Site Meter

Category: Symposium (The Rule of the Clan)


Response to Marschelke

I’d like to take a moment here to respond to Jan’s comment from yesterday—for which, my thanks.

Jan, leaving aside the issue of legal sub-communities for now, I would say that the legal identification you describe is a task not so much for politics but for literature and the arts. It’s there we see the most direct cultivation of the imaginative sensibility that is the ultimate cultural foundation of the liberal rule of law. At the heart of this imaginative sensibility is an attitude toward history and interpretation that enables the free construction of the self. And, notably, often such moments of cultivation engage ancient stories or myths about the rule of the clan (to take two examples I discuss in my book, think of Walter Scott’s Waverly or Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses). If one main goal of my book is to suggest the centrality of the modern state to individualism, another is to suggest the centrality of certain forms of literature and culture to the autonomy-enhancing liberal state.

On a related matter, I’ve been struck by the way in which Germany in particular has faced the challenge of cultivating the cultural legitimacy of law not only in the wake of World War II, after the transformation of German constitutionalism, but more notably over the past few decades, as the country has become notably multicultural. In Germany, you confront an interesting and difficult social and cultural conversation between liberal, legal modernity and many immigrants who were raised under the rule of the clan. I seem to remember a number of striking films made by German filmmakers about the issue, though I can’t recall their titles. Is it possible also that some of the filmmakers are Germans of Turkish descent? There, again, the role of the arts in navigating the historical transition from status to contract.

As for clubs and clans. I think the question isn’t when clubs become a legal force, but rather when to clubs become more like clans? Under the rule of the clan, there is no formal, or practical, possibility of exit. But we could imagine a world in which that impossibility would apply even to organizations not restricted to members of a particular lineage (e.g., gangs).


The modern state, from 30,000 feet

Thanks to Deven and Mark for the invitation to participate. I concede preliminarily that readers should discount my comments both because Mark is a dear friend from law school and after, and because the book falls far outside my own areas of expertise. I’m neither a comparatavist nor an anthropologist, and my knowledge of the vast expanse of world history Mark covers pales in comparison to the pool of scholarship and literature from which he expertly draws. So the best I can provide is some gut-level reactions — and, more specifically, an account of why I enjoyed the book but also why I wanted a bit more from it.

I’ll have two basic comments: the first, which I’ll post now, regarding its description of “the state,” and the second regarding my resistance to the book’s normative thrust. Both come from my response to what Deven rightly characterized in his introductory post as the “bold” nature of the book and its argument. It is scholarship and prescription from 30,000 feet, summarizing and marshaling knowledge (sometimes contested) and ideas about the entirety of human history in the quite masterful categories of liberalism v. clan. This makes for a great read, as well as a powerful narrative and set of conclusions, but it can also frustrate someone who, like me, prefers the smaller story, the more complex and thicker description, and the contingent, trembling conclusion to the comprehensive, confident one.

Mine is, at bottom, an aesthetic preference. It comes from the kinds of writerly and institutional choices Mark has made. Rule of the Clan is a scholarly, intellectual book, but it isn’t a traditional work of scholarship. It is intended for a non-specialist but curious and engaged readership, and its publication by an excellent trade press publisher, emphasis on accessible narrative, and interjections of Thomas Friedman- and Malcolm Gladwell-like insightful conversations with interesting people make the book a much easier read than your typical academic tome. Mark’s back-and-forth with Orin Kerr in the comments to the initial post were telling. Orin’s request for greater definitional clarity, like my own comments below, want a complexity and situational precision that Mark’s archetypes resist, even as he sensitively notes that the archetypes are not as absolute or normatively good and bad as they might at times appear in his argument.  Read More


Seductive Clans

Clans are seductive. Mark’s book, The Rule of the Clan, shows why. The Rule of the Clan does not bring up The Godfather that I recall, but then it did not need to. The book forced the opening of The Godfather into my head. Couldn’t shake it. That opening is a microcosm of many ideas in the book. Mark shows that the impulse to embrace the clan is not weird; it is understandable. For me, Mark’s theory explains the tension between two major forces, the liberal state and the clan; both of which offer much, and both of which run into each other (Jeanne L. Schroeder’s post captures this point well). As I understand the book, the move to the clan or rise of clan systems is a symptom of liberal society in decline. At the same time there is a balance. Clan structures are warm and safe in many ways. As a first generation immigrant, I have never plugged into whatever the hell it means to be an Indian in America. At times, I wish I could. Did I reject all clans? No. No one is an island; all need some communal succor. I went to a boarding school. Boarding schools at all levels fill gaps in family life. Even as a day student, the honor code, the crest, the motto (principes non homines), and the people created a structure of support and security like no other. And days before graduation, the founding headmaster made it a point to tell us that once we left, we were in a different world, outside the clan, where maintaining honor was a bit rougher. Cal, Yale, Princeton, Quinn Emanuel, Google, the Cory Booker Campaign, had clan-like qualities too. Some of those institutions find subtle ways of excluding you even when you are in. But some of those networks have power and help in tough spots. As that grows, as one rises in the institution, individualism is less tolerated. Identity merges with the group as one drinks the culture, and loyalty, sometimes blind, ensues. But they rarely have the power of the clans that cause concern. Or they rarely exercise it for all in the clan.

So consider the Godfather scene. What happens when all structures are gone? Where do you turn? Your company? Your school? No. You seek the Godfather. The immigrant undertaker, Bonasera, who tries to live under the new rules of his new country, America, finds that the system fails him. He tries to adapt to his new world. He lets his daughter date outside his clan, but she is attacked. The culprits receive a suspended sentence and go free “that very day.” The system is at best theater for him. He wants revenge for the beating and attempted rape of his daughter. He goes to the clan, the Godfather. But the Godfather challenges him about being outside the clan, and this exchange follows:

Bonasera: I didn’t want to get into trouble.
Don Corleone: I understand. You found paradise in America, you had a good trade, you made a good living. The police protected you and there were courts of law. And you didn’t need a friend like me. But, uh, now you come to me, and you say: “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder for money.
Bonasera: I ask for justice.
Don Corleone: That is not justice. Your daughter is still alive.

