This article was published in the Spring 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
 
Unregulated Families:
A Mixture of Old and New Forms
 
by Richard O. Hammer

 
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Outline
1. INTRODUCTION
2. THEORY OF FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS
3. FINDINGS FROM SOCIOLOGY
4. BIASES IN CULTURE AND LANGUAGE
5. FORMULATION: FAMILIES IN A FREE NATION
 

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1. INTRODUCTION

Once again we tackle a difficult question. What will become of families in a free nation? In theory families might take any shape imaginable. So can we assure ourselves that better family life, more wholesome and happy, awaits when we will be free to bond in ways we choose?

Probably you can guess my answer. Yes. Family structures will improve. Marriage will become a more honest and flexible institution, as partners in marriage will have more power to demand conformity with existing terms, and more flexibility to change the terms when both agree. And the lives of children will probably improve more than the lives of adults, as their lives will mix more readily with the work and play of adults, and they will spend no time at all under the harsh and arbitrary guardianship of government.

In Section 2 of this paper I will theorize about relationships in families. In Section 3, I tell what I learned in reading one text about the family. In Section 4, I write about biases inherent in human language and culture. In Section 5, I present some formulations of what I think might occur in families in our envisioned free nation.

To complete the introduction of this topic, it may help if I list some laws which will not exist in a free nation. The accompanying table provides a partial list. Because we have lived all our lives in a government-twisted environment, even many libertarians fail to sense all of the distortions which exist in American families. Perhaps, before we can start to formulate improvements, we have to see the distortions.

Common Acts of State Which Influence Family Structure
these will not exist in our free nation
Laws which allow only monogamy, and which prosecute people who openly adopt other forms.

Laws against prostitution, pornography, sex with consenting minors.

The government's claim of a monopoly on certification of marriage and divorce, and thus the imposition of great expense, in certain cases, on obtaining this certification.

The government's claim of a monopoly for itself in enforcement of family law, with the results that:

1. the only terms in marriage contracts which receive enforcement are those which the government approves;

2. many other government-created terms are forced upon members of families, even though those members never agreed to accept those terms.
 

Tax laws and government handouts which select people for special treatment based upon their family status, and which therefore create inducements to: have children out of wedlock, marry, divorce, or assume other specific family forms.

Regulation of medical care, drugs and devices, which raises the expense and reduces the availability of: birth control, abortion, and other goods and services.

Court ordered custody of children with one or another guardian.

Court ordered payment of support for children by parents absent from the home where the children live.

Zoning regulations which force separation of natural family functions, such as work, education, residence, commerce, and play, into different geographic zones, thus inadvertently increasing the need for commuting.

Compulsory schooling, with incarceration in government facilities as the default forced upon people who cannot afford private means.

Housing regulations and building codes which outlaw almost all living arrangements other than those which would be used by traditional two-parent families living autonomously from other families.

Laws which keep minors from gainful and educational employment (child labor laws).

Laws which prohibit minors from making certain choices without supervision of an adult guardian, and which shield minors from liability for damage they do.

Laws regulating day-care centers and nursing homes, greatly increasing the price of these services and decreasing their availability to families with modest means.
 

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2. THEORY OF FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS

2.1 Self Interest: The Glue of Relationships

I assume that families form for natural reasons. We humans have needs, as individuals, which we find ourselves best able to satisfy in relationships which are close and continuing. But not all aspects of all relationships are positive. Most relationships impose costs on the parties involved. So, in the view that relationships must be voluntary, normally an individual can be expected to stay in a relationship only as long as he or she perceives that the benefits exceed the costs. Surely such forces govern families. Generally speaking we form families, and stay together in families, only so long as these relationships benefit us as individuals.

Now, some readers may object that a benefit/cost calculation ignores the humane side of humans, that loyalty and love also bind us humans in relationships. So let me try to head off this objection. I accept some findings from sociobiology: I agree that loyalty and love bind us in relationships, but I would include these in the benefit/cost calculation. As a living human I find that I have interests beyond the life of my body or the balance in my bank account. I benefit if someone whom I love succeeds, or if a cause which I support advances. And I assume other people experience similar emotions. These emotions enter the calculation of benefits and costs which we perform in choosing our relationships.

Let me also say that I do not think we can attain perfect relationships, or perfect families. I believe that conflict of interest among people is inevitable, because evolutionary forces have programmed us to be restless, to always want more. While we continuously seek more rewarding ways to organize ourselves, the task will never be complete. The family will continue to be a rewarding way to organize, but it will still impose costs upon its members.

