Entry from May 31, 2009

In the last week we have had from The New Republic not one, not two but three strongly-worded articles purportedly arguing the case for gay marriage. Or rather, arguing the case against the case against gay marriage. That is of course no surprise, as the magazine has been an advocate for giving homosexuals the right to marry at least since the days, back in the early 1990s, when it was edited by Andrew Sullivan. Of the three pieces, two — one by Isaac Chotiner and the other by Christopher Orr — are in reply to a long and thoughtful article in The Weekly Standard by Sam Schulman titled “The Worst Thing About Gay Marriage” while the third, by Jonathan Chait, pretty much sums up the case against the case against gay marriage argued by the other two by insisting not that those with whom it disagrees are mistaken or their case wrongly argued but that they have no case. Theirs is a “non-idea” or “not an argument at all,” says Mr Chait.

I’m sorry to say that this kind of thing is not untypical of that venerable magazine, once celebrated for the quality of its political thought and advocacy on behalf of liberalism — as liberalism once was understood. Now it seems to have joined the media stampede to a moralized politics in which there are no serious arguments on either side, only good people and bad people. That this is the fashion also among the magazine’s readers is suggested by the quality of the comments on the magazine’s website which are appended to the two counter-blasts to Mr Shulman’s article. These are characterized by an even more vitriolic and ad hominem viciousness than that displayed by Messrs. Chotiner and Orr, together with even less attention to what Mr Schulman actually had to say. Clearly, The New Republic these days is less interested in reasoning its way through a difficult subject than in supplying polemical red meat for the partisan faithful.

Their fury also suggests that Mr Schulman is right when, at the beginning of his article, he deplores the extent to which “any and all opposition to gay marriage is explained either by biblical literalism or anti-homosexual bigotry.” What he wants to tell us is that at least some of the opposition — his — is based on the belief that gay marriage won’t “work.” This is because marriage is not just the culmination of a romance, as the gay marriage advocates imagine it to be, but a vital component of an immensely complex system of kinship which is still today, as it has always been, the foundation of our whole social structure. Because gay marriage takes place outside that kinship system, it simply can’t function within it and will die out of its own accord. Anyone less optimistic than Sam Schulman might say that, before it does that, it will wreak further havoc on social structures already weakened by sexual license and easily obtained divorce.

I find his argument persuasive but can imagine a counter-argument based on already existing alterations to our concept of kinship and on social changes which permanently altered our understanding of what it is to be married long before homosexuals decided they wanted to get on board. Indeed, there would have been no reason for them to want to get on board in the absence of such changes, which give every appearance of being irreversible. But this argument is not made either by Mr Chotiner or by Mr Orr. The former simply quotes bits of Mr Schulman’s article and makes sneering comments about it and about him personally; the latter devotes his attention not to Mr Schulman’s article but to “two of the most obtuse, disingenuous essays it has ever been my displeasure to encounter” on “Pedophilia Chic” which appeared in the same magazine eight and thirteen years ago. He doesn’t bother to engage with those articles, either, except through wilful misunderstanding.

Mr Chait tells us that “the most striking thing about anti-gay-marriage arguments is that they dwell exclusively on how heterosexuals would be affected” — as if (a) society as a whole were the same as “heterosexuals” and (b) this rendered any such argument invalid. If he thinks that arguments made by the three opponents he bothers to name, Carrie Prejean, Rudy Giuliani and former Senator Rick Santorum are such poor ones, why does he bother trying to discredit them? Why, in that case, doesn’t he make the effort to find an opponent worthy of himself? Like his two colleagues, he seems to begin from the assumption that those who disagree with him must be either idiots or bigots and, therefore, can have no arguments at all, or none worth their taking seriously. It almost looks as if they are afraid of a point of view that they have to go to such polemical lengths to belittle.

At any rate, they have nothing to offer but ridicule, nastiness and personal abuse of a kind that is clearly popular with readers of The New Republic — at least with those who have joined its cheerleading section. None of these three articles attempts to make a reasoned answer to a reasoned case made by the other side because, I suppose, they don’t believe there is one. But anyone not already of their opinion is bound to think they haven’t bothered to look very hard. In the case of Mr Schulman’s article, they haven’t bothered to notice with any seriousness of intent the one being made under their noses. This they are entitled to do, but not thereafter to pretend that they are engaging in reasonable discourse themselves. Such moralizing unreason is in the nature of our political dialogue in America today, and it would be considered a disgrace in any place less smitten with Media Madness than is The New Republic — which, needless to say, never bothered to review the book of that title by yours truly.

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