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The Invention of the Modern World 8.

Spring-Summer Serial 2012.


 By Alan Macfarlane.

THE HO– USEHOLD ACTS as a joint economic, social, religious, and political unit in most peasantries. The head of the household is simultaneously a media­tor with the ancestors, the political head, the economic boss. A woman is subservient, first to her father, then to her husband, then, as a widow, to her son. The individual has no political, economic or other rights.

The ritual, economic and other worlds overlap for a person in the household. Hence a political act is also a religious one. It is impossible to conceive of individuals apart from the groups of which they are members; they are only parts with meanings in relation to a whole. The family is the basic organizational unit of a society; through the family an individual reaches redemption, wealth and power. This kind of society finds its archetype in Eastern Europe, India and China.

Turning to the other end of the continuum, the central and principal feature of the modern family is that it does not act as infrastructure, that it does not organize politics, economics and religion. The family and society have become separated. Put in the words of sociologists, it has lost many of its functions ‑ it is just stripped down to what is primarily a socializing agent.

The essence of ‘modern’ society is that each of the spheres has become separate, hence the disappearance of the religious household and the domestic mode of production. Instead of the group being primary, whether a family, caste or community, the individ­ual becomes a microcosm of the society as a whole, with individu­al rights and duties. He or she becomes a legal, political, religious and economic entity in his or her own right, not merely insofar as he or she is a member of a wider group.

This atomistic system is one where wider ties of blood and territory are weak and integration is through money, citizen­ship, paper, law and sentiment. People, in Marx’s ironic words, have been ‘set free’, not only in relation to the market, but also in relation to God and the State.

The spread of the modern family system was noticed as something that was happening all over Western Europe in the nineteenth century and since then has spread over the world.1 For long it was believed that the ‘modern’ family system with its bundle of characteristics was a product of the disruption of the industrial and urban revolutions – with the entire world having an ancien regime system before that.

PROBABLY FROM ANGLO-SAXON times – and certainly from the thirteenth century – children had no automatic rights in a parent’s property. A child could be disinherited; there is no ‘family property’, nemo est heres viventis (no one is the heir of a living person). Maitland documents this in detail, showing that from at least the thirteenth century parents could leave their property to whom they liked – and by gift, sale or will disinherit all their children if they so wished.2 For example, Bracton in the early thirteenth century shows that ‘an heir is one who claims by descent what has been left undisposed of by his ancestor; what his ancestor has alienated he cannot claim.’3 The claims of kindred were destroyed in England at just the time they were protected elsewhere on the Continent.4

All property is individual, except that husband and wife have some shared rights and after a man’s death a widow may have some automatic rights, once called ‘free-bench and courtesy’. Otherwise a person has to earn his or her way in the world from birth. The ‘restraint of the line’, which operated all over Europe, where the lineage can prevent the holder of a family estate from selling it off – or demand shares – is totally absent. In England alone there was no restrait lignager.5 There is a great deal of evidence of this in Maitland and other sources.

The reverse is also true. A child can hold property rights against his or her parents and can even sue them. A woman can hold property and sue her husband. Each person can have separate property and the only ‘jointness’, to a certain extent, is that of husband and wife. Just as there is no obligation in law for parents to leave anything to their children, there is no legal obligation for children to support their parents in old age. Indeed, it is unlikely that they will do so, for the absence of a joint holding means that early in life the children will have been sent away to be trained to enter the capitalist market.

The effect of family insecurity was magnified by another peculiarity only found in England and Japan, namely the custom of primogeniture, or single-heir inheritance of the main family holding by the first-born male. Where property is family property, all heirs have equal rights, including women through the dowry system. Yet in England and Japan many properties were considered as indivisible. The farm or family firm should not be subdivided between all the heirs. Among the effects of this was that, unlike most countries, where, as population built up, capital was constantly divided and sub-divided with smaller and smaller holdings, in England the main holding or business was often passed to one heir. This allowed capital to be maintained.