2.2 Cultural and Economic Climate Inevitably Influences Family Structure

Given my assumption that individuals bond in response to the circumstances which they perceive, it becomes obvious that bonds formed by individuals will change when circumstances felt by those individuals change. The organizations which we call "families" will take different forms in different social and economic environments.

Libertarian literature overflows with illustrations about how state intervention into the lives of individuals has wrecked traditional families in America. But these illustrations do not help us in FNF much with the question which we now ask: what kinds of families would form, in this modern world, if government went away?

We can learn quite a lot, I think, from looking at history before government invaded the family in Western civilization, and from looking at present cultures in which government still refrains from invading the family. In these places we can find examples of what humans naturally tend to do in families. In Section 3, I will summarize some findings in this vein.

But I think our exploration here may need to account as well for modern wealth and conveniences. I assume that our free nation will fairly quickly become prosperous. The inhabitants will, for the most part, employ the latest technologies for communication, medical care, and contract enforcement. As such the free nation will present an environment which has never existed before: free, but also wealthy and modern. We will find no examples, either in history or present-day stateless societies, with families existing in such an environment.

Since government programs can dissolve, in many circumstances, the traditional nuclear family, we should assume that new technologies and new voluntary economic organizations could likewise dissolve it. It is said, and I accept, that more people engaged in premarital sex when the birth control pill became readily available. Likewise simple economic logic tells us that ready availability of abortion increases use of that procedure.

Nostalgia alone cannot hold a family in traditional form. We had better assume that the form of family will change in response to economic and technological changes.

2.3 Networking to Satisfy Needs

When we get our free nation, I believe that we will protect most of our rights through networking institutions which both insure and enforce.1 By pooling resources with others who face similar risks we can defeat, to our satisfaction, most threats to our rights. This sort of surety will provide protection, I believe, from most of the abusive violence which can occur in families. But let me digress to explain why I think rights can be protected by insurance.

First, consider this example. We libertarians would say that we have a right not to have our houses burglarized, and notice that in America we can purchase insurance to protect this right, or at least to repay our losses should we suffer burglary. For another example, we have a right not to be assaulted, and we are allowed to purchase insurance which will pay the medical bills should we suffer assault.

So, for some rights at least, we in America can protect ourselves through insurance. Government allows it. But why, I wonder, cannot we in America protect all of our rights through insurance?

Using a familiar definition of rights, that we have rights not to be assaulted or cheated in person or property, it seems that rights could be protected by insurance because: 1. people will be willing to pay for such protection; and 2. people will be able to pay for such protection because security, in body and property, enables people to be economically productive.

The answer I find to my question, of why we cannot protect all our rights through insurance, will not surprise you: in most significant cases government stands in the way. If there is some right for which we cannot buy protection through insurance then government has probably either: given itself a monopoly in securing protection of that right; or regulated the insurance industry so much that no business could hope to profit by insuring that right.

Now, consider that class of women who might want to purchase protection from their husbands should their husbands start to batter them. This class could pool their resources and protect themselves better than government has ever done, if government would allow it. And people who sympathized with this class of women could contribute. The combination would make a force which could easily intimidate wife beaters. The wife beaters, I believe, would never have the gall to organize in response.

In the free nation entrepreneurs will be free to try to sell any sort of insurance. And as communications technology improves, and the cost of networking and sharing information decreases, I believe we will find insurance/security agencies offering protection for more and more rights.

2.4 Knowledge of What Is Implied in Relationships Exists in the Culture

I believe we cannot specify completely ahead of time what is implied, or expected, in a given human relationship. We can and do strive to improve our lots by improving our understandings of our relationships through direct and open negotiation, point by point on each issue which we think might arise. But, I believe, at some point in each negotiation of a contract, the parties in the negotiation reach a point at which they feel satisfied enough, and then they take a leap of faith.2

But vicarious experience, as well as faith, comforts many who take such leaps. In most circumstances a person entering into a particular sort of contract receives affirmation of the acceptability of the contract from others in his family or society who have entered into similar contracts, and who seem to be succeeding, or even flourishing, while so bonded. A young person standing at the brink of marriage receives affirmation for the decision in observing the successful marriages of elders and friends in the society. I think it could be no other way.

In a given society a norm regarding the meaning of a marriage contract comes to be accepted. Or perhaps a handful of optional norms come to be known. Such a norm includes so much cultural history that, if written in its entirety, it might fill a book.

