english individualism ii

i’ve started reading alan macfarlane’s “The Origins of English Individualism” in which macfarlane makes the case that english individualism stretches back to (at least) the 1200s. haven’t finished it yet — but luke reminded me of this article by macfarlane: “The Origins of English Individualism: Some Surprises” [pdf] (thnx, luke!).

in the article (and the book), macfarlane argues that during the medieval period — going as far back as the 1200s — the english were not peasants, unlike most other europeans (and many other populations around the world), but rather individual farmers for whom the nuclear family was the most important kinship group. he describes a peasant society thusly [pgs. 255-56]:

“The basic element of society is not the individual, but the family, which acts as a unit of ownership, production and consumption. Parents and children are also co-owners and co-workers. The separation between the household and the economy … has not occurred. For our purposes, the central feature is that ownership is not individualized. It was not the single individual who exclusively owned the productive resources, but rather the household. The present occupants of the land are managers of an estate; they cannot disinherit their heirs, the father is merely the leader of a production team…. Land is not viewed as a commodity which can be easily bought and sold. There is a strong emotional identification with a particular geographical area. Consequently, there is rather little geographical mobility; any movement to the towns is one-way, with few people returning to the countryside. The villages are thus filled with people linked by real and fictive kin ties and marriages often occur over a short distance…. The society is also divided into many self-contained, though identical, local communities, with their own customs, dialect and beliefs.”

that the english were not peasants has several implications, according to macfarlane, including [pgs. 262-63]:

“[I]f the argument is correct, one of the ‘most thoroughly investigated of all peasantries in history’ turns out to be not a peasantry at all. The classical example of the transition of a ‘feudal,’ peasant-based society into a new, capitalist, system turns out to be a deviant case.”

in other words, if we want to understand how the first society to become an industrialized one did so relatively painlessly (maybe why they did so at all) — and if we want to figure out how other societies might follow suit — it’s a good idea to truly understand what pre-industrial english society was like, i.e. that it was not a peasant society made up of extended-families and strong kinship connections, but had, in fact, been an atomized, individualistic society for quite a long time before industrialization.

macfarlane wrote these works on individualism in england in the late stone age 1970s** and, at the time, there wasn’t all that much evidence to back up his argument. plenty of historical research since then supports his idea. i posted about one example of such research here.

there is also a very good summing up of what fourteenth and fifteenth english society was like in barbara hanawalt’s “The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England” published in 1989. in this book, hanawalt describes anglo-saxon (i.e. early medieval) kinship terminology [pgs. 79-80]:

“Kinship terminology in English is not very diversified. Anthropologists expect to find rather elaborate kinship terminology in societies where kinship plays an important part of an individual’s life, but even Anglo-Saxon had few words to describe any ties but those to the nuclear family. They did not even have a word for cousin until the introduction of French. This paucity of kinship terms is in startling contrast to the continent, which had extensions to fourth cousins. The minimal kinship terms already common in the seventh and eighth centuries in England did not appear on the continent until after the Black Death.

“Anglo-Saxon kin terminology had an easy flexibility, with the same word used for grandson and nephew, granddaughter, and niece. The interchangeability of terms suggests that the modes of behavior toward these family relationships were similar. Nuclear-family terms were virtually the only ones that were important, and compounds based on them formed lineal ascent and descent. The only extended family member meriting a unique appellation was the father’s brother, indicating a special relationship with the spear-side uncle.

“Middle and modern English adopted from the Normans the French root words for kinship terms such as uncle and aunt, but no more complicated term than cousin was used for more distant kin. Although the special term for a relationship to father’s brother was dropped, the kinship terminology perpetuated Anglo-Saxon practices. Thus we continued to form clumsy compounds such as grandmother or fourth cousin once removed. The lack of words for extended kin indicates that they were not a part of daily parlance because they were not needed….”

a linguistic shift in kinship terminology in german did, indeed, happen during the medieval period starting in the twelfth century. in the case of german, all cousins became just “cousin” (or whatever it is in german) because all cousins were off-limits to marry. before that, the germans used to distinguish between cousins on the mother’s side and cousins on the father’s side, likely because it was preferential to marry one over the other — or forbidden to marry one over the other. (arabs today, for instance, have separate terms for all the cousins since they still prefer to marry the father’s brother’s daughter. the chinese, too, distinguish between certain cousins.)

if the anglo-saxon terminology was already simplified as early as the seventh or eighth centuries (and i hadn’t read that until tonight), that is remarkable. that would mean that either: 1) the church’s ban on cousin marriage took hold very strongly amongst the anglo-saxons in the 600s (see below) — this seems unlikely; or 2) that anglo-saxon kinship was already very loose before they adopted christianity.

i’m not sure where hanawalt got her info on anglo-saxon kinship terminology. i think it might be from here. i’m going to double-check this since it’s so unlike the rest of the germanic tribes — but maybe it’s correct! if so, maybe this is related to the distribution of todd’s absolute nuclear families? that the anglo-saxons have, in fact, been outbreeding for a very, very long time? dunno.

