And speaking of Todd (see below), I really was speaking of Todd last Monday night, into Patrick Crozier‘s portable computer. Our conversation (click here to hear it) lasted just under half an hour. Like Patrick I felt, immediately after our conversation had ended, that it bordered on the shambolic, but it was his thing, so I said, if you think it’s okay, okay. Listening to it today, I find that I agree with Patrick. It is okay. Yes, I faff and fluff and fudge, but as I explain, what attracts me to Todd’s grand theorising is precisely its simplicity. In essence the story he tells is very straightforward. Anthropology is ideological destiny. Literacy sparks the ideological explosion and then, when the rubble has settled and the blood has dried, it is economic development. (Also fertility control.) However, the ramifications of this story are almost unimaginably complex. As, presumably, if I can find such, is any academic debate about the story’s truth or falsehood (of combination of the two). So, don’t blame me for not talking very fluently about the fine detail. If I could link to some exhaustive scholarly reaction to Todd, I would be mightily relieved. But, on the internet, I have found only tantalising rumours, and cold trails.
This is, as stated above, my fourth Emmanuel Todd blog posting here, the previous three being here, here and here, or get all my Emmanuel Todd postings by choosing the Emmanuel Todd category here, bottom left.
L’Enfance du Monde: Structure Familiale et Développement by Emmanuel Todd was first published in 1984, and first published in English in 1987, as The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change. Here is the Foreword (pp. xiii-xiv of my hardback edition of the English translation by Richard Boulind):
The present book is one step on the way towards a new interpretation of historical change. It emphasizes the influence of stable anthropological factors within the modernization process itself. Although self-contained, it is none the less the logical sequel to The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985).
The anthropological analysis of social systems singles out family structure as the decisive explanatory variable – that is to say, the elementary relationships of parents with children, brothers with sisters, husbands with wives. But anthropology is here no more than a tool. It makes it possible to settle some basic problems, for which the social sciences of the present day are finding it hard to offer any solutions at all. The question posed in The Explanation of Ideology concerned the spread of modern ideologies across the globe. I set out to explain why communism has come to dominate certain regions, liberalism others, and social democracy yet others; likewise to explain the predominance, elsewhere, of the Catholic Right, or of ideologies that from the European point of view are unclassifiable, such as Muslim fundamentalism, Buddhist socialism or the Indian caste system. In The Explanation of Ideology the analysis of relationships between parents and their children – authoritarian or liberal – and of relationships between brothers – egalitarian or inegalitarian – led to a typology of family types which geographically coincided fairly closely with the mapped distribution of adherence to the great ideologies. The purpose of this second book is to analyse development, here not considered as a purely economic, short-term phenomenon, but as a very long-term cultural and anthropological movement stretching over centuries rather than decades. Its most important aspect is not so much industrial growth as the rise in literacy, the increase in the proportion of people able to read and write from 0 to 99 per cent.
Here, as in the realm of political science, no explanation has so far proved acceptable. One can readily describe – with a wealth of statistical detail – the development of certain countries, first cultural then economic: endogenous development so far as north-western Europe is concerned, exogenous development first in the case of southern Europe, then in part of the Third World. But no reasonable hypothesis has been proposed and tested that can explain such differences – apart from those magnificent tautologies that pronounce that growth results from rates of investment having risen above a certain percentage of the gross national product. Of course that is true. But why have they done so there and not somewhere else? Or at that particular date, rather than at some other?
The method adopted here is simple; as in any scientific undertaking, the objective is to explain the maximum number of facts by the minimum number of hypotheses. The complexity of observed phenomena should be reduced to the simplicity of a few underlying laws. In the case of relations between family structures and ideologies, an extreme degree of simplification proved to be attainable, since the political typology fitted strictly within an anthropological one, each existing ideology being produced by a different family type. In the case of development, each family system may be considered as having a specific potential – cultural rather than political, this time – ranking either as ‘very high’, ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’. But the geographical diffusion of culture puts shading into the model, and sets up areas of development that extend beyond the limits of certain anthropological areas dominated by specific family types.
