Harry Browne’s seminal volume, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World is a breath of fresh air in the libertarian world. We have a lot of fantastic books and articles about libertarian theory, from individual rights to theories about economics and human action, but almost nothing in the way of a practical “manual for day-to-day life.”
As libertarian-leaning individuals (regardless of which political party you belong to), we ascribe to the general principal that “more personal freedom is better than less personal freedom.”
Now – on to the meat of my article, MARRIAGE!
What’s up with that? When I talk about marriage, I’m referring to something very specific, that is the signing of a government-enforced contract, meaning that you and your spouse-to-be went to the local courthouse and signed documents that make your relationship enforceable by the State government. From that point forward, nothing that you purchase will be 100% yours. If either of you wished to dissolve the relationship, you could not do so without the express permission and oversight of the government. In the process of such a government-regulated-relationship-dissolution, every aspect of your and her financial lives will be brought under scrutiny.
In a divorce it is commonplace for the individual who earns more money than their ex-spouse to be legally forced to “maintain the standard of living that the other person is accustomed to.” The lunacy of such a thing is staggering – maybe (and that’s a loose “maybe”) you could make a case for supporting an ex-spouse for a limited period of time, perhaps enough to get her back on her feet, but to preserve a lifestyle, no matter how opulent, because she’s used to it?! It’s true, there are men far wealthier than I am, that are on the hook for paying their ex’s $30,000 per month or more!
Most states will require this for a period of time equal to half of the duration of the marriage – that is, if you were married for eight years, you would have to pay alimony to your ex-partner for four years. That is, unless, you have been married for ten years or longer, in which case (in most states), you may owe your spouse an income for the rest of your life.
To volunteer yourself for a government-adjudicated marriage is to invite the government into your personal life. I am shocked that there are those in the libertarian-philosophical community that I deeply respect and admire that seem to miss this fact entirely.
The marriage contract has nothing to do with commitment or love or ensuring the longevity of the relationship, because no contract could do such a thing. As a culture we have an irrational, emotional attachment to the marriage contract, we are duped into believing that it does all of these things for us, and that it seals-in-stone all of the aforementioned qualities. Much in the same vein as you might feel proud of yourself for paying income taxes, boasting that “I am a hardworking, tax-paying American,” it is a false-pride, it makes as much sense as being proud of the fact that you just got mugged. Don’t get me wrong, I pay my income taxes just as you do, because I’m not about to pick a fight with the IRS and lose, but I’m certainly not proud of the fact that the feds help themselves to nearly forty percent of my income.
Don’t make the relationship an end in itself that must be perpetuated at all costs. That will lead to demands for sacrifices in the name of “making our marriage work”…. Relationships are only a means to the ends desired by each of the people involved; when the ends are no longer served, the relationship should end.
Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
The government-relationship-contract does not assure love for life, “lock that girl down,” guarantee a lifetime of sex, or anything of the sort, but we believe that it does so. Not believing in this fiction is tantamount to an emotional thought-crime. “How could you be so heartless?!” Men are naturally more work-obsessed and proactive than women, and we don’t need to stop working due to pregnancy as women do, so it stands to reason that we men have greater lifetime earning potentials than women. Thus, by-in-large, the marriage contract benefits women and is an unnecessary risk to men. If the contract is broken, the judge will typically side with her, you’ll be booted from your home, have your kids taken away from you, and get stuck with a massive bill – potentially for life.
Much of the culturally-driven emotional attachment to marriage comes from women – a woman gives her man the doe-eyes, and he jumps. “Marry me or I’m gone,” she says – and the courthouse and the chapel come soon-after. Men fear a lifetime of loneliness and sex-scarcity, so we take this insane, reckless risk and sign a three-way relationship contract between ourselves, the girl, and the government. “It’s official! Boy oh boy, I am so proud of myself!”
Harry Browne’s timeless wisdom: the bureaucratic relationship-contract has nothing to do with the relationship at all. If there is love, then love is all you need. You can’t possibly sign a document or make a promise to love someone else forever – so as sweet-sounding as the marriage vows are, it’s a lie. While love, mutual respect and fun are there, stay – when they’re gone, move on. No harm, no foul.
If you want to retain the love you feel now, don’t introduce into the relationship anything that doesn’t facilitate that love. Limit the relationship to matters of love – not finance, household affairs, compromised interests, or duties.