A second effect was that while all children could be effectively disinherited and hence were insecure, younger children were particularly insecure. Much of the vigour of English expansion in the imperial period, and the way in which successful gentry and aristocratic families sent their children off into the professions and trade, arose from the younger son syndrome. As Taine put it, younger sons who ‘awake from earlier youth, to the fact that they can count on nobody but themselves. They are accustomed to well-being and luxury and have the memory of the paternal “country seat” always before them: what sharper spur to achievement could there be? It is like a sword at their backs, pricking them on to work. Not to attain to their father’s level is to fail…. Considered from this point of view the law of primogeniture combined with the habit of living well is a system of training. They hasten away to the Indies, to China and Australia, skim the cream off the world and return home to found a family. There is, in London, a whole quarter which is qualified as “Australian”, inhabited by people who made their fortunes in Victoria or Melbourne.’6

ONE AREA TRADITIONALLY the preserve of the family is that of childrearing and socialization. The child grows up within the kin universe and learns how it works. He (or she) gains his skills and his prestige from his family, either from wider kin or parents. Often a parent acts as teacher employer and father all rolled into one. If we look at the pattern of English childrearing as far back as the records go, that is at least back to the thirteenth century, we appear to have a situation where the family is not the only or even the main unit of socialization.

As foreigners noted, many English children from a very early age were taken out of their family of birth and were reared by non‑kin through the institutions of servanthood, apprenticeship, and, for the wealthy, through formal educational channels such as schools and universities. The nine­teenth century boarding school was just one stage in this cen­turies‑long tradition. These institutions convert­ed the person from a dependent member of unit created by birth, a ‘status’ relationship in Maine’s usage, to a free‑floating indi­vidual who entered into contractual relationships to establish his or her position. It turned a person into someone who had to compete as a ‘free’ and equal citizen.

A classic account of this pattern is by the Venetian Ambassador Trevisano in 1497. He wrote that ‘the want of affection in the English is strongly manifested towards their children; for after having kept them at home till they arrive at the age of seven or nine years at the utmost, they put them out, both males and females, to hard service in the houses of other people, binding them generally for another seven to nine years. And these are called apprentices…’ He felt that if the parents had taken their children back when their apprenticeship was over ‘they might, perhaps, be excused’ but noted that ‘they never return’. Instead, they have to make their own way in the world, ‘assisted by their patrons, not by their fathers, they also open a house and strive diligently by this means to make some fortune by themselves.’7

If poor, the children went off as servants at between six and ten, if middling as apprentices, if rich to the households of richer families or to boarding schools and universities. Here they would be treated as separated individuals, cut off from their families, expected to make their own way.

AS SEPARATE INDIVIDUALS it is not surprising that they should be expected to initiate their own marriages. I have documented in considerable detail the history of romantic love in England.8 Using moralists and philosophers, poetry and novels, letters and autobiographies, wills and village histories, I have shown that the unusual tradition of basing marriage on ‘love’ is very old. For example, Chaucer’s verse is filled with such assumptions about the prevalence of love as a basis for marriage. We can go back to Anglo-Saxon poetry such as ‘The Lover’s Lament’ and much more to the same effect.

Throughout all social classes, a person would meet the person they wanted to marry, they would court each other, and they would announce their love. If their parents tried to block the marriage, after a struggle the parents would usually have to give in. The presence of romantic love as the institutional basis for marriage is largely unique in the world, largely being confined to England and America before the nineteenth century, yet it is widely documented in England from Anglo-Saxon times.

Outsiders saw this as strange and even obscene – particularly because it made the relationship with the marriage partner more important than that with parents. As Rochefoucauld observed in the eighteenth century:

 As soon as a young man marries, he takes a house in which he lives alone with his wife, he avoids living even in the same town as his father – I could produce a score of examples of this. If the father lives in the country, the son will go to live in the town; each will live his own life in his own household, father and son seeing little of each other in the course of the year.’ Rochefoucauld was clearly rather shocked. ‘Thus the Englishman would rather have the woman he loves than preserve the love of his parents. This is part of the national character, which is quite foreign to ours, and strikes me as being in some way contrary to Nature.9

The relationship which husband and wife set up after a number of years away from home and based on ‘love’ and companionship was stronger than any other. The Japanese and other nations were shocked to find that the English put love of a spouse, a lateral relationship, before love of parents, a vertical relationship. Lafcadio Hearn, who married a Japanese wife and lectured on English novels at the end of the nineteenth century, reported that ‘ Our society novels do not strike them as indecent because the theme is love. The Japanese have a great deal of literature about love. No; our novels seem to them indecent for somewhat the same reason that the Scripture text, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife,” appears to them one of the most immoral sentences ever written.’10

One of the great explorations of the clash between conjugal and filial love is in Shakespeare and one particularly illuminating discussions is that between Brabantio and his daughter Desdemona. Brabantio says to Desdemona:

Come hither, gentle mistress:
Do you perceive in all this noble company,
Where most you owe obedience?

