Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Wendell Berry’s comments on gay marriage last month raised some eyebrows among conservatives. Were his comments a ‘ Grandpa Simpson moment ’ or the logical outcome of Porcher presuppositions?  Below are snippets of what he said.

On Nature:

“If it can be argued that homosexual marriage is not reproductive and is therefore unnatural and should be forbidden on that account, must we not argue that childless marriages are unnatural and should be annulled?” he asked.

His understanding of nature seems no different from mainstream liberal views here.  Patrick Deneen, who no one would accuse of having a simplistic view of nature, has cited Berry’s work as having influenced his own outlook.  Does Berry’s comment above coincide with the notions of nature implicit in his non-fiction and Port William novels?

On Marriage’s decline:

“Heterosexual marriage does not need defending,” Berry said. “It only needs to be practiced, which is pretty hard to do just now.”

“But the difficulty is not assigned to any group of scapegoats,” he said. “It is rooted mainly in the values and priorities of our industrial capitalist system in which every one of us is complicit.”

Berry is correct that capitalism’s primacy on productivity puts pressure on families today in a way that previous generations did not have to endure.  But ‘mainly’?  How does the Sexual Revolution figure into Berry’s account of family breakdown?

On Social Conservatives:

“The oddest of the strategies to condemn and isolate homosexuals is to propose that homosexual marriage is opposed to and a threat to heterosexual marriage, as if the marriage market is about to be cornered and monopolized by homosexuals,” Berry said. “If this is not industrial capitalist paranoia, it at least follows the pattern of industrial capitalist competitiveness. We must destroy the competition. If somebody else wants what you’ve got, from money to marriage, you must not hesitate to use the government – small of course – to keep them from getting it.”

Berry appears to think Social Conservatives are under some sort of false consciousness.  Whatever arguments Social Conservatives purport to make, says Berry, their motives are a product of the capitalist system they support.  Like the previous quote, Berry attributes economics as the underlying cause.

If he sees industrial capitalism as being unnatural, then what does he envision as a more ‘natural’ community?  Until his recent comments, I would have thought it was some sort of marriage between social conservatism and environmentalism. How should we interpret his work now or is this a rant not meant to be taken seriously?

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles