Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Marriage and Morals, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 (pages 25-32): “The Dominion of the Father”

Once paternity is understood, “the love of power and the desire to survive death [p. 25]” supplement paternal feeling. Ambition encompasses the achievements of descendants. “In a matrilineal society family ambition would have to be confined to women, and as women do not do the fighting, such family ambition as they may have has less effect than that of men [p. 25].” So it is likely that the discovery of paternity increases competition and commotion; it also increases interest in the sexual virtue of wives.

Indeed, the instinctual component of male jealousy is commonly overrated. Male jealousy is strong in patriarchal societies because of “the fear of the falsification of descent [p. 26].” Even a man who cares more for his mistress than for his wife will be more jealous if a rival emerges for the affections of his wife than of his mistress. A father’s affection for his child “is a form of egotism [p. 26].”

The “discovery of fatherhood led to the subjection of women as the only means of securing their virtue… [p. 26]” – a subjection that initially was physical but became mental. “Owing to the subjection of women there has in most civilized communities been no genuine companionship between husbands and wives; their relation has been one of condescension on the one side and duty on the other [pp. 26-27]. [I am surprised here that Russell does not cite his godfather, John Stuart Mill, who noted the same fact in his essay “The Subjection of Women.” – RBR] No wonder Plato’s dialogues suggest that the male thinkers of Athens did not consider women to be “proper objects of serious love [p. 27]” – all the issues that the men cared about were not available to the contemplation of respectable women. “Love as a relation between men and women was ruined by the desire to make sure of the legitimacy of children. And not only love, but the whole contribution that women can make to civilization, has been stunted for the same reason [p. 27].”

The movement to a patrilineal society alters the economic system, as men inherit from their fathers and not their maternal uncles. This provides a closer-knit family, as property, authority and affection all are vested in the father. Patriarchy also brings about the interest men have in the virginity of their brides, because “it became of great importance to persuade women that all intercourse outside marriage is wicked [p. 28].”

Fathers tried to exploit fatherhood, and history is mainly about “the gradual decay of paternal power [p. 29],” as is suggested by ancestor worship. Fathers throughout history were vested with enormous powers over their families, and women were denied any period of independence, being subjected first to their father and then to their husband. Old women (somehow) acquired “almost despotic power within the household [p. 29],” especially over their daughter-in-laws.

Fathers originally acquire power in the household through superior strength but this is “reinforced by religion, which may in most of its forms be defined as the belief that the gods are on the side of the Government [p. 30].” Paternal power is reflected throughout society – even “the religious ideas of Christianity… are impregnated with the majesty of fatherhood [p. 30].” But as economic conditions changed, the admonition to multiply no longer matched self-interest. In Rome, upper-class women achieved near-equality with men – and ancient civilization was confined to a small percentage of the population, allowing it “to succumb to a great uprush of superstition from below. Christianity and the barbarian invasion destroyed the Greco-Roman system of ideas [p. 31].” Patriarchy remained, but had to align itself with Christian views on sex and individualism. The Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul lessened the interest men had in the success of their descendants, which previously had been their only route to a form of immortality.

Modern societies remain patrilineal, but the importance of patrimony and family is significantly diminished. Ambition resides in hope for a high position, not in a large number of offspring, so “traditional morals and theology have less force than they used to have [p. 32].”

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