The Matrimonial Lie-Max Simon Nordau-1883
Conventional Lies of our Civilization-Max Simon Nordau-1883
The Matrimonial Lie
Man has two powerful instincts which govern his whole life and give the first impulse to all his actions: the instinct of self-preservation and the instinct of race-preservation. The former reveals itself in its simplest form as hunger, the latter as love. The forces which produce the phenomena of nourishment and propagation are still obscure to us, but we can watch their operation clearly. We do not know why one individual completes his circle of development in a certain number of years instead of another; why the large and powerful horse can only grow to be 35 years old, while the smaller and weaker animal, man, on the contrary, lives to be 70; why the raven lives 200 years, while the goose, so much larger, only lives 20 years. But what we do know is that every living being is destined to a certain length of life from the moment of its birth, like a clock wound to run a certain number of hours—this time can be shortened by the operation of casual, external forces, but under no circumstances can it be lengthened. In the same way we assume that the species is destined to last a certain term of years; like an individual it arises at a certain fixed moment, is born, develops, comes to maturity and dies. The cycle of life of a species is too extended for men to be able to determine by direct observation the moment of its beginning and end. But paleontology gives us sufficient data to enable us without hesitation, to announce as a fact the parallelism of the laws governing the life and development of the individual and of the species. As long as an individual has not exhausted the vital energies with which it was born, it strives with all the exertion of which it is capable, to support itself and protect itself against its enemies. When the vital energies are exhausted it experiences no longer any need for food nor any impulse to protect itself, and dies. In the same way the vital energies of the species are revealed by the impulse for propagation. As long as the vital energies of the species are at their prime every fully developed individual strives with all its might to provide itself with a mate. As the vital energies of the species begin to ebb, the individuals of which it is composed, grow more and more indifferent to the subject of propagating and finally cease entirely to regard it as indispensable. We possess an unfailing means of determining the exact degree of vital energy in a given species, race or nation, in the proportion between the egotism and altruism of the individuals comprised in it. The larger the number of beings who place their own interests higher than all the duties of solidarity and all the ideals of the development of the species, the nearer is the species to the end of its vital career. While on the other hand, the more individuals there are in a nation who have an instinct within them impelling them to deeds of heroism, self-abnegation and sacrifice for the community, the more potent are the vital energies of the race. The decay of a people as well as of a family, begins with the preponderance of selfishness. The prevalence of egotism is the unerring sign that the vitality of the species is exhausted, which will soon be followed by the exhaustion of the vitality of the individual, unless he is able to secure a reprieve by favorable crossings or changes. When a race or a nation attains to this point in its life-career, its individuals lose their ability to experience normal and natural love. The family instinct dies out. The men do not wish to marry because they find it inconvenient to assume the burden of responsibility for another human life and to provide for another being beside themselves. The women avoid the pains and inconveniences of motherhood and even when married, strive by the most unhallowed means to remain childless. The instinct of propagating, which has lost its aim of reproducing the species, dies out in some persons and in others, degenerates into the strangest and most abnormal complications. The act of generation, that most sublime function of the organism, which can not take place until it has reached its full maturity and with which are connected the most powerful sensations of which the nervous system is capable, is degraded into a mere wanton sensuality no longer having for its object the preservation and reproduction of the species, but merely a gratification of the senses, without the slightest aim or value for the community. Where love still appears, as a relic or case of atavism, it is not the union of two incomplete, half individualities into one whole and complete individuality of a higher type, it is not the transformation of a sterile single life into a fruitful dual life, that can be perpetuated in its offspring far into futurity, it is not the unconscious blending and extinction of egotism in altruism, it is not the discharging of the stagnant waters of an isolated, individual existence into the rushing, impetuous stream of the existence of the race—it is nothing but a strange longing incomprehensible even to itself, partly revery, partly hysteria, partly self-deception, reminiscences, self-application of what has been heard and read, combined with a sickly, sentimental, morbid imagination, and partly sheer lunacy, emotional or melancholy insanity. Unnatural vices spread and increase, but while indecency is holding its orgies in secret, an especially sensitive prudishness is displayed in public. The proverb which says that in the hangman’s house no one speaks of the rope, is exemplified by a people whose conscience is guilty in regard to the sexes, and is fully conscious of its sins of omission and commission in this respect; it avoids any reference to the sexual life with the scrupulous anxiety of a criminal caught in the act. This is a description of the relation between the sexes in a decaying race whose vitality has become exhausted by the natural decline which is a consequence of age or by unfavorable conditions of existence, or else by the operation of injudicious and injurious laws.
If my assertion is conceded to be true that the form of the relations existing between the sexes in a given people is a measure of its vital energies, and if we apply this measure to the civilized peoples of Europe, we are obliged to draw the most alarming conclusions from what we see. The falseness of the economic, social and political conditions of our civilization has also poisoned the intercourse between the sexes all the natural instincts which should ensure the perpetuation and perfection of the race, are distorted and diverted into wrong channels, and the future generations of that part of humanity which is intellectually most highly developed, are sacrificed without hesitation to the prevailing selfishness and hypocrisy. Mankind at all times, has appreciated the fact, instinctively at first, then with its reasoning faculties, that there was nothing more important to it than its own perpetuation. All sentiments and actions which had any bearing whatever upon this most prominent interest of the species, have from the very first occupied the most extensive domain in its world of thought. Love is almost the exclusive theme of the light literature of all ages and of all peoples, and it is certainly the only one that has the power to fascinate permanently the mass of readers or hearers. The result of love, the union of the youth and the maiden into a fruitful pair, has always been surrounded by more ceremonies and festivities, preparations and formalities than any other act of man’s life; in primitive times by customs and etiquette, and later, by written laws confirming these formalities. Even the formal presentation of manly weapons to the youths was a ceremony of but secondary rank, although in barbaric tribes, living in a condition of incessant attack and defence, this act was considered of the greatest importance. By these formalities, which make a marriage a matter of so much ceremony, the community has always kept control of the relations between the sexes, and the solemnity with which it treats the union of a loving couple, ought to arouse in them the consciousness that their embraces are no mere private affairs, like a dinner, a hunting expedition or an evening spent in singing and dancing, but matters of great public importance and significance, affecting the welfare of the whole community and aiding to determine its future. In order to prevent as much as possible the degradation of love into a mere pastime and to proclaim most emphatically its sublime purpose, the preservation of the race, society from its very beginnings, has only recognized as honorable and distinguished by its respect those relations between man and woman whose earnestness has stood the test of a public ceremony. It disapproves of those which have refused to submit to this formality and punishes them with avoidance or material penalties. In our civilization as well as in its state of primitive development, the impulse for procreation must summon society to be a witness to its gratification and place itself under its protection, or else it sinks into a contemptible and criminal vice. Today as much as ever before, marriage is the only kind of union between man and woman countenanced by the community. But what have the lies of our civilization made out of marriage? It has become a mutual agreement in which there is no more room for love than in the partnership contract of two capitalists entering upon some new business enterprise together. The pretext for marriage is still as ever, the preservation of the species, its theoretical presupposition is still the mutual attraction of two individuals of opposite sexes, but in reality, a marriage is contracted not in the interests of the future generation, but solely with regard to the personal interests of the contracting parties. The consecration of morality and anthropological justification are utterly lacking in the modern marriage, especially among the so-called better classes. Marriage ought to be the victory of altruism, but it is the victory of egotism. The contracting parties do not wish nor expect to live in and for each other in the new relationship, but to carry on a more comfortable and irresponsible single existence. They get married to have their combined fortunes make life more agreeable, to provide themselves with a pleasanter home, to secure and maintain social prestige, to satisfy their vanity and to enter upon the privileges and enjoyments which society refuses to the single woman and concedes to the married one. In contracting a marriage everything is thought of: the drawing-room and the kitchen, the promenade and the watering place, the dancing-hall and the dining-room, one thing only is forgotten, the most essential of all: the sleeping-room, that sacred place, from whence the future of the family, of the race and of humanity, should dawn upon the world. Decay and ruin must be the destiny of those peoples in whose marriages the selfishness of the contracting parties celebrates its victory, while the child is an unwished-for, in the most favorable case, an indifferent accident, a resulting consequence not easily to be avoided, but always of secondary importance.
