Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Durant on The Breakdown of Marriage

As you may recall from yesterday's post, I recently discovered a first edition of Will Durant's "The Mansions of Glory", published in 1929. I was fascinated to find that much of what this forward-thinking philosopher predicted has come true, or is seen today. Equally fascinating are his mistakes. I intend to share some excerpts from this book for a short time (since the comments are minimal at best), as I haven't seen any reprints of this book on the internet; not even a mere quote from it!


"The family was invented by nature to bind the male in service to the female whom nature had bound in service to the child. Men are by nature slaves to women, and women are by nature slaves to children and the race; in that natural slavery is the secret of their deepest and most durable content."

"...Marriage is not a relation between a man and a woman, designed to legalize desire; it is a relation between parents and children, designed to preserve and strengthen the race."

"It is clear enough, God knows, that marriage was never intended for the happiness of the mates, but for the rearing of children... Only with the modern lengthening of life, the superabundance of humanity, ...and the reduction of parentage to a phase rather than the sole content of marriage, has the individual raised the query whether his own happiness in mating is not to be considered along with the continuance and elevation of the race."

"...As war decreased in frequency, and life and health became more secure, the numerical superiority of women was reduced, and monogamy began. It was an advantage to the children, who had now a united care, a concentrated love, and more food to eat since there were fewer mouths to feed. It was an advantage to the man, for it enabled him to... found a family instead of scattering his wealth, like his seed, among a horde of progeny. He found himself still free to satisfy his variegated appetites in secret, while he could surround his wife's fidelity with all the guards of custom and power, and so secure the transmission of his property to children probably his own."

"The rest of the history of marriage has been between woman and property, between wealth and love."

"(As mankind evolved) wealth brought education, education soothed the savage breast of the male, and after centuries of evolution the simple lust of body for body was replaced... by romantic love."

In regards to romantic fiction: "Who can say how far this ocean of fiction cleansed away something of the coarser aspects of modern love, making incipiently real that hunger of soul for soul...?"

"Youth, which is braver and more conceited than before, is materially helpless and economically ignorant beyond anything in the past. Love comes, and youth, finding its pockets empty, dares not marry: love comes again, more weakly (years have passed), and yet the pockets do not bulge enough for marriage; love comes once more, with half of its early freshness and power (years have passed), and now the pockets are full, and marriage celebrates the death of love."

On the modern girl's sex life: "The terrific compulsion is on her, she feels, of getting attention, entertainment, stockings, and champagne - everything except a wedding-ring - through sexual favors or display. ...She is no longer dependant on the male and may therefore risk the male's increasing distaste for marrying a lady as learned as himself in the arts of love. Her very capacity to earn a good income makes the possible suitor hesitate; how can his modest wage suffice to keep both at their present standard?"

On the modern man after marriage: "...Slowly it comes to him that these rooms are precisely like those in which he had brooded as a lonely bachelor, that his relations with his wife are prosaically like those which he has had for years with women of undiscriminating receptivity."

On a childless marriage: "Their marriage being no marriage - being a sexual instead of a parental association - it decays for lack of root and sustenance; it dies because it is detached from the life of the race. ...The natural varietism of the man reappears; familiarty has bred contempt; through her very generosity the woman has nothing new to give. ...If there is any sexual incompatibility between them it becomes an insuperable barrier, because they conceive of marriage as a purely sexual relation. ...If they are modern, they play at equality; and a tug of war ensues till one or the other has established an irritating mastery."

"Soon no man will go down the hill of life with a woman who has climbed it with him, and a divorceless marriage will be as rare as a maiden bride."

On how to save marriage: "Perhaps we should abandon the problem and say, with the oldest of the Christian religions: Close every door of escape, and the prisoners will forget that they are in jail. If marriage is for children and the race, and not for individuals and mates, then for the children's sake let marriage be irrevocable... There is, after all, so little difference between one of us and the next, that if we can not get along with the mate we have, we shall soon find like difficulties with another. Man was not made for happiness; he is born for suffering; let him marry then, and hold his peace."

"Out of our individualistic age comes an opposite theory, more interesting and as extreme; and how attractively it is named! - "Free Love." Since vows are made to be broken, why make any vows at all? Since marriages are now made to be dissolved, why bother a thousand courts with a million matings and separations? If love is the best motive for marriage, its death is sufficient reason for divorce; how can love be real if it is not free? ...This solution of the marriage problem is gathering new popularity every year. Judge Lindsay, reporting that marriage licenses fell 25% from 1921 to 1922, explains the decrease as due to the spread of unlicensed (unions). These free unions would offer an admirable exit from the difficulties of our current code were it not for the continued economic dependence of woman upon man..."

"Periodic disabilities, and the possibility of pregnancy, reduce the woman's earning power; unless she can secure a home and some fairly permanent protection in return for the risks she runs, the advantage of "freedom" is all on the side of the male. ...All that will change, perhaps, when the woman's economic independence is complete, and contraceptives have quite differentiated mating from parentage..."

"...Companionate marriage provides that until maternity is in the offing, the wife shall go to work. Here hides the joker by which the liberation of women shall be made complete: she shall be privileged henceforth to pay her fare from A to Z. The Industrial Revolution is to be carried out to its logical and merciless conclusion; woman is to join her husband in the factory..."

