Review: Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

marriage-a-historyAround the time that Andrew Anglin over at The Daily Stormer started to go MGTOW, I bought some books on Amazon that I thought would be helpful in learning more about the meaning of “traditional marriage” and “traditional gender roles.”

What exactly is “traditional marriage”? How did “traditional marriage” evolve in the West over history? How and why did “traditional marriage” crumble in the West? Is there anything traditional about MGTOW and the men’s rights movement?

After doing some searching online, I found some books that had been written by feminists on the topic of marriage. I was initially skeptical that these books would have any value, but after reading a few chapters, I quickly changed my mind. History, after all, is still history and there is no disputing that we have been born into an age of unprecedented social revolution in sex, marriage, family life and gender roles.

The institution of marriage has changed more in the West in last fifty years than in the last five thousand years of history. After reading this book, I was struck by how swiftly traditional marriage and gender roles unraveled in the 1960s. While there were plenty of crises in the institution of marriage in the past, the pace of change was much slower. Marriage in the European Middle Ages, for examples, warranted only two chapters in Coontz’s book, a period that lasted a thousand years, while each decade of the twentieth century seemed to have its own chapter.

According to Stephanie Coontz, marriage in the West can be broken down into roughly three periods:

The Patriarchy, Antiquity-1750

The foundation of the Western institution of marriage was laid in ancient Rome, Greece, and Israel. These were all patriarchal societies, but the Roman marriage was the closest ancestor to our own system. The ancient Israelites practiced polygamy and women in ancient Athens were treated like property, but the Roman marriage was based on consent between the two parties. It required the approval of the fathers of the bride and the groom.

In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church gradually wrested control of marriage away from the state and the kin group. Incest was strongly discouraged. Divorce was prohibited. Marriage was brought to the church as a religious service, was announced publicly to the community, and involved a priest. Medieval marriage vows and ceremonies were very similar to our own. Also, a valid marriage in the Middle Ages was based on the consent of the two parties. This was a shift toward a more individualistic system of marriage that did not require parental approval.

Still, marriage in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Era was fundamentally an economic institution. A wife in those times was an economic necessity in a viable peasant household. People lived in villages and worked in common fields on feudal manors. Whether it was family, neighbors, or lords, outsiders had far more influence over marriage than they do today. The pressure to conform to social norms was far greater in the small rural villages and emerging cities of the Middle Ages because marriage was more of a community affair due to the way the economy was organized.

The Love-Based “Male Breadwinner” Marriage, 1750-1960

The Enlightenment and Romantic era brought a new system of marriage into existence: the love-based “male breadwinner” marriage.

In this new system, which was strongly driven by the emergence of the market economy, urbanization, and industrialization in the West, marriage came to be based more on the emotional needs of individuals: it was about romantic love, intimacy, personal fulfillment and finding your “soul mate.” The household, which had previously been the site of shared production in the Middle Ages/Early Modern Era, became the “home,” a place the man returned to as a sanctuary after spending his day working for wages in the industrial economy, and a place the woman often now stayed at alone as a homemaker.

Coontz argues that this model was always inherently unstable and was beset by periodic crises in the 1790s, the 1890s, and the 1920s. After all, if couples married for romantic love, what should they do if those passions ebbed? Why couldn’t couples pursue romantic love outside of marriage? Are children a necessary byproduct of romantic love? The logic of the love-based marriage ultimately leads to decomposition, but Coontz argues the system was propped up for decades by the Victorian doctrine that women and men had “separate spheres” and which exalted women and put them up on a pedestal.

In the Middle Ages, women were seen as depraved sexual creatures who had caused Adam’s fall, and society took a dim view of sex and women’s sexuality. The Victorian era turned the old view of women upside down. Women were now seen as exalted maidens with little in the way of a sex drive. Men saw themselves as chivalrous knights protecting their honor. Women had to be sheltered at home from the evils of the workplace.

