The Rise of the Anti-Marriage Right
It used to be that most critics of the institution of marriage were on the left. Its new critics on the right have an even darker vision.
THE STATISTICS ARE STARK: Marriage in the United States is in decline, with the overall marriage rate having fallen drastically over the last half-century, reaching astonishing lows in some states. Economic pressures are, as always, a major factor in the transformation of the marriage landscape. There are cultural pressures as well—and they have tended to come from the political left. But the remaking of the American right over the last several years has mixed things up: While conservatives have traditionally defended and advocated marriage as a fundamental social institution, the battle lines are changing in significant and troubling ways.
Specifically, some of the loudest and most culturally influential voices on the hyper-online far right have adopted an anti-marriage position. But rather than an ideological belief in the oppression of women in the context of marriage, as we have long seen from the left, these right-wing influencers’ whiny contention is that marriage victimizes men.
A word about where I’m coming from: I’m a practicing Catholic who got married at 25; a decade later, my husband and I have three children with another on the way. Which is to say, it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I’m a proponent of marriage. Moreover, as one might expect for someone with my priors, I think that indifference to nuptial stability and its benefits, trendy among many who share my geographical and educational background (I live on the East Coast, attended an elite school, and have a doctorate) is a mistake that disproportionately affects those who can least afford it.
For decades, falling marriage rates have been concentrated among lower-middle and working-class Americans, negatively affecting the health, wealth, and happiness of those Americans and their offspring. The most recent data on the benefits of marriage across all demographic groups, particularly for children, is as emphatic an endorsement of matrimony as one could derive from empirical findings.
Despite marrying almost as frequently as they did in the 1980s, many progressive elites profess broad critiques of marriage and often remain sympathetic to the free-love ideals of the sexual revolution. They are also understandably wary of appearing to judge those with less privilege than they enjoy. As a result, among many of our most culturally influential Americans, heterosexual marriage is considered a morally and civically neutral—if not expressly patriarchal and regrettable—lifestyle preference.
There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy about this stance, where a kind of self-awareness about a purportedly morally compromised act justifies doing it anyway. But today, mega-influencers on the fringe right are advocating far more vehement anti-marriage ideas, which they are using in the service of their own, much scarier, ends.
Support our unique, independent coverage of politics and culture by signing up for a free or paid subscription.
Among the most prominent of these influencers is former kickboxer Andrew Tate, who has made disturbing inroads into the lives and psyches of millions of teenage boys and young men. (He has also been charged with rape and human trafficking.) Tate teaches his youthful followers that marriage is “completely and utterly fruitless.” The 37-year-old Tate contends that women belong in the home, that monogamy is unnatural for men, and that marriage invites improper government intrusion into men’s sex lives. He glories in tales of choking and hitting sexual partners, and perfects his macho brand by posing shirtless with guns and in front of expensive cars.
Pearl Davis, the anti-feminist YouTuber often referred to as the “female Andrew Tate,” has managed to up Tate’s anti-nuptial ante. She argues that men should boycott marriage because divorce and family courts are stacked against them, and because women today are not raised to be the submissive wives that men “deserve.” Sidestepping labels of misogyny by virtue of her femaleness, the 26-year-old Davis argues that women should expect and condone men’s sexual infidelity, especially as they age. She also argues that women should be excluded from the franchise because they are not capable of rational thought. (It is unclear whether Davis has considered the problems this position raises for the status of her own thoughts on marriage and family law.)
For both Tate and Davis, men and masculinity are victimized—that is, deprived of alleged rights and freedoms they might otherwise enjoy—by the monogamous and companionate norms of modern marriage. While there is arguably a widespread marginalization of non-college-educated males in today’s America, and while this marginalization is largely the fault of leftist educational and legal norms combined with broader cultural shifts, it still remains demonstrably true that getting married and raising a family is the best way for such men to achieve upward mobility, health, and fulfillment.
But Tate, Davis, and their redpilled followers are not actually interested in what is good for men, or for the wider society. They are interested in what is easy for men and feeds their basest impulses; the wider society, and civilization itself, be damned.
HERE’S THE THING: Conservatives used to say that this kind of victimology—a (sometimes accurate) claim of unfairness, followed by a denial of agency and a resolve to blame individual pathologies on broad systems of oppression—was straight out of the left’s playbook.
Deployed by the fringe right, though, it is far more dangerous.
At the risk of oversimplifying, many on the elite left hold a Rousseauian view of nature in which society corrupts the naturally good individual. The unfounded utopianism of this perspective means that educated elites typically end up professing indifference to the bedrock institutions of civilization while reaping their benefits. They don’t necessarily support marriage in principle, but they’re almost all married. They think law and order are oppressive, but most of them live in places where they don’t have to worry too much about crime.
Encounters with the wider world can be eye-opening for these individuals. Every time elite progressives get a sense that a society without the norms and stigmas they deplore might not be so kind to sociology professors, they lose their momentum. Talking about revolution over lattes is harmless but exciting; living with its fruits is less appealing. As the old saw goes, “a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.”
By contrast, the threat posed by the online right’s attack on marriage is virtually limitless in its capacity to rip society apart. Because it isn’t marriage per se that stands between unattached, self-pitying, solipsistic men and the unimpeded, barbaric bacchanalia of a state of nature in which might makes right. It is civilization itself, of which marriage is just one important pillar, that holds this Hobbesian reality at bay.
The revolutionary right exemplified by Tate and Davis embraces and even endorses with glee the dark and violent state of nature. Compared with a civilization based on Judeo-Christian norms of morality, led by elites who both take those norms for granted and denigrate them, a pagan world of ‘might makes right’ can sound pretty good to a bunch of guys who, legitimately or otherwise, feel marginalized.
In the end the war of all against all would be as bad for Tate fans as for anyone else. As in every case of professed victimization, what would serve them best is to take responsibility for their own circumstances and attempt to better them. Many could start by getting married.
But first, the hyper-online right would need to reject the victimology at the heart of its anti-marriage paradigm. Given their eagerness to embrace an uncivilized state of nature, this seems unlikely. And that should frighten all of us.
Elizabeth Grace Matthew is a regular opinion contributor at the Hill and a Young Voices contributor. Her work has appeared in USA Today, America magazine, Law and Liberty, Deseret News, Fairer Disputations, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.