The old ball and chain

Fig. 1: Marriage

A playground loser may save his ego with the following: I didn’t want to win anyway.  Here’s Yale Professor David Brooks’ latest version.

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.

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.

This is correct only in the most restrictive sense–the sense in which every choice to do some activity x involves doing x (and maybe for a time not y).  But in every other meaningful sense it’s appalling dumb: having the right to marry recognized involves adding choices to one’s life.

2 thoughts on “The old ball and chain”

  1. Yeah, you’d think conservatives would be able to distinguish ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’. That said, it’s worth following Brooks’ line all the way through — if marriage is such a restrictive institution, one that takes away freedom, then we shouldn’t want more of it… we should want less of it. And not just for gays, but for heterosexuals too. Now who’s tearing apart the fabric of civilization?

  2. You’re exactly right in your analysis. Meanwhile, a significant (even surprising) number of conservatives really struggles with the idea of consent/agency. It comes up most often with women’s rights (check out some of the transvaginal probe arguments, brr). The funny thing is, certain conservatives (especially those who prefer to call themselves “libertarian”) will go on at length about negative versus positive liberty. In fact, Brooks has touched on this himself (see “No U-Turns” from 2007). Perhaps he was coming up blank before a deadline?

    I have a theory that Brooks’ arguments have grown progressively weaker in the past few years because he feels compelled to defend the party/movement position, and those positions have grown more extreme (and less defensible). It makes selling his brand of aristocratic conservatism as sensible centrism more difficult (The Fallacy of David Brooks’ “Golden Mean,” perhaps). Still, I find the op-eds where Brooks and Douthat essentially throw in the towel on some rearguard action and descend to full-on concern trolling to be the most entertaining. (Brooks opposed the Affordable Care Act, but it’s interesting to see how his arguments grew more desperate as passage became more certain. And as always, while I enjoy the dissection of informal fallacies, I find some of the other rhetorical choices fascinating too.) Cheers!

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