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The End of Monogamy?

Just recently, I discussed the article by Professor Peter Singer in the “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” series published in the September/October issue of Foreign Policy. The series is now available on-line, and that allows a look at another article in the project.

In “Monogamy,” Jacques Attali, president of PlaNet Finance and a contributing editor to Foreign Policy, argues that the idea of monogamy will soon pass from the scene. “Monogamy, which is really no more than a useful social convention, will not survive,” he argues. “It has rarely been honored in practice; soon, it will vanish even as an ideal.”

In its place, Attali sees “a radically new conception of sentimental and love relationships.” Why? “Nothing forbids a person from being in love with a few people at the same time.”

Consider these statements: The insatiable demand for transparency, fueled by democracy and the free market, is placing the private lives of public men and women under greater scrutiny. The reality of multiple lives and partners will become more apparent, and society’s hypocrisy will be revealed. The continued rise of individual freedom will permanently change sexual mores, as it has most other realms. Likewise, jumps in life expectancy will make it nearly impossible to spend one’s entire life with one person and to love only that one person. Meanwhile, technological advances will further weaken the links between sexuality, love, and reproduction, which are very different concepts. Widely available birth control has already stripped away an important obstacle to having multiple partners.

Just as most societies now accept successive love relationships, soon we will acknowledge the legality and acceptability of simultaneous love. For men and women, it will be possible to have partnerships with various people, who will, in turn, have various partners themselves. At long last, we will recognize that it is human to love different people at the same time.

Attali concedes that monogamy will not disappear without a fight — especially from the churches. Nevertheless, nothing can hold back progress for long, he argues. “The revolution will begin in Europe, America will follow, and the rest of the world will eventually come around,” he predicts. His conclusion: “The implications will be enormous.”

That’s for certain. In one sense, Attali’s radical idea is becoming a reality in our times. Serial marriages are the product of a divorce culture, and the cultural acceptance of cohabitation followed the sexual revolution. The idea of monogamy — true marital monogamy –has been compromised in all too many quarters. James Attali’s radical and secular vision of free love and free sex may have been submitted for shock value. The real shocker is how close he may be to the truth.