Sunday, November 16, 2008

Marx's Lack of Appreciation for Monogamy

Every once in a while I come across a statement or a turn of phrase that makes me go back and read it again. This quote from Dr. Lionel Tiger of Rutgers did that to me today.

“One of the triumphs of Western arrangements is the institution of monogamy, which has in principle made it possible for each male and female to enjoy a plausible shot at the reproductive outcome which all the apparatus of nature demands. Even Karl Marx did not fully appreciate the immense radicalism of this form of equity.”

Even Karl Marx didn't get how radical that idea was. That's the phrase that caught my eye, because, to be honest, I hadn't thought much about it myself. I suppose for Marx, the neglect had something to do with heterosexual monogamy being the accepted norm during his time. It's interesting how things rarely come into focus or receive our full attention until they are questioned.

Dr. Tiger was speaking about the polygamous tragedy in Texas involving the separation of over 400 kids from their mothers. He was also speaking of the Western/Christian idea of heterosexual monogamous marriage, and how radically it transformed society. Fascinating food for thought. I dug up the original article if anybody is interested in reading it. Yeah, it's over 6 months old, but life under the rock can be comfortable sometimes.



Kevin said...

It makes sense to me that monogamy is a principled step toward equality, and given the alternatives, it is probably the best solution.

I'm not very familiar with it, but I found a Wikipedia article that mentions Friedrich Engels' argument against monogamy, which might reflect upon Karl Marx. Apparently, they expected that dissolving monogamy and socializing child rearing would lead to greater equality and a better society.

Their point seems to be that bearing children naturally makes women dependent and leads to inequality. There's a logic to it, but they seem to want to impose an unsustainable artificiality that I find rather ill conceived, placing equality above reality.

Rather than adapting to nature, they would remake it, which is bound to have all sorts subtle problems. Maybe this is a good critique of Marx in general?


MamasBoy said...


Thanks for adding to the discussion. I read a bit further about Engel's work, "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State"

Here is a brief stub from the wikipedia article that seems to indicate that Engel's biggest beef with monogamy was that it was based on bad ineritance/private property ideas, and not that monogamy was inferior in and of itself.

"The social revolution which Engels believed was about to happen would eliminate class differences, and therefore also the need for prostitution and the enslavement of women. If men needed only to be concerned with sex-love and no longer with property and inheritance, then monogamy would come naturally.",_Private_Property,_and_the_State

K: "Rather than adapting to nature, they would remake it, which is bound to have all sorts subtle problems. Maybe this is a good critique of Marx in general?"

While I don't understand Marx/Engels all that well, from what little I've read, it sounds quite apt to me.