The objection may be made that among peoples living still in natural, primitive conditions of life, the majority of marriages are contracted after the same fashion as in the midst of our civilization. Among them also, affection plays no role in the establishment of a new household. In some tribes the man marries a maiden whom he sees for the first time after the wedding ceremonies are over. In others the would-be bridegroom carries off the first woman of some neighboring tribe that he meets and is able to capture. When the bride is chosen, the choice has nothing to do with love. She is selected to be the mistress of a home, because it is known in the tribe that she can work faithfully, take good care of the domestic animals, spin and weave well. In this case also the perpetuation of the tribe is left to blind chance or to egotism, and yet such peoples are full of youthful vitality and their development far from suffering from this condition of things, is progressing rapidly and satisfactorily. We can reply to this objection that marriages founded not on love but on selfishness and social station do not have the same bad results among uncivilized peoples as among the civilized, owing to anthropological causes. There is but little mental or physical difference between the individuals comprising a primitive people. The tribal type is shown in every man and in every woman alike, and an individual type does not exist at all or at most only as a germ. All the individuals seem to have been cast in the same mould and resemble each other to a perplexing degree; for breeding purposes they all have about the same value. Natural selection is not a necessarily preceding condition of matrimony; the result will be the same, whatever the motives, that led to it, may have been. Great similarity between individuals not only does away with the necessity of love, but also with its possibility. The impulse of procreation arouses in the individual a general wish for the companionship of an individual of the other sex, but it does not individualize, in a word it does not rise to its highest form, the concrete love for a certain individual and for none other. One entire sex has a general attraction for the other entire sex, it is quite immaterial to the man as well as to the woman, which man or which woman becomes their companion. When by chance some individual does arise who differs from the uniformity of the tribe and is distinguished above all the other members by surpassing mental or physical qualities, the difference is appreciated with an intensity of which we can form no conception, as we are so accustomed to see striking individual differences in the people around us. The great zoological law of sexual selection then begins to operate with the power of an elementary force of nature, and the desire for the possession of this superior individual becomes a fearful, furious passion leading to the most extreme actions. The case is quite otherwise in a civilized people, whose individuals all differ so widely. Among the uncultivated, that is, the less developed lower classes, the impulse for propagation is revealed much more frequently as a general attraction towards the other sex than as an individualizing, discriminating affection for one, and contrary to the universal sentimental romancing of non-observing poets, violent love for one chosen being is exceedingly rare among them. But among the upper classes, whose members are highly developed, of innumerable variety and the individual types sharply defined, the sexual impulse becomes exclusive and discriminating; if it were not so the offspring would not be full of vitality and energy. Hence, marriage, the only relationship between man and woman countenanced by society in which offspring are produced, should be the result of love. For love is the great regulator of the life of the race, the impelling force which promotes the perfecting of the species and tries to prevent its physical decay. Love is the instinctive recognition of the fact by one being, that it must be united with a certain other being of the opposite sex, so that its good qualities may be increased, its bad neutralized and its offspring prove at least no deterioration of its type, and if possible an improvement upon it. The propagating impulse alone is blind, and it needs the reliable guide, love, to enable it to reach its natural goal, which is at the same time the perpetuation and improvement of its kind. If this guide is lacking, if the union of man and woman is determined by chance or external interests, which have nothing to do with its physiological purpose, and not by mutual attraction, then the offspring of such an ill-assorted couple will be almost always bad or mediocre. The children inherit the faults of the parents which appear in an increased form in them, while their good qualities are modified or lacking entirely. The generation, the race thus produced is inharmonious, distracted within itself and decaying, doomed to become speedily extinct. Only one voice, the voice of love, tells the individual that his union with a certain other individual is desirable in the interests of the preservation and perfection of his kind, while his union with a certain other would be disastrous. Goethe employed a single word to express the essence of love, which comprehends it so wonderfully and defines it so exhaustively that volumes of definition could add nothing to it; this word is: “Wahlwandtschaft,” which has been translated: “elective affinity.” It is a term borrowed from the science of chemistry, and shows with marvelous penetration, the connection between the great elementary processes of nature and the process of love in man, which has been rendered so mysterious and unintelligible by the hysterical ravings of poets unable to discern and comprehend its true significance. Affinity in chemistry means that attraction between the particles of two bodies which causes them to unite and blend, thus forming a new compound completely different in almost all its properties, in color, density, effect upon other matter, composition, etc., from the two ingredients of which it is formed. Two bodies between whom this affinity does not exist, can remain for ever in the most intimate contact without blending together, without forming a new compound or producing any vital process—their combination will never be more than a passive juxtaposition. But if there is an affinity between the particles of the two bodies, they need only be brought into contact to produce an instantaneous phenomenon of action, spontaneous, beautiful and fruitful. The human organism is the scene of exactly similar operations. Two individuals exert this mutual attraction upon each other, or they do not. If they stand in affinity to each other, they love each other, they rush to each other with impetuosity and become the source of new formations. If there is not this affinity between them they remain cold and passive, and their propinquity will never lead to an episode of the universal vital processes of nature. These are elementary properties inherent in matter, which we do not attempt to explain. Why does oxygen unite with potassium? Why will not nitrogen unite with platinum? Who can tell us? And why does a man love this one woman and not this other? Why does a woman want this man and spurn all other men? Evidently because this attraction and indifference are founded on the innermost chemical properties of the beings in question and proceed from the same sources as the organic processes of life itself. Marriage is thus a vessel in which two separate bodies, two chemical individualities, are enclosed together. If there is an affinity between them the vessel is full of life; if there is none, the vessel contains death. But who enquires about the affinity in a modern marriage? There are only two kinds of relations between man and woman: those which were produced by a natural mutual attraction, and have always reproduction as their aim and purpose, consciously or unconsciously, and those in which this aim is not the principal one, which are merely the gratification of selfishness in some one of its many phases. The first kind is justifiable and moral, the latter come within the limits of prostitution, no matter how moral they may appear to outsiders. The outcast being who plies her trade in the great cities at night, accosting the first passer-by whose features ever she can not discern, prostitutes herself; the low wretch who dances attendance upon some old woman, and is paid in cash for his attentions, prostitutes himself — there is only one view possible of such actions. But I ask wherein lies the difference between the man who is supported by the woman who loves him, and the man who is wooing an heiress or the daughter of some influential man for whom he does not experience the slightest love, in order to obtain wealth or position by the alliance? And wherein lies the difference between the wretched creature who sells herself to some stranger for a trifling amount, and the blushing bride who is united before the altar to some unloved individual, who offers her in return for her companionship, social rank and dresses, ornaments and servants, or even merely her daily bread? The motives are the same in both cases, the actions the same; their names, according to truth and justice, should be the same. A mother may be respected by every one as entitled to the highest esteem, she may consider herself a model of extreme morality, and yet when she introduces some wealthy suitor to her daughter and tries to overcome her natural indifference to him by judicious persuasion and advice, somewhat after this fashion: that it would be very foolish to throw away such a chance for a comfortable provision for the future, that it would be in the highest degree imprudent to wait for a second opportunity which might never arrive, that a maiden ought to think of practical things and get all the silly rubbish of romantic love stories out of her head—”with a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter’s heart,”—this model mother is an infamous go-between, no more and no less than the old hag who whispers corrupt counsel into the ear of some poor working girl in the park and is punished by the laws when found out. The elegant young bachelor, such a welcome guest in the drawing rooms of society, hunting for a fine match in the mazes of the German, until he finds some wealthy heiress to whom he can pay his court with melting glances and tenderly modulated tones, who puts off his creditors until the day after the wedding and portions off-his mistress from his bride’s dowry—is not his degradation as deep as that of any low wretch whom he would not touch without gloves? A woman who sells herself to buy bread for her aged mother or her child, stands upon a higher moral plane than the blushing maiden who marries a money bag, in order to gratify her frivolous appetite for balls and travel. Of two men, he is the less deceived, the more logical and rational, who pays his companion of an hour in cash each time, than he who gets a companion for life by the marriage contract, whose society was purchased as much as in the former case. Every alliance between man and woman in which either one is influenced by the substantial or selfish advantages to be gained by it, is prostitution, no matter whether it has been sanctioned by the justice of the peace or the parson, or not.
But this is the character of almost all marriages; the rare, exceptional cases in which a man and a woman are united in a legitimate way without any other reason or desire than to belong to each other in love, are condemned by reasonable persons and young people are cautioned not to imitate them. Poor girls and those only moderately provided for, are carefully warned by their parents to stifle the dangerous natural impulses of their hearts, and to gauge the sweetness of their smile by the figure of the bachelor’s income. When this artificial coquetry is not sufficient alone to catch a husband whose reliability in regard to his income can be depended upon, the mother and aunts rally to the rescue and back up the innocent child’s efforts with crafty manœuvres. The case is different where rich girls are concerned. They are not the hunters, but the game. A certain class of men are trained and drilled for the chase of a dowry, and go regularly to work according to certain fixed rules. They wear trousers and vests of immaculate cut, cravats of a carefully selected color and shape, and carry an eye glass screwed into one eye. Hours are spent in arranging their hair and moustache, a delicate perfume surrounds them; they dance superbly, are thoroughly at home in all society games, rhapsodize on sporting matters and are thoroughly versed in theatrical gossip. At a later stage of the game they distribute bouquets and bonbons, and love-letters in prose and verse are evolved. By these means the golden pheasant is soon brought down, and the simple creature who imagined that she had been playing a role in a lyric drama, discovers too late, that she has only been employed as a factor in an arithmetical calculation. When both parties to the marriage possess about the same amount of fortune and position in life, these are counted, compared and measured beforehand. In such a case no trouble is taken to disguise or conceal in the slightest, the true motives of the marriage and the real comprehension of its significance. Two fortunes, two positions, two influences, are united. The man wants a wife to get his dinner for him or sew on his buttons, or else to wear a silk dress with elegance and preside at the head of his table; the woman wants a husband who will work for her, or else make it possible for her to go to balls and receptions and receive society in her own home. This open acknowledgment of the motives is not allowed in marriages between unequal fortunes and positions. Then one or other of the contracting parties must lie. The poor girl pretends affection for the money-bag, the wooer makes a false display of love for the gold fish he has caught. Nature and truth can celebrate at least one melancholy victory: that the corrupt egotism which has diverted marriage from its natural goal, recognizes and accepts its real moral and physiological significance, by assuming in its wooing the mask of love.
