The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom

Mark Weiner, Author
Mark S. Weiner. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-25281-6
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Weiner, a professor at Rutgers School of Law, presents a nuanced view of clan-based societies, from medieval Iceland to modern-day Afghanistan, in this sociological history and political treatise. Whether a barbarian dystopia or a libertarian paradise, clan-based societies, Weiner argues, provide security and social stability while subsuming the identity of the individual into the larger order. But is security worth the sacrifice of individual freedoms? Ultimately, Weiner’s argument is a full-throated defense of the modern centralized state, which he sees as necessary to protect human rights: “In the face of well-intended but misguided criticism that the state is inimical to freedom, we must choose whether to maintain the state as our most basic political institution or to let it degrade.” An entertaining mix of anecdote and ethnography, the book is broader than it is deep, quickly springing between continents and centuries, though two extended sections—on early Anglo-Saxons and the spread of Islam—focus cogently on how societies can make the transition from “communities in which family groups serve as the primary basis for social organization” to those where the individual is paramount. Scholars of ancient civilizations and modern government will find something of value in Weiner’s study. Agent: Tina Bennett, WME Entertainment. (Mar.)
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