For much of the twentieth century, it was widely accepted in liberal circles that America is the blueprint for the future of other countries. England was treated as a similar blueprint in the nineteenth century. But the Anglosphere cannot be a blueprint for other, very different countries.
Even Continental Europe is never going to be like America, or even like England, except in the generic attributes of modern technological civilisation. Europeans should stop trying to be like Americans, Americans should stop trying to make them so. Equally, Americans (and the English) are never going to be like Continental Europeans, so Europeans (and American intellectuals) should stop trying to make them so.
Does this mean that there is no hope for a liberal political and economic order in Europe? Must Europe imitate Anglospheric models? No, to the contrary, Continental Europeans can and should develop a liberalism with Continental characteristics, according to the particulars of their own histories and cultures. Central Europeans may develop what we might call liberalism with Austro- Hungarian characteristics, as they were working toward before 1914. This type of liberalism could be good, prosperous and reasonably free. It would probably be more ordered and bureaucratic than Americans, or even the English, would like. But it would have long-term stability because it would be suited to the underlying culture of the communities which adopted it. The current concern about a lapse into authoritarian types of government in Central Europe will be forestalled if its liberal institutions are solidly founded and soundly built. Central European liberal states will continue to be friends and allies with the Anglosphere, because we are still much more like each other than we are to most other peoples in the world. A new European project needs to replace the failing European Union, a Europe of peoples bound by ties of friendship, trade and shared defence, but without an overweening central government.
THE MIRAGE OF UNIFORMITY
Why have illusions of uniform development and uniform culture gotten in the way of the natural friendship and cooperation that should be our expectation? A key contributing cause is the intellectual hegemony of Marxism. For much of the past hundred years, the standard historiography of modern civilisation has been, if not Marxist, at least Marxian in many of its fundamental assumptions. Historians viewed humanity as passing through a series of developmental stages. Each stage was marked by a characteristic mode of production and an associated technology. Humans were assumed to be fundamentally alike, though different cultures would exhibit superficially different characteristics. Each culture could be expected to pass through the same stages of development in roughly the same manner, even if at different paces.
Scholars and policy-makers who believed in this framework could then fit any set of events in any particular nation into the predetermined pattern. They would, for example, be able to identify in any specific chronology when feudalism arose, or at what point the bourgeoisie emerged as a class to challenge the aristocracy, or when communal-minded peasants were changed by the emerging cash nexus into individualistic farmers. The “developmental stage” theory dictated that each of these stages must have occurred in every society, no matter how different they were.
Armed with this simplistic framework, policy-makers believed they would be able to predict and perhaps shape any nation’s progress through these stages, possibly even assisting them by accelerating the progress or skipping stages entirely. Gradually, this type of thinking became entrenched not only in countries with overtly Marxist regimes, but in Western liberal democracies as well. Many well-meaning liberals, e.g. the “development economics” school, adopted this framework. They hoped to prevent developing countries from ending up with a totalitarian Marxist outcome by substituting a liberal-democratic path for traversing the stages instead.
However, over the past three decades, the real, existing facts have become increasingly at odds with the theory. Through the cracks, green shoots of alternative outlooks are now emerging. These have not yet added up to a consistent, accepted alternative theory, nor do they all agree with each other. But taken together, these new insights suggest a picture of human history and prehistory as a much more complex puzzle, and one less neatly assignable to a simple theory of progression through stages.
Interestingly, the rising alternative theories also suggest that some of the great pre-Marxian thinkers, particularly Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Tocqueville, and the somewhat later, under-appreciated F. W. Maitland, were more right than the Marxian-influenced thinkers who displaced them.
Marxian-type thought, which was erroneous all along, provided the theoretical justification for much of the politics of the twentieth century. Considering the outcomes of that period, this in itself shows that there was something seriously wrong with the theory behind the politics.
Nonetheless, the old Marxisant thinking and the penumbras of its assumptions still dominate current political thinking and discussion. This ongoing hegemony is due in part to institutional inertia, but more importantly, there has been no coherent, viable challenger to this sort of thinking. Those who reject the Marxian-derived model still need an alternative basis for understanding the past, to shape policy choices for the present and future. The quest for a new model has sometimes gone down unfortunate paths, particularly in Eastern Europe.
