The Future of Marriage
The Future of Marriage in Western Civilisation. By Edward Westermarck. (Macmillan. 12s. 6d. ) PROFESSOR WESTERMARCK, whose History of Human Marriage is a classic authority on the past development of marriage as an institution, here attempts to examine its future. One might have thought that, since the future so often repeats the essentials of the past, he would have been particularly success- ful. But is he? Perhaps to others besides the present reviewer he may seem so largely and learnedly engaged over side- issues as to have too much overlaid the main one. And tl e fact which originates the main one is new. History and anthropology give little positive guidance in regard to it.
What is the new fact ? In one word : contraception. Of course, in various crude ways people have practised it, here and there, since early times. But these were exceptions of no importance to the general rule. The rule was that concep- tion followed normally on sexual connexion, and that people who lived together in intimate relations could not avoid having plenty of children. Even kings could not prevent their mis- tresses from bearing bastards. Today things are the other way round. Scientific contraceptives are plentiful, cheap, easy, painless, and certain. People can indulge the sex impulse as often as they like without ever having a child unless they specially want one.
The effects of this change on marriage are what mainly need to be examined, if the future of marriage is to be explored. For though marriage has developed strong secondary sides— all that are denoted by the phrase consortium vitae—it is diffi- cult to think that provision for the children to be expected from sex intercourse has not always been its foundation and main- stay. Men and women were united for life, because no shorter union would guarantee the future of their youngest children. Why need they have any permanent basis for their coming together, if they are to have no children at all ? And why, if they have but the usual one child and remain young and sexually active after it is grown up, should they then not separ- ate, for one or both to form new connexions ? These are questions which ask themselves. And if you like to see how they are answered by the people whose wealth or position most let them do what they like—well, the answers given by the film stars are familiar to all ; and those given in
the American millionaire class generally, and among the British aristocracy increasingly, are coming to be much the same.
Professor Westermarck does not overlook the issue. But, as has been said, he rather overlays it. He has an answer, though it only emerges somewhat obscurely from the jungle of his copious and curious learning. His answer is that. mar- riage will continue—more or less as heretofore.-- for the sake of its secondary sides. Anyone who values continuity in human life, and would like the sanctities of personal relationship in future to be not wholly unlike what they have been in tlit past, must hope that he is right. • But it cannot be said that he adduces very substantial evidence. Perhaps there is none. The whole field is full of surprises. If anybody in the nineteenth century had said Englishwomen had so little desire for children that, given the choice, they would not bear more than one child apiece, he would have been disbelieved. Yet today among prosperous working people the one-child family seems hemming the rule. IL C. K. ESSOR,