The Argument for Polygamy


Russell Nieli, who has a PhD in politics from Princeton, writes in the Public Discourse about "learning from a religious skeptic's rejection of polygamy and easy divorce":

While often hostile to the Calvinist Christianity in which he was reared, David Hume’s essay “Of Polygamy and Divorces” offers a vigorous and well-argued defense of marriage arrangements as they existed in England and many other parts of Europe from the early Middle Ages through most of the 18th century. His arguments have great relevance for us today as we struggle to cope with unprecedented rates of divorce and unprecedented ease of both entering into and exiting marriages and other intimate procreative relationships. His arguments against polygamy are also important as that practice seems to be undergoing something of a resurgence in parts of the southwest, with renewed interest in the popular culture.

Maggie Gallagher comments on David Hume's claim that both polygamy and liberal divorce laws make marriages less happy over at NRO's The Corner:

Interesting stuff, but I became somewhat more transfixed by the argument for polygamy to which Hume is in part responding:

Having multiple wives, says the polygamy defender, is “the only effectual remedy for the disorder of love and the only expedient for freeing men from that slavery to the females which the natural violence of our passion has imposed upon us.” It is by multiple partners alone — partners who can be used at will and played off one against the other — that “[we men] regain our right of sovereignty, and sating our appetite, reestablish the authority of reason in our minds, and, of consequence, our own authority in our families.”

Essentially, The tyranny of lust disorders men’s reason and gives women too much power over men: that’s polygamy as misogyny.

But who today seeks to limit the power of lust to disorder reason? That 3,000-year-old tradition of thought — from the Roman stoics to the Christian fathers to the polygamy defenders in Hume’s day — appears to have been replaced by a desire to experience the sweet disorder of lust as often as possible. Strange.