TCS Daily

Tribe and State

By Arnold Kling - April 22, 2008 12:00 AM

Lindholm was emphasizing commonalities between the Muslim Middle East and the West..."egalitarianism, individualism, pluralism, competitiveness, calculating rationality, personal inititiative, social mobility, freedom." ...absent from this list, leaving aside Christianity, is "the rule of law."
Philip Carl Salzman, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, p. 203

Anthropologist Philip Carl Salzman has an interesting perspective on Arab culture, embedded in a hard-nosed model of political economy. He emphasizes the role of tribal norms, in contrast to peasant submissiveness or Anglo-Saxon legal traditions. Although his book has been seized on by Iraq war hawks, including David Brooks, to defend our current strategy, I believe that Salzman's model could suggest a much more pessimistic outlook.

Salzman's personal experience of tribal culture stems from a study he undertook in Iranian Baluchistan in the early 1970's. Much of the literature that he cites goes back even further. I am not in a position to say how well current Arab society corresponds to his model.

Basic Political Economy

Salzman sees differences between growing crops and raising livestock. Growing crops fosters a society rooted in the soil, with strict hierarchy and strong, predatory central government. In contrast, raising livestock fosters a society that is more nomadic, less governable, and less stratified. The tribal Arab culture on which he is focused was shaped by raising livestock.

Salzman describes those in the Middle East who grow crops as peasants (p. 31)

"defined by anthropologists as rural primary producers under state control...Peasants meet the rest of society mostly in the form of tax collectors and police...The relation of the state to the peasant is that of the shepherd to his flock: the state fleeces the peasants, making a living off them, and protects them from other predators, so that they may be fleeced again."

Later (on p. 54) he reiterates,

"[the Western] modern, democratic state was very late coming. Premodern states, characteristic of earlier periods of history and widely present around the world today, are...more accurately understood as a center of power controlled by warlords, robber barons, and their coercive thugs, tax collectors, and priests, the latter supplying some kind of rationalization for the forced extraction from their subjects, who were seen mainly as livestock to be miled and sheared"
"Tribal organization...can be at least partly understood as an alternative to peasant status...Independent tribesment see peasants as oppressed, downtrodden, weak, lacking honor, and inferior...tribesmen actively resist conquest by states, resist incorporation into states, and resist domination by agents of states."

Tribal Order

According to Salzman, order is maintained in tribal societies by a decentralized process that he terms "balanced opposition." Balanced opposition means a mindset that is always "us vs. them," but with a very flexible definition of "us" and "them." As he explains (p. 94),

"One was obliged to side with a brother against a cousin, with brothers and cousins against more-distant kin, with other brasrend of one's maximal segment against another maximal segment, with other maximal segments of one's tribal section against another tribal section, and so on."

In other words, conflicts within close kinship groups are small, but conflicts scale up with the kinship distance between the warring parties. This serves to maintain balance, and it tends to create incentives for negotiation or separation to settle disputes, because both sides have something at risk from conflict.

Salzman views Arab Islam from this perspective of balanced opposition (p. 160).

"Islam is not a constant referent...people act politically as Muslims only when in opposition to infidels. Among Muslims, people will mobilize on a sectarian basis, as Sunni vs. Shi'a. Among Sunni, people will mobilize, as the Karim tribe vs. the Mahmud tribe; within the Karim tribe, people will mobilize according to whom they find themselves in opposition to: tribal section vs. tribal section, major lineage vs. major lineage, and so on."

Afghanistan and Iraq

The culture of balanced opposition creates an almost Newtonian dynamic. Any aggregation of power tends to result in an equal and opposite aggregation of power. This makes "nation-building" a very frustrating enterprise. The more assertive the central government seeks to be, the more united will be the opposition to it.

If Salzman is correct, and a tribal culture of balanced opposition prevails in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, then it is unlikely that a democratic central government will emerge. Instead, a decentralized tribal order can be maintained, as long as tribes can be sufficiently separated to minimize friction and conflict. This might be possible in much of Afghanistan and parts of Iraq, but it seems unlikely in Baghdad.

