Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Peter Hitchens Abolition of Britain Part 4 – Marriage

Nearly twenty years ago Peter Hitchens wrote his book The Abolition of Britain, a well timed riposte to the politically correct takeover of British institutions that had incrementally occurred during the previous quarter century or so. One issue he raised of much concern was the undermining of marriage through ever easier divorce, with the consequential huge increase in broken families resulting in serious damage to the upbringing of children.

Peter Hitchens describes the family as ‘the greatest fortress of human liberty, proof against all earthly powers’ than can ‘defy the will of authority, the might of wealth, and is the most effective means of passing lore, culture, manners and traditions through the generations’. He claims that leftists, with their addiction to state control and indoctrination, have always mistrusted the family since they ‘cannot control what goes on there, what ideas are taught, and what loyalties are fostered.’ Hitchens continues ‘full family independence would leave people free to cling to individual ideas of conscience’ adding that ‘the freer a society is, the more it leaves the family alone’.

Within traditional society ‘the family for all its faults, was one of the main pillars of the older British culture, including the idea than an Englishman’s home is his castle’. Hitchens deprecates the trend during recent decades which has resulted in ‘the least individualistic generation in known history’ through which ‘the growing child is much more easily influenced by his own age group, themselves under pressure from TV programmes, advertisers and fashion.’

Hitchens notes that ‘English marriage law was one of the oldest and most inflexible in the Christian world’. He then goes on to describe the measures that were gradually and incrementally introduced to make divorce easier, which are outlined in more detail in this previous post http://bit.ly/1U3ecFB It should be remembered that the early divorce reforms in the 19th century were openly discriminatory towards women. However, in more recent times the outcome of divorce law changes has impacted mainly on men.

So according to Hitchens we now have a situation where a husband could be ‘ordered from his own home without any suggestion that he had behaved violently towards his wife’. Courts increasingly failed to enforce husbands’ rights to visit their children, whilst the Child Support Agency was created with powers to compel a husband to provide maintenance to his wife. These recent innovations sent a clear signal that the state ‘was on the side of the wife, whether she was in the right or in the wrong’. As a result the overwhelming majority of petitions for divorce are now made by wives. This strong anti male bias remains the same today except that the state can now forcibly evict men from their homes much more easily by means of a Domestic Violence Protection Notice.

Hitchens cites the traditional view of the Church of England, still promoted as recently as the 1950s that ‘nothing but lifelong monogamous marriage can adequately establish home life; provide for the birth, nurture and training of a family of children over a period of years’. Opponents of weakening the divorce laws warned that ‘the abolition of blame would lead to divorce by consent’. So instead of being a public promise to society, wedding vows now became ‘a private contract that could be broken at will’. Hitchens noted the ‘revolution in views of chastity and constancy’ that had taken place in society since the 1960s, one consequence of which was to undermine the foundations of marriage.

As a result of these changes in sexual morality, and the relaxation of divorce laws, the British public ‘stopped disapproving of divorce in public’. This contrasts with the rumpus in the mid 1950s, generated by the affair between Princess Margaret and the divorced Captain Townsend, in which she was pressurised to carry out her ‘royal duty as upholder of traditional morality’ by deciding not to marry, despite being very much in love with him. Hitchens noted that within little more than a decade it became ‘bad manners’ to insist on what had formerly been the ‘cultural consensus in favour of lifelong marriage’, now replaced by a ‘new morality in which any assembly of children was reclassified as a family unit’.

Hitchens is right in identifying the impact and disruption that easy divorce can have on children and a stable family life. But he never explains why a married couple should be expected to stay together in a relationship that has clearly ended, once their children have reached adulthood. Easy divorce, which has now become firmly rooted, places the feelings of married couples, but mostly wives, above the interests and upbringing of children. Because of the unacceptable level of broken homes it is essential that divorce should once again be made difficult, so long a there are still children under the age of eighteen to consider. Once the children have reached an age to look after themselves, the state should no longer have any interest in whether a couple stay together in a marriage, and they should be free to divorce or separate without undue hindrance.


  1. The writer says that I 'never explain[s]why a married couple should be expected to stay together in a relationship that has clearly ended, once their children have reached adulthood.' Adult children can be and are hurt by the break-ups of the parents marriages, which is a good reason in itself. So is the fact that it s in old age that husbands and wives come to rely most heavily upon each other in times of sickness and decrepitude, a part of life to which their promises given at the altar very much apply. But in fact this question is based on a common misunderstanding of what the ban on the remarriage of divorced couples is. It states that you may only marry once, unless you are widowed. It cannot and does not compel the married couple to remain together. It just prevents either of them from contracting another marriage while their spouse is still alive, without forfeiting respect and without moral penalty. One effect of this, properly understood, was that people hesitated rather more than they do now over sexual relationships, and over getting married in the first place. I cannot se how this was a bad thing.

    1. Thank you for this clarification. One intention of my post was to assess whether anything can be salvaged from the wreckage of civil marriage today, which has effectively been destroyed by on demand divorce. The only answer that I can see, which might gain public acceptance, and which still requires a role for the state and wider society, is to emphasise the importance of providing stability in the upbringing of young children, through the public commitment of the couple and societal recognition of this, delivered through a reformed civil marriage. I fear the days of ‘forfeiting respect and without moral penalty’, based on the Christian ideal of holy matrimony, are well and truly over for most people, and I can’t see them coming back any time soon. The hurt of adult children and problems of elderly couples ‘in times of sickness and decrepitude’ is of course a difficult matter for the individuals concerned. However, I’m not sure it provides sufficient justification for the intervention of the state in what is essentially a private relationship.

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