Thanks to Tim for his deep and intricate engagement with Jeanne’s post and with my response. I confess that at this point—as an Aristotelian-Roman-Thomist argues with a Lacanian Hegelian about the origin of rights—I feel I really ought to step aside and let the learned speak, for the sake of others who are following along as much as for the sake of my own skin. But I wonder whether the issue Tim raises can in fact even be answered philosophically, though of course thinking in philosophical terms can help us pose the question in the right way. In brief, if I understand Tim correctly, he asserts that jural relations of abstract right necessarily originate at the same time as family relations—at the same moment a community comes into being—and that the constitutive family unit of this community is the nuclear rather than the extended family. Is that right, Tim?
I am about to walk onto some of the most delicate ground imaginable right now—namely querying an Irishman about his language—and I beg Tim’s patience for my brutish American stumbling. But here goes. You refer to the Irish term for nuclear family. Are you referring to teaghlach? If so—again, forgive my uncertainty—isn’t the word based on or deeply connected to the root of “house”—and, more particularly, “hearth” (teallach)? And is there any reason to think that this house or hearth didn’t in fact refer to the common fire shared not by the nuclear but rather by the joint or extended family that Henry Maine revealed linked Ireland and India to a common Aryan ancestor? Again, I’m close to walking on air here in terms of my expertise, but isn’t there also some of the same implication in the Welsh term for clan, gwely, finding its root in the term for “bed”? And I believe this is the sense in which long ago George Gomme explored the relation between the hearth cult and the English village community. And so in fact couldn’t the etymology of the Irish term be quite consistent with the collective ownership of tribal land—implying a much more recent (in historical terms, anyway) functional individuation of jural relations, as well as the development of the nuclear family with which the term is associated today, in modern speech?
And speaking of the nuclear family, I agree that one wouldn’t want to understate psychological or social diversity. Point well taken. Nor would one want to imply that legal systems in status-based societies don’t enable all manner of relationships that are entered into by individuals, including contractual relationships. But in functional terms, and often in formal ones, even these relationships seem to me to be predicated on the force of extended kin relations.