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Title: Familialism  
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Subject: Greek military junta of 1967–74, Family, Ideologies, Conservatism, Greek Constitution of 1968
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Familialism is an ideology that promotes the family of the Western tradition as an institution.[1] Familialism views the nuclear family of one father, one mother, and their child or children as the central and primary social unit of human ordering and the principal unit of a functioning society and civilization. Accordingly, this unit is also the basis of a multi-generational extended family, which is embedded in socially as well as genetically inter-related communities, nations, etc., and ultimately in the whole human family past, present and future.

Familialism advocates Western "family values" and usually opposes other social forms and models that are chosen as alternatives (i.e. single-parent, polygamy, LGBT parenting, etc.). A typical trait of familialism is the insistence that normality resides in the patriarchal nuclear family.[2]

Familialism is usually considered conservative or reactionary by its critics who argue that it is limited, outmoded and unproductive in modern Western society. As a social construct imposed on non-Western cultures, it has been criticized as being destructive. Its prevalence in psychoanalysis has been criticized, and its antagonistic relationship with LGBT culture has been noted.

Historical and philosophical background

Ancient political familialism

"Family as a model for the state" as an idea in political philosophy originated in the Socratic-Platonic principle of macrocosm/microcosm, which identifies recurrent patterns at larger and smaller scales of the cosmos, including the social world. In particular, monarchists have argued that the state mirrors the patriarchal family, with the subjects obeying the king as children obey their father, which in turn helps to justify monarchical or aristocratic rule.

Plutarch (46–120 CE) records a laconic saying of the Dorians attributed to Lycurgus (8th century BCE). Asked why he did not establish a democracy in Lacedaemon (Sparta), Lycurgus responded, "Begin, friend, and set it up in your family". Plutarch claims that Spartan government resembled the family in its form.

Aristotle (384–322 BCE) argued that the schema of authority and subordination exists in the whole of nature. He gave examples such as man and animal (domestic), man and wife, slaves and children. Further, he claimed that it is found in any animal, as the relationship he believed to exist between soul and body, of "which the former is by nature the ruling and the later subject factor". Aristotle further asserted that "the government of a household is a monarchy since every house is governed by a single ruler". Later, he said that husbands exercise a republican government over their wives and monarchical government over their children, and that they exhibit political office over slaves and royal office over the family in general.

Arius Didymus (1st century CE), cited centuries later by Stobaeus, wrote that "A primary kind of association (politeia) is the legal union of a man and woman for begetting children and for sharing life". From the collection of households a village is formed and from villages a city, "So just as the household yields for the city the seeds of its formation, thus it yields the constitution (politeia)". Further, Didymus claims that "Connected with the house is a pattern of monarchy, of aristocracy and of democracy. The relationship of parents to children is monarchic, of husbands to wives aristocratic, of children to one another democratic".

Modern political familialism

Some modern thinkers, such as Louis de Bonald, have written as if the family were a miniature state. In his analysis of the family relationships of father, mother and child, Bonald related these to the functions of a state: the father is the power, the mother is the minister and the child as subject. As the father is "active and strong" and the child is "passive or weak", the mother is the "median term between the two extremes of this continuous proportion". Like many apologists for political familialism, De Bonald justified his analysis on biblical authority:

"(It) calls man the reason, the head, the power of woman: Vir caput est mulieris (the man is head of the woman) says St. Paul. It calls woman the helper or minister of man: "Let us make man," says Genesis, "a helper similar to him." It calls the child a subject, since it tells it, in a thousand places, to obey its parents"

Bonald also sees divorce as the first stage of disorder in the state, insisting that the deconstitution of the family brings about the deconstitution of state, with The Kyklos not far behind.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn also connects family and monarchy:

"Due to its inherent patriarchalism, monarchy fits organically into the ecclesiastic and familistic pattern of a Christian society. (Compare the teaching of Pope Leo XIII: 'Likewise the powers of fathers of families preserves expressly a certain image and form of the authority which is in God, from which all paternity in heaven and earth receives its name—Eph 3.15') The relationship between the King as 'father of the fatherland' and the people is one of mutual love".

left-right distinction in politics reflects a different ideals of the family; for right-wing, the ideal is a patriarchal family based upon absolutist morality; for left-wing, the ideal is an unconditionally loving family. As a result, Lakoff argues, both sides find each other's views not only immoral, but incomprehensible, since they appear to violate each sides' deeply held beliefs about personal morality in the sphere of the family.


