Throwing Out the Baby With the Diaper: A Response to Eric Posner on the Importance of Marriage

Eric’s provocative question whether “within-family reproduction is good in itself” is essentially asking whether the fall in fertility among existing Americans is fungible with the fecundity of recent immigrants from other nations and cultures. Without indulging too much American exceptionalism, I do think there is a distinctive American culture that is lost by that trade. Giving expression to that distinctiveness would violate every principle of blog writing, but for shorthand, let’s just say one finds evidence of it in everything from the natural law premises of this Republic’s Declaration of Independence to the great success of the recent John Adams HBO special to the content of any presidential aspirant’s stump speech. These things begin to capture some of what is lost by supposing immigration to be a perfect substitute for our modest replacement rate.

Thus the significance of sustaining the marital family is far more than a favorable worker-retiree ratio, though that would be helpful in itself to avoid the coming Social Security bankruptcy attributable to both the population decline, and more immediately, the extreme war-related fiscal irresponsibility of the incumbent president. I concede Eric’s point that it is more efficient to have people save for their own retirement and avoid transfer payments, but that is not the economic structure we have.

Eric’s pro-immigration sentiment expressed within the sentence “paying people to have more babies doesn’t seem reasonable when there are so many millions clamoring to get in” does earn two cheers from me , but it not only understates the uniqueness of American culture, it also misses entirely that a marital family is indeed worth preserving and far more than a “bourgeois construct designed to channel the revolutionary energy of sexuality into diaper changing and carpool planning.”

In its traditional form, marriage transforms by covenant the emotional and sexual attraction of two individuals into a lasting relationship ( AEI’s Michael Novak reports modern marriages have a 66 percent success rate) capable of sharing intimate personal goods as well as serving larger social purposes. That the California Supreme Court declares these same personal goods to be within a same-sex relationship has to date been the public debate. To leap from the acceptance of the inclusionary California ruling to the dismissal of marriage as a “bourgeois construct” is a far more revolutionary notion that I suggest Eric may wish to rethink by simply indulging the thought experiment of how uninviting a world without the civilizing efforts of marital family would be. When the marital union is strong, it is also stable, and in this atmosphere of stability children are welcomed and reared to be responsible, healthy, and well-educated citizens. Who exactly undertakes this responsibility under Eric’s model?

Intra-marital union or intra-family, freedom is acknowledged in exchange for the faithful performance by the family of social expectations or obligations toward the education and care of family members. The public sovereign respects the private marital union so long as it sustains itself and yields new individuals with sufficient qualities to maintain the ongoing functions of the community as a whole. In short, it is anticipated that those raised intra- family have received such direction that, upon emancipation and emergence into the public community as free and independent citizens, they will live productive lives and respect the equal dignity of human beings.

Finally, as for “the planet chok[ing] on the greenhouse-gas emissions of the multiplying hordes,” this neo-Malthusian supposition is empirically misdirected when world population growth has declined by more than 40 percent since the late 1960s.

Worried about greenhouse gases? It would be far more direct, to use Eric’s terminology, to require automakers (and fuel-inefficient, consuming auto-buyers) to pay for the actual value of the air resources their products consume than to undermine the foundation of the civilized world as we know it.