Keir Martland: Family Structures, The Privatisation of Offspring

by The Editor

Keir Martland: Family Structures, The Privatisation of Offspring
Speech delivered at the Traditional Britain Conference to the Traditional Britain Group by Mr. Keir Martland on 18th October 2014 - 'The Privatisation of Offspring'

Let me begin with Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s theory of the origin of private property and the family. He starts in North-East Africa about 10,000 years ago from which time onwards there were various migrations: some went east, some west. These migrations happened because there was a deep Malthusian pressure on the existing hunter-gatherer societies of behaviourally modern man. (It was taking about a square mile of land to sustain comfortably a person back then.) So it was that they had to do their best to engage in very strict birth control by forcibly inducing abortions or practicing infanticide. Both of these methods were found to be inadequate, therefore they could either do three things: fight, move, or organise themselves in a different way.

There is evidence that some fought, some fled, some took on a new societal structure. However, the most important was the last of these three. The two things they did to change their societal structure were the following: they economised land and they privatised offspring. They decided to produce goods rather than just consume them – and they did this by actually interacting with the environment and treating it as private property, for instance, by fencing off land. In addition to this, they ‘privatised’ offspring by practicing monogamous family life as opposed to ‘free love’. Previously, the children were the responsibility of the community as a whole and so far too many children were produced which lowered average living standards.

What I am going to talk about today is the second of these things: the privatisation of offspring. Just as there are different modes of land economisation such as capitalism and socialism, there are different modes of the privatisation of offspring which I will term ‘family structures’. They have been somewhat under analysed by the intellectuals and that needs to be rectified. The three family structures which I will assess today in terms of their social, economic, and political implications are the nuclear family, the authoritarian family, and the communitarian family.

The Overviews

The nuclear family, we are often told, is unique to Anglo-Saxon life. Indeed, David Willetts, Universities Minister and the brain of the Conservative Party, seems to think so too. In his book The Pinch, he gives a concise overview of this typical ‘English’ way of life: “We live in small families. We buy and sell houses. … Our parents expect us to leave home for paid work …You try to save up some money from your wages so that you can afford to get married. … You can choose your spouse … It takes a long time to build up some savings from your work and find the right person with whom to settle down, so marriage comes quite lately, possibly in your late twenties.“

The authoritarian family, however, is prevalent in some parts of the United Kingdom, most notably Scotland, Wales, and the north of England. I am from Lancashire, for example, which is an area neither Norman nor Anglo-Saxon, but predominantly Celtic. As an illustration of my point, a number of my friends’ grandparents live with them, or they with their grandparents. On one side of my family, multiple generations have lived on the same farm at a time and that seems to be the way it will remain for the foreseeable future. Even those families which are ‘nuclear’ are firmly within the shadow of an over-arching authoritarian family; there may be smaller nuclear units, but each of these are awfully close to the previous generation. Grandparents in Lancashire, as an authoritarian family county, seem to have much more influence than they do in southern and eastern counties of England. In addition, in these authoritarian families, it is rare for there to be very much deviation from a narrow list of occupations among the male members of the family.

Turning now to the communitarian family structure, even larger numbers of people live in the same house than in the authoritarian structure. While it is a fact that the English live in among the smallest houses in Europe, it must be remembered that usually only three or four live under the same roof in this country. In southern Europe this is not the case. The communitarian family is, I believe, most commonly associated with Italy, Spain, at least parts of Portugal, the Balkans, and parts of Greece. In a communitarian family, everyone probably works in the same business. All the money goes into and comes out of the same communal “pot”. All marriages are arranged to keep the money “in the family” or at least in the neighbourhood.

Social, Economic, and then Political Implications

I shall now turn to the incentive structures resulting from the three family structures outlined above, only once I have done this can I turn to the issue of the family as a political tool, so to speak.

In an authoritarian family, the children are in the care of the parent for much longer. The authority of the parent remains throughout most of the child’s adult life, for, indeed, the eldest of the children will never leave home. At one point, there may be three generations living under the same roof. What, then, are the incentives of the parent? In this system, the parent has invested in a very practical retirement plan: he will raise his children to the best of his ability and in return, once he is retired and his eldest child is working, he will have a comfortable retirement at the expense of his children. How, then, is he to best achieve this? In the authoritarian family, the parents dictate to the child what he will do for a living – for, leaving the choice to him risks him making the wrong decision – and to whom he will get married – for, the parent will one day have to share the house with her.

Authoritarian families are not only characterised – to my knowledge – by this sharing of the house with the eldest child and the passing on of the estate to him. It is also the case that the other children, and there almost always are other children, will be assisted by the eldest child and the parents, financially or otherwise. Nepotism and house sharing are, then, the two main characteristics of the authoritarian family.

What, then, will be the political implications of the authoritarian family structure? This family structure, as Steve Sailer says, serves as a “miniature welfare state” and thus the most obvious political implication will be the redundancy of Socialism. This system stamps out individuality among its members and it never truly allows the children any “social freedom” – a topic to which I shall return later – even when they become adults, but it serves as a safety net for those who might need it without actually expropriating or conscripting or enslaving a single soul, that is, not at the expense of political freedom. It is a powerful intermediary institution, like the Church, and the community, against the central State. For, what can a state do for you, or what do you need the state for, if you have a house, a trade, a priest, and a good circle of friends?

In many ways, the communitarian family is an exaggerated version of the authoritarian family: every family member in the same house; eating the same food; doing the same work; working towards the same common goal. In this system, to paraphrase Sailer again, there’s: “tribalism, ethnic loyalty, nepotism, extended clans, privilege, mafias of relatives, arranged marriages.” The precise reverse of the nuclear family. In this system, nobody needs to think for themselves and nobody needs to get on with strangers. There is no need for civil society. To quote Willetts again, via Sailer, “It means that voting is by clans: it is hard to have neutral contracts enforced by an independent judiciary when family obligations are so wide-ranging and so strong…Big clan-style families are better than nuclear ones at spreading advantage and pooling risk …”

So, yes, this communitarian family, I think, can be considered as an authoritarian family, but extended and amplified, taken to dangerous extremes. What might be the political consequences of such an ethnocentric and communistic family structure being prevalent among a people? My first assumption is that where co-operation with outsiders isn’t strictly necessary, it will not happen, or will only happen in rather nasty ways such as blackmail and bribes. Comparatively little innovation will take place in a society where the unproductive are living in the same house as the productive and where the volume of people under one roof is so great that nobody will ever be counted as an individual. Family endeavours are likely to be highly wasteful and short-sighted, as “risk is pooled”, while no single figure is likely to emerge as a patriarch since “advantage is spread” and thus the incentive to take charge is minimised. Further, the capital value of the communal house is unlikely to be greatly improved due to the inevitable ambiguity over just who is the real owner of it. If I don’t own it, but if I will always live in it – for who will even dare to kick me out when I am trying to support my wife and children in it?! – then I am unlikely to spend any time or effort repairing the kitchen door, for instance. Me? Why me? Someone else can do it. Lastly, since the money all goes into some metaphorical ‘pot’, there will be a tendency, a la democratic socialism, for each member to become progressively less inclined to work and more inclined to spend.

The political implications of the communitarian family are unlikely to be very good from a standard libertarian or conservative point of view. There will be uncommonly high levels of corruption among political officials and certain families will always vote for one particular political party while other, rival tribes will drift towards other factions. Unlike under the authoritarian family, where the miniature-Welfare state rests upon the passing down of an estate to the eldest child, and the assistance of the others through occasional acts of nepotism by employers-parents, in the communitarian model, there is less of a reciprocal “I’ll scratch your back etc.” nature and more of a “You’re family – here’s lots of free goods!” nature to the model. And so, under the authoritarian model there will be a natural inclination of the patriarchs of the country against high property and income taxes whereas to each individual member of a communitarian family how high taxes are makes very little difference.

What, then, of the nuclear family? This is the most individualistic of all of the family structures. It lets the child make his own way in life, with no obligations to the parents, and no assistance from the parents in adult life (except for the lump sum given to the child in the Will upon the death of the parents). The attitude of a parent in a nuclear family is this: I must look after my child and leave some money to him when I die, but I must not interfere with his life and career choices.

Thus, when in adulthood, the child will not have a large and generous extended authoritarian or communitarian family to fall back on if he gets into arrears. What, then, is he to do? Smaller families, as Willetts reminds us, must buy services such as insurance schemes. In this way, it would seem that the nuclear family is the most capitalistic model there is. Thus, the nuclear family not only had no miniature-Welfare State, but it also gave rise to capital accumulation, to the preservation and increase in property values, and to the co-operation of different families in a way not heretofore seen. The attitude, therefore, of the child is this: I must become independent of my parents and must always be able to support myself. A corollary of this must be increased productivity.

This being said, I am going to venture to say that the nuclear family is not the best option at present from a libertarian or conservative perspective. Every cloud has a silver lining. That it is the most individualistic family structure is not up for debate. That it is arguably the most economically sound family structure is not up for debate either. But, what I am going to say is that in the present political and economic climate, the nuclear family only further strengthens the State and that this has been the case for a long time.

Firstly, while the nuclear family reduces the frequency of incidences of corruption and nepotism, it also means that families are now to be ruled by impersonal rulers. With the tendency of nuclear families to scatter through the generations, there is actually less chance of being ruled by someone you know. While the consequences of non-market allocations of resources are bad and thus economic nepotism is, on the whole, bad, the drift away from rule by one’s cousin, for example, to rule by an impersonal, ideologically motivated demagogue are very bad indeed. If I am ruled by my second cousin, if he is the Mayor, or the local feudal lord, then I’m going to be alright. Even if this ruler to whom I am related would like to tax the town much higher, he will encounter resistance which he will not be able to counter. Better the enemy you know. Parallels between this and a monarchy can be drawn; just as being ruled by a family member at the local level has its benefits, being ruled by the same person for decades and the same family for generations has its benefits too. This is probably why tax in Liechtenstein is virtually non-existent. With an impersonal and distant ruler you do not have this advantage. The nuclear family consists of four people usually – how likely is it that one of these four will be the local Councillor or Mayor? This is just one serious political flaw with the nuclear family: that while it allows for intra-family freedom, it doesn’t protect the family unit itself from political power as exercised by increasingly distant folk.

Not only this, but in addition to the increasingly impersonal nature of political power and thus the removal of certain barriers against its misuse, the nuclear family creates more wealth than both the authoritarian and the communitarian family. Is this bad? In terms of the family itself and in terms of material comfort, no. But, the wealthier a society becomes the wealthier the State becomes also which means that the State can now afford to supply the one thing the nuclear family can’t: a Welfare State. And the State provides a more generous one than ever, funded by years of capital accumulation; funded by small expropriations from all families and handed out to those below a certain income: concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. This Welfare State will last for quite a while and it will take a generation for the economic, moral, and cultural rot to set in. Only the generations which grow up on the idea that the State will provide for them will become comparatively short-sighted and lazy. But mine is not the first of those generations. With a Welfare State provided for them, the populace, by now network of small families ruled by impersonal demagogues, will be fooled into thinking that the State is their new family. Accordingly, ever higher levels of statism are tolerated.

But I don’t think it stops there. In addition to the populace having rather less power over political office holders, and the attraction of the Welfare State, the nuclear family is small and smaller, weaker units are infinitely more repressible by the big, strong central State. There is, as they say, safety in numbers. However, it ought to be remembered that the communitarian family provides all too many opportunities for inter-family conflict – not to mention intra-family conflict – and so some balance must be struck.

A further disadvantage to the nuclear family is recognised by Sailer: “This relative lack of nepotism and ethnocentrism makes Anglos simultaneously both successful and at risk of being out-maneuvered by less idealistic groups…. One increasing problem with civil Anglo personalities is that they tend to value fair play and neutrality so much that they can blind themselves to the interests of their own descendants.” Further to this, the nuclear family allows for the loss of homogeneity of an area through the buying and selling of houses as opposed to each family passing down its estate to the eldest son with siblings living close by. The arrival of immigrant families in a community is not only not avoided, due to the selling of houses to non-family members, but integration is not encouraged. The loss of homogeneity in communities provides opportunities for conflict on which the State feeds.

Social Freedom versus Political Freedom

Yet I can anticipate the counter-arguments of individualists who detest any growth in the institution of the family: the nuclear family is the root of all freedom in England; and that the authoritarian family is antithetical to liberty. Both of these views seem to be confused to me. It rather depends on what kind of freedom we are talking about. I am talking about freedom of speech, freedom from molestation, and freedom of contract and association. Individualists consider freedom as being the payment of some sort of debt to them by society; they see it as their due to be accepted, tolerated, catered for, without incurring any debts or obligations themselves. Needless to say that this definition of freedom is, in addition to being incorrect, vague.

Using my definition of freedom, that is, the freedom from political violence, let us examine the two above views. How can it be the case that the nuclear family is the root of all freedom in England? Indeed, the fact that England is a soft totalitarian state while the nuclear family is without a doubt its modal family structure would probably suffice as a knock-down counter-argument. But I will say a few words about the two kinds of freedom and the nuclear family. The individualists – and indeed many libertarians and anarchists – mistakenly believe that ‘social freedom’ – the term they often use for freedom from discrimination and from obligations to other members of society, such as one’s family – is the root of political freedom – meaning the absence of taxation and other evils. This is absurd. You can find countless examples of societies where the authoritarian family was the modal family structure, where there were rigid yet voluntary social and economic hierarchies aplenty, and where there was also a strict reverence for property rights and the political rights of the individual. As good an example as any is that of the Scottish Highlanders before the Clan system was stamped out by the Lowlanders. Thus, I would argue the opposite: that social freedom, of which the nuclear family is a subset it would seem, is allowed and may even be encouraged by political freedom, whereas to argue the reverse sounds perhaps even intuitively false.

The second, and related, statement, – that the authoritarian family is antithetical to liberty – seems also to suffer from the same misunderstanding. If, however, one does believe that the freedom from taxation is the result of the freedom from one’s family, then it is only logical to believe that the authoritarian family is antithetical to liberty. This is not the case, though. Rather, the correct way to approach this is thinking about politics first: some time in our history came to pass when the State had become so small and the country so prosperous that the need for families to ‘stick together’ no longer existed. Thus with political freedom came ‘social freedom’ – came the nuclear family. However, the State also at a later stage became democratic and managed to pit families and classes against each other – to divide and conquer. Had there been some remnant of the tribal loyalty there had theretofore been, that conquest might have failed. The State also managed to exploit the lack of provisions made for the poorer members of a family by the establishment of the Welfare State. Had the unemployed and the disabled been offered rather more generous assistance by their families, the Welfare State may have proved unnecessary.

What, then, is the real relationship between social and political freedom? I am tempted to say that it is simply the reverse of the individualist view and be done with it, but instead I would argue that it is about public perception. If the public think that there is a grave threat to freedom, if they think of their government as tyrannical, then they will act accordingly. If they think that there is a good deal of political freedom, they will act accordingly. There is nothing in and of itself harmful about acting in the first way – as if there is a threat to freedom nearby, because there usually is – but acting in the second kind of way when it isn’t wise so to do is dangerous indeed. It is dangerous to society’s long-term interests to let its guard down in this way.

At some point in our history we must have moved from the ‘older’ model of the authoritarian family structure to the nuclear family. Why? Because the public no longer sensed any political threat. This may have happened during the Whig Ascendency, when the state was indeed small and remained small for about a century. This is more than enough time for a new family structure to take root. In addition, the nuclear family may have been part and parcel of the Industrial Revolution, with families now becoming so much richer that they could afford to split up. Either way, this change happened at some time and it didn’t do our ancestors any immediate harm.

We are now many more generations along and we are now even more individualist than our 18th and 19th century ancestors. But the political freedom which allowed the Industrial Revolution to take place no longer exists. So, let us think again, is social freedom (such as the move to the nuclear family), the root of all our political freedom? If not, and I think not, what are we to do, the arguments above in mind, to restore our political freedom?

In a Britain with no socialism and no democracy and where all relations are voluntary and mutually advantageous, who knows what family structure might prevail? We will probably shift very quickly back to the absolute nuclear family or to some newer version of it due to the lack of any need for families to defend themselves against tyranny. But we are not at that stage. What you are saying, if you are blindly defending the nuclear family, is that we have only to behave as if England is a free society and England will become one (that we should put on a suit, and we will have a job); that we should retain our present family structure simply because it is the family structure we’ve had for a long time and because it allows for a good deal of ‘social freedom’. Social freedom means the ability to act in all manner of ways without fear of arousing suspicion, indignation, or ostracism from others, without incurring any debts or obligations. But suspicion, indignation, ostracism, debts and obligations, are all peaceful ways of avoiding conflicts in the future. The State lives off such conflict.


Indeed, I might add that the nuclear family is a great structure under the right circumstances. Those circumstances are a free market and an hereditary monarchy (preferably a just system of neo-feudalism, where the monarch is simply the landlord of the nation). For in a free market, there is no Welfare State, and under a feudal system with a monarch at the head, the rulers are intimately known by, and are accessible to, the ruled – much more so than elected and temporary rulers. But, we have neither a free market nor is justice administered by a natural aristocracy. I want the nuclear family. But I just don’t believe it to be the right family structure in a Britain where the very virtues of the nuclear family are obscured and perverted and where the state itself has become something of a father-figure. The cures for this must be real parental authority throughout one’s life and, yes, just a bit of nepotism.

I have said nothing new here, but before I conclude I will briefly summarize what I have said so far: that the nuclear family is only workable under the right circumstances; that those circumstances are the absence of socialism, democracy, and centralism; that we have socialism, democracy, and centralism; that until we are no longer plagued by these we must adapt our modal family structure accordingly to reduce our reliance upon, and to strengthen ourselves against, the state. What, then, can we as a people do to restore our freedom? I suggest that we do away with the absolute nuclear family and recognise the need for patriarchal authority right the way through our lives by, as far as is possible, remaining close to our parents. The poor would have a safety-net and the rich would this way create even more wealth together as a dynasty, perhaps, than as a number of smaller units. I suggest that we adopt a compromise family structure, somewhere between the authoritarian and the nuclear family. Those parts of the nuclear family which foster individual freedom and prosperity without the drawbacks of creating instability and shortsightedness ought to be kept. Those parts of the authoritarian family which foster stability and farsightedness without hindering individual freedom ought to be adopted. Beyond this, I can say very little, except that the modal English family structure as it stands must be adapted so that the Welfare State and democracy can be made obsolete once and for all. And I think that this can be done.

Content on the Traditional Britain Blog and Journal does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Traditional Britain Group