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Richard Storey challenges the claim that Catholicism catalysed European individualism, suggesting instead that Europeans’ innate individualistic tendencies predate and overshadow the Church’s influence.

Blaming Catholicism for the rise of modern liberalism is nothing new. For several years, I have been defending Catholicism from pagans and atheists on the right who do just that. I first encountered this type of argument in 2014, in Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: viewing all souls as equally culpable before God, Catholicism provided women and children legal recourse against brutal fathers, and allowed women to reject a fiancé in her wedding vow; this supposedly individualistic and universalistic turn eventually gave rise to modern liberalism.

A similar or related argument appeared in Joseph Henrich’s 2020 book, The Weirdest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. “WEIRD” is an acronym for Western, educated, industrialised, rich, and democratic. So the argument goes, Catholic prohibitions on polygamy and marriage to first cousins partly dissolved kin-based institutions in Europe, such as clans and tribes. This rewired our brains over time to prioritise impersonal pro-sociality; for example, we now walk into any old Starbucks, meet a multi-racial array of strangers who sometimes cannot pronounce each other’s names, and we see nothing wrong with this so long as we get the right order.

But, does it make sense to lay the blame for such individualism at the feet of Catholic marriage? In my opinion, it obviously does not, but some great minds seem to disagree, including a thinker I consider my mentor and friend, Ricardo Duchesne.

I want to frame my counter-argument as a response to a recent Unz Review piece by Duchesne, who incorporated Henrich’s argument into his otherwise brilliant essay. After all, Duchesne has published my defence of historical Christianity from similar arguments in the past and even wrote the afterword for my explicitly pro-Catholic book, The Uniqueness of Western Law: A Reactionary Manifesto. Having utmost respect for Duchesne, I therefore present the following in a friendly spirit of discourse.

Here is the paragraph from Duchesne’s article with which I disagreed:

It has now been well established, or so I believe, by Joseph Henrich in his book, The Weirdest People of the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous (2020), that liberal individualism gathered momentum across social life after the Catholic Church set about prohibiting in systematic fashion polygamy and consanguineous marriages, sanctioning only monogamy based on voluntary choice. By the 12th century, the nuclear family was predominant in Europe. These changes freed Europeans from collective kinship ties and norms, leading them to form new voluntary or civic associations, such as urban communes, guilds, dioceses of bishops, monasteries, and universities, to cooperate socially, solve conflicts, and secure a livelihood with individuals from wider circles of life. This reconstitution, which came along with the rise of new systems of law based on contractual liberal principles, altered the psychology of Europeans in an individualist direction, socializing them to extend their trust to anonymous strangers, to think in a less ethnocentric or in-group way, and to judge objects and humans in terms of universal principles and rules applicable on the basis of rationally-based criteria.

Dismissing Polygamy

I am mainly going to discuss the Church’s prohibition on first cousin marriage rather than addressing whether a lack of polygamy gave rise to liberalism. The increasingly popular social scientist, Peter Turchin (co-developer of Cliodynamics), has shown that polygamy gives rise to in-fighting and generally causes the life expectancy of a society to diminish significantly to less than half that of a similar monogamous society. (See Turchin’s latest book, End times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration.) Anyone who has spent substantial time among polygamous peoples will tell you that, far from creating an idyllic collectivism, such families are replete with stories of jealousy and competition.

The data do not indicate that polygamy is healthy for the social stability of a clan or any other group. Therefore, I can readily dismiss this and turn to first cousin marriage.

Prohibition of First Cousin Marriage

The early medieval European ban on first cousin marriage was simply a continuation of the same ban which prevailed under Roman civil law, prohibiting marriages within “four degrees” of consanguinity. Should the Romans be taking the credit for European WEIRDness? In the 9th century, the Church did increase this prohibition to include first cousins once or twice removed. Despite this, the Church did permit marriage to such first cousins if they applied for a dispensation. Regardless, the Church returned the standard to the old Roman four degrees in 1215.

Is it more likely that the above radically altered European psychology in terms of individualism, nonconformity and out-group trust, or is this just another attempt to explain away demographic differences without referring to genetics?

