Love and Marriage

A movie about the President and First Lady’s first date will be coming to my local suburban multiplex next week.

You can understand why the movie was made, and why it was made now, but it’s still pretty funny that it was made, and that it was made now.  When regular, slightly corny “How I met your mother” stories from the guy with the nuclear codes  open in hundreds of suburban movie theaters, it probably signals either an over-enthusiasm for our elected monarchs, or the irresistible appeal of normalcy as it vanishes from our lives.

Normalcy is a powerful force. One of the core insights of those pushing for gay marriage from 2000 to 2014 was to present it as the inevitable culmination of long historical processes, rather than a unique change to law and tradition. As Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell vs. Hodges put it, echoing the historians who had submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court:

The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time. For example, marriage was once viewed as an arrangement by the couple’s parents based on political, religious, and financial concerns; but by the time of the Nation’s founding it was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman. See N. Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation 9–17 (2000); S. Coontz, Marriage, A History 15–16 (2005). As the role and status of women changed, the institution further evolved. Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity. See 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 430 (1765). As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned. See Brief for Historians of Marriage et al. as Amici Curiae 16–19. These and other developments in the institution of marriage over the past centuries were not mere superficial changes.

Rather, they worked deep transformations in its structure, affecting aspects of marriage long viewed by many as essential. See generally N. Cott, Public Vows; S. Coontz, Marriage; H. Hartog, Man & Wife in America: A History (2000). These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage. Indeed, changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations, often through perspectives that begin in pleas or protests and then are considered in the political sphere and the judicial process.

It is as yet unproven whether the changes to an egalitarian structure that Kennedy describes as having “strengthened, not weakened, the institution of marriage” will in fact allow it to survive, or if marriage (for non-religious people at least) will mostly go the way of the dodo. “New dimensions of freedom,” whether social or technological, may not always permit the old dimensions of commitment to persist.

In the meantime, it is somewhat interesting how, perhaps, the love affairs we go to the movies to see become more conventional, the more rare conventional love becomes. No Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, Anna and Vronsky for us; if almost everybody’s loves are doomed, what’s the fun in watching doomed love unfold?

Our time- worried about the end of the bourgeois family but eager to help that end alongbemoaning the disappearance of black marriage but doing everything to increase that disappearance’s speedlabeling most kids as in need of immediate rescue while fantasizing endless middle class children  and stable neighborhoods with whom to rescue them, treating an expanding multicultural elite as its greatest accomplishment  while obfuscating that elite’s existencetriumphalizing demographic transformations while sneering at long foretold signs of social collapse– requires the current First Family, en famille,  as the binding principle of a fundamentally divided governing coalition., an embodiment of bourgeois virtue, rooted in tradition yet adapted to our changing times and their own grand destiny, hip yet old-schoolcosmopolitan through Barack yet connected through Michelle to the core of black American experience, bound through the two girls to the ascendancy of next generation feminism, glowing with good health amid our general dissipation, to normalize and resolve the tensions within love and family, at least in image if not in fact.


Like the subjects of earlier reigns, for whom the marriages of monarchs (like William III and Mary II above), if stable and fruitful, could portend an end to civil bloodshed and a beginning to civil peace, we look to our elected monarchs to resolve our “new dimensions of freedom,” to tell us, through the stability of their domestic lives, that civil brawls shall not disturb the quiet of our streets.


8 thoughts on “Love and Marriage

  1. As a stylistic comment: I enjoy your self-links within each post, but there are a bit too many in this one, I think.

    That second to last paragraph’s opening sentence runs on quite a bit, and while what it says is interesting, it is hard to parse exactly what you’re saying in that sentence without a couple of attempts.

    Re: the main theme of your post

    It’s true– as we move away from all forms of public judgement that aren’t pushing us to the Left (ala Murray’s claim that we have suspended judgement of single motherhood, promiscuity, etc.), the Obama family has taken on semi-mythical proportions. They really do blend together the Left’s late 00’s ideals: technocratic rule by multiracial elites who represent America’s future.

    They’re the future– because they represent the browning of America– they’re American– Obama has continually emphasized his faith and American roots and his family– and they’re pretty young as Presidents go.


