Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mike Huckabee: An Ignoramous on History

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently did an interview with GQ Magazine. He said a lot of theocratic crap that made me wince, but the historian in me just died a little when I read this part:

GQ: Is the strategy shifting because social conservatives are losing on those core issues? Ten years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have gay marriage even in liberal Massachusetts. Now it’s there.

Mike Huckabee: I don’t think the issue’s about being against gay marriage. It’s about being for traditional marriage and articulating the reason that’s important. You have to have a basic family structure. There’s never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived. So there is a sense in which, you know, it’s one thing to say if people want to live a different way, that’s their business. But when you want to redefine what family means or what marriage means, then that’s an issue that should require some serious and significant debate in the public square. And if you look at states that have had it on the ballot—I know in our state it was a 70-percent-against issue. Most states are similar to that.

First off Mike, you sure as hell didn't articulate the reason it's important. You just said the standard Conservative Christian line that it will cause the downfall of our civilization because it's happened before. That's nice rhetoric, and I'm sure it works with the ignorantly faithful, but give me one example of a civilization that collapsed because it deviated from what you consider the basic family structure. Furthermore, name a civilization that had our modern concept of family.

DevilsTower at Daily Kos did an excellent job addressing my second challenge to this propaganda:

Was it the many civilizations were marriage was arranged and decided long before children were of marriageable age? Was it the Jewish civilizations of Jesus' day where brothers were required to marry their brother's widows? Was it civilizations that allowed siblings to marry? How about first cousins? Could be it civilizations who adopted the silly idea that you should marry for love. Perhaps it was the Mormons who decided to practice polygamy. Perhaps it was those who decided to stop. Or maybe it was the polyandrous cultures in many mountainous or arctic regions.

To start with, "marriage" is merely a word with a culturally defined concept behind it. Committed homosexual couples are already in a "marriage" state on an emotional and philosophical level. Just because you attach the legal term marriage to it doesn't change anything. The stars won't realign, the mountains won't crumble at their foundations, and the seas won't rise and swallow us all. No, homosexuals' serious relationships will just have a legal word attached to them that makes it easier for them to deal with things such as retirement plans and untimely death. Plus, you don't have to recognize it in your church. That's your right. But realize they are already in a state of marriage whether you attach the word to it or not.

But, the fact remains that our modern concept of marriage is exactly that, modern. Before the 20th century it was virtually unheard of that a man and a woman would marry for love. Far more often than not, marriage was used for political reasons to strengthen family alliances. Of course, maybe that's what Huckabee supports, since it is what we find throughout most civilizations at the height of their success. Maybe Huckabee doesn't believe in marriages based on love. After all, that's what led homosexuals to want marriage in the first place. They can't help who they fall in love with.

I seriously doubt Huckabee stands behind arranged marriages, so I'll leave it at that and move on to my other challenge: did any civilization collapse because it altered family structures?

To start with, civilization is a fairly vague term. It can be incredibly broad, such as: Western Civilization. It includes a plethora of societies going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. It's had its difficulties, but it's never completely collapsed and disappeared. The same goes for the other broadly defined civilizations as we see them today. The only large scale civilization that has really collapsed and disappeared was the Meso-American civilzation. However, we know fairly well why it disappeared, and it had nothing to do with family structure. No, it was ravaged by the worst plague in human history and then subjected to a slow genocide at the hands of invading Europeans. I don't think making sure only men and women are "married" would have saved it from either one of those problems.

Perhaps Huckabee means something more specific, focused more on individual nations. Perhaps he sees the United States as its own civilization. Okay then, let's look at a few nations (or entities that resemble nations since the modern concept of the nation-state didn't appear until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648). To keep this post a reasonable length, I'll only consider the superpowers in history. I say it's a fair truncation since, following Huckabee's line of reasoning, weak nations obviously didn't have strong "family values".

We'll start with the Persian Empire, the world's first superpower. Unfortunately, we know perfectly well what brought about its demise: Alexander the Great. And it wasn't because the Persian family structure had been changed. No, the Macedonian army was simply superior in battle, forcing King Darius III of Persia to flee, bringing about a collapse in his empire.

That leads us to Alexander's Empire, but it only lasted as long as its king. Once he died without an heir, his generals turned on each other for control of the throne. I doubt family values had anything to do with it since the Greeks were comfortable with homosexuality long before Alexander's day.

