Sense of History: an unfinished draft of an undergraduate history textbook by Robert C. Binkley, 1939-40. This transcription is not yet fully corrected.
While the natural diffusion of the blood stream tends, through the long period, to dissolve all family ties, the inheritance of property tends to maintain them. When a specific patrimony is associated with a specific family line, the two taken together are a dynasty. There are dynasties of peasants just as there are dynasties of princes. The essential characteristic of a dynasty is a planned coincidence of blood and property.
The short period of twenty years is of course [p.018] insufficient for dynasties to show themselves, and the long period of five hundred years too long for most dynasties to endure. The life cycle of a dynasty belongs, therefore, to a period intermediate between the twenty year generation and the five hundred year age.
Among most people, whether in Europe, America or China, and through all ages, the desire to establish or perpetuate a dynasty has been one of the most compelling of motives. It has found expression not only in religious cults of ancestor worship, but in systems of property and in standards of work and saving. Modern national patriotism, or zeal for some universal religion, have been much less persistently present at the springs of human action. Though there is some evidence that this anciently established and basic source of motivation is running low, it is still true that pleas for the future that extend beyond one’s own life come to a focus in the effort to envisage the life-setting of grandchildren or great-grandchildren. If you come to have any practical interest in the year 2020, which few of you will see, it will probably arise in connection with the prospects of your children and grandchildren who may then be alive.
Within what limits, and through what term of time, can you reach into the future through your descendants and expect your own will to prevail when you are no longer living? To the extent that family property is the vehicle by which you expect to carry forward the momentum of your own life, you are concerned with dynastic policy;
Three specific family histories will serve to illustrate some of the typical things that can happen to a dynasty or family line through a period of two centuries. It is impossible to set forth the history of the most important family in these pages, for the most important family is your own.
The history of the Wedgwoods shows how the genius of a man can give rise to a body of property which will affect favorably the lives of his descendants through an entire era. The history of the Jukes family shows the effects of the natural tendency of a blood stream to scatter and diffuse itself. The history of the Coburg family shows how the fundamental conditions underlying a dynastic [p.019] policy may be changed by forces wholly outside of dynastic control.
In 1929 there were over three hundred Wedgwoods in England, all descended from one Gilbert Wedgwood, the son of a bankrupt yeoman who married an heiress in Burslem in 1616, and inherited about 240 acres and a small pottery. About 80% of the three hundred are in the lower middle or working class. This is only slightly out of line with the general distribution of wealth among English people. About 10% are well-to-do, if that status is measured by the inheritance of estates of between £1,000 and £20,000. Another 10% are wealthy, having inherited estates ranging from £20,000 to £100,000. This proportion is out of line with the general distribution of wealth in England. There are five times as many wealthy Wedgwoods as there would be if this family had no more than average representation in the wealthy class.
How did this situation come into existence? Fortunately a twentieth century member of the family with a keen interest in economics and genealogy has worked out the story through three centuries.
Gilbert Wedgwood started from scratch, his father a bankrupt when he came to Burslem at the beginning of the Baroque era, (1616). But he acquired a small property by marriage. The present day Wedgwoods are all descended from three of his sons, Thomas, Adrian, and William.
Most of the family property went to Thomas, and from Thomas are descended practically all the well-to-do and wealthy Wedgwoods of today. But the third and fourth generations from Gilbert did not show the clear division between the propertied and the unpropertied. The descendants of one of the younger sons, through fortunate marriages, maintained a good position till the end of the Old Regime era. They were then deprived of an inheritance expected from one of the wealthiest of their clan. Property "passed out of the family".
The descendants of the other son dropped rapidly into the ranks of the proletariat. "During that black century, 1750-1850" writes the family historian, "the poverty stricken Burslem Wedgwoods died off like flies under the iron heel of the factory system".
[p.020] One member of the proletarian branch migrated to Cumberland, where his descendants became laborers, miners, and sailors. The well-to-do Wedgwoods of today are descendants of Thomas, the proletarian Wedgwoods of Adrian and William. The division between these came in the 18th century.
The wealthy Wedgwoods among the well-to-do descendants of Thomas are those whose blood comes through Josiah Wedgwood, who was born in 1730. There have thus been two Wedgwood dynasties of wealthy people, one of which lasted through the Baroque era, and the other of which has lasted through the era of Nationalism. The founder of this second dynasty was Josiah.
Josiah’s father was a potter operating his own establishment as a family enterprise. The children learned the trade and worked in the home shop. When his father died in 1739, Josiah’s elder brother, Thomas, took over the management of the shop, and Josiah went to work as an apprentice. There he worked till he reached his majority, and received from the family estate the £20 bequeathed him by his father. Since his brother would not take him in as a partner in the family business Josiah went to another town, found a partner who advanced some capital, and went into the pottery business as an entrepreneur.
In the year 1757 his monthly balance sheets showed profits of from £3 to £36; he was at that time paying his skilled journeymen eight shillings a week wages. The profits were from three to thirty times what he could have made as wages.
During this period he experimented with new techniques. From his share of these profits he built up the capital which enabled him to start up in business for himself in 1760. He rented two kilns and the necessary working premises for £10 a year, and applied the results of his experiments in the improvement of pottery manufacture. He had only a few workmen, among them his second cousin, whom he paid £22 a year. His business flourished, and in 1764 he was sufficiently well established for marriage.
He wooed the daughter of a distant relative, Richard Wedgwood, a wealthy cheese dealer of Cheshire. The bride’s father watched carefully over the pro[p.021]perty interest of his own family in the marriage. One of Josiah’s letters tells the story:
If you know my temper and sentiments on these affairs you will be sensible how I am mortified when I tell you I have gone through a long series of bargain-making, of settlements, reversions, provisions and so on. 'Gone through it' did I say? Would to Hymen that I had. No! I am still in the attorney’s hands, from which I hope it is no harm to pray, ‘Good lord, deliver me!' Miss W. and I are perfectly agreed, and would settle the whole affair in three lines and as many minutes; but our papa, over-careful of his daughter’s interest, would by some demands go near to separate us if we were not better determined. On Friday next, Mr. W. and I are to meet in great form, with each of us our attorney, which I hope will prove conclusive.
