Whites invented monogamy and therefore they must be credited with inventing the family since you can’t have affectionate devotion between husbands and wives, parents and children, in a polygynous society where marrying more than one woman and having multiple children with different mothers is an acceptable norm.
Throughout all the societies witnessed in history, except the societies created by Europeans, humans practiced polygamy for the simple reason that this was a naturally selected mating strategy which allowed for the transmission of the genes of the most biologically fit men. Only Europeans, long ago in ancient times, and thereafter for the 2500 years, would extoll, in the words of Plutarch (46-120 AD), “the union for life between a man and a woman for the delights of love and the getting of children”. And only Europeans would denounce polygamy as a “wicked” and “treacherous” institution that harmed wives and children, created a large pool of lower status men competing for scarce wives, and threatened good citizenship and political stability.
The ancient Greeks would be the first people to impose monogamous marriage and pass laws against polygamy — because they were the first to discover the mind and to separate their ego consciousness from its embeddedness in nature, which allowed them to transcend the biologically evolved psychological inclination humans have for polygamy. They were the first to know that truth can only be the resultant of the mind’s judgment and its reflection on its own actions, and thereby develop a mental capacity to make history according to their own intentionally decided norms above the world of polygynous kin-based norms. By culturally mandating monogamy, and forcing high status men to focus on their families, the West redirected the energies of high status men towards the creation of the most fit societies in the world. It is no accident that cultural Marxists are targeting the monogamous nuclear family as the foundational institution of “white privilege”.
The Biology of Polygamy
Most human societies throughout have accepted polygynous marriage. Almost all hunter-gatherer societies around the world, about 90 percent, “had some degree of polygynous marriage”. The hunter and gatherer societies that were “monogamous” were so because resources were too scarce for some men to accumulate extra resources to invest in additional wives. In the primitive societies that were polygynous only about 14 percent of men and 22 percent of women were polygynously married because only the men with the ability to acquire extra resources had the means to support more than one wife. This does not mean, of course, that most men were in “monogamous” relationships; many had a hard time finding partners. But the point I will stress is that monogamy can only be said to exist when it is a culturally-mandated norm in opposition to high status men who are biologically inclined for polygamous marriage. Monogamy first became a legally imposed norm in ancient Greece and Rome, and then in medieval Europe.
Once societies began to practice agriculture and increasing inequalities between classes emerged, with some men appropriating large tracts of land worked by low status peasants, the acquisition of multiple wives by a few men intensified. Only 15 percent of agricultural societies in the Ethnographic Atlas are identified as “monogamous”. With the rise of complex chiefdoms and civilizations, it became customary for the high ranking men to have multiple wives, with some kings having a few elite wives and several thousand secondary wives.
This should not surprised us. Monogamous pair bonding does not exist among any species in the world living in large groups like Homo sapiens. Our closest relatives are highly promiscuous and didn’t form pair bonds. Humans did evolve a psychological disposition for emotional pair bonding and for men to invest in the children of their sexual partner. But both males and females were naturally selected to favor polygynous marriage. This may seem odd since males and females evolved different mating strategies, with females limited in their reproduction to the number of children they can raise due to ovulation, gestation, and lactation. Males, however, can produce sperm over their life time and potentially have thousands of offspring. Males are very strongly inclined to favor multiple mates since this means greater reproduction and greater biological “fitness”. Females can only have one pregnancy at a time. Having multiple sexual mates does not augment their reproductive success but harms it by creating confusion and conflict among males over paternity, and minimizing their willingness for parental investment. Nevertheless, females do have their own particular type of “polygyny bias”.
Females want to form a pair-bond with those males who can best guarantee support for her during pregnancy and during the maturation of the child. They want security and comfort. Therefore, they are psychologically inclined to gravitate toward high status men with resources. This means that in a world where high status men are always seeking and acquiring multiple wives, and many low status men are being deprived of sexual mates, young females will have a larger pool of males to choose husbands from than would be available in a society where monogamy was the law. While they would prefer to be the singular wives of high status men, given the option of marrying a low status man who can’t provide security, or becoming part of a polygynous household with lots of resources and much to learn from older co-wives, she would prefer to be the wife of a married man.
Polygyny, then, is a naturally selected institution consistent with the evolved psychologies of humans. It is not the weird institution naïve Westerners are inclined to think. Monogamy is the weird institution, because it is a culturally-mandated institution that counters the evolved mating inclinations of humans for polygamy. All other peoples on the earth remained attached to their psychological predisposition for polygamy until the monogamous West awoke them from their biological slumber with their incredible economic success and military expansion, forcing them to adopt monogamous institutions.
