Emmanuel Todd, *Lineages of Modernity*

Sadly I had to read this book on Kindle, so my usual method of saving passages and ideas by the folded page is failing me.  I can tell you this is one of the most interesting (but also flawed) books I read this year, with “family structure is sticky and it determines the fate of your nation” as the basic takeaway.

Todd suggests that the United States actually has a fairly “backward” and un-evolved family structure — exogamy and individualism — not too different from that of hunter-gatherer societies.  That makes us very flexible and also well-suited to handle the changing conditions of modernity.  Much of the Arab world, in contrast, has a highly complex and evolved and in some ways “more advanced” family structure, involving multiple alliances, overlapping networks, and often cousin marriages.  The mistake is to think of those structures as under-evolved outcomes that simply can advance a bit, “loosen up with prosperity,” and allow their respective countries to enter modernity.  Rather those structures are stuck in place, and they will interact with the more physical features of globalization and liberalization in interesting and not always pleasant ways.  Many of those societies will end up in untenable corners with no full liberalization anywhere in sight.  Much of Todd’s book works through what the various options are here, and how they might apply to different parts of the world.

To be clear, half of this book is unsupported, or sometimes just trivial.  There were several times I was tempted to just stop reading, but then it became interesting again.  Todd covers a great deal of ground (the subtitle is A History of Humanity from the Stone Age to Homo Americanus), not all of it convincingly.  But when he makes you think, you really feel he might be on to something.

Todd describes Germany as having a complex, multi-tiered, somewhat authoritarian family structure, and one that does not mesh well with the norms of feminism and individualism that have been entering the country.  That family structure is also part of why Germany was, relative to its size, militarily so strong in the earlier part of the twentieth century.  He also argues that the countries that stayed communist longer have some common features to their family structure, Cuba being the Latin American outlier in this regard.

Todd makes the strongest bullish case for Russia I have seen.  He reports that TFR is back up to 1.8 after an enormous post-communist plunge, migration into the country is strongly positive, and Russia is very good at producing strong, productive women (again due to family structure).  If you think human capital matters, the positives here are significant indeed.

Here is some related work by my colleagues Jonathan Schulz and Jonathan Beauchamp on cousin marriage.

You can order Todd’s book here.  Recommended, though with significant caveats, mainly for lack of evidence on some of the key propositions.


Alas, the best I can come up with is that Americans, on average, have no taste for good food. Of course, this may be a result of family structure. :-)

It would appear that Americans have too much freedom and exercising that freedom is "backwards".

One can imagine in 100 years the family structure of the US will largely be Morman as they will outbreed the others. I would say his conclusions on the US family structure, if true, only applies to its current population.

On Russian family structure, again they benefit from the Babushka Dacha effect right now, many families children are supported by none working grandmothers living in the country while the parents live in higher cost urban areas in small flats. But will future generations of women want to do this for their children?

Don't worry for Russians. Entrepreneurs and/or local governments will open nurseries to satisfy the demand.

"One can imagine in 100 years the family structure of the US will largely be Morman as they will outbreed the others"

And will always be going to go one day, soon.

The family structure of non-Hispanic white families in the US may largely be "Morman" in 100 years, but the overall population won't be; white birth rates are lower than all other ethnic groups except Asians, and this doesn't even take immigration into account.

So your assertion that these conclusions only apply to the current population are correct, barring our sacrificing many more missionaries to Mexican cartels.

We should let in all Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan and Cuban women. Great Power competition is tough when ur population is composed of suburban videogamers, but if u can deprive your rivals of many skilled professionals and caregivers and potential mothers, u can make the job a lot easier

The LDS is also having trouble retaining its young people. Moreover there is a large penumbra of "Jack Mormon" types, people who keep some connection to the church but don't obey its strictures or attend regularly.

I think we’ll keep on doing what we’ve been doing in this country for a while now, with respect to our familial and extended social structure patterns: more individualism and more atheism. And the Latins who comprise the bulk of our new citizens with adapt to this (as they’ve been doing). Unless there are so many that we adapt to them (increase in Catholicism e.g.).

A more interesting question is what happens in those parts of the world where the population is really growing: like the Indian subcontinent. When will India hit 1.5 billion? Is the caste system waning? (What about Pakistan with its clan system? So far it’s underperforming it’s bigger neighbour economically.

India's fertility rate is 2.2 and at it's current decline will soon be at replacement level. But there's a lot of young women reaching adulthood and so India's population is expected to peak at around 1.7 billion in 2050. At bit less if fertility rates drop faster and further than expected, which I think will happen, but it's not likely to come in at under 1.6 billion and 1.8+ billion is still on the cards.

Should we do a Marshall Plan in India?

India is doing well and is now a middle income country. There are other countries, mostly in Africa, that would benefit more from aid.

Of course, one of the main benefits of the Marshall Plan aid is countries had to agree to sensible economic management to get it. Using aid as a lever like this could still be beneficial for a country like India.

Folded page? Huh? Huh?

You need to RTFM THE Kindle manual. The Kindle is the perfect medium for book reviewers. You tap-select a passage. You could even add a short note or tag. You can see all your selections in a list linked back to the page. And if you want, USB the Kindle to a PC and print out the selected text passages. There are also social media options.

But just being able to select passages and then display them all is sufficient for a book review.

Did you forget to select something? You can search full text. Then select what you find.

Tyler is admitting to a behavioral bias (a la Kahneman) which he's aware of but irrationally resigned to. Folding a page is a more intuitive and low cognitive effort activity for Tyler than tapping through the Kindle interface.

Culture is important but this book seems to make it more fixed or inherent than warranted. Cultures can change, e.g. what happened to those German family structures when they immigrated to the US?

Obviously immigrants have distinctive subcultures themselves, but the point is the malleability of family structures.


Family Structure like any other part of society is subject to constant change. Even now, Family Structure of Two Income College Graduates had diverge from Working Class Family Structure.

It cannot change constantly and fast when family formation happens only once or twice maybe in someone's life.

Last I checked consang.net a few years ago, it looked like Arab and Muslim country cousin marriage rates were starting to fall a little. They may be artificially high in places like Northern England because cousin marriage and immigration work together.

If Schulz's paper is to be believed, small changes at high bounds in cousin marriage do nothing, because their variable is log % cousin marriage.

In their model countries with 10 % and 40 % cousin marriage should be exactly alike, while those with 0.1% and 0.5% should be entirely different. And apparently to produce this we have data which can reliably distinguish between these states.

Seems a bit crazy to me but apparently lots of folk looked at that figure in the paper (which is their main figure and result) and thought it was a sensible conclusion.

Hell of a lot of birth defects in Islamic societies, another thing that nobody appears to be interested in. There is also another by product of cousin (and closer) marriages but I dare not talk about that here.

'but I dare not talk about that here.'

Of course you can - this is the sort of place that is extremely friendly to 'polite' discussions of all sorts of issues surrounding genetic superiority/inferiority. That Steve Sailer clearly finds this a congenial place should be enough to let you know that PC thinking is not something that has much force here.

I suspect that the problem is not so much cousin (and closer) marriages but repeating such marriages for many generations.

I wonder; are there Muslim societies where there is an educated, prosperous class that recognises the problem and tries to avoid it?

“ are there Muslim societies where there is an educated, prosperous class that recognises the problem and tries to avoid it?”

Yeah but they’ve moved to Toronto or Sydney.

The Saudi government was starting to worry about genetic defects from cousin marriage in the early 2000s.

One thing to keep in mind is that first cousin marriage became more feasible as the surviving number of children in Arab families increased over the course of the 20th Century. So the rate of cousin marriage tended to go up as public health improved with the conquest of infectious diseases.

After awhile though as the number of sick and dying children fell overall, Arabs finally started to notice that the percentage of children who were now sick or dying from genetic defects was going up. It took Arab society a long time to get worried about that, but keep in mind that Charles Darwin hadn't worried about it when picking a bride (his first cousin Emma Wedgwood).

There are a bunch of quotes from smart guys in the past like St. Augustine warning against cousin marriage, but I don't think any culture became universally averse to it until America maybe around 1900 as eugenicists campaigned against inbreeding.

The medieval Church banned cousin marriages, but did issue dispensations. However I think you had to be well connected and well provided for to get one.

Is this much different from the arguments in https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/cousin-marriage-conundrum/?

I've been writing about cousin marriage for 16 years but I believe Todd has been writing about family structure for longer than that, so I imagine the influence went from Todd > Sailer in 2003, rather than the other way around in 2019.

'Sadly I had to read this book on Kindle, so my usual method of saving passages and ideas by the folded page is failing me. '

Is this a subtle joke? Especially considering that it appeared on a major economics blog?

Sarcasm or not, the native highlight and note-taking set up in kindle isn't great.

I use readwise to help organise mine. You can easily search and tag highlights and notes, and perhaps most usefully you can set up a regular email that randomly sends you old highlights you'd probably otherwise forget about.

It's difficult to find an ebook platform that doesn't incorporate the usual tech-giant data-mining, yet also has the requisite features and UI experience. Librera is the best I've found, but it doesn't yet have a highlight feature and the bookmark feature barely works.

I have the impression that "Primitive individualism*" is a rather 90s-00s idea which has been extensively debunked. Check out Will Buckner's pieces. Extensive kin organisation of marriage, patrilocality most common, male political leadership, etc.

I doubt the story of the "Church created weak kinship, which eventually created industrial revolution" people, but certainly individualism is not merely a hunter gather norm to which moderns have been released, rather it is quite new and "evolved" (or rather "derived" to use a better term).

*an analogy with "primitive communism" and "primitive monotheism", wrong ideas beloved by Marxists and Christians, respectively.

I wonder where people who blamed Brazil's government for the forest fires will hide their faces after this amazing revelation:

It should be interesting to see how this is handled - always enjoy trying to get a peek behind the moonshot curtains.

I am heartbroken. I really thought Mr. DiCaprio cared about nature. I could not have thought it was all anti-Brazilian plot.

'Thomas': that's an interesting way to spell Thiago.

No, it is not. "Thomas", according to Wikipedia, "is ultimately derived from the Aramaic personal name תאומא /tɑʔwmɑʔ/, meaning 'twin,' and the English spelling Thomas is a transliteration of the approximate Greek transliteration, Θωμάς" whilst, according to esperts "Thiago" is a Brazilian version of the name "Tiago", which comes from the Spanish name "Santiago", which comes from the name "Iago", which is version of the name Jacó, which comes from Latin "Iacobus", which comes from Greek Iákovos, which comes from the Hebrew name "Yaʿqob", whic is supposed to come from the expression "ʿaqeb", which means "heel" because, according to the Bible, Patriarch Jacob held his twin Esau's heel when they were both born.

* experts

Tyler Cowen: That family structure is also part of why Germany was, relative to its size, militarily so strong in the earlier part of the twentieth century.

How much of a part, compared to the effect of their relatively efficient and modernised* industry and more optimal placing in demographic transition than France+England** (its major continental rivals)? It seems likely not very much.

* though industry quite small as % employment compared to England

** for a visual on the demographic advantage of Germany - https://voxeu.org/article/demographic-consequence-first-world-war

"Flawed", "unsupported", "sometimes just trivial", "tempted to just stop reading", "lack of evidence on some of the key propositions". Yet it ends up with "recommended". Sounds like a roller coaster thrill ride for our usually composed host.

In ancient Rome, the "household" was the prevailing family structure, though "it extended beyond family to include slaves, clients, and freedmen. What it didn't include was the wife, who remained in her family's (father's/grandfather's) household. The reason for the latter was to prevent political marriages: the union of two families by marriage and thus concentrate the power of two in one. What is marriage good for if not to consolidate power. Our hosts being generally opposed to antitrust, I assume they would oppose the Roman concept of household too.

Roman marriages may not have shared power but they did share money. There were any number of instances of poor but patrician clans getting a financial shot in the arm by marrying a daughter off to some nouveau rich plutocrat. Hence the marriage of (the) Julius Caeasar's aunt to Gaius Marius.

More on the Schulz, Beauchamp, Bahrami-Rad, Henrich paper Tyler touched on above: The church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation, recently published in Science (linked to ungated copy above). Here's the abstract:

Recent research not only confirms the existence of substantial psychological variation around the globe but also highlights the peculiarity of many Western populations. We propose that part of this variation can be traced back to the action and diffusion of the Western Church, the branch of Christianity that evolved into the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, we propose that the Western Church’s
transformation of European kinship, by promoting small, nuclear households, weak family ties, and residential mobility, fostered greater individualism, less conformity, and more impersonal prosociality. By
combining data on 24 psychological outcomes with historical measures of both Church exposure and kinship, we find support for these ideas in a comprehensive array of analyses across countries, among
European regions, and among individuals from different cultural backgrounds.

The tl;dr is that the medieval Roman Catholic church's prohibition on incestuous marriage broke what Todd describes as the "'more advanced' family structure" found outside western Europe (and which had previously prevailed within western Europe), which promoted the values of "individuality, independence, analytical thinking, and an openness to strangers and new ideas" among western European populations.

Would the Hapsburg dynasty be an exception within western Europe that proves the rule in this case?

It's far from certain that Europe ever saw the levels of cousin marriage apparently found in some societies outside Western Europe.

But it probably doesn't matter to Schulz's argument. Their figures show that, if taken at face value (as noted to Steve S) the decisive changes all happen in the range of decline from 5%-1% of cousin marriage.

This is confirmed by exponential functions being a better fit to their data on "Individualistic-Impersonal Personality" - https://imgur.com/a/xYDM0tm

(These data were annoying to extract from their paper, as they provide no data tables!).

