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Critical Review: "Family and Civilization" by Carle C. Zimmerman....
"Carle C. Zimmerman purports to present a comprehensive understanding of European history."
The following critical review was published in AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 1.51, 1949



Family and Civilization

The Reviewer:
Francis L. K. Hsu
(1909-1999) was Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University Evanston, Illinois. Professor Hsu held degrees in Sociology, Economics (LSE), and Anthropology, specializing in kinship patterns and cultural comparisons between large, literate societies, namely, the United States, China, India, and Japan.

Excerpt: Biographical/Historical Information
Anthropologist Francis Lang Kwang Hsu was born on October 28, 1909 in the Chinese province of Liaoning. He received a B.A in sociology from the University of Shanghai and worked as a social worker in the Peking Union Medical College Hospital after graduation. In 1937 Hsu was awarded a Sino-British Boxer Indemnity Fund Scholarship which allowed him to study at the London School of Economics. Hsu studied under the renowned Bronislaw Malinowski and in 1940 he received a PhD in Anthropology. After receiving this degree Hsu returned to China to conduct fieldwork in Southwestern China and to teach at the National Yunnan University in Kunming, China. Hsu came back to the United States in 1944 at the invitation of Columbia professor of anthropology Ralph Linton. 

Family and Civilization by Carle C. Zimmerman
(Harper and Brothers, New York, 1947)

The essential arguments of this book, including the characteristics and the causes of the three main types of family found in Western civilization (designated Trustee, Domestic and Atomistic), as well as the dangers of the last and most recent type and the ways in which they may be avoided, have been presented in summary by the skilled writers of one of the most popular American magazines (Life, July 26, 1948).

The present reviewer can find little agreement with Dr. Zimmerman’s remedy, based upon an alleged similarity between ancient Greek and Roman families and modern Western families, to save the moderm world from the collapse he foresees. In essence, the remedy is that if civilization is to be saved, the family pattern must be changed. It bears a great deal of resemblance to the simplified formula prescribed by some psychoanalysts for world peace. But while the pros and cons of such a remedy are a matter for debate, a number of basic points of reference essential to the foundation of the book are a matter of the author’s ignorance. These points of reference center around Dr. Zimmerman’s distinction between “primitive” and “civilized” families, which in turn constitutes the reason for leaving out a consideration of the family in nonliterate societies. These reasons, which are found on p. 92 of the book, are briefly as follows:

1. The families of tribal communities are probably of a different universe from those of the higher cultures.

2. It is doubtful if these peoples are the family predecessors of the West. A study of them can tell us nothing about our past.

3. We know little of the psychology of the primitive families, but we do of the great civilization families because we are participants in them.

4. Variations in the family life of smaller civilizations are extreme and are largely without rhyme or reason.

5. The preliterate groups are small, so that a determined abnormal person can easily establish atypical types of behavior.

6. Many of these smaller primitive groups have the abnormal psychology of dying peoples.

7. The groups are so small that natural events such as an extreme storm, the loss of a boat, a fire, or a tribal quarrel-may kill only a small number of people, yet its psychological influence on the group may be greater than that of a major catastrophe such as the Black Death or a world war-among civilized peoples. higher cultures.

To the anthropologist the unsoundness of each of these assumptions is manifest and any criticism leveled against them is really superfluous. However, since so prominent a sociologist as Dr. Zimmerman has adhered to them in a widely publicized work, they must not pass unnoticed. Below are the reviewer’s comments on each of these assumptions. The numbers before the comments correspond to the numbers before the assumptions quoted above:

1. The fallacy of the first assumption comes from popular stereotyped thinking. It used to be the fashion to juxtapose tribal communities as a whole against so-called higher cultures as a whole. Now we know that not only the so-called higher cultures but tribal communities have different orientations, and yet they are comparable.

2. No creditabIe anthropoIogist today maintains that institutions found in the tribal communities are direct predecessors of those of the West, but a study of institutions found in widely different cultures is as important to the science of man as a study of widely different forms like the spider, the octopus, and living apes is to the science of biology.

3. We are beginning to know much more of the psychology of “primitive” families, but people are not necessarily more familiar with all that goes on in families of which they have been a part, as is to be seen, for example, in the many and varied reactions to the works of Freud and Kinsey. Furthermore, if Dr. Zimmerman’s assumption here is true, then only Chinese can become sound students of Chinese family, only Indians can become sound students of Indian family, etc., which position will reduce the science of society to an absurdity.

4. Variations in the family life of small social aggregates are not necessarily more extreme than those in the family life of larger ones. Professor Zimmerman is evidently not aware of the profound differences which exist between say traditional Chinese family and the present European and American family. The absurdity of the assumption that variations in the smaller groupings are without rhyme or reason needs no comment.

5. It is manifestly untrue to say that a determined abnormal person can easily establish atypical types of behavior in nonliterate groups. Most nonliterate groups are much less subject to change of an internal origin than modern Western society. On the other hand, witness the relationship between Hitler and Germany.

6. It is very sad that after the appearance of many excellent works on comparative culture patterns, Dr. Zimmerman still tells us today that many of the smaller primitive groups have the abnormal psychology of dying peoples.

7. We cannot intelligently comment on the last assumption because I do not think that Dr. Zimmerman or any other scholar has any comprehensive evidence on the total psychological influence of such events as the Black Death or the world wars on the so-called civilized peoples.

FRANCIS L. K. Hsu (1909-1999) Professor of Anthropology NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY EVANSTON, ILLINOIS

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