People marrying probably accept one of these norms, and assume that their marriage will have the attributes of that norm unless otherwise negotiated. Negotiations preceding the contract probably focus more on a few differences from an established norm than upon all the terms of the norm with which both parties, by failing to mention these terms, evidently agree.

This observation shows how difficult it is, what we attempt in addressing this topic, to leap to a formulation of what family structures will result in modern society if all the laws of state are suddenly removed from the institution of marriage, and partners are left on their own to establish their own terms of contract. Indeed I believe an institution as complex as marriage, in any given society, can only grow and evolve with experience and feedback, and cannot be formulated successfully in abstract discussions. The American colonies, on start-up, imported already-complete systems of law from the European motherlands. Probably the first marriages in our free nation will draw heavily upon imported experience.
 

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3. FINDINGS FROM SOCIOLOGY

As most readers of Formulations will know, we in FNF do not usually talk about things like family structure. Usually we talk about politics, economics or philosophy, whereas this subject is more like sociology. Since I have approximately zero education in sociology, upon which I can draw to teach you things, I decided to find and read one book to give me some grounding before I started to prepare this presentation.

From his substantial library, Philip Jacobson offered several books, from among which I picked The Family in Cross-Cultural Perspective, by William N. Stephens (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963). This book evidently served as a text for undergraduates taking family courses. It summarizes family customs in numerous societies other than America. Stephens, who was located at the University of Kansas, gathered this data by surveying anthropological literature. Evidently the book was used for some time, as I found a 1982 edition (nineteen years later than the one I read) listed in the online catalog of books offered by Amazon.com.

I have a bias about sociology, that probably most sociologists have socialist agendas. As such, I was leery of picking a book which I would find to be hopelessly biased. Fortunately, I found no biases in Stephens' book which ruined its value to me. I did sense a few biases, no doubt commonplace in the early '60s, but these just give me a few more things to write about.

The first slant in Stephens' book which I should mention, is that Stephens' method, in which he counted each society once, gives inordinate emphasis to small and dead societies and gives too little weight to huge and successful societies. A tribe of 500 souls which disappeared 300 years ago receives the same weight, in some of his tabulations, as American society.

Also I noticed that when writing of American society Stephens used the usual idiom, referring to it as "our" society. I believe that those of us who are earnest in our formulations will distance ourselves somewhat from the system of beliefs in which we were raised, and in using the word "our" will refer usually to our envisioned free nation.

In the following subsections, 3.1 to 3.15, I will list quotes that I took from Stephens and notes that I made while reading. I have not attempted to order these in any particular way, but they do represent a selection which I judge to be either interesting or, better yet, instructive to our questions about free-nation family structure.

3.1 In his first chapter, titled "Is the Family Universal?," Stephens gives a definition of family and answers his own question: yes, the family is almost universal. There are some borderline cases which Stephens describes but,

"As far as I know, there is no known society which clearly and unequivocably 'does not have the family' (by my definition)." (p. 19)

"People get married, live in families, observe incest taboos, and have ties with kinfolk. The details of marriage and family customs, incest taboos, and extended kin groupings show great intercultural variation; the essentials show little, if any variation." (p. 30)

So we do not need to fear that the free nation will have no families at all. Here is the definition which Stephens gives for family: "I will define the family as a social arrangement based on marriage and the marriage contract, including recognition of the rights and duties of parenthood, common residence for husband, wife, and children, and reciprocal economic obligations between husband and wife." (p. 8) Stephens elaborates at some length on what he means by the terms in this definition, such as "marriage contract" and "common residence," but I will not pursue this further here.

3.2 He says this universality of the family is rather remarkable, because there are some other alternatives which should be perfectly logical. But these other alternatives do not occur. He describes two which never happen:

1. The freely cohabiting band, with no incest taboos or prohibitions against adultery, in which each woman cares for her own children, and all the men generally act like uncles.

2. A society without incest taboos, in which most marriages occur between people of the same generation, between siblings and between cousins, but in which parents can also marry their children. This would simplify life for many kin groups, as it would eliminate all the laborious arrangement of exchange of brides between tribes.

But, as far as Stephens knows, neither of these has ever happened. (p. 31)

3.3 Polygyny, with the possibility of two or more wives per husband, is permitted according to Stephens in most societies. (p. 33) But, because it is expensive to keep several wives, in these societies polygyny is not necessarily practiced by most people. Only wealthy men, or men of high status, generally have more than one wife, and the others, that is most men, have only one wife.

Strict monogamy is uncommon. Polyandry, with the possibility of two or more husbands per wife, and group marriage are rare.