We propose a new, or actually revived, understanding of history which is still a work on progress. While this new model needs further extrapolation, it deserves to be brought into greater prominence, and included in the discussion. This new model will help to dispel once and for all the false assumptions of Marx that even anti-Marxists often unwittingly hold to. It will also help to ward off alternatives that have been dead and should stay buried. But most importantly, it will provide a more accurate understanding of the past, and provide better guidance for decision-making in the present and future. Only on the sound foundation of a truly post-Marxian historical understanding can we hope to build free and prosperous societies, in diverse cultural milieux, which will survive the challenges of today. The model we propose is built on the remarkably resilient cultural variations based on family structure. Building on a comment by Alan Macfarlane, we are calling this new understanding the Continuity Model.
THE CONTINUITY MODEL
The heart of the Continuity Model is the well-founded assumption of the persistence of human culture. Culture is used in the anthropological sense: patterns of human behaviour that are not genetic in origin and that are passed down mostly intact from generation to generation. The Continuity Model is relatively highly developed in regard to the English-speaking cultures, and is built on a variety of academic sources.
The Continuity Model perhaps starts with the work of Oxford historian James Campbell, an expert on the Anglo-Saxons, who himself prefers to call his subjects simply “the English”, as they called themselves. Working with both the thin written record, and the growing body of archaeological evidence which was not available to previous generations of scholars, Campbell’s main finding was the continuity of English society from pre-Norman Conquest days to the present. Campbell has shown that even the Conquest merely added layers on top of the Anglo-Saxon structure, rather than replacing it root and branch. William the Conqueror saw himself as the heir of English kings, asserting a valid claim. William took care to have his ascension to the throne approved according to proper English procedures. Campbell has established that, far from being backwards, the pre-Conquest English had a strong, well-organised constitutional state by the standards of that era. Based on the volume of silver coinage (ten times per capita what equivalent Continental sites demonstrated) found in archaeological sites, these early Englishmen were substantially more mercantile than their contemporaries on the Continent.
As Campbell worked forward from Hengist and Horsa, the legendary Saxon conquerors of Britain, his Oxford student Alan Macfarlane began working backwards from the present using English legal records. Macfarlane went on to become a historical anthropologist at Cambridge under Ernest Gellner. Macfarlane began his work as a quest for the Philosopher’s Stone of the developmental-stages school, the elusive Moment of Transition, when the English went from being feudal peasants, living in extended families and conserving their land for generations as family patrimony, to become a modern bourgeoisie, converting to nuclear families and selling their patrimony for cash. Working backwards through parish and court records, Macfarlane and his colleagues continued to find that most English were in fact individualists in the anthropological sense, living in nuclear families, marrying whoever they wanted, and selling their land freely as disposable property. Macfarlane found there was no evidence of a Marxian transition in the historical records. Already familiar from Campbell’s work with the continuity thesis in other contexts, Macfarlane concluded that English individualism, visible through the recorded evidence back to the earliest 12th century archives available (and as Campbell’s work indicated, probably much earlier) was extremely deep-seated and should be understood as a persistent feature of English culture.
Macfarlane’s subsequent work examined this thesis in light of the work of a formidable set of predecessors: Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, and the late 19th century English legal historian, F. W. Maitland. All of these thinkers had been addressing various aspects of one Great Question: “why Modernity?” Macfarlane’s discovery was the unique antiquity of English individualism, and its corollary – that the English didn’t become “modern”. Rather, in some senses of the word, they had always been so. As an understanding of the Great Question, Macfarlane’s discovery became the capstone of an understanding of society that had been under construction by all of the preceding thinkers.
Macfarlane and his contemporaries at Cambridge had brought the power of a historical analysis of family structure and family relations to bear on the Great Question. At the same time, a French graduate student at Cambridge, Emmanuel Todd, became exposed to their work. (Macfarlane, in fact, was a reviewer of Todd’s doctoral dissertation.) As Todd built his analysis, he synthesised the work of the Cambridge Continuity School with the French traditional family systems analysis building on the work of his French precursor, Frédéric le Play.
Todd brought a very different perspective to the Great Question. He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.
Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.
From this realisation, Todd developed a theory of the relation between family structures and ideological preferences of various cultures which proved to have extraordinary predictive power. As industrialisation occurred in various nations, traditional family systems were disrupted by the movement of the young to cities to pursue industrial jobs. The role of extended families, and of family duties and obligations, became transferred to the state as paterfamilias. Because, like France, many states were made up of more than one cultural system, the politics of multi-system states could be quite complex. On the other hand, sometimes multi-national empires, despite seeming differences among their constituent nationalities, could sometimes work reasonably well if the different linguistic groups shared similar family systems. This may have been a factor in the surprising longevity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for example.
