Chapter 21 (pp. 303-320): “Conclusion”
Russell uses this chapter more as a summary than as a means to draw some final conclusions; the summary essentially follows the order of the preceding chapters.
Modern sexual ethics derive from the interest in verifiable fatherhood, and from an aesthetic view that non-procreative sex is wicked. Christianity is an important source of the wickedness view, and extended from women to men, in theory, the idea that extra-marital relations were sinful. With diminishing religious belief, the notion that fornication is sin has lost ground. Contraceptives have separated sex from pregnancy, though not entirely reliably. Husbands should adjust their jealousy only to apply when their wives have children fathered by others, in the manner that husbands in the East have tolerated the liberties taken by eunuchs.
So two-parent families might survive, with fewer restraints upon women. Simultaneously, the state is taking a larger role in raising and educating kids. Once protection and maintenance are wholly taken over by the state, fathers will have little purpose; if mothers work while the kids go to institutionalized day care, the role of mothers will likewise dissipate, and there will be no basis remaining for the traditional morality.
The replacement of families by the state is to be regretted, because states are harsh and will push nationalism on the kids – unless there is an international government, which also is needed to provide an adequate population policy.
The notion that sex is sinful commits untold harm, starting in early childhood. Friendly feeling is undermined. A new sexual ethic is needed, but reformers are accused of corrupting the youth, not always unfairly, as their pronouncements for reform might lend themselves to misinterpretation. The new ethic needs to work with human nature rather than against it, train instinct rather than thwart it. Rectitude is necessary, but self-control is not an end in itself; institutions and moral conventions should minimize the need for self-control. The exercise of self-control drains energies needed for useful activities. Traditional morality calls for constant self-control (which might not be exercised), creating a chasm between reason and instinct. Even those who intellectually reject the traditional values and act in ways contrary to them might be unable to do so wholeheartedly, and thus the value of their actions will be undermined.
The first general principle for a new sexual ethic is that it should maximize deep, serious love. A second principle is that kids should be well cared for physically and psychologically. But the old ethic makes prisons of marriages: “A good life cannot be founded upon fear, prohibition, and mutual interference with freedom [p. 316].”
Once kids are in the household, it is a duty of parents to try to maintain harmonious relations. If one of the parents lacks the self-control to keep serious arguments from coming to the attention of the kids, then it is probably better for the marriage to end.
“I believe that nine out of ten of those who have had a conventional upbringing in their early years have become in some degree incapable of a decent and sane attitude toward marriage and sex generally [p. 319].” They have (probably) been permanently damaged by their upbringing, and the best that can be done is to persuade them not to perpetuate the damage into the next generation.
Russell’s proposed ethic is not one of licentiousness. It requires as much self-control as the traditional ethic, but the self-control is now aimed at limiting the desire to restrain others – a type of self-control that is hard for those who are accustomed to condemning others for a perceived lack of virtue. The resulting freedom, the loosening of marital policing, can promote respect and deep intimacy within a marriage.