for geographic mobility is one with a complete spiritual freedom.  Those who acknowledge the limitations of flesh and nature are, in their eyes, the unenlightened rural idiots who have simply failed to adjust to the order of “rational flightiness.”  And so, they mock the TFP today like purile sociopaths, though tomorrow, they will be well positioned to counter them will quantitatively tested programs in sexual “health” education.

As a professor, I say to the Brown students: “We get it.  You have been rewarded for learning many things without believing in much of anything, and here is another consequence-free opportunity to parade your emptiness and moral selfrighteousness.  Perhaps you will someday realize that ‘marriage equality’ sounds palatable only because it conforms neatly with your sense of marriage as mere therapy.”

As a father, let me conclude with a paternalistic admonition likely to irritate everybody in an age of relativistic utilitarians: the father who encourages his children to acquire “marketable” skills in order to leave home and “succeed” in the meritocratic system is probably doing the internal organs of those children a favor — oh, they will likely live long! — but he is a lousy father.

Rather than raising children to “succeed” in a future you cannot even imagine, raise them in the forms of piety to the most profound things you can know: to the generations of family who made them possible; to the natural community that may, if not ignored by the placeless, give form to their lives; and to the God who creates and governs all things, and in the thought of Whom alone can we find that which is most sweet and enduring.

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kevin April 21, 2011 at 1:29 pm

“Their mockery is not directed only against those who defend marriage as a reality unalterable by human choice because determined by the dual-grip of natural law and divine sacrament. They are counter-protesting against anyone who proclaims anything in this world beyond the power and genius of State administration. They are dismissing as “bigots” anyone who thinks anything outside the individual is governed by laws beyond those of consensual affection. They are laughing cynically and in secreted misery against those who cling to the superstitions of family and community, for they believe that nothing in social life endures, and that human life is a story of isolated wills seeking pleasant feelings and the satisfaction of their arbitrary and ever-shifting goods. ”

That’s quite an accusation. I’m afraid I can’t see those students claiming many of those positions – save the anti-Thomistic bit – or does that not matter to your diagnosis of these pathologies? It would have to be *argued* that once natural law (which *many* Christians, even FPR types, don’t affirm) and belief in sacrament (hardly a constitutive position of western civilization) are removed, that opposition to homosexual marriage doesn’t constitute bigotry. In other words, what would you consider a valid possible counter-example to your characterization of my fellow students, or is this tight bit of ethnography impenetrable to argument?

avatar x.trapnel April 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Perhaps some of these students see TFP’s agenda, rather than their own world-view, as the one threatening family–by which I mean actual, concrete families, not the abstract idea of Family: the ones they’ve grown up in, or those of their friends and neighbors. TFP, after all, is the party in the position of telling folks, “no, your family doesn’t count; only our families count.” It’s simply a generation or two too late for trying to frame this as community-against-mere-preference: for plenty of these undergrads, gay marriage isn’t about letting them do what they want, it’s about communal acknowledgment of *natural ties*–ties that exist not merely apart from, but in open defiance of, “the power and genius of State administration” as JMW puts it.

Obviously this won’t convince JMW, any more than JMW’s screed will convince anyone on the other side. Still, it needs to be said: anyone who sees gay families as somehow being a expression of atomistic individualism, in opposition to obligation and belonging, must not know many gay families, nor have much knowledge of the history of gay communities (particularly during the AIDS years).

avatar nancy April 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm

This student’s “report” used the phrase “pro-homosexual” throughout, and you expect this essay to be taken seriously? I only hope one day, when you discover that someone you care about, possibly even a family member, is homosexual (the newly adopted common parlance is “gay”) that you feel strange for having written this ugly and disdainful piece. Yours is an odd, pompous presence at this otherwise friendly place.

These are the people who have touched the lives of my family who happen to be gay: the best neighbor we ever had, a trained architect and now director of a Catholic neighborhood assistance program; my son’s childhood piano teacher who prepared him to later study French horn . His lesbian and married horn teacher, mother of three, helped him prepare for our youth orchestra’s concerto competition where he played Strauss 2– a college music scholarship followed. My two neighbors who greet me in the back yard, over my garden, are a lesbian couple raising a studious teenager who practices the piano for hours right after he arrives home from school to an empty house–they are both still at work where they teach graphic design and photography, respectively. My son’s closest friend since kindergarten, now 23, is gay and a management trainee–he studied anthropology and played first violin in the youth orchestra. It’s a big world out here–and I live in flyover country in the red part of Washington state. Ours is a rooted and close community. And a kind one.

avatar Marchmaine April 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm

You pierce the veil of things perceived but dimly.

Hear, O foolish people, and without understanding: who have eyes, and see not: and ears, and hear not.

avatar love the girls April 21, 2011 at 8:27 pm

x.trapnel writes : “perhaps some of these students see TFP’s agenda, rather than their own world-view, as the one threatening family.

True. Which is why in the not too distant future we can expect to see those same Brown University students with guns in hand marching those same TFP’ers to the gulag where they can be reeducated and worked to death.

avatar Brandon April 22, 2011 at 8:36 am

There’s sure a lot of liberal types that read FPR.

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 22, 2011 at 11:56 am


Perhaps you should reflect on the teenager’s daily encounter with an “empty house.” The key to why some of us have a principled opposition to “homosexual marriage” might be found there.

Somewhere, I remember reading in an old book this suggestion (or was it a command?): “be fruitful, and multiply.”

avatar nancy April 22, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Joshua–Sorry, but the important word in what I described is “teenager.” Lest I leave you to your imaginary horribles, I will complete the picture. This young man has not grown up as a latch-key kid. I know, because I am a stay-at-home mother, now empty nester, who watched over the neighborhood kids for years. His high school is five blocks away. After school, he and his buddies hike up the hill home where they hive off. He arrives home about 3:30 and I can hear him practicing piano, which he clearly adores, for about an hour. His parents are home by 5:15. Until recently one of them worked entirely from home. I know they sit down to dinner together each evening.

He is a friendly and decent young man, 15, with a circle of friends; he has fed my cats for me when we’ve had to be away, and regularly shovels out our driveway, unasked, when the snow plow plows us in. He mows the yard. So I’m not sure what your “principled opposition” is against having a nurturing and clearly loving environment to call home. I call it a family. You don’t have to, but falling back on “principle”? Personally, I’m big on the “Golden Rule”. I think it’s in an old book too.

avatar GingerMan April 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm

There’s some hyperbole here and marshaling of facts that seem contradictory at points.


In consequence, most persons have never lived in a place where real community exists. They rather have moved through aggregations of individualist units called “communities” only in name. They understand townships as nodes centered on highway exit ramps, areas where one may stop to work or consume or even to sleep, but which are essentially instrumental on the long drive to success.


Despite Americans’ hypermobility, I am told that the majority of Americans still live out their lives within a narrow geographic area (about ten square miles). The truly mobile are still a minority, and yet they are the “elite” minority, who are taken as the norm and exemplar of what our age deems a good human life.