There is no influence on "Individualistic-Impersonal Personality" by varying cousin marriage rates from 5%-65%, apparently...

What does matter, though is a question of course of whether these contemporary differences in the low end of consanguinous marriage (from 5% - 0.25%) actually really have much to do with the Church a millennium ago though at all, or just are a function of much more recent economic change - the effects of urbanisation, shift away from the villages, etc - that just happens to correlate with the Church because of spatial autocorrelation. Even assuming the rates themselves are accurate within 1% or less.

I feel the discussion of marriage patterns and their effects on institutions/culture/etc tend to ignore the most striking fact about cousin marriage: it depresses IQ by about 10 points! The "backwards" exogamy of hunter gatherers is actually a very important evolved adaptation for incest avoidance!

“family structure is sticky and it determines the fate of your nation."
Yes, except that the national authorities and religious institutions do affect family structures. It's the combined interactions that set the course of nations.

Women have always been the backbone of Russia. Men have always been her fists and liver.

Prof Cowen, in his typically long-winded way, is basically saying that modernity is anti-human.

And resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.

At her blog, hbd chick (hbd=human biodiversity) would frequently mention the influence of Emmanuel Todd. Prior to hbdchick's interest in Todd, he'd been what could fairly called an obscure eccentric.

In "The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation," Schultz et al. are plainly influenced by a never-credited hbdhick, and now they're leaning on people who'd otherwise be virtually unknown, if not for her. (Unless you believe that Mr. Cowen just happened to read Todd's latest book. It wasn't a colleague who recommended it. It was just pure chance.) I think it's past time for Schultz et al. to recognize their intellectual debt to hbdchick. Isn't it worth, at least, a footnote? Without it, they look sleazy. Would you let such men teach your children, or marry your cousin?


Would Einstein have gotten all the traction if he'd published as "Relativity Dude"?

And isn't "chick" an ageist-sexist word?
I'm thinking hbdchick would get more love if she (or he or whatever pronoun hbdchick likes) published somewhere more staid and stodgy than hbdchick.com.

Props to Cornflour for standing up for what's right and true.

This all seems backward from the sociology I was taught. Family, clan, and village ties are stronger in backward societies (see, for example "The Moral Basis of a Backward Society" by Edward Banfield). Ties between relatives are the only reliable way to escape the power of the the unaccountable, lawless government. ("Me against my brothers, my brothers and I against my cousins, me and my cousins against the world.") The countries given as examples of "complex," "advanced" societies are exactly those where in the past (and still today) the government is the enemy and must be bribed, fought, lied to, etc. Germany, ever since the 40 years war, has oscillated between near anarchy and near-totalitarianism, up to the 1950's in the west and 1990 in the east. These things don't change all that quickly when the danger is lessened.

"Todd makes the strongest bullish case for Russia I have seen. He reports that TFR is back up to 1.8 after an enormous post-communist plunge, migration into the country is strongly positive, and Russia is very good at producing strong, productive women (again due to family structure). If you think human capital matters, the positives here are significant indeed."

Well, I guess when you are reading the books of french marxist (in this case, one who is both a classic and a cultural one), you are bound to encounter bullshit like this.

The very easy refutation of this bullshit:
"A record one-fifth of Russians would like to leave the country if they could, a threefold increase from five years ago, the Gallup pollster said Thursday.

Public polling inside Russia has indicated in recent years that between 17 and 20 percent of Russians were willing to migrate. Official data, which has been criticized for downplaying immigration figures, says Russia’s emigration numbers have reached a six-year record."

I've read some of his books in German. While it is not "pure" science, I'd say there's definitely some truth behind Todd's theories.
Overall, I tend to agree with his view that the German society is authoritarian in its structures...even though these days, they pretend they aren't, it seems to me that particularly the political left in Germany is quite authoritarian these days, as they seem to be very intolerant of dissenting opinions...
Also, Todd's views that the US society never saw blacks as equal to whites makes sense since he claims that the British system is one of "liberal inegalitarianism" , which means that while no-one should rule above other groups, the groups (ethnic, religious etc.) are different from each other and can't be assimilated with each other. This he contrasts with the liberal and equal culture of France and Spain, which in their former colonies (Latin America, Philippines) led to a " mestizo" society, where there were no clear lines between the ethnic groups as in the US and other Anglo countries.
My belief is that the best course forward for the US would be to try to become more of a "mestizo" society, but because of its societies structure, many people are against it, which leads to the current polarized politics there...
Overall, while I don't agree with everything Todd says, and some of it seems rather confusing at times, I consider him to be one of the most important modern intellectuals in anthropology/history together with harari and maybe Jared diamond, among others.

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