Saturday, August 11, 2007

Geertz on government

A while back, I read Charles Mann's 1491, an engaging book showing how profoundly American peoples had reshaped the environment before the arrival of Columbus. Watching the unraveling of things in Washington now keeps bringing me back to a quote from that work (p. 257) paraphrasing the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, that all states can be described as one of these types:
  • Pluralist, in which the state is seen by its people as having moral legitimacy;
  • Populist, in which government is viewed as an expression of the people's will;
  • "great beast", in which the rulers' power depends on using force to keep the populace cowed; and
  • "great fraud", in which the elite uses smoke and mirrors to convince the people of its inherent authority.

2 comments:

Vance said...

Pluralist, in which the state is seen by its people as having moral legitimacy

What an odd yoking of concepts -- surely not intended as a definition. Maybe this is a theoretical statement about what legitimacy should mean?

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, the whole thing is one of those academic jokes, certainly not a serious definition.