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Marrying-out is key to social progress

Depending on your point of view it will seem either appropriate or heartless to be talking like this about marriage on Valentine's Day. With apologies we thought you might be interested in reviewing the findings of anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor, whom we wrote about last year.

In the late nineteenth century, Tylor developed the founding insight of the modern study of kinship. Tylor cited exogamy, or “marrying out,” as key to human social progress.

In Tylor’s scenario, early human groups, in danger of killing each other off through inveterate competition, discovered intermarriage as the path to social peace. Women who were related to one clan as sisters and to another clan as wives tended to discourage feuds between competing groups. As Tylor famously put it: “Again and again in the world’s history, savage tribes must have had plainly before their minds the simple practical alternative between marrying-out and being killed out.”

For Tylor, “cross cousin marriage,” a particular form of cousin marriage favored by many primitive societies, was the earliest and most fundamental form of clan exogamy — or “marrying out.” A man in a patrilineal, clan-based society who marries his mother’s brother’s daughter is marrying someone from a different clan. That is cross-cousin marriage.

However, if a man in a society made up of patrilineal clans marries his father’s brother’s daughter, he marries the descendant of his own birth clan. That is parallel-cousin marriage.

Parallel-cousin marriage seals each and every clan off from all of the others. It is a form of marrying-in very prevalent in the Middle East. According to those who have studied the situation, parallel-cousin marriage encourages social cohesion, but at the cost of social isolation and cultural stasis. Because it reinforces a clan's insularity it also increases clan on clan violence.

In Europe, following the example of the Roman Empire, the Church absolutely banned the marriage of cousins in the 8th century, and thereby reduced intense and violent family struggles, forced marriages, and nepotism. This action also created great good, as we describe below.

It appears to be time to reintroduce these laws.

Via Stanley Kurtz