Josiah and his bride felt quite competent to manage the internal affairs of their household, but the dynastic policy of the bride’s father turned perforce to the outside support of the law of England. It was perhaps through inadequate attention to "settlements, reversions and so on" that the first Wedgwood dynasty lost its property.
With his wife’s money to help him, Josiah went rapidly forward.
The prosperity of Josiah’s firm was promoted in part by political action, through the improvement of roads. Josiah took a large part in lobbying for turnpike bills. This activity led to political connections, which won him an order for a tea service for the royal court. The prestige of this order opened to him a market among aristocratic families: he became "Potter to Her Majesty", opened a sales room in London, expanded his works to take care of the luxury trade.
The Wedgwood works became a factory in the; modern sense. The change from his brother’s workshop in Burslem to his own great plant at Etruria was his share in the so-called industrial revolution.
So the Wedgwood fortune came into existence. It gave Josiah’s descendants leisure to apply themselves to science, literature, and politics. Charles Darwin lived on Wedgwood money while thinking out his theory of the origin of species. Out of Josiah’s management of his business came the patrimony which still supports his dynasty. The later Wedgwoods have not been business men.
[p.021] The British state is now charging a high price in inheritance taxes for the maintenance of the dynasty, and the proletarian Wedgwoods, who are guaranteed their livelihood by old age pensions and unemployment relief, share through the agency of the British government in the income of their distant relatives.
The two perils that attend such dynasties as this are extinction of the blood and dissipation of the patrimony. In surviving these dangers for a period of time equal to the lifetime of the United States, the Josiah Wedgwood dynasty has been exceptionally favored. Josiah himself could hardly have hoped for more.
The New York backwoodsman known to sociologists as Max Juke was born a contemporary of Josiah Wedgwood, perhaps in the same year (1730).
Two of Max Juke’s sons married into a family of six sisters. The descendants of five of these six sisters are the people called "the Jukes". The real surname has been mercifully suppressed. By 1915 there were 748 adult descendants, scattered through twenty states of the American union.
Through the period of the Revolution and of Metternich the Jukes lived the lives of frontiersmen. Meanwhile the frontier moved out from under them. About 1840 a cement industry arose in their district. The roots of their native hills provided the raw material for a natural cement. Many of the Jukes worked as laborers in the cement mills.
The Jukes of the frontier and cement mill period were mostly at the bottom of the social scale. Many of them lived by petty thievery and prostitution. They were always going on relief. Sociologists have used their case in argument over the relative importance of heredity and environment in determining the fates of human beings. That part of the argument need not concern us. We have only to observe a certain stability in the Jukes relative to their society. They intermarried among themselves. About 20% married their relatives. This is almost exactly the percentage of intermarriage in four generations of an average European royal family. (Computations covering a series of forty royal families have been made, and are published in Boas: The Mind of Primitive Man, p. 57).
[p.023] The annals of the Jukes, carefully collated by investigators to prove how great was the degree of degradation of the family, show incidentally that there was some consciousness of relationship and interdependency among them. For instance:
Enoch, the last child of Blanche and Edmund, was born in 1851. He was a laborer; at 18, outdoor relief, one year; at 20, outdoor relief, two years. No property; ignorant and boorish; temperate. He married his third cousin, Luella, and lived with her until her death in 1890. This union was sterile. Enoch had acquired syphilis. He worked only at times.
After Luella's death, Enoch's cousin became pregnant by him and he 'married' her. After her marriage she was promiscuous in her relations, and acquired both syphilis and gonorrhea and died of syphilis at the age of 22. She had two children, both reputed to be by Enoch. After her death Enoch, with the two children, went to live with a distant cousin in a hovel home in the mountains. Here Enoch died of epileptic convulsions. Some time after Enoch's death his two children were removed by a social worker from this hovel to the Children's Home, where they were cleaned, taught manners, and sent to school.
The emigration of the Jukes made a difference. Inbreeding stopped; the blood scattered. The later generations seem to be working upward toward the average American social status. In 1915 10% of the adult Jukes were reported as fairly prosperous, with high standing in their respective communities, about 40% were good, hardworking artisans or laborers, while 50% were of the pauper or criminal type. There are about five times as many wealthy Wedgwoods, and probably five times as many pauper Jukes, as there would be if each of these families had only normal or average representation in each class.
The inheritance of wealth has played but a small part in the Juke history. The Jukes have not been a dynasty. Society had no occasion to protect for them a fund of property. But society stood by the Jukes, punishing them often, praising them seldom, but feeding them always in the last resort.
Thus two happenings that were contemporary with the American Revolution―the founding of the Wedgwood fortune, the marriages of the Jukes sisters, have made their contribution to the social structure of England and the United States. The effects of these two happenings are gradually disappearing. The Wedgwood wealth of today is by no means as mean[p.024]ingful in England as it was in Josiah's lifetime; the Jukes are on their way to becoming average American citizens.
In 1735, when Max Juke and Josiah Wedgwood were small children, the city and land of Coburg was awarded as a duchy to the two sons of Johann Ernst von Saalfeld. The award was made by the Supreme Court of the Holy Roman Empire.
What was the duchy of Coburg? It was indeed a kind of family property, but it was not property in the modern sense. Whoever was Duke of Coburg had certain rights of rulership which the Germans called Landeshoheit, and which we might translate Lord Paramountcy. As Lord Paramount of Coburg, the Duke had the right to certain revenues from the land, some of which we would call rents, and others of which we would call taxes. Out of these revenues the Duke had to pay some of the costs of government, end what was left over was available as family income.