And in the end Don Corleone is clear that the people who will take care of the problem must be “reliable people, people who aren’t going to be carried away. After all, we’re not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker thinks.” The rules of the feud (the book describes the importance of feuds as something other than anarchy) persist even for those not in the system. That maybe a quirk and inaccurate for most clans, but the idea of this scene is seductive. It, in fact, is true. It is why people can love the idea of Don Corleone or Tony Soprano.

The temptation or desire for quick, personal justice cannot be escaped. If it were as simple as the film, many more might seek it even with the owed, unknown favor lurking behind the exchange. Liberal democracy is always balancing that desire for immediate, visceral, decentralized satisfaction against a slower, less personal system. As Arnold Kling offers, anyone asserting a new decentralized order will work must show “a more decentralized order that does not degenerate into the rule of the clan.” So too for liberal democracy. That system must constantly prove itself. When that proof is lacking or has faded from recent memory, calls for dismantling the state will arise. They may not be accurate. But they suggest that things are not as they should be. When they start to gain force, rather than throwing the state out altogether, we must reassess and reestablish the parts of the state that give room for individuals to thrive. The Rule of Clan provides a chart to understand these constant currents, and let’s us decide what course to take.

Clip of the opening after the jump

Read More


Hegel, Smith, Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity

Thanks for the comment Tim. I am, however, somewhat confused as to where, or if, you disagree with me in saying that you are proferring a “radically alternative” classical view that “emphasizes the jural relation between people within society while modern theory emphasizes subjective rights.” As I am basically a Hegelian, I don’t understand what “subjective” rights could even be. I would have said that virtually every modern jurist accepts the Hehfeldian proposition that all legal rights and duties and jural in nature: one does not have rights or duties in a vacuum, but only rights and duties that run to specific individuals or groups of persons and are enforced by society in general

I speak in my comment about individuals being mutually created through law. I should clarify my terminology. Following the speculative tradition, I usually avoid that term which I associate with liberalism, in favor of “subjectivity”. This is the term I use in my books and in my review of Mark’s book. Subjectivity should be thought of as the type of personhood that is capable of bearing the rights and duties of private law specifically (i.e. contract and private property). It is a necessary step in the development of the type of personhood who can act as a citizen in a modern representative state.

It is “subjectivity” that is mutually created by a jural conception of private law. In my formulation subjectivity is intersubjectivity mediated by objectivity. It is a triune concept:  created through interpersonal relations by and among at least two subjects that must be objectively recognized and enforced by others. This seems to be similar to your “classical” conception.

What distinguishes speculative theory from most versions of classical liberalism is is that it does not assume the existence of the individual subject – rather subjectivity is created through jural relations in a modern state. This is why Hegel thought that modern constitutional states did not start appearing until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century (when he was writing). That is, it is only with early capitalism that “subjectivity” came into its own.

Of course his Philosophy of Right, like all of his works, is an extended critique of Kant. Accordingly, he takes as his starting place Kant’s radical notion of the absolute free individual, having no affirmative characteristics. Hegel argues that Kant’s notion must go under because the freedom of such an individual, being completely negative, is only abstract and potential. To be actual, however, it must become positive and concrete. And this can only happen through interpersonal relations. To Hegel the most logically “primitive” form of intersubjectivity is the jural relations of what he calls “abstract right” which is roughly equivalent to what Americans call private law. By submitting to private law we give up some of our radically negative freedom to achieve a more meaningful positive freedom through our relationships with others.

One important thing to note here is that, although Hegel thinks that are the most logically primitive (which is why he discusses them before he discusses family relations) this does not mean that they are empirically prior. Indeed, his point is that they were empirically late to develop (which is why subjectivity and citizenship are modern inventions). This relates precisely to Mark’s point.

As an empirical matter, family and clan relations precede abstract rights. Here the role of private law in developing subjectivity has a different aspect than the logical argument against Kant. When contrasting himself to Kant, Hegel emphasizes how private law brings people together – that is, through law, Kant’s logical construct of the abstract individual becomes the intersubjective subject who only exists in her relations to others. However, when contrasted with the empirically early stage of clan life, law has the opposite role. The person starts in the bosom of the family and law allows the person to become separate and individuated.

That is, in order to be a subject, and eventually a citizen, one cannot merely be a member of a clan with collective rights. Or more importantly, one must recognize others not as member of clan, but separate, individuals.

This is a very important aspect of Hegel. He adopts Kant’s categorical imperative that requires that one treat every other person as an end in and of herself and never as the means to one’s own ends. The motto is that one must be a person and treat the other as a person. You speak of rights as claims, but this is incorrect to a Hegelian. To Hegel, any claim of a right against another person is itself initially a wrong because it is to treat the other as a means to one’s ends. Rather, one can only rightly accord rights to others (i.e. accept duties for oneself). A claim of right for oneself can only retroactively become a right if others (the person against whom the right is claimed through contract, or society generally, in other contexts) recognize the claim. In other words, wrong logically precedes right which only retroactively appear in  the righting of a  wrong.

I argue in my review of Mark’s book that Hegel’s understanding of the function of abstract right (i.e. contract, private property etc.) in freeing person’s from the collective tyranny of the clan surprisingly parallels that of Adam Smith. Smith’s concept of self-interest is not that of the modern law-and-economics movement. Rather, it includes the natural feelings of love and affection that each man feels first, for his immediate family and friends, and more generally to his kinship and other groups (such as co-religionists) with whom he feels affinity.