Desdemona replies:

My noble father I do perceive here a divided duty:
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me How to respect you; you are the lord of duty, –
I am hitherto your daughter: but here’s my husband;
And so much duty as my mother show’d To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess Due to the Moor, my lord.’11

This move from upward directed to sideways-directed obligation is now widely recognized to be one of the hallmarks of ‘modernity’. Yet it is clearly present in England from the Anglo-Saxon period onwards. It is connected with the fact that English law did not uphold the power of the parents, and particularly the father. In Roman Law and indeed in most legal and moral systems around the world – Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, the parents have absolute authority over their children for life – patria potestas or patriarchal power.

TALK OF PATRIARCHAL power takes us to the wider topic of gender relations. The changing role and position of women in England over the period from the Norman Conquest to the late nineteenth century is a large and complex subject about which I can only say a little. Firstly, contrary to many people’s assumptions, it appears that over most of the period the legal position of women did not gradually improve, but, if anything, declined. At the start Maitland paints a picture of considerable equality. He gives many examples of the mulitfold and high legal status of medieval women. Women were almost immediately capable of inheriting military fiefs. Unmarried women, that is both before marriage and as widows, were ‘on the same level as men’.. They could bring legal actions against their husband for derelictions of conjugal duties. 12 Unlike Roman Law, there was never any concept of patriarchal power in English Common Law – the innate right of fathers, husbands or men to dominate women.

As the Equity Courts developed from the fourteenth century the protection of women’s property was strengthened and they could bring actions against their husbands for cruelty or neglect. There was never anything equivalent to the continental concept that a woman’s property was merged with that of her husband. Here husband was conceived of, Maitland says, as a guardian of her property while they were married and he needed her consent if he made large decisions about it.13 The husband was not allowed to use force on his wife, he must consult, cajole, persuade her into a course of action.

Thus many accounts of medieval women, from the contemporary sources such as Chaucer or collections of letters (such as those of the Pastons), as well as the world portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays, show the independence and general equality of women. The one area where they were largely absent was in relation to public offices, though even here the forceful behavior of a number of royal and aristocratic women, most notably Queen Elizabeth I, shows the power of women even in the public realm. After the sixteenth century, however, the relatively high status of women in law declined somewhat until it was revived again in the later nineteenth century.14

While the legal position was, compared to almost all other parts of Europe, very high, many people observed that in practice, de facto, women’s position was even higher than the law implied. For example, in the later seventeenth century Chamberlayne stressed the difference between the subject status of wives under Common Law and their actual freedom, the former being de jure weak, but ‘their condition de facto is the best in the world.’15

Those who compared the position of English women to those in other continental countries seemed convinced of their superiority in status. There was, of course, the famous proverb: ‘England is a prison for men, a paradise for women, a purgatory for servants and hell for horses.16 English women were seen by foreigners to be in a very favourable position.17 When Fynes Moryson traveled round much of the continent in the early seventeenth century, he found that despite their legal disabilities, women had a much higher status in England than almost anywhere else.18 Or when Burt traveled to Scotland in the middle of the eighteenth century he suggested that English women were given much more financial freedom than their Scots counterparts, and their reputation was much less vulnerable than their Scottish contemporaries So Scots women that ‘that the English are the kindest husbands in the world.’19

We may wonder, beyond the legal background, what made for what seems an unusually modern set of gender relations. One factor suggested by Tocqueville was Protestantism. This may have reinforced the situation, but, as we have seen, the high legal status seems to have existed in England well before the Reformation. Another approach would be to link it to the wider nature of English society, especially the nature of the family, economy and in particular the way in which values were not dependent on preserving male honour and female chastity.

There appears to have been an unusually relaxed attitude between the two genders in England, and this is clearly related to the fact that the family and society are no longer integrated. In the majority of societies, where the family and family links constitute the basis of society, mating and sex, which bring together the sexes, have to be carefully supervised. When direct­ed correctly, marriage furnishes allies, produces heirs, contrib­utes to the labour force. But women’s sexual and procreative powers are both an immensely powerful, but also a desirable and dangerous asset. In order to protect this asset, familistic system usually emphasise the opposition between males and fe­males.

Gender is used as a major principle of organizing social life in the majority of societies and there is usually a very sharp opposition between the ideals and behaviour of the two sexes, as we find in Hindu, Islamic and, to some extent, Catholic cultures. In the extreme cases, the worlds of men and women overlap very little. There is often a strong emphasis on the threat and hostility between the genders and on the inferiority and subservience of women. Men have honour, women bring shame. Women should be dressed in an unprovocative way, be kept out of sight and in purdah, wear veils and hats.