After all, this ban is not historically unique. Most Sikhs do not permit inter-clan marriages, but this has hardly crippled their kinship structures and replaced them with nuclear families. In China too, in more than one period of their history, all cousin marriage was banned. Again, we should expect to see some notable individualism and nonconformity from the Chinese, yet we see the exact opposite, as Duchesne himself notes in his Arktos book, Faustian Man in a Multicultural Age.

The argument looks even more ridiculous when we consider that the major Protestant denominations, since their conception, got rid of the Catholic bans on first cousin marriage. Yet, modern liberalism bloomed in the more pluralistic Protestant nations. Clearly, the individualism and political liberalism of those Northerly European nations has nothing to do with first cousin marriage.

Did Guilds and Monasteries Destroy Kinship Groups?

Latin Christendom was perhaps the most corporatist time in history. The monumental work of Francis Oakley on the origins of modern beliefs regarding public consent reveals that the only way an individual could have a political voice in the medieval period was through a group. The smallest political body was the family and there were of course heads of clans and other kinship structures.

Aside from family networks, there were also political allegiances and bodies surrounding knighthood, lordship and kingship; these often intersected with kinship structures. Growing urban environments also presented the opportunity for further economic and religious social organisms to develop – communes, guilds, dioceses, monasteries, universities etc. But, these were no more a replacement of kinship than urbanisation was a replacement of rural life.

City guilds were designed to uphold Catholic principles – most notably, loyalty to one’s family, kinship groups and religion. Catholicism, with its prohibition of usury and conditions on the use of private property, encouraged the development of guilds with the aims of controlling currency and preventing the accumulation of wealth. Their reason for doing so was the perennial tendency of money to corrupt morals, driving individualism and the abandonment of religion. As such, Catholic guilds curbed the individualising effects of urbanisation; they were not symptomatic.

Unsurprisingly, the guilds did not originate in Latin Christendom, but these rather evolved from the Roman Collegia and the ancient Germanic collective feasts (called gelt), where tribute, i.e. gold, was offered to cement tribal and political loyalties – from which “guild” is derived. (See Arthur Penty’s classic A Guildman’s Interpretation of History.)

The Catholic religious orders of monks and friars are not unique to Catholicism either. Consider Buddhism, which is not ethnically exclusive and which also has communal religious orders. As we have already noted, East Asians are typically collectivist, not individualist. Therefore, such religious orders cannot be used as evidence for psychological rewiring towards individualism.

The Return of Roman Law

Something Duchesne hits upon which really did further along Western individualism, egoism and the attending rise of liberalism (intellectually, politically and economically) was the revitalisation of Roman law throughout the later Middle Ages:

[T]he rise of new systems of law based on contractual liberal principles…[socialised Europeans] to extend their trust to anonymous strangers, to think in a less ethnocentric or in-group way, and to judge objects and humans in terms of universal principles and rules applicable on the basis of rationally-based criteria.

The seeds of individualistic philosophy were already growing within the corporate nature of Catholicism in the 14th century. William of Ockham’s nominalism is an especially influential strain which would arguably bloom into Luther’s spiritual individualism and Descartes’ origins of the modern worldview.

As the Mediterranean became safer for trade, modern capitalism began to first take shape in Italy, before finding a more habitable environment in Holland and England from the 16th century onward. Students of the rise and fall of civilisations routinely point to money as the corrupting influence of a social organism which has since reached its zenith. Competition turns inward and group/martial values become disadvantageous to dynasties and merchants staking out their slice of the pie. Service turns to selfishness, as Sir John Glubb concludes in his Fate of Empires.

With the increased availability of Roman law texts, the possibility of more absolute property rights and thus freedom from Catholic controls on currency presented a popular legal structure to compete with Canon law. For wealthy urbanites, such law courses presented the most popular university choices for their children and the study of theology dwindled. Thus, it was in spite of Catholic doctrine that liberalism emerged in all its forms.

The Real Decline in Clan-Based Ownership

We can comfortably assume that kinship-based corporate ownership was the most common form in rural Europe, only challenged by urbanisation.

