Our Miss Brooks loves to play with dolls
But he’s deeply troubled by these two.
Freedom Loses One
I don’t think we’ve paused sufficiently to celebrate the wonderful recent defeat for the cause of personal freedom. After all, these sorts of defeats don’t happen every day.
You can tell what’s coming next, can’t you?
Over the past 40 years, personal freedom has been on a nearly uninterrupted winning streak. In the 1960s, we saw a great expansion of social and lifestyle freedom. In the 1980s, we saw a great expansion of economic freedom. Since then, we’ve had everything from jeans commercials to rock anthems to political conventions celebrating freedom as the highest ideal.
People are much more at liberty these days to follow their desires, unhampered by social convention, religious and ethnic traditions and legal restraints.
As apparently they weren’t before.
The big thinkers down through the ages warned us this was going to have downsides. Alexis de Tocqueville and Emile Durkheim thought that if people are left perfectly free to pursue their individual desires, they will discover their desires are unlimited and unquenchable. They’ll turn inward and become self-absorbed. Society will become atomized. You’ll end up with more loneliness and less community.
That’s a Larry Hart cue if I ever heard one.
Other big thinkers believed that if people are left perfectly free to follow their desires, their baser ones will end up dominating their nobler ones. For these writers, the goal in life is not primarily to be free but to be good. Being virtuous often means thwarting your inclinations, obeying a power outside yourself. It means maintaining a balance between liberty and restraint, restricting freedom for the sake of an ordered existence. As Edmund Burke put it:
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites. … Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
BIG ERIC IS WATCHING YOU!
Recently, the balance between freedom and restraint has been thrown out of whack. People no longer even have a language to explain why freedom should sometimes be limited. The results are as predicted. A decaying social fabric, especially among the less fortunate. Decline in marriage. More children raised in unsteady homes. Higher debt levels as people spend to satisfy their cravings.
Which means he should be really happy about these dudes.
Needless to say, he isn’t.
But last week saw a setback for the forces of maximum freedom. A representative of millions of gays and lesbians went to the Supreme Court and asked the court to help put limits on their own freedom of choice. They asked for marriage.
Marriage is one of those institutions — along with religion and military service — that restricts freedom. Marriage is about making a commitment that binds you for decades to come. It narrows your options on how you will spend your time, money and attention.
Heavens to Murgatroid! No wonder they call it “The Old Ball and Chain”
Totally inhibited — is he not?
Whether they understood it or not, the gays and lesbians represented at the court committed themselves to a certain agenda. They committed themselves to an institution that involves surrendering autonomy.
They committed themselves to the idea that these self-restrictions should be reinforced by the state. They committed themselves to the idea that lifestyle choices are not just private affairs but work better when they are embedded in law.
And far from being baffled by this attempt to use state power to restrict individual choice, most Americans seem to be applauding it. Once, gay culture was erroneously associated with bathhouses and nightclubs. Now, the gay and lesbian rights movement is associated with marriage and military service. Once the movement was associated with self-sacrifice, it was bound to become popular.
Is that what Bowie and Tilda are implying?
Franco and Kenny feel otherwise
Americans may no longer have a vocabulary to explain why freedom should sometimes be constricted, but they like it when they see people trying to do it. Once Americans acknowledged gay people exist, then, of course, they wanted them enmeshed in webs of obligation.
We were acknowledged by being arrested.
Then we fought back.
I suspect that this shift in public acceptance will be permanent, unless it turns out that marriages are more unstable when two people of the same gender are involved
My lover and I have been together for 40 years. REALLY unstable, no?
And, who knows, maybe we’ll see other spheres in life where restraints are placed on maximum personal choice. Maybe there will be sumptuary codes that will make lavish spending and C.E.O. salaries unseemly. Maybe there will be social codes so that people understand that the act of creating a child includes a lifetime commitment to give him or her an organized home. Maybe voters will restrain their appetite for their grandchildren’s money. Maybe more straight people will marry.
