Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State

Clare Chambers, Against Marriage: An Egalitarian Defence of the Marriage-Free State (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Winner of the APSA David Easton Award 2018.

Available now in paperback and hardback from all good bookshops! Use the code AAFLYG6 at www.oup.com to buy the book at 30% off.

 Read the book on Oxford Scholarship Online here.

Synopsis

Against Marriage is a radical argument for the abolition of state-recognised marriage. Clare Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage violates both equality and liberty, even when expanded to include same-sex couples. Instead Chambers proposes the marriage-free state: an egalitarian state in which religious or secular marriages are permitted but have no legal status.

Part I makes the case against marriage. Chambers investigates the critique of marriage that has developed within feminist and liberal theory. Feminists have long argued that marriage is a violation of equality since it is both sexist and heterosexist. Chambers endorses the feminist view and argues, in contrast to recent egalitarian pro-marriage movements, that same-sex marriage is not enough to make marriage equal. Chambers argues that state-recognised marriage is also problematic for liberalism, particularly political liberalism, since it imposes a controversial, hierarchical conception of the family that excludes many adults and children.

Part II sets out the case for the marriage-free state. Chambers critically assesses recent theories that attempt to make marriage egalitarian, either by replacing it with relationship contracts or by replacing it with alternative statuses such as civil union. She then sets out a new model for the legal regulation of personal relationships. In the marriage-free state regulation is based on relationship practices not relationship status, and these practices are regulated separately rather than as a bundle. The marriage-free state thus employs piecemeal, practice-based regulation. Finally, Chambers considers how the marriage-free state should respond to unequal religious marriage. The result is an inspiring egalitarian approach that fits the diversity of real relationships.

Reviews

“Clare Chambers has produced what will surely be for years to come the definitive argument for the abolitionist view of marriage. … [T]his is in my opinion a superb book. It is prodigiously scholarly, but at the same time wonderfully clear and accessible. The arguments are provocative and challenging throughout. The literature on this vitally important topic urgently needed a book-length defense of the abolitionist position. It is hard to imagine a book performing this necessary role better than Chambers’s Against Marriage.”

Ralph Wedgwood in Ethics

Against Marriage is “political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, in Fabian Review

“This is a distinct and important contribution to an increasingly crowded field of liberal political philosophy on marriage and the state and, perhaps most interestingly, to our understanding of the liberal project broadly. … Where other liberals seek more vigorously to balance competing demands of freedom and equality, or emphasize freedom, Chambers hews rigorously to an egalitarian position. You won’t find another book that does this so effectively or by way of such productive engagement with existing scholarship. Laying out the egalitarian case in such clear and compelling terms, Chambers highlights the challenges it presents to the liberal side of her liberal feminist equation. In so doing, Against Marriage leaves us wondering just how tenable the liberal feminist project is. … Chambers leads us to these questions by bringing us to the edge of the liberal feminist frontier. This alone would make Against Marriage a distinct and important contribution. But, of course, Chambers does more. She offers a compelling vision of why and how to move beyond marriage and points us in the direction of work that needs to be done. All with the grace and graciousness of an analytical philosopher running at full throttle.”

Tamara Metz in Political Theory

“Against Marriage makes an important contribution to the debate over the future of marriage within liberalism. It is clear and cogently argued and a pleasure to read. One of its virtues is its breadth; it makes arguments which address a range of liberal and feminist views and should be accessible to non-specialists. At the same time, it advances the leading edge of the specialist debate in provocative and intriguing ways.”

Elizabeth Brake in Mind

“Clare Chambers provides a clear, lucid and timely argument against state-recognized marriage based on the liberal principles of liberty and equality. … Throughout, she is masterful at anticipating and responding carefully to potential objections to her arguments and proposals. …. And her responses to those who might disagree with her proposals reveal a two-fold carefulness: as a philosopher, she is thoughtful, deliberate, precise, and meticulous; as a feminist, she is attentive, concerned, and compassionate — considering not only the philosophical justifications for her proposals but also their practical fall out for women and other vulnerable populations. … I highly recommend Chambers’ book as an important scholarly and pedagogical resource. It is beautifully crafted and makes an important contribution to the literature in liberal political theory and, more specifically, to the philosophical literature on marriage and family. … It was my distinct pleasure to read this book and be provoked by its arguments into a better understanding of both liberalism’s promise and its limitations with regard to its support of diverse forms of relationship.”