Criticism in practice

Familialism has been challenged as historically and sociologically inadequate to describe the complexity of actual family relations.[3] In modern American society in which the male head of the household can no longer be guaranteed a wage suitable to support a family, 1950s-style familialism has criticized as counterproductive to family formation and fertility.[4][5]

Imposition of Western-style familialism on other cultures has been disruptive to traditional non-nuclear family forms such as matrilineality.[6]

Criticism from the LGBT community

LGBT communities tend to accept and support the diversity of intimate human associations, partially as a result of their historically ostracized status from nuclear family structures. From its inception in the late 1960s, the gay rights movement has asserted every individual's right to create and define their own relationships and family in the way most conducive to the safety, happiness, and self-actualization of each individual.

For example, the glossary of LGBT terms of Family Pride Canada, a Canadian organization advocating for family equality for LGBT parents, defines familialism as:

a rigidly conservative ideology promoted by the defenders of "Family Values," who insist, despite all the sociological evidence to the contrary, that the only real family is a traditional 1950s-style white, middle-class household with a faithfully married dad and a mom whose sex life is strictly yet blissfully procreative, and whose high moral standards are passed on like old china to their perfectly heterosexual children.[7]

Criticism in psychoanalysis

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in their now-classic 1972 book Anti-Oedipus, argued that psychiatry and psychoanalysis, since their incept, have been affected by an incurable familialism, which is their ordinary bed and board.[8][9][10] Psychoanalysis has never escaped from this, having remained captive to an unrepentant familialism.[11]

Michel Foucault wrote that through familialism psychoanalysis completed and perfected what the psychiatry of 19th century insane asylums had set out to do and that it enforced the power structures of bourgeois society and its values: Family-Children (paternal authority), Fault-Punishment (immediate justice), Madness-Disorder (social and moral order).[12][13] Deleuze and Guattari added that "the familialism inherent in psychoanalysis doesn't so much destroy classical psychiatry as shine forth as the latter's crowning achievement," and that since the 19th century, the study of mental illnesses and madness has remained the prisoner of the familial postulate and its correlates.[14]

Through familialism, and the psychoanalysis based on it, guilt is inscribed upon the family's smallest member, the child, and parental authority is absolved.[15]

According to Deleuze and Guattari, among the psychiatrists only Karl Jaspers and Ronald Laing, have escaped familialism.[16] This was not the case of the culturalist psychoanalysts, which, despite their conflict with orthodox psychoanalysts, had a "stubborn maintenance of a familialist perspective," still speaking "the same language of a familialized social realm."[17]

Criticism in Marxism

In The Communist Manifesto of 1848 Karl Marx describes how the bourgeois or monogamous two-parent family has as its foundation capital and private gain.[18] Marx also pointed out that this family existed only in its full form among the bourgeoisie or upper classes, and was nearly absent among the exploited proletariat or working class.[18] He felt that the vanishment of capital would also result in the vanishment of the monogamous marriage, and the exploitation of the working class.[18] He explains how family ties among the proletarians are divided by the capitalist system, and their children are used simply as instruments of labour.[18] This is partly due to child labour laws being less strict at the time in Western society.[18] In Marx’s view, the bourgeois husband sees his wife as an instrument of labour, and therefore to be exploited, as instruments of production (or labour) exist under capitalism for this purpose.[19]

Frederick Engels, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, published in 1884, was also extremely critical of the monogamous two parent family and viewed it as one of many institutions for the division of labour in capitalist society. In his chapter “The Monogamous Family”, Engels traces monogamous marriage back to the Greeks, who viewed the practice’s sole aim as making “the man supreme in the family, and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own”.[20] He felt that the monogamous marriage made explicit the subjugation of one sex by the other throughout history, and that the first division of labour “is that between man and woman for the propagation of children”.[20] Engels views the monogamous two-parent family as a microcosm of society, stating “It is the cellular form of civilized society, in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be already studied”.[20]

Engels pointed out disparities between the legal recognition of a marriage, and the reality of it. A legal marriage is entered into freely by both partners, and the law states both partners must have common ground in rights and duties.[20] There are other factors that the bureaucratic legal system cannot take into account however, since it is “not the law’s business”.[20] These may include differences in the class position of both parties and pressure on them from outside to bear children.[20]

For Engels, the obligation of the husband in the traditional two-parent familial structure is to earn a living and support his family.[20] This gives him a position of supremacy.[20] This role is given without a particular need for special legal titles or privileges.[20] Within the family, he represents the bourgeois, and the wife represents the proletariat.[20] Engels, on the other hand, equates the position of the wife in marriage with one of exploitation and prostitution, as she sells her body “once and for all into slavery”.[20]