Can both of these statements be true? Or maybe it’s the case that even those who remain rooted idealize the “hypermobile” and consider themselves the unwashed losers of our technocratic meritocracy, thereby sabotaging their own communities through longings they cannot realize. If only there were a feudal lord around to put things right!

In any case, here’s a link to a Pew survey on the topic.

Shockingly (to me at least) 37% of the adults surveyed have lived in the same town their whole lives. An additional 20% have only lived in a single state. Apparently, they enjoy the highway off ramps so much there that there isn’t much incentive to move.

More seriously, the data would have to be broken down by age to draw better inferences. It could be those responding “same town” respondents skew heavily younger, in which case, future job demands may drive them to move in the years ahead.

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 22, 2011 at 2:18 pm


That a child could live a decent life within the home of a homosexual couple is not in dispute. Indeed, there are certainly cases where that situation would be preferable to a child living in the home of a heterosexual couple who are dangerous or extremely irresponsible. And it is certainly a better condition than having not home at all.

The point, I think, that would come out with reflection (as opposed to reaction) is that, along with contraception and abortion, homosexual “unions” lead to sterility. That is, empty houses and communities, as well as demographic and cultural dead ends. If we are concerned about the community as a whole, as well as the lasting effects of culture on posterity, then we had better imagine what kind of community we shall have by our continued sanctioning and promotion of sterile lifestyles. Look around: the homes, neighborhoods, and playgrounds are empty–at least relative to the past.

If the push for homosexual marriage is simply another aspect of the movement in favor of sterile marriages (or no marriages at all) then I think it fair to scratch the dirt a little and see what really exists under surface of “fairness” and some abstract and universal invocation of the golden rule.

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I meant to say, the homes, etc. are empty of children. Perhaps I did not make that clear. The lack of fertility and abundance in our society being a sign of cultural decline, not proof of progress in the quest for unlimited rights.

avatar GingerMan April 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm

lack of fertility and abundance in our society being a sign of cultural decline

Not to comment on any of your larger points, but I always find when people cite this fact in service of the argument you are making, that it is so glaringly unconvincing.

Mainly, bc (as you may be aware) fertility rates are falling nearly UNIVERSALLY across the globe. In western, non-western, Christian, non-Christian, democratic, non-democratic, nearly every society you can name. Given that data set, it seems highly implausible to consider the current cultural circumstances of the US and/or gay marriage as the causal factor.

Just a thought…

avatar dave April 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Thanks for the essay – very thought-provoking. I don’t have much of a response to what you wrote other than appreciation.

To the video and report, on the other hand, that just seems to me a waste of time. They hoisted their banner and I was thinking I know too many people on the left and right with a predilection for hoisting banners; too many who will get fired up and drive a few hundred miles to attend an environmental rally but are too busy to stop and pick up trash along the road.

Death, sickness, bankruptcy, infidelity, addictions – plenty of families could use a helping hand. We ought to corral the men in suits and the angry students and put them to work in a shelter. Or church. Or Hospice. Or schools. All of the above. They’ve got the time, apparently.

avatar Aaron April 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I find this article completely contradictory: I think you will find if you talked to extended families that include a married gay couple they will tell you (even if they come from more conservative background) that they welcome the stability and permanency of the marriage. From the article it seems you disapprove of gays (and their supporters) particularly because of their ephemeral romantic natures and lack of connectedness to community. Shouldn’t you then welcome a settling down? It sounds like you should be petitioning to criminalize divorce, but I suppose it’s more practical to pick battles you can win…

avatar x.trapnel April 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm

homosexual “unions” lead to sterility. That is, empty houses and communities, as well as demographic and cultural dead ends.

Mainly, bc (as you may be aware) fertility rates are falling nearly UNIVERSALLY across the globe. In western, non-western, Christian, non-Christian, democratic, non-democratic, nearly every society you can name.

Where to begin? Joshua’s comment is deeply misleading, but not really for the reason Gingerman gives. To take it in reverse order: we really need to split the fertility question into (at least) two parts. There’s the quasi-universal fertility-rates-fall-with-modernity aspect–as a combination of birth control, the shift from being a peasant-farmer to being a Citizen-Worker, and increased female autonomy lead towards, A., the ideal # of children to decrease to ~2, and B., people to actual hit their ideal # of children. That’s one thing, and I guess that’s what Gingerman is gesturing towards. However–and this is quite important–that’s not everything. As you can see from the research here, what’s quite interesting is that it’s the Bismarckian/Continental/”Christian Democrat”-welfare states of Germany/Italy/France/Spain/the Lowlands that have really seen fertility plunge, despite women in those countries continuing to profess a desire for 2+ children. In other words: the structure of these societies is–quite in line with the trad-con line–interfering with, or at least structuring incentives against, both men and women’s desire for larger families.

But before the trad-cons celebrate, the key thing here is that this dropoff in fertility is most pronounced precisely in those European countries that most embrace the “familialism” model–basically, using the resources of the state to encourage women to stay home and have babies, and support the male-breadwinner model. The anglo/liberal countries (UK, Switzerland, US, Australia/NZ) aren’t experiencing as severe a dropoff, and the social-democratic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark) are doing best of all.

All of which does, or ought to, present a rather serious dilemma for the trad-con.

So that’s the point one–what Gingerman’s reply left out.

Point two is that Joshua’s comment was, to put it bluntly, fracking crazy. Again: if you think gay marriages are about empty houses and sterile communities, you have absolutely no knowledge of gay communities in America. Now, if you wanted to make a more interesting–though also perverse and wrong–argument, you could say something like, “Yes, it’s true that gay communities, much like other persecuted ones in American history (LDS & other non-mainstream sects, most obviously), have emerged as quite tightly-knit, normatively- and institutionally-thick sources of solidarity and fellow-feeling. However, it is precisely for that reason that we must continue to oppress them, because if gays stop being oppressed, then they will no longer have any incentives to continue existing as such exemplary examples of thick communitarianism!” Again, this would be sort of crazy and weird, but would have the virtue of not making bizarrely contrary-to-fact claims, as in your original comment–a comment that, indeed, makes one suspect that the only gay marriage you’ve seen was the one on “American Beauty.”

avatar GingerMan April 22, 2011 at 7:22 pm

So that’s the point one–what Gingerman’s reply left out.

Yes, I am generally familiar with that research. However, the picture is not necessarily uniform. For example, the state in the US with the highest total fertility rate is Utah, the lowest is Vermont. In Israel, the ultra-Orthodox are an increasing percentage of the population due to the high number of average births per woman (I believe it is nearly 9 kids per). It’s hard to argue that culture / religious values / tradition, whatever you want to call it, has no effect on such disparities.

In general, my belief is that individuals and cultural influences are very complicated. And simplified generalizations (along the lines made in the article above) generally say more about the author and their own pre-commitments to a narrative that flatters their preferred philosophy than the putative issues supposedly being analyzed.

The most convincing argumentation (I have seen at least) in favor of the CONSERVATIVE nature of gay marriage has been advanced by Jonathan Rauch.

His logic is imminently convincing, to me at least. But I was probably predisposed to be sympathetic, so that’s not saying much, I guess. Anyway, it’s worth your time if you haven’t seen it already.

