Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4: The Problems of Married Life - Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis
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4: The Problems of Married Life - Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis 
Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane, Foreword by F.A. Hayek (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981).
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The Problems of Married Life
In the modern contractual marriage, which takes place at the desire of husband and wife, marriage and love are united. Marriage appears morally justified only when it is concluded for love; without love between the bridal couple it seems improper. We find strange those royal weddings which are arranged at a distance, and in which, as in most of the thinking and acting of the ruling Houses, the age of violence is echoed. The fact that they find it necessary to represent these marriages to the public as love marriages shows that even royal families have not been able to escape the bourgeois marriage ideal.
The conflicts of modern married life spring first of all from the necessarily limited duration of passion in a contract concluded for life. “Die Leidenschaft flieht, die Liebe muss bleiben” (“Passion flies, love must remain”), says Schiller, the poet of bourgeois married life. In most marriages blessed with children, married love fades slowly and unnoticeably; in its place develops a friendly affection which for a long time is interrupted ever and again by a brief flickering of the old love; living together becomes habitual, and in the children, in whose development they relive their youth, the parents find consolation for the renunciation they have been forced to make as old age deprives them of their strength.
But this is not so for all. There are many ways by which man may reconcile himself to the transience of the earthly pilgrimage. To the believer, religion brings consolation and courage; it enables him to see himself as a thread in the fabric of eternal life, it assigns to him a place in the imperishable plan of a world creator, and places him beyond time and space, old age and death, high in the celestial pastures. Others find satisfaction in philosophy. They refuse to believe in a beneficent providence, the idea of which conflicts with experience; they disdain the easy solace to be derived from an arbitrary structure of fantasies, from an imaginary scheme designed to create the illusion of a world order different from the order they are forced to recognize around them. But the great mass of men takes another way. Dully and apathetically they succumb to everyday life; they never think beyond the moment, but become slaves of habit and the passions. Between these, however, is a fourth group, consisting of men who do not know where or how to find peace. Such people can no longer believe because they have eaten of the tree of knowledge; they cannot smother their rebellious hearts in apathy; they are too restless and too unbalanced to make the philosophic adjustment to realities. At any price they want to win and hold happiness. With all their might they strain at the bars which imprison their instincts. They will not acquiesce. They want the impossible, seeking happiness not in the striving but in the fulfillment, not in the battle but in victory.
Such natures cannot tolerate marriage when the wild fire of the first love has begun to die. They make the highest demands upon love itself and they exaggerate the overvaluation of the sexual object. Thus they are doomed, if only for physiological reasons, to experience sooner than more moderate people disappointment in the intimate life of marriage. And this disappointment can easily change to revulsion. Love turns to hate. Life with the once beloved becomes a torment. He who cannot content himself, who is unwilling to moderate the illusions with which he entered a marriage of love, who does not learn to transfer to his children, in sublimated form, those desires which marriage can no longer satisfy—that man is not made for marriage. He will break away from the bonds with new projects of happiness in love, again and again repeating the old experience.
But all this has nothing to do with social conditions. These marriages are not wrecked because the married couple live in the capitalist order of society and because the means of production are privately owned. The disease germinates not without, but within; it grows out of the natural disposition of the parties concerned. It is fallacious to argue that because such conflicts were lacking in precapitalist society, wedlock must then have provided what is deficient in these sick marriages. The truth is that love and marriage were separate and people did not expect marriage to give them lasting and unclouded happiness. Only when the idea of contract and consent has been imposed on marriage does the wedded couple demand that their union shall satisfy desire permanently. This is a demand which love cannot possibly meet. The happiness of love is in the contest for the favours of the loved one and in fulfillment of the longing to be united with her. We need not discuss whether such happiness can endure when physiological satisfaction is denied. But we know for certain that desire gratified, cools sooner or later and that endeavours to make permanent the fugitive hours of romance would be vain. We cannot blame marriage because it is unable to change our earthly life into an infinite series of ecstatic moments, all radiant with the pleasures of love. We should be equally wrong to blame the social environment.
