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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The concept of "face" among the Arabs

Arabs in large degree are motivated by preserving their public dignity and "face;" truth, or admittance of guilt, often is subordinate to this cultural imperative.   So argues an article from the CIA's Studies in Intelligence, published in 1964 and recently declassified.  Here's the full piece: face-among-the-arabs.pdf   This is the type of piece modern Arabists hate.  As with all articles that make a serious attempt at understanding culture as a driver, it probably relies too much on generalization.  And yet, we do notice significant cultural differences, don't we?  Keep in mind that we are dealing with ideal types here.  The Parson Weems story about George Washington is meant to express a cultural ideal about character that we may fail to live up to, but we Americans "get" the story.  The author maintains that's not a parable likely to resonate in Arab Muslim culture that defines personal dignity differently.  

I took this from the War-on-the-Rocks website, which often posts interesting stuff. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Power Doctor: James Burnham

Dan McCarthy in the American Conservative offers a nice write up on the work and overlooked ideas of James Burnham here:  American Machiavelli  At least three of Burnham's books stand up well adn are worth reading today:  "The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom,"  "The Suicide of the West" and "The Managerial Revolution."   "The Machiavellians" is the best introduction to elite theory I've ever read, and the best way to navigate through Pareto's social thought.   I re-read it every few years.  Dan is right in pointing out that China today demonstrates the relevance of Burnham's insights on how "management" overrides other governing forms.  But I think he's wrong to dismiss "Suicide" as just a Cold War tome; it offers a brutal dissection of liberalism's soppy rhetoric and logic.  The threat of a free society being pulled down by liberalism's soft-headedness is still alive.