Familial Politics

2004-12-26

In Genes, People, and Languages, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza discusses some suggestive theories regarding family structure and political outlook (184-185):

Hervé Le Bras and Emmanuel Todd (1981) have recently refined ideas by the French sociologist Fredericq Le Play. They believe three major types of families exist in France: (1) The family with absolute patriarchal authority in the northwest in which the head of the household makes all decisions on behalf of the family's members, a custom that may have been inherited from the Celts. (2) A more relaxed form of patriarchy that emphasizes mutual support and allows the children to marry, have children, and continue to live in the family home if they are unable to support themselves. Older members also live in the family home if they are unable to support themselves. This type of family is common in the southwest in an area that corresponds, at least according to genetic data, to the proto-Basque area. (3) The strictly nuclear family frequent in the northeast, in which children can marry and have children only if they have the ability to live independently. This practice is most frequent where the Franks had the greatest influence. Franks were barbarians of Germanic origin who conquered France in the early Middle Ages and later extended their control to the rest of France. It is interesting to note that recent historical research has shown that this type of family was also common in Germany and in England after the Anglo-Saxon conquest. This arrangement that, among other things, encourages youth to relocate in the search for employment probably favored industrial development.

Le Bras and Todd have proposed a controversial but stimulating hypothesis that says family structure influences political outlook: customs learned in the family microcosm largely determine those that will be more easily accepted when the young are introduced to the social macrocosm. Family members search for social systems that mimic, to some extent, the family life with which they are familiar. That is why monarchy and authoritarian systems may be more popular in northwest France than in the southwest, where the Socialist vote is quite strong; in the northeast, the vote favors a free market economy. Todd (1990) applied this analysis with success to other parts of the world.


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