Shelley M. Park in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“Chambers’ Against Marriage is a wonderful addition to a growing literature demanding that we think seriously about the institution of marriage and how it may have to be altered to meet the demands of justice and equity.”

Robert Scott Stewart in Metapsychology Online Reviews

How to Disagree on BBC Radio 4

Timandra Harkness interviewed me for the BBC Radio 4 series “How to Disagree: A Beginner’s Guide to Having Better Arguments”, episode 4. The topic of the discussion is moral disagreement, with particular reference to the topic of abortion.

The episode was broadcast on 16 August 2018 and you can listen to it here.

Reasonable Disagreement and the Neutralist Dilemma

Chambers, Clare, “Reasonable Disagreement and the Neutralist Dilemma: Abortion and circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence” in The American Journal of Jurisprudence (May 2018).

You can read the paper here.

Abstract: This paper starts by investigating the idea of reasonable disagreement. It then considers Matthew Kramer’s argument that there is no neutral solution available to the disagreement over abortion. The paper argues that Kramer’s account has wider application, and identifies a neutralist dilemma. The neutralist dilemma applies when, of two policy options available to the state, one is unreasonable. It follows that the state should enact only the reasonable policy. However, in a neutralist dilemma the fact of reasonable disagreement due to the burdens of judgment means that it is not possible for the state to act at all, whether legislating or not, without deviating from neutrality. The paper develops the concept of the neutralist dilemma and then applies it to another case discussed by Kramer: infant circumcision. The paper argues that the debate over infant circumcision can be framed as a neutralist dilemma, but that the most plausible resolution of the dilemma results in an argument in favor of the legal prohibition of the practice. This is a surprising result, since most liberal states do not restrict circumcision and since prohibition of circumcision might initially appear to be non-neutral or even illiberal; however it is consistent with the tenets of neutralist liberalism.

Fabian Society on Against Marriage

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society, reviewed Against Marriage in Fabian Review, May 2018. You can read the full review here.

“Marriage makes me uncomfortable, whether the reason is political, historical, cultural or aesthetic. No matter how many married couples I see living modern equal relationships, for me, the whole concept is tainted by its patriarchal past. But I say ‘for me’ with good reason, as I have dozens of friends and comrades who disagree. This is a fault-line issue that divides socialists and feminists amongst themselves. In Against Marriage, Clare Chambers makes the case for why egalitarians and liberals should reject marriage. It is political philosophy at its most practical and readable.”

Neutrality at University of Edinburgh

I presented my paper “Reasonable disagreement and the neutralist dilemma: Abortion and circumcision in Matthew Kramer’s Liberalism with Excellence” at the University of Edinburgh in March 2018. You can read their account of the session on the Just World Institute blog here.

The Limitations of Contract: Regulating Personal Relationships in the Marriage-Free State

9780190205072-2Many theorists defend relationship contracts. Some argue that enforceable relationship contracts should be available alongside existing or reformed state-recognised marriage, and available to either married or unmarried couples. Other theorists argue that relationship contracts are the best sort of legal regulation to replace marriage. It is this latter question that is the subject of this chapter. The chapter contrasts contract and directive models of regulation, and notes that contract appears more compatible with liberty than does directive. However this appearance is illusory since contracts can undermine liberty, directives can enhance liberty, and even a contract regime requires default directives. Moreover, there are various problems with the enforcement of relationship contracts. Specific performance is rarely appropriate in the relationship context. The alternative, fault-based compensatory alimony, risks causing injustice to vulnerable parties such as those who take on caring responsibilities (usually women) and children. Relational contract theory attempts to deal with some of these problems but has its own limitations. The chapter concludes that contract is not the best replacement for marriage.

Reviewers’ comments:

The book is “strenuously avant-garde”. The New York Times (5th April 2016).

Chambers’ chapter is “sobering and refreshing”. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2nd May 2016).

Chambers, “one of the best-known advocates” of the claim that marriage should not be recognised by the state, contributes a “nuanced and lucid” chapter that is “among the most interesting contributions in the volume.”  Hypatia (2017)

 You can read more about the book here.

Feminism and Liberalism

In Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy, edited by Serene Khader, Ann Gary, and Alison Stone (Routledge, 2017).

For some feminists liberalism is little more than patriarchy in disguise; for others, it is the framework for securing justice. Feminism, like all other positions in political philosophy, is a range of views rather than a single determinate viewpoint. One aspect of this range is that feminism includes both academics and activists, for whom the term ‘liberalism’ can signify rather different things; after all, liberalism is not one single thing either.

