I showed my class the PBS American Experience documentary on Emma Goldman. We talked a bit about how she fought for women’s rights, particularly her idea that the institution of marriage should not exist. I read from an interview with her, “What is there in Anarchy for Women?” where she argued that she did not believe in marriage, but rather “I believe that when two people love each other that no judge, minister, or court, or body of people, have anything to do with it. They themselves are the ones to determine the relations which they shall hold with one another. When that relation becomes irksome to either party, or one of the parties, then it can be as quietly terminated as it was formed.” This is still a largely minority position, at least for the middle class. but in terms of another quote of Goldman’s, I think she was prescient.
She argued that “The alliance should be formed, not as it is now, to give the woman a support and home, but because the love is there, and that state of affairs can only be brought about by an internal revolution, in short, Anarchy.” From the Victorian era that Goldman came of age during to today, there has been a revolution in marriage, to the point that it is assumed marriage is only done for the sake of love. Although, even as I write that, it seems like the last few years there is another transformation taking place where marriage can take place for health benefits or tax deductions, but is still a seal on a love-match. As my students pointed out, this revolution took place over a much longer time than Goldman would have wanted, and did not come about because of anarchy. However, it did come about in part because women have gained more rights and the ability economically to support themselves. (Stephanie Coontz has written a book titled Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. I haven’t read it, though I’ve read other work by her).
I asked the students what they thought of these ideas about marriage, since they are still very relevant with debates over whether or not to let gay people into the institution of marriage (and some gay people would argue they want to over turn the institution like Goldman did). I’ve been doing a lot of discussion based on present-day concerns. It has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, we’ve been having great discussions, in which many students participate. I think it is good to start from where students are and move forward. The danger is that we flatten out change over time, although at least once a class it seems like a student will remind us that “that was a different time.”
As much as I admire Goldman, anarchy does not make sense to me. I don’t understand how people would cooperate without a government (especially because she’s not arguing that capitalism take up the slack). Is it just a utopian ideal? Or am I missing something?