Family and Civilization

Family and Civilization


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Family and Civilization is the magnum opus of Carle Zimmerman, a distinguished sociologist who taught for many years at Harvard University. In this unjustly forgotten work Zimmerman demonstrates the close and causal connections between the rise and fall of different types of families and the rise and fall of civilizations, particularly ancient Greece and Rome, medieval and modern Europe, and the United States. Zimmerman traces the evolution of family structure from tribes and clans to extended and large nuclear families to the small nuclear families and broken families of today. And he shows the consequences of each structure for the bearing and rearing of children; for religion, law, and everyday life; and for the fate of civilization itself.
Originally published in 1947, this compelling analysis predicted many of today’s cultural and social controversies and trends, including youth violence and depression, abortion and homosexuality, the demographic collapse of Europe and of the West more generally, and the displacement of peoples. This new edition, part of ISI Books’ Background series, has been edited and abridged by cultural commentator James Kurth of Swarthmore College and includes essays on the text by Kurth, Allan Carlson, and Bryce Christensen.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781933859378
Publisher: ISI Books
Publication date: 01/25/2008
Pages: 425
Sales rank: 824,813
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Carle C. Zimmerman was an eminent professor of sociology at Harvard University and the founder of the subdiscipline of rural sociology. Among his many other books are The Changing Community and Marriage and the Family: A Text for Moderns.
James Kurth is the Claude C. Smith Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College, co-chairman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center for the Study of America and the West, and editor of Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs.

Read an Excerpt


By Carle Zimmerman
Copyright © 2008 ISI Books
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-933859-37-8

Chapter One

No problem is more interesting and vital to us than that of the family. The child is born into a family and sees the world through its eyes. His introduction to civilization is through the family. At first he is only a child in a system of social relations consisting of a unity of husband and wife, parent and child. Later he learns that there are relatives (grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) who are closer to him than other people. In time he acquires the idea of friends, and then of strangers. Then he learns that he secures his status through his family. He is an American, an Englishman, a Chinese because he is born into a parental unit that belongs to those nationalities. His parents belong to a certain community and so does he, and they are subject to its rules and privileges. He can and must go to the schools of his community.

As the child grows up, he founds a family of his own where the roles are reversed; instead of remaining a child, he becomes a husband (wife), parent, leader, breadwinner, responsible person, disciplinarian, and status conferrer. In the course of a lifetime, most people play changing roles within the organization known as the family. A broad and philosophical knowledge of the meaning of this to the individual and to society is one of the first requisites of understanding the society of which he is part.

In recent years there has been considerable discussion of the family. Among serious subjects, none are given as much attention as family, government, and religion. No one of these three topics can be discussed without the other. No government or religion is without decided views on the family, and no family can get along without day-by-day contact with the rules, regulations, and ideas of the contemporary, government and religion concerning what is proper, correct, and justifiable family behavior.

This recent discussion has been concerned with "family problems," "the decline of familism," the "evolution of the family," the "origin of the family," and the "changing functions" and "future of the family." It is said that a new type of family has now arisen-the conjugal family. This is supposed to be a family type in which a married pair abstain from having children, or at least give most of their time and attention to their marriage and little or none to the parent-child relationship.

However, this has not always been so. In other times and places familism has had different connotations from those set forth today. Consequently, we have many books on the family that set forth its history, its origins, its functions in different societies, and its present state. This literature, running into thousands of volumes and written in every language in which the study of social science has been attempted, offers many explanations, interpretations, histories, pseudo-histories, and arguments, but little or no agreement concerning the family.

Family Problems in Other Societies

This disagreement over the family is not new. On the contrary, it is one of the oldest arguments of history, as a few examples will show. At the height of the old Roman Empire in Western Europe, from the first to the third centuries of our era, the family relationship was a free one like ours; there were many conjugal marriages such as have recently become popular and are now highly recommended in many circles. At that time under Roman law, divorces were easy and frequent. People did not have many children. The armies were recruited from the barbarians on the edge of the empire. The government offered rewards to people for having children and tried to penalize those who did not by higher taxes, withdrawal of privileges, and so on. There were forces in public life that favored familism and forces that did not. A marriage was at most only a civil contract that had many elements of private contract about it; the latter depended on the kind of marriage chosen. A man who wanted a binding civil contract chose the dignitas type of marriage. If he wanted a looser relationship which meant that the children, if any, remained with the mother's family and never received rights from the father, he chose the more flexible form called concubinatus. A woman who married according to dignitas was supposed to become a mother, and the family consisted of husband-wife, parents-children, and inner versus outer relatives. In the dignitas marriage, the woman left her own home more completely and "cleaved to her husband." However, she brought with her a dower or marriage portion, and her family retained an interest in it; consequently the family was always to some extent tied up with both paternal and maternal relatives. The child of such a marriage came under the potestas, or power, of the father, was given his name, and became his legitimate heir.

