“The question now becomes: What is the growing ideal of human society, unconsciously indicated and unconsciously discerned and illuminated? By all the readings of progress, this indication appears to be the free individual; a society whose economic, political, social and sexual organization shall secure and constantly increase the scope of being to its several units; whose solidarity and continuity depend upon the free attraction of its component parts, and in no wise upon compulsory forms.
“Nothing is more disgustingly vulgar to me than the so-called sacrament of marriage; outraging of all delicacy in the trumpeting of private matters in the general ear. . . But it is neither the religious nor the civil ceremony that I refer to now … . The ceremony is only a form, a ghost, a meatless shell. By marriage I mean the real thing, the permanent relation of a man and a woman, sexual and economical, whereby the present home and family life is maintained. It is of no importance to me … whether it is blessed by a priest, permitted by a magistrate, contracted publicly or privately, or not contracted at all. It is the permanent dependent relationship which is detrimental to the growth of individual character… . I am [not] in the least concerned with the success of the marriage… . I am concerned with the success of love. And I believe that the easiest, surest and most applicable method of killing love is marriage. I believe that the only way to preserve love in anything like the ecstatic condition which renders it worthy of a distinctive name . . . is to maintain the distances.
“That love and respect may last, I would have unions rare and impermanent. That life may grow, I would have men and women remain separate personalities. Have no common possessions with your lover more than you might freely have with one not your lover. Because I believe that marriage stales love, brings respect into contempt, outrages all the privacies and limits the growth of both parties, I believe that ‘they who marry do ill. . . .’”
The lecture reprinted in this booklet was originally delivered by Voltairine de Cleyre at the Radical Liberal League, a social and intellectual discussion group in Philadelphia, on April 28, 1907. The next year, the text of the lecture was reprinted in Mother Earth II.11 (January 1908).
Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) was a popular Anarchist and feminist writer, speaker and activist. Her contemporary and friend Emma Goldman called her “the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.” She published tracts, dialogues, and stories in Liberty, Twentieth Century, Free Society and Mother Earth, and she worked closely with libertarian communists, market anarchists, and mutualists within the Philadelphia social anarchist movement, but refused to commit herself to economic blueprints—first calling herself an “individualist” and later an “Anarchist, simply, without economic label attached,” adopting a pluralistic view of economic arrangements in any future free society.
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