Though complementary with one another, the typologies put forward in The Causes of Progress and in The Explanation of Ideology are none the less distinct: within the family system the elements responsible for ideological alignment, on the one hand, and cultural development, on the other, differ somewhat. One element the two typologies do have in common is the style of authority typical of the parent-child relationship, which simultaneously affects both realms: ideology and culture. Other elements are different, though linked by structural relationships. The concept of the equality or inequality of brothers is fundamental to the analysis of ideologies. But the husband-wife relationship, exhibiting as it does a greater or a lesser degree of feminism, is essential to the analysis of development. A synoptic table given in the conclusion (p. 180) indicates the exact matching of the categories employed in the two books.
I have already done two postings about the French historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd. In the first, I sketched out Todd’s Explanation of Ideology, as described in his book of that name (in its English translation). In the second posting, I simply listed the eight families into which Todd classifies the world’s people, together with the countries in which each family type prevails.
I now want to quote Todd himself. Below are a couple of chunks from the introduction, entitled “democracy and anthropology”, to The Explanation of Ideology, translated into English by David Garrioch.
First, the first few pages of that introduction (pp. 1-6 in my 1985 Blackwell hardback edition):
No theory has so far succeeded in explaining the distribution of political ideologies, systems and forces on our planet. No one knows why certain regions of the world are dominated by liberal doctrines, others by social democracy or Catholicism, by Islam or by the Indian caste system, and others again by concepts which defy classification or description, like Buddhist socialism.
No one knows why communism has triumphed after a revolutionary struggle in Russia, China and Yugoslavia, in Vietnam and Cuba. No one knows why in other places it has failed – sometimes honourably, for in certain countries it plays an important although not dominant role in political life. In France, Italy, Finland and Portugal, in Chile before the coup in 1974, in the Sudan before the elimination of the communists by the army in 1971, and in certain Indian states such as West Bengal or Kerala, communism has a stable electoral position and traditionally enjoys the interest and support of many intellectuals.
In some areas of the world communism has made a brief but conspicuous appearance. In Indonesia it once seemed set for a brilliant future but evaporated after a military take-over and a brutal massacre. In Cambodia, a near neighbour in global terms, its performance was still more striking, rapidly developing to such murderous intensity that it destroyed itself within a very few years. One suspects, however, that these last two examples, spectacular in their power and instability, are not representative of conventional types of communism.
Elsewhere we find that Marxist-Leninist organization, while not entirely absent, is very weak and of almost no political importance: for example, in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Greece. Throughout much of the world the conquering and would-be universal ideology of the twentieth century has no real influence and is represented only by tiny fringe groups. Communism, which in Russia and China has produced Titans, in the Arab world has given birth to no more than a few martyrs and in the English-speaking world to a number of eccentrics. In most of Latin America – if we exclude Cuba and Chile – in Africa, Thailand, Burma and the Philippines, Marxist-Leninist influence is insignificant.
The history of communism is similar to that of other universal creeds: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. It has proved rapidly successful in certain societies with which it has a mysterious affinity, only to be stopped after this initial expansion by barriers which remain invisible.
The failure of political science
A simple enumeration, worthy of lonesco, of the regions and countries where communism is strong illustrates the failure of a political science at present largely dominated by utilitarian and materialist ideas. Liberals and Marxists alike now agree on the importance of economic factors in history: the public or private nature of the means of production and exchange, the level of industrial development, the efficiency of agriculture, the numerical importance of different socio-professional groups. But could one hope to find any economic characteristic which was shared by all the regions where Marxism-Leninism is strong: by Finland and Kerala, Vietnam and Cuba, Tuscany and the Chilean province or Arauco, Limousin and West Bengal, Serbia and southern Portugal, or even for that matter by Russia and China before their revolutions?
