There is a rather oddball notion floating around that the traditional family arrangement is actually unnatural to Europeans and reflects—and this is intended as an insult—“Jewish family values”. This should be of no interest to us, except that it is an idea promoted by self-defined “Traditionalists” and for rather ignoble purposes. Unfortunately, in understanding this matter in its depths, we cannot count on Julius Evola who, while disparaging so-called bourgeois values, actually proscribed important aspects of the Roman tradition. Also, as this is a matter of principle, we cannot appeal to contingent factors such as the “disorder of the world” or “riding the tiger” to justify a truly un-Roman attitude.
We can immediately and unequivocally dismiss the notion on a strictly factual basis: “Jewish family values”, under the Mosaic Law, included polygamy and easy divorce. On the contrary, Roman family values required monogamy and divorce was forbidden or rare.
To demonstrate this both historically and principally, we will make use of two works, one on Ancient Rome, and the other on the Second Rome, describing what well-bred men considered mentally healthy and normal; these are respectively The Ancient City by Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges and The True & Only Wealth of Nations: Essays on Family, Economy & Society by Louis de Bonald.
I want to clarify the method once again, since it may not yet be clear to everyone despite our many posts on the topic. First of all, after gender, the next differentiation in man is caste, since it refers to fundamental orientation of a man towards the conditions of his being. This is prior to subsequent differentiations such as race, nationality, or religious affiliation. In our day, a man’s caste is not immediately visible to the senses, nor even necessarily understood by the man himself, so they play very little role in social analysis today, except perhaps in its degenerate form of economic class. Yet, it is a fundamental notion, certainly more important than racial or religious characteristics, despite the false importance attributed to these latter distinctions by most “defenders” of Tradition.
The second point is that we regard the Roman Tradition as a spiritual unity. Rene Guenon often remarked that the Christian Tradition was unusual in that it did not contain a law in its scriptures. Instead, the Medieval spiritual tradition adopted the old Roman Law; that is why the Mosaic Law was never part of Christianity. Of course, there is a clear and obvious reason for this. The law of the more ancient traditions, including those of the Ancient Cities, comprised detailed requirements for the performance of rites, the conditions of ritual uncleanliness, various taboos, and so on. To an outsider, including men today who think they can return to such pagan traditions, these laws would seem arbitrary, even unreasonable. In fact, that is the case; although in general the principles are true, in specifics, the exact relationship is difficult to discern.
As Guenon pointed out, in is origins Christianity was esoteric, hence its primary emphasis was on the interiorization of the law, not on outward observance. Morality, that is, outward observances or law, was secondary. By that I mean nothing more than that morality could be derived from metaphysical and theological principles, and therefore did not require its own revelation. I will expand on this at another time.
This is not at all to deny that the Ancient Tradition lacked an inner or esoteric dimension. The quotes that follow are taken from the two books mentioned; it is easy to see the spiritual continuity between the two. Quotations are indicated by a blue bar.
The Ancient City
We have previously indicated, in the Son of duty, the importance of family to the ancient Greeks and Romans. For a man, a fortiori for a man claiming to be recovering the ancient Roman tradition, to deliberately fail in this task, indicates a severe fault and is not at all normative. This is what I mean by a “dead end”, it is the end of a tradition, not a revolt against the modern world which, in any case, is similarly, and radically, opposed to the Traditional patriarchal family. This is how the ancient Romans actually did consider it:
[The Ancient City] rendered marriage obligatory; celibacy was a crime in the eyes of a religion that made the perpetuity of the family the first and most holy of duties. But the union which it prescribed could be accomplished only in the presence of the domestic divinities; it is the religious, sacred, indissoluble union of the husband and wife. [my emphasis]
Civil marriages were not valid. Adultery was a crime. For the sacred fire should be transmitted from father to son.
The son born of adultery annihilates in this world and in the next the offerings made to the manes.
Of course, this applies to the higher castes, as the plebeians did not have a sacred marriage. The proletarian mentality even today eschews marriage as the high illegitimacy rates attest to. Even so, there are remnants still alive of the old idea as we see in these divorce statistics.