The problem, of course, is that neither a modern economy nor a democratic state is compatible with such clan loyalties. Naturally, we do not treat others as equals, we favor our kin. In the Europe context in which Smith was writing, a government and economy founded on the natural feelings of kinship was the feudalism that the Enlightenment was trying to overcome. Smith, like Hegel, thought that capitalist market relations (i.e. abstract right) break down kinship relations by treating individuals as individuals (subjects, in my terminology). It is this context that frames Smith’s famous assertion that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”. Market relations actually break down the “natural” pull of the family, and allow cooperation among persons who are not friends.

To be equals – or more accurately, to be able to recognize others as equals – requires that we be individuated (recognized as our own ends and not means to the ends of the clan), and therefore separate and alienated from those we naturally love to some extent. This is the tragedy of modernity: positive freedom through individual rights comes at a great cost.


New liberal fiction needed?

Mark, I´ll continue exactly at the question you posed concerning the sensuous or poetic qualities of the law (1.). After this just a short remark on the cultural artefacts, the named films and series (2.).

1. The new liberal fiction?
Already when I wrote my first post I thought that it points into a direction where things can quickly get difficult, at least from a liberal, rule-of-law-perspective. My answer to your question would definitely be “no”. Because one central quality of law from the just mentioned perspective would be, of course, that it´s unsensuous, analytical, neutral. But maybe this quality is a disadvantage when it comes to telling stories one can identify with. Probably identifying with it is only possible if you´re already convinced of its neutral role and function beforehand. Which would mean to presuppose what you want to reach. Now, this is a pretty contentious point (as the concepts of identity and identification are), but: How to identify with a structure that en grosse treats me like most of “the others” (equally)?

This is why I alluded to cases in which some states concede the application of religious rules in family law (which may in cases even include the corresponding jurisdiction). Of course, this is probably the most far reaching concession a legal system can make. It is a form of recognition of the collective/social group whose rules are made applicable. In these cases the restriction to this concession will regularly be that the norms may not infringe basic constitutional principles. Which means we are at the point where we started: How to convince of the values of these constitutional principles? And the concession is a very technical one, just what the legal system can do. Still it may have a symbolic effect fostering the acceptance of the constitution.

Probably – but this question might be posed to Arnold Kling – this is a form of decentralization, which liberitarians may have in mind. As I said, this is rather a question, because I´m not sure if I get the idea behind it right. I get it this way: If a central state concedes enough legal spaces for self-regulation and -adminstration (as for states, regions, cities, districts etc.) it will support the acceptance of its overall framework (although this kind of support is not so much the aim – which would be to grant freedom – but the effect). Is that somewhat correct?

To come back to the first question: If we assume that

- law should not be sensuous and poetic (because that would endanger its neutrality)
- but that such qualities are needed in order to make identification possible

must we leave this task to politics? This is a very basic question, I think, which we might put like this: how much may law be politicized? I´d say we cannot say “not at all” because this is just not possible. But where to draw the line between law as an instrument of politics (incl. symbolic law) and law as a system controlling politics?

So can this legimizing story (or metaphor) be the kind of fiction which Arnold Kling wrote about (contract)? The problem only is who may tell such a story in a convincing way? I may add that Bentham reacted to the idea of the original contract in a similar way Arnold Kling did. Saying that we are given to understand even by the authors who use this concept that it is fictitious, something like that never happens/-ed. He calls it a “sandy foundation” for a state/society .

So, are we looking for a new and better liberal fiction here? With a similar effect like Christianity and Islam provided of which Mark says that they had an overcoming effect on clannism (p. 133)? Socialist utopia? Does it need to be a fiction?

2. Clubbish and clannish cultural artefacts
Mark, I´m impressed how you picked up my anecdotic remark on my incapacity to enjoy sitcoms without drawing more or less wild analogies to professional stuff which I´m trying to get my brain off in such moments.

Sitcoms -> club -> nourishing. “Game of thrones” (e.g.) -> clan -> romanticized portrait. (Though I´m not sure if this is right given the fact that almost every clan presented in it is somehow rotten, as far as I remember but I maybe wrong…). You pointed the differences out in Ch. I.2., saying that the club – unlike the clan – is no more “an autonomous military and legal force” (p. 25 s.). So the question seems to be: When does a club start to become a legal force? What is meant by legal force, anyway?


Symposium: Clan on the FOB, part two

Piggy backing off Mark’s admonitions about preventing the return of the clan (part four of RULE), I’d like address the issue of ousting the Rule of the Clan from Afghanistan. How do we replace a union of feelings (clan) with a union of words (constitution)?

Mark notes, “to prevent the return of the rule of the clan in its various guises, liberal states not only need to possess democratic legitimacy and be effective in advancing individual autonomy—they also need to find ways of meeting the genuine goods the rule of the clan provides, especially solidarity and a measure of social justice, lest liberalism collapse into a hollow core.” From my Afghan tent-mates, I learned some disconcerting lessons about how difficult it is to de-clan a clan-entrenched society.

Take the example of the “colonizing invader” meme as it now circulates among Afghans. That meme is promoted, by various means, in tribally generated masternarratives. Exactly how many Afghans view ISAF, NATO as colonial INVADERS we do not know, though we do know that, somewhat paradoxically, that number increased in 2004 when Bush pulled 70,000 US security forces out of Afghanistan and sent them to Iraq. Upon their withdrawl, Taliban attacks spiked throughout those areas where US Troops had been patrolling and where they’d established peace and security for populations that had been longing for both. In the wake of that withdraw, Afghans felt abandoned. Much longed-for peace had been won—and then lost, because of a war in Iraq, a war perceived to be against Islam. Nor do we know exactly how relevant the meme of COLONIAL OCCUPIER is to the personal stories that Afghans tell themselves to explain why ISAF/NATO is in their Country but I heard that theme in many different forms often in the stories of Afghans.