In this chapter I start by considering feminist criticisms of liberalism. I discuss two aspects of feminist critique: first, academic feminist critiques of non-feminist liberal philosophy; second, activist feminist critiques of what is variously called “choice feminism”, “third-wave feminism”, or simply “liberal feminism”.

I then move to those feminists who endorse liberalism and argue that a suitably modified liberalism offers the best path to gender equality. This position, “feminist liberalism,” is mostly found in contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy. Feminist liberals understand liberalism as a commitment to substantive, demanding principles of justice based on freedom and equality. Included in this section are those feminist approaches that combine radical feminism’s insights about the limitations of individual choice with feminist liberalism’s commitment to autonomy, equality, and justice.

See more about the book here.

Fabiana

Fabian_Society_Logo_CMYKMy work was cited in Fabiana, the magazine of the Fabian Society Women’s Network, issue 2 p. 7 (Winter 2012). Print and on-line, on-line available here.

Philosophy Bites

mza_7220911957896699341.600x600-75My Philosophy Bites podcast on “Liberalism and Intervention”, an interview with Nigel Warburton produced by David Edmonds, is part of the special series “Multiculturalism Bites”, available here.

Teach Yourself Political Philosophy: A Complete Introduction

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Clare Chambers and Phil Parvin (Hodder & Stoughton, 2012)

Written by two leading experts, this book can help you whether you are studying for an important exam or simply want to improve your knowledge.

The first half of the book introduces the reader to the essential concepts within political philosophy, such as freedom, equality, power, democracy, rights, and the state.

The second half of the book looks at how influential political philosophers, such as Plato, Rawls and Mill, have used these fundamental concepts in order to tackle a range of normative political questions such as whether the state has a responsibility to alleviate inequalities, and what role liberal and democratic states should play in regulating the cultural or religious beliefs of citizens.

 

Reviews

‘Phil Parvin and Clare Chambers have produced a state of the art textbook, which provides students with a comprehensive and bang up-to-date introduction to contemporary political philosophy. Topics are introduced in a clear and eminently readable fashion, using accessible real world examples whilst drawing on sophisticated scholarly literature. There is no comparable book which covers such a wide range of topics in such a student-friendly manner.’

(Dr Daniel Butt, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Bristol)

‘A lively, accessible and engaging read. Comprehensive and  well organized, it provides an updated account of key concepts in contemporary political philosophy, and highlights their relevance to political life in the 21st century.  A valuable book for anyone taking their first steps in the world of political philosophy, or anyone who seeks to understand the normative challenges faced by our society today.’

(Dr Avia Pasternak, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Essex)

‘Written in a clear and accessible style, it is an engaging introduction for those who are new to political philosophy and wish to think through some of its most important questions. In addition to offering outlines of key arguments, each chapter also contains a summary of main concepts, self-test questions, a wonderful selection of quotations and some attention-grabbing ‘nuggets”

(Dr Zosia Stemplowska, University Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Oxford)

“The Family as a Basic Institution”: A Feminist Analysis of the Basic Structure as Subject

Layout 1in Ruth Abbey (ed.), Feminist Interpretations of Rawls (Penn State Press, 2013).

In Section 50 of Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, titled “The Family as a Basic Institution”, John Rawls replies to Susan Moller Okin’s feminist critique of A Theory of Justice. The question of how Rawlsian justice might secure gender equality has been discussed by many feminists, most notably by Okin. However, as I argue in this chapter, the Rawls-Okin debate raises more questions than it answers. Okin criticises Rawls for failing to apply his theory adequately to the family: she criticises not Rawls’s approach in general, but his attitude to the family in particular. Okin argues that a consistent application of Rawlsian theory would secure gender justice, but that Rawls is remiss in refusing such consistency. In fact, as I show, Rawls’s remarks on the family reveal a more fundamental problem with Rawlsian theory than Okin allows. It is not that Rawls fails to apply his theory correctly to the family, but rather that the specific case of the family illustrates deep-seated difficulties with Rawlsian justice as a whole.

The problem, to give an outline, is that Rawls’s ambiguous remarks on the family are comprehensible only at the expense of his fundamental claim that there is something distinctive about the application of justice to the basic structure. Okin criticises Rawls for failing to make good on the fact that the family is part of the basic structure. If he did make good, Okin claims, he would see that the principles of justice must apply to the family in a much more extensive way than he actually allows. As I show, however, the family is one illustration of the fact that how the principles of justice apply to an institution does not depend on whether that institution is part of the basic structure. This is a problem for Rawls because the distinctiveness of the basic structure is a crucial part of the political liberalism which, by the end of his work, has become essential to the Rawlsian project.