Next we have Rome. But it didn't collapse until after it became Christian. Obviously, Christian family values didn't save it. Of course, they were Catholic and Orthodox, so that doesn't count for Baptist Huckabee. But looking at the families, they were usually the standard form that Huckabee calls for with a patriarchal hierarchy, but marriage in Rome was arranged to create family alliances, and that never really changed throughout its history. However, that "traditional" family structure probably hurt more than it helped. Towards the end of Rome's existence, it simply didn't have enough soldiers to guard its extensive frontier against a growing number of incursions on all sides. The only thing that really would have saved Rome is more babies, and monogamous societies almost always have lower birth rates than polygamous ones.

Then I can point to the Mongols. But they were brought down by internal stuggles due to their highly tribalized political structure. Plus, field cannons made cavalry archers, the most potent weapon in the Ancient and Medieval worlds, obsolete, removing the Mongol Empire's only advantage.

Then we come to the British Empire, but its civilization still exists, just in a liberalized form without its colonies. Even then, Britian didn't allow gays to marry before it started losing its colonies, so there's clearly no correlation there.

Then I suppose that just leaves us with the Soviets and the US. Since Huckabee is a Republican, I'm sure he knows it was Ronald Reagan who single-handedly brought down the Soviets. Even though that's not entirely accurate, it was obviously economic reasons tied to the communist market system that brought the USSR down and not gay marriage.

As for us, we'll decline eventually. But it won't be because homosexuals get a legal term attached to their relationships. No, it'll probably come when China supplants us as the richest nation in the world. Saying that civilizations collapse because they allow gay marriage is worse than saying the decline in pirates causes global warming. At least the latter has a correlation.

Update: If you'd like to learn more about Roman family values over time, Richard Saller from the University of Chicago has an excellent essay on the subject. Then, like today, conservative Roman politicians decried the decline in Roman family values and harkened back to a mythical era that never actually existed. So, before I get accused of poor historical scholarship, there were cartainly Roman writers who spoke of a decline in family. But we have the same thing today, and, unless you think the Cleaver family was real, it just doesn't correlate with reality. Similarly, the evidence doesn't support conservative Roman propaganda.


  1. J-bar,
    This is dale from DefCon. That was a very well written post. thanks.

    My problem with Huckabee is that he is talking more along theocratic lines every day now.

    I was travelling yesterday and listening to the radio, and I am still not sure I heard this correctly, but it was reported that Huckabee, in an interview with Glenn Beck stated that he would dismantle the IRS (in favor of a "Fair Tax")so they would no longer have any say over what preachers may say from the pulpit.

    The report stated that Huckabee told Beck that "it is time that we go after the IRS instead of them coming after "us."

    The report also stated that the Huck spent time on how he prays on his knees for answers from God. Gahhhhhh!

  2. I have found the quote I was looking for in the CNN transcript of the Beck/ Huckabee interview.

    "Our manufacturers have the embedded tax, and guess which product ends up being cheaper? We`ve got a higher tax rate than France, for heaven`s sakes.

    Now, the way to fix it is to change the tax code completely, get rid of the IRS, which we would do. That`s also a freedom of speech issue. No longer would some pastor be told, "You can`t say that because the IRS can come get you," because we`d come get the IRS and throw them out. April the 15 becomes just another pretty spring day in America.

    It's funny how their real intentions come out when we listen.
    He wants to dissolve the IRS so they can preach hatred and bigotry and endorse political candidates from the pulpit....Whaoooo!

  3. Hey Dale,

    Personally, I think Huckabee would be the worst thing that could happen to this country. Bush's overbearing piety would seem minor compared to what Huckabee would bring.

    Quite frankly, I'm worried because, if he wins the Republican nomination, he would bring out a massive vote from the Conservative Christians, something the other Republican frontrunners couldn't do.

    The CC turnout could even be big enough to overpower the strong anti-Republicanism in the ocuntry right now just because very few people vote.

    Let's hope it doesn't come to pass.

  4. Hi J-Bar.

    I predict that the Huckster will indeed be the Repuglican candidate when all is said and done. And Dobson will endorse him.

    I share your fear about that. The fundie evangelicals will turn out in droves for him in November of 2008, and they make up at least 25% of all voters.

    We are in big trouble.

  5. Gentleman,
    I agree as well. I fear further evangelical control of this country will lead us to complete ruination. The fundies live in their own little world and by the time it comes crashing down around them ours will have already been destoryed. Hopefully the dems will rally with an unwillingness to further live in a country lead by uncapable God-mongers.
    ~The Great Scott