Archive for December, 2012

Greek and Turkish foreign rule

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

It struck me reading Albert Hourani’s history of the Arab peoples that the patterns of rule exhibited by the Greeks and the Turkic peoples seems similar. We have foreign assigned rulers governing a domestic population alien to them. The other striking feature is that in a short time span a number of long-lived large empires emerge in Asia that all had similar governing arrangements. After the fall of the abasids, we have the turkic slaves take over ruling arrangements. In India we have the Mogul, We have the Fatimids in Egypt, we have the Ottomans in Asia minor and the Arab world, and another turkic group in Persia (Pahavis?). I should look into the purported similarity and longevity of these regimes. If indeed in all these 4 cases turkic slaves took over governance of a local population they are alienated from and set up long-lasting governments, then we might have a possibly interesting observation. The greeks similarly placed governors in Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq each of whom was alien to the local population. Could one say that the Arabs were similar, a nomadic people placing themselves as rulers? Perhaps, but their states were shorter lived.

The second reference this highlights: Montesqieu in the spirit of the laws, book 17 makes his point on how variation inclimate affects governance and how Europeans being divided by climate variations maintain multipl states and relative fortitude of regimes in their war-making capacity as opposed to the large asian empires. The first thing to note is that in the actual text, he is far more racist and straight-forwardly supremacist than in how Deudney portrays his ideas. His larger point is related to cold climate producing good strong qualities and having less need for laws of virtue with warm ones producing vices and requiring laws. (Interestingly I can point to opposite conclusions made by Arab Writers, see ibn khaldun). But the point remains that even though he is an asshole, his observation of the hierarchical subjugation of peoples in Asia, and the Arab world is valid. For more than one thousand years political units in asia were ruled by a class of people that were foreigners, whether greek of turkic, the rulers were rarely local. The consequences of this on life and politic may be irrelevant, but on the other hand they may indeed establish certain political repertoires and positions towards the state that leave the local inhabitant unintirested. One would ofcourse have to show that this is the case and would have to explain how these attitudes got passed on.

Finally, as relating to the idea of theories of abundance producing politics of liberalism. I need to be careful, there are a lot of theories of the fortitude of the cold or warm regions and how that fits them for certain typs of government. SO Montesqieu saying that warm regions have more fierce and strict laws is an obvious example of this. I do not want to make that argument. But concerning the question of why western forms of government fail outside of Europe and America, the answer should not be that there is something in the climate or culture or biology of non-Europeans. Or it may be but it would have to be stated in a way that was convincing and I am a skeptic of its validity. (need to look at how liberals disproved montesqieu and others like him who claimed different politicsfor different climates). I need to equally distinguish myself or elaborat and fix myself from modernization theories of teleological political development from economic development. If I am saying that liberal politics fail where there is an absence of conditions of abundance I need to be clear about the reprecussions of such claims, one danger is that this might lead to the conclusion that the poor do not deserve democracy or self government, things which I do not wish to say or believe. Equally I do not want to say that hierarchy and despotism become required. Simply stating that there must be a fit between political institution and ideas and local conditions is not enough. Can’t really figure out how tosquare the circle, but I am sure that the project is one of critique of placing causes of state failure and economic failure in the culture or people of the failed state rather than the institutional fit.

So no resolution as of yet. Some final thoughts. There seem to be two strands or approaches to blatantly racist or wrong texts. One is to take what can be taken and leave the rest, the other is to leave the whole thing. As relates to Montesqieu, it seems his text is so riddled with prejudice and false claims that its ideas are useless, but on the other hand his theoretical thinking might be interesting for a more contemporary framework in line with what we have come to know today about the political arrangements of different countries both in the past and present. I waver between the two, on the one hand I often want to start from scratch with developing a conceptual framework more fitting for local conditions, on the other I also want to engage with the questions posed by previous scholars and even build on some of their insights. The Hourani book really got me thinking about this. The danger with maintaining some strands of these works is that tendencies towards racism and bigotry can seep in. A claim like, freedom is only the right of those from cold regions, might come naturally from political theories that conceptualize political systems around climate. HEre is my particular dilemma for this case of Montesqieu. M argues that climate affects political institutions, he concludes that the freedom of Europe and the slavery of Asia result from their respective climates. I have 3 options. First reject the whole climate-politics framework. Second, accept the framework but look at other things than cold and warmth, that is accept the claim that local conditions of lived experience affect political expression but rejet that climate is the determining local experience. Third, accept the climate-politics framework but update it to contemporary observations of climate in different parts of the world and times to make it more nuanced. I want to do the second, but I can see the first and third as being viable as well. This then is an important question I must resolve. In this case I remember Olson’s observation that two villages bordering each other, but each in a different state, have more in common with villages in the same country yet in different climates then with each other. (This may have been a point Tilly and Robert Jackson also made).

Lastly reading M made me remember the importance of the two principles I stated before. Ask of any text you read, under what conditions did it arrive to me, and under what conditions was it written. ( other references also see Rousseau, social contract, book 3, 8)

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Rich, Poor, Middle Class

December 2, 2012 Leave a comment

This concept of dividing society into three groups based on economic income comes from Ricardo. Tripartite model of society. It is interesting to know the origin of this concept especially after Marx uses it in such a wide way. It is pervasive as a framework for studying many communitites with one standard but it seems deeply unsatisfying. Who is the poor, rich or middle class, how do they conceptualize themselves, do they think of themselves in this way, does it matter? From: Zublatt: how did Europe Democratize

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