Family and the Future of Civilization

May 4, 2021 by

by Scott Yenor, Institute for Family Studies:

Our politics and culture used to support marriage as an enduring community. The Supreme Court saw marriage as “fundamental to our very existence and survival” as a self-governing people. Lawmakers across the land contributed to a culture that encouraged couples to marry and stay together and to have children and raise them to honorable adulthood.  Divorce was rare and discouraged. Obscenity was proscribed and less able to corrupt minds.

Over the past two generations, opponents of marriage have delivered a wide-ranging critique of this idea of marriage. For many today, the traditional idea of marriage as an enduring community limits individual freedom. They imagine, instead, a marriage dedicated to autonomy, “expression, intimacy, and spirituality,” as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his 2015 decision on same-sex marriage.

This denigration of marriage has, predictably, disrupted it. For the first time in our history, only half of Americans over 18 years old are married, down from 72% in 1960.  Trends among the young are even more dramatic: 35% of Americans between 18 and 50 years old have never been married, whereas that number was only 9% in 1970. Birth rates are also at historic lows. According to Pew Research, each passing generation has less of an attachment to communal marriage, with children at its core.

The new ideas of marriage may have yielded more freedom and equality, but they come at a price. This disruption of marriage has disrupted domestic tranquility. Many citizens are less happy, less stable, and less responsible as a result.

Traditional marriage is increasingly rare in our great cities and in swaths of rural America.  There, children and especially young men are less likely to have the habits and character that lead productive lives, to complete education, to follow the law, and to get and stay married. The sexes are often suspicious of one another, and they are less likely to have easy, peaceful relations. Instead, sexual relations are more likely to be exploitative and transitory. With less of a sense of belonging, suicide, drug use, and criminality among men and increasingly among women undermine the prospect of self-government and call into question the goodness of civilization. This has set a vicious circle in motion in one America.

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