10938707. Nepotism Is It Back

10938707. Nepotism Is It Back - 22 newstatesman q 29...

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T he small world of insect behaviour experts was shaken earlier this year with the discovery by Finnish scientists that ants, long imagined to be the socialists of sociobiology, practise nepotism – favouring blood relatives with food and killing strangers. A similar spasm is currently gripping the intellectuals of the US east coast. A new book by Adam Bellow argues not only that nepotism is on the rise (a view shared by many) but that this is a cause for cele- bration rather than liberal hand-wringing. And Mr Bellow knows of what he speaks. His dad is Saul Bellow. Far from being a scourge of modern democracies, the practice of helping offspring is an honourable parental instinct, he believes, while nepotism “links the generations in a chain of gen- erosity and gratitude”. It is tempting to dismiss Bellow Jr’s arguments ( In Praise of Nepotism , Doubleday) as a load of self-serving tosh. And given that he writes in a nation where the late, über -racist senator Strom Thurmond prevailed upon George W Bush to appoint his 28-year-old son as US attorney for South Carolina, this is a temp- tation to which we should succumb. But nepotism is far from an American monopoly. It is an accusation flung around in British circles, too, not least in political ones. Among the various sub- species of Homo politicus gathering at the Labour conference, some names carry a certain cachet – Miliband, Wintour, Toynbee, Alexander – and perhaps double rooms are being booked for the power couplings: Balls/Cooper, Marr/Ashley, Symons/Bassett. Politics being what it is, any hint of favours for friends and fam- ily is an open invitation for a salvo. The fact that Tony rhymes with crony is one of those unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your point of view) linguistic coincidences of political life. Those looking for evidence that being old friends with the PM is helpful need look no further than the Woolsack, upon which Charlie Falconer sits in place of Derry Irvine – Blair mates both. Yet it is in the land of opportunity, the US, that nepotism seems most entrenched. “ Bochco ,” says Steven Bochco, who regularly casts his own children in his detective series NYPD Blue , “is Polish for nepotism.” Meanwhile the second Bush administra- tion has thrown ambassadorships at wealthy donors like confetti, giving little consideration to whether, for example, the ambas- sador to France could speak any French. Historically, however, nepotism has been restricted to the favouring of blood relations. The term itself stems, according to Bellow, from the Italian nipote for “relative”, with nepotismo flourishing in the 15th and 16th centuries when illegitimate papal sons, or “nephews”, were placed in ecclesiastical jobs. Nepotism in this narrow sense, of placing ill-suited relatives into plum posi- tions, is not much in evidence, at least in the United Kingdom.
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10938707. Nepotism Is It Back - 22 newstatesman q 29...

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