“Intergroup competition” — the competition of nation states for geopolitical power — motivated the non-Western world to copy Western secular institutions, not just monogamy, but a whole array of Western practices, rule of law, constitutions, elections, and scientific methodologies. While non-Western states did not get rid of all the kinship characteristics that underlay their age-old bureaucratic institutions, they did come to the realization that they needed to weaken the intensity of their kinship relationships in order to limit clannish ingroup favoritism and nepotism, as well the deleterious effects of powerful clans continually contesting for power and obstructing the creation of a centralized modern nation state.
Polygyny is a Dysfunctional Institution
The above draws on what Henrich says in chapter 8, “WEIRD Monogamy,” and a 60+ page Affidavit he wrote for the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 2010 under the title “Polygyny in Cross Cultural Perspective: Theory and Implications”. Both these sources offer a detailed discussion of the negative effects polygyny brings to societies. The Affidavit makes a powerful case against the legalization of polygyny today.
The main problem with polygynous marriages is that they “generate a large pool of low-status unmarried men with few prospects for marriage or even sex”. Large percentages of unmarried men are associated with increased crime rates and general anti-social behavior. Polygynous men invest less in their offspring both because they tend to have more children and because they dedicate more resources pursuing additional wives. Polygyny also “drives down the age of first marriage for (all) females on average,” and thus increases the inequality between men and women.
|Ethiopia: 12 wives, 78 children|
Moreover, it has been shown that “getting married and becoming a father lowers man’s testosterone”. The level of testosterone (T) influences men’s psychology; men with lower T are less aggressive and impulsive, and more able to self-discipline their emotions and allow the prefrontal cortices of their brains a greater say over decision-making. Getting married suppresses T levels, and therefore the likelihood of property crimes, drug abuse, gambling and violent aggression. Levels of T also “affect a person’s assessment of the trustworthiness of strangers”. Monogamous men are more inclined to trust strangers and to behave according to impartial principles. In polygynous societies, men’s T levels don’t decline with age because they remain on the marriage market. Studies have shown that marriage cuts the overall crime rate by about 35 percent.
For all these reasons Henrich concluded in his Affidavit that, in contrast to polygamy, the “institutions of monogamous marriage influence human mating and parental investment efforts in such a way to generate beneficial societal-level outcomes”. In chapter 8 he further observed “that monogamous marriage norms…create a range of social and psychological effects that give the societies that possess them a big edge in competition against other groups” (263).
Monogamy Increases “Internal Solidarity”
So, was monogamy originated by Westerners because they understood that it gave them a “big edge in competition with other groups”? This is the view Henrich takes in the Affidavit, but not in chapter 8. We have seen in earlier commentaries that a key claim of The WEIRDest People is that the imposition of monogamy against polygamy was “unintentionally” done by the Church in the Middle Ages without any awareness of its beneficial effects. The Church abolished kinship groups for the land it stood to gain from the separation of ownership from clan groups. The Church was also “peculiarly obsessed” with regulating the natural sexual impulses of humans. This is not the view Henrich takes in the Affidavit.
In the Affidavit he suggests that monogamy was intentionally invented by the ancient Greeks in lieu of their understanding that this institution, by limiting the number of wives high status men could acquire, and thus affording higher numbers of men greater opportunities to find a wife, increased the “internal solidarity” of city states and augmented their competitive capacities. It is worth citing in full Henrich’s earlier views on the invention of monogamy:
Historians and anthropologists trace the origins of modern monogamy, which spread across the world with the global expansion of Europe after 1500, back through Rome to the Greek city states…Under European and at times specifically Christian missionary influence, monogamy spread throughout the Americas, Australia, and Oceania, and eventually into Asia. Legal monogamy was adopted rather recently in many places: in 1880 in Japan, 1955 in India, 1963 in Nepal, 1953 in China.
Greek city states first legally instituted monogamy as part of many different reforms, including elements of democratic governance, which were meant to build egalitarian social solidarity among their citizenries. Prior to this, all accounts suggest polygyny was common, at least among the nobility, and monogamy was a strange “Greek idea” (instituted legally in the early sixth century BCE). While Greek monogamy limited each male citizen to a single wife, it was considered acceptable to import sex slaves, and wealthy men did. This approach is interesting because it addresses one of the fundamental social dilemmas posed by polygynous marriage systems, by keeping local women available to poor men for marriage (avoiding the problems created by poor unmarried males) while at the same time allowing rich men broad access to “imported” women.
It is not entirely clear, but the Romans likely inherited and further developed the monogamy of the Greeks…Rome outlawed polygamy and regulated this with laws about sexual behavior, birth legitimacy, and inheritance. Bigamists could be prosecuted for adultery…
Later, Augustus felt Roman morality was declining and weakening his empire, so he instituted a series of reforms in an effort to get every man from age 25 to 60 to be married. Augustus evidently believed that making sure most men were monogamously married would strengthen Rome. Legal changes included: a) restricting married men from having extra-marital relationships with women who were not registered prostitutes, b) limiting the size of the inheritance that unmarried men could receive, c) making divorce a formal legal process (to discourage serial monogamy, and d) eliminating concubinage for married men and making the offspring of concubines unable to inherit wealth. A series of Roman emperors after Augustus…continued to enforce these legal principles and adapt the law. The evolution of this aspect of the Roman legal system is intimately intertwined with the emergence of greater sexual equality under the law.