In this chapter I first outline Okin’s critique of Rawls in more detail, and provide a valid formalisation of her argument against Rawls. I then examine the main premises of her argument and look for evidence to support Okin’s interpretation of Rawls. I conclude that Okin’s interpretation is flawed but nonetheless highlights problems with Rawls’s claim that the basic structure is the subject of justice. I then consider and reject the argument that Rawls’s theory is consistent according to what I call the “whole structure view”: that the principles of justice apply to the basic structure considered as a whole. Finally, I consider G.A. Cohen’s argument that the basic structure distinction is problematic. I agree with Cohen’s criticism of the distinction, but suggest that Cohen is wrong in situating the problem with the issue of coercion. I conclude that Rawls’s position on justice in the family is at odds with his claim that the basic structure is uniquely the subject of justice.

You can see more about the book here.

What kind of dialogue do we need? Gender, deliberative democracy and comprehensive values

9781107038899(with Phil Parvin) in Jude Browne (ed.) Dialogue, Politics and Gender (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

This paper claims that a focus on gender as a source of controversy, and on feminism as a theoretical and practical approach, prompts a rethinking of the role of dialogue away from the liberal constitutionalist focus of deliberative democracy and towards a more fluid, reflexive approach.

Each outcome is another opportunity

home_coverPolitics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) Vol. 8 No. 4 (2009).

This paper introduces the concept of a Moment of Equal Opportunity (MEO): a point in an individual’s life at which equal opportunity must be applied and after which it need not. The concept of equal opportunity takes many forms, and not all employ an MEO. However, the more egalitarian a theory of equal opportunity is, the more likely it is to use an MEO. The paper discusses various theories of equal opportunity and argues that those that employ an MEO are problematic. Unjust inequalities, those that motivate the use of equal opportunity, occur throughout peoples’ lives and thus go unrectified after an MEO. However, it is not possible to abandon the MEO approach and apply more egalitarian versions of equal opportunity throughout a person’s life since doing so entails problems of epistemology, efficiency, incentives and counter-intuitive results. The paper thus argues that liberal egalitarian theories of equality of opportunity are inconsistent if they support an MEO and unrealisable if they do not.

You can read this paper here.

Coercive redistribution and public agreement: re-evaluating the libertarian challenge of charity

FCRIcover 1..2(with Phil Parvin) in Matt Matravers and Lukas Meyer (eds.), Democracy, Equality, and Justice (Routledge and special issue of Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (CRISPP) Vol. 13 No. 1 (2010).

In this article, we evaluate the capacity of liberal egalitarianism to rebut what we call the libertarian challenge of charity. This challenge states that coercive redistributive taxation is neither needed nor justified, since those who endorse redistribution can give charitably, and those who do not endorse redistribution cannot justifiably be coerced. We argue that contemporary developments in liberal political thought render liberalism more vulnerable to this libertarian challenge.

Many liberals have, in recent years, sought to recast liberalism such that it is more hospitable to cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity. This move has resulted in increased support for the claim that liberalism should be understood as a political rather than comprehensive doctrine, and that liberal institutions should draw their legitimacy from agreements made among members of an appropriately conceived deliberative community, rather than from controversial liberal principles like individual autonomy. We argue that, while this move may indeed make liberalism more compatible with cultural diversity, it also makes it more vulnerable to the libertarian challenge of charity. Not all versions of liberalism are troubled by the challenge, but those that are troubled by it are increasingly dominant.

We also discuss G.A. Cohen’s claim that liberal equality requires an ‘egalitarian ethos’ and argue that, if Cohen is right, it is difficult to see how there can be an adequate response to the libertarian challenge of charity. In general, our argument can be summarised as follows: the more that liberalism is concerned accurately to model the actual democratic wishes and motivations of the people it governs, the less it is able to justify coercively imposing redistributive principles of justice.

You can read a copy of this paper here.

All must have prizes: the liberal case for intervention in cultural practices

Paul Kelly (ed.) Multiculturalism Reconsidered: Culture and Equality and its Critics (Polity Press, 2002).

This paper highlights a rare aspect of Brian Barry’s Culture and Equality that is not liberal enough: his assertion that unequal outcomes are unproblematic if they have been chosen. The paper argues instead that an ‘equality tribunal’ should be empowered to rule against certain forms of discrimination within groups.