4. THE QUESTIONS
4.1. IS MARRIAGE A CONTRACT?
The Libertine position posits that marriage is a contract only, revocable at the will of either party, even if the other party is not at fault. The reason for this is that the licit nature of the sex act rests on the consent of the parties: when the consent is withdrawn, the sex is no longer licit.
As a contract, the terms exist only as what the parties signatory so agree. So, for example, if Ayn Rand wishes to have sexual liaison with Nathaniel Branden, the affair is licit (according to the Libertine position) provided only that her husband and his wife provide an informed consent. If marriage is a contract only, the provision that one’s spouse “forsake all others” is open to renegotiation. For a foursome in an open marriage, the adultery is licit.
As a contract, the terms bind only the signatories. So, to use a completely hypothetical example, if a hypothetical and imaginary character named Mark Sanford is married and his paramour Maria from Argentina is not, and she further has never signed a legally binding document promising otherwise, she is free to form a sexual liaison with him. He is in violation of his contract, but his guilt is not shared with her. For her, adultery is licit. If licit, then no one, not even Mrs. Sanford, has the right to criticize or condemn her acts, and for Mrs. Sanford to display offense at Maria from Argentina would be unjust, even petulant.
The first doubt concerning the Libertine position surfaced when these conclusions intruded itself onto my reluctant awareness. In theory, the adultery of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden should have worked out to the satisfaction of all parties involved. Instead the opposite happened: Rand and Branden became bitter enemies to the end of her life.
It did not work out in that particular case, nor in any similar case that can be brought to mind. Why not?
Part of the answer is that marriage is not a contract. A contract is a meeting of the minds on such terms as the parties shall mutually agree for the exchange of goods and services or other consideration of value. Contracts have no moral or legal force outside their terms.
One example should suffice to show the difference. Suppose Mr. A makes a deal with Mr. B that, starting noon on Monday, Mr. A will buy lumber from and only from the lumberyard of Mr. B, forsaking all others. Mr. A buys a load of lumber from yard C that same Monday, but at eleven o’clock. Is he in violation of any provision of the contract, or by the word or the spirit? Has he betrayed or wounded Mr. B in any way? Can Mr. B make any claim for which relief at law can be granted? The answer is no.
By coincidence, this same Mr. A was planning to marry Miss D that same day, also at noon. Five minutes before the wedding is scheduled to take place, Miss D walks in on her promised bridegroom. He is standing with his trousers around his ankles vigorously coupling with one of the bridesmaids, Miss E, whose skirts are about her ears and her ankles about his ears. If the marriage were a contract, Miss D would have no more right to criticize or condemn his behavior than Mr. B the lumberman. And yet no one of ordinary prudence would suggest she continue with the wedding at this point: we might even think her emotions insincere or unrelated to reality if her reaction were calm and understated.
No sober argument can be raised that Mr. A is not betraying Miss D in this case, assuming the marriage was sincere to begin with. I will return to this point later, but for the moment, let us merely observe that an injustice has been done Miss D, even if she herself is completely nonchalant. As his fiancée, it would not be in her best interest to consent to the copulation between Mr. A and the bridesmaid, even if she had been consulted: nor is the matter neutral and unrelated to her interests. Mr. A cannot in good faith say (while he gasps in his pleasures) “We are not married yet; this is none of your business.”
Something other than merely consensual provision is involved here.
4.2. HOW PLIANT IS HUMAN NATURE?
The Libertine position assumes that we humans can, merely because we sign a contract to that effect, change human nature, or change the nature of romantic love, or change the nature of the sex act, and what the sex act implies and entails.
While youth eager to slip the reigns cold reason places on hot passion may wish to believe otherwise, sad experience shows that human nature is not pliant to these conclusions. We cannot make adultery either licit or harmless merely by agreeing between all the affected parties that we would prefer to have it so.
In the same way that the single example of an absolute duty to think honestly proves that a blanket statement that all duties are subjective is false, so here, the single example of the stubbornness of human nature proves that human laws and customs have but a limited range. There are certain injustices to which we cannot consent, if the act of giving consent cannot eliminate the injustice.
In my life, I began to entertain the doubt that it was perhaps imprudent, or even an actual act of injustice against one’s eventual spouse, to have sex outside marriage, whether with him or with another, whether minutes before the marriage or years before. The question confronting me was whether one’s eventual spouse, even before you ever meet him, even before you know if he exists, has an interest in your sexual behavior and misbehavior, and in the condition of your habits of virtue, which law and custom ought to protect? (I say “he” and “him” in the sentence above, but you boys know I am talking about either sex.)
The more important question that pestered me was whether, supposing such an interest did exist, could it be waived by the word or deed of the parties? Was this interest part of human nature, and not open to negotiation, or was it something the parties could dismiss at will? Does your spouse have an interest in your chastity? Is that interest protected by a right? Could that right be waived?
