Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Readings about tribes and clans — #15: Mark Weiner's "The call of the clan: why ancient kinship and tribal affiliation still matter in a world of global geopolitics" (2013)

Mark Weiner's article "The call of the clan: why ancient kinship and tribal affiliation still matter in a world of global geopolitics" (2013) has more in common with TIMN than any prior reading in this series. So do two other articles and an interview he did based on his then-new book The Rule of the Clan (2013). This post draws on all but his book, which I've not read. Yet, as today's reading, I'm pointing only to the article named up top — I like it best as an overview.


As I keep repeating, tribal (TIMN’s T) forms of organization, their dynamics and effects, have been widely ignored by national-security policymakers, grand strategists, development economists, and counter-terrorism theorists, among others — at their peril, to their discredit, and without their even knowing it. They’ve ignored tribes as a distinct form — yet it's the first and forever form, the form upon which every society is grounded. They have also ignored how the tribal form relates to the other TIMN forms that societies use to organize themselves. Yet excessive commitments to the T form lie behind most of the violent troubles we now face around the world; and its pernicious entanglement with the +I institutional and +M market forms accounts for much of the systemic corruption and political illiberalism we see in so many societies.
That doesn't apply to this author. He has an excellent understanding of the tribal / clan form, it's effects and implications. His understanding is not as thorough as TIMN proposes, but it’s the best I’ve seen so far. 
So I'm doing my write-up differently from others in this series. For the others, I've tried to show they advance a recognition of the T form. But this reading is already so advanced that I'm going to emphasize instead where it matches TIMN, such that they mutually validate each other. Also, the points I make below fit with today's reading, but I use quotes from all the articles noted above. (See source note at end for clarification.)
• Weiner, much like TIMN, views clans as a variant of the tribal form — as "a subset of tribes". Clans first took shape around biological kinship principles to become the initial "basic building blocks of civic life”, as “a natural form of social and legal organization.” Later, some clans also became based on "the adjunct principle of “fictive kinship” — in which a non-consanguineous group is treated “like family”." Thus, says Weiner, clan rule "is more explicable in human terms than that most historically anomalous of institutions: the modern liberal state. … Clannism is tribalism’s historical shadow.”^
• Weiner finds, much like TIMN, that clan structures are so decentralized and collectivist that clan system depends on imposing a “culture of group honor and shame”. Indeed, he says, "Group honor and shame allow the rule of the clan’s devolution of power to work by promoting both internal self-regulation within extended kin groups and coexistence among them". In other words, "Honor and shame form the cultural circuitry of such a collectivist system." 
• Weiner observes, again like TIMN, that as societies progress, the clan form does not go away — it persists. This persistence occurs not only via the clan's traditional blood-kin form, but also via morphed modern forms based on "fictive kinship". Indeed, people may remain partly if not wholly beholden to the clan form for both defensive and offensive purposes, for it gives them a place from which to defend and/or expand their personal as well as clan interests. In TIMN terms, people will remain in clan forms to the extent that they cannot find appropriate places in sectors structured by the institutional, the market, or now the new information-age network forms.
• Weiner recognizes, as does TIMN, that people revert back to clan forms especially when societies break down — this is true not only for far-away societies but also, increasingly, right here at home in America. Accordingly, "People … reflexively turn to it as a principle of social organization, especially when state alternatives break down." “For when there is no such thing as society, eventually there are only cousins and clans.” Thus, "people who live under clan rule often — and sensibly — hold it in high regard, just as they rationally return to it when other social structures break down."
• Weiner’s analysis is evolutionary, somewhat like TIMN, in that he looks beyond clan rule to the rise of government rule. As he sees matters, “When clan rule diminishes, two aspects of a society change: its legal and political structure and its culture." What's needed, then, "is the transformation of clans from hard institutions with legal and political significance to purely soft institutions with cultural and psychological importance. From clan to club. From kinship to social networks.” Indeed, Weiner often notes as a theme, that clans must soften into clubs, and their exclusive kinship networks must loosen and evolve into broader more inclusive social networks, in order for social evolution to advance.
• Weiner, like TIMN, warns that clannism is becoming rife and risky here at home as well as abroad. According to Weiner, “The second reason to study clans … has to do with our own political discourse here at home. You could say that I became interested in clans because of widespread ideological attacks against the state within liberal societies — that is, attacks on government.” As he notes elsewhere, "… today, clan rule poses grave international challenges, not just in tribal societies, but in more developed nations, and even in modern liberal democracies.” Extensive clannism has the effect of "making it more likely that conflicts will escalate and spiral out of control."
• Because of the above, Weiner advises, much like TIMN, that foreign-policy and national-security strategists acquire a better understanding of the clan form. Indeed, "appreciating the range of forms it takes are vital to solving a surprisingly long list of foreign-policy challenges." In particular he highlights how “The social and cultural consequences of clannism are insidious.” He sees, as does TIMN (though I lag in writing it up), that "clannism" explains corruption in systems where institutions do not take hold properly: “One step up the development ladder, nations that posses the outward trappings of a modern state but are still firmly in the grip of clannism — like the Palestinian Authority or Egypt — suffer from corruption and stifled economic development.” Weiner also sees urban gangs as another manifestation of clannism in modern societies.
A couple of final points: 
While TIMN treats tribes as a cardinal form of organization, Weiner's focus on clans has resonance in other comparative organizational frameworks: notably, William Ouchi’s typology about clans, hierarchies, and markets; and Clay Spinuzzi’s typology about clans, hierarchies, markets, and networks. Weiner’s work helps validate these. Jim Gant deserves credit as well for his efforts to gain recognition of the significance of the tribal/clan form in all sorts of societies. For more on this, see my blog post and accompanying charts here:
Finally, let’s notice that Weiner wrote about "rule by clan" years ago — well before Donald Trump became president. Yet Weiner's analysts bears on this, for in some ways Trump, more than any American president, operates like a clan chieftain who is seeking to install a familial loyalty-driven clan-state inside our nation-state. (An example of a country that has always been more a clan-state than a nation-state is North Korea.)


