Revolutionary Nepotism

Why "keeping it in the family" remains popular under dictatorships--and democracies.

Issue: Winter 2003-2004

Adam Bellow, In Praise of Nepotism:  A Natural History (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 576 pp., $30.

Frank K. Salter (ed.), Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship and Ethnicity (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2002), 288 pp., $79.95. 

The United States currently confronts foreign policy challenges
involving such highly disparate foes, friends and in-betweens as
North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Jordan,
Morocco, the Congo and the Philippines. All these countries, however,
possess one striking common denominator. Although dynasticism is
supposed to have died and been buried by meritocracy, these countries
are all led by the children of former heads of state.

The same is true of America, whose president is not just the son of a
president, but also the grandson of a senator and brother of a
governor. Americans tend to be willfully blind to the crucial subject
of nepotism. We disapprove of it, so we feel we ought not to think
about it--a dangerous illusion as we pursue a more activist foreign
policy that brings us in touch with cultures that approach the topic
quite differently.

You must be a subscriber of The National Interest to access this article. If you are already a subscriber, please activate your online access. Not a subscriber? Become a subscriber today!