The great divide in America.
In all of human history, the culture of monogamy has never
encountered the type of competition it faces now. We must
—Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
What is known as the “culture war” in America can be characterized in terms of the polarities it represents: red versus blue states, the mommy party versus the daddy party, the culture of death versus the culture of life, the culture of dependency versus enterprise, Palinistas versus Pelosians.
Now we have a new, intellectually audacious conceptualization of the struggle as proposed by Dr. Patrick F. Fagan, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Family and Community Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, who is also a psychologist with a doctorate in social policy from University College Dublin:
The culture of the traditional family is now in intense competition with a very different culture. The defining difference between the two is the sexual ideal each embraces. The traditional family of Western civilization is based on lifelong monogamy. The competing culture is “polyamorous,” normally a serial polygamy, but also increasingly polymorphous in its different sexual expressions.
Monogamy versus polyamory. Fagan describes this great divide in an article in the latest issue of Touchstone which is based on a talk (PDF) he gave this past August to the World Congress of Families in Amsterdam. His description of these contending worldviews is clinical, yet bracing in its implications for the fate of the family, the culture and American society as a whole.
Fagan embraces a broad definition of polyamory, which a popular dictionary defines as the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time. It is derived from the Greek, poly or many, and the Latin, amor or love. Clearly, Fagan’s definition includes a whole range of liberated sexual practices such as homosexuality, although some gay advocates reject the association.
The World Polyamory Association’s (“More Loves Make More Love”) Vision Statement proclaims an ecumenical standard of the widest latitude:
You have relationship options-monogamy, celibacy, open marriage, pair-bonded inclusive relating, triads (man-woman-woman, woman-man-woman, man-man-man, woman-woman-woman) polyfidelity [sic], loving networks, group marriage, multi-generational line marriage, and more. You have heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual alternatives within each. You have many spiritual practices and value systems to chose [sic]-to mix and match with your relationship options, styles and sexual orientation. What is most important is that you are the chooser and that you come from choice.
The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” But even the wily Moynihan learned that criticizing the unintended consequences of welfare-state politics, which undermine families and communities, can bring down the wrath of its “operational bureaucracy” (to use one of Fagan’s terms) on anyone so bold as to challenge its actual effects as opposed to its intended results.
Fortunately, Fagan is not a timid soul. He fearlessly describes, in excruciating detail, the profound differences and assumptions that differentiate the cultures of monogamy and polyamory. In addition to the obvious case of religion in the public square, they part ways on the very concept of freedom. The former emphasizes “the freedom to be good,” that is monogamous and faithful. The latter promotes “freedom from any constraints upon sexual behavior.”
Monogamy seeks objective truth and norms. Polyamory is relativist in its moral orientation. The one promotes a limited constitutional state because it assumes self-imposed restraint and self-discipline. The other relies on social welfare programs “to rescue its adherents from the effects of its form of sexuality.”
On children, abortion, the role of the traditional family and the responsibility of fathers as well as mothers, these cultures reflect antithetical views.
“In the culture of monogamy, men are anchored in their families and tied to their children and wives, through the free and deliberate focus of their sexuality,” says Fagan. “In the culture of polyamory, which treasures sexual freedom or license, such sexual constraint by men (or women) is not expected, nor, in fact, is any attempt to foster such constraint acceptable, for that would be the antithesis of the main project of the culture of polyamory, women are anchors, while men can drift (or be cast adrift) as desired, and they do so in very large numbers.”
Ironically, the culture of polyamory aggressively fosters the kind of male feminists justly decry: the sexually and physically harassing, the abusing and abandoning male. “Being the natural cost of its defining project, these and related dysfunctions justify and necessitate more safety nets,” says Fagan.
Despite the costs and social pathologies fostered by the culture of polyamory, it thrives by controlling the commanding heights of the culture and public policy: childhood education, sex education, and adolescent health programs. This, argues Fagan, allows it to reach into traditional culture, gradually dismantling it and gaining “converts”:
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