“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…!)

more on solving the “polygamy problem”


“A major trait distinguishes the African family models as a whole from their European, American and Asiatic equivalents: widespread polygyny, which is only one central element of a whole system. The numbers of men and women in any community being roughly the same, a proportion of polygamous marriages of 30 per cent or more of all unions implies the existence of peculiar demographic mechanisms. One of these is a wide age difference between husband and wife. Women marry much younger than men and on average have more years of married life: the excess of ‘female married years’ is what makes general polygamy possible. To create a demographic balance, remarriage has to be frequent. Often it is not a question of remarriage but simply of inheritance, a widow being automatically transferred as wife to the man designated by the rules of succession. This implies a certain weakness or even the non-existence of prohibitions on marriages between affines; a man can inherit wives from his brother and from his father, although naturally his own mother is excluded. This practice, which is fairly frequent in Africa, flagrantly contravenes bothe the Christian and the Muslim teaching on incest.” [The Explanation of Ideology, pg. 192]

so, i think i may have been on the right track re. solving the “polygamy problem” (i.e. that if some men hoard all the women, other men will be cheated out of a chance to get a wife/wives). the trick must be to recirculate the women as much as possible. i suggested divorce as a possible strategy. in african societies, some men just inherit wives from male family members.

perhaps other men are still left out, tho. maybe women just circulate around the “alpha male” circles. getting your hands on some captive, slave women (as suggested by greying wanderer) is probably another solution.

previously: solving the “polygamy problem”?

update 06/22: see also side-effects of polygamy in three african societies

(note: comments do not require an email. stay away from those sabine women!)