Who was Johann Ernst von Saalfeld? He was one of the eighteen children of Duke Ernest the Pious, who died in 1675. Duke Ernest was a member of the great Wettin family, which had risen to prominence in the high feudal age. Starting with the margravate of Meissen it had acquired a part of the Duchy of Saxony.
There were two branches of the Wettin family. One branch, which held the office of Elector in the Holy Roman Empire, established a rule of inheritance by which the whole patrimony was kept intact and transmitted to the eldest son. This inheritance rule, called primogeniture, was hard on the younger sons, but it prevented the dispersion of the patrimony. If the Wettin family had followed this rule from the beginning it would not have been divided into two branches, and it would have reached a position in Germany far outshining the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg and Prussia,―but in that case Johann Ernst would never have obtained Coburg; Coburg would have been a part of Electoral Saxony; there would have been no Coburg dynasty.
Ernest the Pious followed the Saxon customary law, not the rule of primogeniture, in dividing his patrimony among his seven surviving sons. Johann [p.025] Ernst had Saalfeld for his share. When his brother in Coburg died he laid claim to that estate. A dispute ensued. In the late feudal era such a dispute would have been decided by a small family war, but in the Old Regime era the lesser princes of the Holy Roman Empire were settling their disputes by peaceful means. The litigation went on for thirty-six years. When the final award came in 1735 Johann Ernst was dead, and his two sons, Christian Ernst and Franz Josias, took over the duchy and ruled it jointly.
A further partitioning of the duchy would have taken place but for two events. First, Christian Ernst married beneath him. The inheritance law of the Empire thereby came into play to exclude his progeny from the inheritance. Second, Franz Josias drew up a family law of primogeniture and had it ratified by the Diet of the Empire and the Emperor. The Empire permitted the adoption of such special family inheritance laws and gave them perpetual validity. In England, on the contrary, each generation had to draw up its arrangement for "reversions and settlements" like those which plagued Josiah Wedgwood. The English law would then enforce the arrangements, but only for the duration of three lives.
Franz Josias, who ruled the estate till 1764, made an error of business judgment. When Prince Henry of Schwarzburg-Sonderhausen died in l758 without heirs, his estate went begging because it was in such bad financial condition. Franz Josias of Coburg took it over, debts and all, and then found himself in great difficulties. His son Ernst Friederich, who held the family patrimony from 1764 to 1800, was faced with bankruptcy. Had the Coburgs been a merchant family operating under business law they would have gone under, as the first Wedgwood dynasty went under at that time. But the Holy Roman Empire saved them. In 1773 an Imperial Debt Commission was appointed to administer the revenues of Coburg in the interest of the creditors. The income of the duchy was only 86,000 gulden a year, and the debts over a million. Poor Duke Ernst Friederich was reduced to a penurious mode of life, with few guests, no more than three courses at his meals, and only the simplest clothing. The regime of the Imperial Debt Commission lasted till 1803, two years after Ernst Friederich’s death.
No sooner was the estate cleared of the receivership than the Napoleonic wars threatened all [p.026] small princely patrimonies in the Empire, including that of the Coburgs. In this crisis it was doubly fortunate that Franz Josias had established a rule of primogeniture. For the younger sons, excluded from the prospect of succession, had been entering military service in Austria and Russia. One son, Ferdinand, was in Austrian service; another, Leopold, was a general in the Russian army, and the eldest son, Ernst, was serving with the Prussians.
The Meiningen branch of the Wettin family intrigued in Paris to induce Napoleon to dispossess or, in the language of the day, "mediatize" the Coburg patrimony. This would have left the duke as a landlord over some domains in Coburg, not as ruler of it. The Meiningens would have become rulers. But the good contacts in the courts of the Great Powers preserved the dynasty in the early 19th century, even as the Holy Roman Empire had established and protected it in the 18th. Duke Ernst emerged at the close of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as the ruler of a duchy of 77,000 population.
It was Duke Franz, who was head of his house from 1800 to 1806, who arranged for his children the brilliant marriages that brought Coburg blood to most of the European thrones. His daughter Victoria married the English Duke of Kent, and gave birth to the child who bore her mother’s name and was throughout the whole latter part of the nineteenth century, as Queen Victoria of England, the great matriarch of the Coburg clan. The English Queen kept her hand on family affairs throughout her long life. To her grandson William, German Kaiser, she wrote ‘Let me also ask you to bear with poor Mama if she is sometimes irritated and excited. She does not mean it so; think what months of agony and suspense and watching with broken and sleepless nights she has gone through, and don’t mind it. I am so anxious that all should go smoothly, that I write thus openly in the interest of you both.’
‘Poor Mama’ was the Empress Frederick, Queen Victoria’s daughter. The Queen’s correspondence is full of such items of family counsel.
Coburg blood reached the English throne through both Victoria and Albert. Another of the sons of Duke Franz married a wealthy Hungarian heiress, Princess Kohary, and established a family which reached the Portuguese throne through a son, was united with the House of Orleans through a daughter, [p.027] and launched a new dynasty in Bulgaria. The youngest son, Leopold, became king of the Belgians. A daughter married Grand Duke Constantine, heir to the Russian throne, who yielded his birthright to his brother Nicholas in 1825. Another daughter married the Prince of Leiningen who held the Lord Paramountcy of a small Rhenish principality till 1806.
The fate of the principality of Leiningen in 1806 was exactly the fate that Coburg itself avoided at that time by means of the favor of the great European courts. The principality was "mediatized" by Napoleon. This meant that the Prince of Leiningen lost his Lord Paramountcy, but retained a kind of super-landlord position in his principality. The Grand Duke of Baden became sovereign over him. Thus the character of the patrimony was changed; the Leiningen dynasty was deprived of some rights in it, even while it retained others.
