Hail the Catholic Church for Forcing Monogamy Upon the Nobility: Chapter 5 of Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition

Prof. Ricardo Duchesne comments on Chapter 5 of Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition

Since the beginning of his academic career in the early 1980s, Kevin MacDonald has been wondering why only in the West “wealthy, powerful men” have not sought “to control ever larger numbers of women”. Evolutionary biology teaches that male reproductive success benefits greatly from the acquisition of multiple mates. In all societies, except those in which harsh ecological conditions limit the amount of surplus the society can generate, “it is expected that males with wealth and power” will employ their surpluses to “secure as many mates as possible”. This is evolutionary biology 101.

It is also what the historical record shows.

The elite males of all of the traditional civilization around the world, including those of China, India, Muslim societies, the New World civilizations, ancient Egypt, and ancient Israel, often had hundreds and even thousands of concubines.

White elite men were the only ones in history who did not follow this biologically prescribed tendency. We saw in Parts 3 and 4 (of my extended analysis of Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition) MacDonald’s argument that a genetic disposition for monogamy may have evolved among European men back in hunting and gathering times due to harsh environmental conditions in northwest Europe during the last glacial age. In chapter five, “The Church in European History,” which is the subject of this article, MacDonald explains that, while “the Catholic Church cannot be seen as originating monogamy,” this Church was very effective in regulating the sexual behavior of powerful aristocratic men, the ones most inclined to pursue sexual variety.

Many books have been written about how and why Catholicism birthed the modern world. The most popular one is Thomas E. Wood’s How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (2012). This book persuasively shows the indispensable role Catholicism played in the creation of universities, the promotion of science and rational law. It asks many interesting questions, such as: “How the Church humanized the West by insisting on the sacredness of all human life?” “How the idea of a rational, orderly universe — fundamental to the Catholic worldview, but absent in non-Christian cultures — made possible the flowering of science in West?”

MacDonald acknowledges the importance of Christian ideas in history. The crucial difference is that he wants to know whether these ideas were actually able “to exert a control function over behavior and evolved predispositions”. What stands out for MacDonald about the Catholic Church was its ability to regulate the sexual behavior of powerful White men in a monogamous direction away from the strong inclination of such men for polygamous relations. Essentially what the Church did was to instill strong religious norms (about mortal sin and punishment in Hell) in the mental processing of the higher brain centers of aristocratic men, damping down the instinctive appetite of the lower parts of the brain for multiple mates.

In this effort, MacDonald pays careful attention to Larry Siedentop’s book, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014). This book is about the Papal Revolution of the 11th and 12th centuries, which involved the establishment of the supremacy of the papacy over religious affairs, control over the selection of the clergy away from secular aristocrats, the revitalization of Roman law leading to development of Canon law, coupled with the moral restoration and expansion of monasteries manned by a clergy committed to celibacy and the weakening of kinship networks among traditional German aristocratic families. There was a concerted emphasis, this time in the history of the Western family, on marriage based on consent of spouses, prohibition of divorce even if the marriage was infertile, elaboration of rules against consanguineous marriages, and delegitimization of concubinage.

In other words, the Church promoted consensual and egalitarian marriage relations based on the free will of individual men and women. This is what Siedentop means by the Catholic “invention of individualism”. This individualism, according to Siedentop, was rooted both in the Christian notion that humans had individual souls with moral agency and equal value in the eyes of God and in the Greco-Roman idea that one could be a citizen of the polis regardless of tribal identities.

The collapse of Rome, however, and the conquering barbarian Germanic peoples, had resulted in the reinforcement of tribal identities. This is what the Catholic Church set out to undermine. It set out to break down “Germanic tribes organized as kinship groups based on biological relatedness among males,” while simultaneously harnessing their warrior ethos for the spread of Christianity. Codes of honor about one’s kindred and one’s war band, as well as marriage of blood relatives, were still quite strong among  Germanic barbarians, notwithstanding their individualist tendencies. MacDonald observes that the prohibition in the sixth century of consanguineous marriages among second cousins was extended by the eleventh century to sixth cousins.

Christian Collectivism Replaces Kin-Based Collectivism

But how can we say that the same medieval age everyone has characterized as “communal” and “collectivist” was the age in which the individualist tendencies of the West were consolidated? MacDonald is quick to point out that the Church itself took on the role of building in the West “a strong sense of group identification and commitment”. The “collectivism of European society in the High Middle Ages was real,” but it was a pan-European ideological-Christian form of collectivism set up against the in-group biological collectivism of smaller kinship groups. It was (if I may express MacDonald’s thesis in unmitigated terms) a collectivism of moral precepts operating at the conscious “higher brain centers located in the cortex” rather than at the instinctive biological levels of the reptilian and mammalian brain. It was a collectivism with its own ambitions for power set up “at the expense” of traditional sources of power — kings and the aristocracy with their persisting kinship networks — with the ability to provide power-seeking Christians incentives to join the expanding and revenue-generating institutional structures of the Church.