If we envision ISAF’s mission to be one of helping Afghans establish democratic law in place of clan law (making tribes into a nation), then we really should understand in detail how Afghan master-narratives mobilize the meme of invader colonist and reinforce clannism. Afghan masternarratives typically de-legitimise Western ideas of law. From what sources does jurisprudential legitimacy emerge? I direct that question to other Symposium members who are far more knowledgable than I about the ancient, primal sources of law. However, I do know that one of those sources is what Mark calls the imaginative sensibility of a society—masternarratives, or myth.

But here’s the stumbling block in Afghanistan: From whom do ideas of democratic of law emerge? To what extent are the ideals of individual freedom and democratic, principle-based law made guilty by association with ISAF/NATO invader infidels?

My Afghan tentmates made it absolutely clear to me that what we’re really talking about when we’re talking about clan or tribal identity among Afghans is the feasibility of democratic law gaining true jurisprudential power in Afghanistan. From the perspective of the current battlespace, the issue remains one of cultural incompatibility. From the perspective of my students fighting a Counter Insurgency War, that issue came down to this question: “What are we really fighting for?” “Operation Enduring Freedom”—my ISAF students often playfully shifted the emphasis of that phrase, sometimes heavily intoning Freedom, sometimes ENDURING. Freedom is a word that Mark asks us to take seriously. I often asked my Afghan tentmates to tell me the word for individual freedom in their tribal tongue. They had no such concept. I asked them to translate Operation Enduring Freedom into their tribal tongue. They usually laughed and said, verbatim, “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

Few places on earth present more intractable “Clan” obstacles to the establishment of the rule of democratic law and individual freedom than Afghanistan. Mark’s attention to the “imaginative sensibility that lies at the core of the liberal rule of law (page 183)” points me to the imaginative sensibility that lies at the core of clan law.

We can see the failure of imagination in Afghan Army leadership. The Afghan National Army has largely failed to create the imaginative mechanisms that should enable its members to transcend clan loyalty and its honor-compulsions. A large part of that failure lies in ANA inability to form a masternarrative (or myth) that can offer, to use Mark’s phrasing, a powerful image of “the genuine goods the rule of the clan provides, especially solidarity and a measure of social justice.” Where the US military is extraordinarily effective at creating fictive kinship in new recruits, the Afghan Army is extraordinarily ineffective at making its fiction as compelling as the facts of the Afghan clan.

The Taliban have ruthlessly exploited that “narrative” gap. All species of Taliban have successfully mobilized the meme of invader and, thus, have largely won the masternarrative (IO) war. ISAF and NATO have been predictably framed by the Taliban as NON-ISLAMIC (infidel) invaders who’ve brought great damage to the honor (NANG) of all Afghans, especially Pashtuns. As the Taliban tell the story of a decade of ISAF occupation, only the Taliban have been successful at removing dishonor (BENANGA) from Afghanistan.

Why do so many different groups of Afghans buy into the Taliban masternarrative? Because the Taliban can point to SOCIAL PROOF: Afghan women and children killed by drone strikes; night raids; burned Korans; pissed-on dead bodies of Islamic fighters; US Special Forces running amok and killing dozens of civilians. Plus, they can point at any moment to Karzai’s unending corruption. And they can readily point to ISAF forces as INFIDELS—non-Islamic invaders.

Notably, of all the many Afghans I lived and worked among, the Afghan Army Soldiers were the most difficult to understand. My feeling is that they’ve been recruited from the nastiest dregs of Afghan society, the bottom of the barrel, the utterly outcast, Ghandi’s untouchables. They’re the men not even the heroin druglords want on their payrolls. To put this in economic metaphors, these are men who are DEEP in BENANGA debt. By working for the ANA or for ASF, these men dig themselves even deeper into BENANGA.

Often, the only way out of BENANGA/honor debt, the only way for these deeply SHAMED men to restore their NANG, is to kill ISAF troops in one Samsonic moment of liberation. They empty their AK into their US counterparts or blow themselves up at on a FOB.

The only Afghan men who were lower in the social Afghan order were essentially slaves or indentured servants of local Afghan strongmen whom the US government contracts to perform menial services on its bases, such as laundry, janitorial services, and construction. Lower even than these men were the now-adult victims of “Bacha Bazi,” still un-bearded and untreated for the years of sexual abuse to which they were subjected. These poor men are still, as one US Soldier put it, “looking for daddy.” They did not enjoy, so far as I could tell, full membership in a tribe or clan.

Every ANA/ASF to whom I talked admitted to having a brother (or two) who belonged to an insurgent group, either to a species of Taliban or to one of the criminal insurgent networks. In any case, they were all compromised if not downright confused in their loyalties because of their family and kinship ties—a classic double-bind predicament. If an ANA has killed his own brother (or cousin) during an insurgent attack or on patrol, how does he restore his NANG? Such a killing would bring immediate BENANGA to the ANA soldier and to his extended kin.

As for our own ignorance of Afghan masternarratives (which are structured upon themes of honor and shame), I met no one in ISAF who had any idea how important Mirwais Hotak is to Pashtuns. They did not understand how contested he is today amongst Afghans. Yet, every Afghan to whom I spoke could recite his biography in detail. And they could tell me a good deal about the Hotak Dynasty. Why? Because Mirwais Hotak drove “Iranian” invaders/colonial occupiers out of Afghanistan and back to Isfahan where he then set up a powerful dynasty in the capital of the invaders. In the Afghan minds of my tentmates, Mirwais is a common TROPE. He is THE CLASSIC symbol of the LIBERATOR of Afghanistan. And yet, our COIN efforts have done NOTHING with this figure. NOBODY I talked to in ISAF/NATO even knew the name MIRWAIS HOTAK. Only one student of mine, an avid fan of the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, had ever heard of Mirwais the Hotak Pashtun.