The third and fourth generations from Duke Franz entered by marriage into practically all the royal families of Europe. There is Coburg blood in the heirs or pretenders to almost all the European thrones, Austrian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian. In the world war there was Coburg blood on the thrones of the three Central Powers — Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria. The last Empress of Russia was a Coburg.
In this last phase of monarchy in Europe the Coburgs made a successful business of kingship and royal marriage. It was their family occupation. But the family business is no longer what it used to be. Kings are faced with technological unemployment. Governments can get along without them. A score of royal and princely families lost their thrones in Germany, the Coburg dukes among them. The old Coburg patrimony was combined with other little duchies as the State of Thuringia in 1919. Most of the royal families that lost their thrones have saved a substantial patrimony for themselves in the form of ordinary property. Their fate is therefore in some way comparable to that which overtook the Prince of Leiningen in 1806.
Had Johann Ernst von Saalfeld dreamed of the future of his family, two things he could hardly have put in his dream: first that his descendants would reach almost all the thrones of Europe, and second that all but one of the greatest of these thrones would be pulled down.
[p.028] The family business of the Coburgs made their internal family affairs particularly subject to external public control. Their daughters were often married by international treaty; their internal family disputes were matters of public concern.
For instance, in 1824, there was discord between Duke Ernst of Coburg and his wife. The people of Coburg were warmly interested. They blamed the friction on a certain courtier, Szymborski. When matters came to a crisis the duchess left Coburg. The townspeople went out in a mob and brought her back from her country home to the ducal palace in town, then sought out the Duke in his hunting lodge and carried him back to town. They drove out the villain Szymborski, and then waited in front of the palace till the duke and duchess appeared together on a balcony. This zealous intervention did not however, put an end to family discord; the duke and duchess continued their quarrel, and soon separated. Albert, the well domesticated husband of Queen Victoria, was a son of this pair.
Public control of a Coburg family affair was dramatically exercised in 1937, when Edward VIII, great-grandson of Queen Victoria and king of England, wanted to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson, an American girl who had been twice married and twice divorced. Since the marriage was probably contrary to the canon law of the Church of England, and certainly shocking to the moral sensibilities of British subjects generally, the British Prime Minister forced Edward to choose between the woman and the throne. Edward chose the woman, and abdicated the throne. Edward’s marriage in the twentieth century, like Christian Ernst's in the eighteenth, has the effect of excluding his children, should he have any, from their place in the dynasty.
Dynasties maintain themselves by the inheritance of patrimonies. The terms upon which the patrimony of a family passes from one generation to another are supervised and enforced by the community. They have a profound effect upon the structure of a society.
There are three principal systems of inheritance known to European law. First there is the principle [p.029] of compulsory equal distribution among the children. This was the principle of Germanic law in the Barbarian Age. This principle governed part of the Wettin family till Franz Josias adopted primogeniture in 1735.
Second there is the principle of free testamentary disposition. This became the system of the Roman age, and prevails in modern Anglo-American law. The head of a family is permitted to decide before his death on the disposition of the property by formally registering his will.
Finally there is the system of primogeniture, which holds the patrimony undivided and passes it to the eldest son. This system developed in the feudal age, and has been much under attack in the Era of Nationalism.
There are many variants and combinations. For instance the peasant’s land holdings may all go to one child, but the other children may have a right to money compensation. This system is in use among the Polish and Bohemian peasants. Or the child who inherits all may be not the eldest but the youngest. This is known as "cradle-hold" or "borough-English”. Or again there may be a requirement that a certain proportion of the property be equally divided among the children, and another part may be subject to free testamentary disposition. This system, the "Legitim", became general in Europe during the era of nationalism. So varied were the details of inheritance law throughout Europe prior to the great 19th century codifications of law that the rule of one village differed from the rule of the next. There were more than five hundred different systems of inheritance law in France before the Revolution.
The effect of primogeniture is to concentrate wealth in a few hands; primogeniture sustains aristocracies. The effect of division among children is to disperse wealth. Dynasties that divide their patrimonies among children can maintain a wealthy status only by limiting the number of children, or by so controlling the marriages of their children that they always marry into families equally wealthy.
The manipulation of marriages and inheritances in dynastic policy often conflicts with love desires in determining marriages, and with distributive [p.030] justice in dividing property among heirs. From this source there have arisen many of the most typical dramas of family life. Increased emphasis upon love and personality in mating implies a decline in the emphasis on dynastic considerations in life.
As the dynastic principle subsides, the principle of corporate organization steps into its place. Through the Era of Nationalism both industrial and political organization have become increasingly corporate rather than dynastic. Dynasties tend to become mere vehicles for the transmission of funds of property, not instruments for perpetuating the management of specific enterprises. This was true of the Wedgwoods, for the later Wedgwoods did not carry on direct management responsibility for pottery manufacture, but enjoyed income from funds of invested wealth. It is equally true of the Rockefellers, a younger though more powerful dynasty. The Coburgs, even where they retain royal office, do not really manage the governments or direct state policy, but leave those duties to ministerial cabinets which resemble corporate boards of directors.
In the Feudal Age it was the Church that developed corporate organization as an alternative to dynastic organization. It fought the dynastic ideal with an ascetic ideal. It forbade marriage of the clergy, thereby forestalling the development of a hereditary priesthood, and giving the Church establishment a corporate rather than a dynastic character. It worked for the Roman Law principle of free testamentary disposition as against Germanic law which prevented the passing of patrimony out of a family. The right of free bequest permitted men to divert family patrimony from the children to the Church. Much of the property acquired by church corporations — monasteries, dioceses, and foundations of all kinds, came to them by bequest.