What is the fate of the men and women who have become united in matrimony after this fashion? The “degenerates,” the morally decayed offspring of parents who were married in obedience to the command of material interests, conceived and born without love, brought up without tenderness, they become finally entirely incapable of love and can grow old without ever having perceived, even for one moment, the impoverishment of their inner life. The husband cultivates his palate and stomach, he becomes a connoisseur in wines and cigars, his liberality wins him a favorable recognition in the demi-monde, his name is spoken with respect in the clubs, he dies rich in civil and social honors and if sincere, would have this inscription carved upon his tombstone! “The only love of my life was—I, myself!” The wife invents crazy fashions, strives to surpass all her equals in insane extravagance, dreams day and night of dress, jewels, furniture and carriages, intrigues, lies, slanders other women, destroys the heart-happiness of others, impelled by a fiendish envy, and is able, if the means at her command correspond with her inclinations, to leave a broad swath of desolation and misery behind her, like an army of locusts or a pestilence. Both man and wife vegetate in a mephitic intellectual sphere, without light or inspiration. Their lives are without a single ideal. Their natures, deprived of every organ of flight, without elasticity and aspiration, crawl flat in the mire. They are germs of corruption spreading disease wherever they go, destroying society and dying in the putrefaction they have produced. “Degenerates” are found principally among the upper classes. They are at once the results and the causes of the egotistical organization of society. In society marriages are not entered into on account of love, but to obtain rank and wealth. Wealth and rank are thus maintained, but their owners decay. This is in obedience to the self-regulating and restricting tendencies of every living organism, hence of humanity at large. The suppression of love, the enlargement of egotism which are the prevailing tendencies of the upper strata of society, would lead to the speedy decay of the race if they became universal. The impulse for self-preservation in mankind thus leads to the inevitable decay of families founded on loveless and selfish unions. The universally conceded rapid decay of aristocratic houses has hardly any other cause than this. In addition to the marriages of this kind contracted by “degenerates”, there are also those entered into by sound, normal beings, capable of love, who yet have married without love from a lack of understanding, from heedlessness or from a cowardly dread of the dangers of the struggle for existence in the midst of a society organized and governed by sheer egotism. It is remarkable that such marriages, contracted in direct opposition to nature and reason, are called marriages of reason. The sin they have thus committed against that fundamental law, sexual selection, is avenged upon them sooner or later, and the later, the more severely. The impulse to love can not be eradicated from their hearts and is continually seeking an outlet through the unyielding walls of legal and social conventionalism, with incessant and most painful exertions. It may happen that such an individual never meets one with whom it has an affinity, throughout its entire life career; in this case the marriage remains undisturbed and the relations between man and wife united from prudential motives, formally correct. But their existence is unfinished and unsatisfactory, they always have the tormenting sensation of a sorrowful unrest and expectation, they are always hoping for something yet to come, that will awaken them from the stupor of their empty lives. The whole being is felt to be fragmentary and they long for the missing portion, but never find it even in the most brilliant gratifications of their vanity or self-interest, because love alone could supply it.
The lives of such persons as well as of the “degenerates” miss the consecration of the ideal; but, more subjectively unhappy than the latter, they have a continual consciousness of what is lacking. They are not blind, but seeing men deprived of the light. This is the case if destiny does not bring them in contact with some being with whom they have an affinity. But if they meet with such an one the catastrophe is inevitable. The conflict between the conjugal duties and the elementary striving for union with the individual for whom they feel an affinity, is constant and wearing, the substance, the love, rebels against the form, the married state, in which it is confined. Either the substance is crushed or the form is destroyed. A third solution is also possible, and as it is the most ignoble, it is the most frequently employed: the sides of the form which are visible to all eyes remain undisturbed, but in the rear a narrow crack is made through which the substance can find its way out. To express it more practically: the loving party in the loveless marriage either dissolves the marriage by force, or struggles with and subdues his love by the sacrifice of his life’s happiness, or else deceives his spouse and breaks his conjugal vows in secret. Common natures seize at once upon this last means of escape, but natures of true nobility have to struggle through and bear with the tragedy of rebellion against the prejudices of society and the fatal contest between passion and duty, with all their bitter intensity. If society were founded upon the laws governing the species, such loveless marriages would be impossible and such catastrophes inconceivable. If it were organized upon the basis of organic laws and solidarity, it would in such a struggle take sides with the lovers and cry to them: “You love, therefore be united.” But society, officially, is the enemy of the species and is only ruled by egotism; it therefore takes sides with the conjugal duties and says to the contestants: “Renounce each other.” But as, in spite of its unnatural conditions, it has retained the knowledge that this is impossible, that it is as easy to renounce life itself as love, and that such a revolting command would not be obeyed any more than an order to commit suicide, it adds in a whisper and with a sly wink: “or at least do not give any cause for scandal.” Thus love gets its rights at last, but only from those who are willing to accept the hypocrisy of society, so that, instead of elevating and ennobling the character, it becomes under such conditions a cause of its deterioration, as it requires constant lying, perjury and dissimulation. A curious classification of individualities is produced by its operation in wedded life; the best and finest characters, exactly those which have the most value for the race as breeding material, are the very ones who scorn to accept any immoral and vulgar compromises, and as they will not break the solemn vows they pledged at the altar and have perhaps neither the decision nor means to openly and legally dissolve the marriage contract, the love that has entered into their lives too late is the cause of their ruin, and thus is of no benefit to the race; the every-day natures, on the other hand, whose perpetuation is of slight importance to the race, avoid the pains of martyrdom and satisfy their hearts at the expense of their ethical conscience.
The conventional marriage, nine times out of ten, as contracted among the civilized peoples of Europe, is hence, a deeply immoral relation, fraught with the most fatal results for the future of society. It compels those who enter into it, to find themselves involved sooner or later, in a conflict between forsworn vows and indestructible love, and gives them only two alternatives, vulgarity or ruin. Instead of its being a source for our kind to renew its youth, it is the means of its slow suicide.
The fact that matrimony, originally intended to be the single permanent form of love between man and woman, has completely lost its scope and purport, that it is usually entered into without regard to the affinity between the parties, that young men and maidens are formally trained to consider love as something distinct from marriage, owing to the examples they see around them in every-day life, and still more to the light literature of all languages, that in fact they learn to look upon them as antagonistic in most cases, and when their hands are united in public, make the reservation in the secret depths of their souls, consciously or only indistinctly apprehended, that the inclinations of their hearts are not to be influenced by this formality—the economic organization of our civilization is to blame for these facts. This organization has selfishness as its foundation; it recognizes only the single being and not the species, its attention is confined strictly to the individual and it neglects in every respect the race; it allows a piratical system of economy to exist which sacrifices the future to the present, and among all its numerous watchmen and guards, attorneys and bailiffs, there is not a single being whose duty it is to look after the interests of posterity. What matters it to a society organized in this way, that the reproduction of the species occurs under the most unfavorable conditions? The living generation has only itself to think of. If it can complete its existence in the utmost possible comfort, it has fulfilled its duty to itself completely, and it is not aware of any other duty. The succeeding generation in its turn may look after itself alone, and if it is mentally and physically impoverished by the fault of the parents, so much the worse for k. Are the children born in a marriage without love, pitiable creatures? What does it matter, if only the wedded couple obtained the substantial advantages they sought by the marriage? Are the children of love without marriage usually sacrificed to the mothers’ dread of social ostracism, and thus become martyrs to the ruling prejudices of society? What harm is there in this fact if their parents found the happiness they sought in the forbidden relations? Humanity is disappearing from the horizon of man, the sentiment of solidarity, of fellow-ship with his kind, which is one of the primitive instincts of the higher forms of animal life, is dying out, the suffering of his neighbor no longer disturbs man’s pleasure, and even the thought that mankind might cease to exist with the present generation, would not cause society to change a mode of living in which the individual can be temporarily comfortable. Hence the impulse towards procreation has become a means of selfish advancement, and as it is the most powerful of all the impulses of man’s being, he can speculate upon it with impunity. Thus we see that men and women try to make the sacred act, on which depend the preservation and development of the human race, a source of personal, pecuniary profit. Why should we blame the man or woman of our civilization because he or she looks upon marriage as a charitable institution, a “Sheltering Arms,” and when a proposal is made looks around to see if any one bids higher. They see that the world takes the amount of the fortune as the measure of the worth of the individual; they see the rich faring sumptuously and Lazarus lying in the dust at the gate, today as well as in the Biblical times; they know the crush and the weariness of the struggle for existence and the difficulty of winning a victory in it; they know that they can only count upon their individual selves and strength, and if they fall that they need expect no acceptable help from the community. What wonder then that they look upon every act of their life, marriage included, solely and exclusively from the standpoint of their personal, palpable advantage in the struggle for existence? Why should they allow love to influence them in the selection of a husband or wife? Because humanity would be better off by it? What do they care for humanity? What has humanity done for them? Does it satisfy their appetite when they are hungry? Does it give them work when they can find no work to do? Does it feed their children when they are clamoring for bread? And if they die will it support their widows, their orphans? No. And as it does not fulfill any of these duties towards them, they have only their individual selves to consider, and look upon love as an agreeable pastime and upon marriage as a means of increasing their share of the goods of this world.
