A guest post by Dalrock.
Alan Roebuck recently asked Can Man Live Traditionally?
Alan answered yes, and went so far as to argue that a man has an obligation to marry even though this means marrying in a legal and social regime which has done all it can to eradicate traditional marriage, and even if this means marrying a woman who wouldn’t have been considered appropriate to marry by tradition minded men of past generations.
As a member of what I have dubbed the traditional marriage group within the manosphere, I asked Alan if he would be interested in me providing a response as a guest post. Alan very graciously accepted. I suggested this because while I differ in some important aspects with Alan’s position on the topic, I was impressed with his willingness to go against the grain of our thoroughly feminised culture and acknowledge the unpopular truths regarding what our society has transformed marriage into. While I think it is unlikely that opinions will be changed on either side, my hope with this exchange is that each of us will better understand the positions of the other.
My own answer to the question Can Man Live Traditionally? is: Perhaps, although not entirely, and either way there is great challenge and risk. This is a grave matter, and ultimately each man must seriously and thoughtfully weigh the risks and rewards and make his own decision.
I believe Alan and I are not that far apart in acknowledging that there are limits as to how much a man can mitigate our society’s decision to destroy traditional marriage (for that is precisely what our society has decided to do). I also believe we are in agreement that:
- As a result of overwhelming feminist success in redefining marriage, there are serious obstacles and risks involved with trying to reshape modern marriage into something which even somewhat resembles traditional marriage.
- Traditional marriage is so important, and something of such profound benefit both for the family it creates and for society at large that it is worth taking great risks and making great sacrifices in order to achieve something which approaches traditional marriage.
- For a moral minded man, opting not to marry means opting never to have sex or children; electing not to marry comes at an extremely high price.
- A marriage strike, or a boycott of marriage is not a wise path.
On the topic of a strike or boycott, I should clarify that I’m referring to the idea of collectively forgoing something of value in an effort to force a change to the social order. A strike or boycott is at best a noble collective temper tantrum; it is an attempt to collectively spite something desired as a form of protest. A man who engaged in a marriage strike or boycott would be deciding that while he would prefer marriage to remaining unmarried, he will go against his own best interests in an attempt to reform society as a whole. This is something entirely different than a man who wishes to have a traditional marriage* but decides not to accept a shored up form of modern marriage as a good enough substitute. This kind of decision by men is where I believe Alan and I disagree.
To understand why a tradition minded man might decide that it isn’t feasible to fashion modern marriage into something sufficiently like traditional marriage, we must first consider how different modern marriage is from traditional (real, biblical) marriage. The two are so incredibly different that traditional marriage is now quite a radical concept, even to the vast majority of those who would consider themselves traditional conservatives. Since we are focusing on whether men should marry, consider what a man would rightly expect as a husband in traditional marriage:
- The role of head of household.
- Marriage for life.
- Not to be denied sex by his wife.
- A bride who gives him her youth, virginity, and submission.
No doubt in times past many husbands found themselves having to make some compromises in one or more of the above, but if we are talking about traditional marriage these are all key aspects of what a husband should expect. Even when the law, culture, and the Church backed traditional marriage a man always had to weigh his expectations of receiving the benefits of traditional marriage verses the risk of ending up with something less. After all, not all prospective brides are equally likely to honor traditional marriage.
The problem for a tradition minded man today is greatly compounded by the fact that the law, culture, and nearly all of our churches are outright hostile to the idea of traditional marriage. To our modern ears most of what the Bible has to say about the roles of husbands and wives is outright shocking. Pastors and other religious leaders live in fear of angering the feminist sensibilities of both women and men, and as a result find ways to either avoid the offending passages altogether or go through ridiculous contortions in order to explain that the passages don’t really mean what they used to mean. With the churches in full submission feminists have been able to change both the family laws and social values to perfect their evisceration of traditional marriage.
While all four items listed above are offensive to feminists, the concept of headship (#1) is arguably the most despised. Fortunately for feminists destroying 2-4 has the benefit of also attacking headship. Feminists know that young, virgin brides are more likely to accept their husband as head of household. As a result it is now axiomatic that a woman must attain a sufficient amount of “life experience” and education/career prior to marriage, lest she suffer the fate of submitting to her husband. Likewise, denial of sex is a potent weapon for a rebellious wife to bring her husband into submission. The same is even true when it comes to no fault divorce. No fault divorce and the biased family courts don’t just break up families and rip children from their fathers. The constant threat of no fault divorce is a powerful way to overturn headship by redistributing power from the husband to the wife within marriages, even where divorce never occurs. This is well established by the academics who study marriage, as economists Stevenson and Wolfers explain in their paper Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress (emphasis mine):
In the literature on the economics of the family there has been growing consensus on the need to take bargaining and distribution within marriage seriously. Such models of the family rely on a threat point to determine distribution within the household. The switch to a unilateral divorce regime redistributes power in a marriage, giving power to the person who wants out, and reducing the power previously held by the partner interested in preserving the marriage.