What astonished me about the ANA I met is that they have not constructed their own MASTERNARRATIVE. The ANA cannot develop their own master-narrative, so I suspect, because they are composed of too many DIFFERENT inter-conflicting tribes who live by criss-crossing, cross-conflicting master-narratives. Often, the tribe/ethnic group from which an ANA member was recruited is BROKEN. The tribal sense of honor remains compelling and even compulsive, but tribal forms of mediating an individual’s identity are unavailable.

Tribal/ethnic discombobulation gives rise to EXTREME INSTABILITY IN IDENTITY in individual ANA members. That instability struck me as typical of ANA members. I eventually understood that the identity structure of the average member of the ANA might implode at any moment, due to his CONFLICTING LOYALTIES and honor-compulsions. The ANA who aimed his AK at my head had arrived, in all likelihood, at the verge of implosion.

The double-bind in which many ANA members find themselves while working alongside US troops can potentially give rise — too often does give rise — to VIOLENT PSYCHOSIS. When the psychosis erupts, an ANA trooper typically takes his rage out on US troops—by shooting them in the back.

In addition to original studies by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson (see Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press, 1972), some of the best, most intelligently useful studies we have about the tortured psychology that emerges in colonized/subalterns who find themselves in a DOUBLBIND predicament (conflicting loyalties imposed by an occupying force) come from the Anthropology of Native American Indians. See Native American Postcolonial Psychology by Eduardo Duran and Bonnie Duran. See also Gerald Sider’s “When Parrots Learn to Talk, and Why They Can’t: Domination, Deception, and Self-Deception in Indian-White Relations.” And, James Clifford’s “Identity in Mashpee. In The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art.” See also, Richard Drinnon’s White Savage: The Case of John Dunn Hunter.

Of course, we have the standard, classic study of the “So-Called Dependency Complex of Colonized Peoples” by Franz Fanon in which he responds to M. Mannoni’s PROSPERO AND CALIBAN: PSYCHOLOGY of COLONIZATION. Again, AMBIVALENCE is a key psychic condition. Ambivalence, as I witnessed it in Afghanistan, is a dangerous psychic condition. (See also, Fanon’s “Colonial Wars and Mental Disorders” in WRETCHED of THE EARTH.)

Studies of the ANA that fully recognize and explain an ANA member’s double-bind predicament and how the conflicting loyalties in which he lives as a Soldier give rise to violent psychosis have been few and far between.

Notwithstanding the absence of detailed studies, “Winning the Battle of the Narratives in Afghanistan” by Dean J. Case II and Robert Pawlak acknowledges the need to get inside the FEELING STRUCTURES of ANA. (See also, K Oatley’s “Why Fiction May be Twice as True as Fact: Fiction as Cognitive and Emotional Stimulation.” REVIEW OF GENERAL PSYCHOLOGY (1999))

To get into the “feelings of the general public” (an Afghan public that slots into tribal/ethnic groups, each of which live by a set of overlapping and sometimes cross-conflicting masternarratives), I consulted the work of Benedicta Grima. Her bio: “Benedicte Grima is a trained ethnographer from the University of Pennsylvania who spent over ten years traveling, living and participating in rural life in the border area of Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan as part of her doctoral research. Four years of extensive language training in Pashto and Farsi at the Institut des Langues Orientales in France, and an M.A. from the University of Paris in Iranian Studies, armed her with the linguistic skills to feel at home among Pashtun men and women ranging from farmers to intellectuals. She has published a book, “The Sorrows Which Have Befallen Me”: The Performance of Emotion Among Paxtun Women, and numerous academic articles on various aspects of Pashtun women and culture. ”

In order to provide my own students with the intellectual equipment they needed to deal with their own double-bind predicament and cope with the tremendous psychic stress that comes from living and working alongside deeply instable Afghans, I would, in the future, teach Mark’s book. His review of Maine’s work would help me introduce students to specific, detailed information about Afghan history, culture, worldview (Afghan “clan narratives”) with the aim of showing my students how various Afghan groups construct a sense of dignity and honor, which is markedly different from how we construct a sense of dignity and honor out of the ancient Code of the Warrior.

In sum, most Afghans are compelled by the themes of a master-narrative (episteme) that stems from the 19century. The plot of that narrative has not been altered significantly by ISAF’s best persuasive efforts. If anything, ISAF’s decade-long presence has reinforced that plotline. And the honor-shame (nang/benanga) dynamic that Mark refers to in chapter seven is ruthlessly exploited by the Taliban masternarrative/myth.

As my Afghan neighbours asserted, “You Americans have merely been talking to yourselves.” Our masternarrative (the rhetoric of democratic statehood) about why we’re in Afghanistan plays well with US and NATO audiences who value human rights and democracy, but that story falls on deaf (or missing) Afghan ears. We’ve been caught in our own solipsism for way too long.

Mark’s insights about the “transformation of the clan” should be deployed immediately to get us past our own Afghanistan solipsism. In my next post, I will try to imagine how social networks might be used to replace kinship networks in Afghanistan.


What Overcame the Clan in England?

Mark Weiner writes,

One of the great stories of English constitutional history is the development of strong Anglo-Saxon kingship. Under the leadership of figures like Alfred the Great, Anglo-Saxon rulers were able to regulate and ultimately abolish the kin-based blood feud as a mode of dispute resolution.