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 22, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I don’t think the thread needs to be turned into a pseudoscientific discussion of global demographics. Suffice it to say, no amount of incoherent sophistry will allow homosexual unions to produce children. Nor will it demonstrate that contraception and abortion are not forces in the decline of fertility in the United States and Europe. They clearly are.

Nor is there any dilemma for a “trad-con.” As Chris Check over at Chronicles recently put it: throw your pills and condoms in the trash and make babies (within marriage only, of course).

Sterility is perhaps only one aspect of why one would oppose gay marriage and I think Professor Wilson’s essay has a wider scope than this. It was a simple point I attempted to make: homosexual marriage is part of a larger cultural sweep towards undermining traditional marriages. It is the latest in a process that began with eugenics and includes widespread contraception use and the militant defense of abortion “rights.” Seen within this context, it is one more attempt to assert invented individual rights at the expense of the community and posterity.

avatar x.trapnel April 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm

So, ok: the replies have only confirmed my preexisting beliefs (that JDC isn’t worth responding to, but perhaps GM is) – so.

Ok. Yes, exactly: the local community matters; it matters a lot. Utah is (perhaps the only) example in the US where we have genuine independent action here in this sphere, but what I worry about is that lots of trad-cons see the results there and think, “ahh, let’s all do what we do in Utah!” But that’s not a valid options. There isn’t a button you can press to turn Alabama into Utab; it’s just not there. So — if you couldn’t tell — I think that a Burkean/Bismarckean/Adamsean conservative would, indeed–if well informed–support gay marrige, but for precisely the opposite grounds of the original post.

The question is — and this isn’t a simple blog-question, but a real one– how do you sustain a communitarian way of life in a global legal order? And I think this is perhaps the most important question of the 21st century — not only for rural Kansasians, but for Scots, Catalans, and the world. We’ve moved beyond the Westphalian world, and we’ve seen that it was always an illusion. So.

I’m amused by the idea that my comment represents an intervention by “a lot of liberal types”–personally, I identify as a democratic communitarian anarchist–but I think this conflict is, at root, what will define our century.

avatar x.trapnel April 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Ok, I see that JDC has posted as I was composing my earlier reply, so: please, I beg you–(because I’m not going to engage further)–just realize, that potentially on your side are all the nations of Scotland, the Basque, Catalan, north Italy, etc. — these are *real nations*. With *real nationality*. For a trad-con, the question ought to be, how can we support these centuries-old identities? What must we do? And what I’m saying is actually pretty simple: if you look at the data, the “traditional” “Bismarckian/Continental/Christian Democrat” method/system has done *much worse* on the simple metric of *encouraging larger families* than either the anglo/liberal model or (especially) the Scandinavian/social-democratic model.

Look: give me an argument why those trade-offs don’t apply to the USA, or why I’m being foolish to invoke them. Give me something. But right now, on this blog for thoughtful people who care about community (and I could myself as one of them – just started a reread of Walzer’s ‘Spheres of Justice’, and yet again blown away by how *right* it feels) — you’re not contributing anything.

avatar Nathan April 23, 2011 at 6:53 am

I thought Mr. Wilson made his point so well it is a shame none of those Brown students will probably ever come across it. I was a bit surprised to see how many people, who presumably read and considered this essay, made opposing comments. I shouldn’t have been surprised. On every issue, each political faction is firmly entrenched in their own beliefs, and the point has been made again and again that there is no more political discourse on any subject in this country, only dogma. Does no one else think the only logical way forward here is some form of action? If discussion of the problems facing this nation yields no lasting consensus, further talk is only delaying the need to find a permanent resolution. And, if you think about it, action is a terrifying word. At best, it entails division and disruption. No wonder we continue pointless talking in an effort to put off the partially understood implications of future hard choices. On the other hand, flipping that hot potato to the next generation smacks of cowardice. Perhaps the easiest action to take is first to separate the discussion. Each side withdraws to their respective corner of the internet, no longer trying to convince anyone of the righteousness of their values, but as responsibly as possible making plans to take action. I fear that if we take no action now, and we are unfortunate enough to meet a future crisis of critical magnitude, the result will be irresponsible, ill-considered action carried out in chaos and violence by individuals from the ideological fringe.

avatar Tim Holton April 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Your antidote to homosexuality is to “raise children in the forms of piety to the most profound things you can know: to the generations of family who made them possible; to the natural community that may, if not ignored by the placeless, give form to their lives; and to the God who creates and governs all things, and in the thought of Whom alone can we find that which is most sweet and enduring”?

Is there a shred of evidence that homosexuality is LEARNED? And are gays incapable of piety to every one of those things you name?

Nancy said it: to be blind to the authentic and natural feelings of certain individuals, dismissing those affections as merely narcissistic, is simply ignorant — simply being oblivious to reality. Furthermore it leads to such absurd and failed prescriptions as psychotherapy to “correct” homosexuals or to properly “teaching piety”. Perhaps natural affections are so unreliable — indeed, misleading — that we should defy their Creator and enforce instead our own law: only marriage between people WITHOUT natural affection for each other will be recognized. After all, how many heterosexual marriages originate as ill-advised bonds of lust? By reason, would the likes of Mr Cooney defend such marriages on the grounds that at least they’re FERTILE??? Can we agree that sustaining life and community is more than a biological act, does not even necessitate biological fertility? Does one’s sexuality — or fertility — render him worthless to the vitality of a community? Evidence, please???

avatar Tim Holton April 23, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Sorry — should’ve said, “Does one’s homosexuality — or infertility — render him worthless to the vitality of a community? “

avatar T. Chan April 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Nathan: Could you please elaborate on what it is you are advocating?

avatar GingerMan April 23, 2011 at 5:25 pm

@Tim Holton

I don’t think the argument is that piety is the antidote to homosexuality. Rather, piety is the antidote to becoming a deracinated meritocrat (whatever that may be). The confusing part is the combined statements that true communities no longer exist with the proclamation that one should commit oneself to living within one.

Essentially, by losing ties to a given place, one loosens ties to a particular community. And since it is these “hypermobile” meritocrats that rise to control society and legal frameworks of culture (the “future leaders” at Brown), they don’t feel bound to respect those things that are valued by the local culture (marriage = one man + one woman) since they are no longer embedded in one and succeeded explicitly by leaving such a place behind them.

Basically, the message is get a job pumping gas in your home town, go to church, have lots of kids.

avatar JonF April 23, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Two things I will object to here, and an additional counter-comment to another poster:

One: the notion that marriage as an institution of love is somehow modern or recent is fallacious. The idea is ancient, and you can blame Christianity for it, since it was Christianity that idealized marriage as exactly that: romantic/erotic love raised to sacramental status. To be sure, for many centuries royalty and nobility obscured this from our view with their political (and often loveless) marriages, but this was a corruption of the ideal, not a cultural norm.
Two: People who support same sex marriage are not trying to destroy the nuclear faimily. This is a canard that is not worthy of any honest social critic. Those who agitate for SSM are trying to open up the institution to those who are excluded from it. There’s plenty of room to argue whether this is a good idea, but demonizing those you disagree with by imputing sinister and malefic motives to them is also unworthy of honest argumentation.