By the 1920s, Victorian morals had ebbed enough where a more positive view of sex had emerged, and sexual fulfillment was added to the list of things that made a good love-based marriage. The love-based marriage started to come unglued in the 1920s, but the Great Depression and World War 2 were so disruptive that men and women were focused on the more important problem of survival. In the 1950s, normal times returned, and most people were so grateful and ready to act out their pent up dreams of marriage and starting a family that social revolution was not on their minds.

The Egalitarian Partnership, 1960-Present

In hindsight, what caused the big collapse in the 1960s? A number of things …

1.) First, urbanization, the maturation of the free market economy, and the expansion of government continued to undermine the family. In dense urban cities and brand new suburbs, the social and economic constraints that had preserved traditional marriage over the centuries collapsed. Add to that list government in its newfound role as substitute husband. Women could work for wages and support themselves in the labor hungry postwar economy.

2.) Second, America’s brand new consumer culture made many traditional gender roles superfluous. A man no longer needed a woman to prepare his meals, sew his clothes, preserve his food, and so on. Simply put, America and other Western countries had become so prosperous that marriage was no longer an economic necessity, which is why the number of single households has exploded to an unprecedented level.

3.) Third, Americanism, which glorifies liberty and equality as the only things that are good in life and celebrates the perpetual expansion thereof, predictably invaded and undermined the family. Women’s suffrage followed in the wake of abolitionism. Feminism followed in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement.

4.) Fourth, one of the biggest factors was undoubtedly the rise of the mass media, especially television in the 1950s, and how film, radio, and television began to collectively reshape popular culture. Jewish influence isn’t addressed in this book, but Freud and countless other Jews played a major role in reshaping expectations of marriage.

5.) Finally, the logic of the love-based marriage ultimately doomed it to failure, as conservatives had always warned would happen. The slippery slope predictions made by critics of the love-based marriage eventually came true. If you don’t love someone, why not divorce them? How long does it take to find “true love”? If you aren’t satisfied with your marital intimacy, why not get a divorce? Why can’t you love someone outside of marriage? What if your soulmate happens to another man or woman rather than a member of the opposite sex?

The 1960s and 1970s ushered in an age of unprecedented social revolution in sex, family life, and gender roles: among other innovations, interracial marriage was legalized, singleness and cohabitation ceased to be taboo, workplace discrimination was outlawed, illegitimacy was abolished, premarital sex became the norm, no fault divorce became legal and divorce rates skyrocketed, abortion was legalized, head-and-master laws were repealed across the West, and above all, the advent of birth control decoupled sex from reproduction for the first time in history.

Marriage was transformed in the West into an egalitarian partnership held together only by bonds of affection. It became a purely private and personal civil contract between two free and equal individuals. Men were stripped of all authority over their wives. With most husbands and wives now in the workforce, stress within the household exploded, and most marriages started to end in divorce.

Ultimately, Cootz doesn’t have much to say about the future of marriage, and seems to assume the existing state of affairs is a permanent change which we must adjust to. I was disappointed that she didn’t address the demographic winter issue: how, after all, is the contemporary system of marriage supposed to survive when women’s liberation is inverting the age pyramid in so many countries? How are so few young people supposed to take care of so many old people in the long run?

I expect there will be even greater changes ahead in the nature of marriage in my lifetime.

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  1. “[T]he logic of the love-based marriage ultimately doomed it to failure, as conservatives had always warned would happen.”

