Revolutionary Nepotism

Revolutionary Nepotism

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

by Author(s): Steve Sailer

Dynasts are particularly inclined to build impressive civic
monuments. Consider Chicago, where Mayor Richard M. Daley has won
five terms, just one short of his father Richard J. Daley's record.
Many Chicagoans feel that when Daleys are not in power, tax dollars
often disappear into well-connected pockets without leaving a trace.
In contrast, the current Mayor Daley has seen to it that at least
some of the public's money gets spent on a long list of
beautification projects, many inspired by his visits to Paris and
other regal cities. If future generations of Daleys wish to run for
mayor, these elegant works will serve to remind voters of the
splendor of the name "Daley."

Although some dynastic systems institutionalized competition--most
notably, the Ottoman, in which scores of half-brothers would fight to
the death--one of monarchism's subtler appeals was its hint of
egalitarianism. Those who inherit their positions don't need to seize
them through raw talent or ruthlessness. While some Americans are
driven to fury by how George W. Bush seemed to amble into the Oval
Office without first displaying many distinctive accomplishments or
abilities, many others seem to find it appealing that their President
is a regular guy. When he says he only glances at newspapers, they
identify with him.

Still, in a competitive world, the main practical shortcoming of
hereditary rule is regression toward the mean. Dynasties are
typically founded by exceptional men, but the genetic randomness
inherent in sexual reproduction means their children are unlikely to
match fully their capabilities. The children of highly intelligent
couples, for instance, tend to wind up with iqs roughly halfway
between the average of their parents and those of the general
population. Dynasties have long revitalized their gene pools by
marriages to up-and-coming commoners, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There are, of course, more sinister aspects to the revival of
nepotism. Frank K. Salter, an Australian political scientist now with
the Max Planck Institute in Andechs, Germany, points out in the book
he recently edited, Risky Transactions: Trust, Kinship, and
Ethnicity, that in failed states where the government cannot provide
security and justice, the boundaries between freedom-fighters,
gangsters and terrorists can become obscure and shifting. The common
denominator tends to be that they organize around blood ties, because
the highest level of trust is found within families.

These intense family bonds are most often found in areas where
government is ineffective or illegitimate or both. These are places
where you need your extended family's muscle to survive, because the
police are either feckless or predators. There's a vicious circle:
Strong and just governments are also hard to establish and maintain
among populations whose extended family structures are conducive to
mafia-like activities.

This might be especially true in countries where inbreeding is
common: cousin marriage is remarkably common from Morocco to parts of
India. For example, two studies in the later 1980s found that half
the married people in Iraq are wed to either a first or second cousin
(versus under 1 percent in the United States). These "consanguineous"
marriages strengthen family loyalty. If you arrange for your daughter
to marry your brother's son, your grandson and heir will also be your
brother's grandson and heir, so there is no need to fight over who
inherits the family land or herd.

On the other hand, cousin marriage undermines loyalty to the state
and society, which is one reason why Middle Eastern countries teeter
between anarchy and tyranny. Shortly before the recent war,
commentator Randall Parker wrote on his website,

Consanguinity is the biggest underappreciated factor in Western
analyses of Middle Eastern politics. Most Western political theorists
seem blind to the importance of pre-ideological kinship-based
political bonds in large part because those bonds are not derived
from abstract Western ideological models of how societies and
political systems should be organized. Extended families that are
incredibly tightly bound are really the enemy of civil society
because the alliances of family override any consideration of
fairness to people in the larger society. Yet, this obvious fact is
missing from 99 percent of the discussions about what is wrong with
the Middle East. How can we transform Iraq into a modern liberal
democracy if every government worker sees a government job as a route
to helping out his clan at the expense of other clans?

Salter also points out that family-based mafias especially flourish
when totalitarian regimes collapse, as in the Soviet Union, the
Balkans and now Iraq. The ideological dictatorships destroyed most of
the non-family associations of civil society (such as corporations,
labor unions and political parties). Along with the secret
policeman's alumni club, one of the few forms of organization that
always survives totalitarianism is the basic biological one of

Not surprisingly, failed and ex-totalitarian states torn apart by
battling clans generate large numbers of refugees and émigrés. They
tend to gravitate toward more ethnically homogenous, less nepotistic
northern regions like Scandinavia, where the Rousseauvean citizenries
offer lavish welfare because they are not yet familiar with their new
arrivals' more Hobbesian worldviews.

