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Sex & the Kingdom of the Self

Sara Burrows, a libertarian, follows the logic of autonomy to its natural end. This is not, in fact, a joke:

I had freed myself from the grips of government, religion, and parents. The only chains left to throw off were those on my sexuality—particularly the chains of monogamy.

The first authority I came to see as illegitimate was government, shortly after discovering Ron Paul in 2008. I stumbled upon his campaign like a rabbit hole that led me to question all of society’s rules. Soon after, I started to question my religion—Christianity. How much of it had been made up, twisted, and contrived—in collusion with the government—to support the powers that be?

Along with the fear of God, I cast off any respect for parental authority I once had. Since the punitive, authoritarian man in the clouds was no longer real to me, who was to say children should obey their parents? I educated myself about peaceful parenting and became determined to treat my daughter as a free, autonomous person with inalienable rights, not as my property.

She and her partner Brad decide to spice up their marriage by going full polyamorous:

We’re actually looking forward to the rest of our lives together now. When we were monogamous, our future seemed pretty mapped out: have a baby, get a better job, buy a house, get a promotion, buy a better car, start our own business, buy a better house, make more money, go on vacation, make more money, buy an even better house… grow old in it together.

Since we’ve discovered polyamory, we don’t care about new houses or new cars or vacations. What really makes us tick is the idea of falling in love, over and over and over again. Now, we have the best of both worlds: the security of a steady, stable partner, to have and to hold, and the sense of adventure and excitement at the thought of the unknown, the possibility of new romance around every corner, the butterflies in our stomachs we never thought we’d get the chance to feel again.

We’ve gotten a lot of warnings and admonitions from well-intentioned friends and family members that we’re going to destroy our relationship and hurt our daughter, but we feel exactly the opposite. For us, this is the perfect opportunity to save our relationship, spare our daughter from the heartbreak of a broken family, and give her the blessing of happy parents and extended family. Wish us luck!

What could possibly go wrong?

Once the Self is enthroned as sovereign, the logic is inexorable. She talks about how she has been liberated from the slavery of marriage, but in fact she is a slave to her passions.

Our fuel is running out. Brad and I have tried all the tricks. We’ve fanned the flames. We need more logs—new energy, a fresh perspective. It doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, or that we are done with each other. It just means we need something new.

“Need.” She wants to be a perpetual teenager, where the world is ever-new. She goes on to talk about how destroying the (common-law) marital bond will actually save their relationship, or so they figure. And if you read the essay, it’s transparently a Randian self-justification of a woman who really and truly wants to get laid by as many guys as she can manage. What makes this something more than a Jerry Springer Show episode is that Burrows’s core conviction — that marriage is something entirely about accommodating the desiring individual Self — is also at the core of our fast-evolving understanding of marriage (and not just same-sex marriage, but marriage in the age of no-fault divorce). Burrows is an outlier, certainly, but the radical “freedom” she embraces is logically consistent. That is, she follows a concept of liberty that many contemporary Americans actually believe in, to its end.

I read this while eavesdropping on a Siena seminar discussion of the Francesca episode of Dante’s Inferno. They’re sitting around the table talking about how Francesca rationalized her lust, and committed an act that destroyed their family. There are no victimless crimes, there are no sins that we own ourselves. As the utopian libertarian Sara Burrows will eventually learn — as will her child.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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