The result of these ideas is a speedy degeneration of the civilized part of humanity, but their direct, immediate victim is woman. Man does not suffer so very much by such a condition of affairs. If he does not have the ability or the courage to assume the responsibility of founding a family in the midst of a society which is hostile and piratical, instead of being kind and encouraging as would be more natural, he remains unmarried but without renouncing the full gratification of all his instincts. Bachelorhood is far from being synonymous with celibacy. The bachelor has the tacit permission of society to procure the pleasures of woman’s companionship when and where he can, it calls his selfish enjoyments successes, and surrounds them with a kind of romantic halo, so that the amiable vice of a Don Juan arouses a sentiment that is composed of envy, sympathy and secret admiration. If he marries without love, to procure certain substantial advantages, he is allowed by custom to seek right and left the pleasures which he does not find in the society of his wife, or if this is not exactly allowed, it is yet not considered a crime which should exclude him from intercourse with respectable people. Quite the reverse is the case where woman is concerned. The woman of our civilization is taught to consider matrimony as her only life career and marriage her only destiny. Only by marriage does she attain to the gratification of all her physiological wants, great and small. She must marry in order to exercise her natural rights as a complete and mature individual, in order to receive the consecration of motherhood or simply in order to be protected from poverty and distress. This last consideration does not influence heiresses, but in spite of the fact that most of them realize the immorality of a marriage without love and that many of them carry their desire to marry from mutual affection to such an extent that it is almost a mania, leading them to consider all their suitors as fortune-hunters, yet they, most of all, are the victims of this fatal perversion of truth, which has substituted sheer egotism for love in the contraction of a marriage. There are too many men sufficiently degraded to consider a life-interest in a wife’s fortune as a possession to be desired above all others. They will make every effort to win the wealthy heiress, not because they love her but because they want her property. They humor all her whims; if she yearns for love, they feign it with the more intensity the less reality there is in their protestations. The probabilities are that the heiress, young and inexperienced, bestows her hand upon the most unworthy suitor of all those with whom she is surrounded, because he is usually the most skillful and unswerving dissembler. She discovers too late that she also, in spite of her material independence, has married a man who has no affinity for her but only for her fortune, and that she must either renounce the thought of love, or must seek for it outside of her home, exposing herself to dangers of all kinds and the contempt of all moral censors. But heiresses are only a small minority in the world, all other women are compelled by the present organization of society to look upon marriage as the only possible refuge from disgrace and poverty, and even from starvation. What is the lot of the unmarried woman? Her familiar appellation, old maid, contains a scornful sting. The solidarity of the family does not extend usually into the maturer years of the children. When the parents die, the brothers and sisters separate, each one wishes to tread alone the path of life, and the constant companionship of the rest becomes a burden. The girl who is too sensitive to wish to be a hindrance to either brother or sister, especially if they are married, finds that she is alone in the world, far more solitary than the Bedouin in the desert. Shall she found a home of her own? It would be an inhospitable and dreary place, for no masculine friend could sit down by her fire-side without arousing the gossip of the neighborhood, feminine friendships are rare and beyond a certain point unnatural, and least of all would she introduce a sister in misfortune into her home to add to its melancholy and bitterness. Some wise being is ready with the advice: she need not concern herself about the gossip of other women, but let her assemble the congenial friends around her, whom she may meet. But with what right does this strong and independent character advise a gentle, timid girl to renounce for her life long, the satisfaction she obtains from the respect and appreciation of her equals, a satisfaction which appeals with effect even to the very strongest among us. The reputation is a very substantial possession and the opinion of one’s social equals plays the most important part in the inner and outer life of the individual. And shall the solitary maiden throw away her title to this possession? She would then pass her life among strangers, more dependent than if wedded, more exposed to calumny than the married woman, the preservation of her reputation her incessant and tormenting care, for society requires it untarnished, although it does not offer her the natural prize for it, the husband. The bachelor can go into restaurants and saloons, pass his leisure hours in his clubs, which are becoming more and more a substitute for family life, he can travel alone, go to walk alone, and has a hundred ways of deluding himself into oblivion of the coldness and barrenness of his home, unblessed by the love of wife and child. All these solaces are denied to the single woman if she wishes to keep her reputation clear; she is condemned to a perpetual solitude in her sorrow over her wasted life. If she owns property she can only increase it with difficulty, it is much more liable to be diminished or lost entirely, for she is far less competent than man to conduct business affairs, that is, to protect her possessions against the sharks swarming around them, owing to her training and the customs of society. But if she has no property the picture grows indistinguishable from the hopeless darkness that settles down upon it. Only a few and unremunerative means of earning a livelihood are accessible to woman. The uneducated girl of the lower classes goes out to service and thus supports herself, but never learns the meaning of independence and liberty, while her character is crippled by constant humiliations. Slow starvation is the result of woman’s independent efforts, and working by the day, she receives on an average one half as much as a man, although her natural wants are about the same. The educated girl of the upper classes becomes a teacher; in most cases she enters upon the slave’s life of a governess; in some countries a limited number of subordinate official positions or clerkships are open to her, but none of them allow a cultivated and intelligent woman to practice her talents and inclinations, to satisfy her inner life, which alone makes poverty bearable; and those who can get these positions are the fortunate ones. The rest are poverty-stricken, wretched, a burden to themselves and others, oppressed by the consciousness of their aimless and useless life, unable to obtain for themselves any pleasures in their youth, their bread from day to day, or a provision for their old age. And with all this, the girl who vegetates in such a terrible solitude must have superhuman principles. We require this sad, morbid, starving, shivering girl to be a heroine! Prostitution stands near, waiting for her, enticing her. She can not take a step in her solitary and joyless life, without being beset by temptation in a thousand guises. Man who avoids assuming the responsibility of providing for her for life, does not hesitate to demand her love as a present, which requires no return from him.
His sensual selfishness pursues her without intermission and is the more dangerous, as her most powerful instincts are his secret allies. She must not only voluntarily continue her life of solitude and wretchedness, not only struggle to escape-from her strong and determined antagonist, man, who is spurred on by his passions, but she must subdue her own inclinations and put down the rebellion of her normal, natural instincts against the lies and hypocrisy of society. To emerge unharmed from such a struggle requires a heroism of which hardly one man in a thousand would be capable. And the reward of this heroism? There is none. The old maid who has lived the life of a saint amid these manifold temptations, finds no recompense, no assurance in her heart of hearts that she has been obeying a law of nature by her bitter, arduous life of deprivations; on the contrary, the older she grows, the louder her heart questions: “why did I struggle? Has my victory benefited anyone? Is society with its hard, selfish maxims, worthy of the sacrifice I offered upon its altar, my life’s happiness? Would it not have been a thousand times better for me if I had yielded?”
When the average girl shudders at the thought of such a fate and marries the first man who enters upon her horizon on matrimonial thoughts intent, without too much scrutiny of affections and affinities—is she not right? There are a hundred chances to one that the lot of the married woman is more peaceful and pleasant than that of the old maid. But the lie acted by the bride when she marries without love, does not go unavenged. She is neither a faithful wife nor a conscientious housekeeper. In her unsatisfied longing for love she listens continually to the voice of her heart, accepts its lightest and most indistinct whisper as the hoped-for announcement of passion, and throws herself into the arms of the first man who has been able to fill her empty mind for a moment. She soon recognizes her mistake and continues her search for the right one, sometimes closing her career by falling over the precipice into social ignominy. In a more favorable case she may be merely coquettish, without going so far as to break her marriage vows materially or platonically. Her appreciation of the incompleteness of her life and the necessity of finding the missing part, the man destined by nature to supplement her and round her existence into completeness, these impulses may reveal themselves as semi-unconscious coquetry, which impels her to dress elegantly and attend the balls and evening entertainments where she meets strange men, to test her powers of attraction upon them and to experience theirs in return She is entirely wrapped up in herself, cares solely for her own interests and demands that life should only offer her personal pleasures. Her egotism makes it impossible for her husband to come within her sphere of vision, much less for her to have any consideration for him or to enter into his life. The household is indifferent to her except in so far as it exists for her. She spends money without regard for the exertions of her husband. She only married him so that she could live free from care, in comfort or luxury, and yet it is so hideously human to punish him because he was so ill advised as to take her to wife without first being convinced of her love. In this way a wretched chain of events is formed, of which every link is a calamity and vexation. The egotistical organization of society makes the struggle for existence unnaturally and unnecessarily difficult for the individual, consequently man does not seek love but substantial benefits in matrimony, and he pursues the heiress. The poor girl, for fear she may become an old maid, gives chase to the first eligible man she meets, who is able to support her; soon after the marriage she is discovered to be a costly article of luxury, of no possible value to the possessor but only a source of unlimited outlay. Many men able to support a wife and make her happy, are frightened by the spectacle of such wedded life and are deterred by it from getting married themselves. This condemns a corresponding number of girls to spinsterhood, their prospect of procuring a husband decreases, while their determination to capture one increases in proportion and their longing to make sure of him, leads them to suppress still more the promptings of their hearts. The consequences of marriages contracted under such circumstances have a tendency to deter an increasing number of matrimonial candidates from following their example. Man and woman become enemies, trying to steal a march upon and plunder each other. No one is satisfied, no one is happy, and the catholic confessor and the proprietors of the great dry goods establishments are the only ones who have reason to be pleased at this condition of things, as it brings them crowds of customers.