The concubinatus marriage, although a much looser relationship, was still a real marriage, subject to legal regulation and social consequences. However, these regulations were not so broad, and the social consequences were not so great, as in the dignitas marriage. The child remained with the mother and inherited from her; in the later period, by means of special legal forms the child could be adopted by his blood father and given the standing of one born of a dignitas marriage.

And so the difference of opinion continued through the latter days of the Roman Empire. The conservative forces of the state favored marriages of dignitas which would produce children to replenish the number of citizens born of Roman parents. Some of the people preferred marriages of dignitas, with or without children, and some marriages of the concubinatus type, with or without children.

Toward the last days of the Roman Empire a new force entered into this argument, the Christian church. This religious organization called the mores of the Roman family "decadent" and demanded reform after reform. The church recognized marriages of one kind only, dignitas. It insisted on the reform of the Roman dignitas marriage to make it a sacred and lasting union. It was opposed to divorce and every other form of "demoralization" throughout the Roman Empire. At first the Christians were severely prosecuted for "impiety" toward the Roman gods; every time a calamity occurred, it was the fashion to blame the difficulty on the Christians and to persecute some of them rigorously. But later, some of the emperors were converted and Christianity became a legal as well as a moral force. Then came a period when disciplinary legislation regarding the family was forced upon the people by the Christian emperors.

Romanism decayed, however, and many smaller regional governments replaced the central government that had ruled over most of civilization. A new force came into power-the emperors chosen by and descended from the barbarians of northern Europe, who were migrating to the districts of the old Roman Empire. Into these small states came a new type of family, the barbarian, an organization with an outlook entirely different from that of the Roman dignitas and concubinatus families. Marriage, to the barbarians, was not a private or a civil contract. To them it was a unity of family, a blood relationship, involving rights and duties far transcending anything Roman civilization had known for almost a thousand years. Marriage among the barbarians meant that the members of a family agreed to protect their relatives in case they committed crimes, to aid them when someone did an injury to them, to help financially if they had to pay a composition or wergild (a type of fine), and to receive part of the wergild or composition in case they fined and accepted payment from another family for the actions of its members. The Roman law family came into contact with the Beowulfian type of family and society.

By this time the Roman concubinatus family had disappeared under the censure of the Christian church, so that three types of family were struggling for domination. One Was the Roman civil law type of family, the dignitas, favored by the people used to Roman ways; a second was the unbreakable Christian marriage, the purified dignitas, favored by the bishops of the church; and the third was the barbarian trustee type, in which the household or small family came immediately under the larger family of outer relatives and clients and thus was an agent of the larger group. These types and their adherents-the Romans, the Christians, and the barbarians-struggled with each other.

The next serious change came between the tenth and twelfth centuries of our era when the governments gave way to the church. This was due partly to failures in the ability of governments to rule, and partly to a series of severe economic catastrophes that swept over Western society in the ninth and tenth centuries, bringing governments into disrepute. In large measure, however, this was undoubtedly due to the constant education carried on by the church, which insisted that only one type of family was capable of measuring up to the law of God as set forth by the church fathers from St. Augustine to Pierre Lombard and St. Thomas Aquinas.

For two or three centuries after this the only conception of the family in Western society, at least officially, was that of a family united under the aegis of the church, an unbreakable unit subject to all the rules and regulations of canon law. In most districts, however, the trustee barbarian family, shorn of most of its legal power, continued to rule much of the actual family life. Furthermore, within the church there were several heretical groups, Manicheans in particular, who wished to consider the family more in the Roman civil light as a secular and semiprivate institution than as a sacramental union of the church family or one subject to the clannish rules and regulations of the trustee barbarian family.

This general situation lasted for several centuries, during most of which time people gradually came to accept the Christian type of family outlined by canon law as the family. But underneath all this there was still a strong feeling of localism or "home rule," a spirit carried over from the trustee family type outlined by barbarian law for all northern Europe when the church first came into contact with the northern infidels. Finally, beginning with the Bohemian revolution which followed the death of John Huss in 1415, and the Lutheran movement about a century later, three conceptions of the family emerged again. One was the home-rule idea, a revival of local and familistic custom, more or less of the trustee type; another was the secular conception, which held that the family was an agent of the state, a civil contract, in which divorce by law should be considered; and the third was the original Christian family specifically set forth by canon law after long analysis of the spirit and conceptions of the Gospels by the church councils and canon-law doctors.

