Amoral Familism – Prioritising the Family over Moral Principles

In anthropology, the term “amoral familism” is used to describe a family structure and moral code that emphasizes the needs of the family over those of the individual or the community.

It is a social anthropological concept that refers to the belief that family relationships are more important than moral principles and is based on the idea that family ties are more important than anything else, including the law. This often leads to members of the family engaging in unethical or illegal behaviours in order to protect the group.

The Origin of the term “Amoral Familism”

The term was first coined by Edward Banfield in his book The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (1958). Banfield studied the culture of southern Italy and concluded that amoral familism was the main reason for the region’s poverty and lack of development.

According to this theory, people in a society will obey the laws of their government only as long as it does not interfere with what was in the best interest of their family. If there is a conflict between the two, then the family relationships will take precedence.

Banfield argued that amoral familism encouraged people to think only of their immediate family and not of the wider community. This led to a lack of trust and cooperation, as well as an emphasis on self-interest. He also claimed that amoral familism contributed to crime and corruption, as people were more likely to break the law if it benefited their family.

This characterisation has been widely criticized, particularly by Italian scholars, who argue that it unfairly demonizes the people of southern Italy.

The consequences of amoral familism on individuals and societies

Amoral familism can have a number of consequences on individuals and societies. Perhaps the most significant is that it can lead to a lack of trust and cooperation between people. This is because individuals are more likely to think only of their immediate family and not of the wider community.

Additionally, amoral familism can encourage crime and corruption, as people are more likely to break the law if it benefits their family. This can have a negative impact on the overall development of a society.

Amoral familism can also lead to a number of negative consequences for individuals. For example, it can place a great deal of stress on individuals, as they feel obligated to put the needs of their family ahead of their own. Additionally, it can lead to social isolation, as individuals come to believe that they do not belong to a wider community. Finally, it can result in a loss of individual freedom, as people are expected to conform to the norms and values of their family.


Amoral familism has negative consequences for both the individual and society as a whole. It undermines the development of a healthy civil society and can lead to social ills such as crime, violence, and corruption. In addition, amoral familism leaves individuals without a sense of purpose or moral compass, leading to misery and unhappiness.

Family – a group of people who are related to each other by blood or marriage.

Community – a group of people who live in the same area and share a common culture.

Trust – a feeling of confidence in another person or group.

Self-interest – acting in one’s own best interests.

Crime – an illegal act punishable by law.

Corruption – the misuse of power for personal gain.

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