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Deja Vu

December 13, 2012

I Don’t


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2012: A recent census by the British government has revealed a new trend in marriage—namely, that it isn’t happening. The number of people who are married in England and Wales had fallen from just over half of the population a decade ago to 45 percent in 2012. This is the first time since the census was founded in 1801 that married couples have been in the minority, causing some in British government to claim morals are vanishing along with matrimony. The Telegraph reports:

Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court judge who started the Marriage Foundation campaign group to promote the institution, said the decline in the number of married couples was a “worrying” trend likely to lead to more family break-ups. He has previously described the scale of family breakdown as a “complete scandal” and warned that people were “recycling” partners instead of trying to fix their marriages.

He told the Daily Telegraph: “This must be regarded as a worrying development and is all part of the picture which a few weeks ago revealed 50 per cent of children aged 15 were not living with their birth parents.”

1911: Emma Goldman, the radical feminist who once wondered if women’s suffrage was all it’s cracked up to be, is often credited with advocating "free love." In a piece from Anarchism and Other Essays, she explains why marriage is a raw deal for both sexes.

It is utterly false that love results from marriage. On rare occasions one does hear of a miraculous case of a married couple falling in love after marriage, but on close examination it will be found that it is a mere adjustment to the inevitable. Certainly the growing-used to each other is far away from the spontaneity, the intensity, and beauty of love, without which the intimacy of marriage must prove degrading to both the woman and the man.

Marriage is primarily an economic arrangement, an insurance pact. It differs from the ordinary life insurance agreement only in that it is more binding, more exacting. Its returns are insignificantly small compared with the investments. In taking out an insurance policy one pays for it in dollars and cents, always at liberty to discontinue payments. If, how ever, woman’s premium is a husband, she pays for it with her name, her privacy, her self-respect, her very life, “until death doth part.” Moreover, the marriage insurance condemns her to life-long dependency, to parasitism, to complete uselessness, individual as well as social. Man, too, pays his toll, but as his sphere is wider, marriage does not limit him as much as woman. He feels his chains more in an economic sense.

Thus Dante’s motto over Inferno applies with equal force to marriage: “Ye who enter here leave all hope behind.”
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The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
Victor Hugo, 1862
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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