What’s So Bad About Clanocracy?

Yesterday’s mention of clannishness raised the question of what is so bad about the rule of the clan, or “clanocracy.”

There are plenty of negatives. Ernest Gellner once called it the “tyranny of cousins.” Here’s just one example: clannism is in general inimical to democracy.

One way to measure clannishness is by consanguinity. That’s because clannism and cousin-marriage go together like a horse and carriage.

A recent study compared 70 countries and found that more consanguinity meant less democracy. Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the hypothesis that although the level of democracy in a society is a complex phenomenon involving many antecedents, consanguinity (marriage and subsequent mating between second cousins or closer relatives) is an important though often overlooked predictor of it. Measures of the two variables correlate substantially in a sample of 70 nations (r = −0.632, p 0.001), and consanguinity remains a significant predictor of democracy in multiple regression and path analyses involving several additional independent variables. The data suggest that where consanguineous kinship networks are numerically predominant and have been made to share a common statehood, democracy is unlikely to develop. Possible explanations for these findings include the idea that restricted gene flow arising from consanguineous marriage facilitates a rigid collectivism that is inimical to individualism and the recognition of individual rights, which are key elements of the democratic ethos. Furthermore, high levels of within-group genetic similarity may discourage cooperation between different large-scale kin groupings sharing the same nation, inhibiting democracy. Finally, genetic similarity stemming from consanguinity may encourage resource predation by members of socially elite kinship networks as an inclusive fitness enhancing behavior.

Michael A. Woodley and Edward Bell, Consanguinity as a Major Predictor of Levels of Democracy: A Study of 70 Nations. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology February 2013 vol. 44 no. 2 263-280 doi: 10.1177/0022022112443855



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5 responses to “What’s So Bad About Clanocracy?

  1. Hi Martin, thanks for these insights. I took some inspiration from Gellner’s concept, as well as from his discussion of Lewis Henry Morgan’s influence on Marxism. And I’m glad to have this reference. There’s a very spirited application of this perspective to the Middle East in the work of the anthropologist (and fellow Canadian?) Philip Salzman, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, that you might find interesting. And keep your eyes open for a study coming down the pike from Donna Bowen in the political science department at BYU, which I believe seeks to provide a metric connecting consanguinity and liberal political development. Just to add to this discussion, vis-a-vis the one we’re having on my blog, that I also think liberal societies ought to take inspiration from clan societies in encouraging institutions of group solidarity–but, as you noted in an earlier post, institutions of a different kind.

    • Absolutely, liberal societies do need social cohesion too.
      I wonder if demography may eventually doom clannishness: lower fertility rates, smaller families, these things make it harder.

      • That’s interesting, Martin. I confess to not knowing the demographic data about those societies we’d generally call clannish. I’d be interested in you know or have references.

  2. All I have is the hunch that extended lineages cannot persist when (as in eg South Korea) a family consists of four grandparents, two parents, and one grandchild.

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