Given Stephens' descriptions, I was struck that polyandry is practiced most by people who are so poor that their continued survival may be threatened. In a few of Stephens' examples a reason given to explain why one husband would welcome another husband into the household was the need to have the work of one more man to be able to feed the wife and children. (pp. 34-49)

Jealousy among wives in polygyny is evidently a much more significant problem than jealousy among husbands in polyandry. In polyandry jealousy is almost never reported (p. 56), but in polygyny it frequently becomes disruptive. (p. 57)

3.4 Stephens makes the following observation about deferential behavior and where it occurs. By deferential behavior he means, for example, a custom in which all members of the family stand when the father enters the room, or in which junior members in the pecking order "never speak until spoken to."

"There is a very strong correlation between deferential (or autocratic) kin relationships and autocratic state. Where the state is democratic (as in the United States and most of Western Europe) or nonexistent (as in most primitive tribes), kin relationships are fairly nondeferential and 'democratic'; where the state has been autocratic for a long period of time (with, perhaps, a very recent change to democracy), kin relationships tend to be autocratic too." (p. 86) 3.5 Stephens evidently would share our libertarian view that the state can kill family relationships by taking over functions that historically have been served by families. But, in a way that jogged my thinking, in the following passage he lumps together government and private business (which he calls "economic specialization") when describing institutions which can supplant family structures. "...various functions that are performed by economic specialization and government in our society are performed by groupings of kin in tribal, stateless societies." (p. 143) This should raise our awareness that traditional family structures might be supplanted by businesses which, through specialization, provide services (say, for instance, child care and preparation of meals) more efficiently than families. I say more about this in Sections 2.2 and 5.3.

3.6 Stephens points out that romantic love, used as a criterion for selecting a mate, appears more in Western societies than it does in most other societies. (pp. 200-206) In this discussion he affirms my observation, in Section 2.4, that the expectations which individuals bring to marriage are set largely by their culture.

3.7 In several places in Stephens' book I noticed evidence of changing expectations regarding the institutions of family in a given society. While Stephens was not attempting to show the process of change, and while his whole approach was an attempt to present snapshots of family as though static in given societies, still, in several of his examples and extended quotations there were cases where stories told of the good old days, or of the way things are now (evidently in contrast to what used to be). (p. 230 has one example.)

This should help us see that marriage and family structures are always changing.

3.8 Stephens says that divorce is frequent in some societies, and rare in others, but says that there is an overall trend across societies: Not surprisingly, the frequency of divorce decreases with children born to the marriage and time spent in the marriage. (p. 235)

3.9 Stephens points out, as I might expect, that alimony is less essential in societies where family structures are strong.

"Apparently, where large kin groupings are well developed, the support of the children is no problem in cases of divorce. A divorced woman and her children can always be provided for by other relatives." (p. 239) 3.10 This observation surprised me: "Primitive tribes tend to have greater sexual freedom than do 'civilized' communities. ... civilized communities more often try to restrict sexual intercourse to marriage, and they more often seem to be effective at it." (p. 256) 3.11 And here is another: "Marriage, in our [American] society, ordinarily involves a certain amount of intimacy and sharing between husband and wife: living and sleeping together; eating together; going together to parties, on visits, and to various recreations; jointly owning house, car, and other possessions; and so forth. This degree of togetherness is usually not [emphasis in original] found in other societies." (p. 270) 3.12 On the division of labor between the sexes: "The division of labor between husband and wife, as well as the more general division of labor between men and women, seems to have little to do with the biological capabilities and limitations of the two sexes. With the exception of bearing and nursing children, a man is biologically capable of doing anything a woman can do. Conversely, a woman should be able to do anything a man can do, including heavy physical labor. Since sex division of labor rests on little in the way of biological 'givens,' one might expect great intercultural variation in 'men's work' and 'women's work.' That is, there should be some societies in which the husband keeps the house and cooks the meals while the wife hunts buffalo and fights the enemy; where the wife does the plowing and the husband knits and embroiders; and so forth. As a matter of fact, there is much less intercultural variation than one might expect. Work around the house cooking, cleaning, child care, bringing in fuel and water is nearly always the province of the wife; the husband may or may not help her. Other tasks, such as hunting, herding large animals, handicraft with metals or stone, and boat building, are nearly always done by men." (p. 281) Stephens follows this with a two-page table showing a strong sex bias in most of about fifty essential family activities. (pp. 282-283)

However, he notes that strict division of tasks along sex lines is greater in tribes that have accumulated an intermediate level of wealth, enough to be called "peasant" communities, than it is in either poorer tribes or in modern Western civilization. (pp. 287-288)