In legal terms, the question was whether the right to chastity in a spouse was alienable?
This, my second doubt, came only after I had been married some years, and I met a Christian (I was still a stern and rigorous atheist at this point) who told me that it was prudent and morally acceptable to move in with one’s lover, and enjoy nuptial pleasures, provided (1) the love was committed, was ripening into True Love and (2) the possibility existed that one’s prospective spouse might be sexually incompatible. Point (2) was expressed by the less-than-romantic metaphor that one would not buy a car without taking it around the block for a test drive.
This Christian argued only that pre-marital sex was licit, (in other words, the sex act when performed as part of a preparation for marriage) not that any sex outside marriage was licit.
This argument reflects what I take to be the mainstream position of the society around me: casual sleeping around is frowned upon (girls are more condemned than boys for forming casual liaisons) but sex with a fiancée or long-term live-in lover is both licit and normal. Marriage is basically meant to confirm, rather than to form, an established romantic life-sharing relationship. I had my doubts about this conclusion because of the question above, for I wondered whether one’s prospective spouse had a protectable interest in one’s chastity.
My question was: Did you owe it to her, O bridegroom, to come a virgin to your wedding bed? Did you owe it to him, O bride? If so, when does this obligation begin? At marriage? At the moment of proposal? When your love is serious? When it is merely infatuation? When you meet? Before you meet? How can one have an obligation to someone before meeting him?
The irony was not lost on me that I, the skeptic, was arguing for traditional chastity, and the Christian was filling my ear with modern emotionalistic claptrap that true love permitted the violation of law, faith, custom, and decency.
4.3. IS SEX ENTERTAINMENT?
Another Christian, and this a dear friend of many years, argued with me not only that pre-marital sex was licit, but that any and all extra-marital sex was licit. He said copulation was merely a form of mutual athletic entertainment, a past-time, albeit one that required a partner of the opposite sex. Sort of like mixed doubles tennis.
At that point in my life, I was married and had two children, and my Christian friend was still a bachelor. My romantic love for my wife had grown and grown over the years, until it consumed me, waking and sleeping, refined from its merely lustful beginnings, through phases of infatuation and devotion to a self-sacrificing and self-abnegating adoration. Love in its mature phase is a matter of the will, not of the emotions. I assume most successful marriages pass through similar stages, for the good natured jokes surrounding newlyweds and older couples show an expectation, at least, that mere infatuation is not the basis for lasting love, but is instead the kindling meant to start a longer-lasting and slower-burning but steadier blaze.
My Christian friend’s comment about the nature of the sex act, that it was merely passing entertainment, was not merely false, it was the closest thing my atheist heart could call a blasphemy. He was saying, in effect, that him jacking his juice into some half-drunk frail whose name he might not remember the next day was the same as my selfless adoration to my better half, my mistress of mistresses and mother of my children.
His argument was that the value placed on sex was a matter to be decided by the will of the parties involved. I was free to treat sex as a paramount and significant part of a long-term relationship if I so willed, but he was also free to treat sex as an entertainment only loosely related, or even unrelated altogether, to any tender emotion, friendship, romance, or devotion.
It was not clear whether he meant (1) this was a mutual decision between him and his lovers, or whether (2) he could decide without consulting her that sex had no meaning, whereupon if she ascribed a deeper meaning to it when he did not, this was merely her tough luck.
He did not say, but I have my suspicions. My suspicion is that the lovers sought by such men are being deceived fundamentally, even if no word is ever spoken. She assumes the sex is meaningful: that she is sharing her inmost soul, and expressing her absolute devotion, and he takes advantage of her tender emotions, which he may or may not share, merely to release some organic pressures.
I have listened to locker-room talk from those of my friends who were lady’s men in their youth. One of my best friends—a fellow atheist—joked that not only did he not want to see a girl with whom he had copulated in the morning, he did not want to see her the moment after ejaculation, but would have, if he could have gotten away with it, merely pushed her out of bed and onto the floor the moment his lusts were sated.
Perhaps this was merely meant as a joke. Perhaps. Perhaps this attitude exists only among the more shallow of lustful young men. Perhaps. But you do not know my friend and I do, and I was all too painfully aware of the turmoil and hatred his ex-girlfriends, circling like maddened harpies, created in his life. My sympathies, if you do not mind my saying so, were entirely with the harpies. I regret that they did not do more to my friend to return to him the pain his betrayals cost them. This, even though I love my friend, and would make any sacrifice for him, even unto death. So I did not take his joke as a joke, and I heard similar things from other randy young men when they brag.
But I noticed that my Christian friend was treating his sex partners casually, and my Atheist friend was treating his sex partners contemptuously. They were both of the Libertine position.
(Since I, by contrast, treated the sex act as holding paramount significance, meaningful only in the context of marriage and there having a central meaning, there was no correlation between religious belief and this issue, not in these cases.)
