Polygamy and Human Dignity


What is the relationship between monogamous marriage and a culture of human dignity?  I try to answer that question at Public Discourse.

The core of my argument is that one way men, at least, learn to respect the dignity of other human beings is by being fathers.  Polygamy–by giving wealthy and powerful men many wives–denies many men that experience, and to that extent undermines the culture of human dignity.  Here is part of what I say:


There are, of course, many experiences that teach men to appreciate the dignity of other human beings. One of the more powerful of these is fathering children within marriage. Here a man encounters other beings that he is absolutely obligated to care for, but who are not in any sense his property and who will lead lives of their own, with their own ambitions and aims. His children are ends in themselves, not instruments of his, but are nevertheless entitled to his care and attention.

This visceral experience of human dignity through the fathering of children, moreover, is not easily confined to an appreciation for one’s own children alone. It does not take a great deal of moral imagination for a man to realize that his neighbors and friends care for their children just as much as he cares for his own. Those children, too, are ends in themselves, and worthy of his concern and protection, if not to the same intense degree as his own children, who have been entrusted especially to him. Such are the experiences not only of excellent fathers but of decent and even mediocre ones. The station they assume enhances their humanity by enhancing their respect for the humanity of others.

To the extent that polygamy is popularized, it deprives many men of these experiences and thus undermines their understanding of and respect for the dignity of other human beings. Not having children who rely on them, and not having a mother of their children who also needs their support and assistance, they have no other human beings to whom they can be so deeply attached. Nor do the consequences end here.

You can read the whole article here.

I also link to an excellent survey, by the Catholic philosopher Christopher Kaczor, of the social science evidence about the consequences of polygamy.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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