Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Marriage and Morals, Chapter 16

Chapter 16 (pages 221-239): “Divorce”

Divorce has nowhere meant to serve as an alternative to monogamic marriage, but rather, to mitigate some of the worst hardships of the institution. Rules for divorce vary considerably across jurisdictions and across time, but the extent of divorce has as much to do with custom as it has to do with law. Russell favors lenient laws for divorce, but customs against it, when kids are in the equation. (And recall that for Russell, marriage primarily is an institution about having and raising kids.)

Where divorce is hard, adultery by men tends to be winked at; where divorce is easier, adultery is viewed more unfavorably. Later, on pages 236-237, Russell argues that the US has a high divorce rate because of the social unacceptability of adultery -- that is, he seems to place the causality in the other direction.

The options society makes available to someone stuck in an unfit marriage (say, the spouse becomes insane or alcoholic) are all bad. What is the public interest in keeping such a person from having a sexual life when the marital one is impossible? In these circumstances, “divorce can only be opposed on the ground that marriage is a trap by which the unwary are tricked into purification through sorrow [p. 229].”

Openly living in sin will bring on social penalties. “Men like to belong to clubs, and women like to be respected and called on by other women. To be deprived of these pleasures is apparently considered a great hardship [p. 228].”

Desertion is a de facto divorce, so it must be recognized de jure. This accommodation might then induce desertion precisely to procure a divorce. But this is true for other legal grounds for divorce, too – even adultery and cruelty can be induced to meet legal divorce standards.

Russell does not think that adultery in itself should be legal grounds for divorce. Spouses can desire others without their marital affection disintegrating. So if the affection remains, and there are no offspring from the adulterous relationships, the adultery should not lead to divorce. (Adultery was a much bigger deal before there were effective contraceptives.) Mutual consent should be grounds for divorce, because sometimes marriages become intolerable. “Grounds other than mutual consent ought only to be required where the marriage has failed through some definite defect in one partner [p. 233].”

Marriages should be eligible for annulment if there are no children and the wife is not currently pregnant. “Children are the purpose of marriage, and to hold people to a childless marriage is a cruel cheat [p. 235].” With kids in the picture, even parents who are no longer in love with each other will be able to cooperate in raising their kids (and presumably in maintaining their marriage during the nonage of the kids). “So long as the bi-parental family continues to be the recognized rule, parents who divorce each other, except for grave cause, appear to me to be failing in their parental duty [p. 238].” But don’t prohibit divorce in such cases; rather, more liberty will make the marriage more endurable. “In the system that I commend, [married] men are freed, it is true, from the duty of sexual conjugal fidelity, but they have in exchange the duty of controlling jealousy [p. 239].” Better to control a negative emotion like jealousy than a positive one like (extra-marital) love.

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