In this segment we will finish our critique of Bojidar Marinov’s recent article posted on the blog Christendom Restored. We will examine claims made by Marinov that clan-based societies are weak, decaying because of inherent defects. We will debunk Marinov’s fanciful claim that clan culture yields statist societies. The truth is the opposite: strong extended families are a sure check on statist impulses, which is why statism takes root in societies where the importance of family and clan have been diminished. Finally, we will evaluate Marinov’s misplaced enthusiasm for globalization and modern industrial capitalism. Modern industrialism and globalization have correlated with the downfall of traditional family life, and this includes nuclear families. This globalization has carried us down the path to a ruined Christendom which has no respect for traditional Christian morals or values.
The Allegation of Stagnation
In the final part of the article, Marinov argues that focusing on the extended family leaves society overly consumed with the past. Marinov believes that because of their excessive orientation toward the past, clan-based societies lack longevity and the ability to exercise dominion. He writes, “[H]istorically, family-and clan-centered societies have never exercised dominion. They have remained stagnant and have disappeared from history even if for a short time they have achieved military or technological successes.” This is quite a claim, similar to one made by Sen. John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, in which he said that “propositional” countries like the contemporary United States would be more enduring than traditional societies based upon common heredity, faith, and customs. Is this true? Marinov offers us a couple of examples of what he means.
First, Marinov asserts, “There isn’t much left of the old clan societies of Germans and Celts.” I’m not entirely certain what he means by this, since there are still plenty of Germans and Celts, but these nations are currently experiencing decline. Is this because of an over- commitment to clan society? No, obviously not. The German and Celtic tribes thrived during the tribal days, and their current decline is due to the fact that they have turned their backs on the clan — in favor of the atomized individualism that Marinov seems to champion. There is no rational foundation for suggesting that the decline of Celtic and Germanic societies was because of devotion to clan. It would also be false to claim that the Christian Germans or Celts were not devoted to their extended families or clans, especially when the word clan is an English derivation from Gaelic!
Next, Marinov states, “The clannish-tribal structure of the Native American tribes not only made them powerless to oppose the Christendom’s nuclear families’s [sic] assault on the American West, it was also a source of constant internecine wars and acts of savageness and brutality of natives against natives that kept their population numbers and economic endeavors at very low levels.” This is very misleading. It is certainly true that the Amerindian tribes often dealt with internecine wars, acts of savagery, and brutality, but Marinov provides no reason for us to believe that this was or is because of their tribalism. There were at least some peaceful Indian tribes. How did these tribes manage to remain peaceful in spite of their tribalism? Was the westward expansion of whites simply the “assault” of nuclear families, as Marinov suggests here and earlier? Again, the answer is plainly no. In the past, extended families made a consistent effort to remain in contact and help each other out in spite of being at a technological disadvantage compared to today. The modern atomization that Marinov seems to extol is a more recent phenomenon. In their laws and legal opinions, the settlers of the American West clearly thought of themselves as more than a collection of nuclear families, in that they made an effort to restrict immigration, curtail or ban miscegenation, and protect their common identity.
Marinov then opines about China: “China, a stable civilization for several thousand years which made many of the technological discoveries that built the West, was exactly the same in 1911, socially and economically, as it had been 2,000 years before.” This is yet another example that does not support Marinov’s hypothesis. Marinov observes China as a stable society, which he seems to conflate with stagnation. The contemporary West is currently in the birth pangs of ever-changing morals and values, so there is certainly something to be said of stability. Whatever stagnation China has experienced need not be attributed to their past clannishness. Contemporary China, with all of its problems, is clearly not a clannish society, but a statist society that limits family connections by her one-child policy.
Clannishness and Statism
Marinov continues, “Some clannish societies managed to survive for a longer period of time only because they gradually evolved into statist societies.” He suggests that totalitarianism and statism are the natural progression of clannish societies. We will see later why R.J. Rushdoony disagreed with this, and why strong family relationships are absolutely essential to the avoidance of statism. When the family and clan collapse, they leave a major void of authority and security. In this void marches the totalitarian state. This is why statist societies tend to nurture policies inimical to the family and clan. Marinov’s contention that statism is the natural result of clan-based societies lacks biblical and historical foundation. The reality is that statism only arises from the ashes of what once was a strong society comprised of sturdy families, clans, and tribes. Marinov states, “Islam, after the initial conquests, also stagnated because it had nothing comparable to the Biblical Law but instead incorporated old tribal and patriarchal laws.” But there is simply no reason to attribute the stagnation of Islam to patriarchy or tribalism. The Spaniards, whom the Muslims conquered in the Iberian Peninsula, were equally as patriarchal and tribal, as is demonstrated by the policies of Ferdinand and Isabella following the re-conquest of Spain by the Spaniards.
