Chapter 12 (pages 156-167): “Trial Marriage”
Russell's chapter on trial marriage reaches us, appropriately enough, on a day in which a leading Bavarian politician is in the news -- and under attack -- for suggesting that marriages should last seven years, after which time the partners either agree to a renewal or a dissolution. According to Russell, if there are no kids in the equation, marriages should be easily dissolvable.
Continuing with Russell, in many parts of the world young people are discarding the emphasis upon (female) virtue. This change in morality is most pronounced in the US, thanks to Prohibition and widespread car ownership. “And even where complete relations do not occur, there is so much ‘petting’ and ‘necking’ that the absence of complete intercourse can only be viewed as a perversion [p. 158].” Later, on page 159, Russell says that the behavior of those timid folks who pet for hours but don’t go all the way is debilitating, and makes it impossible to eventually enjoy full sex. And it keeps young people up late (p. 160). On page 162, Russell claims that in England, the practice of heavy petting without full satisfaction is not as common as in the US.
The new morality has problems imposed upon it because it violates conventional morality. “Bootlegged sex is in fact as inferior to what it might be as bootlegged alcohol [p. 158].” They are complementary – violations of the alcohol rules make it easier to violate the sex rules, and the alcohol violations also serve as an aphrodisiac. Sex is “entered into not from affection but from bravado, and at times of intoxication [pp. 158-159].” Underground sex and liquor are consumed in concentrated, unpalatable forms. The moralists have won: while they have not eliminated fornication – indeed, they have unwittingly promoted it – they have made it take place in an unappealing way, “just as they have succeeded in making much of the alcohol consumed as poisonous as they assert all alcohol to be [p. 159].”
This common but underground youthful behavior occasionally comes to the attention of “some guardian of morality [p. 160],” and a public scandal ensues. [This reminds me of how the too-high US drinking age of 21 sometimes results in some kerfuffle, when, horrors, it is discovered that a nineteen year-old was drinking – RBR] The difficulty for the young in acquiring sex education results in many unwanted pregnancies, and dangerous, illegal abortions. Intimacy between parents and the young is undermined by the huge gulf in moral codes. Later, on page 162, Russell says that he thinks the scandalized moralizer is less prevalent in England than in America.
But at least the relative freedom of youth in America should make them less violent and more tolerant as they age, compared to their elders. [I am not sure that this hope of Russell’s was realized; certainly many older people preach to their own kids stricter codes than the ones that they chose to live by when young.]
Starting on page 162, Russell devotes a good deal of attention to a proposal for a new institution of “companionate marriage” made by a Denver judge who lost his job “when it became known that he used it [the proposal] rather to promote the happiness of the young than to give them a consciousness of sin…[p. 162]” Companionate marriage would be a supplement to, not a replacement for, traditional marriage. It would be available for young people who at the time they enter into it, are not intending to have kids. They would be provided with birth control information. Once a couple enters a companionate marriage, if they do not have kids and the wife is not pregnant, mutual consent would be enough to secure a divorce, and there would be no alimony. The idea is to make the relationships of young couples more stable. (Russell says, “Companionate marriage is the proposal of a wise conservative [p. 162],” and he believes (p. 163) it would be a morally beneficial reform.)
Of course, the judge’s proposal was shouted down, often for religious reasons, but no arguments were ever adduced showing that human happiness would be harmed by companionate marriage -- the opponents did not seem to think that happiness mattered.
Russell would go further than companionate marriage; he thinks that any partnership that does not involve kids “should be regarded as a purely private affair [p. 165].” He likes the idea of pre-marital living together, and is concerned about marriages (where children are intended) between people who have not already shared sexual relations. Since kids are the “true purpose of marriage,” perhaps no marriage should be binding until it produces a pregnancy.
People can unite for three purposes: for sex only (as with prostitution); for companionship and sex (as with companionate marriage); or for bringing up kids -- “and no morality can be adequate to modern circumstances which confounds them [these three purposes] in one indiscriminate whole [p. 167].”