The members of a State are alledgedly supposed to form a national community, to have a shared identity. The ancient generations of a nation are referred to as the " fathers". A patriot is attached to the " land of the fathers" ( " pater" in latin). The word " nation" expresses a community of origin. In France, one of the great republican values is " fraternity" or brotherhood.

Hence my question : could a State be considered as a huge family.

I can see some objections to this view:

  • contractarian objection : the family link is a natural one, while the political link is conventional ( cf. Locke, Rousseau)

  • Hegelian objection ( cf. Hegel, Philosophy of Right) : the State is a synthesis of civil society and of family; in a family ( which can be considered as a single person, by mutual identification ) , the link is natural and rests on mutual love, while in the State, the link is spiritual ( mutual respect, mutual recognition of individual persons considered as such)

  • considering the State as a family would blur the distinction between ethics and law .

  • equating the State with a family would have perfectionnist and anti-liberal consequences ( cf. Kant, Theory and Practice, Against Hobbes).

What are, according to you, the " pros" and " cons" of considering the State as one huge family?

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    I'd suggest to read Dewey on this subject, the private vs. the public is quite central. This includes that the family gets space independent from the state/public sphere.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 12:06
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    I think "nation" describes better than "state" the concept you are going for here. A "state" is the ensemble of institutions the rule the nation (including, but not limited to, the government).
    – armand
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 12:37
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    The family itself seems to be under considered in philosophy. Plato analogizes the State or "body politic"and the presumably male individual in the Republic. Possibly the closest case would be monarchy, as defended by Sir Robert Filmer in Patriarcha, where the king is very much the "father" and "body" of the State. Most political thinkers, from Solon on have tried to prevent the corrupting influence of family power and families in politics, which is part of the basis of Republics and democracies. Hegel in PR and PS has very interesting treatments of the relations between family and State. Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 15:17
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    @NelsonAlexander: Doesn't it have to be dynamic though? The family has changed, atomised, so our familiarity with and modeling from patriarchal-authoritarianism has changed? In archetypes, there is a distinction between leaders by power relations (Capricorn, yang-leadership), and by loyalty/service (Leo, yin leadership) (am thinking of Machiavelli's fear and love also). Which type is most associated with families seems highly culturally dependent, along with expectations on the head of a family - just like states vary.. Perhaps niether family nor state are centralised so much now
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 16:33
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    @CriglCragl. Yes, I would not disagree. I may have time to offer an answer later, but just tossed out some historical references in the literature. There are many theories of how institutions evolve. But in much of the Western canon, the State is structured at a certain scale precisely to supersede family feuds, clan animosities, and mafia-type revenge cycles. The "Orestia" and "Antigone" are often seen as a key transition texts. This is also why Solon created the "demos" to replace "blood ties" and genetic dynasties with more "impersonal" cooperation. Same for our nepotism laws. Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 17:28

3 Answers 3


There is no agreed definition of the State, so it is conceivable that one could absurdly define a large Family as having a territorial boundary, between the hedges and the driveway, say, and institutions of government, such as shared dishwashing. Here, Papa bellows, "L'Etat, c'est moi!" And the siblings retort, "Fraternité...liberté, égalité!"

But I would argue that the reverse cannot stand. Historically and philosophically, the State is largely defined by differentiation from the family. As you note, Hegel provides one of the best clarifications of this. Morality arises out of the deep natural "netherworld" or animality of our genetic-reproductive bonds, whereas "ethicality" and government arise out of self-conscious recognition between rational "persons."

The distinction between the two is critical to the functioning of each. The limits of the family may be defined by marriage taboos and the limits of governance by nepotism taboos, though always imperfectly. The crises of inherited dynasties or "State as Symbolic Family" recur constantly, from the time of Commodus to Henry VIII to Kim Jong-un and...well, the Trumps, if they could!

The emergence of a formalized State often involves a struggle against the "blood ties" of family. Hegel points to a representation of this in the dialectical conflict between Antigone and Cleon, and in the "brother-against-brother" mutual annihilation in "Seven Against Thebes." The uncivil turmoil of clans can be seen across history, from the Old Testament to the Italian city states of Romeo and Juliet to The Sopranos.

Instituting governments means repressing the family. The formation of the Athenian democracy came about when Solon formed the "demos" as an artificial social unit to disperse and replace families. Plato's Republic attempts to purge the state of the "curse" of family strife by the extremes of common marriage, anonymous parentage, and public childrearing.

Of course, the Biblical family is forever rising up within the State, threatening its stability, and it is for this reason that our own founding "fathers" wanted neither inheritance nor religion to play a role in governance. I would also guess this accounts for the long exclusion of women (and children) from the distinct category of "citizenship." In short, the modern State, at least, is in many ways that greater communicative, "rational" collective that subsumes the family and defines itself as precisely not a family. It requires more interchangeable parts.


I can see a couple ways to add definition to why and why not, and what it would mean.

