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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