3.13 In the following quote Stephens shows a common cultural bias, about which I will say more in Section 4.2.

"In most societies, apparently, the more 'important,' honorific jobs and offices are the province of men; women are excluded from them." (p. 288) 3.14 American society is unusual in its high frequency of isolated nuclear households, with the job of caring for young children left largely in the hands of the lone and isolated mother. (p. 366)

3.15 About child labor:

"In nearly all societies ... children are put to work by the age of ten. ... in nearly all cases, the bulk of children's work is a clear-cut, specific apprenticeship to the adult occupational role." (p. 386)
 

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4. BIASES IN CULTURE AND LANGUAGE

We live immersed in a sea of biases, most of which I believe most people cannot see. I know that I live with assumptions, biases, about sex and family roles, most of which I have picked up from my surroundings.

In this section I will: theorize about the origin of bias; comment upon sex-role biases which seem ingrained in human culture and language; theorize about how these particular biases got into language; and speculate about whether cultural bias will persist in a free nation.

4.1 Theory About the Origin of Bias

First let me say that I do not think we will ever escape bias. I believe our nervous systems, in order to navigate us through existence, have to: 1. assume that patterns exist in the world; 2. hypothesize what those patterns are.3 We cannot steer through life without having, internally, a map of what exists outside ourselves.

Inevitably sometimes our map-making brains will be lucky, and will make good assumptions which survive the test of subsequent experience. Other times our brains will be less lucky, and will make assumptions which start to look faulty when experience produces contradictions. "Bias," when we use that word in a negative sense, I think simply names one of these assumptions which we recognize needs to be reformulated. If this theory of mine is correct we will never be rid of bias, we can only recognize it for what it is. 

4.2 The Idea of "Success" Seems Biased Toward Male Values

Warren Farrell,4 along with others, has exposed a bias in the complaints made by some feminists in America.5 These feminists complain that men earn higher wages, and men possess more power in business organizations. But in complaining that men have more of these things, these feminists overlook that men, on average, want these things more than women want these things. These feminists seem unaware that they have swallowed a masculine bias in the culture: the very idea that wages and power in business are good things to have. Women, on average, want other things, such as support without having to work outside the home to get it, and time to spend with children. If we reject the masculine bias in the culture, and instead measure success in terms of things that women value, such as hours of quality time spent with children, it turns out that women outperform men overwhelmingly. Thus men could have cause to complain about their relative poverty.

4.3 How Language Might Come to Be Biased

But I must sympathize with these feminists, because I agree that the language of the American culture is biased in a masculine direction, and I think that we inescapably assimilate biases from the language of our culture.

Now I will speculate on how it might have come to pass, that our contemporary language emphasizes masculine values. I believe that language emerges where it is needed, among people who need to talk about things. The language of a culture will therefore be biased toward the needs of the people who do most of the talking. If men do most of the communicating, the language will take a masculine slant.

For instance, imagine a societal arrangement in which nuclear families live separately from one another and in which men conduct almost all of the commerce and communication between families. In such an arrangement women, rarely having opportunities to express their uniquely feminine experiences with other women, may never develop words to express those experiences. Whereas men, in their discussions with other men, will discover words which express masculine values, and will carry those words into usage in their families. In this society any words which attain broadspread usage must have passed through men, with their poor ability to express feminine values.

This example may not explain the bias in modern American language, since American women talk to each other, but a bias may creep into the language nonetheless if, for some reason, jobs in the media are filled more by men than by women.

4.4 Free Nation Biases Will Diminish, But Remain

In a free nation I expect that biases in the language would diminish because I assume we will have modern communication in which women, as well as men, can network freely. And, as I describe in Section 5.1, with less state-forced division of family functions into distinct geographic zones I expect men and women will intermingle more in their routine daily activities.

But we cannot expect that all assumed differences between men and women will vanish from language and culture, because some of those assumptions appear correct. Men and women differ in many ways, and language will continue to reflect these differences. And still, if men more than women aspire to succeed in commerce, and if this aspiration carries men more than women into jobs in the media, then I expect the media will convey male values better than female values, and the language in the whole culture may keep a male bias. I do not think we could change this if we tried.

 
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5. FORMULATION: FAMILIES IN A FREE NATION

5.1 The Influence of Unregulated Housing

As I have described before,6 I believe that housing in a free nation will differ radically from the housing which we squeeze ourselves into in America. In America the set of buildings in which we live and work cannot conform in natural ways to our needs, because zoning and building regulations cripple market processes.