_____

christianity was first brought to britain by some of the romans, but it had to be reintroduced to the anglo-saxons (and jutes) once they got there. we’re talking the 600s a.d., so any adoption by the anglo-saxons of the church’s bans on inbreeding would date from after that time.

via a series of letters from augustine of canterbury (late 500s-early 600s) to the pope back in rome, we know that the anglo-saxons at the time of conversion were marrying their cousins [pgs. 34-37], so that seems to contradict hanawalt. my guess still is that, beginning in the 600s (and the start was probably slow), the anglo-saxons, et. al., began loosening their genetic ties until by at least as early as the 1200s (who knows? might’ve been earlier) those ties were loose enough so that the english, as we can call them by then, were behaving like a bunch of individuals and not a bunch of clannish peasants. on the other hand, maybe the anglo-saxons had a head start over other europeans.

undoubtedly there were selection pressures on the medieval english population related to altruistic behaviors other than just their mating patterns which got them from point a — clannish/tribal peasants — to point b — atomized individualistic farmers/craftsmen/traders. but outbreeding was definitely one of them and, i’d argue, the most important one since you can’t even begin down the road towards point b without it (i think).

interestingly, marriage in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in parts of rural northern italy was also, like medieval england, very exogamous.

previously: english individualism i and but what about the english? and exogamous marriage in northern medieval italy

(note: comments do not require an email. **presumably on parchment using writing implements such as these.)

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44 Comments

  1. He’s using a somewhat heterodox definition of the word ‘peasant’, isn’t he? His description of a ‘peasant society’ would not apply to the serfs on a feudal manor, yet few would argue that those people were not peasants.

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  2. What is the historical evidence of how the Anglo Saxons (religiously, sociologically) viewed the Celts and their conversion (generally) to Christianity during Rome’s rule (St.’s Alban, Patrick, etc.) and their development of a psuedo-feudalism in their highly organized monastic system?

    The Celts had gone from a pretty fierce, headhunting, polytheistic bunch to a semi-civilized bunch 350 years before Augustine ever showed in Kent.

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  3. OT or maybe not: I was on a 13th century English history kick a couple of years ago and the two best books I found were Trevelyan’s “England in the Age of Wycliff” and, believe it or not, “Piers Plowman.” I think you will find a lot of incidentally revealing information in both those works. (My memory is that Yeoman farmers were a distinct minority — though perhaps an important one in terms of the number of their descendants.) Both books are beautifully written and a joy to read, English literature in the highest sense, and they are both free in Google Books! (You might want a translation into modern English of Piers Plowman however.)

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  4. Did my last comment post? Bob Allen at Oxford University writes on these topics and has many excellent articles posted on his website or available pdf in Google Scholar. He is more reliable scholarly wise than a lot of more popular writers, the guy at Davis, for example, what’s his name? He’s a go to guy.

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  5. “He’s using a somewhat heterodox definition of the word ‘peasant’, isn’t he?”

    I guess most people thinking “peasant” will probably imagine someone covered in rags and mud like something out of Monty Python’s King Arthur so you probably have a point. In that context “the english peasants were not like most other european peasants” might fit most people’s heads easier. However he does give a description of what is apparently the standard anthro-historical definition of “peasant” and makes the case this definition didn’t fit England even in the 1200s. I don’t know how standard that technical(?) definition or if it is.

    I may have misunderstood it though as i only read the short pdf.

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  6. @ihtg – “He’s using a somewhat heterodox definition of the word ‘peasant’, isn’t he? His description of a ‘peasant society’ would not apply to the serfs on a feudal manor, yet few would argue that those people were not peasants.”

    well, anthropologists debate the definition of peasant (like many of the terms that they use!). but i don’t think macfarlane’s use of the word is very far out from what seems to be, more or less, commonly agreed upon by anthropologists. from the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology [pg. 629]:

    “A broad definition of the term peasant would invoke three important characteristics (Shanin 1987): peasants are agriculturalists (or possibly engaged in fishing), for whom both production and consumption are oriented to the household, and who are also under some economic and political obligations to outside power-holders.”

    macfarlane doesn’t really mention that last, economic point in the article that i quoted, primarily because he’s interested in the social side of things, but he does address it in the book (“The Origins of English Individualism”) where he spends the first chapter defining peasantry. on page 10 he says:

