Friday, November 28, 2008

Marriage and Caste In America


If you've been reading this blog for awhile (or just read the profile), you know this blogger is a serious bookworm. I started learning to read around two or so and haven't stop since except to eat and sleep. Not surprisingly I recently read a very interesting book called Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families In a Post-Marital Age. I guess you can add, "post-marital" to the growing lexicon of "post-this" and "post-that" that have become so popular these days. In any case, this book is a series of essays by Kay S. Hymowitz, the author of the City Journal piece I referenced in the post Young, Single, and Baha'i (if you haven't read Hymowitz's article it's worth your time). I like her stuff so decided to read her book. Marriage and Caste in America is definitely something you should read, whether you agree with its contents or not. I didn't read much that I haven't already read in the past, but Hymowitz has a clever and informative writing style. I get the feeling that I would enjoy having a conversation with her. There were two particular points she makes in the book that I liked. One is about what she refers to as "American" or "republican" marriage (that's small "r" republican not the political party). The argument goes that the founders of the U.S. viewed marriage as an institution differently than their contemporaries in Europe, an institution that could produce citizens with qualities and capacities essential to the American project:

"...republican marriage provided the edifice in which couples would care for and socialize their children to meet the demands of the new political order. If republican marriage celebrated self-government, it also had to pass its principles to the young; it was supposed to perpetuate as well as embody the habits of freedom". (Hymowitz, 2006, pg. 36)

Another is a more general thesis that is articulated in all the essays, namely that cultural changes fueling trends in marriage (or non-marriage) behaviors since the 60's are contributing to the increasing gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" and the emergence of a caste society based on marital status. According to Hymowitz, debates about poverty that neglect the contribution of the breakdown of so-called "traditional" two-parent families are missing the mark. Read the book and decide for yourself if you agree.

Reading Marriage and Caste in America gave me a lot to think about and strengthened my faith that marriage is an institution that matters a great deal.

"Marriage, among the mass of the people, is a physical bond, and this union can only be temporary, since it is foredoomed to a physical separation at the close. Among the people of Baha, however, marriage must be a union of the body and of the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamoured of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based both on the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation. When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 117)