For the sort of neighborhood which I think evolves naturally, I imagine a city block, perhaps like one I have seen in a movie set in a bustling Mediterranean city. Within the space of this block I see: a dozen shops, an opulent manor house, a nursing facility, a super market, a few restaurants and pubs, a little factory, scores of apartments (some nicer than others), professional offices, a church, a few houses, two schools, a little playground. Many people in this neighborhood do not own cars, and do not need them.

In the free nation I believe we will see functions mix like this, in neighborhoods. Most residents in such a neighborhood can live most of their lives separated by no more than a three-minute walk from most members of their families.

Notice this benefit of a naturally-formed community: it offers a range of housing, from large to small, from rich to poor. People with wealth, and people who want wealth, need each other, naturally find ways to trade, and naturally live side by side.

In unfree nations zoning regulations prevent this mixing, and this separates families. When some members of the family prosper more than others, or when some need only a little apartment and others need space for teenagers and dogs, they are unable to find suitable accommodations within the same neighborhood.

But let us think happy thoughts, about our free nation. There it will be possible for an aging widow to move out of her house without moving out of her neighborhood. And notice how much easier could be that uneasy event: divorce with children. A woman separating from her husband could move, not twelve miles away to a different subdivision served by a different school district, but down the hall. The question of custody could become less crucial and painful, maybe not a question at all: maybe the kids could decide for themselves on a month-by-month basis; probably they would go where someone feeds and loves them.

Another effect of deregulating the production of buildings in the free nation will be that buildings will decrease in price, as well as increase in quality. As Julian L. Simon has offered to wager, all commodities get cheaper with time. This is the direction of human industry, the result of enterprise. We apply our brains to making things better and cheaper, and succeed.

Notice the way that television sets, the manufacture of which has fortunately escaped much regulation, have gotten continuously better and cheaper during the past fifty years. The same should happen to housing. Better buildings can and will be mass produced cheaper, in the free nation.

And notice the way that basic foods, in spite of considerable regulation, have gotten relatively cheaper in America. Most of us can eat ourselves plump with the wages of only a few hours work each week. A similar trend would occur in housing in a free nation. While people with uppity attitudes will always want the next luxury, generic housing, the minimum with which monks are wiling to live, will decrease in price, to the point where it too will probably be available for trivial expense.

In the free nation, your eccentric brother, your widowed mother, your divorced spouse, will all be able to find housing which suits their budgets and tastes nearby to you, assuming they want it.

5.2 The Influence of Free and Honest Contracting

The decision to get married can, by itself, scare and intimidate a person. But government makes this decision harder in many ways.

5.2.1 Entry into marriage

Of all the ways that marriage will differ in a free nation, it may differ less upon entry than in other ways. In America government places few large obstacles in the way of people intent upon marrying, and pretty much rubber stamps their choice. In any nation, before getting married the partners hopefully talk at length about what their marriage will mean to them. But, in America, only rarely I think do they write the important terms of their understanding, because the writing would have no more meaning than the probability that it would be interpreted as the partners had intended by a government court should that contract appear in court one day. In America most of the terms which might be enforced in court are decided by the state, irrespective of what one or both of the partners might have stipulated upon getting married and, assuming time has passed, irrespective of what terms the state might have been enforcing at the time the couple married. In America what it means to be married changes with legislation and court decisions, so a couple which invests much emotional energy in clarifying the crucial terms of their understanding often wastes that energy. The best they can do is hope, or just stay entirely out of the business.

In the free nation I expect the prenuptial discussions will be more complete and practical because, assuming the terms of marriage will be expressed in a contract, that contract will, as I describe in Section 5.2.3, actually be enforced. There will be, in the culture of the free nation, a different expectation about the institution of contract. Since slackers will not be able to prevail in court simply by presenting lame excuses or expensive lawyers, more people will invest energy in understanding contracts before signing them. However, as I said in Section 2.4, I think probably a few standard understandings regarding the meaning of marriage will evolve, and most marrying couples will choose one of these standards after discussing perhaps only a few of the particulars.

5.2.2 Exit from marriage

Divorce, when and if that happens, I believe will occur with less anger, bitterness, and expense in the free nation than it occurs in America.

In America, should either divorcing contestant see anything to gain by appealing to the government court, then the whole show, including division of wealth and division of kids, gets acted out in court. The end of the final act is usually postponed until one contestant declines to pay more money to lawyers. Then the court hands down a decision, perhaps partially guided by a contract if the partners signed one. But the uncertainty of decision assures that new contestants will be willing to pay, again and again, to see the show.

