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The sibling theory of civilisation

Conflict between siblings is a more significant force in human history than class struggle, according to Frank Sulloway, a Harvard psychologist. He believes that first borns tend to be conformist and younger siblings rebellious-and offers a pile of statistics to support his case. Matt Ridley is intrigued but sceptical

By Matt Ridley   November 1996

Liberte, egalite, fraternite!” However successful the French revolution may have been at generating liberty and equality, it was a terrible failure at the practice of fraternity. Not only did real brothers find themselves divided against each other by the revolution, but ideological brothers-in-arms guillotined each other with relish. The Terror of 1793 is often described as “fratricidal.”

This description may be closer to the truth than historians have realised. The battles between the Girondin and the Montagnard deputies to the National Convention, which led to the Terror when the Montagnards gained the upper hand, was largely a battle between younger…

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