    1. I’m always a bit confused when someone uses the word “technocratic”. In what sense do you find Obama technocratic? Other people say the same thing about the president, of course. The Atlantic recently called technocracy “the second pillar” of his government, which has allegedly been “intensely deferential to the expertise of conventional authorities”. Is that what you mean? Because I find it very hard to criticize the president for hearing mainstream economists, for example. In fact, I wish he’d do it more often, and avoid the populist tone he uses when talking about minimum wage or mass incarceration. Some notable libertarians (think Arnold Kling, for example, though he’s perhaps somewhere between libertarian and conservative) use “technocracy” to describe something very different: the use of deeply flawed social science to legitimate government intervention on matters which should be left to the choice of every citizen. _Enfin_, I hope you understand my being confused about that word, and I’d very much like you (two?) to elaborate on what you mean.
      PS: I agree with your stylistic comment. I like links, but whoa!
      PS2: I’ve been commenting under the name WithNumbers, but I guess this will appear as a comment by WellNotExactly. I’m still the same person, though — a recent but very enthusiastic reader of this blog.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I view a “technocratic” view as being distinct from just an “Evidence-informed” view to mean the idea that a certain set of interventions (for example, behavioral interventions that assume limited rationality) or a certain epistemological approach (basing interventions on “what works” as defined by randomized trials) will *solve* problems rather than ameliorate them, which I think can lead to only “the right kind” of evidence making it into our policies ( ). I think that Kling’s libertarian critique is related, in that we are assuming that we can do “better than freedom” by tinkering in very specific ways. The other problem I have with technocratic approaches is that they tend not to be very transparent, particularly in how they respond to or address differences: here’s an example of that. ( ). On the other hand, I agree that technocracy is one of those words (like “elites”) that can be thrown around whenever there is something we don’t like and we want it to sound bad, without really thinking through what the problem is and whether there is any better alternative we have to propose.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I mostly mean it in the 2nd sense.

        I’m not a fan of the FDA or DEA, but they’re qualitatively different than government social policy informed by blank slatism.

        The ignorance or tabooing of IQ and individual/group differences, partial inheritance of criminality, etc. all make parts of our education system, juvenile justice system, etc. Partially disconnected from reality.

        How can there be reasonable policy if edu experts don’t acknowledge IQ?

        The FDA and DEA are examples of another kind of technocracy: government paternalism that isn’t really based on ‘flawed social science’s, but a morality that I simply disagree with. I mean, the DEA lies a ton about the dangers of drugs, but it’s not the same type of failure as the technocracy detailed above. I just find the whole premise for their existence laughable– needing permission for drugs? Seems crazy to me…

        I think Obama is a technocrat because there’s a theme that much of what he does is the conventional expert wisdom of the center left, which is very technocratic: education reform and title 9 stuff are best examples: pushing rules that experts develop for schools in a centralized way (dep of education is a federal level organization) and using targeted title 9 penalties and letters to Uni administrations to intimidate them into submission on sexual assault and other things.

        Except foreign policy, admittedly, where he’s diverged from expert consensus.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh OK, thanks, it’s much clearer now, though I still don’t find “technocracy” a good umbrella term for all you two describe. I think what you describe is more like…
    – naïveté (“a certain […] approach […] will *solve* problems rather than ameliorate them”)
    – assigning proper weights to different kinds of evidence (if “basing interventions on ‘what works’ as defined by randomized trials” doesn’t mean discarding all evidence that doesn’t correspond to the gold standard of RCT)
    – ignoring useful evidence and model uncertainty (if “basing interventions on ‘what works’ as defined by randomized trials” does mean discarding all evidence that doesn’t correspond to the gold standard of RCT)
    – statism (“assuming that we can do ‘better than freedom’ by tinkering in very specific ways”)
    – least charitably, hypocrisy, and more charitable (and I think more accurately), a mix of ignorance about the relevant scientific literature and (Caplanesque) rational irrationality, i.e. preferences over beliefs coupled with low individual costs for irrationality (“ignorance or tabooing of IQ and individual/group differences, partial inheritance of criminality, etc.”)*
    – statism again (“government paternalism […] based on […] a morality that I simply disagree with”, “needing permission for drugs? Seems crazy to me”)
    Thanks again for taking the time to answer.

    (*) “Partial inheritance of criminality” is also probably not a very rigorous way to describe the findings of the academic literature on that, and the uncertainty over the root causes of group differences is substantial (even our understanding of the Flynn effect is very poor!). But anyway, my point was about using the word “technocracy” in (what seems to me) a fuzzy way, not about judging the merits of what you claim — I’m not even American, so I’m not really the best person to comment on your educational policy, though I’m not completely ignorant about that, and though some of the problems you describe seem nearly universal.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s