Monbiot on marriage

It\’s all very Arts and Crafts, William Morris, isn\’t it? Society was better in every way before that nasty industrial revolution, wasn\’t it?

11 thoughts on “Monbiot on marriage”

  1. It certainly was. No silly things like antibiotics, electricity, fast transport links, safe food and water. Who needs them?

  2. I hate to be fair to George, but I don’t think that that is the point he is trying to make. I think he is making the point that nostalgia for some “Golden Age” misses the point that there was never really a “Golden Age”.

    And I know he probably doesn’t write the headline but “Family life’s the best it’s been for 1,000 years” hardly seems to be hankering back to the pre-industrial.

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    I think TW has got Monbiot wrong this time.

    Although the breath-taking irrelevancies and out right dishonesties of Monbiot’s article is impressive.

    “‘Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman.” So says the Coalition for Marriage, whose petition against same-sex unions in the UK has so far attracted 500,000 signatures. It’s a familiar claim, and it is wrong. Dozens of societies, across many centuries, have recognised same-sex marriage.”

    George, son, Papua New Guinea alone probably has several hundred different societies. If only dozens across the world recognise same-sex marriage, then by definition “virtually all” other human societies do not.

    “In a few cases, before the 14th century, it was even celebrated in church.”

    This is based on one absurd “academic” piece of activism that no one in their right mind takes seriously. No they were not.

    “He issued no such injunction against homosexuality: the threat he perceived was heterosexual and familial love, which competed with the love of God.”

    Because homosexuals at the time, if Jewish, were executed. Not many of them left to pose a threat.

    “In his classic book A World of Their Own Making, Professor John Gillis points out that until the Reformation, the state of holiness was not matrimony but lifelong chastity.”

    Sure but that is not the point. Sainthood was not for most people. And for those who were not for heterosexual marriage, homosexuality was not the other option. Chastity was.

    “There were no married saints in the early medieval church.”

    Really? Two seconds reflection brings up Saint Elizabeth of Hungary – you know the woman who said on being told her husband had died a-Crusading, “He is dead. He is dead. It is to me as if the whole world died today”? That woman wasn’t married? Or not a Saint? Good one George. How about leaving the basic Church history to the Left footers and sticking to something you know?

    “Godly families in this world were established not by men and women, united in bestial matrimony, but by the holy orders, whose members were the brothers or brides of Christ.”

    Umm, no. Not families.

    “Like most monotheistic religions (which developed among nomadic peoples)”

    There being no evidence Judaism developed among nomadic people except for that pork thing. A Christianity certainly did not. Nor did Islam come to think of it. Zoroastrianism perhaps? Good one George. Perhaps you’re time would have been better spent at Brasenose, and I can’t believe I am saying this, studying theology not biology. For all the good the either has done you.

    “Christianity placed little value on the home. A Christian’s true home belonged to another realm, and until he reached it, through death, he was considered an exile from the family of God.”


    “The father of the house, who described and treated his charges as his children, typically was unrelated to most of them. Family, prior to the 19th century, meant everyone who lived in the house.”

    No it didn’t. He may have used the language of the family but they were not his family. Not in law, not in theology. Could his daughter marry his apprentice? Yes she could. Not his son then. Did his apprentice inherit together with a biological son? No.

    “The belief that sex outside marriage was rare in previous centuries is also unfounded.”

    No one in their right mind claims otherwise.

    “Before the 19th century, those who intended to marry began to sleep together as soon as they had made their spousals (declared their intentions).”

    In some places, at some times. Not across Europe, not all the time.

    “This practice was sanctioned on the grounds that it allowed couples to discover whether or not they were compatible. If they were not, they could break it off.”

    Sanctioned in what sense? By their families perhaps but not by law and not by the Church.

    “Premarital pregnancy was common and often uncontroversial, as long as provision was made for the children.”

    It is odd that all those legal impediments to bastardy existed then. What was Erasmus complaining about given bastards like him were uncontroversial?

    “The nuclear family, as idealised today, was an invention of the Victorians, but it bore little relationship to the family life we are told to emulate.”

