The Family in Global Transition

By Gordon L. Anderson | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
THE FAMILY IN ANTIQUITY

Jan Knappert


Introduction

The first human beings on earth lived in very small groups. How were these groups structured? We know nothing about it, but many theories have been constructed to prove that human procreation took place promiscuously or that it was the result of a long-lasting, faithful family life. Sir Henry James Sumner Maine ( 1822-1888), a Cambridge law lecturer, was the founder of comparative jurisprudence. He discovered that ancient law systems took little notice of individual persons, but only regulated the relations between groups. He concluded that the earliest type of such groups was the clan, ruled by a patriarch; this conclusion may still be proved to be the correct one, as we shall see further down.

Johann Jacob Bachofen, a Swiss jurist ( 1815-1887), came to the opposite conclusion, based more on mystic intuition than on systematic research. His book Das Mutterrecht (The Mothers' law 1861) posited that the oldest political organization was the matriarchate or gynocracy, even though the evidence he adduced was scant. Yet to this day his book is a catechism for some feminist groups. He assumed that the first stage of the history of the family was a promiscuous free-for- all, which lasted until the women, disgusted with this immorality, punished the misbehaving men and instituted regular marriage. This female revolution heralded the second stage of human development, that of the matrilinear matriarchate.

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