The organized crime business is particularly attractive to immigrants
with strong family loyalties because their ability to ostracize
family members who betray their trust can give them a competitive
advantage in illegal enterprises where participants can not demand
that the courts enforce their business agreements. If a relative
cheats, they do not have to shoot him. Instead, they can just make
sure nobody will marry his children.

A chapter in Risky Transactions penned by University of Amsterdam
anthropologist Anton Blok quotes Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta's
book The Sicilian Mafia on the value of family ties between the
Italian and American crime families:

These ties allowed greater flexibility and safety. In the
relationships between [Sicilian] Mafioso organizers and the
Italo-American gangs receiving the merchandise [heroin], where there
is mutual trust over time, it is possible for one courier to arrive
from America with the money while the merchandise itself is entrusted
to another courier. Since no such privileged bonds existed between
Sicilians and Middle Eastern suppliers, importing was a more
cumbersome operation.

After several generations of assimilation and increased returns to
southern Italians from honest work, the Italian mafia has faded in
importance on the world stage, only to be replaced by new immigrant
mafias. For example, Canada's National Post reported on April 13,
2000 that

"Kosovo Albanians make the perfect mafia--even better than the
Sicilians", said Marko Nicovic, vice-president of the New York-based
International Narcotics Enforcement Agency. "They are a small ethnic
group made up of clans or families that have very close to family
relations. The brotherhood, or Fic, is impenetrable by outsiders. It
is difficult to find translators to work with police and impossible
to get an informer or agent inside the organizations."

Finally, radical regimes that have lost their faith tend to gravitate
toward nepotism and dynasticism, as ideology fades and biology
reasserts itself. Having been founded on a revolutionary rejection of
legitimacy, they wind up with crypto-hereditary systems with few of
the legitimizing trappings and functions of the monarchies that many
of them originally overthrew.

There are sources of legitimacy and mechanisms for transferring power
in democracies and monarchies that revolutionary powers do not
possess. In Europe, the certainty of accession provided the assurance
of stability. And, the rigorous military training traditional for
European royalty had character-building benefits (seen as recently as
1981, when Spain's King Juan Carlos coolly faced down a coup).

The United States is almost the only state that has a genuine
republican tradition that can call on the pride and loyalty of its
citizens. Almost all other republics either have disputed
constitutional histories (France) or a rather dry legalistic
character that shrinks from requesting patriotism (Belgium or Blair's

The Chinese Communist Party seems to be following in the footsteps of
Mexico's amusingly named former ruling party, the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), as the Communists seeks to maintain
legitimacy by constant appeals to the glories of the Revolution
combined with informal term limits on its supremos.

The enormous productivity of China's coastal provinces has provided
the elite with a sizable margin for error. Still, the greed of the
Party's princelings engenders much resentment, perhaps more than any
other aspect of the regime. To combat this, the Party occasionally
executes a corrupt lower-level official to encourage the others.

Since there is little racial difference between the rulers, the
entrepreneurs and the masses in China, frustration tends to be
diffused toward multiple minor targets. In contrast, as detailed in
Amy Chua's book World on Fire, in Southeast Asia, the corruption of
the ruling families and the riches of the Overseas Chinese business
elite make for a volatile combination. The children of the indigenous
dictators, such as Bong-Bong Marcos in the Philippines and Tommy
Suharto in Indonesia, tended to pocket huge profits by granting
Chinese cronies monopolies in return for partnerships. The overthrow
of the Indonesian regime in 1998 coincided with an anarchic pogrom
against the Chinese minority.

In the Middle East, the fizzling of leftist secular ideologies has
led to dynasticism, as it has in Syria where Ba'athism has given way
to Assadism. In neighboring Iraq, however, neither of that gruesome
twosome, Qusay and Uday Hussein, will be following their father into
power. Farther westward, in Egypt, the noisy secularist ideology of
Gamal Nasser may become literally nominal--one of the two main
candidates to succeed Hosni Mubarak is his son, Nasser's namesake
Gamal Mubarak.

Essay Types: Book Review