The other way to maintain order is through severe repression. That is the way that small cliques have been able to govern in many Arab countries, including Syria as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Over the past eighteen months, the United States in Iraq has been pitting local tribes against Al Qaeda insurgents. Thus, we have been getting "balanced opposition" to work for us rather than against us. Working with local tribes helps our military combat the elements in Iraq that we fear the most--those associated with Al Qaeda. However, it is unlikely in the long run to produce stability.

In the countryside, Iraq may achieve a stable order based on tribal separation. In Baghdad, tribal equilibrium is too fragile, and some other solution will be needed. From this distance, I cannot see where such a solution might come from. Rather than providing comfort to the hawks, reading Salzman increased my fears that the U.S. could be mired permanently in conflict in Iraq. For every insurgency we defeat and every conflict that we quell, new ones will keep popping up.

Sheep in America

Closer to home, Salzman's harsh political economy leads one to meditate on the concept of an exploited peasantry. Do we in the United States have the drive for freedom and independence that gave us strong checks and balances against central government power? Or have we become sheep, with a government that protects us from various threats--typically more imaginary than real--and then subjects us to routine fleecing? The sound of shears is particularly loud every 15th of April.



Woo-hoo! A new article!
I just decided to be the first to post for this one. I haven't even read the article yet.

Interesting article
But it really doesn't tell me anything I didn't know. Iraq will take a considerable effort by Iraqis and, even in the best of circumstances, U.S. forces will be needed far into the future to settle disputes and minor flare-ups. However, to end the worst of the violence, some sembelence of unity and stability needs to be established.

In other words, there is still a long way to go to bring this together.

Fleecing the Sheople
I found the parts about land-bound peasants being fleeced over and over again the more interesting.

Everyone needs to become a 1099 contractor and that will drive the IRS nuts.

"Schedule C is your friend!" -- Zyndryl The Roybane

Scottish clans
Somehow Scottish clans figured out how to be Scottish.

Maybe their experience can help Iraqi tribes to be Iraqi.

However, is the west making a mistake, again, by trying to force these people into a nation-state?

How is Iraq any different than the tribal battles in Africa? The west forced those tribes into nation-states, too.

The trend in Europe is to de-centralize. Yugoslavia broke into its constituent parts. Czechs and Slovaks separated. Even Scotland wants to be independent from the UK. (Google Sean Connery in the LA Times.)

Who, me?
Well, I don't have Roy's eye to poke my stick at anymore.

Yeah, it took the English army in Scotalnd behaving like the Red Army in Berlin... get them to unite in the first place, I think.

And then later, Scotland was forced to unify with England because of economics. The Scottish situation then was strongly similar to the Canadian situation now as far as the economic influence of their respective southern neighbors are concerned. Before that, Scotland & England shared the same king for a while but remained separate.

If nations can split up but remain in the EU, then that trend you mention will continue along its natural course. Belgium will split up...possibly Italy. The various German federal states could exist independently within an EU framework as well. Then there is Spain.
Both Spain and Britain are trying to head this off at the pass by granting more devolved autonomy to the regions so ruckus-raising, so it should be interesting if that works or not.

Education and military service
"Education was high on Napoleon's list of priorities, which were in large part those of the middle class. Napoleon believed in a system of merit, and for such a system to be effective there must be some form of widespread education, especially at the secondary level. Besides, the state of French education was not all that it could have been when Napoleon began to rule. This fact was made abundantly clear by the results of a survey of all prefects in the nation conducted in March of 1801, under the direction of Minister for Home Affairs Chaptal. Numerous complaints were heard regarding the lack of schools in many areas, lack of professionalism among teachers, lack of discipline and attendance by the students and, in a few areas, the lack of religious education. [14]

"It is clear that the new system of education introduced by Napoleon had more than one purpose. It was intended, of course, to provide an educated elite that could help run the country and the military. It was also designed to provide for an increased middle class; a middle class that would be successful and hence non-revolutionary. Moreover, there was a great emphasis on patriotism in the schools; an emphasis that was to increase during the years of the empire. This is not surprising, of course, as even in modern America we are expected to teach a certain amount of patriotism in our classes."