On the eve of 1917, Russia was overwhelmingly rural but had sufficient agricultural surplus and enough mineral resources to finance rapid industrial growth. China in the first half of the twentieth century was even more strongly rural, but would have had the greatest difficulty in producing any agricultural surplus at all. Even in good years she could hardly feed her population. So sparse was her industrial development that even the most hard-line Marxist would not dare to accord responsibility for the 1949 Revolution to the proletariat of the Celestial Empire. From a Marxist point of view, the China of 1949 differed from the Russia of 1917 in one vital respect: the peasants had a much clearer idea of private property than did their Russian counterparts, among whom a sort of agrarian communism, the periodical redistribution of land according to family size, was widely practised. But this difference does not really help explain these events because it invalidates the most convincing of the ‘economic’ interpretations of communism: that which portrays it as a more modern industrial version of a traditional agricultural system.
For we find Russia and China, entirely different countries, from an economic point of view, plunging with similar enthusiasm into the same political adventure only thirty years apart and with surprisingly similar results. They shared, to begin with, a single characteristic – their rural economy – which explains nothing: in 1848 when Marx called on the workers of the world to break their chains, 95 per cent of the inhabitants of the world were peasants. Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Mexico, all nations where communism was to remain weak, were no more developed industrially than Russia or China. The one major exception was Britain, whose working class was to remain impermeable to communist ideology for 200 years.
Theories of class struggle explain nothing. Some working classes are attracted by Marxism-Leninism and others are not. The same applies to the rural population which in some countries is open to communism, in others not. Even normally conservative bourgeois intellectuals in many countries betray the most elementary rules of class warfare and allow themselves to be seduced by Bolshevism.
Social democracy, Islam, Hinduism, and the rest
As the most crucial ideology of the twentieth century, communism has been widely studied. Traditional political science, although unable to explain its appearance in a particular country, has nevertheless managed to give a good description of it, one which also serves to define, negatively but with equal precision, its economic and political antithesis and its world-wide enemy, Anglo-Saxon liberalism. The characteristics of communism are therefore absence of elementary political, religious and economic freedoms; egalitarian subjection of the individual to the state; and a single permanent ruling party. The features of liberalism, on the other hand, are seen to be free exercise of political, economic and religious rights by the individual; abhorrence of the state, which is perceived as an administrative necessity but also as a threat; and rapid changes of the party in power as a result of the workings of an electoral system.
Anything beyond these two poles is heresy. Yet the nations which subscribe to one or other of these ideologies, to liberalism or to communism, account for only 40 per cent of the world’s population. The remaining 60 per cent have not received nearly the same attention from political scientists, and are considered conceptually irrelevant. Their ideologies and political systems are at best treated as imperfect forms, somewhere in between communism and liberalism according to the degree of economic, religious or political authoritarianism. At worst, they appear to social scientists as legal or religious monstrosities, aberrations of the human imagination that cannot be registered on the scale dictated by European political conventions whose linear structure is like a thermometer, capable of measuring only hot or cold, the degree of liberty or of totalitarianism.
Putting together all these misfits, all the ideologies which are neither ‘communist’ nor ‘liberal’, gives another of those comical lists which political science is capable of producing: social democracy, libertarian socialism, Christian democracy, Latin-American, Thai or Indonesian military regimes, the Buddhist socialism of Burma or of Sri Lanka, Japanese parliamentarianism, technically perfect but with the sole flaw of never changing its ruling party, Islamic fundamentalism and socialism, Ethiopian militarist Marxism, and the Indian regime which combines parliamentary and caste systems and whose 700 million subjects have in one swoop been disqualified by ‘modern’ political science.
Social science has found a justification for refusing to fit these exotic systems and ways of thinking into its conceptual framework: is it reasonable to hope to understand them when the principal mystery, that of the liberal/communist conflict, has yet to be resolved? But this argument is easily refuted: it is precisely because of the refusal to look on all political forms – whether European or not – as normal and theoretically significant that communism has never been fully understood, and nor, as a direct result, has its liberal ‘antithesis’.
Furthermore, if we move from a politico-economic definition of ideological systems to a religious one, the opposite of communism is no longer liberalism but the whole group of doctrines which proclaim the existence of a spiritual realm. For communism alone declares that God does not exist and is prepared to impose this belief on humanity. Here the liberal, pluralist systems, tolerant or agnostic on religious questions, are out of the picture. They cannot provide a conceptual framework for the increasingly violent conflict between communism and Islam in Afghanistan, or between communism and the Catholic church in Poland.
