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The Origins of the the Family, by British scholar Patricia


Red State–Blue As an older work, Family and Civilization

can be a challenging read. But the
State Divide introduction by Allan Carlson makes the ISI
Books edition accessible to the intelligent
by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. reader, including many non-academics who
have become marriage activists by necessity.
This article was first published by Family in
The edition would also be good reading for in their Winter 2009 issue.
college courses in history or sociology.
When first published in 1947, Family and Carlson helps situate Zimmerman, who
Civilization was a significant book on the opposed the neo-Marxist sociologists of the
sociology of the family. Thanks to the Chicago School, within the larger stream of
Background imprint of ISI Books, it is back twentieth-century family sociology. The
in print. In this classic, Carle Zimmerman Chicago School argued that the American
brings clarity to the precise area of today’s family was losing its functions, with fathers
greatest confusion: the definition and and later mothers leaving the home for
evolution of the family. Instead of the outside employment. But while mainstream
Triumphant March of Liberation presented American sociology applauded this trend,
by the Life Style Left, the late Harvard giving it the greatest of modern accolades—
sociologist sees an ebb and flow of changes “historical inevitability”—Zimmerman
in family structure. Instead of a contrast denied that there was anything permanent or
between the nuclear family and the inevitable about the “shucking off or
individualist family, Zimmerman contrasts negation of familistic bonds.” He argued:
three different family types. While he agrees “The disintegration of the family into
with Marx and Engels that family structure contractual and non-institutional forms is so
is powerfully linked with economics and devastating to high cultural society that
politics, Zimmerman is more analytical and these atypical forms can last only a short
less ideological. Providing evidence for while and will in time have to be corrected.
some of his most fascinating claims sixty The family reappears by counterrevolution.”
years later is The War between the State and
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
Zimmerman argues that the contractual . . If we want to marry or break up a family,
thinking of the eighteenth-century whom do we consult, the family, the church
rationalists channeled the issues in the or the state? If we are in need, to whom do
wrong direction. Political theorists such as we go, the family or the community? If we
Locke and Hume, as well as prominent violate a rule, who punishes us, the family or
French and German thinkers, viewed the the state?
family as a private agreement between a
man and a woman for specific civil These questions suggest that no necessary
functions. This definition constricted the reason requires society to “progress” on all
range of issues that these analysts could see fronts from one type of family inexorably to
clearly enough to take seriously. Once the another type of family. He deploys three
contractual model is accepted as the basic types of family: the trustee family, the
form of the family, scholars will interpret domestic family, and the atomistic family.
history as the steady march from non- The domestic family and the atomistic
contractual marriages to contractual family would correspond roughly to the
marriages, from forced or arranged modern family before and after the sexual
marriages to love or companionate revolution. The trustee family is probably
marriages. Stephanie Coontz is the best- the least familiar to modern readers.
known modern exponent of this view.
Things are getting better because they are The Trustee Family and the Atomistic
getting freer, which means more contractual. Family

Zimmerman escapes this trap by focusing on In the trustee family, “the living individual
the sovereignty of the family. He lays out members are not the family, but mere
his key analytical questions in the second “trustees” of its blood, rights, property,
chapter: name and position for their lifetimes.”
According to Zimmerman, this family
Of the total power in society, how much system dominated in Homeric Greece of the
belongs to the family? Of the total amount ninth century b.c., in Rome from the earliest
of control of action in the society, how much tribes to the period of the Twelve Tables
is left for the family? What role does the around 450 b.c., and from the so-called Dark
family play in the total business of society? . Ages from the sixth to the twelve centuries.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
The trustee family exercises the most family, which claims immense non-state
sovereignty of any of the family types. The power to enforce norms of behavior
family is the primary power in society, internally amongst its members and
controlling individual action, punishing externally against its enemies.
transgressions, and providing protection
against enemy attack. The concept of the The trustee family is simply the strongest
“house” is more powerful than the concept social entity in its time, stronger than both
of the “home.” This family type tends be the the state and the individual. This is why the
dominant one in periods when the political trustee family is almost incomprehensible to
authorities are relatively weak. The family Americans today, in an era of hugely
keeps order, out of necessity: no one else is powerful government and fiercely
doing that job. Individuals in the trustee independent individuals. In contrast, the
family do not typically own landed property. atomistic family holds that sovereignty lies
Rather, the living members of the family with the individual, as against the family.
receive the property as a “patrimony” from But society pays a price for this freedom
past generations and hold the property in from family bonds. The very idea of liberty
trust for future generations. itself changes, according to Zimmerman:

