The Catholic Church and the Weakening of Kinship

This is a couple of weeks old, but I found it interesting.    This is Kevin Drum at Mother Jones discussing Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order:

But how do strong central authorities evolve in the first place? Fukuyama spends a great deal of time talking about kinship structures and the way they interfere with state building (thus the brief foray into primate psychology at the beginning of the book). Loyalty to family and tribe is naturally strong, he argues, and tearing down that loyalty is crucial to building an effective state with adequately strong central authority. This, again, isn’t an especially novel observation, but his application of this observation to early Christian history was new to me. “The Catholic church,” he writes, “took a strong stand against four practices: marriages between close kin, marriages to the widows of dead relatives (the so-called levirate), the adoption of children, and divorce.” All of these are things that help kinship groups keep property within the group, and by systematically cutting them off, and then promoting the voluntary donation of land and property to the church itself, the Catholic church enhanced its own power. Later on, rules like priestly celibacy were designed to prevent kinship groupswithin the church from interfering with the central power in Rome. All of this strengthened the power of the church at the expense of kinship ties, and while undermining the family may or may not have been a deliberate strategy, that was the end result. Tribal and family connections in Western Europe became (and remain) much weaker than in much of the rest of the world.

Of course, there are other good reasons to take a stand against marriage between close kin and I am not clear on how divorce helps kinship groups keep property within the group (and I’m a bit hazy on how the adoption of children accomplishes same).   Maybe someday I’ll read the book….


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