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Word of the Day: Neopatrimonialism-- The State of Affairs in the United States

posted Jul 6, 2018, 6:49 AM by Rahni Jere Sumler   [ updated Jul 27, 2018, 7:26 AM ]
Reposted from Catgrin at Daily Kos

You may never have heard the term before. If not, it’s one you should learn because you’re being exposed to it daily. “Neopatrimonialism” is a system of social hierarchy that our country, under current leadership, is displaying several worrying signs of. 

Neopatrimonialism:Going from Democracy to Authoritarianism

Arrows showing democracy at one end, authoritarianism at the other with neopatrimonialism looming between
Attribution: Catgrin
Arrows showing democracy at one end, authoritarianism at the other with neopatrimonialism looming between.

Here are Two definitions of Neopatrimonialism that help Explain what it is and how it Functions:

Neopatrimonialism, as defined by author Christopher Clapham of The Nature of the Third World State, is a "form of organisation in which relationships of a broadly patrimonial type pervade a political and administrative system which is formally constructed on rational-legal lines". It is a system in which an office of power is used for personal uses and gains, as opposed to a strict division of the private and public spheres. (Source: Wikipedia)

According to Francis Fukuyama:

Patrimonialism is “political recruitment based on the two principles of kin selection and reciprocal altruism.” (See Fukuyama 2012, The Origin of Political Order, p. 439.)

“Throughout this book I have used Max Weber's term “patrimonial” to refer to governments staffed by the family and friends of the ruler, and run for their benefit. Modern governments by contrast are supposed to be staffed by officials chosen on the basis of merit and expertise, and run for the sake of a broad public interest. A neo-patrimonial government has the outward form of a modern state, with a constitution, presidents and prime ministers, a legal system, and pretensions of impersonality, but the actual operations of the government remains at core a matter of sharing state resources with friends and family.
(Fukuyama 2014, Political Order and Political Decay, pp. 287-288.)

In other words, neopatrimonialism is a stepping away from democratic rule toward authoritarian rule. The introduction of neopatrimonialism happens when an elected leader, their family, and their loyal supporters take broad control of an otherwise modern government through destabilization. It’s not always a problem, and can prop up weak democracies. If a country is isolated (either internally or externally) or in bad political and social disarray, this form of rule can provide needed structure while the country matures/heals. Problems with neopatrimonialism arise when a democratic government is already well-established and functioning. In that case a leader, upon taking power through crafted disruption, continues to disrupt the existing legal and political system that might otherwise oppose them and that had, up to that point, already been functioning without any form of authoritarian control. When that happens, the construct is destructive toward democracy.

Since his campaign, Trump’s presidency has shown several signs of being a neopatrimonial construct. His public attacks on the press concurrent with him seeking to act as the expert voice for America, his participation in blatant nepotism and favoritism, his willingness to seek self-enrichment for himself and his family, his ignorance of and attacks on law, and the granting of favors to those who offer him loyalty are all demonstrative of this form of social rule.

Evidence this form of control is currently working for him can be seen in the lack of direct response to the corrupt and illegal acts he’s taken as president. Over a year ago, in April 2017, Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons on their own people. Even though Congress would likely have supported the strike, he ordered it without getting Congressional authorization as is required by the Constitution (our source of national law), instead opting to use a post-9/11 national-security military authorization in a way that it was never intended to be used. That early flexing of power (taking an action in a corrupt manner when the action itself couldn’t easily be decried) is representative of how Trump has been pushing power boundaries since his inauguration.

Take Action

At this time, because Congress refuses to act against Trump, we are left waiting for Mueller or a flip of Congressional majority power — whichever comes first. In the meantime, Trump’s form of leadership is a self-enriching threat to our democracy. So please, speak out against it. Protect Mueller. Vote. Trump’s time in office will pass, but the kind of country we will be in the future depends largely on our national actions today.