• First, here's how Weiner describes the nature of clans and "rule by clan":
“What do the European sovereign debt crisis, the difficulty of building a liberal democracy in Afghanistan, and a Mexican drug cartel have in common? To begin with, all three are the predictable result of weak government institutions. On a deeper level, however, they are products of a single basic impulse: They all implicate the fundamental human drive to live under the rule of the clan. Grasping this impulse and appreciating the range of forms it takes are vital to solving a surprisingly long list of foreign-policy challenges.
“So what is the rule of the clan? Ancient Highland Scotland provides a helpful example. Until well after the failed 1745 Jacobite rising, when Britain roundly defeated the cause of "Bonnie Prince Charlie," no robust public identity or state institution in the Highlands effectively superseded clans. Society was organized around kinship groups -- like the MacGregors, Macphersons, and MacDonalds, each associated with its own region -- and the ever shifting confederacies they established over centuries. Under clan rule, groups of extended families formed the basic building blocks of civic life. They remained largely autonomous from central government authority, maintaining their own law and settling disputes according to local custom.”
• Here's how Weiner describes the corrosive corrupting grip of "clannism" in clan-riven societies:
“One step up the development ladder, nations that posses the outward trappings of a modern state but are still firmly in the grip of clannism -- like the Palestinian Authority or Egypt -- suffer from corruption and stifled economic development. Although they possess stronger state institutions, they nevertheless govern through informal patronage networks, especially those of kinship. President Bashar al-Assad centralized and maintained his power through such patronage in Syria. So did Yasir Arafat after his return to Palestine in 1994. Where clannism reigns, governments are co-opted for purely factional purposes, and states, conceived on the model of the patriarchal family, treat citizens not as autonomous actors but rather as troublesome dependents to be managed. At the same time, kin-based patronage groups have the power to discipline their members in accord with their own internal rules."
“The social and cultural consequences of clannism are insidious. Corrupt governments regularly set factions against each other to avoid scrutiny of their own practices, and a lack of economic dynamism encourages out-migration of workers and fosters social unrest. More profoundly, in the words of the 2004 Arab Human Development Report, by "implant[ing] submission, parasitic dependence and compliance in return for protection and benefits," clannism destroys "personal independence, intellectual daring, and the flowering of a unique and authentic human entity." But clannism is not just a relic of the developing world. Modern liberal democracies can and do succumb to clan rule when their central-government institutions are weak or perceived to be illegitimate. In inner cities of the United States, for example, where the writ of the state often runs out, petty criminal gangs enforce their own social order. Likewise, in countries like Italy and Mexico, international criminal organizations and drug syndicates dictate their own internal codes of discipline and engage in intergroup behavior -- like blood feuds -- strikingly akin to that of traditional clans. Even the weakening transnational institutions of the European Union have accelerated the rise of right-wing parties, such as Greece's fascist Golden Dawn party, which claim to provide alternative social orders based on ethnicity."
• Here Weiner again contrasts clan values with liberal values, arguing that the former must soften if the latter are to take hold:
“The rule of the clan everywhere challenges liberal values. But it need not. Over time, as they did in Scotland, clans of all sorts will transform from hard political entities to soft -- if cherished -- markers of personal identity. Over a long span of history, clans will become clubs -- even in the most difficult parts of the world."


I’ve based this post mostly on today’s reading — Mark Weiner's ”The call of the clan: why ancient kinship and tribal affiliation still matter in a world of global geopolitics" (2013), at:

This post also draws on two other sources I mentioned up front. One is the interview by Deven Desai, titled “Bright Ideas: Mark Weiner on his new book Rule of the Clan” (2013), at:
The other is Weiner’s “The Paradox of Modern Individualism” (2014), which is published in a special issue of the periodical Cato Unbound, along with discussion articles by several other analysts, located at:

For a review of Weiner’s book, including comments I made that reappear above, see Mark Safranski's illuminating blog post "Review: The Rule of the Clan" (2016), at:
All quotes above are from these sources. However, my write-up here does not specify exactly which quotes are from which sources. I lost track, and I hope to take care of that tiresome slip-up later.

To read for yourself, go here:
[I posted an earlier write-up of this reading on my Facebook page, on June 26.]

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