The Rise of Bureaugamy: What It Means for Social Conservatives

For unmarried women, the modern administrative state has taken the place that husbands traditionally occupied as provider and protector in what some have referred to as “bureaugamy.”

Catholics are no doubt aware that the national elections of this past Tuesday did not produce the so-called “Red Wave” of Republican victories many expected. One of the reasons for this is that the Democratic strategy of focusing on abortion and the Dobbs decision striking down Roe v. Wade appears to have worked.

I confess that I thought the Democratic Party was mad when they made this the centerpiece of its campaign at a time when people are struggling to afford food because of inflation. But their strategists and pollsters seem to know what they were doing. Pro-life amendments to state constitutions were rejected in several states on Tuesday night, including an amendment in Montana that would have made mandatory life-giving care for an infant born alive after a botched abortion. Even in deep “Red” states, it seems, many Americans want abortion to remain legal.

As is usually the case, some in the Republican fold are claiming that the Dobbs issue dragged down Republican candidates. But I’m guessing the Democrats’ abortion strategy boosted turnout among Democrats more than it depressed the turnout among Republicans, given the usually low turnout for midterm elections. Some interesting exit poll data that made the rounds on Tuesday suggests there was a demographic reason for this:

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All caveats about exit polling aside, the data reveals what scholars like Brad Wilcox have been pointing out for a while now, namely that there is a major divide between the parties based on marriage. The Democrats are increasingly becoming the party of single women. And I suspect they turned out in large numbers on Tuesday because of the abortion issue.

The results of the abortion amendments are disappointing. But this is something religious and social conservatives should have seen coming. Ten years ago, when the Obama administration rolled out its “Life of Julia” campaign ad, depicting the life of a single woman named “Julia” from cradle to grave, aided by government programs at every phase, conservatives scoffed that it represented the rise of the “Hubby State.” Even liberal commentators thought the ad was silly. After all, what society could exist where single, never-married women would make up a big enough part of the population for this to matter?

As it turns out, its creators were more prescient than we realized. Marriage rates have declined precipitously, and today there are more single women in America than ever before, with the current generation slated to become the most unmarried on record:

This helps explain Tuesday’s outcome and why Catholics and other religious conservatives should be alarmed for the future. In retrospect, what to social and religious conservatives looked like a desperate fearmongering campaign by Democrats over the Dobbs decision looked like an existential threat to single women who now take abortion to be a fundamental aspect of their lives. And these women represent a substantial and growing part of the electorate, even in otherwise “Red” states.

In effect, for these single women, the modern administrative state has taken the place that husbands traditionally occupied as provider and protector in what some have referred to as “bureaugamy.” I know that devout Catholics see in the defense of abortion only the wanton destruction of human life, but I imagine that for these women their support of abortion rights is meant to protect something they value more than life itself: equality.

The birth control pill made possible the erasing of the biggest source of inequality between men and women, at least in a modern setting: that of the man’s essential irresponsibility with regard to child birth. Nature and nature’s God enabled men to live by a sexual double standard since the dawn of human history; but technology and the legal infrastructure that supports our abortion regime have largely erased it. I am not the first to point this out, but it is ironic that women have managed to liberate themselves sexually from men only by allying themselves with the greatest patriarch of them all, the modern Leviathan.

The fact that this drive for total sexual equality is a dogma among pretty much all of the professional classes, including those who run the almost ubiquitous administrative state, means that social/religious conservatives need to realize the magnitude of the challenge they face. As the number of unmarried and never married women increases, there is going to be increasing pressure on the government to protect them from what they perceive as threats to their way of life. The fact that the FBI under Joe Biden has taken to raiding the homes of abortion clinic protesters is one manifestation of this trend. The supporters of this will continue to use the power of the administrative state to punish those who dissent from this dogma.

In order to withstand this coming sea change in society, Catholics and their allies are going to have to begin to look at politics in much different terms. By this I do not mean abandoning electoral politics but, rather, to see it the way that the cultural and social Left sees it. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s elections, I have heard internet chatter to the effect that elections don’t matter anymore, that the hold the Left has on institutions has made them irrelevant. This is a mistake. While it is true that neither elections nor politicians will save us, they are still important. The Democrats would not put so much effort into them if they were not.

Rather, the cultural Left succeeds because they view electoral politics as only one path to power. They know there are other avenues and have exploited them to the full, which is why they have had so much success altering the beliefs of Americans on a whole range of issues. The reason for this is that the Left sees every aspect of society as a potential avenue to power and has no compunction about pursuing those avenues if it aids their cause.

I know this offends conservatives’ sense of fair play and their (correct) intuition that some aspects of life should not—must not—be politicized, must not be subject to some sort of “balance of power” relations. I share this intuition. But I am not sure we have much of a choice at this point.

Promoting marriage and family, pursuing policies and laws supporting institutions that give support to them, is a matter of faith for Catholics and other Christians, obviously. But what Tuesday’s election should drive home to them, as it did for me, is that doing so is now very much a political endeavor—very much a matter of power—with direct legal and political consequences, whether they like it or not.

Conservatives of all stripes need to get comfortable with the idea of using the power of the state and other institutions to protect their interests, their way of life. Because if they do not, their opponents will use that same power against them.

  • Darrick Taylor

    Darrick Taylor teaches history at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

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