If there are two libertarian stand-up philosophers that I love and admire, it would be Stefan Molyneaux and Jordan Peterson. Of these two, Molyneaux’s stance on marriage perplexes me the most, because he is the staunchest anarcho-capitalist of them all. To Molyneaux, the government is a parasite and belief in its authority is tantamount to religious superstition. Molyneaux is an atheist and the government is a false-god. But, when it comes to marriage, Stef rambles ceaselessly about its virtues:
Molyneaux cites statistics as the reason why people should get married and ignores the risk of the government-contract to the individual entirely. Children suffer in single-parent households because the parents are not mature, present or committed, not because they lack a piece of paper from the courthouse. Why a self-proclaimed libertarian philosopher is so hesitant to make this distinction is shocking to me. Why the government-mandated marriage contract is so often seen as the only alternative to a casual-sex lifetime of loneliness is equally perplexing. It’s impossible to have a mature and long-term relationship without the government being involved?!
Molyneux’s deification of the marriage contract is identical to how left-liberals deify government education, “the value of a public education is an intangible good-for-society because homeless children who don’t go to school are in bad shape!” Well, if those are the only two options, that argument is probably true. A government-issued piece of paper ensures love and commitment? I really don’t think so.
The greatest-of-the-great of today’s libertarian philosophers that have fundamentally shaped the way I view the world have strangely submitted to this fiction and subjected themselves to the marriage contract: Stefan Molyneaux, Tom Woods, Jordan Peterson, and the list goes on and on. When it comes to love, it seems like nobody has the guts to walk the walk, let love speak for itself and give big-brother the boot.
Peterson says that, “I’m not leaving, no matter what,” is the marital vow – but does that mean that is de-facto the case? Should you be forced to stay, no matter how miserable you might be? Should you have to weigh staying in a situation that makes you unhappy, versus facing total and permanent financial ruin? Decades of feminist war-crying have ensured that any of the positive ideals that were once attached to marriage have died the good death. Easy-access to a no-fault divorce has actually ensured that, to women, divorce will be subsidized and their “start-over Midlife crisis” will be financed by their ex-spouse. What might have been just a rough patch in an otherwise good marriage might cause the wife to rethink things, “then again I could leave him, collect alimony for life and start over, get myself a studio apartment, become a yoga instructor and enjoy an early semi-retirement.” Like welfare in its many evil forms, forced-subsidy encourages lifestyles and behavior – even poverty and drug addiction.
Peterson states “If I’m stuck with you, why don’t we fix things…” but he forgets that there’s another option, “If [she] feels stuck with you, then why not leave and rob you of your money in the process? Peterson assumes (idealistically) that the marriage contract ensures that people will feel forced to honor it – and they often don’t.
After reading Browne’s chapter on Relationships & Marriage, I had a major epiphany. The reason why marriages are so prone to arguments, fights and ultimately divorce, is the same reason why communist and socialist countries ultimately fail as well. In a marriage, the individuals attempt to create a third-party called the “union” or their “marriage.” This is a collectivist arrangement, an altar upon which the partners are supposed to sacrifice their individual autonomy. Their independent financial lives and bank accounts become intermingled and conjoined in communist-fashion. Just like any other big-government bureaucracy, the individual parties must then argue and petition the collectivist “micro-government” for an appeal any time anyone wants something that doesn’t serve the “greater good,” that is – the collective interest.
To take this discussion down the rabbit-hole further, between men and women, which gender is more prone to collectivist ideals? Well, women of course, since women are hard-wired to “nest” and defend the interests of the household and the kids. Thus, if you (the husband) want a new corvette, be prepared for an argument concerning its impact to the collectivist “household” and the vehicle’s practicality. Enter: the minivan and a lifetime of being hen-pecked and financially controlled by your wife. Women become the de-facto boss of the collectivist household, and as all retailers know, men spend the money, but women make the purchasing decisions – she’s biologically wired to look after the household and the kids, and not you.
The traditions that, well, “traditionalists,” value the most about the marriage-contract are built on lies. There is no such thing as a conjoined entity that exists outside of the two individuals involved. Individuals often become miserable in relations precisely because it is their own individualities that they have neglected.
Common-law marriage isn’t the answer. The answer is to make it a non-marriage. And to do that means that you do nothing – nothing that would attempt to change the individuality you took for granted before the new situation developed. Most love relationships falter because the individuals in them are unable to handle the differences between them. A non-marriage recognizes these differences, allows for them, and thereby permits the feelings of love to grow rather than be stifled. Neither of you becomes a different person because of the relationship. You don’t each become half of a “union.” Each of you is still an individual human being – with [their] own nature, work, property, interests and ways of doing things.