Against such a background what is striking in the evidence we have examined is the absence of such a marked gender opposi­tion in English culture. English women were, in their clothing, their freedom, their openness, “shameless” by the standards of many cultures. There is a striking similarity between men and women, a relaxed and friendly attitude which is marked in many of the documents, a mutual and affectionate sparing of almost equals, an absence of most of the stress on male virility, ma­chismo, and on female shame and virginity. Women were not hidden away by dress, by etiquette or by architecture; they were not vulnerable, weak, possessions of men. The relative­ly relaxed and open relationship which existed from early life passed through unchaperoned courtship into companionate marriage.

RETURNING TO THE family, how did parents who were deprived of their children’s labour manage? The answer seems to be another peculiarity of the English. For many centuries, if they were in the middling class upwards, the English hired paid servants, who often lived in the house. The ‘servant mode of production’ as some have called it, has been analysed by Peter Laslett, John Hajnal and others, who through their study of English listings and other sources have shown that servanthood, with both males and females as servants, was present on a large scale from at least the thirteenth century.20

It was a very widespread institution in England, replacing kinship with paid labour at the heart of the family. It is a peculiar and particular feature of England, not to be found elsewhere except in it the peripheries of English culture such as America. There were numerous different kinds of servants – indoor, outdoor, specialized, and general.

Now with modern labour-saving devices and the expansion of nursery schools and primary and secondary schools, the need for household servants has declined, starting quite rapidly in the early nineteenth century. Yet for a long time the presence of servants was a sign of the replacement of kin by unrelated wage labour. The same happened with farm servants.

WHAT IS NOT easy to explain is why and how the English family system became so different. In basic structure the English system has the same roots as the family systems of most of North West Europe. So if one had looked at northern France, Germany, Scandinavia and England in the tenth century, for example, one would not have found any clans (unlike the Celtic system), but rather ego-centred networks. Yet somehow from the twelfth century at least, there was a growing divergence so that by the fifteenth century, at least, England’s family system struck foreigners as extraordinary. The divergence then grew even greater so that from the seventeenth century, when the system was carried throughout the British Empire and North America, it was very different from that in most continental countries.

Nowadays the idea that a parent does not have to leave his property to his children, that children do not legally have to look after their parents, that a person can marry whoever they love, that women and children have separate rights which they can maintain against their families, is basic not only to America and Europe but to wherever the Empire spread. In India and increasingly in China and elsewhere, these ideas have spread. The English family system, like its games, has infiltrated much of the world.

Yet the absence of kinship as a way of organizing economics leaves a gap. Most activities require strong, trusted, bonds with others in order to achieve good results. In most societies it is only the family one can trust, or family-like patrons. What replaced this mechanism in England?

MANY PEOPLE WHO live in modern societies look on friendship as their most important type of relationship. The central place of ‘friendship’ in modern civilizations is taken for granted. We may therefore be surprised at how unusual it is.

The majority of relationships in ancien regime societies are given by birth. One is close to people who are of the same kinship group, the same caste, the same village. One does not choose these people; they remain with you all your life and the relationship has little flexibility. It is not really about emotions – of course you may love an aunt, or hate a cousin. But the important thing is the set of expected roles and relationships given by the structure.

The strength of the status-given patterns is so great that if one wants to extend one’s contacts, one turns non-kin into quasi-kin. Very widespread in most of the world have been such mechanisms as adoption, ‘spiritual’ kinship including blood brotherhood, milk brotherhood, godparenthood and other formal methods of setting up friends. Beyond this there were long-term manipulative and calculative exchange relationships, such as afno manche in Nepal, guanxi in China. These relationships are often unequal and merge into exploitative, a‑symmetrical, non‑kin relationship which have to be contractual­ly set up to fill gaps in personal contacts in certain societies. They are labeled patron‑client ties.

Historically in most societies people liked certain kin and neighbours more than others and will seek them out. But the idea of forming a relatively deep, shared, relationship with an unrelated person based on nothing more than mutual liking, is unusual. The idea of such ‘friends’ being of the opposite sex is almost impossible after childhood.

We have seen that in England effective blood kinship was restricted. Nor was ‘fictive’ or constructed kinship much relied on. Adoption was not recognized in English law until the twentieth century. God-parenthood was, on the whole, rather unimportant, particularly compared to the Catholic societies of the Mediterranean. Blood or milk brotherhood was unknown. Even ‘patronage’ in the full patron-client sense of the literature on the Mediterranean was relatively unimportant in England.

