What We Are Reading: June 2021

Marriage and divorce. Is there any topic on which it is easier to find self-professed conservatives who somehow cannot bring themselves even to seriously contemplate the truly conservative position than this one? Louis de Bonald’s On Divorce remains, more than 200 years after its first publication, the most profound and philosophically sound argument for the indissolubility of marriage yet produced.

Bonald rejects outright the individualist, social contract conception of man from which, today, nearly all—including many who identify as conservatives—begin their discussion of the nature of social relations. Man should be conceived of not fundamentally as an individual, but as a unit in a family, Bonald argues. It is this organic, eternal institution that is the basic space of life for a species like ours, which is born so precociously and incapable of even basic self-preservation, much less the higher moral functions.

If instead we accept the individualist basis of human nature, the materialist framework of the alienated Homo economicus cannot be evaded. All soon becomes a question of “what is in it for me?” Any relation that does not fit that calculation must be removed as an...

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