Is it, then, too much to allow that the range of political and religious ideologies spread around the world does not divide into two camps, but forms a system with many poles, and that all these poles – communist, liberal, Catholic, social democratic, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist – are equally normal, legitimate and worthy of analysis?
A satisfactory explanation of communism must also provide the key to other world-wide ideologies. The situation is precisely that which is encountered in the natural sciences: one cannot partly understand the principle of the attractive force of matter, that of the circulation of the blood or of the classification of the elements in chemistry. To take the whole world as the field of study, therefore, is simply to apply to social science the minimum of intellectual rigour which the natural sciences take for granted. Any hypothesis must take all the forms observed into account.
And now here is the conclusion of this same introduction (pp. 16-18):
The oppositions ideology/anthropology and social relations/human relations are particularly useful outside Europe when attempting to trace the origins of religious ideological systems. They are indispensable if one is accurately to describe ideologies which are based on ideas about family ties.
The Indian caste system is a family ideology which places each individual in an abstract and impersonal social network, the caste (or to be more precise the sub-caste), which is defined by ties of descent outside which he or she cannot marry. But the sub-caste is composed largely of people who do not know each other and who live in different places. Beneath this intellectual edifice can be seen a particular family structure, a model of interpersonal relations which produces the concept of and the need for social segregation. These two levels – social and human, ideological and familial – must be clearly distinguished if the caste system is to be placed with any precision among the various political and religious ideologies – communism, Islam, social democracy, the various forms of Christianity – which likewise define social relations between people who do not know each other directly.
A universal hypothesis is possible: the ideological system is everywhere the intellectual embodiment of family structure, a transposition into social relations of the fundamental values which govern elementary human relations: liberty or equality, and their opposites, are examples. One ideological category and only one, corresponds to each family type.
Ignoring all the accepted procedures of present-day social science and at the risk of being branded a positivist, I am going to test this theory and prove it in the same way as in any exact science: by exhaustively comparing the hypothesis and the evidence, that is by a complete examination of the familial and ideological systems experienced by the settled human groups which make up at least 95 per cent of the population of the planet. Testing the theory involves two steps.
First, a general typology of family structure must be devised. It must be both logically exhaustive, starting from first principles and setting out all the possible family structures; and empirically exhaustive, that is to say taking into account and describing all the family forms which are actually observable on the surface of the planet.
Second, it must be shown that to each family form described there corresponds one and only one ideological system and that this ideological system is not to be found in areas of the world which are dominated by other family forms (in mathematical terms one would speak of a bijective relationship between family types and political types).
A further requirement is that secondary variations in family structure within each anthropological type must correspond to secondary variations in the political or religious forms within the corresponding ideological type.
And then, to his own complete satisfaction at least, Todd proceeds to prove all that.
This, the second of my Emmanuel Todd postings here, will confine itself to itemising the eight family system classifications that appear at the start of most of the chapters of The Explanation of Ideology. Each clutch of information lists the distinguishing features of each family system, and the places where each system prevails.
If this posting seems strange, see my previous posting, Emmanuel Todd (1): Anthropology explains ideology, for some clarification.
So here are those family systems. I will here add only that “exogamous” means marrying outside your family and “endogamous” means marrying within your family.
Characteristics of the exogamous community family:
1. equality between brothers defined by rules of inheritance;
2. cohabitation of married sons and their parents;
3. however, no marriage between the children of two brothers.
Principal regions concerned: Russia, Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Finland, Albania, central Italy, China, Vietnam, Cuba, north India.
. . .
Characteristics of the authoritarian family:
1. inequality of brothers laid down by inheritance rules, transfer of an unbroken patrimony to one of the sons;
2. cohabitation of the married heir with this parents;
3. little or no marriage between the children of two brothers.