There is some dispute about reproductive division of labour, but there is a strong case to be made that humans are eusocial - they share some of the qualities of hive organisms. I feel the near universal existence of traditions of religious celibacy is the strongest argument for this. It may no longer be strictly true, but it was in the situation homo sapiens sapiens evolved in, especially as made it through the long bottle-neck around 70,000 years ago, where it seems our lineage gained a decisive advantage over other homonids, and spread dramatically further than any previous wave out of Africa. From Dunbar's number, we can deduce that humans have a strong preference for a group size of around 150, confirmed by the Domesday Book, and archeology (cities are evolutionarily very recent, & co-arose with animal domestication & writing, and can be considered as organisms in their own right). I would suggest that like bees, historically a succesful human colony would reach a certain critical mass, and spin-out a new 'swarm', in past times. With humans the increase in population and preperation to succeed in new wilds and/or against other troops of humans, would often involve a new edge in technology (eg Clovis people getting to North America), driving the spread of progressive sophistication. Tribe members would be quite closely related, helping stabilise traits, but be large enough to reduce the risks of inbreeding. Clan, tribe, village, and extended family, are all approximate synonyms. It would seem the minimum size group to be self-sufficient, and stable, with a set of different skills & traits that balance out & form a stronger whole. Including, the need for collective decision-making, & being a kind of proto-state. Dunbar's number links to how many faces & characters we can remember, and it makes sense that decision making bodies like the Houses of Parliament & Congress are around this size (NB typical attendence, rather than potential attendence). It's like a village of village-representatives makes a council, & a council of council-representatives makes a government. The Pareto distribution of human connectivity provides interesting insights to this.

The next strand I would look at is Peter Singer's 'expanding circle of moral concern', which I would say gives the best account of what we call moral progress. In this view we began with a concern for our own offspring, and this got 'hijacked' to apply to a kin selection group (there's great comparative evolutionary arguments for this happening many times). Humans had a strong pressure to develop uniquely many mirror neurons, because of evolving to access bones, shellfish, & coconuts which no or few other animals could, and the need to mimic detailed actions of others to do this (supported by creche-rearing infants). Sophisticated tool use does not always correlate with language, but tool use & this high degree of intersubjectivity (from mirror neurons) does seem to, as in parrots & dolphins, ie quick learning from mimicking others, means complex language. From multi-level selection theory, the reboot of failed group selection theory, we see offspring-preference & kin selection are still primary, the unit of selection is still the individual's genes. But, inter-group cooperation that provides additional benefits without harming these, has clearly gained a strong selection pressure, and we have come to consider expanding our circle of concern from immediate family, to kin, to all humans, to non-humans, steps in moral progress, eg ending slavery, declaring universal human rights, establishing animal rights. I would argue morality & ethics 'hijacked' shame & disgust, and we developed social reinforcement to direct these to support positive group-directed behaviour, and we call this ethics & morality (look at the Greek tradition of the Furies, unleashed by paricide, incest etc, to see the transition from more instinctive, to more reasoned & legal constraint).

So, after that bit of lengthy beating-about-the-bush, I would say yes the state can be thought of as a family - but better as a tribe or tribe-of-tribes. But, moral progress is towards thinking of the human family, towards concern for all sentient beings. And any state which seeks to constrict or prevent an individuals reproduction, violates a kind of evolutionary social contract - and the reason that's a problem is the same that kaiboshed group selection: if a strata get to control the reproduction of non-kin, you get a free-rider problem, which makes the situation unstable. Those controlled in this way will always see the controllers as oppressive, and those controlling will have a distancing from the production of resources because of the decoupling from the group that create them (if there is no social mobility or mutual gene-flow), which will impair their fitness. This accounts for a great deal of human history, and the stability of democratic socialism. I would argue it points to sources of instability in the USA & China, around lack of social mobility even over generations (India is less economically unequal than the USA!), and the pressure resulting from that to generate an out of touch elite incapable of making decisions for the benefit of the whole population (I'm not saying that currently does or has to happen, there are checks-and-balances, but it's a constant risk).

As an aside, I'd note the derivation of company, and companions, from 'with bread', those we break bread with. State and family are in some sense imposed, or non-optional, but there is another strand here. Modern states greatly benefit from pressure-groups, they are pretty essential, and I would say they follow this rather than a 'family' model, usually anyway.


No. Broadly, no State could be considered as a huge family (except to the extent that family would be dysfunctional and wouldn't that defeat the point?)

How could it be acceptable to Post such a Question a priori when Stack Exchange demands research? Of course a State could be considered as a huge family but outside primary school, where would that get you?

On your evidence, considering a State as a huge family would be like every other case of a conclusion seeking evidence: backwards.

Who says the members of your State should form a national community or have a shared identity? Why not include states split almost 50-50 on important issues? How are they communal or familial?

Ancient generations of some peoples are referred to as "fathers" yet patriots are as likely attached to the land of the mothers, of king or queen, crown and country. Why not consider French, German or Russian as well as English?

Why not be more careful defining "nation" as expressing community of origin? The more so as French Republican values include fraternity or brotherhood?

That the family link is natural, while the political one is conventional matches no more in logic than in grammar.

If you want the State to be a synthesis of civil society and family, why not make the case?

If your family can be considered as a single person, by any means, why not make the case?

If you see a difference between mutual love and things spiritual… if mutual respect or mutual recognition of individual persons considered as such are different from mutual love, why not make the case?

If considering the State as a family would blur distinctions between ethics and law, why not explain how? In any case, why would that matter?

If equating the State with a family would have perfectionist or anti-liberal consequences, why not explain how?

Never you mind your audience. What, according to you, are the pros and cons of considering the State as a huge family?

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    Sorry to say, but I believe you are the pot calling the kettle black. The question actually contains (particularly in its apt reference to Hegel) more definition than your excoriation of the question. Certainly, the question, like most here, could be better defined, always the case. It is a bit vague, but not uninteresting. If it were framed in the manner you suggest, it would be more of an assertion than a question. If we are to be sticklers, I believe it fits format of a "question" with somewhat greater refinement (and better grammar, sorry) than yours fits the format of an "answer." Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 2:11
  • Should this personally opined discussion not be moved to chat?
    – user37981
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 4:01

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