Center for Family and Society Newsletter – Sept. 1, 2011

1. Why Montesquieu was pro-marriage

By William C. Duncan and Bryce Christensen

Politically educated Utahns remember the French political thinker Montesquieu largely for one reason: It was from Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws (1748) that America’s Founding Fathers drew their inspiration for the system of checks and balances they built into the U.S. Constitution. The framers of the Constitution were persuaded by Montesquieu’s argument that because “every man invested with power is apt to abuse it,” political liberty would survive only so long as “power should be a check to power.” “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty,” Montesquieu explained. “Again,” he wrote, “there is no liberty if the judiciary power be not separated from the legislative and executive. … There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body … to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and that of trying the causes of individuals.” 1In the clear separation of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, Americans see a lasting monument to Montesquieu’s wisdom as a political theorist.

Unfortunately, Americans have generally forgotten Montesquieu’s insights into another issue of perhaps even greater importance for the long-term health of the American republic: namely, what Montesquieu calls “the ceremony of marriage.” Viewing wedlock as the safeguard of that “public continence [that] is naturally connected with the propagation of the species,” Montesquieu recognized in marriage the ritual that enforced “the natural obligation of the father to provide for his children” so preventing a mother “who generally wants [i.e., lacks] the means” from being compelled to care for her children alone. Montesquieu thus held “illicit conjunctions” between unmarried men and women in low regard, believing such conjunctions could “contribute but little to the propagation of the species.” Emphasizing that “in republics … it is necessary that there should be the purest morals,” Montesquieu spoke out against the “libertinism” of men and women who avoided marriage while indulging in non-marital sexual relations, warning of malign social consequences “when the two sexes, corrupting each other even by the natural sensations themselves, fly from a union which ought to make them better, to live in that which always renders them worse.”

“It is a rule,” Montesquieu further reasoned, “that the more the number of marriages is diminished, the more corrupt are those who have entered into that state; the fewer married men, the less fidelity is there in marriage; as when there are more thieves, more thefts are committed.” It is no wonder, then, that Montesquieu viewed favorably “the ancient laws of Rome [which] endeavored greatly to incite the citizens to marriage.” Indeed, as he surveyed social conditions in 18th-century Europe, he concluded, “In order to communicate a general spirit, which leads to the propagation of the species, it is necessary for us to establish, like the Romans, general rewards, or general penalties” – referring here to the legal rewards and penalties of the sort incorporated in Rome’s ancient pro-marriage laws.2

If Montesquieu believed that pro-marriage laws were necessary in 18th-century Europe, he would recognize an even more acute need for such laws in 21st-century America, where marriage rates have tumbled by more than 50 percent since 1970. 3 For the fall in marriage rates has brought troubling social, economic and political changes. Without question, Montesquieu would share the fears of demographer Phillip Longman, who worries about “America’s vanishing labor supply” in a social landscape reshaped by “the low birthrates of recent decades.” 4 What is more, an 18th-century writer concerned about women lacking financial resources trying to raise children would have even more reason for concern in contemporary America, where almost two-fifths of all children are now born out of wedlock, where high divorce rates have created a world in which half of all children live at least part of their growing-up years outside of a married-couple home, where at any one time almost one quarter of all children live in a single-mother household, and where nearly half of children living with single mothers live below the government’s official poverty line.5 Montesquieu would also have reason to worry about 21st-century America’s civic life, since political scientists have established that married Americans are distinctively civic-minded – voting, volunteering, and participating in community service organizations at levels significantly higher than are seen among their unmarried peers. 6

Unfortunately, many of the nation’s legal elite appear oblivious to the social and cultural problems consequent to the nation’s retreat from wedlock. It is indeed this elite who have given us no-fault divorce laws making it easy to dissolve marital bonds, who have promoted cohabitation as an emancipatory replacement for wedlock, and who are now promoting the stunningly subversive notion of same-sex marriage. 7 This elite, predictably enough, share the views of an academic elite who – recent survey data show – profess “very liberal attitudes toward sex” and are increasingly willing to “discriminate against people with conservative views” on social issues. 8

The current anti-marital bias among the legal elite poses a great challenge to Americans – especially family-minded Utahns – who share Montesquieu’s recognition of wedlock as an essential incubator of republican virtue. The challenge of preserving Montesquieu’s pro-marriage legal principles indeed compels a rethinking of the other part of his political patrimony – namely, his advocacy of a system of divided government in which the power of one branch of government serves as a check to the abuses of power in other branches of government. Such Americans will want to keep in mind the point made by political scientist Franz Neumann, when he points out that Montesquieu’s system of checks and balances “can live up to its promise only if the three (or two) powers are not only legally and organizationally, but also socially, separate, i.e., different social groups dominate the different powers.” After all, “What possible guarantee of freedom can there be in separate powers if all three are controlled by one group?” 9

Given the pervasive influence in academe of liberal attitudes subversive of wedlock, Americans who share Montesquieu’s belief in wedlock will certainly wish to keep all three branches from falling under the sway of the academic world and its anti-family philosophies. Since academe controls the credentialing of those who serve in the judiciary and the permanent bureaucracy of the executive branches, it is perhaps not surprising that activist judges have taken the lead in establishing the subversive legal fiction of same-sex marriage. Nor is it surprising that the lawyers in the executive branch of government have – even in the absence of a Supreme Court ruling on the matter! – repudiated the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

At least for the time being, those who share Montesquieu’s perspective on marriage must look to the legislative branch as the essential check against anti-marital forces in the judicial and executive branch. In other words, voters must scrutinize the social views of prospective legislators with particular care.

