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Review: The Rule of the Clan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

Strongest recommendation.

Birds of a feather

Monday, December 14th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — in this case, Trump / Clinton ]
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Friend of a friend or two Corey Robin on FaceBook — as quoted by Michael Degerald — pointed up an illuminating DoubleQuote between Trump and Clinton, which I’ve dropped into my usual graphical format:

SPEC DQ Trump Clinton

Whatever diagnosis you might be inclined to make of one of these two persons on the basis of their quote, perhaps you’d like to consider affixing it to the other one likewise..

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It’s that old liberty / security paradox, chestnut, koan or trade-off again, isnh’t it?

The President’s Speech

Monday, December 7th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

obama

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama addressed the nation in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorism San Bernardino that killed 14 people. You can read a transcript of his speech here. A few quick comments:

It is a positive, albeit small, step toward realism in the White House that the President managed to connect an act with terrorism with radical Islam as a causal factor in public. Furthermore, the recognition that our policies on immigration from states with extremely problematic connections with Islamist extremism and terrorism (i.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) contributed to the massacre is a welcome change. Recall that the administration’s initial reaction was to call the murders “gun violence” -as if the culprits here were some kind of mystery – and for the Attorney-General to make disturbing noises about criminalizing free speech critical of Islam she found objectionable.

The President’s reluctance to get into a large ground war with ISIS in Iraq and Syria is laudable. That does not mean our current actions against ISIS are effective or vigorous. They have been up until Russia’s intervention in Syria, remarkably tepid. It is laudable because at present the administration lacks a strategy for a major ground campaign; would be diplomatically unable, or find unpalatable, coordinating such a campaign with Russia, Iran, the Kurds, the Iraqi government, France and Turkey; and because the Congress and public would not wish to pay for a war of that magnitude. The President’s current strategy of air power, special forces, advice and aid is not bad in principle, but will not likely be effective in crippling ISIS unless ramped up by many orders of magnitude. Even then it would be a process of grinding ISIS down over time. Will this POTUS do that?

The President’s plea for gun control on semi-automatic rifles is a pet partisan issue for liberal Democrats irrelevant to stopping terrorism. It has no chance of passing either House of Congress. He will have no luck either with barring people on the No-Fly list from buying guns until he proposes legislation that specifically accommodates the due process rights of the accused. Nor should he until this happens, given the number of people who have ended up on the unaccountable, secret, No-Fly list out of error, capricious bureaucrats, mistaken identity and for being critical in print or online of the performance of government agencies.

The fact is the POTUS is by this time, a lame duck while 2016 campaigning is well under way. The president has never liked compromise with Republicans or advice from fellow Democrats and has kept counsel with a very small group of advisers in his second term. We are unlikely see much change in policy without a broadening of his inner circle.

What did you think of this speech?

Christianity, culture, compassion, camels — and their shadows too

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — by way of TS Eliot, Mario Vargas Llosa and others, and leading to a post on camels and their shadows ]
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limits of compassion

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In the year I was born, 1943, TS Eliot published a series of essays titled Notes Toward the Definition of Culture in the New English Weekly. Mario Vargas Llosa supposedly references Eliot’s essays in his own Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society — which Joshua Cohen then distills into this paragraph:

Eliot defines culture as existing in, and through, three different spheres: that of the individual, the group or class, and the entire rest of society. Individuals’ sensibilities affiliate them with a group or class, which doesn’t have to be the one they’re born into. That group or class proceeds to exercise its idea of culture on society as a whole, with the elites — the educated and artists, in Eliot’s ideal arrangement — ­leveraging their access to the media and academia to influence the tastes of the average citizen, and of the next ­generation too. As for what forms the individual, it’s the family, and the family, in turn, is formed by the church: “It is in Christianity that our arts have developed,” Eliot writes; “it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have — until recently — been rooted.”

I’m not sure of the bibliographic details here, but you’ll note the similarity of Eliot’s claim in quote marks above to certain claims made concerning America in recent years — and indeed, to others in Anders Breivik‘s Manifesto.

It’s the concept of culture as comprised of the sensibilities of individuals, groups and society that first and most interests me here, though — and the significance of family, and I’m hoping Michael Lotus will have something to say about that.

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Here’s more from Eliot:

It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe — until recently — have been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all of our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning .. I do not believe that culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith. And I am convinced of that, not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. If Christianity goes, the whole culture goes.

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Now take a cool sip of water to cleanse the palate..

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This may nor may not seem to resonate with Eliot’s ideas:

Slovakia prefers its desperate refugees to be Christians, please

Slovakia would prefer to accept Christian refugees under a European plan to resettle people who have fled from wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

The Central European country will take 100 people from refugee camps in Turkey and 100 people from Italy, preferably Christians, a ministry spokesman said.

“We want to choose people who really want to start a new life in Slovakia. Slovakia as a Christian country can really help Christians from Syria to find new home in Slovakia,” spokesman Ivan Netik said.

“For most migrants we are only a transit country. In Slovakia we have really tiny community of Muslims. We even dont have mosques.”

If Muslim asylum-seekers chose Slovakia, they would not be discriminated against, he said. But Slovakia would not take in refugees who did not want to stay in the country but intended to move on.

“We do not discriminate against any religion, but it would be a false, insincere solidarity if we took people .. who dont want to live in Slovakia,” he said.

That. btw, is the most nuanced version of the Slovakian response to the refugees I’ve seen.

Comnpassion? A conceptual radius of compassion?

Are there, should there be, limits to compassion?

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In an upcoming post on the shadows of camels, I’ll explain my overall intent in posting such items as this one — and it is not to suggest that Breivik is the same as Slovakia, or Eliot the same as Breivik, or Christianity across Europe equivalent to camels or the shadows of camels across the desert.. nor that compassion should or should not have a radius, conceptual or otherwise.

Aircraft Carriers and Maritime Strategy – a debate

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Last Friday night at the U.S. Naval Academy, retired Navy Captain Henry “Jerry” Hendrix and Commander Bryan McGrath debated the future of the aircraft carrier. My wife and I were fortunate to attend. Given the pressure placed on the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, the debate could not have been more timely. Commander McGrath argued the “nuclear aircraft carriers with air wings are the most cost effective and efficient platform to project power in the maritime and littoral realm to support U.S. national security interests in current and future security environments.” Captain Hendrix argued against this resolution. While both arguments hold much merit, I tend to side with Captain Hendrix.

Lots of numbers and statistics were thrown around, but one issue did not enter the debate: it has been 70 years since an aircraft carrier was shot at. The lesson of the Falklands War underscores the potential power of modern precision munitions, and carriers are big targets.

This video is highly recommended. C-SPAN also recorded the debate with a transcript here.


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