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Europeans Have Always Been WEIRD: Critical Reflections on Joseph Henrich's The WEIRDest People

Ricardo Duchesne


Published: 2022/06/01


This essay acknowledges Joseph Henrich’s landmark analysis of how medieval Europeans were already psychologically distinct from the kinship-oriented peoples of other civilizations long before the rise of modern science and liberal thought. It then shows that Europeans already exhibited WEIRD psychological traits in ancient Greek times, along with monogamous nuclear families, civic citizenship, and a relatively high level of literacy long before the Protestant emphasis on reading. The early Christians of the Hellenistic period were already advocating a WEIRD sexual morality before the Catholic Church intentionally — not “unintentionally” — abolished the polygamous kinship norms of early medieval Germanic peoples. The creation of nation-states in the modern era was an alternative form of community created by WEIRD Europeans consistent (in principle) with their liberal values. Despite his emphasis on “cultural evolution”, Henrich misses the extent to which Europeans were the most creative cultural species in history. Key Words: WEIRDness, Great Divergence, Western uniqueness, Catholic Church, Protestant literacy, Kinship institutions, Cultural evolution

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