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Family Politics

The Idea of Marriage in Modern Political Thought

Scott Yenor

Publication Year: 2011

With crisp prose and intellectual fairness, Family Politics traces the treatment of the family in the philosophies of leading political thinkers of the modern world. What is family? What is marriage? In an effort to address contemporary society’s disputes over the meanings of these human social institutions, Scott Yenor carefully examines a roster of major and unexpected modern political philosophers—from Locke and Rousseau to Hegel and Marx to Freud and Beauvoir. He lucidly presents how these individuals developed an understanding of family in order to advance their goals of political and social reform. Through this exploration, Yenor unveils the effect of modern liberty on this foundational institution and argues that the quest to pursue individual autonomy has undermined the nature of marriage and jeopardizes its future.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-x

This book arises from my effort to understand the ambiguous place of the family in the modern liberal order. Marriage and family life seem to make up an institution—a tie that binds people and experiences together. It connects, among other things, spouses to one another, parents to children, sex to procreation, and procreation to parenthood. Modern democratic peoples, however, show a certain scorn for institutions or formalities, which means that the family is always subject to criticisms in...

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pp. xi-xiv

It is customary to begin acknowledgments pages by crediting one’s scholarly influences, but in my case a more powerful, personal experience deserves preeminence. As I was ready to begin a sabbatical at Boise State to begin work on this book, my daughter, Sarah, then five years old, was diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer. Her two-year battle, through cancer treatments and their baleful side effects, ended successfully and quite possibly (as I think) miraculously, thanks in part to the dedicated and gifted staff of doctors and nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise...

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1. Nature, Marital Unity, and Contract in Modern Political Thought

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pp. 1-18

The Western world is experiencing unprecedented changes in how families act and in how they think of themselves. Well-documented declines in birth and marriage rates along with increases in divorce rates, illegitimacy rates, the incidence of couples living together outside marriage, and the number of people living alone bespeak a remarkable change in attitudes about children, procreation, sex, love, marriage, parenthood, and life itself....

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2. Locke and the Invention of the Modern Family

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pp. 19-38

John locke (1632–1704) is the founder of modern John Locke (1632–1704) is the founder of modern liberal society and inventor of the modern, nuclear family. For this latter he is praised and blamed. Locke-blamers think he destabilizes the family, in part because he does not place the family on a Christian basis and in part because his account is rife with tensions that, eventually, loosen family bonds. Locke is the greatest exponent of modern natural rights teaching, whose political...

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3. Rousseau and the Romance of Family Life

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pp. 39-62

Anticipating later arguments of Marxists and feminists and continuing the argument of Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), the unforgettable French philosopher, sees the family as a salutary product of human artifice. Rousseau’s contention is made more radical and interesting by his notion of what is natural and hence what is artificial. All hands, it seems, agree that the family is, in some sense, conventional or artificial or a cultural institution. Crucial questions remain....

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4. Hegel’s Modern Marital Unity: More Than a Contract, Less Than a Sacrament

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pp. 63-86

Hegel’s thinking about the family is penetrating and challenging to all sides of today’s family debates. He shows the sense in seemingly contradictory opinions about marriage and family life and then shows how the contradictions are only apparent. For instance, many today see marriage as a means to self-fulfillment. Perhaps this means that marriage helps us to become better people or to cultivate our talents and grow...

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5. In Hegel’s Shadow: French Sociologists and Positivist Defenses of the Family

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pp. 87-114

What is intriguing about Hegel is his effort to defend traditional institutions of marriage in an age taken with the principles of autonomy, individualism, and human equality. He defends the institutions of marital and familial unity as rational supports for the deep human concerns of ethical love and recognition without recourse to religious traditions. Religion, Hegel suggests, played a historical role in sustaining “conservative” familial institutions...

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6. The City and the Soul Mate: Mill’s Late Liberal Vision

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pp. 115-136

Mill’s liberalism stands between an older and a younger liberalism. An inheritor of a tradition of freedom and contractual thinking, Mill seems more consistent than older liberals in seeing all relationships established and maintained by free and equal consent. In view of Mill’s consistency, older liberals like Locke and other modern thinkers like Rousseau and Hegel appear stodgy and patriarchal...

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7. Marx, Engels, and the Abolition of the Family

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pp. 137-156

Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Frederick Engels (1820–1895) are known for their view that history is defined by persistent class antagonisms reaching an apex under the conditions of modern capitalism and their hope that classes would be eliminated by a spontaneous revolution of the oppressed. As a result of this revolution, the means of producing goods would be held in common...

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8. Freud, Russell, and the Liberated Family

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pp. 157-174

One of the questions left in the wake of Durkheim’s argument for marriage concerns the need for the social control of male sexual passions. Especially Protestant traditions long held that human beings are prone to lust that can be remedied in marriage. Durkheim’s defense of marriage institutions fits with that tradition. Marriage can be a proper remedy to naturally errant sexual passions only if marriage is strong enough to control those passions...

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9. Feminism and the Family

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pp. 175-200

Feminist thinking flows from the belief that maleness and femaleness, and gender roles as such, are products of society.1 Modern feminists complete Mill’s more tentative effort to show that society gives individuals their particular shape. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” as Simone de Beauvoir writes;2 “anatomy is not destiny” could well be the motto...

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10. Positivism Supplemented: Anatomy, Evolution, and the Family

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pp. 201-226

What an opportunity family decline has been for sociologists! Few social trends are as well documented as those surrounding the decline of the modern family. Compared with a century ago, non-marital births are up, divorce rates are up, fertility rates are down, cohabitation has risen as marriage rates have declined, adults marry later in life and have children later, abortion rates are up, families are smaller and more fluid...

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11. A Second Sailing? Recovering Marital Unity and the Purposes of the Family

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pp. 227-252

Beauvoir’s feminism poses the most serious challenge to the existence of family life. It is no coincidence that the concerns about family decline articulated by social scientists are increasing in post-Beauvoir, later modernity. Yet the social science positivists whose hearts are with the family do not aspire to defend the family as such and do not paint a different picture of nature or immanence than Beauvoir...

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12. What Is to Be Thought? Tensions and Lessons

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pp. 253-274

Thinking on the family turns on the question of whether society is a collection of individuals or a collection of families. This vision of what society is often depends on an evaluation of mutual dependence in family life. The view that mutual dependence is connected to the human good lends itself to seeing the family as the basic unit of society. The view that dependence is inimical to a good life is connected to the view that society is a collection of individuals...


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pp. 275-340


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pp. 341-356


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pp. 357-362

E-ISBN-13: 9781602584808
E-ISBN-10: 160258480X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602583054
Print-ISBN-10: 1602583056

Page Count: 385
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1st

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Subject Headings

  • Marriage -- History -- 19th century.
  • Marriage -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political science -- History -- 20th century.
  • Families -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political science -- History -- 19th century.
  • Families -- History -- 19th century.
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