Page:The early history of the property of married women.djvu/18

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law, after apparently advancing further than what may be called the Middle Roman law in the proprietary enfranchisement of women, retreated afterwards to a point which is only represented in the oldest institutions of Rome, and the general interest of the subject is sufficiently great to warrant me in stating what those reasons are.

It will probably be conceded by all who have paid any attention to our subject, that the civilised societies of the West, in steadily enlarging the personal and proprietary independence of women, and even in granting to them political privilege, are only following out still further a law of development which they have been obeying for many centuries. That society, which once consisted of compact families, has got extremely near to the condition in which it will consist exclusively of individuals, when it has finally and completely assimilated the legal position of women to the legal position of men. In addition to many other objections which may be urged against the common allegation that the legal disabilities of women are merely part of the tyranny of sex over sex, it is historically and philosophically valueless, as indeed are all propositions concerning classes so large as sexes. What really did exist is the despotism of groups over the members composing them. What really is being relaxed is the stringency of this despotism. Whether this relaxation is destined to end in utter dissolution—whether, on the other hand, under the influence either of voluntary agreement or of imperative law, society is destined to crystallise in new forms—are questions upon which it is not now material to enter, even if there were any hope of solving them. All we need at present note is that the so-called enfranchisement of women is merely a phase of a process which has affected very many other classes, the substitution of individual human beings for compact groups of human beings as the units of society. Now, it is true that in the legal institutions of the Hindoos (political institutions, I need scarcely say, for many centuries they have had none) the despotism of the family group over the men and women composing it is maintained in greater completeness than among any society of similar civilisation and culture. Yet there is abundant evidence that the emancipation of the individual from the family had proceeded some way, even before the country had come under the Western influences through the British dominion. If I were to give you the full proof of this, I should have to take you through much of the detail of Hindoo law. I will mention one indication