WWII had a significant impact on uniting the USA. Soldiers from all over the country were forced to live and work together. They were stationed in many different parts of the country away from home. Tucson saw a post war boom when many who trained there returned after the war.

I think the Iraqis have a common language, but there are dialects. Education to a national standard would help unite Iraq.

Also, they now have a large military. It would be good to disperse people from various tribes to regions they are not familiar with. Just as US soldiers are making life long friendships with Iraqi soldiers, Iraqis from different tribes can build friendships and learn about each other's tribes.

A reason USA, Canada and Australia have been able to become a melting pot is all are immigrants. All were from 'somewhere else'. We can see this today in the USA in cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas.

There are effective ways to peacefully unite Iraq. If that is what the Iraqi's really want.

Tools of subversion
Satellite TV, the internet and cell phones will be tools of subversion dissipating tribal influence.

It is happening in Saudi. They are Bedouin hicks compared to the sophisticated Iraqis.

Winning in Iraq
"Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri criticised Muslims for failing to support Islamist insurgencies in Iraq and elsewhere in a new audiotape posted Tuesday on the Internet."

I love this quote from the movie "Lost Boys":
"One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach, all the damn vampires. "

Don't you think many in the middle east feel the same way about the Islamic fundamentalists?

exactly what should be done
They should have set up different zones or states that were like states in the U.S., but ruled by a central, national government.

Yes, I think you are reading this correctly and it is a major problem.

Tribalism in the Democratic Party
I think this little passage is quite telling as far as the current situation with the Dems are concerned, with my modifications inserted:


"If Salzman is correct, and a tribal culture of balanced opposition prevails in [the Democratic Party], then it is unlikely that a democratic central government will emerge [in the nomination process]. Instead, a decentralized tribal order can be maintained, as long as tribes can be sufficiently separated to minimize friction and conflict.

The other way to maintain order is through severe repression. That is the way that small cliques have been able to govern in many Arab countries, including Syria as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein. [For the Democrats, such elites are called 'superdelegates']"


'Balanced Opposition' seems to be in full force among the Dems these days. I'm loving it!
Go Shrillary! Go!

Actually, they did do that, didn't they?
They set up provinces...which in turn have the option of forming 'regions' if they want to.

As opposed to the 'union' plan, which called for Iraq to be split up into four or five member states, with Baghdad hosting a de-facto confederation government.

Lets do what the Democrats did in the 1960's, well bus everyone all over Iraq and then they will integrate the way black communities did in the US and well have Hope and Change. After all, it was such a success here?

Maybe Obama can rule Iraq?

Not really
the different provinces were not given any real authority in the way that was initially discussed. It is more like counties in a states than states in a union.

What's wrong with tribes?
"Hatim voiced concern over tribal and political rivalries in Shiite tribal areas that could further tear Iraq apart, but ever the diplomat said in the end all the political and sectarian factions would realize they were Iraqis and fighting would destroy chances of a better national future. But he also cautioned that a strong, central government was years away and patience was needed.

"For 35 years Saddam Hussein was president," Hatim said. "Now his government is gone and the one we have is not yet strong. Now we face the problems his government caused or ignored. And it's not easy, it will take time.

"I like the future for the Iraqi people. I like the security for the Iraqi people because without security we will have nothing."

The alliance between Hatim and U.S. forces is still a work in progress, as are other budding relationships with Sunni sheiks and tribes. But the special importance of the al-bu Nimr connection was highlighted last September when Hatim was one of five sheiks in the province invited to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush during his visit to Iraq.

That meeting -- including the news photo published around the world of it -- put the young sheik high -- very high -- on al-Qaida's hit list, a U.S. intelligence source said. At least one of the five has already been assassinated, which may help explain why Hatim and his uncle openly carry pistols in the compound despite being surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards."