But if the economic organization of the world is the principal cause of the falseness of the institution of matrimony, it is however, not the only one. A large share of the blame for the opposition between substance and form, between love and marriage, and for the frequent tragical conflicts between natural sentiments and conventional constraints, is due to the prevailing conception of morality, which is a consequence of Christianity. This morality considers the act of generation an odious crime, it covers its face before it as before an abomination, which at the same time does not preclude a stolen glance, and it lays upon everything which has the slightest connection with the sexual life, or even calls it to remembrance, the ban of a timorous silence. This is monstrous, it is unprecedented. This system of morality could not last an hour if it were not that in private all human beings, all without exception, set it aside as tranquilly as if it did not exist. It has not the smallest natural foundation and therefore not the faintest shadow of justification. Why should an organic function, the most important of all by far, because its purpose is the perpetuation of the species, why should it be less decent than others whose purpose is only the preservation of the individual? Why should eating and sleeping be legitimate actions which are openly practiced, spoken of and acknowledged, while generation is a sin and a disgrace which can not be sufficiently concealed and denied? Is not puberty the crowning point of the development of the individual, and its own reproduction its highest triumph and most glorious manifestation? All living beings, plants as well as animals, consider procreation the most sublime act of their vital energies, and summon nature with pride to be a witness of it, the flowers with their display of brilliant colors and their fragrance, the birds, “warbling sweet the nuptial lay,” the fire-fly with its brilliant ray of light, the mammiferous animals by the roars and growls of then wooings and the fury of their rival—combats man alone is ashamed of his most powerful instinct and conceals it like a crime.
To be sure man has not been of this opinion in all ages; Tartuffe has not been always his guide in ethical matters. I do not refer to man in a state of nature but in a condition of high civilization. A civilization, abundant, intellectually and morally profound, whose ideality far surpassed that of our modern civilization—the civilization of India and Greece—considered the relations between the sexes from a natural and unprejudiced point of view; it held the human form divine in equal estimation, without seeing anything more indecent in one organ than in another, it had no bashfulness in regard to the nude, consequently could behold it with a pure eye, without any corrupt secret thoughts. It saw in the union of two individuals of opposite sexes, the sacred design of reproduction alone, which consecrated this act as necessary and sublime, thus preventing the possibility of unworthy suggestions and trains of thought in a normal and ripened intellect. The Indian as well as the Greek civilization had not obscured and perverted this elementary impulse in man like our own civilization, and therefore was still penetrated with the natural admiration and gratitude for the process which is the source of all life throughout the universe, the process of reproduction. It paid honors to the organs which are involved in this vital action, it placed representations of them as symbols of fruitfulness in the temples public places and dwellings, invented special deities to personify propagation and paid them a worship which did not degenerate into gross and purposeless sensuality until the later periods of the moral decay. Surrounded by symbols which excited their curiosity, the young could not be brought up in that unnatural ignorance which is one of the chief aims of modern training; as the reason was permitted to comprehend the phenomena of the sexual life from the moment it began to take an interest in them, the imagination was not set morbidly to work, thus finding its way into wrong and dangerous paths; that which lay open to the eyes of all did not have the charm of secret and forbidden fruit, so that the unprejudiced, enlightened youth of this ancient civilization was more morally pure and less infected by premature desires than the young of our own flay, who in spite of the anxious pains taken to preserve it, can not be raised in that ignorance considered so salutary, but obtain their knowledge secretly from the most polluted sources, poisoning the mind and deranging the nervous system.
The radical change which has taken place in our conceptions of morality, is the consequence of the influence gained by the ideas of Christianity over the mind of civilized mankind. The fundamental doctrines of Christianity as they are proclaimed in the earliest writings, contradict each other in the most astonishing manner; they are based upon two opposing assertions which would have debarred each other absolutely, if Christianity had been founded by a logical thinker, with a clear understanding. On one side it preaches: Love thy neighbor as thyself, love even thine enemies; on the other, it declares that the end of the world is at hand, that the lusts of the flesh are the most deadly sins, abstinence the most pleasing to God of all virtues, and absolute chastity the most desirable condition. When Christianity preached the love of one’s neighbor it raised the natural instinct of man’s fellowship with his kind into a religious commandment and promoted the perpetuation and prosperity of the human race; but when, at the same time, it condemned sexual love, it destroyed its own work, it sentenced mankind to annihilation and placed itself in opposition to nature with an hostility which seems born of the devil, to use one of its own expressions. The doctrine of love for one’s neighbor conquered humanity, because it appealed to its most powerful instinct, the impulse for the preservation of the race. The doctrine of celibacy on the contrary, would have prevented the spread of the new religion completely, if it had not been for the fact that it appeared at a time when society had become thoroughly corrupt, when licentious egotism alone was ruling supreme and the relations between the sexes, diverted from their purpose of reproducing the species, had become degraded into a source of selfish enjoyment alone, polluted by all manner of crimes, so that it seemed an abomination to the conscience of the good. When this state of things became altered, when Christianity was no longer the reaction from the moral corruption of ancient Rome, it ceased to consider it necessary to protest against the excess of immorality by an excess of purity, and the dismal, inhuman doctrine of celibacy was forced into the background. The church ceased to exact it from all but a few of its children, the priests and the nuns, and even made the concession to nature of elevating marriage into a sacrament. The vows of celibacy taken by the monks and nuns did not prevent however, the greatest excesses within the walls of the cloisters, and during the Middle Ages, when Christianity exercised its highest authority upon mankind, immorality was almost as bad as during the time of the decline of Rome. Ever since the beginning of Religion, the doctrine of celibacy has never been literally followed except by those individuals who were suffering from religious mania, a disease which is almost always co-existent with disturbances or irregularities of the sexual system, and which like them is a manifestation of a morbid state, proceeding from the same pathological modifications in the condition of the brain. But Christianity never completely abandoned this doctrine, the church canonized certain married couples as saints, because they had never touched each other, while together during a long married life sexual intercourse remained theoretically a sin in its eyes, even if it was allowed in practice, and in the course of centuries its constant pressure upon civilized mankind has forced it to its present standpoint, that is, to the conviction that sexual love is a disgrace, continence a moral duty and the gratification of the chief impulse of every living being, a sin deserving the severest penalties. Man has the same instincts in Christianism as in paganism; he desires and obtains woman’s favor the same; but he has not the pure and ennobling sentiment that he is engaged in a laudable action, but is haunted by the idea that he is treading forbidden paths; it seems to him as if he were committing a crime that must be concealed, he feels degraded by the compulsion to deception and hypocrisy, and condemned to a perpetual lie against himself, the beloved object and mankind in general, by the necessity for leaving unavowed the natural aim of his affections the possession of the beloved being. Christianity will not concede that love is legitimate; there is therefore no room for love in the institutions permeated by it. Marriage is one of these institutions, its character is influenced by Christian morality. From the theological point of view, it has nothing in common with the love between man and woman. A marriage is not entered into to allow them to belong to each other, but to fulfill a sacrament. They would please God still more if they did not marry at all. The priest who is uniting a couple in matrimony before the altar, asks the woman whether she is ready to follow the man as her husband, and obey him as her lord and master. Whether she loves him, this question is not asked by the priest, for he does not recognize the validity of such a sentiment. According to his ideas the union which he has just sealed with his ceremonies, has its sole foundation in the solemn vows and covenants made before the altar, and not at all in any human, organic impulse which brings two beings together and unites them as one individual soul.
All the relations between society and the sexes are shaped by this Christian doctrinal opinion of the sinfulness of all carnal, that is, of all natural and normal love. Matrimony is sacred; its command of fidelity must not be transgressed, even when it starves the hearts of the wedded couple. The wife may have married without love, she may learn to know a man later who arouses her passionate love—society will not concede the possibility of such an occurrence. What, the wife loves another? That can not be! Such a thing as love is not recognized! The wife is married; that is all she can claim. She has her husband to whom she is bound by her vows of conjugal duty; outside of this duty the world has nothing for her. If she violates it, she becomes an adulteress and falls into the hands of the police, beneath the contempt of all right-minded persons. Society concedes to the husband the right to kill his faithless wife, and it commissions the judge to sentence her to imprisonment as a warning and an example, if the husband has been too forbearing. A girl has fallen in love with a man, she obeys nature’s commands without waiting for the permission of the priest or the scribbling of the justice. Alas for the guilty wretch! She is banished henceforth from respectable, decent society. Even the innocent child, the result of her error, bears a stain from which it can not cleanse itself its whole life long. Theft is also forbidden by the community; but the judge has sometimes compassion upon the thief if he stole bread when he was starving, and lets him go unpunished. This is a concession by society of the fact that one’s hunger at times may be stronger than one’s respect of the law. But it makes no concessions to the wife who has loved notwithstanding her marriage vows, or to the girl who has loved without any marriage vows. It accepts no excuse for any violation of the laws with which it has regulated the intercourse of the sexes. It will not perceive that love as well as hunger is a sufficient cause to break the bonds of the written law. Are we not obliged to believe that this law, this system of morality, is the invention of scorified and calcinated old men or of eunuchs? Is it possible that society has been governed by these views of morality for centuries, a society in which the old men and eunuchs are in the minority, while it always contains many young men of twenty four and maidens of twenty? Governed—ah, there it is—society is not governed by these ideas! It has contrived a way to reconcile the inhuman laws and heartless customs with human nature, by pretending great respect and decorum before their faces, but cutting all sorts of capers behind their backs. Its non-recognition of love is a fraud. It takes off its hat in the presence of the judge who sentences the adulteress to prison, or of the severe mistress who sends away her servant who has been betrayed; but it claps applause to the poet who sings of love without even mentioning marriage, until its very palms ache. Every one in public assents unctuously to the proposition that it is a sin to obey the promptings of the heart, but in secret he listens to and obeys them with enthusiasm, and does not consider himself wicked in doing so. The theory of Christian morality only exists because no one applies it in practice. The bonds of an enormous conspiracy unite all civilized humanity, making every human being a member of this immense secret society—on the street they bow reverently to all the theological doctrines they may meet, but at home, with closed doors, they sacrifice to nature and wreak their vengeance upon any one who divulges the secrets of their Eleusinian mysteries; they express their abhorrence of the universal hypocrisy, and even have the audacity to acknowledge in public places the gods they have installed as presiding deities and worship in private.