    “The most common meaning of the word when used by historians of England makes the criterion of size of landholding units, sometimes combined with a suggestion concerning the nature of ownership, central to the definition…. It will be seen that common to all the definitions are the smallness of the unit of ownership or tenancy and the fact that the owner or tenant lives and works on the land. Thus, feudal copyholders or modern small tenant-farmers could both, in theory, be ‘peasants.'”

    however, he goes on on page 12 to say:

    “While the definition is useful for some economic historians, it is far too blunt for social historians. Furthermore, it is not the one which most anthropologists and sociologists have in mind when they talk about ‘peasants,’ nor is it the definition which is behind the work of Marx and Weber or a number of modern medieval historians. It is not precise enough because it only deals with one of the features of agrarian structure, size of holding, and says nothing about the actual operational unit of production and consumption.”

    for most anthropologists, including macfarlane, the “operational unit of production and consumption” has got to be the family (and it is very often a “stem” family or an extended family). my impression, although he doesn’t spell it out in the first chapter (iirc), is that macfarlane would consider serfs to be peasants as long as they also fit the social side of his definition.

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  7. @wes – “What is the historical evidence of how the Anglo Saxons (religiously, sociologically) viewed the Celts and their conversion (generally) to Christianity during Rome’s rule (St.’s Alban, Patrick, etc.) and their development of a psuedo-feudalism in their highly organized monastic system?”

    sorry, i have no idea.

    “The Celts had gone from a pretty fierce, headhunting, polytheistic bunch to a semi-civilized bunch 350 years before Augustine ever showed in Kent.”

    yes, that’s interesting — especially the conversion part. i don’t know the answer to that (heh — i don’t know the answer to most things! (~_^) ). a shift from a more pure pastoralism to an agriculture-pastoralism mix? dunno. (hmmm … maybe they even shifted mating patterns at the time?)

    i do know, tho, even after the “celts” in ireland (and parts of scotland) converted to christianity, they didn’t follow all the new rules — like the inbreeding ones.

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  8. @anonymous – “OT or maybe not: I was on a 13th century English history kick a couple of years ago and the two best books I found were Trevelyan’s ‘England in the Age of Wycliff’ and, believe it or not, ‘Piers Plowman.’ I think you will find a lot of incidentally revealing information in both those works.”

    excellent! thanks for the references! (^_^)

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  9. @anonymous – “Here is Bob Allen’s review of Gregory Clark’s ‘A Farewell to Alms.’ What do you think?”

    well, first i have to ‘fess up to the fact that i haven’t read “A Farewell to Alms” all the way through. (*^_^*) i skimmed through it — and read steve sailer’s review/summary of it. i shall have to come back to it one day, but i didn’t get the impression that clark answered my question (or one of my many questions) and that is how did the english get to be so individualistic in the first place? clark looked at how the english acquired all these “middle class” values/behaviors — but how did they get to the point where there were any “middle class” values/behaviors at all in their society?

    the english couldn’t have become a nation of shopkeepers if they had been clannish or tribal. why weren’t they, when pretty much everyone else in the world is or was like that?

    so, although i really like clark’s work (from what i know of it), i think the answer to my question lies earlier than the time period he dealt with.

    i skimmed through allen’s review and he seems to be skeptical of any biological explanations for peoples’ behaviors — so i’m skeptical of him. (~_^) but thanks for the references! i’ve added him to The List. (^_^)

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  10. @dgrace – “iq of inbred muslims in india 16 points lower than outbred”

    thanks! i have seen that one (got it in my files here (^_^) ). but i love that sort of thing, so feel free to drop references like that around here anytime! (^_^)

    muslims in india marry their first cousins at a much higher rate than hindus or christians [see chart in this post]. prolly not a good thing.

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  11. I am a bit puzzled. I follow that the English farmers, I think the term is yomen, were tied to their land and married without traveling far. I follow that the land passed exclusively within the family. I follow that marrying cousins was frowned on. I follow that all terms for cousins were dumped except first cousins. How do you get “exogmany” out of that? It sounds like endogamy to the extreme. I mean they wound up marrying cousins every time, just not first cousins. That of course is just about ideal for fertility.

    Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms points out that one of the factors that produced the industrial revolution was “downward social mobility.” Rich people were having lots of babies, more than poor people. He pointed out how this contrasted with the Shoguns of Japan, where the Industrial Revolution was tried out and then rejected.

    Looks to me like endogamy assured adequate fertilty, a stable society, and utlimately the Industrail revolution.