Violence and Rents
I recently listened (twice) to a fascinating podcast offered by EconTalk (Weingast on Violence ... ):

Regarding Iraq, I think Weingast would advise that so long as Iraq's central government has something of value to offer the various Iraqi tribes, i.e. "rents", then it can make agreements with the tribes (e.g. oil money and autonomy for allegiance and peaceful conduct). Once the agreements are in place, the central government can assume the dual role of counter-party to the deals and arbiter of disputes arising out of the deals and between tribes. This latter role can be played via democracy, although I doubt that such democracy will much resemble America's.

Regarding Mr. Kling's last paragraph, I think Americans want to be sheep in some respects and tribal chieftains in others. For example, Americans seem to share a sheep-like unlimited demand for government goods and services while maintaining a hostile attitude for getting sheared on April 15th of every year. Moreover, Americans want government to be a cotton-wearing, vegetarian good shepherd, negating all of the risks that their freedom imposes while posing no risk to them itself. Of course, this ideal vision of government is a pipe dream, but that truth doesn't seem to influence the flock very much, particularly when a charismatic shepherd appears who seems capable of producing that very ideal vision of government, e.g. Obama.

Remove some of that pressure
As suggested, be me, earlier. Why must the west force Iraq or any group of people into a geographic area defined by the west?

Why does the west insist upon creating nation-states? (That's rhetorical as I do know why.)

It is frightening that we have 20-25 more years of narcissistic, aging baby boomers voting more goodies from us.

What a senseless post
It has no relation to what I said in the title and the body barely relates to the title.

that being said, I do like the posted reference and the over all view of the situation. One can only hope this will lead to better things and the eventual end to foreign sponsored terrorists.

And you would have had more toime to post at TCS…
Thus more opportunities to go a few more rounds some of the other posters here ;).

If geographic boundaries are based upon tribal 'boundaries' wouldn't that be better?

As for solving Bagdad's problem, how does New York City integrate its ethnic populations. Or Singapore? It has very diverse group confined to a small place.

The entire article seems a waste of print as several potential solutions exist and have been proven.

They are easy to damn. Look at their record.
Especially when compared to their parents and grandparents.

"Baby boomer philosophy

The baby boomer generation were brought up by people who had lived through a world war and whose values were about honour and duty. In other words, their parents’ lives were governed by rules, formality and politeness. It was also a world dominated by God and the state and where other people mattered much more than the individual. Come the 1960s when many baby boomers went to college they rebelled against this value system. They questioned authority. Many wanted to change the world and became radicalised and involved in political action. Much of their new thinking was done in groups – eg consciousness-raising. As this generation aged and lost its belief in politics many channelled their thinking into the new age and psychological growth which they saw as a quest for self-discovery and fulfilment. Twenge argues that what characterises baby boomer thinking is its emphasis on ‘meaning’, spirituality and personal growth. Although their focus changed many never lost the interest in changing the world or the emphasis on groups and society. She also argues that many young people find baby boomer thinking incredibly abstract and ‘moralistic’.

The emphasis on personal growth was clearly to the fore in baby boomers’ parenting style. As birth control was widespread, the vast majority of children born to baby boomers were wanted. Twenge argues that this generation then brought their children up to forget about duty, or politeness or social approval and concentrate instead on being themselves. As parents they repeatedly told their children that they were special and the most important people in the world. Thanks to the influence of the self-esteem movement, baby boomers’ children had these ideas reinforced at schools throughout America."

"In line with some other critics Twenge points out that during the time that self-esteem building exercises were common in school, the academic performance of young Americans dropped considerably in relation to other countries. She also says that ‘grade inflation has reached record highs’. For example 18% of American young people starting out in college in 1968 reported they had earned an average A in high school. The figure in 2004 had soared to 48%. Further evidence supports Twenge’s claim that self-esteem has risen while academic standards have not. For example, one survey of the mathematical skills of students in 1989 in 8 countries showed that American pupils came bottom of the class. However, when they were asked to rate their mathematical ability they topped the league. The opposite was true for Korean students."