In Todd’s theory, the principal cultures of Europe included the Authoritarian Family system of Central Europe (“AF”), particularly Germany, in which traditional families lived in large extended families under the rule of the patriarch, the father or eldest brother. Inheritance was unequal, with the oldest male child inheriting all of the land, while the younger brothers could hang on as workers, obeying the patriarch and having in turn their living guaranteed, or make their way in the world and hope to obtain land and become their own patriarch. Upon industrialisation, as happened under Bismarck in Germany, the state took on the role of patriarch, demanding obedience and delivering benefits.
In central France, the Egalitarian Nuclear Family (“ENF”) arose, in which all male children enjoyed the right to an equal share of the family land, but were expected to go off and form their own nuclear family once they had obtained it. The French state, at the time of industrialisation, assured the égalité of an equal, fair start. The French state provided a thoroughly homogenous school system with an absolutely identical curriculum for every child. It was a meritocratic system, with exams to enter a large civil bureaucracy, but which accepted unequal outcomes once the children had graduated and taken their civil service exams.
In England and a few places on the Continent (coastal Holland and Denmark, primarily), the peculiar Absolute Nuclear Family (“ANF”) arose. In the ANF most people lived in nuclear families, and land was inherited entirely at the pleasure of the parents, with no one required pattern. Every child was due an education or training into a profession or trade, or a dowry for women, but on reaching adulthood was entirely free to do as they pleased, due no support, and in return had no obligation to support their parents, siblings, or anybody else. Unlike the case of other family systems, the move to the cities in the Industrial Revolution was relatively less traumatic. In the ANF, there was no real transfer of emotional loyalties or expectations to the state. The English settlers in North America transmitted the ANF to the United States.
ANF Anglo-Americans seemed like anarchists to members of other cultures. Hegel made the shocked remark that “the State barely exists in America”. In fact the English-speakers were coolly pragmatic. They created state entities when they seemed useful, and went without them when they were not. But seldom did they display any emotional attachment to the state except for a simple patriotism and military participation when they felt that their countries were under an existential threat from a Napoleon, a Hitler, or a Stalin. Even when under such threats, they continued to hate the actual details of mobilisation, regarding their enemies as troublesome fauna, like rats or coyotes, rather than noble foes. The Anglo-Americans have always preferred to assemble massive force as quickly as possible, crush their enemies like the varmints they considered them to be, and return as quickly as possible to making money and enjoying it.
Throughout much of Asia north of the Himalayas and west of Japan, a different family system, the Community Family (“CF”), dominates. In this system, the extended family owns land and works together, and relations among brothers are relatively equal, under the overall authority of a patriarch. Transferred to modern societies, this system tends to favour paternalistic and authoritarian states. Where market economies prevail, family corporations are the preferred organisational forms. Community Family systems extend into Eastern Europe, with odd pockets of CF forms in parts of France and Italy.
Todd’s puzzle of French politics was explained by the unusual distributions of family systems within France – the core area around Paris was solidly Egalitarian Nuclear Family, and the French state was built on an ENF model. The left in ENF areas tended to be Radical-Liberal, in French terms. The peripheral areas along the German, Belgian and Spanish borders are Authoritarian Family areas, and the AF areas have historically supported Socialists. Various pockets of Community Family culture appear in south-central France, and these CF areas correspond closely to the core areas of the French Communist Party. There is even a small patch of Absolute Nuclear Family area in northwestern France, which has produced most of the French writers who have written with empathy for the English-speaking culture which shares the ANF.
Family systems analysis explains some of the complexity of Central and Eastern European politics. The centre has been dominated by the AF German-speaking culture. Land-hungry German younger sons (the Jung Herr – “Junker” of East Prussia) were desperate to escape their elder brothers’ authority by emigrating to lands further east where they could set themselves up as patriarchs. They were successful in conquering the territory, but never gained the loyalty of their ENF or CF subjects. Poland is an odd island of Egalitarian Nuclear Family culture, which helps explain why it proved so resistant to assimilation into Germany’s AF culture or Russia’s CF society, but was always happy to ally itself with ENF France. Slavic Bohemia and Moravia, and parts of Hungary (particularly around Budapest), originally CF, assimilated to German AF culture by long association, while their linguistic relatives in rural Hungary and Slovakia remained CF. It is telling that the Ausgleich divided the Austrian Empire primarily into AF and CF halves.