Finally, to Johusa Cooney, what do empty houses have to do with SSM? seems to me a married same sex couple is less likely to have an empty house than if they stayed single. I suspect your real target is here is divorce (and count me in, if that is the target), but like many social conservatives you are unwilling to criticize your fellow heterosexuals so it’s easier to scapegoat others whose lives and loves are alien to you.
Well, no, I see by reading further than you are thumping the tub against contracpetion instead. Goodness, if you dislike the idea of people not having children– though I don’t know what business it is of yours– it’s a good thing you were not born into the Age of Faith when great numbers of people embraced the sterility of the cloister and the convent. But take comfort in knowing that there is no great shortage of humans on this Earth, indeed the vast madding crowd is rather difficult to avoid, and this will not be changing any time soon. Emptiness is the last problem we have. In any event SSM is no danger to childbirth; these people will not be having children in heterosexual marriages anyway, and their numbers, as a fraction of total population, are a good deal smaller than those medieval celibates who took the tonsure and the vail were to their time.

avatar Tim Holton April 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Well said, JonF. Mr Cooney, in your well-intended quest to find basis for society you are debasing marriage from, as x.trapnel rightly puts it, “communal acknowledgement of *natural ties*.” The post as well as your reply are based on ideology–a priori assertion of an idea–not reason from observation and actual human experience. You have a ready, pre-formulated answer to every gay person who seeks a primary life partner before you’ve even met that individual. And you assert the truth of your own sexual preferences over those of others. The threat you perceive to heterosexuality reads, frankly, as singularly paranoid, as though homosexuality is an epidemic threatening to wipe out civilization. In Mr Wilson’s statement, “Regardless of whether same-sex ‘marriage’ ever becomes the legal fiction of our land, most persons have already assented to the principle on which it is based: the only thing requisite for a binding familial union between two persons is sincere affection (needless to say, the ‘binding’ may be dissolved should that affection abate)” — “needless to say” translates, “needless to observe and to fairly and justly consider”. “Needless to say” translates, “needless to test our prejudices against reality.” This not only ideology but the height of the sin of arrogance.

Ginger man:
I stand corrected. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t defend the fractious, irresponsible treatment of others demonstrated by these students. Nevertheless, what is the right response to gay people who seek devotional primary bonds? Deracinate them from the community? In fact, what is the right response of a heterosexual majority to a homosexual minority? “Correct” the behavior the majority PRESUMES “unnatural”? Push gays under ground? Arrange “opposite sex marriages” for them? Mandate and enforce celibacy among them? Maybe (a bit apprehensive here) Nathan’s concocting a scheme. Let’s hope it’s not as ominous as it already sounds.

And let’s admit some intellectual honesty and responsibility on the Porch: this argument is built on the notion that homosexuality is unnatural. Asserting that some human beings are unnatural is tantamount to asserting that they’re subhuman. Mr Wilson and Mr Cooney obviously find them a threat to the community. I would refer you to the It Gets Better Project ( ). You, sirs, are suggesting ideas that sometimes lead to REAL, not IMAGINED, deadly consequences.

Finally, Brandon, re: “There’s sure a lot of liberal types that read FPR.” — In my experience, true conservatives are frequently what you would call “liberal types.” Notwithstanding essays like this one, the front porch (if not the Front Porch) I know is an open place; its LIBERALITY in being open to the whole community — vitalizing the whole community, contributing to the threads of the social fabric — is PRECISELY what makes it CONSERVATIVE. If you’re looking for debased conservatism, a place to help you conserve your prejudices, perhaps it’s a silo you’re looking for.

avatar Brandon April 23, 2011 at 6:58 pm

“the whole community”

what is this “whole community” you speak of? I’m interested, because if it consists of the radical inclusiveness you appear to advocate, what is its substance and what is it actually conserving?

avatar Tim Holton April 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Brandon –
Our character as whole human beings, social human beings. It’s conserving the covenant necessary to sustain imperfect individuals.

Who do you propose civilized people exclude and why?

avatar Tim Holton April 23, 2011 at 8:02 pm

…and, I fear to ask, how would you exclude them?

avatar Brandon April 23, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Actually, you may be surprised know, I don’t believe any human person should be excluded. But a healthy and flourishing community should exclude and discourage certain BEHAVIORS. Integral to a flourishing community are commonly held, normative standards of what constitutes social health in general. These standards should be extended to sexual matters as well as all appetite in general. Just as it should be seen as inappropriate for those with urges to run naked through the public square or expose themselves to children to act up these urges, so should wayward sexual proclivites like incest, necrophilia, bdsm, or even plain promiscuity be discouraged from mainstream expression. I would include open homosexual behavior as a part of this. Many people wouldn’t and I know this opens me to charges of “prejudice” and “bigotry” here. So be it. I am of the view that only reason many view this in such as way is the fact that homosexuality has been mainstreamed a great deal in the last two decades.

As to how society would exclude these behaviors from open practice in the mainstream, I think good old fashioned stigma and shaming work just fine. This is seen as blasphemy in the modern liberal order of absolute social egalitarianism where every saintly act is the equal of that of a sociopath, but any civilized community must address the issue of what behaviors will be tolerated and which will not. Of course, respect should be paid the physical person of all, and malicious attack on either person or property should be dealt with.

avatar Dave Trowbridge April 24, 2011 at 12:33 am

Joshua Cooney says: “I don’t think the thread needs to be turned into a pseudoscientific discussion of global demographics. Suffice it to say, no amount of incoherent sophistry will allow homosexual unions to produce children. Nor will it demonstrate that contraception and abortion are not forces in the decline of fertility in the United States and Europe. They clearly are.”

Unfortunately, the facts are against your little “just so” story about the role of contraception and abortion. The decline in fertility predates reliable birth control by many years. And as Marina Adshade points out here (, before contraceptives people had all manner of ways to control fertility, including abortion, but did not start using them to reduce family size until about 1800:

“Contraceptives when seen in this light are not the catalyst for social change and family sizes are not smaller today because contraceptives are available. Contraceptives are available because people wanted smaller families and contraceptives made it possible to achieve that goal at a lower cost. The fact that the expected number of children born per woman in her child-bearing years in the US today is almost exactly the same level today as it was in the mid-1930’s demonstrates that achieving the current level of fertility was possible even without the birth control pill.”

So, Mr. Cooney, you’re going to have come up with some other pseudo-moral sophistry to support your incoherent opposition to family values.

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 24, 2011 at 8:41 am

Jon F.,

I’m certainly willing to criticize the mess “heterosexuals” have made of marriage. I wasn’t trying to make a comprehensive analysis, simply pointing out one aspect of the decline of marriage.

For the record, I would agree that the decline originates with failed marriages between men and women. However, that does not imply that I ought to sanction homosexual marriage, which is certainly a symptom of the overall disease.

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 24, 2011 at 8:48 am


You are imputing quite alot to my statement that is not there. If you don’t think contraception influences birthrates at this moment in time, well I don’t know what to say.