Marinov concludes: “The only cultures that were able to exercise long-term dominion – geographical, scientific, technological, literary, educational – were the Old Testament Judaism and modern Christianity.” I agree that ultimately the Christian faith is essential to taking dominion, but I disagree that this must be set against tribalism and clan loyalty, as Marinov argues. Marinov continues: “They followed the Biblical model: nuclear families, united not by the extended family but by the institutional church (or the synagogue), in a creedal culture where the only fixed reference point is faith.” Marinov has failed in his previous comments to demonstrate that the biblical concept of family is nuclear to the exclusion of extended kinship connections. As has been confirmed above, this is contrary to the biblical passages that Marinov cites, as well as the ones he omits. I think it is muddying the waters to continue to refer to such an undefined concept as a “fixed reference point.” There’s no dispute that faith rather than kin is what justifies, but this was not the sole means of identification for the ancient Hebrews. The reality is that a strong sense of family and clan identity is an effective check on encroaching state power, so it is actually the breakdown of the family which leads to statism, not the strengthening of the family, as Marinov would have us believe. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The family . . . is the only check on the state that is bound to renew itself as eternally as the state, and more naturally than the state.”1
Marinov then makes an enormous claim: “Our modern industrial capitalism and economic globalization, with its unprecedented technological and economic growth, is not a force that developed independently of Christianity, neither is it a force hostile to Christendom and the Christian culture. To the contrary, it came as a direct result of Christianity and of the Biblical worldview. Industrial capitalism and global trade and communications are the Christian economic and social model, and they stand or fall with Christianity, not war against Christianity, contrary to Israel’s assumptions.” Does this fantastic claim have a basis in reality? No. Modern industrial capitalism and globalization is significantly anti-Christian, as demonstrated by the state of multi-national corporations. Globalization purports to tear down economic, religious, moral, and ethnic barriers in order to convert humanity into an amorphous mass of workers and consumers. James Burnham explained in his work, The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World, that big businesses and corporations try to break down barriers because they stifle the efficiency of business and thus profits. Predictably, then, corporations often enthusiastically applaud the march of progress towards moral, political, and social liberalism. Marinov cannot seriously sustain his opinion that modern industrial capitalism and globalization are friendly to Christianity.
Clannishness and Dominion
Marinov provides us with the main reason in favor of nuclear family societies over against clan-based societies: “There is a good reason for the historical success of the nuclear families and the stagnation and decay of clannish societies. The nuclear family is oriented toward the future; the extended family is oriented toward the past.” This is contrary to the conclusion of the esteemed conservative Edmund Burke, who said, “People will not look forward to posterity, who never looks backward to their ancestors.”2 Burke’s wisdom is evident. Today we live in a society in which people do not have a consciousness of their ancestors the way that they once did, and we are consequently not a future-oriented society who look to the good of the future generations of our children.
The reason for this can be gleaned from what Marinov says next: “When the family is defined as only a man and a woman and their underage children, the purpose of the family and the whole life of the family is naturally focused on bringing up these children and making them independent of their parents so that some day they fulfill Genesis 2:23-24: ‘The man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.’ ” Notice that Marinov excludes adult children from his ever-narrowing definition of a family! It is certainly true that children should ultimately leave their parents to become independent and to establish their own families, but this is not opposed to a continued reliance upon and identification with extended families, clans, and tribes. The Israelites did not understand the flesh-and-bone relationship that Adam expressed towards Eve as being limited to nuclear families. When David was being coronated as the king of Israel, the tribes of Israel gathered and proclaimed, “Behold, we are thy bone and thy flesh” (2 Samuel 5:1, cf. 1 Chronicles 11:1). Once again, Marinov’s usage of Scripture does not prove what he believes it proves.
Marinov continues his diatribe against extended families: “Since the Biblical culture requires nuclear families as over against extended families, we should expect it to be focused on parents teaching their young children for the future, not on grown up adults trying to conserve the past by hanging around with their relatives.” As we’ve already demonstrated, there is nothing unbiblical about loyalty towards extended families, clans, and tribes. Many precepts in the Bible actually affirm and establish this loyalty. I find Marinov’s manifest hostility towards the past disturbing, since conserving the good from our past is, naturally, a good thing. Marinov then argues:
[T]he Book of Proverbs is all about a father teaching his young son how to prosper righteously as an independent man. From the very beginning the book assumes that time is coming when the son will be independent and will be in an environment of sinners where he will have to make his own decisions (Prov. 1:10); the father, obviously, doesn’t share Israel Wayne’s affection for the extended family, and therefore doesn’t advise his son to remain back home on the porch where no enticement from sinners would come. The son’s independence and his leaving the family and going into a foreign, spiritually dangerous environment are taken for granted. In fact, without such assumption, the whole Book of Proverbs becomes meaningless for a young man.