In the Modern Age, and especially in the Era of Nationalism, it was business and government that developed corporate as opposed to dynastic structure. Constitutions, elections, parliaments, cabinets responsible to parliaments, became standard features of European government. Local dynasties of seigneurs were deprived of local jurisdiction, just as great dynasties of monarchs were deprived of their higher [p.031] powers and responsibilities. City governments and armies of the modern age are organized in standing regiments, some of which―such as the Coldstream Guards―have continuously been in existence from the Baroque Era to the present day. The big business of the Old Regime Era―colonial expansion―was pushed forward by great companies both in India and America. The big business of the Era of Nationalism―transportation, manufacturing and banking―have almost universally adopted the corporate form of organization.
The dynastic principle has probably remained most stable in small scale agriculture. But even there it is weakening.
The decline of the dynastic idea as a source of motivation, and of dynastic organization as a basis of continuity in the management of human affairs, leaves the household, the small family of daily life, as the principal embodiment, in our minds, of the idea of family.
The family of our intimate experience is the household. It is the going concern in which you have a part.
To understand your family without knowing much of the world is not only possible, but perhaps normal; to know much of the world without understanding your family, and the play of personalities that touch upon your own life, is probably not possible. To attempt it would be a vain and bookish ambition.
For the analysis of families as living groups, as going concerns, do not turn to documents, or if you must read, then read the novelists, not the historians. The best understanding comes from the thoughtful analysis of the actual families that are known and observable, your own first of all.
Instead of using books to understand a family, let us use a family to understand books. For the books are full of words that are much better defined in the realities of family life than in any dictionary.
The family is a group, a going concern. It is a group because the people in it distinguish between insiders and outsiders; it is a going concern because [p.032] the members count on each other to do certain things, and govern their own actions accordingly. Who are the insiders in your family? It is not easy to draw the line. A brother-in-law may be counted in for some purposes, and counted out for other purposes. So also with the children who have grown up and moved away. For what things do the insiders share responsibility? Who is the most distant relative that can be counted on to help with livelihood in time of need? How widely is social prestige shared? What antagonisms divide the insiders? What solidarities hold them together? Families are centers, not circles; they have nuclei, not edges. In family relations as elsewhere we measure distances and distinguish the near from the far.
And in families, as in other groups, in other going concerns, there is power, there is property, there is law. The abstractions we read about in newspapers were actualities last night in my living room.
There was power in the room. I proved it. The children were making too much noise. I told them to run upstairs to play. They protested and cavilled about it, but finally obeyed. Thus I manifested my power. I have a friend who is far more powerful than I am. When he tells his children to go upstairs, they immediately scamper up like rabbits. Power is a relationship between people in which a dominating will is imposed upon a subordinate will. It is measured, therefore, as a ratio. The dominant will is powerful only to the extent that the subservient will is subservient. None can gain power except by gaining power over someone. The test of power is none other than that which the centurion explained to Jesus: "When I say to a man go he goeth and when I say to a man come he cometh". To say that a king "Had power" is meaningless; one must say that the king had power over the nobles, over parliament, over the army. And even that statement is meaningless unless it is understood that the words nobles, parliament, or army were not mere abstract nouns, but simple collective terms which refer to a certain number of actual human beings.
When the children were quarrelling the other day I literally pulled them apart; I was using force, not power. Force is a relationship between bodies, not between wills. It is not the same as power, though it may contribute to the establishment of a power relation. When an executioner springs the trap, or a company of soldiers makes an attack, [p.033] power is exhibited in the relation of the executioner to the court which ordered the execution, and in the relation of the soldiers to their commander. Force is seen in the relation of the executioner to the condemned man, or of the soldiers to the enemy.
There is property in my family. I have my pipe, the children have their toys. The use of things and the benefit of services from which we can exclude others―these are property. Some things one of us can use when another does not happen to be using them; some things one of us can use only with the specific permission of the owner; some things―the toothbrush, for instance―are so exclusively held that the owner may not grant permission to another to use the article. Such things are called "inalienable".
In the extensiveness of the group itself, in the specific internal relations of power within the group, in the practices followed in the use of force and in the system of property no two families are exactly alike. Any two families differ as Cleveland differs from Manchester, as France differs from Spain. The internal order of each family arises out of the balance of personalities and the course of events, and is constantly changing. The subtleties of internal custom, the intricacies of causes of conflict, the variety of procedures used in their adjustment are such that no externally compounded rules can be a substitute for the internal forces of family life, and no general description of type exactly fits any specific case.
But power, force and property, as here defined, have exactly the same meaning, not only in all families, but in all groups―whether business firms, churches, societies, cities or states. Power is always a relationship of wills, force is always a relationship of bodies, and property is always that from which other people may be excluded.
Within any group it is impossible that one person should have absolute and unlimited power, and another person enjoy an absolute and unlimited right of property. If the parent can confiscate the child's toy, or compel the child against his desire to share its use, then the child's property in the toy is not absolute and unlimited. If the parent cannot confiscate the child's toy, nor compel the child against his desire to share its use, then the power of the parent is not absolute and unlimited. The exercise of power is intrusive, the enjoyment of property exclusive. Neither can [p.034] be absolute and unlimited unless both are conjoined in the same person.
This principle, exemplified in family life, is found equally in the relations of rulers of states to the people in them. The name which is used to designate state-power is "sovereignty". Many thinkers regard sovereignty as unlimited and absolute power within the state group. The "sovereign will", they say, is that to which all wills must yield in all things. If this is indeed the nature of sovereignty to be absolute and unlimited, then it is only by self-restraint, and not otherwise, that a sovereign will refrains from overriding the desires of those persons within the state who claim the exclusiveness of property rights. If on the other hand the property rights of the people within the state are indefeasible, then the sovereignty of the state is not absolute and unlimited. Between these two inconsistent extremes every state, like every family, makes a compromise. The terms of this compromise are the law. The law defines the circumstances under which a person may exclude others from the enjoyment of things and services without having his wishes overridden by the sovereign will. Thus a man may eject a trespasser from the city lot which is his property but may not build a glue factory upon it.