Consider the US, one of the most explicitly liberal countries to ever exist. According to Steven Ruggles 2015 article in Demography, ‘Patriarchy, Power, and Pay: The Transformation of American Families, 1800-2015’, there was a sharp decline in ‘clan-based’ corporate ownership, which correlated very strongly with increased specialist and service-based employment (i.e. with urban and factory work) and, most interestingly, with a decline in multi-generational homes. This shows us two pertinent things: first, around 90% of economic organisation in the US was clan-based in 1800 and the male breadwinner model didn’t overtake the former until the 20th century – almost a millennium after we are supposed to have been psychologically rewired against this by Catholic marriage; and, secondly, the author concludes this was largely a result of the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation.

All of the above make it completely unnecessary to posit Catholic marriage as a factor in the development of European individualism. The study above is just one data point we might use, but we could go on; for instance, decades of theorisation about differences between Western and Eastern European family structures has not only shown that plenty of those Eastern European countries which maintained larger family structures throughout the 20th century were Catholic, but that those regions of Western Europe which did so were also Catholic (see here).

Europeans Are Naturally More Individualistic

To conclude, it seems to me that Catholic marriage did not reasonably cause the rise of intellectual and economic liberalism in Europe. The policies and institutions blamed for European individualism either pre-date Catholicism or are not unique to it. A far more likely explanation is the reintroduction of individualistic philosophy and Roman law’s property rights. Indeed, these were an abandonment of Catholic corporatism and its legal duties of ownership, not their realisation. Moreover, whilst urbanisation catalysed these problems, Catholicism has routinely presented alternative economic solutions to economic liberalism, as seen in the guilds and in the corporatist experiments of the 20th century.

Most surprising is that Duchesne himself attracted controversy for questioning the academic establishment’s fixation with environmental causes for cultural differences. He has written extensively on the subject of European individualism as an ancient biological reality which influenced ancient Greek and Roman jurisprudence, philosophy, civic life etc. Influenced by Duchesne and the late Richard Lynn, I concluded in my own work that the moderately high rate of psychopathy in Europeans was due to our descent from Indo-European warrior nomads; as Duchesne has noted, they stripped naked for duels, engaged in berserker warfare and flouted their own lives to attain eternal fame. So great was their desire for kudos from respectable peers that aristocracy emerged, allowing healthy competition in thought too, e.g. the philosophical schools of ancient Greece.

Therefore, my argument is simply this: it makes more sense to say that Europeans are naturally more individualistic, and that this is the most significant cause of any tendencies in Europe to create institutions or policies which empower the individual rather than the corporate group, kinship-based or otherwise. From Duchesne’s own work, we already have the explanation of the European tendency to egoism and its political manifestation in liberalism. So significant is this explanation, that we defy Occam’s razor by seeking further causal factors.

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Richard Storey

Richard Storey LL.M is an author and legal theorist with a particular interest in the medieval period. His writing spans law, history, theology, cultural criticism and even children’s books. He has conducted numerous interviews with prominent academics for his Youtube channel, Sacrum Imperium Romanum. He lives in England with his wife and four children.

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Rose Sybil
Member
3 months ago

I do not know why people seem to think that pre-Christian Europe was polygamous. I’ve not seen anything to suggest it was other than in rare occurrence with kings or other leaders. Where do people even get this? There was no change with Christianity in that manner, they simply called them mistresses after. It’s the same thing. Europe has never been polygamous other than in the exception, never the rule. It’s extremely dysgenic and harmful to in-group dynamics when it is the norm.

My main issue with Catholicism was that it created the schism between theism and deism and created a false dichotomy of revealed vs natural religion. The representation of the divine through scripture interpretation was the first simulacrum of spirituality as separate from the lived world.

Also have they never read of the Julian-Claudian dynasty and how that fell apart? In group hostility is caused by materialism over inclusive fitness. Their family was no more polygamous than Christian emperors or kings. Marriage was for the passing down of titles and reproduction. Even in Sparta, marriage was for reproducing children with legitimate lines of succession. Where do they get this polygamous stuff? It’s pure rationalization. The only thing Christianity changed was the legal terminology of marriage. Second wives were official mistresses. Commoners still slept with whores. This existed before Catholicism.