The sweetest relationship that a man and a woman can experience is the boyfriend-girlfriend arrangement because the two of you were exclusively focused on the enjoyment of each other. You spent the night together because you wanted to, you did little things for each other because you liked making your partner feel good, and you had sex because it felt good to do so. The marriage-contract is an attempt to make-permanent a thing that may or may not be permanent, as it is impossible to tell. The illusion of permanence is the trick that the government-marriage-contract plays on you. Everything with your partners is going fantastically, so you both decide to “seal it in stone” with a marriage contract and a big, expensive ritual whereby you parade your union in front of your family and friends.
Everything seems great at first because nothing major between the two of you has changed very much, meaning that you still like each other as much as you did before, and you’re both on the sugar-high of being newlyweds. The relationship contract appears to work because you both believe that it does.
The deeper the two of you go down the road of what is commonplace for “traditional” marriages, the worse everything gets. You open a joint bank account because, well, “that’s just what you’re supposed to do.” Now you’ve created a socialist, collectivist micro-state in which there are two politicians (you and her) locking horns in constant financial battles for control over the collectivized state called “our marriage.” Your wife bought one too many pairs of shoes last month, so you give her an earful about it. Two months later you bought a new Dodge Charger on a whim and she gets in your face about the $400/month car payment that you just added to “our” finances.
The relationship suffers in the same way that the duped citizens of communist and socialist countries suffer, there is no room for fun or independence because everything is the collective’s business. The notion of “the public good” is recipe for endless bureaucratic conflict and unnecessary debate.
I remember one such incident in the early 1990’s, I had just gotten a shiny-new Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I went with my family to my Uncle’s house for the holidays as we typically did, and as I was often bored when I went over there I decided to bring my SNES with me. One of my cousins was newly married, he confided in me that he “really wanted a video game system but his wife wouldn’t let him have one.”
My horrified response, naive thirteen year-old that I was, “what do you mean she wouldn’t LET you have one?”
Here we had a grown adult man with less freedom and financial autonomy than a thirteen year-old boy. Again, this is the case because, as with any collectivist regime, the phantom-leadership-figure of the union – may that be the “government” or the “marriage,” takes on the role of the adult. In a traditional marriage, you both submit your autonomy, which IS your adulthood, to the management of the collective nonexistent phantom-entity. Thus, you need to ask your wife’s permission to buy a new car or, as shown in the picture I took today at a gun shop, a new firearm, or anything else. Women are “nesters” so they identify with the collectivist-arrangement of the marriage-micro-state and immediately seize control over it, much like what happens when one political party has more power over the other. My cousin’s wife wouldn’t let him have a video game system because (her words) “those games are too violent and I don’t want the kids seeing them.” Thus the wife takes on the role of protecting the welfare recipients, and her husband’s freedom and desires can go directly to hell.
Now I know that a conservative is not necessarily a libertarian and vice-versa. Conservatives typically hate big-government unless it comes to “hallowed” institutions and roles, like government cops and roads, and of course the infallibility of “marriage.” Another man who I consider a mentor, one who has made perhaps the greatest positive change in my life is the great financial coach Dave Ramsey.
Despite how utterly amazing Dave Ramsey is, I can’t seem to agree with on the whole marriage-thing. Ramsey takes the same tone that Stefan Molyneux does, “marriage is good for you vs. shacking up casually.” Again, because the government has created a monopoly for itself in the committed-relationship department – as it has also done with roads, “education,” policing and other things, people assume that there are only two viable options: government or chaos.
But what is so jaw-dropping about Ramsey’s argument is that he is a man who has dedicated himself and his business to getting people’s acts straight regarding their finances. Ramsey tells us to get intentional, get serious, and get married. He then completely ignores the horrifying financial impact that divorce can have, specifically on men. When some of these individuals do call in to the Dave Ramsey Show and tell him of their troubles with paying for a divorce and alimony, Ramsey is casual about it, as if to say “oh ok well, you gotta pay for that then, let’s figure it into your budget.”
Holy moly, this is bad news… I think as libertarians and conservatives we should be committed to the notion that government-meddling in our lives is a bad thing, and regulation over our affairs is even worse. The government assumes the role in our lives as “the great legitimizer,” making legitimate what once was not, but of course this is a lie perpetuated by those that love government control. Does the business license on your wall make your business any more or less “legitimate?”
Friendship, love, caring, mature commitment and passion are the only things that can hold two people together, and that is all you need. Keep the 600-pound-gorilla known as the local courthouse off of your back, out of your pocket and away from your life.