Principal regions and peoples concerned: Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Bohemia, Scotland, Ireland, peripheral regions of France, northern Spain, northern Portugal, Japan, Korea, Jews, Romany gypsies.
. . .
Characteristics of the egalitarian nuclear family:
1. equality of brothers laid down by inheritance
2. no cohabitation of married children with their parents;
3. no marriage between the children of brothers.
Principal regions: northern France, northern Italy, central and southern Spain, central Portugal, Greece, Romania, Poland, Latin America, Ethiopia.
. . .
Characteristics of the absolute nuclear family:
1. no precise inheritance rules, frequent use of wills;
2. no cohabitation of married children with their parents;
3. no marriage between the children of brothers.
Principal regions: Anglo-Saxon world, Holland, Denmark.
. . .
Characteristics of the endogamous community family:
1. equality between brothers established by inheritance rules;
2. cohabitation of married sons with their parents;
3. frequent marriage between the children of brothers.
Principal regions: Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan.
. . .
Characteristics of the asymmetrical community family:
1. equality between brothers laid down by inheritance rules;
2. cohabitation of married sons and their parents;
3. prohibition on marriages between the children of brothers, but a preference for marriages between the children of brothers and sisters.
Principal region: southern India.
. . .
Characteristics of the anomic family:
1. uncertainty about equality between brothers: inheritance rules egalitarian in theory but flexible in practice;
2. cohabitation of married children with their parents rejected in theory but accepted in practice;
3. consanguine marriage possible and sometimes frequent.
Principal regions: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Madagascar, South-American Indian cultures.
. . .
Characteristics of African systems:
1. instability of the household;
Concerning the “African system” Todd starts his (very short) chapter thus:
Given the present state of anthropological knowledge no exhaustive, detailed analysis of the interaction between the family structures and political systems in Africa is possible.
But hasn’t Africa been overrun by anthropologists in recent decades? Yes. However:
Paradoxically, the Dark Continent, an area of fundamental importance in anthropological research, remains very poorly documented from the point of view of family structure.
That vagueness aside, I find the above list very impressive. Do I need to note the correspondence between, e.g., the list for the exogamous community family and communism, just as a for instance? In later postings, I will spell out in more detail why Todd’s body of work so excited me when I first encountered it in the 1980s. I will offer (more) guesses as to why it has been neglected.
Once I have accumulated a decent number of Emmanuel Todd postings here to link back to, I will start beating the Emmanuel Todd drum in more public places, until such time as an Emmanuel Todd blog-buzz gets seriously buzzing. (That’s three “Emmanuel Todds” in one short paragraph, and now four. Should I start calling him “ET”?)
A very quiet buzzing can already be detected. See item 2 here.
What causes the different peoples of the world to think and feel so differently about such things as religion and politics? Despite inventions like the telephone, high speed modern transport by rail and air, and now the latest such miracle in the form of the internet, people in different parts of the world still seem defiantly different from one another. And their differences, instead of being ironed out by modern communications technology, are instead made all the more visible and scandalous to all who concern themselves about such things. Why?
Why, historically, do political and religious ideologies often start by spreading with the speed and completeness of a medieval plague? But why do they then, with equal suddenness, mysteriously cease their expansions?
Why do the world’s different peoples, in addition to quarrelling with one another, seem so very varied in their responses to the opportunities and agonies of economic development? What is economic development?
I now believe that the best clutch of answers to these questions (and to many other related questions both historical and contemporary) has been supplied by the French historian and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd, who was born in 1951.
I have not read all of Todd’s books, because my French is not good enough. But I have read, and I own in treasured English translations, the two that appear to be the most important. These are: La Troisième Planète: Structures Familiales et Systèmes Idéologiques, published in 1983, published in English, in 1985, as The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems; and L’Enfance du Monde: Structure Familiale et Développement, published in 1984, published in English in 1987, as The Causes of Progress: Culture, Authority and Change.
The first of these books is probably the most striking one, and in this posting, I will concentrate on – in the amazingly confident title which Todd or someone chose for the English edition of La Troisième Planète – the explanation of ideology. The explanation.