It is also the screwed up kids and education system they created.

No moral refuge in subjective experience
While it seems to be a current fad, there's no moral refuge from a general moral judgment in your own subjective experience. That's why I've resolved to never again refer to my own life, relatives, friends or associates for moral authority. It's just not logically kosher.

Let me give you an example of what I mean: Can all Samaritans claim refuge in their national identity against moral generalizations by virtue of the fact that one of their number was good, as was Biblically reported? No.

Does Obama get to skate away from characterizing "typical white people" as being marginally racist because his own grandmother was a typical white person? No. Obama can't see this, as many but not most people can't nowadays, which is why Obama won't be our next president.

So, my advice to you is to take it easy on marjon for his otherwise accurate generalization while taking pride in yourself for not reflecting it in your own life. After all, the rest of us do.

Whew! I thought TCS was really a goner for sure!
I guess Nick just forgot to renew his domain registration?

Sign of Things To Come?
I too interpreted the recent non-connectivity as evidence of the TCS downfall many of us have been forecasting for some time now.

I wonder how many regulars will even check back...

Anyone have a blog we can check?
I tried Kling's blog but no information.

Anyone want to list their blog?

I have one I post to once in a while:


I have polls in most of my articles to demonstrate the absurdity of polling in general.

Visitation Rights
Are you 'fessing to be the "Shrekgrinch" composing the posts there? I may end up popping by with verbal onslaught (in the kindest cyber-manner possible, of course) on occasion if indeed the (obvious) TCS drought leads to its ultimate demise.

Yeah, that's me.
'Zyndryl' is an old handle of mine. I originally had an account on here with the name 'Lord Voldemort', but forgot the password and there isn't a 'new password' option on this site.

Given the damage some groups cause others... is a rational response.

Oh, and I thought for a moment that it was the ghost of Neville Chamberlain who wrote what you just wrote, Joanie. Now that was scary.

Welcome back!

Identify the cause of the problems
If the causes of problems are not identified, how can they be solved.

Baby boomers act like they are the first generation of humans who have ever encountered life.

Do you believe there is no correlation to the moral character of the country and narcissistic baby boomers?

Why do you make such accusations?
You think I want to kill socialists?

Sure I want socialism to disappear. If I can understand how socialism destroys, why can't everyone see it?

What makes people want to force others to do their bidding?

I want those people to change and such behavior to disappear.

I did? When?

"kill them all and let God sort them out"
I have seen this on t-shirts favored by US Special Forces, Marines and Army soldiers.

Does that mean our military wants to kill everyone?

Context is always important.

Many Muslims have called for your elimination.
How does that make you feel?

I support defending myself
If Muslims or socialists or Russians or....are trying to kill me, I support stopping them and those who support them.

It is a free country.
The majority of baby boomers screwed up this country.

If you are a baby boomer, did you support them?

Dirty Harry justice
"[Harry Callahan has to explain why he shot a man]
Harry Callahan: Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the *******. That's my policy.
The Mayor: Intent? How did you establish that?
Harry Callahan: When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher's knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross!
[walks out of the room]
The Mayor: He's got a point."

Is Harry's thinking divisive?

Identify the problem
To solve a problem it must be identified.

If the solution requires changing hearts and minds, those hearts and minds must be identified. Fingers must be pointed and people must be held accountable for their actions.

Now the baby boomers are getting old and act like they are the first people to ever get old. They will be demanding government health care and research to prevent old age. They have been adults for over 40 years. When will they grow up?

I mentioned that earlier did I not?
The Brits and the west created Iraq after WWI.

But the previous owners, the Ottoman Empire, had less regard for tribal boundaries.

But the have all been fighting each other for centuries before the USA was ever thought of.

"Peaceful resolution of existing problems"
USA was attacked. We fight back. Is that too divisive?