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  12. Oops. I didn’t think of it, but possibly you might not accpet that near cousins excluding first cousins are the way to have lots of babies. Here’s the reference.
    An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816

    Traditional societies, also quite stable, also practiced endogamy.
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-tribal-imagination/201107/kissing-cousins-mediogamy

    Yes, there are too many people in the world. But they had an answer to that one, too. You couldn’t marry and have children unless you had the farm. Well of course you didn’t have the farm any more than the farm had you. But the rule was only one couple having children per farm. That together with high fertilty once you did marry meant a society that was demographically stable.

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  13. Linton Herbert
    “I am a bit puzzled. I follow that the English farmers, I think the term is yomen, were tied to their land and married without traveling far. I follow that the land passed exclusively within the family.”

    I think the paragraph after “he describes a peasant society thusly [pgs. 255-56]:” describes the standard peasant society, not the English one.

    From my understanding, which may be wrong, one of the big differences is production for use over production for sale i.e. peasant families produce for their own consumption only selling the surplus to buy in what they can’t produce themelves whereas in England it had already moved to production for sale then use the proceeds to buy in what the family needed. So if i understand it right that would have meant they had a market economy and more specialization earlier than elsewhere.

    .
    “I follow that marrying cousins was frowned on. I follow that all terms for cousins were dumped except first cousins. How do you get “exogmany” out of that? It sounds like endogamy to the extreme.”

    Relative exogamy – more so than northern europe which was more so than southern europe which was more so than everywhere else

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  14. “i skimmed through allen’s review and he seems to be skeptical of any biological explanations for peoples’ behaviors — so I’m skeptical of him”

    Is marrying later and having fewer children a biological explanation? Or rather, is there a biological explanation for why the English might have delayed marriage and had fewer children? It’s been a while since I read Allen but as I recall he was trying to account for the fact that the English escaped the Malthusian trap before other countries, which is one of the reasons they pioneered the Industrial Revolution: they had higher wages, saved more, consumed more luxuries, all of which contributed to the growth towns, guilds, trade, and the growth of a new business class.

    It seems that Protestants — no, not just Protestants, but dissenters and non-conformists — were a crucial factor: nearly all the early industrialists and inventors that started the Industrial Revolution were drawn from that minority.

    You may say these are cultural factors, and I would agree. But isn’t one of your arguments that biology, or more specifically population genetics, is the main driver of culture, which then folds back to shape a population’s genetic profile as well?

    I’m probably confused about all this. Sorry. It’s old age.

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  15. What is the difference between a peasant and a serf? I think of them as almost synonymous historically, at least in England. Yeoman farmers I thought of as . . . well, farmers. People who own the land they farm on are not peasants. Day laborers, share croppers, renters, were dependent to the extent they were at the mercy of the landlord. (Google Polish peasantry or the Irish potato famine too see how bad it could get.) I would say Yeoman farmers and Kulaks were middle-class. Lower middle-class but still middle-class, like artisans.

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  16. “Is marrying later and having fewer children a biological explanation?”

    I wonder if it’s an alternative to female infanticide. If you’re trying to control population growth so you’re not right at the malthusian edge all the time then the number of breeding females is the limiting factor. I’m not sure how widespread female infanticide is / was globally but if late marriage was the european alternative then higher female status may have been the cause of late marriage as an alternative to infanticide but what might have been the effect?

    .
    “What is the difference between a peasant and a serf?”

    I may have misunderstood but i think the difference MacFarlane is getting at is this. Imagine a family that live on wheat, peas and cheese with a plot of land that is particularly suited to growing barley. The peasant family – by Macfarlane’s definition – which existed everywhere else in Europe at the time would grow wheat, peas and a few milking cattle on their plot of land whereas in England the peasant-equivalent family would grow barley, sell it and but flour, peas and cheese.

    Why would this matter? I guess because it allowed more competition which allows selection to work better?

    Similarly with MacFarlane’s point about the peasant-equivalents in England buying and selling parcels of land by the 1200s. A good farmer in England had scope to succeed and have more healthy kids whereas an equally good farmer on the continent didn’t have the opportunity.

    Taking the example above. The English farmer grows barley for cash and buys more flour, peas and cheese than he could have grown on the same land. The surplus he saves up to buy more land, become more prosperous, has healthy kids. The French farmer doesn’t have a cash economy yet so has to grow wheat, peas and cattle despite the land not being best suited to that.

    .
    This is just thinking aloud – might be all wrong.