Early Christian ideas about monogamy and sexual purity are a combination of the evolving Roman ideals and notions drawn from Greek stoicism. Christian ideals solidified and eventually spread throughout Europe (which was highly polygynous in the pre-Christian era and during the early days of Christianity). These ideas do not come from Judaism (which permitted polygynous marriage until at least the 11th century), or the Christian Gospels. At best the New Testament offers some vague recommendations for monogamy among Church leaders in the Pastoral Letters. In the Old Testament, the prophets and kings are all polygynous.
European aristocracies, which derived from clan-based tribal societies, were highly polygynous in the 5th century. However, all sought alliances with the Catholic Church, which worked vigorously to impose monogamous marriage on the aristocracy. As European kings gradually converted to Christianity…the Church increasingly controlled their marriages, and thus their legitimate heirs (that is, they controlled who had right to political power). Since the lower strata of these societies, who were rapidly adopting Christianity, were economically limited to monogamous marriage anyways, the main line of resistance came from the nobility. Once the nobility began to accept monogamous marriage…general monogamy and associated laws followed. The medieval Church continued to adjust and spread the doctrines that reinforced monogamous marriage.
Historians have argued that this was one of the great achievements of the middle ages, to put the peasants and the nobility on the same footing with regard to marriage, and it may have been a key step in the development of modern notions of equality–both of the equality among men, and of male-female equality…
As noted above, modern monogamy spread out from Europe because these societies were so successful, militarily, economically, and politically. Monogamy has even now been made law in some Islamic countries…The possibility that normative (often imposed) monogamous marriage was causal in the successful global expansion of European societies is something that becomes increasingly plausible when we examine the societal-level effects of monogamy.
It should be noted that in making these claims Henrich relied primarily on two articles Kevin MacDonald published in 1990 and 1995, referencing him a total of 7 times. Why did Henrich abandon this earlier view? Why did he adopt the view that monogamy was created “inadvertently” by a Church obsessed with the natural sexual drives of humans? Why did he conclude in his book that monogamy did not exist in ancient Greece and Rome simply on the grounds that males “could purchase sex slaves, take foreigners as concubines, and use inexpensive brothels”? Why are MacDonald’s publications nowhere to be found in the bibliography of his book?
|Statue depiction of Ancient Roman Matrimonium|
Before looking at the origins of monogamy in ancient Greece, let me belabor an argument I made earlier that, while the Church was certainly motivated by economic interests, these interests were set in conscious opposition to the power of the aristocracy, a power which the Church likely understood to be based on polygamous kinship ties. The Church was motivated by a strong belief in the moral superiority of monogamy, by a “new sexual morality” it came to promote against sexual activity outside marriage, sex with minors, divorce, concubinage, infanticide, and abortion. The Bible was not the original source for monogamous marriage. The Old Testament permitted polygamy and the New Testament did not make any substantial calls for monogamy. The principle of monogamy came to the Catholic Church in-through the Greek-Roman cultural ecumene where monogamy had long been a culturally mandated institution. It was a Hellenized Christianity that would go on to elaborate in antiquity a new sexual morality against polygynous unions. This is the cultural background from which to understand the Church’s family program.
Monogamy Was Invented in Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks originated monogamy, and they did so because they came to understand that the polygamous practices of aristocrats in charge of clans was a major obstacle to the inducement of internal solidarity within the new city-states they created. The city-state was a totally new institutional arrangement, a new way of grouping humans on the basis of the reason-based concept of “citizen” in opposition to the traditional norm that membership depended on lineage and tribal origin. Before the creation of city-states and the rise of family farms after 700 BC, aristocratic men with their military retinues, polygamous relationships, and large landholdings, were the main competitors for the alliances of the local population. The statesman Solon (630-560 BC) opposed the endless squabbles of these clannish aristocrats in the name of a new ideal of good order and harmony between men (eunomia). He was against the kin-based, ingroup norms of the aristocrats. Solon wanted a legal code applied equally to all male citizens. And he recognized the indispensable contribution to the harmony of the city state of independent family farmers. These free farmers were included as citizens.