    The passage below is from “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man,” the ninth part of Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. It’s the closing part of that chapter’s section thirty-nine. In my paperback Portable Nietzsche, edited and translated by Walter Kaufmann, it’s on page 544:

    All rationality has clearly vanished from modern marriage; yet that is no objection to marriage, but to modernity. The rationality of marriage—that lay in the husband’s sole juridical responsibility, which gave marriage a center of gravity, while today it limps on both legs. The rationality of marriage—that lay in its indissolubility in principle, which lent it an accent that could be heard above the accident of feeling, passion, and what is merely momentary. It also lay in the family’s responsibility for the choice of a spouse. With the growing indulgence of love matches, the very foundation of marriage has been eliminated, that which alone makes an institution of it. Never, absolutely never, can an institution be founded on an idiosyncrasy; one cannot, as I have said, found marriage on “love”—it can be founded on the sex drive, on the property drive (wife and child as property), on the drive to dominate, which continually organizes for itself the smallest structure of domination, the family, and which needs children and heirs to hold fast—physiologically too—to an attained measure of power, influence, and wealth, in order to prepare for long-range tasks, for a solidarity of instinct between the centuries. Marriage as an institution involves the affirmation of the largest and most enduring form of organization: when society cannot affirm itself as a whole, down to the most distant generations, then marriage has altogether no meaning. Modern marriage has lost its meaning—consequently, one abolishes it.


    According to Kaufmann’s introduction, Twilight of the Idols was written in 1888 and published in January 1889.

  2. “The 1960s and 1970s ushered in an age of unprecedented social revolution in sex, family life, and gender roles: among other innovations, interracial marriage was legalized, singleness and cohabitation ceased to be taboo, workplace discrimination was outlawed, illegitimacy was abolished, premarital sex became the norm, no fault divorce became legal and divorce rates skyrocketed, abortion was legalized, head-and-master laws were repealed across the West, and above all, the advent of birth control decoupled sex from reproduction for the first time in history.” – I think there were also marriage restrictive covenants that were eliminated as well.

    These were the product of political changes, not necessarily changes to marriage, and society could do a great deal to incentivise marriage if it wanted to. But then I suppose the fact that people don’t want that just goes to show that what the author is saying is true.

  3. At some point between 1998 and 2000, I read the introductory chapter of a family-law textbook written by a woman. Having been born in late 1953 and thus having lived through the many changes of the 1960s and 1970s, I was struck by one of that chapter’s sentences. The woman, as she was speaking about the modern goal of a job “with good benefits,” said something like the following: Before 1970, it was easy to fire an employee and difficult to obtain a divorce; now, it’s easy to obtain a divorce and difficult to fire an employee. That rang true. What has developed in America over the past-half century would seem to be crypto-socialism, in which businesses and homes are ostensibly private but are effectively part of a complicated structure through which the government rears, feeds, and educates children, while it provides an income to adults. There are “net givers” and “net takers,” of course; and there seem to be the canny, who are eager to run supposed businesses that are part of the structure. Not knowing the details of all of this, I’m just giving my impression; but I’d say the structure includes, among other things, nursing homes, clinics, daycare centers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical-insurance companies, divorce lawyers, schools (“public” or private), and—last but not least—the banks that provide the student loans that the taxpayers co-sign. (Am I mistaken about this? Don’t the student loans come through banks?)

    In a sense, Obamacare was just a minor change to that structure. Yes, it was promoted as part of an effort to wrest medical care from control by greedy insurance companies, hospitals, doctors, or what-have-you; but in reality, it simply extended the government’s control of those entities, which haven’t been genuinely private for decades. That’s part of the reason there was no real discussion of Obamacare during the period in which passage of it was being pursued. There were already so many levels of government manipulation beneath every ostensibly-private medical-care transaction that concepts such as “price” and “choice” had long been rendered meaningless. The arguments for and against the legislation were mere howlings.

  4. The serious problem with the “MGTOW/Manosphere” worldview that the “great and powerful” Mr. Anglin now adheres to, is that it attempts to correct observed flaws in society through an all-encompassing “worldview” that ranges from the immature to the outright retarded. It incorporates folks that have no shared values or experiences, similar to blanket “WN,” and has no real voice outside of the internet community.

    1. The otherwise normal man who has run into a divorce or serious relationship problems. He might rant and look for a cathartic release, which is fine enough, and usually doesn’t progress past this stage unless the below dregs influence him.