When I reflect upon the regularities and routines of my family I recognize that there is law in its life, just as there is power, force and property. And this law seems to me to be of three kinds.
One kind of law determines who is to be obeyed by whom under what circumstances. It is law in relation to power. It is simply the stabilization of our power relations. As such it is always the product of time and habit, and for that reason it changes with time, an the children grow older, and as new situations arise.
Another kind is the law we make when we say "hereafter we will do thus and so". We make this law by agreement, bargain or contract, by mutually conceding some exclusive liberties. It is the kind of law that is most nearly related to the property principle of individual exclusiveness, just as the habit-of-obedience kind of law is most nearly related to the power principle of subordination.
We do not always adhere to the law of our family. There are doubtful types of halfway per- [p.035] missible conduct. In some cases some of us acknowledge or declare that our family law is not all that it should be. Thus there is a third kind of law―the ideal standard by which we judge things, approving them or condemning them.
The first kind of law is mostly defined by what we have done, the second by what we say we will do, the third by what we think we ought to do.
These three kinds of law, I believe, are found not only in my family, but throughout organized mankind. The first is the legal aspect of power, the second the legal aspect of contract or exchange, the third the legal aspect of opinion.
The expression "might makes right" refers to the first kind of law, for a power relation may be established by using bodily force and in the passage of time this will become a species of law. The expression "government by consent of the governed" refers to the second kind of law, for rules of conduct may indeed be agreed upon by those to whom they apply. The phrase "moral law" refers to the third kind of law, for moral law is found and stated in the ethical judgments that people make about conduct, either their own conduct, or the conduct of others.
In different families, even within the same city, power relations may vary from dictatorships that are unattainable in any state to democracies that would be unworkable at any higher level of human organization. Property tenures vary from extremes of communism to applications of the principle of indefeasible ownership that would wreck any larger society if indiscriminately applied. Duties, responsibilities, privileges, privacies, establish themselves by usage, undergo modification in practice and though never formulated in a code constitute always a standard of behavior, always applied according to circumstances, never wholly rigid, never wholly capricious. The child's tenure of his bed, and of his place at the table, the father's right to the first reading of the newspaper, modified perhaps by a child's right to the comic strip, the claims upon services in kitchen or garden, the restraints upon the use of toys in noisy or boisterous play, are all elements of a property system. Rights of transaction by gift or exchange, use-rights and prescriptive rights of all kinds are established in a complexity that makes corporation finance look comparatively simple.
[p.036] The state may lay down certain crude rules on such matters as married women's property, but in the ordinary course of daily life they are about as important as the deliberations of the Council of the League of Nations to a man who is trying to fix a traffic ticket.
At this point the author must appeal to the reader to share his work. A blank page must stand here which you must fill out for yourself. On this page it is only necessary to set down the answer to certain questions―no two of you will have the same answers:
First, who are the members of your family group, who are nearest, and who are more distant? This is the definition of a group. It is better than any definition in any book.
Second, how is power distributed and how is force used in your family?
Third, what is property in your family? To answer this question begin with an analysis of the terms and conditions governing the use of the family car.
Fourth, what law is found in your family? When you have filled out this page put your name with mine on the title page of this book. You have become co-author with me, though to answer these questions in full you might have to write another book as big as this one.
Despite the range of individual variation between specific families, it is possible to set up the notion of a typical family of a given time and region, and to contrast typical families of one period with typical families of another. Such contrasts show changes which have occurred through the ages in the typical families of Europe. An account of these changes is not the history of any family, such as Wedgwood, Jukes or Coburg, but of "the family", the institution, the abstraction.
The extensiveness of the typical family group has narrowed through the past three ages. In the Barbarian Age families were more like clans. The great-grandchildren of some one man, together with slaves and dependants, would be found sticking together as a household, usually choosing some elder member as a head. This patriarchal type of family was still widespread in Europe in the [p.037] Feudal Age, and survived into the Modern Age in some places. In the Balkans it can still be found. But in general the "small family" type became standard in the modern age, and is so today. In the small family the parents and children are the household, and at the same time the nucleus or center of a larger kinship group which includes more or less distant relatives of both husband and wife.
The territory of a family is its home. The physical frontier is the frontier of its living space, the door of its apartment, the threshold of its house.
This territory has been reorganized in the Modern Age. First in importance hes been the division of living space into rooms, a development of domestic architecture that began in Europe in the 17th century and was completed in the 19th. It has fostered the privacy of the individual even against members of his own family.
Next in importance has been the functional treatment of the internal space within the home, the setting apart, for instance , of kitchen from sleeping quarters. This has accompanied a change in routines of management. Industrial manufacturing has taken some kinds of work completely out of the home and managed it in separate structures. The live stock has been removed from the European peasant dwelling in a trend that dates from the 17th century. This reorganization of space has been adapted rather to the management of consumption than the management of production.
Finally, standards of sanitation have changed in the Modern Age, from a low point touched in the 17th century by the upper classes of Europe, in the 19th century by the urban workers.
The organisation of power in the family is for all peoples who share modern civilization historically based on the authority of father over children in the setting of peasant life. This situation was easily transferable to the urban setting insofar as the home stood as a place. But in the Era of Nationalism the increasing organization of production outside the home, in factories and shops, has undermined this internal power structure. The family organization [p.038] has come to deal more with consumption than with production, and this has tended to diminish the concentration of power in the hands of the father, for the discipline of production usually requires more concentration of power than the regulation of consumption.