A few days ago I saw a famous actor, whom I did not recognize, on a TV interview show. The hostess asked him (an obvious set up question) when he planned to marry his attractive blonde gf named Kirsten. He said they will when their “friends” are allowed to do so. “I don’t want to perform a ceremony as long as they can’t.” There you have it; for the prole mentality of an actor, marriage is not a “sacred union”, but only an arbitrary and unnecessary ceremony. Yet, the power of the ancient ideal of marriage persists as we see in these ceremonial elements that go back thousands of years:
father gives away the bride, bride wore a veil, white clothing, groom carries her across the threshold, sprinkled with water, bride and groom share a cake
By law in Greece and Rome, no family could become extinct, and it was the duty of the leaders to prevent this. The modern world, on the contrary, is intent on making the family itself extinct. So, you rebels against the modern world: where do you take your stand? Which path do you intend to take?
The Ancien Régime
The concrete situation in the medieval and subsequent era is different from the ancient city. First of all, the specifics of the rites and duties of family life are not spelled out in detail, but must be inferred. Then, there is the separation of the spiritual authority and political power, so the latter is entrusted with enforcing the law determined by the former. Bonald distinguishes between the domestic professions, which we would call the Third Estate, or the professions of the Vaishya caste, and the public professions of the higher castes of Priests, Administrators, and Warriors. In the book referenced, Bonald discusses the ideas of marriage and divorce. Implicitly rejecting the notion of the social contract as the source of social order, he writes:
Domestic society began with monogamy and the indissolubility of the conjugal bond.
For Bonald, this is not just a religious, or even Catholic, notion, but is fundamental to any Traditional society. Aware of the Roman Tradition, and in agreement with Fustel, he informs us:
For several centuries the Romans fought against divorce. It appeared among them only very late.
Interestingly, he considers the Roman attitude as indicative of the “highest wisdom” and understands the role of Christianity to apply this wisdom to society. In his words:
The highest wisdom made itself heard, the Christianity, which is only the application to society of every moral truth, began by constituting the family, the necessary element of ever public society.
Bonald also pointed to the customs of the Germanic tribes, which he admired:
The general march of society toward civilization was no less constant and continuous, and the peoples of the north, who in the end came to renew the worn-out body of the Roman Empire, received the Christian religion from the vanquished wherever they settled in exchange for the monarchical constitution that they brought to them.
As for their attitude toward divorce, “[divorce] was not so among the people [Germanics] whose martial way of life was chaste and simple.
For Bonald, marriage is understood in its organic wholeness, and is farthest thing from a “right” or to the personal whim of just the two parties involved. He explains:
[Regarding divorce], the government will have fulfilled all its duties toward religion when it will have seen to it that the bond of marriage, formed by the mutual consent of the parties, guaranteed by the civil power, and consecrated by the religious power, cannot be dissolved by law.
Marriage is at once a domestic, a civil, and a religious act which, in the public state of society, requires for its validity the concurrence of the three domestic, civil, and religious powers: In the consent of the two parties, authorized by their parents, in the intervention of the civil power, and in the concurrence of the religious authority. Once the bond had been formed by this triple know, and the family that it has founded has taken its place among the families that compose the State, the legislator should consider it as an integral part, inseparable from the great political whole, composed itself of families, religion, and the State.
This is absolutely incomprehensible and absurd to the modern mind which understands society to be composed of individuals, not families, and religion to be a private, rather than public, matter. Even at the time Bonald was writing, in the generation following the French Revolution, marriage was considered a mere civil contract, requiring only the consent of the two parties. Clearly, this the dominant view today, among the chattering classes. Their ill-equipped opponents simply sound ridiculous to educated people today. That is because they sense something is wrong with the modern view, but they lack the intellectual tools to oppose it; a fortiori, their viewpoint is actually consistent with what they oppose. For example, in the USA, the dominant Protestant ideology sees no sacred or sacramental character in marriage, they oppose any public spiritual authority, and their view of society is itself individualistic and atomic, rather than organic. That they are shocked by recent developments is itself shocking.
That the civil power would have any say in marriage is rejected today. Here is Bonald’s view on that notion, although his sanguinity is unjustified, given subsequent developments:
The right of the civil authority to establish impediments to marriage will not, I am sure, be contested. Politics, sometimes more stern than religion admits some that religion has not been able to recognize.
For example, from a strictly theological perspective, parental approval and certain levels of consanguinity may not be absolute impediments to marriage; the Church is more interested in the parties sharing the same religion. Nevertheless, the State itself can require parental permission; it can also prohibit marriages both to close relatives and even to those whose bloodlines are too different from each other. Such laws would be impossible today.
In continuity with the requirement of the Ancient City to preserve the family, Bonald provides his own understanding of it, along with a disturbing prophecy:
Let us make bold to say it: The State has no power over the family except to affirm its bond, and not to dissolve it. And it the State destroys the family, the family in its turn will avenge itself and will silently undermine the State.