Most significantly, however, is that I am not a materialist determinist. Therefore, I suspect that men act from ideas. Contraceptives don’t cause people to stop having babies anymore than handguns load themselves and shoot people.

avatar JonF April 24, 2011 at 9:12 am

You did not address my point about celibacy in times past. If homosexuality, or chidlless heterosexual marriages, are a problem, why wasn’t widespread monasticism– and in an era that was far closer to the edge of denographic disaster than we are? To be sure, if you want to claim that religious asceticism is morally superior to any sort of sexual relaionship, you will find no arguemnt from me. I believe that too. But the demographic consequences (which seems to be your main concern) are the same in both cases.
Personally I find natalism to be both a needless moral panic and a profoundly un-Christian POV. Natalism objectifies men and women, reducing them to nothing more than their instrumental value as studs and broodmares. Thank you but no. The value of humanity, made in imago Dei, lies elsewhere than its ability to make more of itself. That’s something any tomcat, heck any bacterium, can do.
As for “needless”, well there are incredibly vast numbers of us. You ought consult a graph of population sometime. Would the world really be an evil place if our numbers fell back (peacefully, without carnage) to what they were when I was born (c. 3 billion) or even what they were when this country was born (about 1 billion)? Others on this site occasionally warn about the dangers of global warning, resource depletion etc. I have a healthy skepticism about any sort of catastrophism, but I do think prudence is one of the chiefmost virtues, and we could do worse than take the ancient Greek maxim, ΜΗΔΕΝ ΑΓΑΝ, Nothing In Excess, as our own.
Re, your comment to Dave (if I may intrude there). Contraceptives certainly do cause people to have fewer children, and quite directly. That’s the whole purpose of them. Of course that only works when people take them, but I assume you are not positing some sort of sympathetic magic effect whereby people who do not use birth control also have fewer children because other people are using it.

avatar To April 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

Many homosexual couples are taking in children that heterosexuals abandoned to the state. Homosexuals may not be able to produce and bear offspring themselves, but they are capable of providing homes and families to those children who are without both.

avatar GingerMan April 24, 2011 at 10:06 am

re: Joshua v. Dave

I think both sides have validity. Dave’s point is that it is too simplistic to say that we now have a contraceptive mentality, whereas formerly we did not. We have always sought means to control childbearing, but now we have a principally technological basis (the Pill) rather than a cultural one (chastity) for doing so.

I think everyone can agree, that the loss of the necessity for a cultural solution for controlling childbearing (via widespread availability of reliable inexpensive birth control) has been a led to a substantial change in the general cultural mores and assumptions regarding sex.

I agree with Joshua that it doesn’t make sense to take a completely materialist stance. Once our basic needs are met (food, clothing, shelter), most of what we *want* is heavily influenced by what our culture/family/experience teaches us to value. However, I do think that the materialist framework cannot be easily discarded.

That’s what annoys me, personally, about wailing laments the focus exclusively on an narrative of cultural decline, as if it was the cultural vanguard that *caused* the 60′s social revolution to occur. In short, without the invention of the Pill, without the creation of a modern industrial economy, without the vast wealth and prosperity of the American middle class, you’d have a much harder time getting the philosophy of Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll off the ground.

There are material circumstances wherein certain cultural values make sense and reinforce our lived experience and others where those same cultural values are fighting against everyday experience. In the latter case, I think it is culture that is much more likely to adapt than the other way around.

For all the darts thrown at the upper-class meritocrats in the essay, Douthat and Millman had a useful exchange regarding that generally known fact that the *conservative* values surrounding marriage and out-of-wedlock birth are most adhered to by the meritocratic elite themselves:

The “divorce revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s – the revolution that ended my parents’ marriage and the marriages of so many of my peers’ parents – is, as Ross knows, over among the “upper half” of our society, educationally and/or economically. For those with a college degree and a middle-class income, lifelong companionate marriage is again the norm, along with a later age of childbirth … What Ross rightly worries about is that anything resembling stable family life continues to unravel for the other half, with rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce at alarmingly high levels and continuing to rise. I worry about that problem as well. But it is not at all obvious to me what the question of same-sex marriage has to do with this problem. Hidden behind the argument is some kind of populist notion: same-sex marriage is an elite project and the elites don’t need any more projects, thank-you very much – it’s time to do something for those left behind. But if the argument is that we need the “elite” of society to set a better example for the plebes – well, in this part of life at least, they are, aren’t they? They’re deferring childbirth and staying married and all the rest of it. …

Or, perhaps, the argument is a paternalist one masquerading as a populist one. That is to say: the problem isn’t that the elites aren’t behaving well; the problem is that the elites are behaving well but are doing so in ways that the plebes can’t imitate (because they aren’t smart or economically resourceful enough) or won’t imitate (because the elites appear culturally alien). So the elites need to adopt enough of the manners and prejudices of the plebes to be culturally credible, so that the plebes will actually try to imitate them. Forgive me, but I just find it very unlikely that a wide swathe of society, having developed adaptations to technological and economic change that works for them, will abandon those adaptations in favor of a return to a model that failed for them a generation earlier, simply out of a kind of noblesse oblige.

[emphasis mine]

Given the above, admonitions to “throw your pills and condoms in the trash and make babies” are just so much sound and fury. It is precisely the delaying of childbearing (through contraception) and the acquisition of advanced education that is allowing the “upper half,” as Millman labels, it to create the more stable marriages, families and communities that conservatives value.

Unless that social calculus changes, then (to repeat Millman) I just find it very unlikely that a wide swathe of society, having developed adaptations to technological and economic change that works for them, will abandon those adaptations in favor of a return to a model that failed for them a generation earlier.

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 24, 2011 at 11:17 am

Jon F. ,

Demographic consequences were not my main concern. I believe my original statement hinted toward the state of families and communities, as well as the culture we leave posterity. Sanctioning and promoting homosexual marriage will, I think, harm families and communities over the long haul and will contribute to a debased civilization that we shall leave to our descendents.

That does not mean that homosexual marriage is the leading cause of the decline of western civilization nor will preserving the legal definition of “one man, one woman,” necessarily save us from the continuing revolution.

Perhaps I made a grave mistake by linking homosexual marriage with widespread birth control as two parts of a single revolution; using the word “sterile” (and pointing out the irrefutable fact that homosexual “sex” cannot create human life) and suggesting that when a civilization refuses to reproduce, that civilization is doomed to extinction, were further errors in judgment.

Perhaps I am wrong and that all the babble about reproductive and marriage “rights” are only tales told by idiots, signifying nothing. On the other hand, I suspect they are very much ingrained in the modern project: the Self rejecting God and Nature on a quest to remake the world his own image.

I think it regrettable that Professor Wilson’s post has descended into the abyss. I’ll take my share of blame for apparently getting it off on the wrong track. There is a dilemma as to whether or not I should respond to every rebuttal or attack and continue to drive the discussion into outer space. I’d say, enough has been said. Christ is risen. Enjoy Easter.

avatar JonF April 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm

You say you are not concerned about demographics, but then I have a hard time understanding what your issue is. If you do not dread real world consequences to those practices you decry, then why decry them? It seems to me as directionless as decrying the keeping of cats, lefthandedness or red hair (all things that were morally suspect for no good reason in past eras)
We are by the way still reproducing ourselves, but at a lesser pace than in past eras. Given that our children are much less likely to be carried off by cruel and untimely death, this seems not inappropriate.
The choice of how many children to have (or whether to have any) and when to have them is a deeply personal decision; there is no one size fits all answer there. If you feel called to have many children then you have nothing but my best wishes, as long as you can provide for them, and not just materially.

