There is proposed here and there and pretty much all over in conservative circles an analogy between the authority of the patriarch of a family and the authority of the leader of a polity. I think it is easy to show that there are points of connection, points of similarity. What I am asking here is whether the similarity is more than just that of analogy, that it is in fact the SAME thing at root. Is the top leader of a polity, (the executive, assuming there is one) actually the same thing as patriarch-writ-large?
I don’t have an off-the-shelf answer that is complete and developed. I know that I tend to doubt it. My initial inclination is to fuss and pick at that analogy and test it for points of difference. Maybe, upon doing so, we could establish that the possible points of difference are not differences in kind, just degree. Or maybe not.
Some obvious things that look like points of difference: the history of western civilization as a distinct civilization is deeply bound up in the rise of the Greek city-state and Greek culture. The Greeks viewed their city, their civilization, their superiority over the barbarians as being found PRECISELY in having a polity rather than a clan / tribal nature. The very thing that they named as what distinguished them from others was their polity. So, from at least 2600 years ago and forward, to be political meant to be different from familial. The very society that gave us the word and concept of the polis and politics distinguished them from family connections. And one conclusion that one might draw from this is that either they were right, or the very notion of the polity and the political as distinct is wrong – we shouldn’t even have a different word or concept for the political.
The obvious major difference – in practice – between a polity and a patriarchy is that typically a polity includes many separate family groups. There are many heads of families, each of whom are the leaders of their own family but who, between families, are not naturally subject to one another by any familial ordering principle: the 12 tribes of Judah, during the time of Moses, during the leadership of Joshua, during the reign of the judges, had no principle by which men of any tribe was higher or lower in capacity to lead the people, nor was there any basis for the heads of one tribe to submit to the heads of another tribe. Moses, Joshua, and the judges were not in the top familial positions of even a clan, not even close to that of a tribe, and far less in a natural patriarchal position over other tribes. Saul, son of Kish was chosen to be king, being neither come into his father’s position as head of the family, nor elevated by marriage to a patriarchal status over a clan. David was chosen and anointed king while being even in a lesser position for patriarchal position, as last of his father’s many sons. By being put in positions of power without regard to their dynastic position, it would seem that their power was not that of a patriarch over a family or clan.
Another difference is that you cannot generally (by your own decision) change your family or whom you owe filial piety toward, whereas you can change the polity to which you owe loyalty. Your father is your father whether he is a good father or bad, whether he is just or unjust, even whether is alive or dead (you still owe some aspects of filial piety toward your dead father – you ought to pray for his soul, and to speak with filial respect about him.) Yes, there are some exceptions that can change how your filial piety will be carried out, if your family is so dysfunctional that you have to “disown” them, but even saying “I formally dissociate myself from that family” doesn’t eradicate ALL aspects of the filial piety you owe to your parents, doesn’t completely eradicate your debt of gratitude for bringing you into the world. But if you emigrate from your old polity and move permanently to a new one, settling in it for good, you owe your new polity your political loyalty and you do not owe it to your old one.
In tradition almost as ancient as the Greek city-state itself, the polity is described as being large enough to be relatively independent: it should have immediate access to resources to be manage much of its own internal life, it should have enough people to fill most of the needed jobs, crafts, and positions required for relatively secure ongoing operations. It is rare for a family, even a clan, to be large enough for this. Abraham split off household (and direct authority over) Lot when their households measured a few hundreds. Isaac’s household prospered, and he was the head of a large household, but when Jacob took over later and met with his brother Esau, at that time Esau’s men were about 400, whereas Jacob’s was less. And then when Jacob went down to Egypt, only 70 went with him – and he brought his cattle / animals, so he must have brought a good share of his establishment. We don’t have record here of a man overseeing many thousands as a patriarchal head of family.
In addition, according to the Greeks, the other side of the coin of being a polis, of being civilized instead of barbaric, was a community in which men (at least, some men, at least the most capable) could pursue the things that are the highest and best things of man: art, music, philosophy, contemplation – the life of leisure, the life of reason. (Not leisure in the sense of taking your ease, leisure in the classic sense of devoted to the highest things.) Subsistence level society, where there is little or nothing left in the tank for pursuit of the things that make man to be man distinctly, is a lesser form of society. And, thus, the question of material and societal self-sufficiency takes on a special cast: it is not enough for a society to be materially stable and ongoing to be civilized, it is not enough that it have a distinct culture that is passed on. it is necessary also that it be fulsome enough, and well-ordered enough, that the economy be developed enough, that men can pursue their own distinctive specialties and gain enough surplus material thereby to generate a period of leisure, and ideally a whole cadre of men whose primary pursuits are those of leisure – the artists, the philosophers. Because the effort to pursue deep learning usually requires a multi-generational effort – requires “speaking with” the greatest minds of your and other societies both now alive and in the past – this normally requires developed, written language and book making and preservation. And all these things, typically, are not found in an independent family, clan, or even tribe. It requires a city – which is why, again, the word for civilization comes from the word for city.
There is also a natural limit to the authority of a father over his children that is insufficient for political order: if a young man leaves his father’s household and makes his own way, either as learning a trade from others or as a farmer or husbandman with other resources than from his father, his father can no longer command obedience from him. Yes, the young man still owes his father honor and piety, and this may take the form of obedience in some things still regarding what remains of his interactions with his family, but that does not extend to obedience with respect to the young man’s own profession or his own household. But this is not quite the sort of situation in the polis: the young man is still under the authority of the political leaders generally.
So what do you think? Is there enough here to conclude that the patriarchal authority and the political authority are analogous only? Or are they univocal?