The Corner

The Amazing Power of The Culture (Part 4)

To recap: Changing divorce law did not only affect the “exit requirements” from marriage, it affected the shared vision of what marriage consists of, what the marriage vow means. The law names the reality of who is married and who is divorced in a way with which merely private definitions have a hard time surviving, much less competing.

How much did the legal change of unilateral divorce increase divorce? This is surprisingly hard to figure out, using social science tools (Prof. Doug Allen’s and my recent take on the social science is here). 

We don’t, in my view, have very good social science tools to measure cultural effects caused by law for a variety of reasons. Individual and private communties resist or adopt the new meanings promoted by legal change at differential rates, for example.  

So, for example, despite the law’s change, older views of marital permanence persisted privately for some time — up into the mid-80s, family lawyers report they would still occasionally run into clients who would utter bits of 1950s movie dialogue like: “I’m not giving him a divorce!” As if they had a choice. 

It takes a while for the new meanings encoded by the law to percolate and permeate the culture. Also, the law in one state can certainly affect the cultural meanings in another states (making isolating the effects of legal change more problematic). If polygamy were legal in, say, Oregon, that would almost certainly affect the understanding of marriage in Massachussetts. Monogamy might remain the most common public understanding of marriage, but, by definition, no longer a core or essential feature of marriage in American society. Similarly, when California adopted unilateral (no-fault) divorce, something visible had changed in our understanding in the U.S. of what the marriage vow meant — even if it was another ten years or more before say, Louisiana adopted a similar law.

So, yes, correlation is not causality. But consider acquiring another proverb: Do not mistake all we can accurately measure for all that is real.

Another similarity between unilateral divorce and gay marriage: Both legal changes were driven by elite opinion, not a mass hunger for change. Only a minority of Americans in the late sixties thought divorce laws needed to be loosened. Elites are called elites for a reason: They are very powerful, relative to mere majorities.

Whew. I know I’m being very long-winded and perhaps interesting very few folks besides myself. But I’ve never set this down before. More to come. . .

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More