"It is true that youth is blind, and cannot judge; but age is old, and cannot love."

"Perhaps at no time should we be permitted or required to make irrevocable decisions."

"(Who knows) that the compulsory association of distrustful and alienated mates is any better for their children than the allotment or alteration of the children between two households separate and at peace?"

"Without doubt, companionate marriage will be more and more condoned where there is no intent to reproduce. Free unions, sanctioned or not, will multiply; and though their freedom will be chiefly for the male, women will take them as a lesser evil than the sterile loneliness of uncourted days. The "double standard" will be broken down, and woman, having imitated man in all things else, will emulate his premarital experience. Divorce will grow, and every city will be crowded with the derelicts of shipwrecked unions. The entire institution of marriage will be recast into newer and looser forms."

"Emancipate as we will, free ourselves as much as we can from the prejudices of our past, the voluntarily childless woman still fills us with a sense of something abnormal and disagreeable. ...The modern girl will laugh at this old-fashioned suggestion, and will remind the world that the day is gone when she can be used as a maternity machine."

"The last word, however, must be for monogamy. The lifelong union remains the loftiest conception of human marriage; and it is still the goal which the complete lover will set himself when he pledges his troth. There is something cowardly in divorce, like flight from the field of war; and something unstable and superficial in the one who flits from mate to mate. Men and women of character will solve these difficulties as they arise, kowing that difficulties as great would meet them on any battleground."

TOMORROW: Durant's views on morality and immorality.


Matt said...


I do know that marriage originally developed 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. At least formal marriage.

Pair bonds between humans during caveman times typically lasted four years, just enough time to raise a child to sufficient viability in the African savanah.

Man, this is the bane of our existence. Pair bonding....

~Deb said...

Interesting topic. Marriages held by children seem to fall apart more these days than anything else. Then I have this couple next door in their 70's---who never had kids and have been together since they were in their teens, still sexually active and in love. Hmm, go figure! Do you think it's a personal and individual type of thing?

Hans said...

Don't let my lack of comment mean that I'm not reading your post. Your lastest are about women and marriage. Two topics, that despite my best efforts, I have no handle on. Therefore I defer to the experts.

Mr. Grey Ghost said...

"...Marriage is not a relation between a man and a woman, designed to legalize desire; it is a relation between parents and children, designed to preserve and strengthen the race."

- Great quote!

Valerie - Riding Solo said...

Thanks for sharing the cool book. I like it that someone could look ahead and see so clearly.

I think men have also lost something in woman's transition to a working human. I know children have.

That two have to work to provide for a family has sent many of us back to extended families to raise the kids. I don't see that changing for a long time.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

"Tomorrow: Durant's views on morality and immorality."

Geez, you mean there's more????

Saur♥Kraut said...

Old Hoss, ;o) Yup. Just a little more, though. Most of his stuff would probably bore people to death ... and apparently this one isn't overly exciting. But *I* find it fascinating to really delve into a progressive mind of the late 1920s, since my grandmothers were in their late teens/early 20s at that time and I was very close to both of them. You get a glimpse into what may have shaped them.

Valerie, I'm so glad you like it! I do agree that it's a shame that both parents must work now. At one time, I almost married a man that was going to be a stay-at-home dad while I worked. We had it all planned, and I admired him for being willing to consider it and not be a neanderthal about it. However, it may eventually have caused dire consequences: Few men can do something like that without eventually feeling emasculated.

Mr. Grey Ghost, ;o)

Hans, Thanks! I was still hoping you were hanging in there.

Deb, and coming from another perspective: Isn't it interesting that heteros were and are not major fans of marriage, but now many gays are demanding it? I know where YOU stand: We discussed it a long time ago.

Matt, by saying that pair bonding is the bane of our existence, do you refer to marriage or free love (as Durant would say)?

Senor Caiman said...


Like we didn't know Hans was gay.

Where do I start? This post is too long.

Obviously women are as intelligent as men.

I work with intelligent women all day long but for some reason none of them are hot. I find this very dissappointing.

I have so much more to say but I can't type, my secretary types for me.

Excellent post.

The Lazy Iguana said...

I think it is as simple as two people wanting to be together. All that other stuff is just crap.

The economic system we have decided to run with is anti-family and anti-marriage. So people have to decide what is more important - crap or marriage?

When this book was written there was not really such a thing as consumerism. At least not as we know it today. Back then people needed each other more than they do today.

But now economic factors encourage people to not get hitched.

Hans said...


Ouch, it was one time, I was in college, I'd been drinking and you were dressed like a woman. How was I to know?

Saur♥Kraut said...

Hans & Gator, ;o)

Lazy Iguana, an excellent point. But it's not merely that. As I wrote here:

"In a relationship where the partners are equally committed, what is the difference between marriage and cohabitation? Of course, I come from the perspective of living in a No Fault Divorce state. If your partner wants out, he's out, whether you like it or not. And if the reason for divorce is that he has sex with multiple partners or a circus goat named Billy, it doesn't matter in the least. In states where Fault Divorce is allowed, perhaps marriage holds more value."

Hans said...


Depends on whether or not you own property together. An unmarried couple owning a house together are more intertwined than a married couple renting an apartment.