“the explanation of ideology”

so, i finally got my hands on “the explanation of ideology” by emmanuel todd. flipped through it today and it looks pretty interesting, altho a little heavy on the marxism for my tastes (french academics!).

this passage really caught my eye [pgs. 134-36]:

“The paradoxical process by which a taboo [inbreeding] becomes an endogamous preference allows us to explain the expansion of Islam. Invented by the Arab world which practised systematic patrilineal endogamy, the Muslim religion moved into all the surrounding regions where exogamous prescriptions were weak or non-existant. It did not create an endogamous model but regulated and organized one by eliminating only the most extreme forms of incest: the marriage between brother and sister of ancient Egypt, that between brother and sister of Zoroastrian Iran, and that between half-brother and half-sister of ancient Palestine. Islam stops in the West, in southern Spain, at the limits of the area once under Carthaginian rule, Phoenician in anthropological terms.

“From the beginning Christianity chose an exogamous ideal. In ‘The City of God’ Augustine developed an evolutionary idea of the incest taboo, according to which the prohibitions gradually became more extensive. In fact Christianity simply inherited the Roman kinship prohibitions which forbade marriage between first cousins. The story of the kidnapping of the Sabines is a typical exogamous foundation tale.

“The conversion of the northern barbarians to Christianity from the sixth century onwards marked the beginning of an extension of the exogamous ideal, which was apparently more strictly applied among the Germanic peoples than among the Romans. Even today penal legislation covering incest, while moderate or non-existent in Latin countries — France, Italy, Spain — in northern Europe and particularly Germany betrays a phobia and abhorrence of sexual relations between close relatives. Between 1950 and 1955, 400 people were sentenced each year in West Germany for breaking the incest laws. There is nothing in the French criminal code on the subject: it punishes only when an adult takes advantage of a position of authority over a minor, whether it be as father or guardian.

“The movement of the fiercely exogamous Germanic peoples, then of the endogamous Arabs towards the Mediterranean, therefore polarized a situation which was originally extremely diverse. The Christian world embodied the ideal of exogamy, the Muslim world that of endogamy. Two monotheistic forms of universalism confronted each other, trapped by an anthropological differnce. Christians and Muslims saw each other as savages, incompatible with one another because of their sexual and family morality.”

iow, because of their mating patterns and the degrees of relatedness between the members of their respective societies. they were trapped not by an anthropological difference, but by a biological one.

talk about a clash of civilizations!

(note: comments do not require an email. i’m warning you about those sabine women…!)

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11 Comments

  1. “which was apparently more strictly applied among the Germanic peoples than among the Romans”

    Interesting. I was hung up on the Roman->Germanic transition of the first cousin thing because of the much lower level of inbreeding in northern europe. However if the northerners were already more ideal-centric for some reason and had already developed their penchant for being more law-abiding then i guess the difference in inbreeding north-south could be explained by the northerners being more strict over centuries.

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  2. But weren’t the Germans more tribalistic than the Romans? Either inbreeding isn’t the only factor to consider here, or the ancient Germans were nevertheless more inbred than the Romans despite their stricter prohibition.

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  3. I was in high school when Emmanuel Todd released his book “the invention of Europe” (actually “L’invention de l’Europe” but if I remember correctly it has been translated in English.
    I was completely fascinated by the book, and at the lasting effects of family structures as they were in Europe in the 17th century on behaviours three centuries later. Particularly striking was the correspondence between the electoral map for France and even more so Italy in the 1950’s with family structures. Also, from a worlwide perspective, the thesis can help understand that the fact that some countries (Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam) turned communist and not other was not just the result of circumstances. In this respect, the communist North Korean regime is definitely an anomaly, but apparently the internal ideology of the country is not that marxist leninist and emphasizes heavily the “purity”of the North Korean race.

    The book is still highly recommended.

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  4. I had been wondering – in terms not even of speculation, but of sheer brainstorming – if the Romans might have been the first to create a large non-tribal body of people in their area (like 100,000 or more), and might have conquered Mediterrania for that reason.

    I agree that the Germanics potentially could be more tribal despite stricter cousin laws, if they formed smaller groups of very high endogamy than the Romans formed.

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  5. @ihtg – thnx for the link! i haven’t looked into roman tribes yet. don’t know a thing about them. i would guess, tho, that they weren’t as important as in, say, saudi arabia in the 500s — or afghanistan today! — otherwise you would’ve had a lot more internal strife in rome (and it’s not like they didn’t already have plenty!). presumably the romans weren’t as inbred as the saudis/afghanis are.