It was a collectivism that promoted Western individualism by promoting monogamy, individual choice in marriage outside one’s kinship network, and sexual restraint among powerful aristocratic men. MacDonald goes over other aspects of the Christianized monogamous families of the West, late marriage, relatively high number of unmarried women, celibacy, along with its attendant “low pressure” demographic profile, which lessened consumption of scarce resources and allowed for greater capital accumulation and economic well-being.

But the point I would like to emphasize is the implicit idea in MacDonald that a collective moral identity is consistent with the promotion (or existence) of individualism. Collectivism versus individualism is not the issue. There has never been, and there will never be, a society based on individualism alone. The question is both degree of individualism/collectivism, and the nature of the individualism and collectivism prevailing in a society. As I started arguing in Part 2, weak kinship/tribal ties are not a bad thing, but indeed allow for the rise of broader forms of collective identities, as occurred in ancient Greece when equal citizenship was granted to all native members of the city-state in order to avoid endless tribal conflicts.

Christianity ran against the particular kinship relations and interests of Germanic tribal groupings and aristocratic blood networks, and it did so by cultivating a moral community of believers. Many on the dissident right today blame Christianity for promoting universal values and the equality of human souls across the earth in the eyes of God. MacDonald does not blame Christianity. He does not argue that the Catholic Church created the conditions for the subsequent rise of multicultural collective norms. He is aware, as we will see in future parts, that the same leftists who advocate for the breakdown of biologically-based identities have created powerful moral communities which stand against individual dissent. Instead of calling the West a flat out “individualist” culture, we should rethink very carefully the changing relationships and substantive natures underlying the uniquely Western dialectic between individualism and collectivism.

We will see in our examination of chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 of MacDonald’s Individualism and the Western Tradition that he looks at other intervening stages in the rise of Western individualism, including the way Jewish intellectuals transformed Western individualism into a call for the complete erosion of Western ethnocentric collectivism. One anticipatory question I will allow myself to make now is whether we can look at the rise of Western nationalism in the modern era as a rational strategy by European ethnic groups freed from restrictive tribal identities on the basis of broader territorial ties, historical memories, linguistic similarities, and ethnic lineages.

From their inception, Western national states were heavily ethnic-oriented territories with strict immigration controls up until the 1970s — the most efficient fighting machines and engines of growth created in human history. But increasingly since WWII Whites have been made to believe that the very idea of sovereignty goes against the principle of individual freedom because it “discriminates” against individuals from other nations who have a “human right” to become citizens of Western nations. Europeans need to understand that their individualism can only be fulfilled within a nation state that recognizes the reality of racial and sexual groupings.

There are no chapters in MacDonald’s book on nationalism, and I have never conducted an in depth study of the grand epoch of Western nationalism. But in light of MacDonald’s insights about the peculiar dissolution of Western kinship ties and the rise of individualism, we should start thinking about the dissolution of kinship ties as a process whereby Europeans were trying to generate wider forms of collective identity controllable by the higher brain centers, beyond the lower Darwinian drives that came to prevail in the non-Western world.

This article originally appeared at Eurocanadian.ca.


11 replies
  1. Yves Vannes
    Yves Vannes says:

    The Church normalizing monogamy may be a result of rather than a cause of. 

    In rebuilding Europe after the Roman collapse and the Muslim incursions, those in a position of influence cobbled together what they judged to be applicable local customs and married those to Roman order as practiced by the Church of their day.  The collapse and outside threats had created social chaos at every level within Europe.  This turned neighbor against neighbor, village against village,…lord against vassal, and so on.  Symbiotic order barely existed. Uncertainly drove people to competitive levels of violence and envy thus driving chaos which again and again fed back into continued outbreaks and the threat of violence at all social levels.

    The Carolingian period set a foundation by drawing in all Europeans into a renewed social order and empire.  The Christianity that had spread into Europe had a much more stoical flavor to it than does the sort of Christianity found outside of Europe (including the ascetics of North Africa).  This fits in well with older forms of especially northern European communal and tribal systems where there was a lot of give and take.  Monogamy may be one more manifestation in how Nordic sensibility married to Roman order developed itself.  It was individualism defined by give-and-take between groups, neighbors, castes, generations, husband and wife…To assume a liberty is to assume a responsibility. The individual though less tied to kinship becomes more dependent upon and responsible to the commons.

    To muddle a line from the other JC: The Neocortex gives us rules, which give us order, which gives us civilization.