Instead one made ‘friends’, a word of Anglo-Saxon origin and so powerful a relationship that it was often applied to the most important emotional tie in one’s life – people became ‘married friends’.

After moving out of the home at an early age, often a strong personal bond would arise from being members of the same institution – school, university, company, church, or playing the same games or enjoying the same hobbies. Through these mechanisms one discovered people whom one liked and with whom one could share and co-operate. The relationship had to be fairly equal – mutually beneficial exchanges were fine, but they must balance out over time otherwise it would turn into the ‘lop-sided friendship’ which is better described as patron-client relations. The relationship had to have effective content; people should enjoy each other’s company, enjoy conversations, have a shared sense of humour, cultural preferences, in short, like each other. Once all these features were present the friendship could flourish – as it had done at school where one shared confidences and activities.

Friendships are usually based on a mutual interest, whether in literature, religion, leisure or business. They are imbued with sentiment, with ‘liking’ which can move into love, and they endure over a long period. Such permanent relationships were the extreme end of a continuum in England, while at the other end were very fleeting, fragmentary relationships. In this situation, people treated each other as potential partners or opponents in endless little games of exchange and contract. People were constantly doing deals ‑ buying, selling, hiring, borrowing, promising, agreeing, both within the economic sphere and in the social, political and religious one. A sort of ‘car‑boot sale society’, with endless short‑term relationships. Such a system of fragmentary and daily negotiation is the oppo­site pole from the durable kinship world of true ‘Community’. It can only operate in a world protected by an elaborate legal and customary code of law and a great deal of trust.

IN MOST CIVILIZATIONS in history, the major check on population is mortality. Here there are two main variants. Either perennial diseases and high infant mortality keeps population more or less in balance – or, in another variant, the population is moderately healthy, numbers build up quite rapidly, and then periodic crises caused by war, famine and epidemic disease occur. In these two cases, humans have experienced the threat of high mortality in one form or another and tend to be anxious to have many children in order to combat the dangers. This is the pattern observed through much of Chinese, Indian or European history.21

The ‘modern’ pattern is one where it is lowered fertility which keeps population in check, rather than high mortality. Different mechanisms are used, late marriage and high rates of non-marriage, various forms of controls on the numbers born alive through infanticide and abortion, and nowadays high levels of contraception. These are what Wrigley calls ‘low pressure’ regimes. Until quite recently it was widely believed that this ‘low pressure’ regime is the product of some ‘demographic revolution’, perhaps caused by improvements in contraceptive technology in the nineteenth century.

It is now quite clear from the work of Tony Wrigley and other that in England a combination of late age at first marriage (often over twenty-five for women), plus selective marriage (with up to a quarter of women never marrying) was enough to keep population more or less static for some centuries.22

Putting it simply, in an embedded peasant economy, when the unit of production and consumption is the family household, it is sensible to have as large a family as possible, to work the land and to protect against risk in sickness and old age. To increase reproduction is to increase production. Yet as Jack Caldwell and others have shown, when the individual becomes integrated into the market, when wealth flows down the generations, when the cost of education and leaving for an independent economic existence on an open market occurs, children become a burden rather than an asset.23 In other words, capitalistic relations combined with individualism knocks away the basis of high fertility, and if this is combined with a political and legal security so that one does not have to protect oneself with a layer of cousin, the sensible strategy is to have a few children and to educate them well.

A low-pressure demography means that a society avoids the situation where extra resources are automatically absorbed by population expansion. As Malthus argued, the only force strong enough to stand against the biological desire to mate and have children, was the even stronger social desire to live comfortably and avoid poverty. This is exactly what seems to have happened in England from at least the late medieval period.

It was until recently thought that before the nineteenth century England must have been filled with young marriages and large families, a pre-modern demography. Now thanks to Wrigley and his colleagues we know that the modern demographic pattern of relatively low fertility and mortality goes back to at least the early sixteenth century. Literary and other evidence suggests that, in fact, the English have always had this ‘modern’ demography. In the absence of any familistic production system since the Anglo-Saxon period, there seems to have been a ‘modern’ marriage system. There was an institutionalized individual choice pattern which encouraged people to wait for marriage, rather than a system of arranged marriage at an early age as in India, much of China or in Islamic civilizations.