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  17. @linton – “I follow that the English farmers, I think the term is yomen, were tied to their land and married without traveling far. I follow that the land passed exclusively within the family. I follow that marrying cousins was frowned on. I follow that all terms for cousins were dumped except first cousins. How do you get ‘exogmany’ out of that? It sounds like endogamy to the extreme. I mean they wound up marrying cousins every time, just not first cousins.”

    what you describe here — farmers being tied to the land, marrying without travelling far, land passing exclusively within the family, distant cousin marriage — is not a good description of how english society has been — not for a very long time (as macfarlane suggests in “The Origins of English Individualism”). that the english have not been this way for such a very long time is precisely the point — it is curious, unique in europe (possibly the world), and perhaps explains why the english have proved to be so special in many ways (industrializing first, for example).

    your description actually fits the greeks much better. (^_^)

    the english, on the whole, since the medieval period have not been marrying their first- or second-cousins (consanguineous marriages), nor have they really been marrying in the neighborhood (likely other more distant cousins, as you say, which would still be marrying endogamously). english people have a long history of not being tied to the land but, rather, setting off to find work elsewhere; farms have been bought and sold as real estate since the 1200s rather than being kept in families; not only has cousin marriage been frowned upon, but because of the movement of people in space, there was not so much distant cousin marriage either. see this post here for more as well as jack goody’s “The Development of The Family and Marriage in Europe.”

    this doesn’t apply to all english people 100% of the time throughout england’s history, of course. however, as greying wanderer said above, the english have been relatively more exogamous compared to other northern europeans and much more so than southern (and eastern) europeans (and much, much more so than middle easterners!). i think this goes a long way to accounting for their strong sense of individualism.

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    1. Then I mistook the passage. Still, according to my lawyer brother, the upper classes were tied to the land. Even when if became legal to sell your land, a father would take his heir aside upon reaching majority and tell him he was a man now and should take a trip to the continent. But first there were some papers to sign. Over the next few minutes while the young man dreamed of France his father would sign over to him complete control of everything, after which he would sign papers that gave up the control until the next generation. So my impression was that everybody pretty much stayed with the land. If you were a peasant elsewhere with not ownership of land, you could be sent around at the pleasure of those in power.
      But I wasn’t there.
      I have a map of part of Southern England that might interest you. I’ll see whether I can find it.

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  18. @linton – “Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms points out that one of the factors that produced the industrial revolution was ‘downward social mobility.’ Rich people were having lots of babies, more than poor people…. Looks to me like endogamy assured adequate fertilty, a stable society, and utlimately the Industrail revolution.”

    clark’s argument is that the rich people had more children because they were rich and could afford more kids — and more of their kids survived because they were better fed, etc. — but you are very right when you point out that the “sweet spot” in terms of fertility is to marry your (what is it?) third cousin, if i recall correctly.

    the upper classes everywhere in europe throughout the medieval period and even afterwards stuck to marrying close kin — to keep the wealth and power in the family of course. and this may also have contributed to their fecundity, like you say!

    it would be interesting to study which cousins (first, second, third, etc.) the upper classes in europe traditionally married and compare that to how many kids they had on average.

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    1. “it would be interesting to study which cousins (first, second, third, etc.) the upper classes in europe traditionally married and compare that to how many kids they had on average.”

      That is an excellent idea. And the College of Heralds should have all that information. They have a genealogy that rivals the one in Iceland. And they are very courteous. But when I broached something like that years ago suddenly i got no response. So my guess is that they need to be handled with great tact.

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  19. @luke – “Is marrying later and having fewer children a biological explanation? Or rather, is there a biological explanation for why the English might have delayed marriage and had fewer children?”

    i think that being able to put off marriage — and/or having the will-power, as people would describe it, to perhaps abstain from sex or, at least, be very careful about getting pregnant/getting a girl pregnant — to show some restraint — are probably behaviors that were selected for in northern (“core”) european populations over the medieval period.

    the manor system would’ve selected for (heh) delayed gratification. and, then, the curious societal turn that the english took, in which individualistic patterns of behavior took hold very early on, could’ve/would’ve/might’ve further selected for individuals who could put off marriage and have fewer children.

    yes, i think these are probably innate feelings that drive how different people behave, so that’s the biological explanation for marrying later and having fewer children. i got the impression that allen wouldn’t like such an explanation (~_^) — but, to be fair, i didn’t read him closely.

    i have a life-long acquaintance/friend (the daughter of one of my mother’s friends) who is now a grandmother. if i were a grandmother now (which would’ve been technically possible), i would be freaking out! but my acquaintance was sexually active waaay before me and had her first child when she was a teenager (as did her mother, my mother’s friend). and, not surprisingly — well, not surprising to me — my acquaintance’s daughter had her first child at age 16.

    some might say that these girls (mother, daughter and granddaughter — three generations in a row) had no “will-power,” but, of course, it’s not will-power at all. some people are just driven to reproduce young and a lot, others are not. this is true of populations as well.