One might get the idea that spending time with relatives at all is unbiblical for the sentiments of Marinov. There is simply nothing in the book of Proverbs that can be construed as an attack on the extended family, as Marinov imagines. No one is suggesting that we are meant to return to the past, but rather that we are to preserve our organic link to the past through our ancestors, thereby establishing our identity in the present and for future generations.
Marinov claims, “The extended family, on the other hand, by trying to stay together, is bound to only conserve the past. In fact, that was the motive of all clannish societies: extended families stayed together only because change was demonic, dangerous, and the future held all kinds of unspeakable horrors for man. The motive of preserving the past was dominant in all pagan societies; the future had to be fended off by any means. The idea of progress originated with Christianity; pagans had no such idea.” Marinov cites no sources to support his bold claim. What reason is there to believe that clannish societies were horrified of the future or of genuine progress? I see no reason to believe this. On the contrary, I find Burke’s maxim — that those who forget their ancestors will ignore their children — to ring very true in light of our current circumstances. Our post-industrial society is not future-oriented, but only oriented to present gratification, in which children are often viewed as hindrances.
Marinov states: “[T]he Emperor/King proclaimed to be the Father of a greater clan, the state. The official reason of the Empire to persecute the early Christians was that they ‘had abandoned the beliefs of their own ancestors.’ ” Hilaire Belloc defends the idea of the king being kindred to the people he governs. He notes that the word king etymologically derives from the concept of kin. This has a biblical basis, since the ancient Israelites were only to be governed by a fellow hereditary Israelite (Deuteronomy 17:15). Samuel Rutherford also used this verse as the foundational text of his classic magnum opus on civil government, in which he comments, “The king is a relative.”3 Were Belloc, Rutherford, and many other proponents of extended family relationships as a basis for government really committed to paganism? (And were they terrified of the future?) No, this principle derives not from paganism but rather from the Bible. It is true that the Roman Empire persecuted Christians and used the idea that they departed from the faith of their ancestors as an excuse, but this was not the primary reason as Marinov imagines. The Empire didn’t care much about what religion a person professed, so long as he was willing to participate in the worship of Caesar as god. Christians were persecuted because they refused to do this. If they had been willing to worship Caesar as god, then the Empire would have left them alone regardless of whatever religion their ancestors practiced.
Finally Marinov concludes, “[F]amily/folk culture has been defeated in our modern times exactly because by its very nature, it is powerless to foresee or prepare for the future. It will die out naturally because it is not a Biblical culture.” It is clear from the preceding commentary that Marinov has not met the burden of proof of his position. His biblical and historical examples demonstrate the opposite of what he is trying to prove. Clan culture flourished for generations in Christendom, and has declined concomitantly with the waning of Christian influence in society. A revival of Christian morality, with a commitment to the commandment to honor our parents, both proximate and remote, will bring about a return to clannish culture.
Marinov’s assault upon clannish culture and the importance of extended family relationships lacks historical and biblical foundation. There is no reason to imagine that those who migrated in the past did so because they rejected extended family connections. There have been many different reasons throughout history for migration, but there is no reason to assume that the migration of our ancestors in the past was motivated by a rejection of their family, or that those who did reject their family were doing so out of a sense of Christian duty.
Whole volumes have been written by Christians with a more competent grasp of history than Marinov about the ill effects that the Industrial Revolution and globalization have had on society and genuine Christian culture. The English Distributists and the Southern Agrarians have both thoroughly dismantled Marinov’s claim that post-industrial society was a product of or favorable to Christian society. Marinov’s defense of feminism is just as preposterous as his defense of post-industrial society, since the proponents of feminism explicitly rejected the biblical concept of the family.
Marinov’s construct of culture as entirely spiritual, in which physical factors are discounted or meaningless, is false. He erroneously believes that hereditary kinship relations do not contribute to a person’s cultural identity. The examples that Marinov provides from the Bible and from history do not bear his beliefs out, but rather demonstrate the opposite. Neither the ancient Israelites nor historic Christendom has believed in what Marinov terms “creedal culture” to the exclusion of heredity. It is true that family, clan, and heredity can be idolized. Anything that is good or useful can be made an object of idolatry, but this does not mean that acknowledging the proper place of the clan in society, as we do, makes us idolaters, nor does it mean that we simply desire to return to the past.