Where this was not the case, as in the retention of AF-influenced Croatia into the Hungarian half, they continually agitated for autonomy. The artificial Trianon states built in 1918 – Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia – fell apart quickly after 1989. In each case they came apart across the seams of family systems differences.
THE FOUNDATIONS FOR A LIBERAL CONTINENTAL EUROPE
The search for a workable liberal order in Central and Eastern Europe must take into account the very different starting points and current conditions of the several quite different cultures in the region. Hungary not only cannot use all of the toolkit and solutions of America or England, it also cannot use wholesale the toolkit and solutions of Poland or the Czech Republic, much less Germany or France. It must seek a Magyar Sonderweg, its own path to liberalism, taking into account its Community Family underlying culture, and the AF culture that so strongly influenced its urban civilisation. Each other Central and Eastern European nation must find its own particular path guided by an awareness of the underlying culture which it has inherited.
However, it is important to emphasise that just as biology is not destiny, neither are history, culture, or geography. There was a strong liberal streak in pre-World War I Hungary, as the Dual Monarchy worked its way painstakingly toward a liberal solution to the complex problem of its ethno-religious makeup. Had war not intervened, the Austro-Hungarian Empire might well have developed a distinctive and enduring liberal political and economic order. Certainly the civilisation of the Dual Monarchy was one of the greatest centres of progress in Western civilisation, with important advances in art, music, theatre, science and technology radiating from Vienna, Budapest, Prague and the other cities of the Empire. War and totalitarian government scraped much of this brilliance from the map, or drive it into exile, much of it enriching America. Surveying the roster of the Manhattan Project, one must wonder whether, had the 1914–18 war been avoided, the first nuclear reactors would have come to life in Budapest rather than Chicago.
It is not possible in this brief overview to offer any detailed proposals for structural and policy reform for Central Europe. The previous comments, far from final, do not even rise to the level of a first stab at bringing Toddean factors into consideration in an analysis of Central and Eastern Europe. We only make the case that such should be done. The Continuity Model argues that the development of Anglo-America, and the particular forms it took, cannot automatically be applied to the problems of Eastern and Central Europe. The peoples of Eastern and Central Europe must probe their own historical roots, to determine which “continuities” should be cultivated, and which need to be overcome.
One conclusion, however, can be seen even at this early point: the European Union is on the wrong path. The EU project assumes far too much commonality among even its core members. States like France, Spain and Italy were built across the divisions of quite distinct family systems. These states historically had a hard time achieving unity and community. The French Wars of Religion, the French Revolution, the Paris Commune episode, and the struggle between Vichy France and the Resistance, can all be seen as episodes in the civil war between ENF and AF France. Achieving a European polity and a European demos is a project several orders of magnitude more difficult than the unification of such problematic European countries.
Anything more than a free trade area and a set of specific cooperative projects is more of a stretch than Europe can stand. The first task is to stand down from the ruinous Single Currency project. The second task is to put a stop to the misguided and destructive attempt to create a European federal state. When these failed projects are put aside, a realistic European collaboration can be constructed. This successor vision to the federalist project has not even been sketched out yet, but it should certainly consist of a web of cooperative efforts rather than any centralised regime. A particularly dense web of cooperative institutions might grow up along the Danube, returning to the natural community formed by the Dual Monarchy, but without the subordination of ethnic groups that plagued the old regime, and led to its demise.
Any vision of a world state or of global governance by self-appointed elites will hold little appeal for the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. They have had more than their fill of such dreams in the last century. On the global scale, we hope that a concert of civilisations will emerge, each drawing on own strengths and roots, cooperating in economic affairs, and working toward free trade and free travel without forcing each local population to automatically extend all citizenship benefits to everyone who seeks admittance.
By understanding the roots of each particular civilisation, we can hope for an Anglosphere that does not want to impose itself, but to propose policies that are suited to each region and to let each region work out its own destiny and its own path forward. The fear of an imposed Anglo-Saxon hegemony will fade away.
With the further development of the ideas we have sketched here, we can finally resume building what was once gradually emerging, before it was so tragically truncated in 1914, a Central Europe that is free and stable and orderly and prosperous, in accordance with what is best in its inherited culture.