December 30, 2007

The South Asian Dynastic Tendency, Part XLVII

From the NYT:

"Pakistan’s largest political party picked Benazir Bhutto’s 19-year-old son to succeed her as chairman and vowed to forge ahead with elections next week."

Sure, why not pick a 19-year-old? How old was Alexander when he succeeded Philip? How old was Pitt the Younger when he became Prime Minister?

It's the blood that matters. (Or just the name -- next door in India, Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv, daughter-in-law of Indira, and granddaughter-in-law of Nehru, led the Congress Party to victory in the last election, even though she's an Italian ex-stewardess and doesn't really speak any Indian languages well.)

My 2003 National Interest article on the trend back toward dynasticism is here.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

We seem to get it pretty bad here in Mormon 'tah, too. Our governor's the son of a billionaire, our senator's the son of a senator, and two of our congressmen are sons/grandsons of...

3 years ago the Democratic nominee for governor was also a "son of" and the whole party stepped aside for him. He made a lousy, boring candidate.

It's a Mormon thing to be impressed with lineage and to do what you're told, I guess. Much of the Mormon hierarchy are sons of other guys who were in the Mormon hierarchy. How depressing to be reminded, though, that the rest of the world share's that weaknees, too. That's one of the real reasons democracy doesn't exist so much in the world, but George W. Bush ain't gunna try to spread that value anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

In a broad swath of southern Asia, running from Pakistan, through India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and on to the Philippines, the dynastic urge has often worked in conjunction with the democratic impulse.

Hmmm...Indonesia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines.

All pretty large and/or diverse nations. As nations get larger, more diverse, and more unwieldy, does democratic dynasticism become more common? An increasingly diverse nation with a succession of presidents named Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton makes it seem likely.

Anonymous said...

The United States is almost the only state that has a genuine republican tradition that can call on the pride and loyalty of its citizens.

And you have to wonder how much longer we can draw from that well without refilling it.

Anonymous said...


A lot of people seem to believe that this was a picture of her as a young girl, but it looks kinda like Reese Witherspoon to me:

Anonymous said...

Italy, India, what's the difference. Both are ancient civilizations. Both are penninsulas attached to a larger continent. Both are the centres of a major world religion. Both are full of dark gold chain playboys who live with their parents. Both have dishes covered with the a mildly spicy sauce. Both have overly elaborate weddings. Both have Islam as their second largest religion. Both are about the same distance from the Arab world.

Anonymous said...

Excellent point - what is interesting is that democratic voters seem to willing to allow nepotism. Perhaps this is an example of Bryan Caplan's 'Irrational Voter' - in the sense that it makes voters feel good to vote for nepotism?

Another prevalent and significant form of nepotism in modernizing societies relates to spouses. In academia it is common for husband-wife teams to be hired as a unit.

Once appointed, husband-wife teams have all the advantages of being able to insist they operate as two legally-distinct invividuals - eg. with two votes (or able to chair twice as many committees) - while in practice operating together as a solid bloc vote.

Also - I can't recall the exact percentages - a high percentage of the richest women are wives or widows of the richest men.

For women, this form of nepotism is often amplified by what Warren Farrell calls 'genetic celebrity' - whereby very attractive women are able to leverage their sex appeal into wealth and power; and which works at every social level from 'hot' waitresses getting vastly more tips to attractive heads of state.

Anonymous said...

Ummm, Steve, this isn't just the "South Asian" dynastic tradition.

If Clinton wins, then we'll have had a president named Bush or Clinton for 2 decades.

In the public sphere there are Bush, Clinton, and Kennedy...and in the private sphere (especially Hollywood and the newsmedia) nepotism rules.

In Italy as well, it might be good to google "Alessandra Mussolini" (though don't look at the image results at work!).

Given that even the Mussolini name is good for reelection, just about the only famous politician whose name *isn't* worth votes is ol' Adolf H.

Nepotism is the new name of the game in the West. All the most successful groups in the West practice it -- Jews, Mormons, East & South Asians. Those that practice rugged isolated/individualism (blacks, Hispanics, lower class whites) lack power and influence.

Ross said...

What proportion of US senators are either the children or spouses of other prominent politicians?

Anonymous said...

In the public sphere there are Bush, Clinton, and Kennedy...and in the private sphere (especially Hollywood and the newsmedia) nepotism rules.

In fairness, those 3 examples are alo 3 good examples of dynastic extinction, too - and three somewhat different examples of how it occurs.

The Clinton's have been killed off by not having enough children. If you're going to start a dynasty, it's best not to put all your dynastic eggs in a single basket, especially if it's a hen, not a rooster. Thus the Clinton's are more of a power couple than a dynasty.

(OTOH, Chelsea does seem to be cultivating ties to various wealthy Clinton supporters, such as billionaire Marc Lasry. She could easily marry one of their offspring, and have a nice financial base to aid her ambitions. It may actually be better for Chelsea's own political future if her mother doesn't win, and keeps her place in the senate, instead.)

