The Family in Traditionalist Societies

The family is the oldest form of social organization. The most primitive human associations, the tribes, were based on families. Later on, ethnic and religious communities emerged, then the city-states of antiquity, and the medieval cities. Nations and modern states developed more recently in our history. Nowadays, we experience the largest form of kinship: the globalization, or the international integration.

The erosion of the importance of the family in modern societies is caused not only by the changes in lifestyle, the increase in independence and mobility of individuals, but also by the development of new types of relationships among these individuals. People are linked together by common economic targets, by shared social and cultural models, by mutual ideas, desires, aims and principles, rather than by blood relations. Ethnic and religious communities are also continuously dispersing.

In modern societies, people believe in the power of democracy and of the law. They trust each other, regardless of having different ancestors, ethnic origin or religious beliefs. They feel they have the same rights and duties, and they respect each other, as members of the same society. As a result, family, ethnic and religious groups have melted within the larger community of modern nation and modern world. The famous slogan “liberty, equality, fraternity” (often complemented today with “laity”) is only an expression of these principles. Of course, families, peoples, and religion have not disappeared and they will probably continue to exist for a very long time hereafter but their importance seems to be decreasing constantly.

These principles are in opposition with some traditional concepts, still very popular in countries like those from the former communist block. Here, the family is still the fundamental element (“the cell”) of the society. Religion and ethnic purity are also essential values. National, religious, and sexual minorities often induce suspicion and even repulsion among “traditionalists”. Foreigners are sometimes regarded as impostors, thieves, or individuals trying to humiliate and destroy the cultural foundation of the natives. Such so-called “traditionalist” groups never really trust anyone but their own families: parents, brothers, uncles, in-laws and so on. They also do not believe in democracy and reject it, although they declare the opposite, and do not respect the laws by conviction, but only (when they do) by fear.

In traditionalist societies, the family is not only a social and a cultural nucleus. Business and political relations are also built within families. The family is viewed as the only form of organization that is capable to defend and to promote the needs and the aspirations of the individual. This explains why, in ex-communist (as well as in other oriental) countries, the society is extremely divided by clans or tribes. People are weak outside their families. The intrinsic value of a person is irrelevant. Individuals without their families are like lost children. Even when they look at their political leaders, they expect them to be some sort of a family member surrogate: a caring father (“big daddy”) or a devoted son (“the most beloved”).

This may be called a “communist-mafia”-kind of society because, in the past, communism had many things in common with the mafia organizations. In such a society, it is easy for one to succeed, if one has a strong “famiglia”. But, on the other hand, trying to go by oneself, to build up other kinds of relations, or to promote other ideas and people than those belonging to one’s family is viewed as a betrayal and is strongly condemned. Nobody has the right to put something else or someone else above his or her family. The head of the family (“il cappo”) enjoys the support and fully obedience of all the other family members, and makes decisions for each of them. Within a family there may still be conflicts, however, these conflicts never damage the external appearance of unity of the family, in its interaction with the rest of the society. If a single guy aspires to enhance his professional, social, economic or political status, he has no other choice but to join an important family, either by marriage, or by another similar kind of bond (becoming “a family friend”).

Someone said: “nobody is above the law”. In fact, in “communist-mafia” kind of societies, nobody is above the family. The family is the law.