Marinov’s usage of R.J. Rushdoony is deceptive. One reading his article might be inclined to think that Rushdoony would have agreed with Marinov’s conclusions, yet this is not the case. Much of what Marinov argues is simply a recapitulation of Gary North’s Baptized Patriarchalism, where he attacks Rushdoony’s patriarchal views. North demurs from Rushdoony’s sentiment that “The family is central to the covenant and therefore to every Christian institution, church, state, school, and all things else.”4 Contrary to both North and Marinov, Rushdoony did believe that race is an overriding consideration in marriage and culture. Rushdoony writes of an ideal wife:
Moreover, if she is to be “a help meet as before him,” a mirror, there must be a common cultural background. This militates against marriages across cultures and across races where there is no common culture or association possible. The new unit is a continuation of the old unit but an independent one; and there has to be a unity or else it is not a marriage. Thus, the attempt of many today to say there is nothing in the Bible against mixed marriages whether religiously or culturally is altogether unfounded.5
Contrary to Marinov’s special pleading, Gary North knew that Rushdoony meant exactly what he said, and that is precisely why he disapproved. But Rushdoony was right about the importance of the family and, by extension, clan, tribe, ethnicity, and race as the basis for a common culture. It is dishonest for Marinov to try to pass Rushdoony off as though he would have agreed with Marinov’s anti-clan opinions.
The most appropriate conclusion will be to allow Rushdoony to speak on the matters of family in order to show just how much they diverge from the thought of Marinov. Rushdoony writes:
In the atomistic family, the individual seeks freedom from the family bonds. Father, mother, and children see the family as restraints; the basic unit for them is not the family but the individual. For the old sacredness of the trustee family, the atomistic family substitutes the sacredness of the individual. Neither the parents nor the children like the idea of sacrificing for the welfare and independence of the family; it is their purely individual welfare and independence which concerns them. The trustee family exists only in a very limited civil state: it keeps essential government in its own hands. The atomistic family sees instead the rise of the Leviathan state, of statist power and totalitarianism. There is an essential relationship between family structure and cultural and political conditions.
Rather than promoting atomistic nuclear families to the exclusion of extended families, as Marinov does, Rushdoony advocates for the biblical trustee family.
The trustee family has central authority in a society: it is the basic power and institution, and most government is in its hands. The trustee family sees its possessions and its work as an inheritance from the past to be transmitted to the future. The family wealth is thus not for private use but for the family’s on-going life.
The trustee family has the most power and scope. It is called the trustee family because its living members see themselves as trustees of the family blood, rights, property, name, and position for their lifetime. They have an inheritance from the past to be preserved and developed for the future. The trustee family is the basic social power. The head of the family is not the head in any personal sense but as family head and as a trustee of powers [and responsibilities].” 6
Marinov is wrong about the nature of the biblical family, wrong about the impact of the Industrial Revolution, wrong about globalization, and wrong about how the family serves to transmit the faith and Christian morals from one generation to the next. The solution to today’s problems is not to increasingly turn our backs on the family as it extends across many generations, but rather to embrace the true biblical model of the multi-generational trustee family. Postmodern pop culture is dead set against the traditional concepts of family and clan, and this has undermined the transmission of Christianity in our own time. Just as most people in the contemporary West don’t care about their ancestors, they aren’t particularly concerned with their children either. This is why there has been a decline in the West of birth rates and marriage rates and an upsurge in divorce, single parenting, and juvenile delinquency. Following the advice of men like Bojidar Marinov will only lead to more of the same problems. I pray that Christians in the West will come to rediscover this and repent of their sinful rejection of the trustee family. A rediscovery of Christian orthodoxy and a genuine revival of Christendom will inevitably lead us back to this biblical model to which our ancestors piously adhered for countless generations.
- Chesterton, “The Story of the Family,” in The Superstition of Divorce (1920); The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vol. 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 256. ↩
- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790 ↩
- Samuel Rutherford. Lex, Rex. Q.XXV, pp. 120-124. ↩
- Rousas John Rushdoony, Systematic Theology. 2 vol. (Vallecito, California: Ross House, 1994), II, p. 678. ↩
- Rushdoony, “The Doctrine of Marriage” (1965); Toward a Christian Marriage, edited by Elizabeth Fellersen (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972), pp. 15-16. ↩
- See this blog post at Joy in Christendom for Rushdoony quotes: http://www.joyinchristendom.org/joy/2012/10/building-a-trustee-family.html ↩