The Patriarchal Theory

A general description of the Patriarchal Theory:

This theory is as old as Aristotle, who States in his book, Politics, in these words: The family arises first; when several families are united and the association aims at something more than the supply of daily needs, then comes into existence the village. When several villages are united in a single community perfect and large enough to be nearly or quite self- sufficing, the State (polis, as Aristotle calls it) comes into existence”.

According to the Patriarchal Theory, the State is the enlargement of the family. The original family consisted of a father, a mother or mothers and their children, all of whom were under the complete authority of the father. In course of time, the original family split up into as many families as the sons, each of whom became the paternal head of his individual family. But all these families remained united under the authority of the eldest living male among them. They formed a group of families, called a clan. Later several clans, tracing their descent from a common ancestor, real or supposed, formed a tribe, headed by a chief. The tribes expanded into a commonwealth or State, headed by a king.

The king exercised the same complete authority over his subjects as did the patriarchal head over his wives, children and servants or slaves. So the family expanded into the State and the father’s authority was transformed into the king’s authority. In brief, the evolution of the State was, as Leacock puts it, “first a household, then a patriarchal family, then a tribe of persons of kindred descent, and finally a nation”. In other words, the patriarchal theory presumes that the headship of the family “bequeathed from one chief another, by easy stages” transforms the father into the king and the family into a civil community”.

A more modem view is presented by Dr. Diamond He writes: “In primitive society we may expect to find that the administrative and executive head of the family will usually be the strongest male. On the death of this male, the strongest member of the group will succeed. Who will that strongest be: neither a woman, nor an ascendant. Sometimes, some of the brothers were considered to fit in the position, if possessing the qualities needed.

Sometimes brothers were too old to hold this position of the deceased. So, usually, the strongest member of the group will be the eldest son of the deceased. Such property as the group holds is held by the head as an administrator on behalf of the group, and on his death the new head succeeds to the property. There are, however, certain special considerations affecting property, as distinct from the position of being head of the group. Power, for example, must descend to one person but every one must be maintained’.

Patriarchal Theory as explained by Maine:

The Chief exponent of the Patriarchal Theory was Sir Henry Maine. He once lived in India on official duties in the nineteenth century, where he studied the ancient customs, e.g., the joint family system of the Hindus. He had also studied the ancient Roman, Greek and Hebrew societies and institutions. On the basis of these studies he elaborated the patriarchal theory in his two books, Ancient Law and the Early History of Institutions.

According to Maine, the family was the basic unit of the primitive society, in which descent was traced through the males. He writes in ‘Ancient Law’: “The elementary group is the family, connected by common subjection to the highest male ascendant. The aggregation of family forms the clan or House. The aggregation of houses makes the tribe.

The aggregation of tribes constitutes the commonwealth”. In order to explain this evolution of the State, Maine further says, “The points which lie on the surface of the history are: – The eldest male parent—the eldest ascendant— is absolutely supreme in his household. His dominion extends to life, and death, and is as unqualified over his children and their houses as over his slaves. The flocks and herds of the children are the flocks and herds of the father”. The power of the father over the life and possessions of all other members of his own family was known as patria potestas among the ancient Romans, and kana among the ancient Hindus.

The eldest male parent possessed absolute and even despotic authority over them. He owned all they produced; he could chastise his children and dependents, he could give them in marriage as he liked; he could sell them and he could even kill them. But as time passed, the original family multiplied into many families, related together by male kinship. This process led to the formation of clans, and ultimately to tribes and States. Thus the original patriarchal family was enlarged into a State. The main points in the Patriarchal Theory of Sir Henry Maine are: (1) Paternal authority of the father or the eldest living male; (2) Male descent and kinship. All relations were traced through the male members and the male ancestors (3) Permanent marriage between a man and a woman or women, was the rule.


The chief merit of this Theory is that it has emphasized one factor in the evolution of the State, viz., the kinship or family. But here lies its main defect also. It seeks to explain the development of the State by a single factor of kinship; — the State is nothing but an enlarged family. This is too simple an explanation of the very complex phenomena of the origin of the society and State. There are three reasons why we cannot accept the contention that the State is nothing but enlarged family. Firstly, the family and the State differ widely from each other. The authority of the father is not like the authority of the ruler. The authority of the father is natural and limited, while that of the ruler is political and unlimited.

The authority of the parent’s decreases as they grow old and the children grow up, while there is no such fluctuation in the authority of the government. In view of these differences we cannot say that “the State is merely the family writ large”. Secondly, the basic unit of the early society was the tribe and not the family. As Edward Jenks has pointed out, the primitive’society was tribal in structure. Later on the family became the basic social unit, and only recently, the individual has become the unit of the society. Thirdly, the primeval society in human prehistory was matriarchal and not patriarchal.