    Funny then that books like Montailou show the nuclear family alive and will in mediaeval France then isn’t it? In fact there has never been a time, from what we can tell, when the nuclear family has not been the most common form of married life in Europe.

    “Its development was driven by economic rather than spiritual needs, as the industrial revolution made manufacturing in the household unviable.”

    Sure George. That is why those Cathars lived that way – the industrial revolution.

    “Much as the Victorians might extol their families, “it was simply assumed that men would have their extramarital affairs and women would also find intimacy, even passion, outside marriage” (often with other women).”

    Assumed by who precisely? Where is there anything like a common assumption in Victorian times that men would have extra-marital affairs and women would do so as well? Given the enormous literature we have on the lengths that the upper class went to to prevent just this happening. This is a wholesale dishonest re-writing of the past.

    “Gillis links the 20th-century attempt to find intimacy and passion only within marriage, and the impossible expectations this raises, to the rise in the rate of divorce.”

    Good for him. Any reason to think he is right? Given the divorce rate climbed only slowly until the 1960s?

    “Conservatives often hark back to the golden age of the 1950s. But in the 1950s, John Gillis shows, people of the same persuasion believed they had suffered a great moral decline since the early 20th century.”

    And they had. They just had higher standards than we do.

    Stick to f**king up on the environment George.

  4. Of course many have a somewhat romanticised view of what life was like in the good old days.

    The Guardian often refers to this golden age before nasty capitalists, bankers, neo-liberals and Thatcherites took us all from our pleasant manual jobs and gave us iPads and Easyjet weekends in Barcelona for £20.

  5. Conservatives often hark back to the golden age of the 1950s. But in the 1950s, John Gillis shows, people of the same persuasion believed they had suffered a great moral decline since the early 20th century.

    Monbiot sounds a bit like the critics of theories of global warming and peak oil who always point out that environmentalists 50+ years ago were making false predictions of doom. If X was wrong, the argument implies, Y must be as well. I think I’ll call this argumentum ad mortuus excors.

  6. Monbiot doesn’t seem to really grasp what a “nuclear” family is. It just means a small family as opposed to the large extended (and often polygamous) family model. Gays are apparently campaigning for nuclear marriage, so attacking nuclear marriage as a myth doesn’t seem to much help his cause.

  7. “Society was better in every way before that nasty industrial revolution, wasn’t it?” I’ve read and re-read Monbiot’s article. Not only does he not say this, but he says (within his frame of reference) the exact opposite – “family life…is, for most people, now surely better in the west than at any time in the past 1,000 years.”

    We can argue about whether he’s right or wrong about this, but I can’t see that with any honesty we can attack a point which not only he hasn’t made, but which he also explicitly disavows.

  8. What is Monbiot’s point? (Or what’s the point of Monbiot?)

    Actually I think he’s fairly honest, and faced with an impossible brief he’s done his best by retreating to liturgical questions. (See SMFS’ skewering above.)

    He’s honest because he has done a bit of research, where he finds:

    Marriage beats co-habitation, which beats single parenthood on all counts, particularly for children.

    Marriage is good for married people. Women benefit from it slightly more than men.

    A meta analysis of 130 studies of marriage and family outcomes is pretty unambiguous. Monbiot is honest enough to acknowledge this but can’t say so in the Graun.

  9. He is lying about the 1950s
    We believed in what was later called “the nuclear family” and it worked.
    Lots of people who weren’t born then tell me that I don’t know what happened when I was watching it.
    They should crawl back under their stones.

  10. “There were no married saints in the early medieval church.” [Monbiot]

    This was one of the complaints of the Reformers, that an edict against marriage was a late invention (intended to prevent nepotism in the Church, but with the usual unintended consequences), and not consistent with the practice of the early Church, or indeed of the Apostles. Hence the direct challenge by Archbishop Cranmer (who was married) when setting out the obligations of husband and wife in his service for the Solemnisation of Matrimony:

    “Saint Peter, the Apostle of Christ, who was himself a married man …”

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