Maybe Lindsay Graham will come out.
The proponents of same-sex marriage used the language of equality and rights in promoting their cause, because that is the language we have floating around. But, if it wins, same-sex marriage will be a victory for the good life, which is about living in a society that induces you to narrow your choices and embrace your obligations.
So THERE! Brooksie does it again!
Just look at these raves!
Michael M of Chicago notes —
Edmund Burke also wrote, “Infatuation with natural right in the practical concerns of government must end in anarchy, in a fiery and intolerant individualism.” He recognized the necessity of balancing rights and responsibilities. And regarding de Tocqueville, he was never able to resolve the conflict between expressing individuality and the social right of individualism. In order to have the latter, you must give up some of the former.
This piece is oxymoronic. The idea that achieving equal protection under the law is a curb on freedom advocates the anarchy and intolerant individualism that Burke warned against. Yes, people are using the framework of civil liberties, because nobody is stumping for the abolition of marriage. You might also examine some of the proslavery sermons by antebellum evangelicals who claimed that slaves were free because they could exercise control over their earthly passions and hungers.
Is the journalistic space so crowded that the only way Mr. Brooks can be noticed is by writing ridiculous and inflammatory columns?
Hans Christian Brando of L.A. writes–
David Brooks’ logic on this one is akin to the teenager’s threat: “If you make me stay home from the party and do school work, Mom and Dad, I’ll become a juvenile delinquent and ruin my life, and it’ll be all your fault.”
No, David, we still have a vocabulary to explain why freedom isn’t absolute (e.g., the old saw about yelling FIRE! in a crowded theater, remember?). In the case of marriage equality, what we’ve never gotten is a logical, objective, or legal reason to deny marriage to same-sex couples. Aside from the three P’s–procreation (never in history has fertility been a prerequisite for marriage), polygamy (a favorite “gotcha,” but a completely different issue entirely), and prejudice (which no gay-related topic will be able to avoid)–what we get is something like this: the spouting of standards regarding marriage which heterosexuals themselves fail to live up to, some generalities about certain sex acts not unknown among heterosexuals, how acceptance of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilized society (oh, wait: that’s covered in “prejudice”), and childish scare scenarios about people marrying their dog (which demean all human relationships).
I bet if David Brooks were around a century ago, he’d be writing the same thing about women voting and the “freedom” being “curtailed” by that outrage.
John R of NYC opines —
The logic of this article is an affront to common sense. Using it, no heterosexual or homosexual couples should marry because it restricts their personal freedom. Societies exist because of restrictions on personal freedom. That is why we have police, income taxes, eminent domain and a legal system etc. Mr. Brooks has wasted a column writing pure nonsense.
and kok1922 of Maryland sez —
Whether they understood it or not, the gays and lesbians represented at the court committed themselves to a certain agenda. They committed themselves to an institution that involves surrendering autonomy.”
Honestly, David, could you really be more condescending? As if gays and lesbians advocating for gay marriage don’t know what marriage is and what it means? Although my federal government doesn’t recognize my marriage – I DO. I’ve been married to my partner for 17yrs. I know what it means to be married. I know it means love, compromise, doing for my spouse, loving my children, foregoing material goods because my spouse (sometimes) and my children (always) take priority over me, and searching for a ‘me time’ when quiet randomly befalls our hectic daily lives.
To imply that we – gays and lesbians -don’t really know what marriage means is really just too much. It also means that those who were originally against gay marriage haven’t been listening all along. The conservative/anti-gay marriage folks have concentrated on what is done in the bedroom for so so long and limited our gay/lesbian relationships to the bedroom that you’ve not been able to listen ..to understand what we’ve known all along. about what it means to be married. You are just now catching up to us and not the other way around.
Just no pleasing them, is there Brooksie?
But let us end on a wistful note. Many of us, gay and straight are having a hard time of it in the Love and Marriage Department. Larry Hart sure did. And here to tell us about it — under the direction of the great Chuck Walters — are Doris and Martha