There is an alternative explanation for English exceptionalism, rooted in culture.  This case is made in a recent book by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, called America 3.0.  They in turn draw on other works, notably Alan MacFarlane’s The Origins of English Individualism.  They take the view that the causality runs from the nuclear-family culture of the English to the path of institutional development that emerged in England (and later in America), more than the other way around.

For example, in a clan-based system, land can be owned collectively and allocated according to traditions as administered by the clan leaders. In a nuclear-family system, families need to be able to obtain their own land, which requires a system for exchanging land.  This leads to concerns with property rights.

Bennett and Lotus argue that our nuclear-family culture is not going to disappear, given that it has a thousand-year history behind it.  And they suggest that our central government has become so awkward and misaligned with the information age that a new era of decentralization is likely.  What they foresee is neither a libertarian quasi-anarchy nor the Washington-centric welfare state that we have now.

Anyway, the issue that you might address is whether the English and American cultures have embedded within them a strong resistance to the clan form of society and if so, whether that means that we could see a less powerful central government without the emergence of an order based on rule-of-the-clan.


Symposium: Clan on the FOB, part one

Unlike most of our symposium members, I do not approach the RULE OF THE CLAN from a legal perspective, not primarily anyway. My perspective is from the battlespace. The issues of clan solidarity, group honor, and collective shame that Mark elucidates, specifically in chapter seven, were not legal theory but stubborn and irreducible facts-on-the-ground for my students and me at a Forward Operating Base near the AF-Pak border in Afghanistan. I approach Mark’s arguments primarily from a socio-cultural perspective, for cultural incompatibility between US Forces and Afghan Forces, who are supposed to be allied in their efforts to provide security to Afghans, often has lethal consequences. Green-on-Blue killings (Afghan troops killing US troops) dramatically spiked during my deployment to Afghanistan, a “metric truth” I discovered first-hand when an Afghan Soldier stopped me on my way to my tent, for no apparent reason, by aiming his short-barrel AK at my head—an epiphany at gunpoint that instantly revealed the predicament in which my students found themselves working alongside an Afghan Army made up of dangerously loyalty-conflicted individuals. That at-the-end-of-a-barrel moment also revealed the tricky nature of my pedagogical duty as Professor Fobbit.

That duty was preventing Green-on-Blue conflict. My students are being asked to fight an especially treacherous kind of war in Afghanistan, in which they must vigilantly watch their backs for fear of being shot through their own hearts by the native minds they’re supposed to have won over, the ANA and ASF. For example, on our base, the ANA manned the ops alongside US Soldiers, my students. Whenever we came under attack, however, the ANA would typically NOT shoot back, for fear of killing one of their own kinsmen. Many abandoned their posts, leaving US soldiers (my students) to worry that they’d soon be getting shot at from behind. In addition to uniformed Afghans, many non-uniformed, armed Afghans roamed the FOB. As one student remarked, “I don’t know how many pyjama-ed, sandal-wearing, OBL-bearded locals I see a day walking around base armed with AKs but not wearing ID badges. Who the hell are these guys? NOBODY knows!”

In this environment, reliable, detailed socio-cultural data about Afghans was of MORTAL import to my students, armed US Soldiers and Sailors whose daily choices often had lethal consequences, for themselves and for Afghans. My students’ ability to make blink-fast, razor-smart on-the-Fob and on-patrol choices was directly linked to their understanding Afghans as complicated human beings who belong to complex, clan-based, honor-obsessed cultures that appear, at first glance, utterly incomprehensibly bizarre to most US Troops. We called the kind of intellectual skill we were developing in our plywood classroom “cultural cunning.” Mark’s insights are uncommonly useful to developing that kind of cunning.

Although I taught any material that was intelligently useful to helping my students learn how to sidestep unnecessary conflict with their Afghan counterparts (I wish I’d had Mark’s book then), Homer was our main textbook. The primal data the ancient bard offers in ILIAD about the tough psychic realities of combat helped my students deepen their understanding of and commitment to the Warrior’s Code (See Shannon French’s THE CODE OF THE WARRIOR, 2005) and gave them a much-needed narrative template upon which to organize their own increasingly burdensome and discombobulated experience of counter fighting a brutal, no-end-in-sight insurgency. I didn’t have to teach them that Homeric myth can be used as a method to face the spiritual and psychological damage of war fighting. They taught me that lesson, because they were already living inside the warrior myth.   Echoing Roberto Calasso, my students demonstrated that that Greek myths are not “there waiting for us to revive them; they are there waiting to revive us, to wake us up to collective psychic realities.” They provide a place to begin healing from the collective “moral damage” of war. Homer was, as we approached him on a battlefield in Afghanistan, a powerful prophylactic against moral injury and psychological trauma.

Mark is dead right in RULE when he states that “each Marine is bound other Marines by unbreakable bonds of loyalty.” The same is equally true of the Soldiers and Sailors I taught in Afghanistan. Our study of Homer’s ILIAD gave them abiding insights into their own collective understanding of the powerful feelings of honor that bind them into effective military units. I know of no relationships thicker or more intense than those between Soldiers in combat. The US military is extraordinarily effective at training its Warfighters into fictive kinship groups, bands of brothers, indeed. (See BECOMING SOLDIERS: ARMY BASIC TRAINING AND THE NEGOTIATION OF IDENTITY by John Bornmann) And Homer’s primal insights into battlefield relationships spoke directly to what mattered most among my students: The ethical and social performance of his or her own forces. Their understanding of honor, like Homer’s, was intensely social, keenly collective. Bouncing our experience off of what Homer depicts of the bonds between Ajax and Nestor or Hector and Paris or Achilles and Patroclous, we explored the implications of what Mark has called the “community surveillance” of clan configurations, especially its benefits to US Warfighters in the battlespace, “security, identity, robust interpersonal relationships”—solidarity. Deployed life in US uniform in Afghanistan is, in the best-possible sense, Clan life. I’ll return to his point in a follow up post with the recent evolutionary, socio-biological discoveries about group loyalty and genetic altruism of Robin Dunbar, Franz De Waal, Paul Zak, and E.O. Wilson. (I also hope to contrast my work in Afghanistan with my work in Africa.)