In order to form an unprejudiced judgment of the institution of matrimony, we must first accomplish the difficult task of shaking off the prejudices in which we have grown up, and emancipate ourselves completely from the habit of the Christian conception of morality which has become so intertwined with all our thought. In opposition to the theological view, we must look upon man as a natural being and consider him in connection with the rest of nature; if we wish to test the justness of any human institution we must enquire whether it corresponds with man’s constitution, his natural, fundamental impulses and the highest interests of the race. If we apply this standard to the institution of matrimony, it is very doubtful whether it will stand the test, and it seems extremely difficult to prove that it is a natural condition of man, and not a human institution. We have seen that the economic organization of society leads to the contracting of marriages from material interests and that the morality of Christianity refuses to recognize the validity of love. But now the last and most painful question of all obtrudes itself upon us: is matrimony a lie simply because it is usually entered into for mercenary motives and not for the possession of a certain individual, and is it a constraint merely because the morality of Christianity will not concede the fact of the existence of such a thing as love, in conjunction with the fetters imposed by the priest? Is not matrimony rather, as it exists today in our civilization, an altogether unnatural form of the relations between the two sexes, and in its present phase of development, that is, as a perpetual alliance for the whole life, would it not be a lie even if marriages were never contracted on any other grounds than those of love, and all its natural rights were conceded to passion?
We are so far removed from a condition of nature in regard to the relations between the sexes, that it is extremely difficult now to distinguish with certainty between what is physiological and necessary in this matter, and what has been so distorted, perverted and artificially added to, during centuries of inherited transmission, that it has come at last to have the appearance of nature. But a careful, critical analysis of the inmost promptings of the human heart, added to the deductions drawn from observations of the life of the higher animals, leads an adherent of the present institution to very discouraging conclusions. Marriage, as it has developed historically with our civilization, is based principally and solely upon the recognition of monogamy. But it appears that monogamy is not a natural condition of mankind, hence there is a fundamental contradiction between the individual impulse and the social institution, the cause of constantly renewed conflicts between sentiment and customs, in many cases bringing the substance into perpetual opposition to the form and making the state of matrimony a lie. Scarcely any reform is practicable that would bring the outward visible sign, the monogamic matrimonial relations of a wedded pair, into perfect harmony under all circumstances, with their inward attraction and affection for each other!
The institution of matrimony is founded altogether upon the supposition or knowledge of the fact that the interests of the perpetuating and perfecting of the race require a certain supervision by the community of the impulse of procreation, as I have attempted to prove above. But the fact that this institution has assumed the form of an union between two parties to last as long as they both shall live, this fact is no outcome of the interests of the species, it is not a vital condition of the kind, consequently is not produced by the impulse for its preservation, but it is a direct result of the economic organization of society and therefore probably as transitory as this organization. The conviction that matrimony must assume the form of monogamy, a conviction perhaps only semi-conscious, but still distinct enough to be formulated in laws and customs, was produced probably by this train of reasoning: in a society which has no fellowship in the production, distribution and consumption of wealth, that is, in a society without any economic solidarity, in which every one toils and cares for himself alone and sees with unconcern his neighbor perish by his side, the children would starve if the parents did not bring them up. The mother can not carry alone the burden of the children’s support, because in this egotistical society man will misuse his superior strength to crowd and push woman, as she is the weaker, out of all the light and more remunerative positions for earning a livelihood, that is, all for which she is fitted, to such an extent that she can hardly support herself by her own toil, to say nothing of supporting her children. The father must be compelled therefore, to aid the mother in carrying this burden. But this compulsion can only be exercised practically in one way: by forging a chain that will bind the man indissolubly to the woman whom he wishes to make a mother. This chain is the marriage for life. And to make it more easy to be determined which father is responsible for which child, to obviate any possible danger of imposing the duty of a child’s support upon the wrong father, no man is allowed to have children except by one woman, and no woman save by one man. This is the single marriage or monogamy. And now the relations are simple and summary. You wish to possess a certain woman? All right: you must swear to maintain her and the children proceeding from the union, throughout your entire life. Do you become tired of the woman after a while? So much the worse for you. You have her now and you must keep her. You find that you made a mistake in your selection, that you deceived yourself when you believed that you were in love. You should have examined your own sentiments more closely, have considered the matter more ripely. It is too late now to have this excuse accepted. You are in love with another? That is no concern of ours. You must still carry the burden of your wife and children and we, society, will not allow you to shift it upon our shoulders.
The instinct of self-preservation of the race never ceases to act, as long as it possesses any vital energies. The only way the% in which the race can ensure the life of the women and children in an economic organization founded solely upon egotism and individualism, that is, ensure its own perpetuation, is by a life-long single marriage. Our economic institutions are necessarily followed by our institution of matrimony. In reality marriage has come to be a means of gratifying the selfishness of the parents, as it is not contracted from love, nor according to the laws of natural selection, nor in the interests of the offspring; while theoretically it is an institution dictated by the interest of the preservation of the race,—although it is true, a falsely comprehended interest—created not for the benefit of the parents, but of the children. Theoretically the adult generation is sacrificed to the undeveloped or unborn, the stomachs of the little ones are provided for at the expense of the hearts of their parents—inexorably in those countries lying still under the direct influence of the Christian theological views of the world, rather more indulgently in those in which the enlightenment of more natural and human conceptions has been diffused. Catholicism which, as we have seen, considers love to be unauthorized and a sin, will not allow a dissolution of the marriage under any circumstances; it will not concede that two persons may have been mistaken in each other, or if they have been mistaken, that their life’s happiness requires a separation. The peoples who are emancipated from Catholicism, make the concession to love that it exists, that it has rights, that it can even make its appearance outside of wedlock; but they make the concession reluctantly and only partially; they allow the separation to take place only under difficulties, they pursue the divorced pair with invidious prejudices, and carry their heartlessness so far, that they forbid a marriage with the person for love of whom the divorce has been obtained, who has been loved before the legal separation of the wedded pair took place—a prohibition whose stupidity and barbarity are really frightful.
This is immaculately consistent from the standpoint of the self-seeking economic organization of society, but from that of physiology and psychology, on the contrary, we see in it a cause for the gravest reflection. The marriage Is contracted for life. Let us suppose the most favorable case: the wedded pair love each other truly. Will this love last as long as life? Can it last so long? Are the husband and wife justified in swearing fidelity unto death? Are they not committing a foolhardy or inconsiderate act when they pledge themselves for the immutability of their transient sentiments? The poets, who seem to have been entrusted with the task of almost hopelessly confusing and mystifying this matter, do not hesitate an instant with the reply to my question. They are firmly convinced that true love lasts for aye. If love ends, it is not love, they say. Hm, that is very easily said, but how about the truth of it? Every one who has observed life with his eyes open, can give the poets a hundred examples of love that commenced very passionately and yet cooled off very rapidly and very thoroughly. If the poets say that love is not love which fades away in time, we must ask them how we are to distinguish between real love and the spurious article, as the latter at the moment of its conception and also, during its brief blossoming-time is so deceptively like the former, arousing the same sentiments, impelling to the same actions, with the same accompaniment of excitement and agitation, ecstacy and despair, tenderness and jealousy as the former? Certainly there have been cases in which love only ceased with life. A cool and impartial analyst would perhaps find, even in these cases that the perpetuity of love could be ascribed to favorable circumstances, to the power of habit, the accidental absence of any disturbances or temptations, in short, to influences entirely independent of the two individuals, fully as much at least, as to the quality of their sentiment. We can not deny either the existence of such cases. In them lifelong single matrimony is a true, natural and authorized condition. In them form and substance are one, and the outward, visible bond never ceases to be the expression of the inward, spiritual union. But if such cases do exist without any doubt, they are, even according to the poets’ own confessions, exceedingly rare. In what way ought those persons to consider matrimony who believed that they loved sincerely at a certain moment but find after months or years of reflection, or else awake suddenly to the consciousness upon meeting a certain individual, that their love was a mistake? Ought they to hasten and unite themselves for life? They soon cease to love each other, and then the yoke of matrimony is as unbearable a burden as if it had been assumed without love in the first place. Or ought they to wait before marrying until they become convinced that their love will last till death? This would be somewhat difficult; for as the true nature of the sentiment can only be recognized afterwards, the lovers would have to wait until their hour of death before they could say with a clear conscience: “Our love was in truth the genuine love, it lasted as long as life, we can now with good courage be—buried together, with no fear that we will ever grow weary of each other.” If such a severe examination and such overwhelming conviction were required as indispensable conditions to matrimony, humanity would see no more betrothed lovers.