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    1. “in which individualistic patterns of behavior took hold very early on, could’ve/would’ve/might’ve further selected for individuals who could put off marriage and have fewer children. yes, i think ”

      Interesting issue. You might find it fun to go to “gapminder.com.” It’s a free statistics site put together by Google. I like to have it make a graph of a country or countries and put fertiltiy on the horizontal axis and age at marriage on the vertical and watch it change over time. Don’t take my word for it, but it looks to me like fertilty falls below replacement and then stabilizes while age at marriage immediatley starts upward. Since this happens in so many countries, it looks biological rather than psychological to me.

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  20. @luke – “What is the difference between a peasant and a serf? I think of them as almost synonymous historically, at least in England. Yeoman farmers I thought of as . . . well, farmers. People who own the land they farm on are not peasants.

    i think macfalane would say that serfs (farmers who don’t own their own farm) might be a type of peasant if they fit the production/consumption side of his definition (my guess is that most serfs prolly did, but i could be wrong about that), but not all peasant are serfs. a peasant family might own its own farm as a family and, therefore, not be serfs, but they would be peasants because they (mostly) consumed everything they produced.

    greying wanderer explained it better above. read his comment! (^_^)

    the side of it that interests me, of course, is that amongst peasants (according to macfarlane in the book) marriage is/was typically arranged and to close or close-ish kin so as to keep as much property as possible in the family. the greeks, traditionally, sound like a good example of this. otoh, the english (except for the aristocracy/upper classes) were not marrying in this way at all since they were not peasants.

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  21. @g.w. – “Why would this matter? I guess because it allowed more competition which allows selection to work better?”

    spot on!

    plus, the fact that the english weren’t peasants further reinforces the outbreeding thing (see my comment to luke above).

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  22. @luke – “It seems that Protestants — no, not just Protestants, but dissenters and non-conformists — were a crucial factor: nearly all the early industrialists and inventors that started the Industrial Revolution were drawn from that minority.”

    yes, this is a really interesting group of people, isn’t it? what happened there? i saw in “Albion’s Seed” that the puritan settlers of new england were mostly middle-class businessmen — and that a lot of them were married to their cousins. curioser and curioser…. (^_^)

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    1. Greying Wanderer. Thank you for the link. It’s most impressive. But in spite of his protestations to the contrary, I suspect the countryside changed a bit slower than that. As the mans says, people are reluctant to change their basic notions. In the late 20th century there were two elderly men living in a cottage in England. They were living under traditional rules. Somehow the enclosure movement had missed them. The degree to which the ignoble nobles forced people of the land is undeniable, but there would have been some resistance. Every village mentioned in the Domesday book is still around, so I hear.
      I was once chatting with a women in England about the changes in what they called different areas. It was getting all very modern, ancient names being discarded for modern mailing addresses. So I asked her, “When did they stop calling this Wessex? She said, “We still call it Wessex.”
      Thanks again.

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  23. @Luke Lea (Google Polish peasantry or the Irish potato famine to see how bad it could get.)

    I was taught at school how evil serfdom was. I believed till I read few books and it appeared that their life was not so bad. We could classify the serfs as lower middle class in current system.

    The serfs had a lot of privileges.
    They were under jurisdiction of a landlord (every criminal dream – a pair of lashes – but not too much so he was still fit to work and back to work) and not of royal court as free farmers – heavy fines or death penalty.

    The serfs and their sons had the heritable access to arable land (in return for work on a estate).
    More important the serfs and their sons had right to new developments. And all unsettled land was owned by large landlords.
    New developments meant more money for landlords, but also more resources for serfs.

    The farmers had to split their property or pass to one son. In any case pure disadvantage.

    The serfs were under-taxed. The landlords did not want to overburden their serfs with royal taxes.
    The free farmers were overtaxed.

    The serfs could get help in hunger times or seed grains.
    The free farmers were free to die from hunger in bad times and did not get any seed grains if needed.

    And there seems to be no more famines in serfdom countries then in England.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famines
    Anyway Irish Potato Famine was a sign of biological success.
    The Irish over-bred and increased population too much just before few bad years.
    Typical Malthusian trap.

    Declining population, like that of English yeomen is the sign of failure.
    Exploding population is a sign of success.

    No wonder most polish are descendants of serfs with some noblemen mix.
    And free farmers faced biological extinction and were replaced by serfs and noblemen in Poland and by higher classes in England.

    Google Polish peasantry or the Irish potato famine to see how well it finished for the serfs.

    Google Polish free farmers or English yeomen to see how bad it finished for them – it ended with biological annihilation.