Last edited 3 months ago by Rose Sybil
Richard Storey
3 months ago
Reply to  Rose Sybil

Thanks, Rose. Good points here.

Re the dichotomy of revelation in nature and in revealed scripture, the medieval Latin mind conceived of nature as “the book of nature”, no less a revelation and communication to mankind, and with the same author of course. There wasn’t a dichotomy, just a variety of ways that God might communicate.
The Orthodox do overstate the dangers of Catholicism’s recognition and exploration or what can be perceived through natural theology, instead focusing on divine revelation as an ultimate metalogical assumption to which all else must submit. However, Catholicism, sees man reaching out to God and God more perfectly reaching out to us, and thus no dichotomy but a personal relationship.

Rose Sybil
Member
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard Storey

Thank you for the reply and the non reactive response. I did not have a religious upbringing so the details of it all I’m fairly ignorant of. My grandmother was Catholic but never discussed it with me even though we were very close. So I’ve never had the reactivity or dislike of Catholics even if I’m fairly wary of highly organized religion.

Am I mistaken that the Church required a relationship with God only through the church and it’s priests, primarily? That people were not able to read scripture because it was beyond them to understand and they needed interpretation of priests? The direct relationship with the divine before was actually direct in all ways, organic to the formative processes of the locality.

In what ways do you see Catholicism as having a personal relationship with God through nature? In what ways would you say the relationship with the divine changed before and after heathens were converted? With the divine, nature etc? Is there a continuation of revelation or is it only in past scripture? Was this unique? Before Catholicism was there past scripture as a focus or was there continual revelation in various pagan religions of Europe? How did the understanding of self and outsider change by having a top-down understanding of the divine mediated through scripture and hierarchical interpretation? Were natives of the americas seen as the same as heathens in nordic lands because the vantage was believer vs unbeliever? How does this compare to overlapping myth with various focuses and cults before Christianity? I would really appreciate your insight on this as these are the things I find concerning yet don’t fully understand.

Richard Storey
3 months ago
Reply to  Rose Sybil

At the risk of sounding ingratiating here, Rose, these are good questions.

I’d agree with notable scholars of the before and after attitude of Europeans towards the natural world, such as Gimpel in The Medieval Machine or Ellis Davidson in God and Myths of Northern Europe, by saying that Christendom introduced a sense that nature wasn’t a thing to be feared per se. Though the forests and seas were no less enchanted places, they were fellow-creations (St Francis’ “Brother Wind” and “Sister Water” etc.) and we as rational beings just happen to be in a position of stewardship over them. They belonged to God and Christ had won us victory over all things, even death, and so there was no fear left towards nature, only love. Thus the extension of Roman technology to produce water mills, to drain the swamps of Europe, to further develop agricultural and food science.

In terms of how revelation works,I’d say the general rule of Catholicism is to be wary of private interpretations. That often doesn’t sit right with us more individualistically-minded Europeans, but the order of things goes — 1. God’s direct revelation (which includes revelation through the natural order); 2. the collective conscience and tradition of the Church (which, yes, does have a hierarchy and a teaching authority); and 3. personal experiences of God. You see, Catholicism has an explicitly corporatist view of the Church — we are one body and all serve different purposes, like different organs and cells. What’s more, we have a place within nature and the cosmos, and so one of the core teachings of Catholic social thought is to nuture our natural environment, our home and that of future generations. Indeed, most of Catholic teaching since the beginning uses its examples from nature. In fact, so important was it to see God’s revelation in nature that one of the early church fathers heard a made up story about a bird that sacrificed itself to feed its young, bleeding from its side, and they used it as such in their writings — it was used for many centuries in Catholic art as a result. There’s a image of this bird in her nest in my church above the altar (and why not, I suppose…).