While Homer provided my students self-protective insight and narrative form for their own experience of war, the Mediterranean bard also provided my students key insights into a clan-based, honor-possessed Afghan society. As my friend and colleague, Dr. Jonathan Shay (ACHILLES IN VIETNAM: COMBAT TRAUMA AND THE UNDOING OF CHARACTER), points out, “The world of Homer was dominated by aspirations to, struggles over, and rages related to honor. The Soldiers currently fighting in Afghanistan are fighting against, and also in alliance with Afghans, who inhabit a culture that is much closer to that of the Homeric epics than to that of today’s USA. This can only help our Soldiers make better decisions on the ground.” Homer forms much of his epic out of what Mark has identified as a key aspect of identity-formation in clan members, “ancestral consciousness…lineage knowledge provides clan members with a sense of their place in the world, not only in contemporary time but across many generations in the past and, implicitly, in the future.” A great many passages in the ILIAD depict characters boasting of their lineage. The point of these I-was-begat-by riffs is to establish the status and presence – a sense of place – of the character, i.e. Ajax, Nestor. Here, we made the links to Afghan identity structures and to Afghan ancestral SELF-consciousness.

As Mark has noted, a clan coerces cooperation and loyalty out of its members. Myth is a highly manipulative tool invented by the clan for creating solidarity, of course. Homer’s ILIAD, for example, was used to teach a young Greek warrior the stubborn and irreducible social and psychic facts of war. The teaching and reciting of the ILIAD by Greeks was also used to form loyalty to the group and to promote the key virtues that were considered absolutely crucial to the formation of Greek warrior units: The classical virtues of courage, honesty, moderation, self-sacrifice—justice. (These are also the core LEADERSHIP values of all branches of the US military.) Homer was, for centuries, THE textbook for Greeks.

Moreover, the ILIAD provides an unsurpassed lesson in the psychology and physiology of honor: How honor structures individual identity, how it binds the individual to the group, how it motivates him to action, especially into combat. The ILIAD reveals the physiology of honor, demonstrating better than any work I know of how honor motivates the feuding behavior of an entire society. Homer reveals the specific cultural devices that instilled and induced the feeling of honor and shame among Ancient Greeks. That was, in fact, the main didactic point of Homer’s epic. In that sense, the ILIAD is highly manipulative, inducing feelings that were key to becoming a true Greek warrior and encouraging the appropriate, active responses to those feeling states.

As I explained to both my ISAF (and to my AFRICOM) students, honor is neurologically compulsive among members of honor-based societies. (See Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen’s study on the physiology of honor in Southern men.)

It’s vitally important to know that affronts to members of honor-based societies call forth automatic, gut reactions from an individuals whose identity is structured by the honor-shame dynamic. An insult to a Tribal Afghan might very well compel him, at the neurological level, to empty his AK into you and your unit. His reaction is NOT deliberative. It is compulsive. He cannot NOT react to the cocktail of neuropeptides released into his blood stream by an affront or insult. Among some Afghans, even the profanity used so very casually by ISAF personnel in the vicinity of a tribal elder (or, worse, an Afghan woman) might be enough to give an insult that provokes an honor reaction.

In order to work effectively with Afghans, you need to know precisely what offends and affronts the individual’s culturally-bound, innate sense of honor. You need to know the cultural mechanisms by which honor and shame are induced in individuals by their tribe. Mark’s book gives us some tough gristle on which to chew through these issues.

For example, Homer’s ILIAD is a grand dramatization of the cataclysm into which honor-provoked feuding typically propels clan-based societies. In this regard, Mark’s book not only confirms many of my own observations of Afghan clan-driven, honor-obsessed behaviour but also echoes the primal lessons about pre-modern, honor-driven small societies that Homer’s been teaching us for over 1,500 years. In our battlefield classroom, we applied Homer’s insights to Afghan society and used them to discover the specific cultural mechanisms by which a given Afghan tribe created loyalty and solidarity. I wish I’d had Mark’s book available to me then. His book has given me “soft eyes” on Homer.  (I’ll try to refrain from waxing Homeric in future Posts.)

I had an ideal position as a “socio-cultural” professor on that particular FOB because I lived in a tent that was exclusively designated for Afghans. Even better, I was the only NON-Afghan living in that tent. They didn’t want me there, but I stayed on to learn their worldview, to learn from them directly how they viewed each other, me, ISAF—how they viewed my students. At any given time, there were around fifty Afghans packed into that tent: Nuristani, Pashai, Pashtun, even Shia Hazaras. After they figured out they could trust me (or pretended to), they invited me into long chai conversations in which they endeavoured to make me understand the immensity of the cultural chasm between them and my students.

I learned their backgrounds, levels of education, musical tastes, attitudes toward Islam, toward women, toward the ANA, toward Russians, toward Pakistan, toward America, toward each other. I learned how to make Chai. I learned their complicated, oft contradictory and ambivalent views of our Troops so that I could better equip my students to cope with Afghan hostility and ambivalence—to cope with potentially lethal cultural incompatibility. I lived with them in that tent, alone as an American. My self defence was entirely on me. I eventually learned how to sleep soundly. (Male-on-male rape was disturbingly common on that FOB.)

I took their insights (and complaints) directly into my classrooms. My squibs last year in FOREIGN POLICY will give you a pungent sense of our classroom work at that FOB.  In my next post, I’ll share more of what I learned from Afghans about Afghan “clannism.”