It is well that Romeo and Juliet died young. If the tragedy had not been concluded with the fifth act, I am not sure but what we would not have heard of quarrels between the charming young couple. I am sadly afraid that he would have taken a mistress after a few months and that she would have consoled herself with some Veronese nobleman for her desertion. It would be too horrible: a divorce case as epilogue to the balcony scene. I go still further and maintain that, as I understand the characters of Romeo and Juliet, it would have been certain to be the case, for they were both very young, very passionate, very unreasonable and very excitable, and a love which springs into existence at a ball, caused by the first sight of a beautiful physical form, does not usually last through many nights, in whose morning hours it believes it hears “the nightingale and not the lark.” But did not Romeo and Juliet therefore, love each other? I should like to see any one who would venture to assert this! And ought they not to have married? That would have been a deadly sin not only from the standpoint of the perfecting of the race, but also from that of romance. If their marriage would have turned out badly, this fact is no proof against their love, but it is a proof against the anthropological justification of marriage.
The truth is, that among ten thousand pairs of lovers, there is barely one in which the man and woman love each other throughout their entire lives, to the exclusion of all others, not a single couple who would invent the perpetual, single marriage to answer to their own requirement, if it did not already exist. But there are sure to be nine thousand, nine hundred, who at some period of their lives experienced a strong desire to unite themselves with a certain individual, were happy if able to gratify this desire, suffered bitterly if it remained unfulfilled, and notwithstanding feeling, the sincerity of the original, after a longer or shorter period, developed until they came to have entirely different, often diametrically opposite sentiments for the object of their former passionate affection. Have these couples the right to get married? Undoubtedly. Their union must be promoted in the interests of the race. But will a lifelong single marriage be compatible permanently with their happiness! No honest observer of real life can reply affirmatively to this question. The fact is, that man is not a monogamous animal and all institutions which are founded upon the acceptation of monogamy, are more or less unnatural, more or less of a constraint to him. Inherited ideas which have become very deeply rooted in the human mind in the course of centuries of transmission, prove nothing against this biological fact. Let us listen very closely to the stillest, smallest voices in the hearts of lovers! Does the beloved being really fill the heart so completely that there is no room left for a wish or even for a perception outside of it, which has some other being for its object? I deny it. If we are honest we must allow that man and woman, even in the highest paroxysms of a new-born love, keep an obscure corner in their soul which is not illumined by the beams of the concrete passion, where lurk the germs of diverging sympathies and desires. We keep these germs concealed, owing perhaps to a sense of honor instilled into us by our training, we do not allow them to develope at once, but we are continually conscious of their existence and we feel that they would soon grow to be large and strong if we did not prevent their development. It may sound very shocking, yet I must say it: we can even love several individuals at the same time, with nearly equal tenderness, and we need not lie when we assure each one of our passion. No matter how deeply we may be in love with a certain individual, we do not cease to be susceptible to the influence of the entire sex. The most chaste and loving woman is still a part of the general feminine half of humanity, as the most honorable, loving man is still a part of the masculine half; he as well as she, experiences the mutual attraction of the opposite sex, and under somewhat favorable circumstances this general attraction may become the starting-point of a new, special attachment to a certain individual, as first love likewise, is usually nothing more than the collection and transferring of the pre-existing general attraction to the other sex, to a certain incarnation of it, ordinarily the first with whom one has an opportunity to become well acquainted. By this I mean chaste women and honorable men, as I repeat expressly. I am not referring to women who have a disposition to wantonness, nor to men born with a superficial, sensual temperament} whose number is far larger than the conventional moralists like to admit. Unconditional fidelity is not an attribute of human nature. It is no physiological companion phenomenon of love. That we exact it, is an outcome of our egotism. The individual wishes to reign entirely alone in the heart of the beloved, to fill it completely, to see only his own reflection in its mirror, because this effect upon another is his highest sphere of activity, his most powerful out-living, as selfishness or vanity can conceive of no more perfect gratification than the observation of such a phenomenon. As man feels himself a complete individual most profoundly and thoroughly, when he has conquered some antagonist in a free single combat, strength pitted against strength, man against man, he thus appreciates his own individuality most intensively and at the same time delightfully, when he knows himself to be the complete possessor of another individual. To exact loyalty is thus nothing else than the wish to extend the limits of one’s own personality into another and to rejoice in their compass; jealousy is the intensely painful recognition of the limitations to this extension. We can therefore be jealous, without being ourselves in love, as we can wish to surpass a competitor in the race, without hating him personally; in both cases the point is to become conscious of ourselves as superior individuals, thus gratifying our vanity; it is a question of superiority, of strength, of physical training; and thus we exact fidelity without feeling ourselves laid under obligations of reciprocity. The most convincing proof that fidelity is not exacted by the natural aim of love, the interest of reproduction, but is a condition artificially implanted in humanity, an outcome of self-love, vanity and selfishness is this very lack of reciprocity. If it were a matter of organic necessity, the fidelity of the husband would be an obligation as inviolable as the fidelity of the wife; but as it is only a matter of succeeded egotism, the egotism of the strong in conquering the egotism of the weak in the course of the development of customs and morality, and as the husband is the stronger, he has been able to adapt and form laws, customs, opinions and sentiment to his own advantage and to the prejudice of the wife. He demands unconditional fidelity from his wife but does not concede to her the right to demand the same from him. When she forgets herself, she has committed a deadly sin, whose lightest penalty is public contempt; when he does the same, he has only been guilty of a charming little lapse from duty for which the law has no penalty, at which society smiles discreetly and good-naturedly, and which the wife pardons with tears and caresses if she took it seriously in the first place. And the unfairness of this dual standard is increased by the circumstance that in reality, it is not the same whether the husband or the wife is guilty of infidelity; for if the wife sins, she is passive in the matter—led astray by a man, that is, a power independent of her will; she succumbs to a force, which is stronger than her powers of resistance; but when the husband sins, he is not passive; he sins because he wishes to sin; there are very few Josephs outside of the Bible, and a Mrs. Potiphar is a rarity; the man takes the initiative in sin, he goes in quest of it, and commits it with concentrated purpose and premeditation, with energy and in spite of the resistance offered to him. India is the scene of the utmost extension of this power of the sheer egotism of the husband. In that country he considers his possession of his wife as so absolute, he carries his exaction of fidelity to such an horrible extreme, as to compel the widow, and even the betrothed, to take her place beside her dead husband or fiancé upon the funeral pyre; while the husband whose wife has just died is not obliged to hurt a hair of his head, but can return from the funeral to enter a new nuptial chamber if he wishes, without offending propriety. The selfishness of the husband has not assumed quite such a destructive phase in Europe. Only a few sentimental, hysterical romancers have risen to the height of exacting a fidelity which would continue to exist after the death of the loved one, and portray moonstruck lovers who condemn themselves to eternal mourning and continence, because they can not marry the beloved being on account of death or other obstacles. These visionaries are at least fair enough to lay the decree of this obligation upon both sexes alike, and their Toggenburgs are as often men as women. Their common sense readers however, do not believe in these romantic beings and consider any one in real life who tries to imitate them, a morbid, degenerate creature who tries to make a poetical virtue out of the necessity of the pathological condition of their body or mind. The morals of Christendom concede the facts, both in practice and theory, that love can cease to exist, that one can love repeatedly and that fidelity need not survive love, for they allow the remarriage of widows and widowers to take place and accept the new relations as perfectly moral and above the criticism of society. If at any time and in any place, the wife had been more powerful than the husband, there is no doubt but that all our conceptions of fidelity would have assumed another shape. Then the indiscretion of the wife would have been a fascinating weakness, which would partake somewhat of the character of a joke, while the inconstancy of the husband would have a tragic significance. Society in such a case would exact of man the same chastity outside of the marriage relation and especially before the marriage, as it now exacts of woman. Don Juan would then be Donna Juanna and in the theatre we would shed tears over the death of that poor, innocent Othello, strangled by the furious, jealous Desdemona.
