Marriage as the Cause of Civilization

Why Monogamy is Important

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Monogamous marriage was a crucial influence in shaping Western civilization, affirms William Tucker in his new book, “Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human, “ (Regnery Publishing).

Tucker, a journalist and author of various books, covers a wide range of topics, from anthropology to the origins of civilization, the role of religion and the contemporary situation of family life.

From the start of human history, Tucker explained, the unique social contract of marriage has freed persons to work together in cooperation and enabled the birth of human civilization.

He added that while monogamy is a more successful way to organize a society it is always under siege and requires rules that must be upheld by its members. If a society becomes indifferent about maintaining the rules then monogamy will unravel, as is happening in the United States today.

Tucker was quite critical of the form the Welfare State has developed in recent years, in providing incentives for single mothers to remain single. The two-parent family is a strong institution, he noted, but is not indestructible.

“With the proper economic incentives it can be torn apart,” he said. Then, once dismembered it may be very difficult to reconstruct.

In a chapter dealing with interpretations of marriage in primitive societies Tucker explained that while in the 19th century some authors proposed a situation where polygamy was the practice, later research showed that initially it was monogamy that was the original form of human bonding, while in some societies polygamy was a later development.

Tucker also observed the polygamous societies are more prone to warfare because they have created an imbalance by allowing each man to have more than one wife. This leads to a need for additional women that is satisfied by engaging in combat with other tribes and stealing the women.


As part of his historical overview Tucker commented on Ancient Greece and noted that it was the first complex society to impose monogamy on its members, even those at the top of the hierarchy.

“For the first time since the last hunter-and-gatherers, the egalitarianism of the original human society has been restored,” he added.

Following this the Roman Empire consolidated the norm of monogamy as the model for families.

Another key role was played by Christianity, Tucker affirmed: “Christianity played the crucial role in making monogamy the norm on Western society,” he stated.

After a lengthy historical examination of various societies and religions Tucker returned to the contemporary situation in the United States.

How is it, he asked, that in the space of merely 50 years, marriage and a two-parent family go from being the ideal and most common form of family life to being “a fairytale to which only the most privileged can aspire?”

Tucker went on to affirm that monogamy does not satisfy everyone’s desires and that is why it is easy to undermine. At the same time he said that: “Monogamy is the end point of civilized behavior that recognizes, however unconsciously, that enforcing the rules creates advantages at the societal level.”

Therefore, he concluded that we have a situation where monogamy does not satisfy everyone’s desires, yet it is a form of family life that creates advantages at the societal level.

Tucker went on to affirm that humans are happiest when living in stable, long-term marriages and that their children are also much better off.

Making sacrifices

Monogamy, however, he went on to say, does require people to make certain sacrifices.

One factor Tucker identified as an undermining force in family life was the end of the idea of a family wage, which enabled the male to be the sole income earner. With the entrance of large numbers of women into the workforce men’s job prospects were reduced, particularly those who were less well-educated.

A second major change was the 1960s sexual revolution and the separation of sex from childbearing. This led to a great weakening of marriage and to major changes in family structures.

In his concluding chapter Tucker affirmed that nations’ fates are above all dependent on the human beings who make them up. “Monogamous families create socially conscious human beings ready to live in peaceful societies,” he said.

At the same time he questioned if it is possible to restore the monogamous ideal to American society. That is, to return to a situation where both men and women understand that there are certain rules that must be honored and certain behaviors that can threaten family stability.

Monogamous marriage, Tucker went on to affirm, is a thrilling adventure, but also the work of a lifetime. It is also, he repeated, an institution that enables civilizations to flourish and to build a prosperous and flourishing world.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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