Re how the Church views different races, the ordinary and unchangeable teaching held to almost unanimously throughout her history, is that different races are to be celebrated for their differences and such differences are to be treated as a gift, an inheritance and all reasonable measures to preserve these differences are licit. All races have their own genius and must celebrate the good in their own people. In short, it is just to love your own people as a people.
However, the continuous mass-sacrifice of life, especially children, by certain tribes encountered in the Americas, or the practice of certain Northern European tribes of exposing their newborn daughters and then raiding neighbouring tribes for war brides (to use two examples you raised above) brought the Catholic view of Just War theory into play.
Speaking of Europeans in general, however, it was always the Church’s understanding that God chose the Roman Empire and what Catholics would later call Europe to be the vessel of Catholicism to the world.

I don’t mean to paint Catholicism as totally perfect in every way. Humans are not and we have never been told to expect a church of humans to be. Just the opposite in fact. Nevertheless, Christ’s love has transformed the world and produced the most charitable organisation in the world, despite the many faults of Christians.

Sorry to go on, but you did ask lol

Rose Sybil
Member
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard Storey

I do not find your reply to be long or the length of it annoying. That’s actually a more recent trend of low attention spans from too much tech entertainment use. People that would find that long or annoying are the new version of illiterate… attention illiterate. I will respond in full soon.

Rose Sybil
Member
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard Storey

Most pre-Christian spiritual or religious outlooks had after-life concepts. It would range widely from group to group the relationship with nature, fear, and death. If anything Christianity created a vantage of ending death and life eternal in resurrection right? That’s the unique part. To me this is very similar to the transhumanist desire to live forever in the same form, except they lost the concept of God doing it and instead it’s technology that allows for it.

Are you saying those advancements in Roman technics were only made post-Christianity?

What you call individualism, I call materialism and it is just as common in “collectivism” it just expresses differently. It’s a form of selfishness in leadership in one, and in the other isolation of the individual. European collectivism simply looks different compared to highly urban eastern and asiatic face saving culture. For example, most of rural America was totalizing localities that were not individualistic but also dissimilar to asiatic forms of collectivism. Shifts to mass urbanization and top down hyper-litigation caused the isolation of the individual. What most people mean when they say individualism is isolated from natural bonds.

The current mindset of individual interpretation is not what pre-Christianity had, so your comparison to current mentalities and current positions in the church wasn’t what I was asking. I asked about the pre-Christian changes in the processes and interactive relationship between the divine and nature and post-Christian (immediate not now)… the reason I asked is because these process shifts (and not ideological vantages) are important to how people relate to each other that could have lead to “individualism”. We can’t just dismiss the question because now there is only church interpretation or individual. It’s created a false dichotomy of church or individual in the now which has nothing to do with the transition from pre-Christian to Christian Europe.

Pre-Christians would have had oral tradition passed down in word of mouth, cults, and ancestral worship formats that were not just personal interpretation but generational. The shift between the two would be from familial and local ties to a centralized, impersonal, top-down religious mediation. Once people are uprooted from organic spirituality, there is only the simulacrum of top down form and individual interpretation of the same forms. If we are discussing what lead to the individualistic or isolated mindset, we have to compare what it was then before and after, not what is now.

It’s all very interesting to see that ordering but it is in direct opposition to pre-Christian build up of worldview, which was localized variations of overlapping bullseyes of myth. The local and direct aspect, passed down evolving understandings of the divine that would build up to cults and oracular revelation. The complete reversal of revelation as primacy had to affect people a lot and is most definitely a precursor to individualism as it is a simulacrum of existence… very different than a body.

It’s interesting a major concept of daoism is the opposite that the body thinks and the mind is relaxed… quieting the mind is part of intuition or allowing the body to work as a whole. In your analogy, I’m assuming the revelation is the brain/mind/head? Collectivism can just as easily be a federation of distinct localities that build up through bonds of blood to a top. Religious absolutism is very disrupting to local cultural synergism, and once put in place the only direction it can go is individualism since the framework of ancestral and local direct buildup was removed.

That’s interesting that it was made up when there are many continual examples of self sacrifice in nature. In most every major forest fire there are tons of mother animals found burnt over their dead young. The form of nature being important was not what I meant but more the direction and process of relationship with it.