In the free nation, if a contract says something, and if neither party disputes either the facts in the case or the meaning of what the contract says, then, if I understand the way courts in a free nation will work,7 neither party will bring this contract into court, because everyone will know ahead of time what the court would decide just what the contract says. If the contract is clear, and if one party is clearly defaulting, then the wronged party would approach not a court but an enforcement agency, or perhaps the agency which bonded the defaulting partner.

Because the partners will respect the effectiveness of the enforcement agencies, couples who see divorce in their future will refer to the contracts which they have signed, and make their plans accordingly. Disputes will go to court only when the parties differ on either the facts or on what their contracts mean. Divorce in the free nation will thus, I expect, be carried out by the partners themselves who understand, and merely fulfill, their contracts. It will be accompanied by emotional loss and pain, but not by uncertainty, surprise, outrage, and uncontracted-for expense.

5.2.3 Enforcement of the terms of marriage

In several of my papers in Formulations I have been building a case that contracts in a free nation will be enforced firmly. Some libertarians start to fidget, justifiably, when they hear this line because superficially it appears to represent a loss of their liberties. Anyone who has matured in America knows that usually you can sign a contract which says one thing and then proceed to do something else. We in America know that ultimate enforcement of terms of contract must be carried through courts run by government, and we know that rarely happens. As such, many contracts are written not with expectation of literal compliance (often we waste our time if we read the fine print) but merely to bolster the case made by one side in the unlikely event that a dispute goes to court.

But this expectation that contracts can be ignored has grown in what I call public space,8 in an environment in which the only law which receives enforcement is that which government enforces. And government fails to deliver law efficiently, as it fails to deliver anything efficiently.

Contracts, including marriage contracts, will work much better in a free nation than in America, because means for enforcement of contracts will be in the hands of entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurs forever seek ways to improve the efficiency of their service.

Here is an example, eye-opening and perhaps extreme. Suppose it becomes technologically possible to have surgically implanted, in yourself, a radio tattler which sends a signal to your marriage partner in the event of your extramarital infidelity. In the free nation there will be no FDA to inhibit marketing such a device, no law against it. Indeed, only externally enforced coercion could stop it if two marrying partners agreed that they wanted it.

Marriage vows, you see, and contracts generally, might come to have literal meaning. As I think of public space, it is the only space in which a person can cheat or lie, to the nontrivial injury of another, and get away with it. In a free nation, there will be less cheating and lying, because enforcement of voluntarily assumed terms will be in the hands of private enterprise.

Please do not think that I am advocating such devices. I am attempting, with this example, to show again that in a free nation we will find ourselves better equipped to demand fulfilment of promises which have been made to us. Lying and cheating will shrink to a trivial scope, to a scope which the partners to an agreement voluntarily refrain from policing, even with inexpensive electronic monitoring devices.

5.3 What Will Bind Families Together?

As I described in Section 2.1, I think people organize themselves into sets of relationships which we call "families" in order to satisfy certain of their individual needs. We should recognize that traditional family structure can be threatened by economic and technological progress as well as by government meddling.

For instance, consider the family meal. The tradition of all sitting down together was probably shaped by economic factors. It costs less labor to prepare one big meal at one time than several little meals at various times. However, as the technology of serving food has advanced, and the cost has decreased, individuals can more readily eat on their own schedules in response to their own appetites. Consequently the number of times when the family all sits down together for a meal has decreased. The family meal in America is now a ceremony of nostalgia more than a necessity. And, evil though government is, I do not think we can blame government for collapse of this particular institution.

Other advances in the free nation will threaten the traditional family even more. The decreasing cost of necessities will increase the ease with which a parent can fend alone. Basic shelter, food, medical care, and educational aids, will all decrease in price. As such, a single mother may be able to provide bare-bones necessities for herself and a few children with the wages of only one day's work per week. Spouses may become luxury items.

What forces will remain to hold the family together? Here I can offer only hope and speculation. First, continuing the economic arguments, I notice that most people seem to want luxury items as they become available. So even though it will be possible for a single-parent family to survive with spartan provisions, I expect some couples with only two Mercedes in the garage, and with only Masters'-level education prepaid in trusts for their children, will feel economically threatened and will stay together out of "economic necessity," even though straining in their relationships.

I like to think that many people will stay together because of that old thing which we call "love." And some lucky couples might share a sense of purpose, and stay together because they form an effective team. Many people I think, observing myself as an example, are idealists, and may be motivated to stay in a family as a way to propagate their ideals, implanting their memes in their children. Probably I picked this up from the family in which I was raised; I tend to think of family as a vehicle for transmission of values. (Unfortunately there is always a risk that kids will think for themselves.)

