Saturday, February 19, 2011

Family rule is under siege, at last

Family rule is under siege, at last

Dictatorship is under siege throughout the Arab world: fingers are crossed that democracy will prevail. Something else is under siege, too — the notion of family rule. This is among the oldest, and most harmful, concepts in human society. Is it about to vanish at last?

For centuries, in some cases for millennia, regions and nations have been ruled by families — either formally as royalty, or de facto via warlords, khans and shoguns who in most cases inherited their positions. As recently as a century ago, families still ran most of Europe, all of Russia and Japan, while an assortment of warlord-like figures with inherited standing ran much of what’s now South America and the Middle East, and kings and emperors controlled the subcontinent and most of Africa.

Today family rule has been vanquished, or reduced to constitutional status, in most of the world. The big exceptions are Cuba, North Korea, the Middle East, and parts of Africa and Pakistan. The fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, following a 30-year warlord-style rule — and the unlikelihood that his sons will inherit control of the country, as Mubarak planned — represents a major subtraction from the remaining portion of the globe under family control.

Let’s hope the trend continues. Today China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil, the world’s five largest nations, representing more than half of the global population, have abolished all forms of inherited rule. Much of the rest of the world has done or is doing the same. This is no guarantee of happiness, of course. Open systems can be chaotic (the United States), still lack personal freedom (China) or be poorly administered (Italy). But in the main, ending family rule has been good for societies that achieve this.

Mubarak kept Egypt out of war, but that’s the only positive that can be attached to his three decades of warlord rule. Egypt’s economy stagnated, while theft of public funds by Mubarak and his family members was rampant.

Backwardness, corruption and repression are the hallmarks of all nations still suffering under family rule. Most of the Persian Gulf has kings or emirs whose sole accomplishments in life are the accidents of their births; North Korea has the maniacal and incompetent Jung-Il family; Cuba has the Castros, both are one thousand times more concerned with personal power than with the welfare of Cubans.

Perhaps it was inevitable that in a simpler past, family rule would have been a part of human culture. In the modern era, family rule differs little, in structure and function, from organized crime. Now the crime boss of Egypt is out, following the removal of the crime boss of Tunisia.

We can hope the example will spread to other parts of the region, and that more family rulers will fail or flee. And we can hope that the United States will not backslide. The current generation has seen America’s first presidential succession, from George Hebert Walker Bush to his son George W. Bush. The younger Bush’s brother Jeb may be a future presidential candidate, while there remains a chance Hillary Clinton, wife of a former president, could be elected to the White House. George W. Bush was freely chosen for his post, rather than strong-arming his way to rule. But family rule is family rule — not good for any nation.

Bahrain, where the current strongest protests are occurring, is ruled by an absolute monarch whose primary achievement in life was being handed a crown by his father. The sooner his family’s rule ends, the better. The sooner the whole concept of family rule fades into history, the better off the human family will be.