I’m sorry if I sound like a broken record here but I meant more how they saw it at the time, not church stances now. Was the vantage not heathen vs not heathen? Since your article is about the effect of the church leading to individualism, I was more wanting to discuss its point of transitioning groups. I’m also pretty sure raping and extreme horrors were part of war pre and post Christianity.

Ah yes the Aztecs and human sacrifice of the polygamy of other native groups was far more common than pre-Christian Europe.

I agree humans are not perfect. In systems though, there are various ways hierarchy functions… either cleaning house or hiding exploitative hierarchy to maintain status first. Isn’t the church itself supposed to be viewed as perfect or is the scripture? Not the humans within it? Charitable organizations can be a double edged sword and sometimes good intentions can have negative effects over time that were unexpected. Many charities now have expanded the third world that is incapable of upholding itself and though I don’t think the original drive was intended to do that, you can see how it would be an unintentional part of globalization. One thing I’ve heard some kinists say that I liked was that charity starts in the home. Cross-racial charity is likely one major aspect of universalism and individualism that can be attributed in origin to the church. See how the impersonal replacing the personal vantages of the divine in a living ancestral system can lead to universalist vantages that detach people into a simulacrum… then isolated from organic bonds and identity they can combine impersonal charity with individualistic greed. I know it is not intentional, but processes of relationships between people and spirituality affect ethic and racial relations and dissolution. It’s not a coincidence that the group that was to bring the church to the world also became primed for destructive forms of altruism.

Thank you for all that info. It’s very thought provoking and insightful. I also appreciate in-depth responses with things like this. If there is anywhere it’s appropriate to delve deeper, it’s with these types of subjects… not normal social ones. Sorry if mine is a bit long.

Rose Sybil
Member
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard Storey

So the premise of all the arguments you are responding to I find simplistic and unsubstantiated. It’s not some dichotomy between inbreeding polygamy and universal monogamy. The way people related to others changed but they have a simplistic vantage of before and after. Greek kings having multiple wives or Germanic leaders etc doesn’t equate to polygamy. I also don’t think barbarian groups saw the world in only terms of genetic closeness but also earned merit, which is why they adopted outsiders as well and took women.

Even the genetic distribution of ydna to mtdna in Europe doesn’t support the idea that pre-Christian European ethnos were only marrying close relatives. Jews see the world in only terms of genetic closeness but it also harms them as much as it helps, and only works as a minority group. There is no self correction or growth with only a genetic focus.

Marriage was also a form of creating bonds between various ethnic groups in Europe before Christianity. Why was Aryanism patrilineal and the woman expected to adopt the culture of the man if closely related marriages were the norm instead of the exception? Barbarians were far more like overlapping bullseyes of mythic identity that allowed for peripheral ethnogenesis and new forms of the continuation of their religious/spiritual outlook than just insular. Romans too frowned on closely related marriage before Christianity. Claudius marrying aggripina the younger was already taboo at the time. Post-Christian close marriage among nobility happened at a higher rate if anything than before it.

Dr. Ricardo Duchesne
ricardo duchesne
3 months ago

Hello Richard,

Just want to clarify a few things:

I am not “blaming Catholicism for the rise of modern liberalism” — and neither is Henrich. When the Church went about prohibiting polygamy and encouraging monogamy it did not do so to promote civic associations and liberal individualism; it did so for the moral reasons that I explicitly explained, questioning Henrich’s view that the Catholic Church was merely interested in breaking up polygamous kinship relations to augment its power, appropriate land previously held by clans. It is a long argument I am not going to repeat here, except to say that the Catholic Church intentionally set out to promote monogamous relations and a new sexual morality BUT it did not intentionally set out to promote liberalism.

Re your claim that “The data do not indicate that polygamy is healthy for the social stability of a clan or any other group” —– well, I offer a long section explaining why polygamy was already seen by the ancient Greeks as a threat to the unity of their city-states, and why they promoted citizenship across tribal-kinship lines.

Your argument that clan networks continued throughout Western history right into the 20th needs to make a distinction between solid old family ties, including extended family relations (which, you are right, continued for a long time, particularly among eastern and southern Europeans) and societies that are founded on polygamous clans and tribal ties, which was not the case in Europe after encouragement of monogamy and rise of civic associations, and modern contractual law.