I am well aware of the enormous difficulties in the way of solving peremptorily the problem of the fidelity and natural permanence of love, with our present customs and morals. If we examine the life of the higher animals, we can not fail to observe that the passion of the male for the female only lasts during the courtship or at the most, during the time which we might call the honeymoon, and that reciprocal fidelity, which only exists at all in a few isolated species, does not survive the birth of the young. No matter how violently our pride as human beings may recoil, we are yet constrained to seek for truth in these analogies from the animal kingdom, which is governed by the same vital laws as the human race, which differs from it biologically, in no particular, if we wish to know what attributes are natural and necessary, and what are artificial and arbitrary. This method of comparison would lead us to the conclusion that love exhausts itself in the effort to reach its aim and in the accomplishment of its purpose, as hunger ceases to exist when the desire for food is gratified, and that even for woman, one act in the drama of love comes to a complete close with the birth of the child, so that she can enter upon a new act with an entirely different cast of roles. If this is, as it appears to be, the true and natural condition of this human sentiment, then the permanent single marriage has no organic justification, it must become after the honeymoon in most cases, or after the birth of the child, an empty form and a lie, and lead to conflicts between inclination and duty even when it was originally contracted from love. Of course a multitude of arguments array themselves at once against this conclusion whose logical sequence could only be the abolition of the institution of matrimony and a return to the uncontrolled mating of the animal world. The chief of these arguments is this: It may be true that man is polygamous according to his natural instincts, that he experiences an impulse within him to enter into intimate relations simultaneously or in succession, with more than one individual of the opposite sex; but he has also other instincts and it is the task of civilization to educate the will of man so that he can subdue and suppress his instincts when he learns to know that they are wrong. Unfortunately this argument is not convincing; for it must first be proved that the polygamous instinct would be injurious to the preservation and development of mankind, as this would be the sole foundation for calling it wrong; in addition it gives us cause for reflection as we realize that our civilization, which has succeeded in subduing other instincts, has never yet succeeded in suppressing 1 the polygamous instinct, in spite of the fact that the church threatens it with the torments of hell, the law condemns it and our conventional morality declares that it is indecent; man lives in a state of polygamy in the civilized countries in spite of the monogamy enforced by the laws; out of a hundred thousand men there would barely be one who could swear upon his death-bed that he had never known but one single woman during his whole life; and if the principles of monogamy are more strictly observed by women, it is not because they have never had any inclination to disregard them, but because our conventional morality keeps a sharper lookout upon woman’s conduct and punishes her lapses more severely than man’s—an instinct however, which is so relentlessly attacked by the laws and morality, and which makes such a successful resistance to them, must have much deeper and more solid foundations than those others over which civilization has obtained control. Another argument has more weight: Human love although principally nothing more than the impulse for the possession of a certain individual with the purpose of reproduction, is yet something more; it is an enjoyment of the intellectual qualities of the beloved being; it is also friendship. This element of love survives its physiological element. Certain it is, that the sentiment felt for the loved one is not the same after possession, as it was before. But it is a profound and powerful sentiment still, sufficient to form the foundation for the desire and even for the necessity of a life-long union whose justification is no longer the natural aim of marriage, reproduction, but the want experienced by an intellectually more highly developed individual for companionship with one of similar culture. Even in the most constant hearts, even when the original passion was the most violent conceivable, love undergoes this transformation after the honeymoon or after the birth of the first child; it is still far from considering the yoke of matrimony a burden, but yet it is by no means a perfectly safe protection against the outbreak of a new passion. But there are other circumstances which aid the will in its struggle with t polygamous instinct. When the union of two persons, who gave evidence of their natures being harmoniously attuned Leach other to a certain degree, by loving for a brief period, has lasted a while it becomes a habit, which sustains fidelity most wonderfully. They perhaps, after time, cease to experience the slightest love or even friendship for each other, but their companionship is still kept up, and kept up as a matter of course. As in the process of petrefaction, all the original particles of the root of a tree for instance, gradually disappear and are replaced by particles of quite different, earthy matter, which yet take the exact place of the crowded out, organic molecules and leave the general outline unchanged, until there is absolutely nothing left of the original matter, without the outward appearance of the root having suffered the least alteration, in this process of transformation of the sentiments tiny, imperceptible atoms of habit replace the atoms of love as they vanish, so that when the love has entirely passed out of existence, the outward form of the union remains undisturbed—even if this form is cold, stiff and dead, it is all the more permanent and capable of resistance. If the union is blessed with children the tenderness of the parents is diverted to them and a new love springs up in their hearts which twines around both parents and unites them once more, as a vine joins two neighboring trees together with its luxuriant growth and covers them with foliage and blossoms, although they may be already dead and rotten at the core. Moreover, as the years pass the impulse to love grows weaker, from natural causes, and even if the germs of new attractions do not die out or vanish, it becomes easier every year for the will and judgment to prevent their development. There remains finally after the dawn of love has passed away, a sweet and deep memory of it through the remaining hours of the day of life, which produces a sensation of gratitude to the one loved once so dearly, and impels the two hearts to cling to each other still. On account of all these reasons it may be practicable to mate human beings monogamically for life, even if their disposition of mind or body seems to indicate that they were primally destined to a number of contemporaneous or succeeding relations. There will however, always be numerous cases in which nothing can prevent the outbreak of a new passion, not the friendship which accompanies love, nor the gratitude which it leaves behind it, nor habit, nor riper years, nor the bonds of the parental share and interest in the existence of the children; in these cases the obligation of fidelity should be removed and the marriage cease in form as well as in spirit. Society concedes the possibility of such cases and has introduced the institution of divorce in the most progressive countries. But nature has not yet attained her rights by its aid. The hypocritical prejudices which cling still so closely to the theory of strict monogamy, pursue the divorced parties and cast a shadow of disgrace upon them, which stigmatizes them as no longer perfectly respectable people. This causes timid and weak natures to prefer the lie to the truth, to choose infidelity to the marriage contract rather than an honorable dissolution of it, and to avoid the social destiny of divorces by continuing to seek shelter in the defiled and guilty wedlock. Society must learn to consider a divorced couple as exceptionally courageous and truth-loving natures who would not condescend to a compromise with their conscience but broke the form with decision as soon as the substance had ceased to exist and their natural feelings rebelled against it. Not until this view of the matter becomes generally accepted will the human heart get its rights, marriage become once more a true and sacred institution, wantonness and fickleness be deprived of their pretext of love, and conjugal infidelity become a disgusting crime which only the most vulgar and depraved natures will commit.
The problem that we have last been investigating is whether an union with a single person and for life, is adapted to the nature of man, even if it was entered into originally only from love. But how far are we removed from a condition in which society would be in need of such an investigation! Before we can proceed to the solution of the extremely anthropological problem as to whether an human being can love but once, and whether his mating instinct ought only to be exercised upon one single individual of the opposite sex, it must first of all be settled that love should be the antecedent of marriage and that the official bond must result from a mutual attraction of both parties, existing at least at the moment in which it is imposed. But the present economic organization of society is in direct opposition to such a state of affairs. As long as man is not sure of always finding work to do and by it securing an acceptable competency, he will seek to promote his material interests by marriage or, if he can not accomplish this, he will avoid it and prefer the gross gratifications which prostitution offers him or else temporary liaisons which impose little or no responsibility upon him. And as long as woman is constrained to look upon matrimony as the only career and means of support open to her, she will rush into it without asking about love, and as a consequence be either fearfully unhappy or else become a moral wreck. The miserable lot to which these conditions condemn woman in particular, is not improved nor changed by the quacks who recommend the emancipation of woman as a cure for this severest of the diseases of society. I will not enter upon a searching criticism of this theory of woman’s emancipation, only remarking in a few words that the struggle for existence would assume phases even more ghastly than at present, if both sexes stood upon the same plane of equality. If woman should become the serious rival of man in many branches of industry, she would as the weaker, be crushed without consideration. Gallantry is an invention of prosperity and leisure. Want and hunger destroy this sentiment upon which woman calculates when she imagines a world in which she could wrestle with man for her daily bread. The most difficult and the most indispensable kinds of work man alone must undertake; he will rate them higher than those performed by woman and as at present, woman’s labor will always receive a smaller remuneration than his. Why? Because he has the strength to make his views into laws and to accomplish his will; for no other reason. Woman is accorded a high and dignified position in our civilization because she is acquiescent, because she is content to be the complement of man and to acknowledge his material supremacy. In fact, if she attempts to question it, she is soon compelled to recognize its actuality. The fully emancipated woman, entirely independent of man and in many cases his enemy when their conflicting interests clash, must soon be crowded into the corner. It is in such a case a genuine wrestling match, and there can be no question as to which would succumb first. This emancipation would bring man and woman necessarily into the relation of a higher and lower race—for man is better equipped for the struggle for existence and competency than woman—with the result that the latter would be brought into a far worse condition of dependence and slavery than that condition from which this emancipation is to-release her. The aim of the emancipation preachers is to make it possible for woman to live without man and to renounce matrimony. This method of curing the evil is about as efficacious as that of some philanthropist who might give lectures during a time of famine on the subject of how man could be weaned most effectually from the habit of eating. The question would be then, how to supply the hungry with food, not how to teach them to do without it. And the little band of self-constituted agents of the victims of our civilization ought not to persuade and make it possible for woman to renounce marriage, but should try to secure her her natural share in the love-life of humanity. As I asserted in the preceding chapter that it is the duty of society to care for its children, to educate them completely, and as often as is necessary, to support them until they become capable of supporting themselves, I now assert that it is the duty of society to protect woman, its most valuable breeding material, against physical want. The community owes protection and support to woman. Man’s role in the life of the species is that of the bread winner, the preserver and defender of the living generation; woman’s role is that of the preserver and defender of the future generations, the improver of the race by natural selection, as she excites strife between the men, of which she is the prize and in which the ablest competitors secure the most valuable spoils. As a child the girl should receive the advantages of the public education of the young, and later, if it is necessary, she should be entitled to complete support, either in her parents’ house or in a separate home of her own. Society should look upon it as a disgrace if any woman, young or old, beautiful or ugly, should feel the pangs of want in any civilized community. In a society reorganized upon these principles, in which woman would have no anxiety in regard to her daily bread, knowing that she is protected from want in any case, whether married or single, in which the children would be supported and educated by the community, in which man could not expect to buy as many women with his money as he wants, because hunger would no longer be his go-between, in such a society woman would soon from genuine affection, alone the spectacle of old maids who have found no husbands, would be as rare as that of old bachelors, who enjoy in their free, licentious life all the pleasures with none of the moral burdens or limitations of matrimony, and prostitution would only be practiced by a small number of degenerate beings who can only breathe in corruption and infamy and whose unbridled impulses are without the slightest value for the preservation of the species. When material considerations enter no longer into the contracting of a marriage, when woman is free to choose and is not compelled to sell herself, when man is obliged to compete for woman’s favor with his personality and not with his social position and property, then the institution of matrimony will become a truth instead of the lie it is now, the sacred and sublime spirit of nature will bless every embrace, every child will be born surrounded by the love of its parents as with a halo, and will receive, as its first birthday present, the strength and vitality with which every couple that has been formed by the attraction of affinity endows its offspring.