Reading chicken entrails

The ruling class ruled because it was clever, because it was well off, and because it hung together.

That’s from John Pemble’s review of Adam Kuper’s Incest and Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England in the London Review of Books. It’s an excellent overview of what Pemble describes as “a bloodless and almost painless transition from male oligarchy to full democracy” in the late 19th century.

Douglass North described something similar in his description of Limited Access Orders and Open Access Orders: oligarchies that are the reserve of a coalition of elites and the open and competitive political and economic systems we associate with the rich world.

Kuper looks at degrees of consanguinity:  how children were married off to cousins in a closed and inward looking ruling class, in order to maintain key business and political relationships.

What would be the one factor that a future historian of Tanzania might choose, and for which she would have records, to examine similar political and business relationships of today?


3 responses to “Reading chicken entrails

  1. Who are the ruling class of Tanzania? Is there a functioning definition backed up by some data?

    If we go for a ‘who owns what’ approach that depends on documentation to define classes, the resounding failure of the government to get its employees and politicians to disclose their assets serves as a warning. Also, many of us live a happily paper-free existence.

    Once we know who is meant by ‘ruling class’ then observing/describing their behavior could yield that one factor. I don’t think co-sanguinity captures it all in our case…

  2. i’m not suggesting that consanguinity is relevant or useful at all. I’m wondering what might be

  3. Along with nepotism, perhaps straight transactions: cash or goods given in exchange for political patronage, access to connections, ‘signing fees’ for contracts. etc. Documentation through studies?

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