The use of force in the family is also on the decline. The Russian "Household Code" of the Feudal Age included specific instructions for the whipping of a wife. Indeed, throughout the greater part of Europe's history the community has backed up husbands who beat their wives, and frowned upon fathers who refrained from beating their children. In the era of nationalism a change began. There was legislation in 18th century Netherlands against wife-beating―legislation that French observers regarded as anomalous. Today in the most highly cultured parts of Western Europe the wife beater finds that his action is regarded as outright assault, and that the wifehood of his victim is not even regarded as an extenuating circumstance. The parental right to spank children continues to be respected, though in these regions it is still challenged if unreasonably exercised. This development may be, in part, merely the result of a general revulsion against corporal punishment as such, whether in the family, the school, the army or the jail. The typical form in which force is used for physical punishment has come to be confinement, imprisonment, rather than actual bodily injury. The family, which cannot, like the town, maintain a prison, is not in a position effectively to substitute confinement for corporal punishment. Therefore the use of force in the maintenance of family power diminishes.
The internal property systems of families have necessarily changed with changes in the typical size of family groups the typical structure of power within them and the typical functions of family organizations.
Let us take a modern instance of internal property. The parents buy their child a little express wagon. The wagon is regarded in the eye of the law as belonging to the head of the family. The child usually has no right to give the wagon to a child in another family without consulting [p.039] the parents. The child holds the wagon of his parents, and may exclude other children from its use. Relative to outsiders, the wagon belongs to the father; internally it belongs to the child.
In a modern army the company clerk of an infantry company has requisitioned a typewriter. The typewriter "is charged to" company A. Company A can exclude the company clerk of Company B from the use of the typewriter. But an order from higher authority can compel the surrender of the machine to some other unit. And if anyone steals the typewriter, it is the government, not company A, that prosecutes for recovery.
Internally, within the family organization, the express wagon is the property of the child, and internally within the army organization, the typewriter is the property of the Company. Externally, the wagon is the property of the father, the typewriter of the government. In the evolution of typical family organization much that was once internal property became external property. Modern states in the Era of Nationalism adopted legislation relative to married women's property which had the effect of making this conversion. So also in the Roman age the internal property of family dependents, children, women and other dependents, came to be recognized as external property, to be disposed of by the dependant person at will, to outsiders. This kind of property was given a special name in Roman law: the peculium.
The larger the family, the more complex its functioning, the more important to it is the internal property structure. The evolution of property through the Barbarian and Feudal Ages grew largely out of internal family property relations. The medieval serf held land of his lord of the manor as a child holds an express wagon; his rights in it were definite, but derivative and dependant. In any large organization there must be some internal system of property, of responsibility, based on the expectation that certain people will hold and use certain things and exclude others from them. Otherwise everything is everybody's business and hence nobody's business. If those who hold power can reshuffle these responsibilities at any time, the internal property system is weak; if those who hold property can successfully resist reshuffling, the internal property [p.040] system is strong. A large, clan-like, family group would tend to require a stronger property system than would be necessary in the smaller, more informal and intimate group. On the other hand, since property is the inverse of power, the higher concentration of power in the large family might mean a weaker property system. The bulk of our historical documentation stops at the threshold of the home, and tells us little of what went on internally within. Only when rights to exclude others from the enjoyment of a thing were protected by powers above the head of the family did those rights become a matter of record. And then they were losing their character as internal property.
What typical changes have taken place in the internal law of family? Let us consider principally law in the moral or ideal sense―the body of standard ideals by which conduct within the family is appraised. Here some noteworthy changes seem to have occurred in modern times. First, as has been noted, the dynastic ideal has gone down while the ideal of individual happiness has come up. Since it is contraception that makes possible a life-ideal that is neither ascetic nor dynastic, and since the Church is now condemning the practice of contraception, it seems that the Church is now on the side of the dynastic ideal, which it once regarded as its enemy. Strange as it would seem to the people of the Barbarian or Feudal Age, it has become possible for some twentieth century adults to look upon childless marriage as a desirable way of life. The case for having children is most frequently argued and stated either on purely personal grounds―(that children enrich a life) or on racial grounds. The ideal of individual freedom has probably been more effectively realized, in modern times, against the control of families than against the control of states.
The second change has taken place in the standards of consumption. There have been two different kinds of standards of living in Western Europe, the standard of "suitable subsistence", and the standard of "competitive consumption". The difference is not between rich and poor. The suitable subsistence standards may be found among [p.041] very poor people or among people very comfortably situated. It is historically a peasant and burgher standard. On this principle every family should have enough to sustain livelihood in a manner appropriate to its place in the world. When this standard is met, there is no insistent demand for more consumption goods. The competitive consumption standard in historically a way of life that developed in the European aristocracy. It has now spread downward through the middle class. It is defined by our phrase "keeping up with the Joneses". Where the standard of consumption is competitive, there is always an insatiable and unlimited demand for more and more consumable goods. It seems that the competitive consumption ideal has been on the increase, and the suitable subsistence ideal on the decline, if not through the whole modern age, at least through the Era of Nationalism.
We have noted that every individual lives, as it were, in the center of series of concentric circles. One's family is for most people the nearest and narrowest of these circles. We must now examine the way in which a family is connected with these outer circles. We will find three types of connection, which may be concretely illustrated in three scenes.
A noisy quarrel is going on in a family. There is shouting and screaming. A neighbor telephones the police. The police car comes to the door, and an officer enters the house. Thus external power and force reach the family.
The wife goes down to the store on the corner to purchase some food. The food is delivered. So far as the outsiders are concerned it now belongs to the family. The outsiders will not care whether the children are allowed to drink any of the coffee. Thus external goods have entered the family.
Someone turns on the radio, words come in from outside, and are heard within. Whatever be the reactions to them, the outside world has invaded the family.