    Reply

  24. @linton – “Every village mentioned in the Domesday book is still around, so I hear.”

    yes, but the point is, it’s not necessarily the same families living in those villages as in 1086. (~_^) some, yes — but the english have been very mobile. see also this post, and hanawalt’s book that i mentioned in the post above, as well as mitterauer’s book “Why Europe?” in which he discusses the mobility of northwest europeans.

    Reply

  25. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_famines

    “Between 108 BC and 1911 AD there were no fewer than 1,828 major famines in China”

    China had the most famines because people could read and write. If they’d been illiterate they wouldn’t have had any.

    .
    “But in spite of his protestations to the contrary, I suspect the countryside changed a bit slower than that.”

    Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to effect everyone – just tip the balance.

    Arab -> Greece / E. Europe / India / China -> N. Europe -> England (and i’d bet Holland)

    The point where the population is balanced provides the platform (or not) for other developments like a strategy game where you can build different improvements for your civilization depending on your government type.

    This might not have been happening in all of England at the same time – maybe initially just in the eastern half – and *maybe* it was also happening in *some* parts of northern Germany and France as well but if it was the bulk of England (in population terms) but only a minority of France and Germany then the balance wouldn’t tip as soon.

    Reply

  26. @german schaffficker – “The serfs and their sons had the heritable access to arable land (in return for work on a estate).”

    this seems to vary from place to place and time to time, but yes — a lot of serfs (peasants in this case) did inherit their tenancy rights.

    @german schaffficker – “The farmers had to split their property or pass to one son.”

    this also varies from place to place and time to time. the english and dutch of more modern times (1500s-1800s), for instance, practiced either primogeniture or unigeniture (in which only one heir chosen at the discretion of the parent inherited the farm) [see the first map here].

    @german schaffficker – “Exploding population is a sign of success.”

    yes, indeed!

    @german schaffficker – “No wonder most polish are descendants of serfs with some noblemen mix.”

    do you have a reference to back up that statement? thanks!

    Reply

  27. @linton – “You might find it fun to go to ‘gapminder.com.’ It’s a free statistics site put together by Google. I like to have it make a graph of a country or countries and put fertiltiy on the horizontal axis and age at marriage on the vertical and watch it change over time.”

    interesting! thanks, linton. i’ll check it out! (^_^)

    Reply

  28. @linton – “Still, according to my lawyer brother, the upper classes were tied to the land.”

    yes, the UPPER classes. i’m trying to get a handle on what happened in entire populations, not just one section of them (although that’s interesting, too).

    @linton – “If you were a peasant elsewhere with not ownership of land, you could be sent around at the pleasure of those in power.”

    only in certain times and places, for instance the early days of manorialism in northern france and germany — and that the lord could send you around anywhere made you a serf, one type of peasant. see mitterauer’s “Why Europe?” for more on this.

    @linton – “But I wasn’t there.”

    no. nor was i, linton. but this is why we have historians and anthropologists. (~_^)

    @linton – “So my impression was that everybody pretty much stayed with the land.”

    i’m afraid i’m going to have to ask you for references to back up that statement. macfarlane and others say, after doing research into the matter, that this was not the case for england — not for a very long time. maybe they are wrong — and i am going to continue to read up on this — but the fact that they’ve looked into manor records and court records and so on and found that the english were very mobile seems to persuasive to me.

    Reply

    1. Here’s a thought then. Suppose typically three quarters of the offspring of the English farmers upped stakes and moved every generation. There are those who would say that was being pretty mobile.
      But they were probably moving to the towns and cities, where of course they failed to reproduce in the long run and were replaced by more people moving in from the cities. I guess I am looking the wrong direction in time. I look at a village and think, “Gosh, people have been right here for a very long time.” But a historian looking forward thinks, “Gosh, everybody is leaving,” and sure enough they turn up in the cities in enormous numbers. This accounts for the social, economic and cultural events he’s intersted in, so he’s happy. I am looking for babies, so I am happy.

      Reply

  29. @linton – “But they were probably moving to the towns and cities….”

    during some points in time, yes this probably was the case. but during other points in time this decidedly was not the case. at some times and in some places in northern europe, young people were moving around being servants or laborers on other people’s farms. far away from home. read jack goody’s “The Development of The Family and Marriage in Europe.”

    i know you want to believe that most people in the past in europe were staying at home and marrying very locally, but that is simply not the case. not for everywhere in europe and not at all times. at some points during the medieval period (especially early on, i think) manorialism shuffled people around (see this post here). the english were, from very early on and throughout the middle ages and the modern period (think of downton abbey!), servants in other peoples households — a long way from home (again, see goody). even some of the northern italians during the medieval period married people who lived a long way away (see here).

    since the medieval period, northern europeans have been very mobile, especially as compared to the rest of the world. some northern europeans have been more mobile than others — i think this applies to the english and maybe the dutch, but i’m still reading up on all this. this mobility does not apply to the peripheral areas of europe like ireland/wales/western scotland (& maybe western england), southern spain, southern italy, greece, and large areas of eastern europe.

