weber, that is. (^_^)
here’s a bit from alan macfarlane’s “The Origins of English Individualism” which i started reading last night [pgs. 50-51]:
“Behind Weber’s work there is a general evolutionary model that sees societies originating in a stage at which kinship dominates all life and large ‘clans’ absorb the individual, moving through an intermediate phase in which the larger grouping have been broken down by various pressures, to modern society where the family and kinship no longer dominate economic and social life. In China and India such a movement has never occurred. In China ‘the fetters of the kinship group were never shattered,’ every individual was completely submerged in the clan system, and any nascent move towards individualistic capitalism was crushed by the power of kinship groups, by the intimate link between family and land. In Europe, however, a number of factors worked together to break the original ‘clan’ system, according to Weber. One was Christianity, which encouraged an abstract, non-familistic attitude, stressed the individual believer: ‘every Christian community was basically a confessional association of individual believers, not a ritual association of kinship groups.’ This ‘all-important destruction of the extended family by the Christian communities…’ was the foundation upon which an autonomous bourgeoisie developed in the cities of western Europe. But while Christianity in general was a dissolvent of the earlier state, Protestantism was especially powerful in its attack on the earlier kinship ‘fetters.’ Weber argued that:
“‘[T]he great achievement of ethical religions, above all of the ethical and asceticist sects of Protestantism, was to shatter the fetters of the kinship group. These religions established the superior community of faith and a common ethical way of life in opposition to the community of blood, even to a large extent in opposition to the family.’
“In addition to Christianity and Protestantism, there were other pressures. The growth of towns in the middle ages also put a stress on the individual rather than the wider kinship group. Furthermore, the politcal system of feudalism was incompatible with extended kinship ties; ‘the land is divided by the feudal lord, in independence of clan and kinship…. We may simplify Weber’s ideas into the argument that there had been three stages in the evolution of modern society. First was ‘clan’ society, where kinship was paramount and the basic economic, social and religious unit was a wide group of kin; this had disappeared in north-western Europe by at least the thirteenth century, although traces remained. This was replaced by a second, intermediate, phase in which the basic unit was the household of parents and children…. This configuration was finally destroyed, Weber argues, first in England from the later fifteenth century, and later elsewhere, allowing for the third stage — the separation between family and business and the economic isolation of the individual.”
like i said before, bigger and (much!) better brains than mine have thought long and hard about the individualistic nature of northwest europeans, which stands in stark contrast to just about everybody else on our little planet, and how we got this way. but what most (all?) of them missed is the biology of it.
and that’s O.K.! ’cause they’ve been historians and philosophers and so on, and weren’t really thinking about biology (although it’s high time that they did! and a lot of them now are, which is a good thing.) and max weber was busy, you know, laying the foundations of sociology and other disciplines, so it’s ok that he missed the biology of it.
otherwise, i think he was right on target here. he really identified some of what i think were the major selection pressures on medieval european populations that resulted in their shift from clannish to individualistic societies. macfarlane criticizes weber for getting the timing wrong (i haven’t finished the book yet, but i think this is where he is going) — i.e. that english individualism happened a lot before weber’s suggestion of the fifteenth century — but otherwise i think weber was very much on target.
i think he might’ve been wrong about protestantism, though. weber seems to have been imagining that sentiments and attitudes are mutable in a blank slate kinda way — like these things just float out of the ether or something. obviously this is not the case — people have natures that are innate — and different peoples have different natures (not completely different — we are all human). and, so, to get from clannishness to individualism, you need some change in the nature of the people.
my guess is that this change has to do with, for one thing anyway, genes related to altruistic behaviors — and since altruistic behaviors are related to (heh) relatedness — then the changes in nw european behavior, i think, came from changes in mating patterns (which would’ve changed the relatedness) rather than just some abstract notions like “confessional associations.” in other words, you need to break down — biologically — the clans before you can get to the “confessional associations.”
why do i think weber was wrong about protestantism? many protestant sects — particularly in germany, but interestingly not in scandinavia nor, i think(?), in england (have to check that) — actually reversed the roman catholic church’s edicts on cousin marriage. iow, cousin marriage was once again allowed after luther’s day in large parts of europe (the specifics vary from place to place and time to time), so protestant europe was not the source of the breakdown of genetic ties in europe. it was the catholic church that got that ball rolling. i think that what many of the more ascetic, individualistic protestant sects were (are) were an expression of the newly forged individualistic natures of nw europeans. but, i could be wrong about that.
(note: comments do not require an email. not this max.)