The Bush example is one of being killed by incompetence, regression to the mean, and giving your base the one-fingered wave. Bush Jr. has screwed his base six ways to Sunday on immigration.

Jeb, by all reports, was a great governor. But his political career, save a possible cabinet appointment, is over, thanks to his brother. His marriage may have proven shrewd ethnically, but probably not so much so genetically.

And the Kennedy dynasty has been killed by scandal (after scandal after scandal) and regression to the mean. Teddy's pretty much the last politician in his family line. His son's a congressman of no great distinction, and his niece couldn't even win the governor's race in Maryland.

The fact is that the most powerful political dynasties in the US tend to keep their political ambitions "modest": senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, cabinet positions, and maybe the occasional (failed) presidential race.

Anonymous said...

Michael Barone has the same idea about large democracies that I do:

Voters in very populous democracies have often chosen heads of government who are the sons or daughters of previous heads of government....Here's my theory. Voters understand that a leader's personal character is very important. Yet in a very large democracy, it's very hard for them to evaluate a candidate's character. It's much easier if that candidate is the son or daughter or wife of a former head of government. Then they know the family.

Barone's smart, but his theories about immigration (he's big time in favor) stink. And as I mentioned above, dynasties tend to do well (even better) at the state level than the national one.

It's be interesting to know how many members of congress got there as a result of family dynasties.

Anonymous said...

One plausible reason for nepotism in democratic politics may be lack of competition for senior office.

The majority of the population would rule themselves out on the basis of antisocial hours, excess travel to places you don't want to visit, unpleasant company, incessant vilification, extremely intrusive security restrictions, and a pretty good chance of being assasinated.

It is possible that wanting senior political office requires both an unusual temperament and unusual socialization - both of which will tend to be handed-on in families.

Dutch Boy said...

In Sonia Gandhi's case, her political success may be a byproduct of the Hindu pre-occupation with (light) skin color.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this is weird:

List of countries and territories by fertility rate
#205, Italy, 1.29 children per woman per fertile lifetime

Alessandra Mussolini
Children: Caterina, Clarissa, and Romano Floriani

From the Wikipedia article:

Alessandra Mussolini (born December 30, 1962) is an Italian right-wing politician, previously an actress and model. She is the leader and founder of the neo-fascist political party Social Action; since 2004 Mussolini has also been a Member of the European Parliament.

So I guess that women who choose to have children are now what we call "fascists".

Compare this thread which we've got over at Spengler's: Meet the faces of Death.

By the way, the Italian TFR has risen, from 1.18 in 2000, to 1.29 in 2006 [2007], and my guess is that that slight uptick is due to you know whom.

Anonymous said...

A better example of a dynasty (echoing the comment about state-level dynasties) would be the Gores. Long-time TN political dynasties. Or the Daleys.

What's interesting is that places with lots of social change that drives population churn tend to be destructive to dynasties, particularly the Southwest and "new South" post-Segregation.

Anonymous said...

The comments here about nepotism remind me of something I read recently in a book about George Soros and Warren Buffett. When Soros got to London and started applying at some of the top investment firms in The City, one firm's partner sent him away with an explanation of his firm's hiring practice. He said, "We practice intelligent nepotism here. We all have nephews, and we hire the most intelligent of them". So Soros found a firm in London founded by some Hungarian ex-pats and got a job there.

Anonymous said...

I've used nepotism only once. I appointed a very able cousin - huge success.

Anonymous said...

"In Sonia Gandhi's case, her political success may be a byproduct of the Hindu pre-occupation with (light) skin color."

This makes no sense.

She is the head of the left wing party (Congress) which would be the equivalent of the Democrats.

The Hindu religious right tend to vote for the BJP which is in many ways like the GOP of Indian politics and criticize Congress for being led by someone not born in India.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the Indian preoccupation with fair skin a cultural, rather than religious, thing, making Gandhi's party irrelevant? (If so, one would expect it to be equally prevalent in Muslim Pakistan and Buddhist Sri Lanka. Is it?)

On the other hand, it seems that being foreign-born would trump any subtle advantages that being fair-skinned would offer. For example, if Arnold Schwarzenegger could run for President, his non-native birth would more than outweigh his rugged, manly demeanor, no?

Anonymous said...

evil neocon,
Speaking of the Daley's, a brillinat move to have the son join the army. It is a great feather to have in your cap when you run for office. I'll bet he has greater aspirations that just being Mayor of Chicago too.

Anonymous said...

Black families also practice nepotism successfully. Around Memphis, TN the Ford family has dominated black politics for nearly 3 decades. The brothers went into office, setting up their sons, cousins, and even wives for successful office runs. That they are often accused of, and even convicted of, white collar crimes make no difference to their electoral success.