    Reply

    1. Most interesting. Most interesting. Twas not my impression at all. What I would like to believe, of course, matters not at all. On the other hand I would like what I believe about people to be consistent with biology, or at least what I believe about biology.

      So I was looking up the enclosure movement, which was what I had always thought was a major factor in people moving around in England. It turns out that it started because so much of the land was unoccupied. There just weren’t enough people around to keep it tidy, so lords of manors would create parks and so forth. So where did the people go? The plague? That was supposed to have killed one in three, and then only really in the cities. Hardly enough to depopulate a landscape. But if what you say is true, then they could have expected a demographic collapse.

      What do you think?

      Reply

  30. Linton Herbet

    From a quick look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure it seems there were two broad enclosure movements: an early one related to the population drop (caused by the Black Death?) which led to unworked land being enclosed for sheep farming instead of arable because it took less labour and produced a good *cash* crop. This is what led to the class of yeoman farmers imo – the end result of all that cash crop farming competition mentioned earlier – and, i’m guessing, the driving force behind the agricultural revolution.

    Which caused a lot of conflict later on when the population grew back – mostly the large families of the yeoman farmers? Either way,

    “After 1529 or so, the problem of untended farmland disappeared with the rising population. There was a desire for more arable land along with much antagonism toward the tenant-graziers with their flocks and herds. Increased demand along with a scarcity of tillable land caused rents to rise dramatically in the 1520s to mid-century. The 1520s appear to have been the point at which the rent increases became extreme”

    Then a second phase in the 18th and 19th centuries which was mostly pure class robbery.

    .
    If you’re concerned with babies then the biggest population expansion in history came about with the agricultural and later industrial revolution.

    .
    In a lot of ways the more rooted rural model of France or elsewhere is much more appealing at a human level. It’s not about that though. It’s about why the agricultural and industrial revolutions happened in England. I think it was an accident – but a *genetic* accident.

    Reply

    1. Thanks. That clarifies a lot. And accident it may all be. But there is still a coincidence. That is the industrial revolution happened after six centuries without a total upheaval of the society. They never went out and killed all the nobles like the French did during the Terror. Mass upheaval of that sort seems to be the rule rather than the exception. In fact it is very rare for any society to go three hundred years without one. An empire falls. The form of government changes drastically. A dynasty dies. Whatever. The coincidence strkes me as remarkable. Since my interest is in fertility, that’s where I look first.
      I do like your post.

      Reply

  31. @linton – “But if what you say is true, then they could have expected a demographic collapse.”

    well, if macfarlane and others (and i) are correct and the english have been outbreeding since, let’s say, the 700/800s — then a demographic collapse a few hundred years later might fit your ideas about outbreeding and demographic collapse.

    this is all dependent on whether or not your and my theories are correct, of course. (~_^) would need a h*ckuva lot of research to demonstrate this convincingly either way!

    btw, are you familiar with the hajnal line?

    Reply

  32. @linton – “What I would like to believe, of course, matters not at all. On the other hand I would like what I believe about people to be consistent with biology, or at least what I believe about biology.”

    i said: “i know you want to believe that most people in the past in europe were staying at home and marrying very locally….”

    this is a very common failing of all of us humans. (^_^) when we’ve got a pet theory, it’s really, really hard to pay attention to information/data that might contradict it.

    i struggle with it all the time — and i’m pretty sure i lose the battle too often. more than i’d like, anyway.

    darwin kept a notebook on him at all time dedicated to ideas that he thought of that would contradict his theory of natural selection. any time he thought of something or came across something that would seem to indicate that his idea was wrong, he would write it down, because he knew about himself that he would likely forget about it later otherwise. (^_^)

    Reply

  33. […] This is explained here.  The country that gave us modern democracy, modern capitalism, and the Industrial Revolution, England, had embraced the modern nuclear family early on.  In such a system, where all were related through extensive outbreeding, and each person needed to make it on their own abilities, and where the voice of every man was important, did the attitudes and beliefs that were the founding principles our modern society emerge (including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) (https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/but-what-about-the-english/, https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/english-individualism/, https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/english-individualism-ii/, https://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/and-so-my-next-question-naturally-is/). […]

    Reply

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