“A DEFENCE OF RASH VOWS”: I was originally going to post this over at Questions for Objectivists, as G.K. Chesterton’s take on our contemporary custom of replacing “as long as you both shall live” with “as long as you both shall love” in the marriage service. But it seems tangentially relevant to some of the points Sullivan raised today (in which he’s defending not just same-sex marriage, but nonmarital sex), so I’ll throw it in here as well.

“The man who makes a vow makes an appointment with himself at some distant time or place. The danger of it is that himself should not keep the appointment. And in modern times this terror of one’s self, of the weakness and mutability of one’s self, has perilously increased, and is the real basis of the objection to vows of any kind. A modern man refrains from swearing to count the leaves on every third tree in Holland Walk, not because it is silly to do so (he does many sillier things), but because he has a profound conviction that before he had got to the three hundred and seventy-ninth leaf on the first tree he would be excessively tired of the subject and want to go home to tea. In other words, we fear that by that time he will be, in the common but hideously significant modern phrase, another man. Now, it is this horrible fairy tale of a man constantly changing into other men that is the soul of the decadence. […irrelevant dissing of Oscar Wilde–Chesterton never understood either Wilde or Nietzsche…]

“The one hell which imagination must conceive as most hellish is to be eternally acting a play without even the narrowest and dirtiest greenroom in which to be human. And this is the condition of the decadent, of the aesthete, of the free-lover. To be everlastingly passing through dangers which we know cannot scathe us, to be taking oaths which we know cannot bind us, to be defying enemies who we know cannot conquer us–this is the grinning tyranny of decadence which is called freedom.

“Let us turn, on the other hand, to the maker of vows. The man who made a vow, however wild, gave a healthy and natural expression to the greatness of a great moment.[clipped]

[Eve again: Of course, if you uncouple love and sex, you get out of this problem–and raise a whole host of others. But those are for another time.]

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!