The conflicts that social conditions cause in married life are of minor importance. It would be wrong to assume that loveless marriages made for the dowry of the wife or the wealth of the husband, or that marriages made miserable by economic factors are in any way as important an aspect of the question as the frequency with which literature treats of them would suggest. There is always an easy way out if people will only look for it.
As a social institution marriage is an adjustment of the individual to the social order by which a certain field of activity, with all its tasks and requirements, is assigned to him. Exceptional natures, whose abilities lift them far above the average, cannot support the coercion which such an adjustment to the way of life of the masses must involve. The man who feels within himself the urge to devise and achieve great things, who is prepared to sacrifice his life rather than be false to his mission, will not stifle his urge for the sake of a wife and children. In the life of a genius, however loving, the woman and whatever goes with her occupy a small place. We do not speak here of those great men in whom sex was completely sublimated and turned into other channels—Kant, for example—or of those whose fiery spirit, insatiable in the pursuit of love, could not acquiesce in the inevitable disappointments of married life and hurried with restless urge from one passion to another. Even the man of genius whose married life seems to take a normal course, whose attitude to sex does not differ from that of other people, cannot in the long run feel himself bound by marriage without violating his own self. Genius does not allow itself to be hindered by any consideration for the comfort of its fellows even of those closest to it. The ties of marriage become intolerable bonds which the genius tries to cast off or at least to loosen so as to be able to move freely. The married couple must walk side by side amid the rank and file of humanity. Whoever wishes to go his own way must break away from it. Rarely indeed is he granted the happiness of finding a woman willing and able to go with him on his solitary path.
All this was recognized long ago. The masses had accepted it so completely that anyone who betrayed his wife felt himself entitled to justify his action in these terms. But the genius is rare and a social institution does not become impossible merely because one or two exceptional men are unable to adjust themselves to it. No danger threatened marriage from this side.
The attacks launched against it by the Feminism of the Nineteenth Century seemed much more serious. Its spokesmen claimed that marriage forced women to sacrifice personality. It gave man space enough to develop his abilities, but to woman it denied all freedom. This was imputed to the unchangeable nature of marriage, which harnesses husband and wife together and thus debases the weaker woman to be the servant of the man. No reform could alter this; abolition of the whole institution alone could remedy the evil. Women must fight for liberation from this yoke, not only that she might be free to satisfy her sexual desires but so as to develop her individuality. Loose relations which gave freedom to both parties must replace marriage.
The radical wing of Feminism, which holds firmly to this standpoint, overlooks the fact that the expansion of woman’s powers and abilities is inhibited not by marriage, not by being bound to man, children, and household, but by the more absorbing form in which the sexual function affects the female body. Pregnancy and the nursing of children claim the best years of a woman’s life, the years in which a man may spend his energies in great achievements. One may believe that the unequal distribution of the burden of reproduction is an injustice of nature, or that it is unworthy of woman to be child-bearer and nurse, but to believe this does not alter the fact. It may be that a woman is able to choose between renouncing either the most profound womanly joy, the joy of motherhood, or the more masculine development of her personality in action and endeavour. It may be that she has no such choice. It may be that in suppressing her urge towards motherhood she does herself an injury that reacts through all other functions of her being. But whatever the truth about this, the fact remains that when she becomes a mother, with or without marriage, she is prevented from leading her life as freely and independently as man. Extraordinarily gifted women may achieve fine things in spite of motherhood; but because the functions of sex have the first claim upon woman, genius and the greatest achievements have been denied her.
So far as Feminism seeks to adjust the legal position of woman to that of man, so far as it seeks to offer her legal and economic freedom to develop and act in accordance with her inclinations, desires, and economic circumstances—so far it is nothing more than a branch of the great liberal movement, which advocates peaceful and free evolution. When, going beyond this, it attacks the institutions of social life under the impression that it will thus be able to remove the natural barriers, it is a spiritual child of Socialism. For it is a characteristic of Socialism to discover in social institutions the origin of unalterable facts of nature, and to endeavour, by reforming these institutions, to reform nature.