I will now attempt an approximate summary of Todd’s explanation of ideology.
The peoples of the world are different in their ideological orientations because they have different “family structures”. The world’s different ideologies and ideological tendencies (communism, Islam, social democracy, Anglo-Saxon liberalism, the Indian caste system, and so on) are projections onto the public stage of ideas first learned within the family.
In the family one acquires beliefs about such things as the nature of and proper scope of parental authority, the appropriate degree of equality or lack of it in the relations between men and women, and between older brothers and younger brothers, the proper way to get married and have children in one’s turn, the appropriate relationship between one’s family and other families, and so on.
These ideas are handed down from generation to generation, and do not change from one century to the next, or even from one millennium to the next. Family structure, for Emmanuel Todd, is the independent variable. It causes other things. It is not itself caused. It simply is.
“Family structure” does not mean the particular circumstances of particular families. Family structure is the belief set that all those raised in a particular anthropological setting hold in common about the proper nature of family life. Some particular parents divorce or die young while others do not. Some have many children while others have few or none. Some children marry, earlier or later, and have children of their own, others not, and so on. Todd does not trace any connections from the particular family history of an individual or of a group of individuals to their subsequent behaviour and attitudes. It is what members of the same anthropological group all agree to be the proper nature of the family, and of the various privileges and obligations associated with it, that matters. He is concerned with the ideal family, so to speak.
In different family systems, the same events will be experienced differently, with a different degree of shame or triumph, or even absolutely differently. Divorce happens, but is usually (not always) experienced as a problem. A married sister may, or may not, retain links with her original family. Cousins or nieces may be encouraged to marry cousins or uncles, or fiercely forbidden to. Incest may be taboo (or not). Brothers may be equal, or unequal. Fathers may control their grown-up sons until death do them part, or not. Mothers may be powerful matriarchs, or little more than girls. And so on. All of this varies from place to place in the world, and it is these local agreements and global disagreements that Todd is concerned with.
What triggers history’s great eruptions of ideological and religious enthusiasm is mass literacy. When a majority of the young men can read and write for the first time, that is to say at a time when a majority of their fathers could not, then there is always an ideological upsurge. Hence the German Reformation, the English Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Islamic fundamentalism, the Tamil Tigers, and so on and so on and so on. Each of these eruptions into ideological modernity takes its particular and quite distinct form from the family structure that dominates in the place where it happens.
Rising literacy is easy to see coming. Anthropology is easily studied. Therefore both the timing and the nature of such ideological eruptions can be easily predicted. Todd has an impressive record of such successful predictions. (I recall Todd’s very confident announcement that Nicaragua would not turn communist, at a time when it was widely predicted that it was about to.)
So much, for now, for the explanation of ideology.
In The Causes of Progress Todd turns to other less explosive and destructive but equally important effects of mass literacy. Mass literacy, in a very basic sense, is economic development. When a population becomes literate, it gets rich. Not immediately, because it takes time to get rich, and it especially takes time to get rich if the ideological eruptions triggered earlier by mass literacy are particularly destructive.
Mass literacy among women also has profound effects upon fertility, which tends to oscillate wildly during the modernisation process. Fertility first surges, then plummets.
Further Emmanuel Todd postings here will, I hope and intend, go into more detail. In my next posting, for instance, I intend to itemise all the world’s various family structures, and which ideologies they correspond to.
I also hope to speculate about and in due course (this is a blog after all) to find out about why Todd’s theories have had so little impact in the English speaking world, despite appearing to have extreme relevance to many contemporary debates and concerns, about such things as Islamic terrorism. Is it because they are simply wrong? I don’t now think so, but I do think that Todd is often wrong (at the very least extremely contentious) about many matters incidental to his most important ideas, which has surely not helped.
Worse, from the point of view of anyone else who is interested in ideological matters being willing to spread his ideas, Todd appears to reduce all ideologists to mere sock puppets for their inner anthropologically programmed urges.
But that is all to come. For now, that will have to suffice.
My Emmanuel Todd blogging journey has now begun.