The Rise of the Private Contract Conception of the Family

These conflicting ideals of the family were at loggerheads with one another for several centuries. The rising national states were able to capitalize for themselves both on the home-rule conceptions in the remnants of the trustee family and on the spirit of secularism, which considered the family as a civil contract, although a serious and very holy arrangement. The church seriously discussed these proposed changes in the family at the Council of Trent, a long series of conferences following 1530. It stood by its original interpretation of the Christian family as one founded upon an unbreakable sacrament of marriage, entered into under the surveillance of the church, and with the free consent of the married partners. The Protestant Revolution and its doctrine, insofar as it concerned the family, offered one of the most serious challenges to the original Christian church. From that time until the French Revolution following 1789, the family was considered a holy arrangement created under God's influence, but not one of His original sacraments.

In the meantime, however, a number of "thinkers," the eighteenth-century rationalists, began to set forth from the standpoint of pure secular speculation a new conception of the family, one of private contract, with only limited civil consequences at the most. This group of men wrote mostly in French, but it also included a number of Germans and certain prominent Englishmen like Locke and Hume. Their idea, varying according to the thinker, held chiefly that the family was a private agreement between a man and woman, restricted by the state for public reasons, but having only limited civil functions. John Locke thought these functions were procreation, education, and inheritance after execution of which the marriage could, and should if wished, be dissolved at will. This was an idea distinctly different from the previous medieval conception of the family as an act designed by God, or by the all-powerful secular state, or by the all-embracing group of related persons, the clannish trustee family.

These ideas of the family as a private contract remained more or less pure speculations until the French Revolution, particularly during the period from 1793 to 1798. During this time an attempt was actually made, largely in law and completely in fact, to make marriage and the family such an agreement. This purely private conception of the family was followed, during the next century or so, by other experiments which attempted to do the same thing with parts of the Western family. One of these was a series of reforms in nineteenth-century America that endeavored to make divorce a pure reaction of the will of the local judge and to release women from legal responsibility in the family. Examples of the thinking of this period are the omnibus divorce clauses and the feme sole conception of married women. The feme sole idea looked upon the married woman as a single woman and, when carried to its full meaning, released her from the manus or common union with her husband. It resulted, in fact, in a form of social organization almost identical with that light sort of family popular under the early days of the Roman Empire, the concubinatus. A third experiment with the private family occurred during the Russian Revolution, following 1917, when the will of the parties concerned became, for a number of years, the dominant factor in the family. For a time a divorce action did not even require the consent of the other party, so that any marriage arrangement was merely an agreement which could be canceled at will by the unilateral wishes of either party. This practice was prevalent in France between 1794 and 1799, but never was so widespread as in the demoralization of Russian life during the 1920s.

A fourth experiment in the private contractual conception of the family is being carried on today, chiefly in America. Here it is more or less understood by all concerned that unless one party in the marriage disagrees, or appears before the judge and fights the case, all the old legal family safeguards are discarded. It used to be understood that the public would refuse a divorce to a married couple if one of them had condoned the act (permitted conjugal relations after the act was known to be committed), recriminated the act (done the same thing or similarly violated the marriage bond), or colluded the act (agreed to permit the violation in order to make a divorce possible). Those safeguards have now disappeared and the public has left the family restrictions largely to the enforcement of judges far away from the actual jurisdiction of the couple. Unless the parties themselves bring the evidence into court, a judge in Arkansas, Nevada, or several other states grants divorces almost automatically to persons who may reside as far away as Maine, Alaska, or South Carolina. The private contractual marriage and family have become established in the United States, although winked at by public opinion and the law. With only the partner's consent or his inability or unwillingness to make a public scandal, and particularly in the absence of children, anyone can get a divorce at will in America now, after a few weeks' temporary residence under a false jurisdiction. Of course, if the lawyers learn that the client can afford to pay more, the divorce will be more expensive.


Excerpted from FAMILY AND CIVILIZATION by Carle Zimmerman Copyright © 2008 by ISI Books. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction by Allan C. Carlson....................vii
1) Introduction....................1
2) Family Types and Civilization....................21
3) Fluctuation of the Family Bond....................37
4) From Late Roman to Trustee Familism....................45
5) The Trustee Family of the Dark Ages....................57
6) Rise of the Modern Domestic Family....................75
7) The Rise of Modern Atomism from the Reformation to the Nineteenth Century....................93
8) Philosophy and Familism in the Nineteenth Century....................123
9) The Nineteenth-Century Atomistic Family....................141
10) Disruption of Public Control of Familism....................165
11) The Western Family and the Purposes of Family Sociology....................179
12) The Dynamics of Familism....................185
13) The Trustee Family System-Causal Analysis....................203
14) The Domestic Family System-Causal Analysis....................221
15) The Atomistic Family System-Causal Analysis....................241
16) The Future of Family and Civilization....................263

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