More recent criticism from a Marxist Perspective comes from Lisa Healy in her 2009 essay Capitalism and the Transforming Family Unit: A Marxist Analysis.[21] Her essay examines the single-parent family, defining it as one parent, often a woman, living with one or more usually unmarried children.[22] The stigmatization of lone parents is tied to their low rate of participation in the workforce, and a pattern of dependency on welfare.[23] This results in less significant contributions to the capitalist system on their part.[23] This stigmatization is reinforced by the state, such as through insufficient welfare payments.[23] This exposes capitalist interests that are inherent to their society and which favour two-parent families.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Anne Revillard (2006) "Work/Family Policy in France" International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 2006 20(2):133–150
  2. ^ Kauffman, Linda (1992) Framing Lolita: Is There a Woman in the Text? (1992), p. 161
  3. ^ DePaulo, B. and Milardo, R. (2011). "Interview: Beyond the Nuclear Family".
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Family Pride Canada: Glossary of LGBT Terms: Familialism
  8. ^ Arthur Redding (1997) God the linguist teaches us to breathe: Ivan Blatný's English poems
  9. ^ Mindy Badía, Bonnie L. Gasior (2006) Crosscurrents: transatlantic perspectives on early modern Hispanic drama p. 144
  10. ^ Emma L. Jeanes and Christian De Cock (2005) Making the Familiar Strange: A Deleuzian Perspective on Creativity, University of Exeter, Creativity and Innovation Management Community Workshop, 23–24 March 2005, Oxford
  11. ^ Deleuze and Guattari (1972) Anti-Oedipus pp. 101–2, 143, 181, 293, 304, 393
  12. ^ Deleuze and Guattari (1972) Anti-Oedipus p. 102
  13. ^ Michel Foucault [1961] The History of Madness, Routledge 2006, pp. 490–1, 507–8, 510–1
  14. ^ Deleuze and Guattari (1972) Anti-Oedipus pp. 293, 393
  15. ^ Deleuze and Guattari (1972) Anti-Oedipus p. 304
  16. ^ Deleuze and Guattari (1972) Anti-Oedipus p. 143
  17. ^ Deleuze and Guattari (1972) Anti-Oedipus pp. 189–1
  18. ^ a b c d e Gaspar, Phil. "The Communist Manifesto", Google Books, Chicago, 2005. Retrieved on 24 October 2013. p. 65.
  19. ^ Gaspar, Phil. "The Communist Manifesto", Google Books, Chicago, 2005. Retrieved on 24 October 2013. p. 66.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Harris, Mark, Ed. "Frederick Engels: The Monogamous Family",, 2010. Retrieved on 24 October 2013.
  21. ^ Healy, Lisa. "Capitalism and the Transforming Family Unit", Socheolas, University of Limerick, November 2009. Retrieved on 24 October 2013.
  22. ^ Healy, Lisa. "Capitalism and the Transforming Family Unit", Socheolas, University of Limerick, November 2009. Retrieved on 24 October 2013. p. 25.
  23. ^ a b c d Healy, Lisa. "Capitalism and the Transforming Family Unit", Socheolas, University of Limerick, November 2009. Retrieved on 24 October 2013. p. 26.
  • ^ Plutarch: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, trans. by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough, The Modern Library (div of Random House, Inc). Bio on Lycurgus; pg 65.
  • ^ Politics, Aristotle, Loeb Classical Library, Bk I, §II 8-10; 1254a 20-35; pg 19–21
  • ^ Politics, Bk I, §11,21;1255b 15-20; pg 29.
  • ^ Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament, ed. By M. Eugene Boring, Klaus Berger, Carsten Colpe, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1995.
  • ^ Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament, ed. By M. Eugene Boring, Klaus Berger, Carsten Colpe, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 1995.
  • ^ On Divorce, Louis de Bonald, trans. By Nicholas Davidson, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, 1993. pp 44–46.
  • ^ On Divorce, Louis de Bonald, pp 88–89; 149.
  • ^ Liberty or Equality, Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, pg 155.
  • ^ George Lakoff, What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don't, ISBN 0-226-46796-1

Further reading

  • Anne Revillard (2007) Stating Family Values and Women's Rights: Familialism and Feminism Within the French Republic French Politics 5, 210–228. doi:10.1057/palgrave.fp.8200124
  • Frederick Engels (1884) The Monogamous Family The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Chapter 2, Part 4. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
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