I admit to never using the TCS mail feature (in truth, I wasn't aware one existed). But if anyone feels the need to reach me on a more personal level, I do have an anonymous mailbox: [And yes, it is web-based, so it can be abandoned quite readily if I start experiencing annoyingly abusive activity overload.] I'm quite willing to address (most) inquiries put to me there (within reason, that is -- I do, after all, have a "real world" lifestyle to maintain).

Otherwise, I'm in agreement with you about the TCS format, and would be disappointed to see it go belly-up (for whatever reason) -- It is without doubt my preferred site for online discussion/argumentation. [I've stopped posting at LGF altogether due to the fact that its size/format has become anathema to my interactive sensibilities; while I continue to browse there on occasion to review some of the topical items, I've soured on the fact that the comments pretty much eschew any real discussion aspect, devolving to predominant smart-assedness -- it's primarily a contest to see who can deliver the most snark-laden quip on the topic at hand. The only time any attempt at discussion/argument is entertained is with regard to reliably highly-charged, controversial topics (think abortion or religion). It's predictably tiresome.]

As to keeping TCS alive, I'm not averse to posing some of your suggestions to the powers-that-be.

I didn't know about the welfare state part of Chamberlain
But, I am not surprised.

It was his 'peace in our time' philosophy of 'going along to get along' that he pushed in Munich that your comment vaguely reminded me of for a few seconds there, that's all.

I have a right.
I am an official member of the baby boomers having been born in '61.

I have had to wade through their political and social debris all my life.

I have earned the right to call them what they are.

"So, what caused them to start fighting with us?"
We let them.

Carter showed weakness. Ever wonder why Iran let the hostages go so quickly?

But Reagan had to defeat the USSR first.

Clinton demonstrated weakness from WTC 1, Somalia, Africa and Iraq.

Weakness invites attack.

There is a great piece about how your generation's appeasement led to the deaths of millions.

"The scale of moral collapse and suffering went beyond Indochina. The pullout had a ripple effect on U.S. power and prestige, just as the proponents of the so-called "domino theory" had warned. American foreign policy, crippled by remorse and self-doubt, stood helplessly as others rushed into the power vacuum.

Marxist-Leninist regimes emerged not only in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but in Ethiopia and Guinea Bissau (1974), Madagascar, Cape Verde, Mozambique, and Angola (1975), Afghanistan (1978), and Grenada and Nicaragua (1979). Soviet troops were welcomed in Fidel Castro's Cuba for the first time since the 1962 missile crisis. Cuban troops traveled freely to Africa to prop up Marxist regimes there.

In 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini was able to establish his brutal theocratic rule over Iran, confident that America, having learned "the lessons of Vietnam," would never intervene."

I was born in '61
I couldn't vote until '79.

Kennedy got us into Viet Nam and the democrats cut off funds in '75.

I just watched Uncle Walter rattle off body counts every night.

You sound like Eric now.
Accusing me of hate.

As I have said many times, to solve a problem it must first be identified.

Those responsible for causing the problem need to be stopped, prevented from making the problem worse or convincing them to stop making it worse.

Compared to what their parents and grandparents accomplished, baby boomers should be ashamed of themselves.

No, but right now I am calling you 'hyper-sensitive'
How's them apples?

Sex doesn't matter
For the record, I am not a woman but why does that matter except if it is to be used as an excuse for special handling.

In 4th grade a few girls wanted to play kick ball with us. We said OK, but don't cry to the teacher if you get hurt. One girl was knocked down, cried to a teacher and the boys got in trouble. So much for women's lib.

As 'robertbennett' suggests, making these discussions personal does not advance the point. Unless, maybe, there is a significant anecdote in one's experience that may apply.

Using race or sex as an excuse to avoid discussion is not acceptable to me.

You are free to ignore me, of course.

But why are you doing so?

Those with libertarian philosophy need to be able to take stands and make their points against all challengers without excuses.

TCS Daily Archives