Modern economists might view the trustee The individual is left more and more alone
family as a family form based on “common to do as he wishes. At first the freedom
property,” but this is an anachronistic becomes an incentive to economic gain. . . .
interpretation. The “tragedy of the But sooner or later the meaning of this
commons,” in which no one takes care of freedom changes. The individual, having no
commonly owned resources, does not occur guiding moral principles, changes the
in societies dominated by the trustee family. meaning of freedom from opportunity to
That tragedy develops only in situations in license. Having no internal or external
which a) the state hold the exclusive or guides to discipline him, he becomes a
dominant power to enforce property rights gambler with life, always seeking greener
and b) people view themselves as individual pastures. When he comes to inevitable
agents rather than as part of an infinitely- difficulty, he is alone in his misery. He
lived family, with powers of its own. wishes to pass his difficulties and his misery
Neither condition appears in the trustee on to others. Consequently, he continually
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
helps build up institutions to “remedy” his lapsing back into the decadent atomistic
misery. He willingly follows any prophet family of the late Roman Empire.
(and they are mostly false ones) who comes
along with a sure-cure nostrum for the The Church strongly objected to
diseases of the social system. intermarriage among cousins and closer
relatives. This was a direct blow against the
Hence, the atomistic family and the barbarian trustee family, which used
powerful central government tend to co- intermarriage to strengthen the clan. The
exist. This could have been written in 2010 Church loosened the power of the family to
instead of in 1947. control the marriage choices of its members.
Marriage was a union of equals, by mutual
Moderation of the Domestic Family consent of the parties, not of their parents.
The Church insisted that quarrels between
Between the extremes of the trustee and families were to be heard by public
atomistic family models lies the moderation assemblies, not settled by blood feuds and
of the domestic family, such as that of the vengeance. The Church restricted divorce,
American family of the 1950s. Here, which was characteristic of the late Roman
Zimmerman’s reasoning provides helpful atomistic family, and “repudiation,” the
background to defenders of the family that is barbarian trustee-family version of divorce.
today deemed “traditional.” He claims the
domestic family “satisfies the natural desires The Church also stood strongly against
for freedom from family bonds and for abortion, infanticide, and the practice of
individualism, yet it also preserves sufficient exposing unwanted infants to the elements.
social structure to enable the state or body Both the late Roman Empire and the
politic to depend upon it as an aid in barbarians permitted parents to reject
government.” Zimmerman credits the infants, arguing that they were not social
Catholic Church with the rise of the beings unless their parents accepted them
domestic family in the Middle Ages. The into the family. Against both the barbarian
Church attempted to moderate the more trustee and Roman atomistic family systems,
barbaric features of the trustee family the Church introduced the idea that children
system, while preventing people from are automatically social beings, the children
of their mother and her husband, and could
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
not be rejected. Most significantly, the Zimmerman saw that not everyone in
Church celebrated the bearing and raising of society actually participates in familism,
children. As Zimmerman observes: “The meaning the social system that brings forth
family gives more and requires more of the the next generation: “Reproduction, even in
individual than do other social the most virile times of a society, is limited
organizations.” The Church’s spiritual to a small segment of the living population.”
incentives motivated people to undertake the He estimates that before World War Two,
material sacrifices necessarily involved in only about one-third of the wives were
the bearing and rearing of children. producing more than three-quarters of the
children. Men and women do not necessarily
Modern Culture Wars understand and respect the demands of the
family, just because they grew up in one:
Zimmerman’s understanding of the
transition from the trustee family to the The great and revealing experiences of
domestic family corrects modern familism come primarily after adulthood.
misconceptions about the evolution of the The child has gone through most of the basic
family. But his analysis of the transition experiences of familism before he has even
between the domestic family and the a faint idea of their real meaning. He
atomistic family is particularly relevant to understands only the pleasurable and
the current “culture wars” and leads receiving aspects of the family system and
naturally to The War between the State and few or none of the sacrificial (pleasurable in
the Family. In this book, Patricia Morgan a different sense) and giving aspects of the
argues that the movement toward family.
individualism in the family was not an
inevitable result of impersonal social forces, Likewise, if the elites of society do not
but rather the direct result of specific participate in familism, they will create
policies enacted by specific people. institutions that encourage others to do the
Zimmerman shows why this happens, not same. Everything from the design of houses,
only in the United Kingdom of the twentieth the durability of children’s toys, and the
century but also in post-Revolutionary dynamics of the labor market become geared
France and in many other historical settings. toward those with few or no children. For
families to sustain themselves becomes
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
progressively more difficult. More and more United Kingdom increased from 14 percent
people abandon the effort, and the society in 1961 to 30 percent by 2004. The
stagnates demographically. Society doesn’t proportion of out-of-wedlock births rose
immediately dissolve, notes Zimmerman, from 8 percent in 1970 to 42 percent in
because “the backward, rural, mountainous, 2004.
isolated and distant populations or countries
still have to be drained of their surplus It is sometimes claimed that Americans, like
population and familistic values.” In the their European peers, have abandoned
meantime, the urban elites have no capacity marriage as part of the Triumphant March of
to even see the problem, much less see the Liberation. But Morgan’s data strongly
remedy, because they have never actually suggest that people of modest means have
participated in the domestic family as done no such thing. Marriage has been taken
opposed to the atomistic family. from them by their “betters.” As industrial
societies continue their race toward greater
Red states versus blue states, anyone? individualism, fewer people have the vision
to even see the problem, much less the
Morgan illustrates this point from the other solution. Yet Carle Zimmerman, who would
side of the Atlantic. The government of the not have been surprised at this, provides a
United Kingdom has steadily enforced the profound and excellent guide to those
march towards the atomistic family. The wishing to restore a culture of familism.
state wishes to show no favoritism toward
marriage and no animus toward unmarried Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is an
economist and the Founder and President of
mothers. The state does not wish to
the Ruth Institute, a nonprofit educational
encourage “income sharing” between adults. organization devoted to bringing hope and
The idea that mothers and fathers cooperate encouragement for lifelong married love.
in raising their children is alien, or perhaps She is also the author of Love and
worse, to Her Majesty’s government. Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a
Village and Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long
Marriage is penalized in the markets for
Love in a Hook-Up World.
housing, for child-care options, and in the
tax code. Morgan shows that under the
influence of policies like these, the
proportion of one-person households in the
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.