If the Libertine position is correct, however, both my casual friend and my contemptuous friend were entirely right, and entirely within their rights, to treat their paramours casually or contemptuously, and the young ladies had neither recourse nor right to complain.
I asked myself how in the world the world could reach a position where the sex act was diminished from the way I, as a married man, regarded it, namely, as the culmination and adjunct of disinterested and devout love, and the way my bachelor friend regarded it, as a form of athletic entertainment to be pursued either by exploiting and deceiving young ladies, or by convincing young ladies to regard themselves and the intimacy of their bodies, as being as meaningless as my contemptuous friend considered them: mere instruments to service his pleasure.
Clearly, contraception is the cause, perhaps even the sole cause. In any society where contraception is practiced and encouraged, carrying no legal penalty and no social stigma, the attitude of casualness and contempt represented by my two friends was not only possible, but inevitable.
Let us accept that this connection between contraception and contempt for women is a fact, and decide later whether, on balance, this is a good thing or a bad. Absent legalized and socially legitimate contraception, however, there is no Sexual Revolution, because prudence would restrict copulation within the bounds of marriage, even if morality did not.
It was at this point in my life that the suspicion began to grown on me that the Sexual Revolution was little more than a trick meant to disarm womanhood from the attentions of male sexual predators.
Women who are voluntarily sterile do not enjoy the honors surrounding motherhood; their bodies no longer carry the mysterious and godlike powers of creation, but are instead more like the bodies of Playboy bunnies, something meant for casual male entertainment.
Between the social honors paid to mothers and brides and virgins, and the social honors paid to bunnies, I doubt any serious comparison can be made, or that any young woman would be well advised to prefer the latter to the former. If nothing else, the honors paid to bunnies are tied to the short season of their physical attractiveness, whereas mothers found families, and families found civilizations, and so have a longer-lasting influence.
If any man of the generation following mine wonder why the feminists of the modern day are angrier and quicker to anger than those of my day, even though no legal barriers any more exist to their entry into the workforce, the political world, or elsewhere, I humbly suggest that their anger is quite reasonable: men treat women like dickless men these days, equal but inferior, and feel no scruples and no hesitation about exploiting any emotional or physical weakness the fairer sex might be so unwise as to display.
4.4. MEN ARE JERKS
Speaking as a man, and on behalf of the spear side of the race, let me tell any ladies reading these words that men are jerks. Perhaps the males you know are finer beings than what I describe here: if so, you need read no further. Nothing in my cynical world view will persuade you. None of the dangers I deem it prudent to protect against seem like threats to you. So be it.
I can only base my judgments on the evidence presented to me by my experience. If you have never been abandoned by a father seeking a lover younger than your mother, never been subject to a date-rape, never been dumped without a word by a man to whom you gave as much of yourself as you can give, never been abandoned by a lover and left to fend for yourself, never been driven to the abortion clinic at midnight by your best friend because the father of the baby was nowhere to be found, or never been divorced because your husband sought after a younger and prettier trophy-wife, then let me not disturb the curtain of candy-colored clouds in which your romantic hopes for life are wrapped. My view of the world is darker. I have friends and family members, people I know well, to whom all these things have happened. Time will tell which of us is closer to the truth.
I hope any feminists reading these words – if so impossible a chimera can be imagined as a feminist reading anything written by John C. Wright – will agree with me that females have been disadvantaged, exploited, and betrayed by the lusts of men since the dawn of time, and men seek to keep women in a position of weakness, to rob them of their natural rights, because both masculine indifference and masculine ego urges them to do so. You and I, O mythical feminist, disagree only on one point: did the Sexual Revolution help or harm the social mechanisms used to protect women from male sexual predators?
Let me ask the mythical feminist reading these words think about a particular example: when a powerful and well-connected World leader, let us call him Bill, has a young intern working for his staff, let us call her Monica, a lady perhaps half his age, not only convinced that he means to divorce his wife to cleave to her, but also convinced to kneel in his office and suck on his crooked penis, do you think the social rules and institutions surrounding sexual acts were successful in this case in protecting her from exploitation and betrayal? Were they successful in protecting his wife, let us call her Hillary, from exploitation and betrayal? Were the successful in protecting his daughter, let us call her Chelsea, from exploitation and betrayal? If any feminist were ever to read these words (an unlikelihood, I admit) I would wish to ask her whether the interests of the women involved, Monica, Hillary, and Chelsea were being served or betrayed by the Sexual Revolution and the mores and customs it ushered in to predominance.
Or was the unnatural sexual act of our purely hypothetical Bill and Monica in keeping with what your movement allows? Do women like her need no protection from men like him? Does the violation of his marriage vows carry no penalty, neither in the court of law nor in the court of public opinion?
Are men jerks? And if so, what should be done to drive their sexual fury into socially useful channels?
Are men jerks? And if so, what should be done about it? Letting every sister to fend for herself does not seem in keeping with the dignity of women, nor their equality, nor their freedom.