These three scenes illustrate the way in which a family is connected with three external worlds―[p.042] the world of power, the world of debts and markets, and the world of words and opinions.
In the relations of the family to the outsiders who surround it we can catch a glimpse of a kind of connective tissue that holds all human society together. Let us first see how power enters the family from the outside. It enters by two lines, which I will call a line of appeal and a line of management.
Each family is a power area within which a balance of power is struck. The ratios of subordination and mastery in each family are concrete realities much nearer to our understanding than power-ratios among nations. If we say "France complied with the desires of Britain" the statement may seem to express a simple truth but is actually full of complexities and abstractions. If we say "mother complied with father's wishes" we are referring to natural persons, to whose conduct all our natural intuitions apply. Moreover, when we say "France hoped," "Italy suspected," "Germany believed" we are using crude and misleading metaphors. When we say such things of people we know what we mean.
And yet there are certain facts about power which are illustrated in family life, and are at the same time accurately exemplified at higher levels of organization, in wider power-areas. One of these we will call the "line of appeal."
For instance, the children may defend the autonomy of their child society, with its own power relations, against the intrusion of the parents. They will share their secrets among themselves, and condemn as a tale bearer the child who seeks outside support in the affairs of their tiny republic. But a child defeated in a conflict with his brothers may appeal to the parents. One who is dissatisfied with his place in the narrower power area may seek to alter the power ratio by appealing to someone higher up. Defeated in an appeal to the parents, he may go further and carry the complaint to neighbors, thus extending the area within which a balance of power is struck. The daily newspaper carries the stories of families from which such appeals have gone up, from wife or husband or child, to courts of domestic relations. Sometimes a decision in a domestic relations court is carried on appeal to a higher court.
[p.043] The connective tissue of the world is constantly carrying such appeals from men lower down to men higher up. Defeated parties are constantly trying to change defeat to victory by changing the power-area, either from a smaller to a larger―as when the children go to the neighbors, or inversely, from a larger to a smaller. In the play of this process going concerns are born and perish. In the lives of states the expansion of a power area is called unification or imperialism, and the contraction of the power area is called secession, independence, autonomy, or home rule.
The men higher up and the men lower down are connected with each other, not only by a line of appeal, but also by a line of management. The community requires that the snow be shovelled from our sidewalk, the neighbors insist that family quarrels do not disturb their peace. In these and other matters the outsiders insist that certain things be done and certain things be not done. They do not go into details, but insist on a minimum of results. They do not care which of us shovels the snow, nor how we keep the peace, so long as the snow is shovelled and the peace is tolerably kept. All organizations of business and government, if they are much larger than family size, have some kind of a line of management by which general purposes are conveyed to those who will carry them out in specific detail.
The whole world of power, of territorial-political organization, is constructed of an intricate network of lines of appeal running up, and lines of management running down. Some of these lines touch my family and yours.
We may now inquire how property enters the family from the outside. It enters it, of course, by exchange, through a whole series of markets. I need not actually trace the coffee, the sugar, the orange marmalade from their producers to our grocery basket to realize that the lines that connect my family with the world of markets are very different from those that connect it with the world of power. No line of management, no line of appeal, connects me with the distant coffee planter. We are connected rather by a whole series of traders, each of whom exchanged something he preferred to get rid of for something he preferred to have.
Finally, how do ideas enter my home from outside? They come in words spoken and written, and in pictures. What we see and hear outside our home, what others tell us and show us inside [p.044] it, give us our connection with a world of words and opinions.
Ideas affect families only indirectly; their direct effect is upon individuals. The same must be said of cities and states: words and opinions affect them also only by the influence they exert upon individual human beings. A book is only paper, and speech is only an atmospheric disturbance, save as specific human beings, be they many or few, react to them at particular times and places.
Somehow each of us builds up in his mind an ideal of what a family ought to be and how it ought to live. Into this ideal there may go all kinds of contradictory impossibilities―a career of glamour and a quiet life of love in a cottage, a fullness of freedom and a maximum of social ties and connections. In today's dream there are children playing in the yard, and in tomorrow's, one is voyaging with his mate carefree through a world of adventure. The sources of these ideas are not easily traced. Some may come from the movies, some from the Saturday Evening Post, some from the advice to the lovelorn columns, and perhaps most of them from what others have told us and from what we have seen of their lives. In the scenario of our life ideal we give ourselves the hero's part. We know, or ought to know, that we will have to change the script, not once, but many times.
As it is with the family, so is it also with the other groups of which we are a part―with our city, with our nation―with our world. Here also we envisage an ideal, and here also we have a scenario, though we usually allot the parts of hero and villain to people whom we know only through the newspapers.
[p.045] We have seen, in the first chapter, that a man's relation to the rest of the world is a matter of varying distances, and that each man reckons his distances in his own way. We have also noted that there are three great world organizations or networks which we might call the worlds of power, of markets, and of opinions. We are now in a position to point out the special potency of opinions or of ideas―that they can modify a man's reckoning of distances. When a Polish peasant comes to America he changes his idea of the extent of his family group; he lengthens the social distance between himself and his cousins. When nationalist propaganda takes root in a mind, it shortens the social distance between the nationalist and all the members of his nationality; it makes him more directly sensitive to their fate. It is the same with distances into the future. It lies within the power of ideas to make the remote future seem very important or very unimportant. It can change in time perspectives.
We have seen that under modern conditions the ancient and persistent idea of family stands principally on two perspectives. In the long future it is race or nationality―the mass into which your blood will ultimately disappear. This idea in the era of Nationality merges with the idea of the State. In the short term it is the household, the living group, within which your personal happiness will be found, your personal griefs come home to you.
When a citizen of a modern state, mobilized for war, bids farewell to his wife on the station platform these two emotional attachments, these two loves, stand opposed in tragic rivalry.