Re: Sterile sex. Nearly all human sex is already sterile, for the simple reason that the woman is not unvulating when it occurs. This fact needs to be put front and center in any moral calculus involving sex. If Nature or Nature’s God had intended human sex to be tight-linked to procreation our females would have announced estrual cycles as almost all other animals do. And yet that is not the case. For this reason I categoricaly reject “natural law” thinking here– because such thinking starts out by ignoring nature itself.
Civilization is debased to its core, and always will be, until the Parousia, when we shall have something more than civilization. This is the meaning of Original Sin. And if our decsendants find some aspect of the world they hold is not to their liking they are free to change it (I am speaking only of human-directed things of course); we can no more bind them in these things than we can command the tides. That is folly and hubris whoever thinks it. We have only our own world to order and live in; the future is not ours.
Christ is risen! A blessed Paschal season to all.

avatar George Marshall April 25, 2011 at 11:27 am

Very interesting discussion above. One general line of argument above is that SSM harms society by harming heterosexual marriage. Is there any evidence of that anywhere? Are heterosexuals less likely to get married or have children because of SSM? Which strengthens a community, having a married gay couple next door or an unmarried heterosexual couple? Is there someone out there saying, “You know, I was going to stay married to you, but gays can get married now, so I guess we better get a divorce.” Divorce rates have been declining in the US, even though some states allow gay marriage. Massachusetts has one of the lowest divorce rates. Where is the evidence of any harm? What is a “traditional” marriage anymore? In the 50′s mom stayed at home and took care of the kids while dad worked. Few lived together without being married. Divorce was for cause, had a stigma and it was difficult financially, especially for the woman. All that has changed and none of those changes has anything to do with SSM. I totally agree we should strengthen both marriages and community, but no one has presented any evidence that SSM harms marriage or community.

Finally, it is assumed above that all SSM are necessarily sterile. That is simply not true. There are some lesbian couples that are having children. There are some gay couples that are adopting children. Isn’t it better for those children to be raised by a married couple?

avatar Tim Holton April 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Glad to hear your distinction between excluding behaviors & persons. We agree; my “radical inclusiveness” is not a belief that “anything goes.”

I would not, however, regard public behavior, public shows of affection (like holding hands), that are communally accepted between straight people as inappropriate between gay people. You make the common mistake of regarding homosexuality as a form of perversity — predatory, abusive, and/or exhibitionist. (Mr Polet makes the same mistake in his recent post, “Who You Have Sex With Is My Business.”) This is an irrational prejudice that follows from the mistaken belief that homosexuality’s unnatural. If my view to the contrary is due to, as you say, “the fact that homosexuality has been mainstreamed,” I counter that history and anthropology shows not only the occurrence of homosexuality is normal but that healthy communities have not always suppressed it or regarded it as abnormal. Don’t confuse the late modern era with human history. Where homosexuality has been suppressed, suppression itself has contributed to it seeming abnormal – especially so in communities where it’s especially suppressed and gays have been most likely to leave. Conversely, it’s more rapidly “mainstreamed” in communities where it’s accepted. In any case, as the natural occurrence of homosexuality is brought to light throughout society, perfectly respectable people – including gay people – come to recognize it not as unnatural or innately harmful or contagious, and so it becomes further “mainstreamed.” “Mainstreaming” in this case is the failure of suppression – failure due not to societal decadence but to irrepressible nature.

But fear not: mainstreaming need not mean for gays, any more than it does for straights, having sex at noon in toddler parks. Nor will it decrease the number of straight people or their fertility. Nor should I or any straight married person feel their own marriage threatened by that of two guys down the street who are known to be gay simply because they live together and might be seen holding hands or even kissing each other goodbye in the morning on their ways to work. That whole argument rests on the assumption that homosexuality is learned, which is the ludicrous fantasy of people unnaturally insulated from the natural reality of homosexuality. Teenagers don’t kill themselves for having feelings they’ve “learned” and “learned” so well that they’ve successfully “forgotten” their heterosexual appetites. (Any straight person who remembers puberty will find that suggestion insane.) “Unlearning” homosexuality, were it possible, would be a far easier choice than suicide.

In other words, society has many ills, many signs of decadence, but homosexuality is not one of them. The general cynicism & separatist tendencies of FPR notwithstanding, “mainstreaming” of gays – including the acceptance and communal recognition of perfectly healthy primary bonds – may be one example of people in recent years getting things right. The very idea!

avatar Brandon April 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm

The reason I take such a black and white view on the issue of homosexuality is because I see it as the response I’m forced to come to in the face of the large organized homosexual movement in America–most of the people that claim this movement as their ideological home are beyond reason. The loud trumpeting of open depravity (have you ever witnessed a “pride” parade?), the trashing of Christianity, traditional values and sex roles, and their general alliance with the perverse character of the sexual revolution. These displays and loyalties make me skeptical that this way of life could ever co-exist with traditional morality of the civilized and communal variety. Now I know it can be argued that these unsavory elements constitute only a minority of homosexuals, but they are their most visible (and vocal) public face. I see very few “normal homosexuals” calling this movement out on their frequently disgusting and highly ridiculous antics.

As far as the argument resting on homosexuality being learned, I never have believed this. I’m with you that homosexual urges are irreversible. So are the delusions of schizophrenia or the genetic horrors of Huntington’s disease, yet no one is clamoring to accept these as exemplars of flourishing mental or physical health.

You appear to speak of “nature” in vaguely Freudian terms with the usage of concepts like “repression” and whatnot. A few of us (Dr. Wilson is one, I presume) conceive of nature in terms of telos or final ends. This may be the primary source of disagreement here.

I appreciate your non-hostile and thoughtful replys. Thank you.

avatar Tim Holton April 26, 2011 at 11:24 am

I don’t think the comparison between homosexuality and schizophrenia (less acquainted with Huntington’s, so won’t go there) is scientifically accurate. Schizophrenia has a strong cultural component, and at least some forms and at some stages it’s reversible — or at least symptoms are.

As to your basing (in part) your objection to homosexuality on the most visible manifestations of homosexuality, like pride parades, atheists make the same argument about those of religious faith. In the sixties, racist whites pointed at the armed Black Panthers and at the looting “Burn, baby, burn” elements in places like Watts as representative of blacks generally. Since I’m not even gay, I’m not going pose as a spokesman for gays, but can speculate that there’s a natural reluctance to give the majority another club to beat them with. I know many gay people who find the worst antics deplorable but probably understand it as the over-compensation of a historically repressed minority. Repression has consequences; these displays are one. The gay folks I know wear their sexuality the same respectable way you (making a presumption here based on the drift of the conversation) and I do — without flaunting it, but with propriety and without shame.