MacDonald, in a forthcoming review-essay of Henrich’s book, counters Henrich’s argument that monogamy was not real in Greece because high status men “could also purchase sex slaves, take foreigners as concubines, and use numerous inexpensive brothels”. The essence of MacDonald’s critique is that Solon introduced laws on marriage aimed at curbing “the power of the aristocracy by limiting the benefits to be gained by extra-marital sexual relationships”. Solon’s law made monogamy the only form of union between a man and woman that could engender legitimate children “with the possibility of inheritance”. Solon’s laws provided for “state-subsidized brothels staffed with cheap and therefore readily available female prostitutes” in order to alleviate the polygynous inclination of men. This fact does not negate the monogamous character of ancient Greece since children born outside a monogamous marriage were not recognized as biological members of the household and were excluded from any inheritance. Prostitution and concubinage was “a substitute for polygyny by the wealthy”.
Henrich pays little attention to the scholarly literature portraying ancient Greece as a monogamous culture. W.K. Lacy’s, The Family in Classical Greece (1968), and Cynthia Patterson’s, The Family in Greek History (2001) are not listed in his otherwise extensive bibliography. He lists articles by W. Scheidel, including “A peculiar institution? Greco-Roman monogamy in global context“. Perhaps he thought that Scheidel’s observation that Greco-Roman monogamy “accommodated a variety of men’s polygynous relationships outside the nuclear family” disqualified calling these cultures monogamous. But this is not the conclusion Scheidel reaches. In this article he says that Greeks (and Romans) regarded polygamy as a “barbarian custom or a mark of tyranny”. The thesis of another paper by Scheidel that Henrich references reads: “Greek and Roman men were not allowed to be married to more than one wife at a time
and not meant to cohabit with concubines during marriage, and not even rulers were exempt from
Europeans Transcended Evolved Human Preference for Polygamy
Did Greeks invent monogamy in awareness of the flaws of polygamy? This question is connected in turn to another crucial question: why not a single culture outside the West mandated monogamy and condemned polygamy until after they felt pressured by the incredible success of the West? The presence of monogamy in the European world of hunter-gatherers should not qualify as the original historical example of monogamous marriage since this was due to ecological conditions, or to the fact that resources were scarce and divided relatively equal among men. As it is, in all polygynous societies one finds men with only one wife. This does not mean that these societies were majority monogamous. The issue is: why Greece was the first culture to prohibit polygyny among high status men economically able to give satisfaction to their evolved disposition for polygamy?
In The WEIRDest People Henrich prefers to downplay the role of conscious intentionality in the creation of institutions. He believes that “in nearly all societies, individuals don’t consciously design the most important elements of their institutions and certainly don’t understand how or why they work” (p. 94). He says “nearly all societies” without mentioning a society which has consciously planned its institutions. Perhaps the exceptions he has in mind are Western modern nations where we clearly witness in the post-French revolutionary era the rise of ideologies calling for the restructuring of institutions according to rationally planned programs. It seems odd that the same Henrich who tells us that free will, intentionality, and rationality are quintessential psychological traits of WEIRD people also tells us that Westerners are no more conscious than non-WEIRD people who are “enmeshed in kin-based organizations”. Non-WEIRD people living in tribal societies are indeed enmeshed in relationships in an unreflective manner, followers of unquestioned customs, unable to think beyond what is given, with a very limited identity of the self. But how can the very same people who began to talk about “free will”, invented logic and deductive reasoning, and articulate ideals about how to build better states (Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics) be deprived of any intentionality?
Henrich much prefers to argue that monogamy was instituted by Catholics as a way to grab the collectively owned lands of clans. Reviewers of his book are enjoying this interpretation for it attributes the creation of the modern world to Europeans without crediting them. This take is quite reminiscent of the popular claim that Europeans moved ahead only because Columbus “accidentally stumble” upon the New World and its riches. He ignores the many medieval Catholic theologians who argued on moral grounds that marriage should be treated as a sacramental union formed by the free and voluntary consent of both husband and wife. This refusal to attribute intentionality to Europeans in their road to greatness fits neatly with the university mandated policy that academics must celebrate racial diversity and cultural equality. But it does not fit the evidence. Europeans were the only people in history to rise above the evolved animalistic impulses for polygamy to which the other races of the world remained entrapped until they were taught otherwise by white men.
While writing this commentary I learned about a major new study — unmentioned in Henrich’s bibliography — The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy (2015) by John Witte, which decisively shows that, from the fourth century BC, Greek philosophers, Plato, Aristotle, and Roman Stoics, eulogized monogamous marriage as the proper way to create a family and raise children. They saw monogamy as the “most beneficial” form of union between a man and a woman for a society to prosper. For long Western nations treated “polygamy as a malum in se offense—something bad in itself.” When Catholics set out to demolish polygamous kinship groups they did so in full cognition of the merits of monogamy for the raising of a family and the harmonious functioning of society. They understood that polygamy makes for tyrannical governments, despotism and barbarism, whereas monogamy makes for republican states and civilization. Europeans did not become WEIRD because they accidentally abolished polygamous kinship groups. They abolished polygamy because they were the first to start the emancipation of consciousness from norms dictated by the biological inclinations of humans.