Of course, voters need to scrutinize candidates’ social views even more intensely when selecting the political leaders to occupy the top positions in the executive branch of government – governors and, of course, the president. These leaders, after all, can appoint bureau chiefs and judges who will resist the anti-marriage philosophies of modern academe. Family-minded Utahns and Americans from other states may particularly hope for an executive branch more supportive of attitudes toward wedlock if a Republican takes the White House from Obama in 2012. But Americans cannot vote out of office the liberal academics who have made anti-marital thinking nearly an orthodoxy on the nation’s campuses. Consequently, even under a Republican chief executive, Americans will likely see the malign influence of anti-family thinking persist among those who staff the permanent bureaucracy of the executive branch and among the lawyers who populate the judicial branch. Until pro-marriage scholars can change the academic culture (and some brave academics are working to that end 10), Americans will need to rely heavily on pro-marriage legislators to counter anti-marital initiatives coming from the executive and judicial branches of government. Only in this way can the structural feature of American government for which Montesquieu is widely remembered protect the social institution which the Frenchman recognized as critical to republican virtue.


1. Charles Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (1748), trans. Thomas Nugent (New York: Hafner, 1949), Vol. 1, XI, 4-6; pp. 150-152.
2. Ibid, Vol. 2, XXIII, 2-6, 21, 26; pp. 2-4, 12-13, 24.
3. In 1970, the marriage rate per 1,000 unmarried women ages 15 and over stood at 76.5; in 2008, it was only 34.8. “Marriage Rate in the U.S., 2008,” National Center for Family & Marriage Research, Bowling Green State University, 2009. Web. 2 Aug. 2011. 
4. Phillip Longman, The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It (New York: Basic, 2004), 15-17.
5. Susan L. Brown, “Marriage and Child Well-Being: Research and Policy Perspectives,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 72.5 [Oct. 2010]: 1059–1077.
6. Cf. Corey L.M. Keyes, “Social Civility in the United States,” Sociological Inquiry 72 (2002): 393-408; Robert J. Sampson, “Crime in Cities: The Effects of Formal and Informal Social Control,” inCommunities and Crime, eds. Albert J. Reiss Jr. and Michael Tonry, Vol. 8 in Crime and Justice, eds. Michael Tonry and Norvel Morris (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987), 271-307.
7. Cf. Harry Willekens and Kirsten Scheiwe, “Introduction: The Deep Roots, Stirring Present, and Uncertain Future of Family Law,” Journal of Family Law 28.1(2003): 5-14.
8. Cf. Neil Gross and Solon Simmons, “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” Working Paper, September 24, 2007,; Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University(New York: W. W. Norton, 2009), 139–40.
9. Franz. Neumann, Intro. (1949), The Spirit of the Laws, op. cit., lviii.
10. See, for example, the work of the National Marriage Project, headquartered at the University of Virginia. As an initiative that strives to “bring marriage and family experts together to develop strategies for strengthening marriage,” this is a project that holds promise for changing academic thinking about wedlock in a positive way. See “Mission,” National Marriage Project, University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2011.


2. Planned Parenthood: See what $152,000 in taxes fund

By Matthew Piccolo 

Utah Representative Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman) has said he wants to stop the flow of money from the state to Planned Parenthood, which many other states have recently done. In May, The Salt Lake Tribune provided a brief sketch of the government funding the Utah chapter of Planned Parenthood receives, and other news outlets have provided related information, but these reports have largely been incomplete or inaccurate.

In this post, I will outline Planned Parenthood funding in detail. My sources are the Utah transparency website (, contracts between the state and Planned Parenthood, and conversations with staff from the Utah Department of Health (DOH). …

Click here to read more of this post on the Sutherland Daily blog.


3. Selective reduction of twins highlights the need for a culture of life

By Derek Monson

The New York Times ran an article recently about a growing abortion practice in which a woman carrying twins chooses to abort only one of the two healthy, viable fetuses, while keeping the other. The article noted that this abortion practice, termed “pregnancy reduction,” is occurring more and more among women who receive in vitro fertilization treatment (where multiples are much more frequent). It is based not on medical reasons but “social reasons” like not wanting to take on the rigors and lifestyle changes required to raise twins.

Towards the beginning of the article, it contained this disturbing quote from a woman who had artificially conceived and made such a decision …


4. An Eye of Sauron in every home?

By William C. Duncan 

Waking in a hotel room a few weeks ago, I noticed a faintly glowing red light staring at me from the television in the room. With admitted hyperbole, I thought of the lidless Eye of Sauron fromThe Lord of the Rings. Television may not yet be like a lidless eye; we can, of course, still turn it off. But its increasing ubiquity (grocery store lines, back seats of minivans, gasoline pumps, ad infinitum) make the seemingly facetious analogy at least a little unsettling. …

Even if one grants the ubiquity, vacuity and sheer drawing power of television, that person may still ask if it is fair to describe it as a malign influence. When it comes to family life, however, there is a case to be made even on this point. …

Click here to read more of this post on the Sutherland Daily blog.


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