Polygamy’s math never adds up to stability; rather, it produces a standing pool of aggrieved young adult men opposed to the status quo. And with high fertility rates, that pool can become quite considerable indeed within the society. Furthermore, when the female side of the marital union suffers from structural inequality and subjugation relative to the male side, and when such inequalities are built into families from the outset, it should not be surprising that men who grow up under such conditions come to view women as second-class citizens against whom violence can be used with impunity. When violent dominance and subjugation become the default male script, it should be not surprising, then, that such tendencies become the modus operandi for treating larger societal and international group conflicts as well. In this way, polygyny generates ever-widening cycles of violence within and between individuals and societies.
Now, let’s go back to Putin and Russia. In the wake of the Chechen marriage mentioned above, the International Crisis Group’s Moscow office reported that “with Kadyrov’s backing, Chechen police and security officials are increasingly taking younger women as their second wives.” In other words, as we have seen in other nations, polygyny is re-emerging in Russia as a status-marker for powerful men. The Russian case is instructive for what it says about an otherwise shrewd leader’s miscalculation of polygyny’s role in the instability in Chechnya. Putin remained silent about the affair, and his spokesperson averred that, “No crime has been committed,” even though polygyny, as previously noted, is outlawed by the Russian state, as well as the Russian Orthodox Church. After the highly publicized wedding, Kadyrov’s chief of staff proposed legalizing polygyny in Chechnya, which would constitute an even more flagrant violation of Russian law. For a state as focused on internal security as Russia, to countenance the legalization of polygyny within its borders would be foolish in the extreme: There are real and negative security ramifications of this choice.
“Putin’s choice” is one that will confront many other societies in coming years.