Entanglements: A Study of Liberal Thought in the Promise of Marriage
20 Cardozo J.L. & Gender 371
34 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2015
Date Written: 2014
This paper offers new insight into the persistent entanglement of status hierarchies and liberal ideals in modern liberal thought. Its case study is the nineteenth-century promise of marriage, a site in which the tension between progress and hierarchy plaguing liberalism was glaring.
The promise of marriage pulled together the liberal ideals of contract and love – the free-choice bases of the market and the family, alongside class and gender hierarchies. Examining its fortunes in private law and realist fiction – loci of liberal social thought – the paper shows that liberalism, as a living phenomenon, was never an attempted elimination of statuses, but was also never their unqualified acceptance. Contra liberal as well as radical analyses, this paper argues that liberalism was a new interpretation of statuses’ legitimate roles in the social order, which achieved two seemingly paradoxical results: it secured the persistence of statuses, and it altered their power.
How did this complex process of entanglement take its shape? Liberal ideals and statuses were fused together through conceptual patterns which repeatedly played out in liberal thought: containment and withdrawal, examined in this paper. These patterns, functioning somewhat like a cultural code – historically contingent, yet sticky through their embeddedness in culture, despite their limits for any interest, power or normative aspiration – shed new explanatory light on the forms of persistence of statuses in liberalism to our own days.
Keywords: promise of marriage; liberalism; gender; class; containment; withdrawal; law and literature; law and culture
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