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  6. @fabrice – “I was in high school when Emmanuel Todd released his book “the invention of Europe” (actually “L’invention de l’Europe” but if I remember correctly it has been translated in English. I was completely fascinated by the book, and at the lasting effects of family structures as they were in Europe in the 17th century on behaviours three centuries later. Particularly striking was the correspondence between the electoral map for France and even more so Italy in the 1950′s with family structures.”

    fascinating, yes! sounds like just the book for me. but, it doesn’t look like it’s been translated into english. guess i’m gonna have to learn french. (~_^)

    @fabrice – “Also, from a worlwide perspective, the thesis can help understand that the fact that some countries (Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam) turned communist and not other was not just the result of circumstances.”

    yes, that is exactly the premise of “The Explanation of Ideology” — that family structures affect social ideology and beliefs. what he misses out on, tho, is why family structures should have this affect. he doesn’t drill down far enough for the root causes, afaiac. he’s overlooked how differences in genetic relatedness affect how people behave (in my opinion). i forgive him, tho. he’s only a sociologist. (~_^)

    (i really DO forgive him, tho, ’cause he has noticed something that few other researchers seem to have!)

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  7. @ihtg – “But weren’t the Germans more tribalistic than the Romans? Either inbreeding isn’t the only factor to consider here, or the ancient Germans were nevertheless more inbred than the Romans despite their stricter prohibition.”

    my impression is that the ancient germans were much more tribalistic than the romans. i think the thing is that the germans were quite inbred, and then they ceased to be so (or not so much) when they adopted christianity. that’s how it looks, anyway. that’s when they got real strict about inbreeding — after they adopted christianity.

    inbreeding definitely isn’t the only factor to consider here or anywhere. i just think, tho, that it is one rather important factor that’s often overlooked.

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  8. @rs – “I had been wondering – in terms not even of speculation, but of sheer brainstorming – if the Romans might have been the first to create a large non-tribal body of people in their area (like 100,000 or more), and might have conquered Mediterrania for that reason.”

    well, it probably didn’t hurt to not be so tribal. when you’re tribal, you’re often just too busy all the time fighting other tribes (think afghanistan). when you’re not so tribal, you can devote your time to conquering neighboring peoples and building acqueducts.

    the Big However, however, is the case of the arabs. they were/are still VERY tribal and yet they managed to blast out of the arabian peninsula and conquer nearly everybody in sight. mohammed’s religion was really a fantastic invention ’cause with it, he and his decendants managed to direct the hostile energies of the arab tribes — which they normally would’ve used towards each other — outwards on the world. oh, all the financial rewards in the form of war booty prolly helped, too.

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  9. IHTG,

    “But weren’t the Germans more tribalistic than the Romans? Either inbreeding isn’t the only factor to consider here, or the ancient Germans were nevertheless more inbred than the Romans despite their stricter prohibition.”

    HBDChick answered already but yes my point was northern euros are much less interbred now and so i wondered if maybe the church had picked up the idea from them and then made it a rule but logically it could also be that they were more interbred back then but being, for some reason, more strict about following the law they followed the rule more than the south and so ended up less interbred now.

    That would leave the question why they followed the rule more strictly. I think there’s two routes to co-operation. One is very tight ethnic bonds creating the militarily very useful “band of brothers” effect but which tends to restrict the size of successful co-operation. The second is the opposite, where you break down the clannish ties and develop a Ideal/Nomos/Law based unity instead. Following the rule more closely implies the second option but it gets a bit chicken and egg at that point.

    .
    RS,

    “if the Romans might have been the first to create a large non-tribal body of people in their area (like 100,000 or more), and might have conquered Mediterrania for that reason”

    I think the difference may be cavalry versus infantry. First i think there may be something in hbdchick’s point about there may be big differences between different kinds of interbred. I wonder if the FBD system of making the males of a clan very tightly related would magnify the band of brothers effect the most alongside making it harder to co-operate on a larger scale. Smaller total numbers and smaller sized units suit cavalry better e.g. the standard size of a tactical cavalry unit has been around 150-200 throughout history whereas infantry is more around 600+. Any co-operation deficit among FBD pastoral nomad armies like the Arabs might be diluted as long as they’re cavalry.

    The earlier empires in the near east like the Persians tended militarily to be more dominated by the political elite in cavalry / chariot form. The best infantry-based armies in history tend to be Republics or at least have a large yeoman caste: Ancient Greeks, Rome, Flemish, Swiss etc.

    .
    hbdchick,

    “and yet they managed to blast out of the arabian peninsula and conquer nearly everybody in sight. mohammed’s religion was really a fantastic invention”

    I think the combination of religion and ethnicity may be central here. If you have a militarily extremely strong blood-brother style clan cavalry which *can’t* co-operate at larger levels for more than a few weeks or so before in-fighting breaks out over vendettas or honor precisely because of the extra-tight clan bonds but then you create a tribal religion which is initially just Arabs then the religion can be used to create the bond that will allow the larger scale co-operation. The religion is the nationalsm. The nationalism is the religion. This creates an immensely strong army (as morale is 80% of fighting).

    However what happens if you allow or force the conquered to convert? It’s no longer blood and religion combined and it loses some of its power. Maybe its strength required exclusivity?

    Reply

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