As to telos, I may out of my league as a philosophy scholar, but as I said above, looking at sexuality with regard to ends, surely we can agree that the purpose of human society, the sustenance of the life of the community, depends on more than the biological procreation of individuals.

avatar Tony Esolen April 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm

What the TFP men do not say, and perhaps what they should say, and might even approve of saying, is that the whole sexual revolution has been a disaster. It has been especially disastrous for those portions of the population that the deracinated meritocrats do not live nearby. I think, finally, that it is time to say, openly, that what the body “says” in sexual intercourse is, “I give myself to you totally, and not only for this moment, but for all my time on earth, because what we are now doing is what makes for the future generations,” in other words, the baby-making thing. That is what the body says. Oh, the people involved in the act may not be saying it; I know this too well. But even then, on some level, they have to pretend to be saying it. They have to pretend to be in the throes of a passion that feints towards the everlasting. It is, of course, a lie.

So, in order to protect the right to continue lying to one another and to ourselves, to continue to pretend that the baby-making act does not make babies (or does so only in cases of terrible accidents), we have to accept all of the community-destroying consequences of the sexual revolution. I am looking at some of those consequences right now, out my front window: the apartments full of transient families, children born out of wedlock, moral and physical chaos, and the inevitable violence. Call it living downstream from the elites and their well-cushioned sexual amoralism.

If the sexual revolution was so wonderful, where — I am asking — are the rewards of it, in families that are stronger than ever, coherent communities, children well-adjusted and loved, happier marriages, less disease, less abortion, greater love and admiration of each sex for the other, a sweeter and more human culture — where is this?

avatar Brandon April 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Dr. Esolen! Good to read your comment, sir. I second your thoughts.

avatar Brandon April 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm


I think that the general consensus in psychology is that most of the human experience is a reflection of both nature and nurture. So, while homosexuality is of course not learned or a choice, certain environmental factors may very well play a part in its eventual expression. An explicit “gay gene” has not been found after all. My point in the comparison to schizophrenia was not to start a nature vs. nurture debate but rather to point out that like homosexual urges, schizophrenic delusions are not reversible as well as not ideal for a normative state of being.

Comparing black panthers or religious radicals to organized homosexuality is unhelpful because while these groups have commited external acts of terrorism or criminality, they never tried to subvert or undermine the core attributes of human phenomenology, ie essential masculinity or femininity. See the “genderf*** artist” group know as the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence”. In addition they never allied themselves with such gross perversions of the sex act itself such as bondage or even pedophilia- (see NAMBLA)

While you attribute the worst of the gay movement’s attributes to historical repression, it could be that behavior of this sort is simply a reflection of their intrinsically disordered condition.
Still I am willing to consider that in the long run I may be incorrect in this assertion. Only time will tell.

avatar JimWilton April 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm

This is a thoughtful article.

The central point is the old observation that since the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism we have moved from a society where relationship is largely defined by status (place in a community) to a society where relationship is largely defined by contract (characterized by mobility). Where, in my view, the argument breaks down is in viewing a society defined by status as necessarily a “good” society. For example, slavery in the antebellum South flourished in a pre-industrial society where relationships were defined by status. Few would argue that this was a good or virtuous society.

For the moment, we can ignore the fact that TFP is a provocative Catholic advocacy organization with an agenda of attracting media exposure in communities where they are not welcome. Even assuming that TPG represented community values in Providence, RI (which it does not), where those values include the marginalization, ostracism and rejection of minority members of the community for traits as intrinsic as sexual orientation — we are justified in rejecting the organization and its tactics.

avatar Jan April 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

  The essay merely points out that what has been shouted from the roof tops, television screens, radios and blog posts for decades: the liberation of the individual to pursue his desires, proclivities, and preferences without hindrance from culture, religion, custom, or even nature. 

The homosexual “marriage” movement is merely a logical step along the same disastrous path.  I don’t see what’s controversial about that.  

avatar Joshua D. Cooney April 27, 2011 at 5:35 pm

To the numerous people who wish to quarrel with my use of the word “sterile” to describe sex between gays as well as between men and women using contraceptives, the word implies much more than simply not reproducint. I think Mr. Esolen has defined that sterility perfectly.

avatar Tim Holton April 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

The sterility argument here strikes me as the untenable result of anti-utilitarians who’ve succumbed to the temptations of utilitarian logic.

avatar andrew April 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm

suppose we forget the term “marriage” long enough to think clearly. could we not all agree that there is *something* in the universe — all cultures have recognized it — consisting of a man and a woman who are comprehensively united both permanently and exclusively and whose union is oriented toward bearing and raising children? that this *something* is pre-political and not subject to revision?

this *something* that clearly exists necessarily excludes homosexuals because homosexuals are ontologically incapable of comprehensive union. call it what you like, but this *something* cannot not exclude homosexuals by its very definition.

therefore, in what sense is this exclusion unjust? you may as well say that excluding achondroplastic paraplegic dwarves from playing in the NFL is “unjust.”

incidentally, ethnicity has always been an irrelevant criterion for exclusion from this *something* despite the existence of anti-miscegenation laws. in contrast, homosexual genital acts are not unitive in any ontologically meaningful sense; this plain fact forms the basis for justified, necessary exclusion from this *something* that we all recognize exists.

in sum, there is no injustice in recognizing that 2+2=4.

avatar JimWilton April 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

No. We cannot all agree that a permanent and exclusive union between a man and a woman is universally recognized in all cultures as the definition of what is normal — because it is not.

There are cultures that recognize polygamy (Utah) and polyandry (Tibet) as normal. There are cultures that recognize marriage between a man and a woman but that tolerate males having mistresses as normal. There are cultures comprising the bedrock of Western civilization that recognize homosexual relationships between males as important methods for transmitting culture from one generation to another (Ancient Greece). And there are cultures that pay lip service to the importance of permanent, exclusive unions between a man and a woman but that incorporate termination of relationships and changing of partners as normal in practice.

avatar andrew April 29, 2011 at 6:16 pm


who said anything about “normal” v. “abnormal” behavior? i was referring to a unique pre-political institution that all cultures have recognized, notwithstanding the existence of deviant (in the non-pejorative sense) behaviors.


avatar JonF April 30, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Re: have you ever witnessed a “pride” parade

Yes I have. And I can’t say as I was particularly shocked. Bawdiness is a natural and normal part of human cultures. I am not much inclined that way myself, but neither do I feel the reflexes of a prude. Gay pride events are no worse in this regrad than a New Orleans Mardi Gras, a Brazilian Carnival, or, for that matter, than the old medieval Feast of Fools, or an ancient Greek Bacchnalia.

avatar Brandon April 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I was not “particularly shocked” either, rather just disgusted by such blatant mockery and perversion of the Good, True, and Beautiful.

avatar JimWilton May 1, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Andrew, again, I think you are on shaky ground even if you are conceding that a range of sexual configurations are normal (I appreciate that you may not be conceding this).

Your statement was that a permanent and exclusive union between a man and a woman that is oriented toward bearing and raising children is a “something” that is recognized in all cultures. There are certainly world cultures that do not accept your criteria for male / female relationships that are permanent and exclusive.

