Monday, September 07, 2009

On matriarchy and matrilineal societies

Friedrich Engel's treatise The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State answers some of my questions about the inevitability of the modern patriarchal social structure*. You may read the relevant English-translated text here.

Engels describes patrilineage and patriarchy emerging as a result of the pairing family: in early communistic societies where men did not have pairing relationships with women, property belonged to the matriarchal gens (group of families). The notion of private property developed after the domestication of animals. Since it was the man's part to obtain food and the instruments of labor for obtaining food, the man owned the tools, the cattle, and the slaves. The children, however, belonged to the mother's gens, so they could not inherit from their father. This caused mother-right to be overthrown and replaced with patrilineage and patriarchy. The monogamous family**, which develops out of pairing family, is based on the supremacy of man because its "express goal" is to "produce children of undisputed paternity."

While this is clearly part of a greater argument against private wealth***, Engels addresses some interesting issues about the origin and role of male dominance. This piece confirms many of my hypotheses about the subject; I would be interested in reading more sources.

* I have been wondering about matrilineal and matriarchial societies; I would be grateful for any sources on matriarchal societies!
** Monogamy strengthens the pairing tie with the expectation that it will not be dissolved.
*** I make no claim to agree or disagree with his argument against private wealth. One should, however, always be suspicious of learning history from treatises!


Jesse A. Tov said...

It seems dubious that Engels, in 1884, had any clue what he was talking about. His evidence appears to be primarily literary, and his "primitive promiscuity" hypothesis doesn't seem to have survived into the 20th century, for what it's worth.

Skimming it briefly, he seems to have a teleological notion of society's development, and he commits the naturalistic fallacy several times. This doesn't seem very credible. Maybe if you're interested in this, you'd learn more from more modern anthropology. I recommend Richard Wrangham's Demonic Males, to start.

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