Thursday, January 06, 2011

Metaphysics and Marriage--and Consequences

The debate continues. R. R. Reno joins at First Things.

At Public Discourse, the web journal run by the Witherspoon Institute, Girgis, George, and Anderson have posted a series of replies to criticisms, the most interesting of which came from the Northwestern law professor Andrew Koppleman.

Here’s the way Girgis, George, and Anderson put the thrust of Koppleman’s disagreement: “Against our view that marriage is a pre-political form of relationship (albeit one that the state has compelling reasons to support and regulate), Koppelman holds that marriage is merely a social and legal construction—the pure product of conventions.”

Whatever one thinks of the morality of homosexual acts or the role of same-sex relationships in society, this contrast strikes me as telling. Most who defend traditional marriage hold that our body of law should recognize the reality of marriage, while liberals tend to take the view that our legal system creates the institution of marriage, and therefore can reshape and recreate it as the democratic majority (or in this case a judicially empowered minority) sees fit.

In this distinction between recognizing and creating we can see the fundamental metaphysical question at stake in the same-sex marriage debate. Are there any stable and authoritative social realities—such as marriage—prior to or more fundamental than the legal artifacts created by the modern liberal state? Or is the Leviathan of the modern state the singular source of social reality?

Reno nails the Problem of Positive Law with those few grafs.

But the Rousseau-ian theory behind this usurpation of positive law has had other effects (and "cuts both ways", as it were.)

Modern liberalism has refused to recognize many dimensions of traditional society: old guild prerogatives, inherited social castes, racial segregation, and so forth. In each case, liberalism has used the power of the state to create new conditions for human beings to enter into economic and social relationships according to their own desires rather than being governed by pre-established social categories and roles. In each case, liberalism has argued that the old patterns were never properly authoritative, but were instead unjust mechanisms for one group to dominate another group.

Reno, and anyone else with common sense, would agree with many of the Liberal Project's changes. But it is not the changes which are in dispute: it is the underlying philosophy, because it has implications.

...the union of men and women for the purposes of forming a family unit—which is to say the traditional institution of marriage in all its variety—stands alongside religious forms of solidarity as the most fundamental and primeval mode of social organization available to the human species. If, as Koppleman and other liberal legal theorists forthrightly affirm, the modern liberal state can do with this fundamental institution as it wishes, then it seems to me that there is nothing the modern liberal state cannot redefine, reshape, or reinvent.

Creating and never recognizing—it’s a vision of political life that fills me with foreboding. After all, the human person, like the institution of marriage, is (thank God) pre-political, to be respected not remolded, recognized rather than subjected to redefinition.

But just as liberal theory so easily takes up and refashions marriage, I fear that an imperial liberalism will soon be underwriting a redefinition of parenthood and reproduction—the very origins of the human person and thus the inner fabric of our humanity

Indeed. The Brave New World waits just beyond the door of same-sex marriage.

No comments: