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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Family = Favoritism

Megan tipped me off to a New Republic article about "The Genealogy Craze in America" (free registration required). It covers familiar ground (no pun intended), but raises one point too seldom acknowledged: the age-old notion that the family is a subversive institution, which dates back at least to Plato.

Contrary to a shibboleth of the American right, family values do not uphold religion and country; they subvert them. An extended family is a rival coalition to any other group, held together not by an ideology or social contract or common purpose but by brute genetic relatedness. And it is a coalition with an unfair advantage: relatives care for one another more than comrades do.
In large part, the institutions of modernity depend on a dissolution of family ties. It is hard to run an effective organization if you cannot fire the knucklehead brother-in-law forced on you by your wife's family, nor can civil society function if the instruments of government are treated as the spoils of the most powerful local clan.

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