The effect has been immense. For example, between the mid fifteenth and mid seventeenth centuries, when national wealth was growing at an average of about 0.25% a year, the population did not grow. So at the end of the period the country was twice as rich as at the start. The normal tendency is to invest any economic gains in extra moths – which kept an increasing population at the same economic level – as happened in China in these centuries.

As Malthus noticed, England was not the only ‘modern’ demography for he found something similar in Norway and Switzerland and we can see it also in seventeenth century Holland. Yet this pattern was very early present in England, with its foundation of a separation between the head (rational calculation) and the heart (biological imperatives), a separation of the society (family) from the economy. It was an essential feature of the peculiar trajectory of this small island. If England had had the normal high-pressure regime, it could never have industrialized, for the infrastructure and large consumer middle class would have been absent.

People had to be able to ‘afford’ to marry and have children. When economic conditions changed dramatically and called for a huge burst of extra labour, in other words with the early labour-intensive phase of the industrial revolution, then the age at marriage dropped and a larger proportion of the population married. Population grew rapidly as jobs became available.

Demography is a sensitive index to the presence of modernity. Where, as in most civilizations, the family is the basic unit of the economic, social, political and religious world, to expand the family is the ultimate goal – people want as many children as possible. But where a modern division between the spheres of economy, society, polity and religion has taken place, so that it is the individual alone who links the separated spheres, the individual’s interest are not served by large families.

The extraordinary spread of the ‘modern’ demographic regime throughout Europe and then to many parts of the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has puzzled specialists. For it does not fit with any usual indicators such as education, literacy or wealth. I suspect that if one plotted these falls against the change from an ancien regime integrated, family-based, world to the growth of individualistic, modern, separated, capitalist relations, one would find a fit. So demography is both an effect of modernity, but also a potent reinforcer, by leading to the positive feedback loops of putting extra comfort for the individual before extra hands and mouths for the family.

A video of the lecture on which this chapter is based:


2012 Serial Index: Introduction and Contents | Preface | Bibliography.

Chapter 8 of The Invention of the Modern World by Alan Macfarlane.

© 2012 Alan Macfarlane. All rights reserved.

NOTES (please see the bibliography for citation details):

  1. See Goode, World.
  2. Maitland, History, II, 12-13, 308-9.
  3. Maitland, History, II 19.
  4. Maitland, History, II, 344.
  5. Maitland, History, II, 313.
  6. Taine, Notes, 154.
  7. Italian Relation, 24-6.
  8. Macfarlane, Marriage, especially chapter nine.
  9. Rochefoucauld, Frenchman, 88-89 .
  10. Hearn, East, 72-3.
  11. Shakespeare, Othello, Act I, Scene 1 .
  12. Maitland, History, I, 484; II, 262; II, 485;II, 381.
  13. Maitland, History, II, 411.
  14. Maitland, History, II, 403.
  15. Chamberlayne, State, 18; see also 33ff.
  16. Thomas Fuller, quoted in McLynn, Crime, 83.
  17. For example, Campbell, Yeoman, 261.
  18. Moryson, Itinerary, III, 451; IV, 324.
  19. Burt, Letters, I, 107-8, 192ff, 109.
  20. Laslett, Illicit, 47; see also Kussmaul, Servants.
  21. There has recently been an attempt by Lee, Wang and Cameron to suggest that Chinese and European demography were very similar. For a summary and critique of their arguments, see Huang, ‘Great’ and Bryant, ‘Divergence’.
  22. The evidence is surveyed in Macfarlane, Marriage and Love, part 1.
  23. Idem.

One Comment

  1. wrote:

    Thank you for this very interesting piece! I have always wondered about the peculiarities of the English mentality – for example, the relative autonomy, self-discipline and self-confidence of its women (the nearly proverbial English nurse or English (female) teacher/governess, novelists like the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Jane Austen…). What has interested me in particular was what enabled the English to literally save Europe – in 1940, when they were the only ones who insisted on fighting against Hitler, in a situation where it, at least at first sight, might have seemed much more practical and reasonable to accept Hitler´s peace offer. Today, of course, it is easy to see that it was not, but, in my opinion, it was hardly that obvious at the time. Only a nation that knew the importance of freedom and fairness (in a very down-to-earth way) would have been capable of recognizing this and would have chosen the (seemingly) hard way of resistance. What you say about the difference between the English society and that of the other European nations explains to a degree how this national character has been formed.

    Monday, 16 July 2012 at 13:14 | Permalink

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