There has been some discussion recently in comment threads about whether the relatively “hard monogamy” system of “Marriage 1.0” (i.e., the social and, to a lesser degree, legal institution of marriage in the West prior to, say, 1970) acted as a dysgenic “mating subsidy” to men who, from a genetic and social point of view, had no business at all mating. As far as I can tell, the position is not a widely held one, but it is one which is troubling, and which I think needs to be addressed.
Marriage 1.0 did, indeed, feature a relatively “hard monogamy” system, whereby social and legal permission for marital dissolution was more restricted. This was never absolutely nor perfectly the case, yet compared to the situation post-1970, it was nevertheless more broadly the case. The result of this system was a kind of assortative mating system which was more strict, precisely because the ability of people to move around in the hierarchy of mating was limited due to relatively hard monogamy. Affairs and cheating were always present to some degree, of course, as people flouted the system in some cases — some of these were caught and punished, and others were not, but in general, it was one person for one person for life.
The subsidy argument relating to this is that, at least among some lower segment of men (perhaps 20%, 30%, 40%, depending on circumstances), this acts as a subsidy for them, because in a system which was not as strictly monogamous, their “peer” women would not be forced to mate with them, and could instead become second wives or mistresses to higher ranking men in the matin hierarchy, thereby producing more “eugenic” children from the genetic and social point of view. In other words, there is some segment of men for whom society would be much better off, in the long run, if they did not sire children, because their children are less fit, less productive and less valuable overall to society. It is better, in this view, for monogamy to be soft and permissive for higher mating rank men to sire children with more than one woman, from the point of view of the children who are born of such matings, and that therefore we would be better off if that certain lower segment of men simply had their genetic lines die out, in effect.
There are several problems with this, from my perspective.
First, it’s quite inappropriate, dangerous, and morally (and ethically, if you prefer) problematic to suggest that some certain percentage of human beings are so fundamentally dysgenic such that they should simply be excluded from reproduction per se. This is, of course, the most obvious and perennial moral problem with eugenics of any sort — it creates categories of, in effect, subhumans who are wished out of the species by fiat. The moral and practical dangers of this should be obvious, and really don’t require any further discussion, in my view.
Second, it’s not at all clear that the children born of such unions are uniformly dysgenic, or that they are more dysgenic, in terms of life outcomes, than the children of the second wives or “soft harem” reproductive pairings that would result under a system of institutionalized soft harems. There are numerous cases of quite eugenic parents producing dysgenic children, while there are other notable cases of the scions of very modest parenting rising to great heights in life — and not just in the most recent memory, either. As with abortion, it is simply impossible to know the outcome “quality” of people who come from reproductive pairings that would outwardly appear to the thesis to be dysgenic.
Third, studies too numerous to count have confirmed that the best life outcomes are associated with children born of monogamous stable marriages, regardless of social class or the outwardly dysgenic nature of the spouses from the perspective of the genetic elites. This applies across a broad array of life outcomes, and not simply economics. Surely, based on this evidence, the truly best option for the future of society is the restoration of the norms of monogamous marriage throughout the population, rather than continuing down the path of selective reproduction through multiple marital and extra-marital pairings by the genetic “betters” and tolerating an increasing inequality in mating markets (a similar point could be made about economics, but that’s for another post).
Fourth, and finally, as a Christian, of course this approach is anathema to Christian moral theology about the human person, in the first instance, and marriage in general. People are simply not be analyzed on the basis of their marginal social utility, as one might analyze a head of cattle. From the Christian perspective, every human person is a child of God, entitled to equal dignity in the eyes of God and man alike, and we are therefore not to presume to be the judge of their value in the eyes of God, including with respect to their mating. Of course, the morality of the actions of individuals can, and is, critiqued by Christianity, but this is a critique that is not only applied to the genetic “lessers” but also to the genetic “betters” (as it is the economic lessers and betters as well). There is simply no room in a Christian worldview for the idea that it is in any way appropriate for a certain segment of the population to be excluded from mating (or any of the other fruits of human life) on the basis of an a priori exclusion resting on a merely human evaluation of their worth based on assumed genetic quality.
In conclusion, it seems to me that it would be more appropriate to spend our time figuring out how to restore a more durable monogamy on a broader scale. That would actually be beneficial socially on an already demonstrable scale in terms of life outcomes for children, as compared with eugenic ideas based on dubious moral, ethical and practical premises.