Comments on Primogeniture
Joined: Apr 27, 2009
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Posted 11/12/11 - 9:33 AM:
Primogeniture is an interesting topic for discussion methinks. A related topic is Ultimogeniture. Primogeniture is right of the eldest child of the family to inherit the entirety of estate or property from parents which excludes any other siblings from it.
In some cultures Primogeniture especially privileges firstborn boy and excludes any other siblings from gaining property. According to some traditions Primogeniture meant that the firstborn received all the estates, property and authority and then he apportioned it to other siblings as per his decision.
If you have watched Akira Kurosava’s Ran (1985), you might recall the role Primogeniture played in that movie. What is so intriguing about Primogeniture?
I am haunted by the question: what would have been the basis of such a legacy system in past. Was it a mere superstitious tradition or something which was based on more substantial grounds?
Ultimogeniture (postremogeniture) is the tradition of inheritance by the last-born of the entirety of, or a privileged position in, a parent’s wealth, estate or office.
This tradition has been far rarer historically than Primogeniture. The idea supporting Ultimogeniture is that last-born stay with parents and take care of them when first-born have gone out in the world to achieve success and make it big!
The idea behind ultimogeniture seems to have more reasonable basis when compared to Primogeniture. If I think about Primogeniture-I can come up with only a few things in its support, but, these do not seem to have been the only causes of its coming into the existence and all of these premises are moot points.
In the system where Primogeniture meant righteous apportioning of inheritance by eldest of children to other children and where control used to stay with the eldest sibling: The reason might have been the belief that since eldest sibling was most experienced he was most suitable candidate to manage the estates and property; whereas it would have been risky to allot maximum power to the relatively inexperienced younger siblings.
Though not supported practically and wholeheartedly by the modern science, the concept of Jing as in Neidong and other Taoist traditions-seems to have supported Primogeniture to a great extent. According to Taoism the amount of Jing anyone of us has is determined by the amount which was in the sperm of father and the egg of our mother. This amount can never be increased in your life-time (Unlike ‘chi’ or life-force-energy which can be increased). It is also suggested that levels of Jing decrease in men because of ejaculations and in women because of menstruation. It is therefore said that the chances of producing healthy off-springs reduce as the age of the couple increases. It has been proposed that the chance of getting healthy child in a conception where age of mother is more than 35 years is very less and there is a high risk of getting a child with Down’s syndrome. Verity of none of these claims is beyond doubt.
The oriental Primogeniture had a stricture that an heir to the throne must be a male. This is simply a reflection of Patriarchal sexist society where Polygyny was common. The successors to the monarchies were first of all required to be warriors and military commanders: which is more usual for males than for females. But what caused it to be the first born male child?
Adam Smith, in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, explains the origin of primogeniture in Europe in the following way:
[W]hen land was considered as the means, not of subsistence merely, but of power and protection, it was thought better that it should descend undivided to one. In those disorderly times, every great landlord was a sort of petty prince. His tenants were his subjects. He was their judge, and in some respects their legislator in peace and their leader in war. He made war according to his own discretion, frequently against his neighbours, and sometimes against his sovereign. The security of a landed estate, therefore, the protection which its owner could afford to those who dwelt on it, depended upon its greatness. To divide it was to ruin it, and to expose every part of it to be oppressed and swallowed up by the incursions of its neighbours. The law of primogeniture, therefore, came to take place, not immediately indeed, but in process of time, in the succession of landed estates, for the same reason that it has generally taken place in that of monarchies, though not always at their first institution.
As per the above description it is clear that undivided land and properties were more useful for the existence and sustenance of the clans but it does not elucidate why it had to be the first born to gain highest favors.
What do you think were reasons for the origin of Primogeniture?
Joined: Apr 16, 2005
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Posted 11/15/11 - 6:29 PM:
this is a very interesting topic. when you first posted it, i read about the first four paragraphs of your post and, being pressed for time, decided i would have to come back to it later. nevertheless, the topic was rolling around in my mind, as i had never heard of it and it seems to be a very curious practice. one possible theory of its origin had occurred to me yesterday, and i was very surprised to see now that it was one of the theories you mentioned!
well, my theory is not exactly the same, but at least similar to the concept of jing that you describe. what i was going to suggest was perhaps the existence a belief that a certain spiritual quality, or "energy", was passed to the firstborn child, the presence of which would thus diminish in the parents after passing it on, making it so that subsequent siblings would have such a quality in much lesser quantity. the idea that this energy is lost through ejaculation or menstruation is consistent with the theory that i had in mind.
the part that doesn't make sense, though, is how this would explain primogeniture being applicable only to the firstborn male child. if the firstborn child is female, then presumably she would have the lion's share of the jing.
inheritance being relegated to only male offspring does certainly make sense in the context of a patriarchal society, as you pointed out. and the problem of land and property division does also help to explain its origins. but why primogeniture instead of ultimogeniture?
The reason might have been the belief that since eldest sibling was most experienced he was most suitable candidate to manage the estates and property; whereas it would have been risky to allot maximum power to the relatively inexperienced younger siblings.
this theory seems to make the most sense, together with this theory:
It is therefore said that the chances of producing healthy off-springs reduce as the age of the couple increases.
one other thought that comes to mind, just now, is that hereditary monarchy generally passed rulership to the firstborn son. that being the case, it serves the firstborn son's interests to make laws which grant himself the entirety of his parents' estate and leave none to his siblings. however, after reading wikipedia on the topic of order of succession, it seems that the practices of hereditary monarchy followed the pattern of primogeniture, rather than the other way around.
here's an interesting related link, talking about primogeniture in a biblical context:
Joined: Apr 27, 2009
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Posted 11/16/11 - 5:12 AM:
"With the Mosaic Covenant, God selected the firstborn Hebrew as a testimony and remembrance of His Divinity and Power.
As a remembrance of His deliverance from Egypt, by the destruction of Egypt’s firstborn and the preservation of Israel’s firstborn, God placed a special claim on the firstborn of each Hebrew family’s male, animals and plants; the giving of the firstborn was symbolic of giving back what was His (Ex 13:11-15, Deut 14:22-23, Num 8:14-19). Because all firstborn were in God’s possession, it was necessary for a family to buy back or redeem the firstborn infant from God for 5 shekels, which was given to the priests when the infant was 1 month old (Num 18:15-17)."
What a sham by God! I saw part of it in 'The Ten Commandments' and I remember having read something similar in epic thread "Why Christianity is so looked down upon?" in MPG where Monk2400( Mephiboseth!) also used to contribute frequently.
What is this 'Ancient Near East culture', they refer to over and again in the post?
Moreover, the argument that "Life spans of Adam and his descendants prove the specialty of firstborn" can be easily refuted unless they don't mean deeds done in the life-span instead of life-span.