    2. Teens and young men with emotional instability and social issues that have no understanding of women, and lash out in strange ways because of their failures in the real world. Perhaps growing up a bit would help?

    3. Habitual race-mixers and degenerates who want to reform society into one that abuses women as Moslems do, or who openly advocate relations with Hispanics, Asians, and other non-Whites because of “muh traditional female.”

    4. Folks who follow the PUA garbage that is almost exclusively a Jewish industry.

    5. Those who have no understanding of history whatsoever, but promote some weird version of the past that has no basis in reality.

    Trying to incorporate these critters into Nationalist circles is foolish at the very least, and politically suicidal at the worst. It has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding in drawing in large numbers, and is just irritating to almost any outside observer.

  5. Three points.

    Feminazis will ALWAYS have an ‘axe’ to grind. Also, why finance your own cultural destruction, by buying such books? Clearly, White Males (whether Evangelical or RC) have written much on the same topics, and are more to be trusted, as the divine leaders of discussion on female submission and male headship, HW….

    Second, it was the DESIRE of those in control to ‘minimize risk’ and maximize lust’ that led to chemical means to abort the illegitimate fetus conceived adulterously, or merely via fornication (i.e., miscegenated spawn, or merely carnal in-tribe promiscuity). Condoms had been around since the days of Cassanova (or so one of my brood tells me ’twas read in World History… what ARE they teaching kids these days!?!?) but ‘the pill’ – and the race of ‘doctors’ (what about the Hippocratic oath, ‘Do no harm’) that invented it, is THE proximate cause of the demise of marriage, don’t kid yourself.

    Thirdly, instead of sticking your nose in a book written by another Jew {Coontz}, cf.
    (Not that ‘It’s not all about Jews, you understand….’)

    why not do what Trad Youth and others are doing, and/or reporting THIS skirmish in the Culture war?

    Just sayin’…..

  6. Nature is always with us, underlying everything that exists within and happens to society. Society is organic. When society favors unsustainable, unrealistic, and unproductive behaviors it will fail. As soon as government goes bankrupt all this shit goes back to normal. Humans are inherently tribal and men dominate tribal environments.

  7. From the Huff Post Article

    What experts like Andrew Cherlin (Marriage-Go-Round) and Stephanie Coontz (Marriage, A History) tell us is that, in our attempt to make marriage stronger by raising the bar to meet our higher needs, we have seriously weakened the institution now that marriage is based on love and romance — both highly changeable emotions. When love wanes, the marriage gets shaky; when the romance stops, the nuptials die.

    People whose primary reason to marry is other than love — such as to have children with someone they believed would be a good co-parent, to have financial security, or for companionship — generally have longer and perhaps better marriages because their choices were made with a purpose. Additionally, their expectations of marriage and their mate are less unrealistic. Their spouse wasn’t expected to be “The One.” They merely needed to be Mr. or Mrs. “Good Enough.”

    They, unknowingly, just made a solid case against ‘gay marriage.’ Isn’t the mantra for ‘gay marriage’ is “love is love?”

  8. This is a wonderful review and article. Thank you!

    In Kiryas Joel, Jewish mothers have many children. I believe some of them beg their rabbi to be allowed to stop having children, after so many. I don’t know the genetic strength of the community, but it can sure reproduce numbers. So, that’s an example to look to. Culturally, we here accept 2-3 children as the norm. The Jews of Kiryas Joel don’t stop at 3, though they do live in poverty and seem to expand like kudzu.

    I will add that a risk of being right-wing is a tendency to overglorify the past. We need to learn from the past to adjust to what’s best for today. We don’t, for example, live in an agrarian society, and we have to tolerate society’s laws, though not its norms.

    An inverted age pyramid isn’t necessarily bad for crowded island Japan. I doubt there’s a survival of the fittest though, so wealthy Europeans and Asians are likely degenerating with time, growing in reliance upon technology, which is a dangerous but necessary concern.

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