The Personalist Project

Over at Public Discourse, David and Amber Lapp have a thought-provoking article about the decline of marriage among working class Americans.

They conducted interviews of young adults in southwestern Ohio and found reasons to be both concerned and hopeful.

Hopeful, because in spite of the “new normal,” most of the young adults who spoke to us do aspire to marriage, or at least to what marriage stands for in their minds—mainly love, fidelity, permanence, and happiness...

But sobering, because even as working class young adults dream of love, commitment, permanence, and family, they inherit a cultural story about love and marriage that frustrates those longings.

Then they put their finger on the nub of the issue.  It's not lack of desire for the goods of marriage, it's a bad understanding of what marriage is, "an inadequate philosophy of love and marriage".
It is rare and refreshing to see people engaged in empirical studies acknowledge so forthrightly the priority of philosophy, isn't it?

Which brings us back to the “new normal”: working-class young adults’ reductive understanding of marriage as ultimately about individual happiness—an understanding that includes no essential connection to children—begets an undefined period of trying to find the “right person,” and in many cases, those quasi-experimental relationships beget children. Ironically, the “new normal” may be as much about working-class young adults’ aspirations to marriage—or at least a version of marriage—as it is about a rejection of marriage. For it is not out of disdain for marriage that working-class young adults delay marriage and begin families, but out of reverence for it as something that ought not be broken.

If we really want to help restore a strong culture of marriage, we should be busy teaching the truth about marriage, and connecting it with all the good and legitimate aspirations for happiness that are out there.

...we should underscore that marriage exists to safeguard what working-class young adults hold dear: love and family. We should also underscore that, whether in the ordinary or extraordinary forms, heroism—and along with it sacrifice and fierce commitment—is needed for marital love to be sturdy enough to become a touchstone for their children and their children’s children.

In other words, along with G. K. Chesterton we should propose that “It is the nature of love to bind itself,” and that marriage merely pays “the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.” We should “respect him as the old Church respected him” —namely, to “write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment.”

Comments (4)

richard sherlock

#1, Mar 19, 2012 10:28pm

Like St. Paul points to in Romans they know moral truth in their hearts. In this case they know the great good or marriage and love of one person for another, especially spouses. They also know what the "literati" don't: gay "marriage" isn't good. Shared commitment to God first and a spouse second is the foundation of the kind of marriage these men and women long for and we in academia have to articulate this truth with passion and rigor every day. I have argued for years in class and in print that philosophy and theology go together and public policy can't be done without them. You can read my 2010 book Nature's End: The Theological Meaning of the New Genetics to see my argument 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Mar 19, 2012 10:43pm

My friend, the screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi, often points out that as Gen X comes into maturity, it's going to start telling its stories.  And the stories are going to have a lot to do with the disastrous fallout from the "self-filfilment at all costs" ethos of the baby boomer generation.

We have to do what we can to make sure they have access to the fulness of truth.  Was it Kierkegaard or Newman who says that a lie can be refuted, by reason, but it can only be replaced with truth.

richard sherlock

#3, Mar 19, 2012 11:17pm

No fault divorce has been a horrible disaster for children and women. Marriage is difficult at times but it is always worth it. No greater happiness is available to most of us (religious life is another matter). Every educated Catholic , or anybody else who is contemplating marriage should read and absorb Hildebrand's short work on marriage. It is fabulous. This is truth.

richard sherlock

#4, Mar 20, 2012 1:30am


what you refer to sounds much more like Newman than Kierkegaard but I'm going to check it out. One of my former students is editor in chief of the Princeton Univ. Press Kierkegaard series. He will know whether it's Kierkegaard

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