Man is born polygamous yet everywhere he is monogamous

Friday, February 24th, 2023

Man is born polygamous yet everywhere he is monogamous, Misha Saul notes:

Not long ago I had my own Fermi moment. I looked at the world around me and asked: Where are all the polygamists?

Consider almost any past empire or civilisation — Mongol, native American, Chinese, Indian, African, old European — and you will find powerful men with many wives. It’s all over the Hebrew Bible. 90% (!) of hunter gather societies around the world practice some degree of polygamy. Yet we look around today and…zilch?


It turns out this is no accident. The WEIRDest People in the World by Joseph Henrich (I’ll call it WEIRD from now) traces how Christianity exterminated the practice over centuries and forged modern, cousin-free, monogamous marriage in the West (hence WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic). In light of Christianity’s now millennia long clamp down — occasionally literally hounding kings over successive popes until they submitted — it’s not so surprising world leaders and billionaires today seem about as monogamous as anyone else. It’s remarkable how potent culture is: what was once as natural to a powerful man as eating is unthinkable to such a man today.


And the fact there is not even 10% or 5% or 1% polygamy may not be an accident. Polygamy might be like poison: a little bit is enough to define the lot. 100% of elite men practicing polygamy is a society with only a bit of polygamy. I’m not even sure what a 100% polygamous society looks like — presumably one reliant on captive wives from helot populations. Which explains why you see ~zero today: you are either a polygamous society (>~0%) or not (~0%).


WEIRD traces Christianity’s march through history to harness powerful men to the yoke of civilisation to forge our modern world. Within that frame lie some even more transgressive nuggets. Marriage literally sedates men — changes their physiology — and puts them to productive use providing for children. Breaking clan ties through the abolition of cousin marriage and the rise of female independence freed the Western man from mediating the world mainly through relationships, allowing him to deal in abstractions (reason, law, systems). This led to an explosion in innovation. In some ways it’s a bleak portrait: the dissolution of family ties and the beginnings of the Anglo age of social atomisation.


The progression of theses might go something like this:

  1. Men are in positions of power and so society is run by men.
  2. Actually, just like man domesticated beast (dogs, horses, oxen, etc), women domesticated man (via monogamous marriage). As the ox ploughs the field, so elite men’s energies have been channeled away from war making and wife collecting to civilisation building.
  3. Actually, monogamous marriage is a powerful cultural phenomenon that solved a civilisation-wide coordination problem of individual men maximising wives and individual women selecting for powerful men. It unleashed a civilisation winning configuration — against the individual interests of both elite men and women — to break clan ties, distribute wives and harness man to build civilisation. It shifted men and women away from their local maxima to a global maximum.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The counter argument is that polygamy profoundly destabilizes the group, because most men go without wives and sometime even access to women.

    Add to that, that in extreme environments like the tundra and taiga in front of the ice sheets, women need the commitment of men to their children, and this is best achieved through monogamy.

  2. Wilson says:

    Probably just degeneracy, almost everyone is too poor to support a big family, and the few who have access to the concentrated wealth don’t have multiple wives or even mistresses or even courtesans, they go to Epstein island.

  3. Jop says:

    Thanks to the abolition of cousin marriage, monogamy is failing, and polygamy (through hookup culture) has come back.

  4. Doclove says:

    It was the ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans( and other Italic peoples) who introduced monogamy when they were pagans and before they became Christian. The Athenians as well as most Ancient Greeks severely restricted women being outside the home and away from their husbands or fathers or other custodial male members of their family and Sparta was one of the few exceptions in Classical and Hellenistic Greece. The early and mid Republic eras of Rome had a concept of Pater Familias Potentas or fathers power over the family. The wives were allowed to move about more freely in Rome than Greece, but their fathers or husbands or other custodial male family members in Rome had the power of life and death over not only their daughters and wives and sisters but over their sons, grandsons, granddaughters slaves and slaves that their family members owned. These arrangements for men’s power over female family members fell about before Christianity started and their societies fell apart. Christianity took over their cultures and reintroduced patriarchy and androcracy but not the harsh pagan patriarchy but the kinder Christian patriarchy ridding the gynocracy of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Imperial period.

    Rome had conquered Greece Israel where Christianity started at the end of the Ancient Roman Republic. Our age now in the West is more of a gynocracy than Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. It seems men civilize women more than women civilize men. When men can get sex on demand from their wives and are able to own or control their wives and children as well as take responsibility for them then men build and maintain civilization. When men can not do these things the men passively let civilization fall apart or actively destroy it; and, men do this more so when women own or control men and children. Our present day cultures in the West have women own and control men and children. Bachelor men and Wodowed men are the least owned and controlled by women but are controlled by women via harassment charges etc. and this is enforced by our ruling elite and government. Divorced men are controlled more than Bachelor and Widowed men. Married men are controlled most of all. There is no equality in relationships between me and women as women are deemed superior to men in the West despite the lies and gaslighting saying it is the opposite in the present day West.

  5. Esp says:

    Gregory Clark, with his A Farewell to Alms wrote extensevely about that. Also, hbdchick wrote about that too, covering manorialism, Austrasia, the Hajnal line and ancient Greek and Roman practices, etc, much before some “Harvardian” Joseph.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Clark does a wonderful job explaining the Malthusian Trap that pre-modern societies face.

  7. Michael van der Riet says:

    Polygamy exists for a very practical reason: a shortage of men. In warlike nations, historically men were getting killed at a rapid rate. To the wife this meant disaster: she had no property rights whatsoever and could be chucked out of her house together with her children, by the husband’s family as rightful heirs. Having no means of support the wife and children would starve. Therefore a charitable man with an existing wife might offer marriage to the widow, giving her a home and status in society. A very charitable man might look after several wives. In King David’s Israel, men would be reluctant to go into battle knowing that their death meant death to their wives and children too. David became the husband of last resort and married many war widows. Polygamy is mostly found in fairly primitive societies where men are being killed often.

  8. Jim says:

    Michael van der Riet: “Husband of last resort.”

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