Here’s a long section in my review of Henrich’s book explaining new sexual morality of Christianity:

===The historical record shows, however, that Europeans were already quite WEIRD in their family laws and practices in ancient Greek and Roman times, and that Christians had already articulated a “new sexual morality” favoring monogamous marriage before the Middle Ages. The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy by John Witte, which Henrich ignores, decisively shows that, from the fourth century BC, Greek philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and Roman Stoics, eulogized monogamous marriage as the proper way to create a family and raise children. Early Christians saw monogamy as the “most beneficial” form of union between a man and a woman for a society to prosper. For “nearly two millennia,” Witte writes, Europeans treated “polygamy as a malum in se offense — something bad in itself” — because it “deprecates women”, “fractures fidelity”, “divides loyalty”, “promotes rivalry”, “foments lust”, and “harms children” (2015: 459). Only Europeans among all the peoples of the world would extoll, in the words of Plutarch (46-120 AD), “the union for life between a man and a woman for the delights of love and the getting of children” (p. 107). When Catholics set out to demolish polygamous kinship groups, they did so in awareness of the merits of monogamy for the raising of a family and the harmonious functioning of society. Europeans did not become WEIRD because they accidentally abolished polygamous kinship groups. They abolished polygamy because they were the first to emancipate their moral consciousness from norms dictated by their biological inclinations. Henrich’s claim that the “package of prohibitions” the Catholic Church implemented had “only tenuous (at best) roots in Christianity’s sacred writings” (p. 161) is untenable. It was not rooted in Judaism; as Henrich observes, “Jewish law…permitted cousin marriage, polygynous marriage, and uncle-niece marriage” (p. 176). Abundant evidence has been compiled and interpreted by Kyle Harper in his book, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity, showing a “transition from a late classical to a Christian sexual morality…a quantum leap to a new foundational logic of sexual ethics” (2013: 8). Christians consciously preached against sexual activity outside marriage, sex with minors, divorce, infanticide and abortion, on the grounds that these practices were harmful to the soul of humans, their families, and the social order. While the early Roman Republic was a traditionally conservative farmerwarrior society in which monogamy was emphasized and the family was seen to consist of father, mother, and children in a state of “affectionate devotion” (Saller, 2010), it can’t be denied that, as Rome became an empire with millions of slaves supporting the ruling class, the moral character of Romans weakened, divorce became normal, the birth rate declined, and the pornographic exploitation of slaves, especially girls, women, and boys, became rampant in elite circles. As Harper observes, slave minors were “subjected to untrammeled sexual abuse” (2015: 26). It was quite common for wealthy men to own boy slaves for sexual usage right inside their households. It was against this late Roman decadence that Christians objected. They rejected the Roman notion that a man born free could have sex with slaves, prostitutes, and boys. Paul condemned same-sex relations and sexual activity outside of marriage as porneia (“fornication”). Harper does not get into polygamy, but it should be noted that late-antiquity Christians, Paul, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian, spoke against polygamy, without getting rich for it (Crossan & Reed, 2004; Witte, 2015)

It needs to be emphasized, however, that the Bible was not the original source for monogamous marriage. The Old Testament permitted polygamy and the New Testament did not make any substantial calls for monogamy. The principle of monogamy came to Christianity through the Greek-Roman cultural ecumene where monogamy had long been a culturally mandated institution…

Rose Sybil
Member
3 months ago

All very interesting. I do have a few questions. Many parts of archaic and Ancient Greece did have polygamy. It was more common with kings and leaders in Dorian Greece. What parts of Greece made it fully illegal?

Are you saying that Barbarian parts of the northwest Europe were polygamous or that they allowed polygamy as an exception? From my understanding it was not very common.

Is the assertion that close inbreeding prevents liberalism? Polygamy on average or allowing it as the exception does? If it leads to liberalism then why is it people from I bred groups can become liberal? What’s your definition of liberal? Is it universalist? Decadence? Isolation of the individual?

What genetic or other proof do you have of continuous close family marriage among northwestern groups?

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