The following excerpt comes from Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage:
“During the eighteenth century the spread of the market economy and the advent of the Enlightenment wrought profound changes in record time. By the end of the 1700s personal choice of partners had replaced arranged marriage as a social ideal, and individuals were encouraged to marry for love. For the first time in five thousand years, marriage came to be seen as a private relationship between two individuals rather than one link in a larger system of political and economic alliances …
Especially momentous for relations between husband and wife was the weakening of the political model upon which marriage had long been based. Until the late seventeenth century the family was thought of as a miniature monarchy, with the husband king over his dependents. As long as political absolutism remained unchallenged in society as a whole, so did the hierarchy of traditional marriage. But the new political ideas fostered by the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 and the even more far-reaching revolutions in America and France in the last quarter of the eighteenth century dealt a series of cataclysmic blows to the traditional justification for patriarchal authority …
The people who pioneered the new ideas about love and marriage were not, by and large, trying to create anything like the egalitarian partnerships that modern Westerners associate with companionship, intimacy, and “true love.” Their aim was to make marriage more secure by getting rid of the cynicism that accompanied mercenary marriage and encouraging couples to place each other first in their affections and loyalties.
But basing marriage on love and companionship represented a break with thousands of years of tradition. Many contemporaries immediately recognized the danger this entailed. They worried that the unprecedented idea of basing marriage on love would produce rampant individualism.
Critics of the love match argued – prematurely, as it turned out, but correctly – that the values of free choice and egalitarianism could easily spin out of control. If the choice of a marriage partner was a personal decision, conservatives asked, what would prevent young people, especially women, from choosing unwisely? If people were encouraged to expect marriage to be the bet and happiest experience of their lives, what would hold a marriage together if things went “for worse” rather than “for better”?
If wives and husbands were intimates, wouldn’t women demand to share decisions equally? If women possessed the same faculties of reason as men, why would they confine themselves to domesticity? Would men still financially support women and children if they lost control over their wives’ and children’s labor and could not even discipline them properly? If parents, church, and state no longer dictated people’s private lives, how could society make sure the right people married and had children or stop the wrong ones from doing so?
Conservatives warned that “the pursuit of happiness,” claimed as a right in the American Declaration of Independence, would undermine the social and moral order …”
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