  2. Pierre de Craon
    Pierre de Craon says:

    Doctor MacDonald’s chapter is probing, fact-laden, and rich in insight. Professor Duchesne’s appreciation and analysis are complementarily specific and enlightening. The unexamined, poorly supported generalizations in the first comment on this page contribute nothing comparable.

    • Yves Vannes
      Yves Vannes says:

      Civilization operates at a conscious level and at an instinctive barely noticed level that often takes a few generations to even begin to notice the changes brought about by innate natural forces.

      The idea that humans are capable of understanding all the forces at work upon man and society is an Enlightenment conceit.

      Innate aesthetic preferences and how those preferences manifest themselves are not governed by reason or some sort of rationalization.

      Man may chart part of that course but nature’s forge does the rest.

    • Al Ross
      Al Ross says:

      If one looks for fact – laden and rich in insight , we must look to Matthew 10 :23.

      Jesus speaks to His apostles and tells them that He will return before they are able to spread the word ( of His return ) throughout all of the cities of Israel.

      The word has probably spread by now . Any attempt to find a Jew in Israel who has not heard of Him may be met with failure.

      • Pierre de Craon
        Pierre de Craon says:

        I don’t look to Professors Duchesne and MacDonald for eschatology. That is not their brief. Wittingly or not, however, they are doing the Lord’s work.

        The message of this section of Matthew concerns inevitability and ultimately hope. The small-e eschaton (for lack of a better term) of Christ’s return to Israel was made manifest in the richly merited destruction of Jerusalem and its idolatrous temple in 71 AD. (The Jews’ own writings and actions from that point on demonstrate that even they have understood this characterization to be true, whatever their pro forma denials of same for Gentile consumption.) The capital-E version does not appear to be in the offing, but who can say for sure? My own pessimism is virtually bottomless, but its scope is strictly terrestrial and will remain so.

  3. Richard B
    Richard B says:

    “But the point I would like to emphasize is the implicit idea in MacDonald that a collective moral identity is consistent with the promotion (or existence) of individualism. Collectivism versus individualism is not the issue. There has never been, and there will never be, a society based on individualism alone. The question is both degree of individualism/collectivism, and the nature of the individualism and collectivism prevailing in a society.”

    These are some of the most important sentences ever written, I submit, on the subject of our history as a people.

    The all important subject of collectivism and individualism is not Either/Or, it’s Both/And.

  4. Beir Bua
    Beir Bua says:

    This is a superb piece of work
    Interesting to pose the question in relation to the implementation of Islam in Europe and Ireland in particular as a top-down project. Do theses elites see the benefits of imposing an Islamic culture (with liberal attitudes to paedophilia/multiple mates/homosexuality) as more in line with their ambition to materialize/legalize their lifestyle choices? It would be more advantageous to the furtherance of this agenda to promote a collateral Islamization of European societies rather than than having to endure the constraints which are fundamental to the cultural traditions of Christendom.
    The two previous commentaries are very interesting also and are not mutually exclusive.
    The price of freedom is vigilance-eternal vigilance

  5. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    The Catholic church enforced celibacy on the priest class, this was dysgenic. Imagine what Jews would be if Rabbis could not reproduce and every time someone was born with qualities similar to a Rabbi, they would be prevented from reproducing. This is what the Catholic church did. If Jews did that to themselves they would be without guidance.

    The European nobility are descended of a warrior class, in Roman culture the warriors and politicians would have been advised by an advisor class. The fact that the Witan(advisors) in Anglo-Saxon society were priests, indicates that the institution of priestly celibacy perhaps decimated bloodlines associated with the historic advisors.

    In the Anglo-Saxon chronicle it states the Witan are the real powers that be, and that the King is just a figurehead and mouthpiece of the Witan. The lack of self-determination among White people is related to the dysgenic effects of clerical celibacy upon advisor bloodlines.

    • Trenchant
      Trenchant says:

      Where’s the evidence of dysgenic effects of clerical celibacy? That Western mating strategies are different from Jewish ones doesn’t mean the former are worse. Only a minority of those “born with qualities similar to a Rabbi” chose (or were chosen by family) to become priests and one can’t say that those gene sets were somehow superior.

    • Pierre de Craon
      Pierre de Craon says:

      Permit me to say, without sarcasm or ill will, that if you truly believe that the qualities that equip a man to be a priest and those that equip a man to be a rabbi are either the same or even somewhat commensurate, you have been gravely misled.

  6. Prince of Aileach
    Prince of Aileach says:

    There appears a glaring error.

    Catholic practice in the West is four degrees of separation, not counting the rootstock.

    Catholic practice in the East is six degrees of separation.

    Although I grew up among Mediterranean converts who retained first-coussin marriages.

    More is found under the heading: Mode of Calculation.

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