5.4 Responsibility for Child Support in Event of Separation or Divorce

In the free nation I expect that child support, in the event of separation or divorce, will differ radically from what we experience in America. The pain which this issue causes in America I think can be blamed upon the government's arrogant insertion of itself into this already difficult arena. I expect that standard-form marriage contracts would address child support, perhaps by referring to standards published by the sort of voluntarily-organized standards-publishing organization that we have often mentioned in FNF work.

Observing the present American experience, with the government's war on "deadbeat dads," I think few of these men would have voluntarily entered a contract which stipulated terms of the sort which the government now attempts to force upon them. So, in a free nation, in the market for mates, I believe many men, supported no doubt by their families, would demur to sign a marriage contract with such terms. Negotiation would occur, and agreement upon some terms acceptable to both partners would result. I guess that the resultant terms would tie together custody and financial support more than those are tied together in American court decisions, because it seems to me that few prospective parents would promise to pay for the upbringing of children the control of which had been completely removed from them by court order.

I think it is just natural for the important aspects of rearing a child to cluster. Whoever loves, houses, feeds, and educates the child also, quite naturally I believe, finds voluntary ways to pay the bills. As such, in this regard I expect a return to a traditional family form in the free nation: that children of divorce will often wind up living, for some time at least, with relatives who both support and raise them.

5.5 What Sorts of Families Will First Inhabit the Free Nation?

I assume that self interest will determine which individuals will decide to move to the free nation. The ideal of liberty alone will not motivate many people to move there. People will move there if they believe that their lives will be better.

Adding to what I have argued before,9 I believe that many of the first settlers in the free nation will be single men from America and other Western democracies. While many American women will go along with their men, and while a few single American women will go, I have the impression that many more American men than women feel that they could improve their prospects in life by risking such a move. There are many women, however, in poor third-world countries (no doubt you have seen the ads) whose prospects would improve in the free nation. So I expect a disproportionate number of brides for single men from America will come from poor countries.

America, as I understand history, was not populated from the comfortable upper classes of the European fatherlands, but from the lower classes, from the people who had the most to gain by moving. So I think we should expect that most of the initial inhabitants will come from poor countries. I think, for instance, of all the boat people who we have seen in the news during the past few decades. These people will move without quibbling about the quality of the beaches or theatre.

Some wealthy people will move to the free nation because that is where they will establish their businesses. A high proportion of these people will probably move to the free nation with their families intact. And in the free nation I expect we will see a return of domestic servants, as wealthy business owners and managers will be able to establish large households which employ staffs of people from third-world countries who are happy to have any job at all.

As happened in America, I expect immigrants to form their own ethnic communities which support these people, and which persist for a few generations until the descendants meld into the larger population. D

 
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Notes

1 See for instance the Proceedings of our Autumn 1994 Forum on "Security in a Free Nation."

2 This was called "satisficing" by Herbert Simon in "Theories of decision-making in economics and behavioral science," American Economic Review, 44:3, June 1959, pp. 253-283.

3 I studied this question of how nervous systems might drive successful organisms during the early '80s, insofar as I wrote computer programs to drive "learning" robots and strove to make this the subject of my doctoral dissertation in computer science. At that time I was unable to find faculty members in that department who shared interest in the subject. So what I learned through study of this subject was not expressed in a dissertation.

4 Warren Farrell, Why Men Are the Way They Are: The Male-Female Dynamic, 1986, McGraw-Hill.

5 Please note that not all feminists take anti-libertarian stances. Indeed there is the Association of Libertarian Feminists, P.O. Box 20252, London Terrace P.O., New York, NY 10011, which publishes ALF News for $10 per year (four issues).

6 See the section titled "Notable Differences in a Particular Industry, Residential Building," in my paper "Business in a Free Nation," Formulations Vol. IV, No.1, pp. 5-6.

7 See my "Toward Voluntary Courts and Enforcement," Formulations Vol. III, No. 2.

8 My best definition for "public space" so far is given in Section 2.3 of "Hit 'Em, But Not Too Hard," Formulations Vol. IV, No.2, pp. 7-9.

9 "Men and Women Differ in Political Values: Theory and Implications," in Formulations Vol. IV, No. 2.

 

Richard O. Hammer was born the youngest of five in a close-knit family headed by a liberal Protestant minister. He was raised in small towns in New York State, and married once for four years.

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