But it isn’t just academics who understand this. Instead of leading his family, a modern husband now knows his responsibility is to focus on keeping his wife from becoming unhappy so she won’t destroy the family. This new view is the final nail in the coffin of headship, and yet it is unquestioningly accepted to an astonishing degree. In the most celebrated Christian movie on marriage the threat of divorce is the tool a rebellious wife uses to cause her husband to submit to her and become the man God wanted him to become. While not as severe, this frame of mind is even present in Alan’s argument:
We must also point out an uncomfortable truth: You may bear some of legitimate responsibility for your wife’s unhappiness. Not all female complaints are frivolous. Although it is wrong for the woman to allow these complaints to drive her to divorce, the man should not goad her into doing evil. If you can change those of your behaviors that ought to be changed, to prevent the great evil of divorce, more the better. Do whatever it takes, short of sin or dishonor, to prevent divorce.
Alan tempers this instruction with limits on how far a husband should go in this modern view of marital submission, but even tempered this frame of mind is wholly inconsistent with the traditional concept of headship. Husbands are instructed to lead with agape, but a husband cannot take on the moral burden this thoroughly modern view would place upon him and remain traditional in any meaningful sense of the term. Accepting this moral burden, even with the limits Alan proposes, places the wife’s emotional state as the fundamental authority of the household and turns the husband into a hostage negotiator. This is the disaster of modern marriage, and it robs a wife of a traditional husband who can shelter her from the storms of her own emotions. This leaves the modern wife untethered and craving the leadership her husband can no longer provide.
I’ve only scratched the surface in describing the ways modern marriage diverges from traditional marriage. While I agree with Alan that with proper selection of a wife and by taking proactive steps like learning Game some or even much of this can be remediated, I can see where a tradition minded man could decide that the profound benefits of traditional marriage are outweighed by the enormous difficulty and risks involved with trying to reshape modern marriage into something resembling traditional marriage. This isn’t the path I have chosen, and I have been incredibly blessed as a husband and a father. But I respect another man’s decision not to accept even a modified version of modern marriage as “good enough”.
G. K. Chesterson famously wrote:
The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.
While this is sadly true of conservatism at its worst, I would offer a more charitable description of the response of conservatives to each new successful assault on the institution of marriage:
That is insane!
Ok, I think I can still make it work if I…
Conservatives are at a disadvantage to feminists because making things work is part of who we are. We don’t walk away from difficult problems, we find a way to fix them. This can be something very noble, especially when a man is clear headed in what he is doing. However, just like a family member constantly covering for an alcoholic, continuously finding ever more creative ways to allow feminists to torture marriage without observing the natural outcomes ultimately risks amounting to enabling destructive behavior. This is especially problematic if we declare what other men must do to keep the appearance that feminists haven’t gutted traditional marriage. While conservatism at its best has been a noble effort to shield our society from as much of the negative effects of feminism as possible, at its worst it has acted as the anvil against which feminists hammer tradition minded men.
There is no functional support for a traditional married man. The law, the culture and even the churches are now outright hostile to the traditional view of marriage. I don’t see a man who carefully weighs his true options and elects not to accept modern marriage as a coward. Nor do I see my own marriage and children as a terrible burden, something which causes me to be offended that another man would refuse to suffer a similar fate alongside of me. The man who doesn’t accept modern marriage as a suitable substitute for the real thing isn’t failing me, and he isn’t failing traditional marriage. The heart of the damage to our culture has been done by modern churches in their abandonment of biblical marriage. Surprisingly it has taken over 40 years for us to start to see a decline in marriage rates due to the evisceration of traditional marriage, and this delay is what has allowed Christian leaders to lie to themselves that abandoning biblical marriage is something other than killing marriage. Even so, the decline we are starting to see in marriage rates is driven by women postponing marriage past their most fertile years and then finding it extremely difficult to find men who want to start a family with a woman in her 30s. We won’t save traditional marriage by finding a way to ensure that large numbers of women can safely focus their most fertile years on empowerment and find a husband at the last minute.
*I’ve focused on men who desire traditional marriage because the topic is how traditional men should live, and also because there is no moral meaning to modern marriage; it is merely a state and church sanctioned version of boyfriend and girlfriend. A man who desires modern marriage does not desire marriage at all, and therefore isn’t the focus of my attention here.