I suspect that when you come down to it you are either making a value judgment based on personal beliefs about the morality of same sex unions or an argument based on the ability to procreate. You mention a “comprehensive” quality to the union between male and female that is lacking in a homosexual union. I am not sure what you mean — but I suspect you are positing that child bearing is a requirement for a comprehensive union. The trouble with this argument is that you are unwilling to extend the same logic to heterosexual couples that are unable to procreate (at least to the extent of arguing that they should be denied the right to marry).

So, I really think that your argument boils down to an argument that same sex marriage should be illegal because homosexual unions are immoral.

I won’t argue with a your moral vision — as I think that you are entitled to your views. But I have more respect for values and virtues that are cultivated through personal self-reflection –rather than virtues imposed through moral codes. And I have a personal bias toward virtues of compassion, generosity, etc. that I see as too often lacking in opponents of same sex unions.

The values may actually be worth debating. But first we have to get away from simplistic beliefs that our personal value judgments are right as a matter of arithmetic.

avatar JonF May 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Re: I was not “particularly shocked” either, rather just disgusted by such blatant mockery and perversion of the Good, True, and Beautiful.

Would you be equally shocked by the other bawdy celebrations I mentioned? A bachnalia I will grant you front; I’d probably be shocked too, if only because the culture and religion would be too alien. But a Mardi Gras or Carnival? A Feast of Fools (where church hierarchs and even saints were lampooned sexually)?
Quite frankly I have to wonder how broad your experience is that a gay pride event would be so shocking. Just wandering down Bourbon Street on a non-Mardi Grad night you’ll see worse. Heck, you can turn on TV and see worse.

avatar Max May 1, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I think you misunderstand Andrew.  Though there have been some variations in the *something* he refers too (polygamy for example) the essense of this *something* has been the same since the Neanderthals.  That just requires simple observation.  

One of the problems with the SSM argument is that it depends on a series of abstractions which obfuscate important distinctions.  At the very least we should be honest and open about the differences between homosexuality and heterosexuality.  Then we might think about the best words to use to name those relationships.

You also repeat the common 
Comparison between sterile heterosexual marriages  and homosexual couples.  This has has been addressed by Robert George and others.  I am probably putting this too simply but, a marriage that is infertile is still not comparable to a homosexual relationship because the infertile married couple are not the same sex.  Their complementarity isn’t soley a function of their genitals, it’s also a function of their entire sexual difference and all that entails.  To accept the SSM argument one must accept that there is no  difference that matters between men and women.  

This is just one of several abstractions which I find unconvincing and unhelpful.

avatar Brandon May 1, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Yeah, I’m disgusted by all that other stuff too.

avatar JonF May 2, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Be very careful of making a connection between “is” and “ought”. just saying “this has never been done before” is in no way dispositive. Once upon a time women were allowed no role in political events, slavery and torture were universal to every civilization, human waste was flung into the streets, and “Love your enemies” was unuttered and inconceivable.

avatar Carson May 3, 2011 at 8:28 am

Yes, sir Mr. Hume

avatar Max May 3, 2011 at 10:50 am

Yes, though Hume would not mis-apply the is/ought distinction as JonF is doing here.

avatar JonF May 3, 2011 at 6:21 pm

How am I misapplying the distinction? I am warning others against it. Perhaps there is a fine print exception for those who use past tense verbs (“Whatever was is right”)?
Does anyone really want to defend a proposition of the form “Human cultures have always done X, therefore X must be good and right”? Come on, that sort of naive optimism makes Pelagius sound like John Calvin.

avatar "Unto you that hear" May 4, 2011 at 7:04 pm


“While you attribute the worst of the Catholic Church’s attributes to historical repression, it could be that behavior of this sort is simply a reflection of their intrinsically disordered condition.

Still I am willing to consider that in the long run I may be incorrect in this assertion. Only time will tell.”

Feel free to substitute whatever group you like that has ever in its history behaved badly. Don’t worry – the really powerful reasoning works for them all.

avatar Max May 4, 2011 at 10:44 pm

“Does anyone really want to defend a proposition of the form “Human cultures have always done X, therefore X must be good and right”? ”
Does anyone want to start calling a nail a hammer just because a few people think it’s a good idea?

avatar Siarlys Jenkins May 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I’m not committed to the notion that we must deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I think it is becoming increasingly obvious that in every generation, for some reason or other, a certain minority of the population will indeed find hormonal attraction and emotional comfort in an individual of their own sex. I don’t know why. I’m nor sure it much matters.

I do think the essay way back up above the 64 comments already posted makes some valid points. Whether a gay marriage works for this or that individual, it remains a stark biological fact that heterosexuality is the norm for the human species, and homosexuality is an irrelevant side show. That is true whether one refers to Darwin or the Bible, and it is beyond the power of the Constitution of the United States of America to change it. The shrill voices demanding that we all have to admire and respect people for their homosexual proclivities are wrong. I have a civil right to believe that the choices you have a civil right to make, stink, or, to not particularly care about your choices at all.

There is value and meaning to the union of a man and a woman that no homosexual union can ever be equivalent to. There is good reason to believe that, all other things being equal, the healthiest upbringing a child of either sex can have is provided by a mother and a father. All other things are not equal, so there is also good reason to believe that a child is better off with a lesbian birth mother who lives her or him, than with a foster couple and all the wrenching loss of a sense of place that comes with such a transition. There is also good reason to prefer a stable, loving gay couple over bouncing around foster care, or an abusive heterosexual couple.

What does all this have to do with sense of place? I’m not sure it is directly related. Gay couples tend to develop a sense of place, if only because they feel a hostile environment outside of the Castro, or the Mission, or various other communities that make them feel at home. I have a sense of place about several places. I’d like to live the rest of my life in all of them, and get to know the neighbors in each one. Going back to visit doesn’t quite do it, because life goes on in my absence, other people’s lives didn’t freeze when I caught a train elsewhere. Home is where I registered to vote.

avatar andrew May 19, 2011 at 12:32 am

jonf is right and wrong to invoke hume. he is right to state that “ought” cannot be derived from “is” insofar as “is” refers to convention. in other words, that which is descriptive cannot be made into that which is normative. both hume and jonf are correct.

but by invoking hume, it seems jonf misreads the argument in question to be one of “social convention.” to clarify at least my own position, the “nature” of a thing necessarily excludes things of other “natures.” a lung cannot be a stomach no matter how deeply it wants to be. a baseball cannot be a brain no matter how deeply it wants to be.

since the “nature” of this *something* known as “marriage” is given to us by reality and is therefore pre-political, we have no choice but to take reality as it is, much as we would take the nature of “1″ as it is. and there is no injustice whatsoever in stating that the “nature” of “1″ necessarily excludes the “nature” of “0.”

avatar hcat February 17, 2012 at 9:37 pm

You guys have a great vision of “community.” It does exclude most of suburbia, which is based on, as Francis Schaeffer said, Personal peace and affluence. The “homestead farm” and the “small town” are actually two rival visions that compete for the image of suburbia.

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