Responses to Kerr, Marschelke, Schroeder, and Kling

As our symposium about The Rule of the Clan gets underway, I wanted to use this space today to respond to a question posted on one of the comment threads and to the posts of the other symposium participants thus far. I’ll be silently adding to this post over the next couple of hours.

1) Orin Kerr reasonably asks what I mean by “liberal” and what I mean by a “strong” state. Here is my response from the comments section:

Hi Orin, thanks for your question. By “liberal,” I mean a government dedicated to advancing the freedom of the individual—not only by having constitutional limits placed on its own authority, but also by fostering substantive goods that enhance personal autonomy. By “strong,” I mean sufficiently powerful to vindicate this individualist ideal, either by providing those goods itself or by ensuring that they are provided on terms under which persons are treated as individuals rather than as members of ineluctable groups. Most important among these goods is the provision of justice itself, which is why in the book I examine the process through which the Anglo-Saxon state overcame the blood feud, regulating and ultimately displacing kin-based retribution as a response to wrong—and why I think the history of Germanic law provides an interesting window onto Afghanistan, Somalia, and other parts of the world with weak states today. In any event, my approach to your question is why Arnold Kling very interestingly wrote that I make a “libertarian case for a strong central state”—a characterization that really intrigued me, because I’ve never thought of myself in those terms (far from it). I take this view because I believe that when the state is absent, weak, or too limited, the result is not a world of maximal individual choice but rather one of extended families and what Henry Maine called a society of “Status.”

I’ll be responding to Orin’s follow-up question—in which he presses me for a further definition—in the comments thread.

2) From his German perspective, Jan-Christoph Marschelke points out that having largely overcome the rule of the clan, liberal democratic societies are in “permanent danger of losing references for identification”—asking, in essence, what kind of cultural life can best sustain a society whose legal system in principle is dedicated to advancing individual autonomy? This is a conundrum a number of liberal theorists have noted—I’m thinking especially of Rogers Smith (n.b.: he was a dissertation adviser of mine many years ago)—and that form a central concern of my book. If a culture of honor and shame is the cultural circuitry of a radically decentralized constitutionalism, what kind of culture, and what approaches to the imaginative life generally, are best suited to sustain the effective liberal state I describe in response to Orin? In Jan’s words: “What kind of story has the liberal state to tell in human terms? … Can [its] legal system offer identification via law?” I wonder if he’s thinking even of the kind of “sensuous” and “poetic” quality that Karl Friedrich von Savigny and Jacob Grimm once ascribed to ancient Germanic law (and that was seen as one of the grave deficiencies in the development of an international legal order)?

In my book, I note that one of the curious features of liberal modernity is the extent to which it romanticizes and often valorizes anti-liberal legal systems. I mention the movie “Avatar,” but I equally could have discussed aspects of “Game of Thrones.” As Jan notes, I don’t see most cultural products like these as signs of atavistic regression. Instead, valorization of the rule of the clan is often the sign of liberalism’s growing legal advent (an issue we should bear in mind in the course of following social and legal modernization across the world, including the Middle East and North Africa). Learning to distinguish between cultural life that’s nourishing or corrosive of liberal constitutionalism is a key task of liberal, legally-oriented cultural criticism. I would class the kind of sitcoms Jan mentions in the former camp, because in valuing community, the “clans” of such shows are really more like clubs, with free entry and exit based on personal choice.

More important, to prevent the return of the rule of the clan in its various guises, liberal states not only need to possess democratic legitimacy and be effective in advancing individual autonomy—they also need to find ways of meeting the genuine goods the rule of the clan provides, especially solidarity and a measure of social justice, lest liberalism collapse into a hollow core.

I’ll be responding to Jeanne’s and Arnold’s comments shortly. When I do, I’ll simply add my them to this post.

[And here is my next response, at 3:10 p.m.] Read More


I reviewed Mark Weiner’s Rule of the Clan from a libertarian perspective.

Libertarians are impressed by order that emerges in an unplanned, decentralized way.  No one knows how to make a pencil, and yet through the decentralized process of market trading, pencils are made readily available.  If making a pencil does not require a central planner, then why do we need a strong central government?

The Hobbesian answer is that without a strong central government, we would have the “war of all against all.”    The libertarian response echoes Karl Kraus.  Kraus famously said something to the effect that “psychoanalysis is the disease which it purports to cure.” Libertarians point out that the state, which purports to be the cure for the war of all against all, is the leading cause of violent death and incarceration.

Weiner’s book contains a message for libertarians that is decidedly mixed.  He argues, on the one hand, that there is a decentralized order that is an alternative to a strong central government.  On the other hand, this order is not at all libertarian.

The decentralized order that Weiner describes is the rule of the clan.  It is a cultural system in which individuals lack what we think of as liberty.  Instead, the individual is subordinate to the extended family.

Libertarians have been known to use medieval Iceland as an example proving that a strong central government is not needed to maintain order.  Weiner describes medieval Iceland as an example of the clan-based system of order, but from his depiction it is clearly not a model of a libertarian society.

Weiner uses legal historian Henry Maine’s distinction between a Society of Status and a Society of Contract.  Rule of the clan embodies a society of status.  Libertarians want to see a society of contract.

Libertarians see the “contract theory” of existing states as a fiction.  I never signed an agreement giving authority to the people and institutions of my federal, state, and local government.  Instead, those people and institutions have decided unilaterally what authority they can exercise over me.

Is it possible to extend the society of contract, giving less asymmetric power to the people and institutions that constitute the government?   Libertarians believes that the answer is “yes.”  However, Weiner claims that wherever the people and institutions of government lack strong asymmetric power, what we observe is the rule of the clan.  Libertarians are faced with the burden of showing that while he may be correct in describing the decentralized orders that we have observed, there may yet emerge a more decentralized order that does not degenerate into the rule of the clan.