He’s Got A Point!

In a humorous piece in the New Yorker, Andy Borowitz [ny] has Jared “The Kettle” Kushner dissing Kim “The Pot” Jong Un for being inexperienced at leadership and implying that he got his job through nepotism. It’s a funny piece, because the underlying point is important and interesting.

“Here you have a guy who has no government experience, and he’s in charge of the whole thing,” Kushner said, in an interview with Fox News. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

Kushner noted that, instead of working his way up and acquiring the skills necessary to do his job, the North Korean leader had been given huge responsibilities and power “only because of family connections.”

“There’s only one word for that,” he said. “Nepotism.” [Snark Tag: That’s Borowitz writing as Kushner; it’s snark. It’s not real.]

To be accurate, Kim Jong Un is the current pinnacle of an experiment run by evolutionary psychologists regarding controlled breeding of political leaders: does survival make one fit in the political arena? The longevity of the rulers of Europe (who all appear to be cousins of some sort) ought to be interesting data for evolutionary psychologists, after the experiment has had another 100,000 years to run.

There are four traditional ways to access tyrant powers:

  1. Kill the king and become the king
  2. Marry the king’s daughter
  3. Pull a sword from a stone
  4. Be the king’s son

Kushner took route #2. Kim Jong Un took route #4, but we can say on his behalf that he didn’t choose it and did not consent.

I’m pretty sure Kushner is great at pulling swords from stones; anyone who can simultaneously re-invent government, deal with Israel/Palestine, and I forget what all else – a swordstone situation’s got to be a pffffff to them. Kim, however, appears to have grown up making missiles and nuclear weapons and he has his own army.

“Hereditary leadership makes as much sense as hereditary physics” – Richard Feynman

Let’s not talk about Ivanka.

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Path to power #4 is technically a sub-case of #1 but it’s sufficiently interesting that I kept it separate. But that’s why I listed it 4th instead of 2nd.





  1. Holms says

    You forgot ‘5. Kill a shitload of people until locals were too afraid to oppose you.’ This is how many noble lines began in the first place.

  2. cartomancer says

    Marry the King’s son then kill yourself with a stone?

    I don’t think I’ve got the hang of this?

  3. says

    Ah, yes, “Divine right of kings.” You don’t inherit the power that way.
    The gods appear to be letting me rule, therefore STFU and you get to live.

  4. Brian English says

    A subclass of #3 was part of a disertation by noted scolar Denis:

    Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony. You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you! I mean, if I went around saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

  5. Brian English says

    Where does the last successful invasion of England fit in this?
    That orange dude kicked out James II & VII, who went across the channel to ponce about in a poncey manner but kept his head.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    I think you’re leaving out #5, if you are lucky enough to live in England and are free from Salic law:

    5. Be the king’s daughter.
    (Or were Mary I and Elizabeth I insufficiently tyrannical for you? Because they were both pretty tyrannical.)

    and if you expand to Russia, then also
    6. Marry the king’s son.
    (to include Catherine the Great.)

  7. cartomancer says

    To be fair there have been elective monarchies in the past. Roman Emperors were often popular generals raised up by the assent of the army (or at least the Praetorian Guard). Augustus never managed to establish a formal mechanism for the transfer of Imperial power (which wasn’t really a formal job anyway at first), and the Imperial succession was always very ad-hoc. Early Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Irish kings were generally chosen by the warrior-aristocrats they led from among their own number, and being the old king’s offspring didn’t guarantee it. Then we have the Holy Roman Emperor, who was elected by a college of three Archbishops, three princes and the King of Bohemia (later more electors were admitted). In practice the Electors could choose any prince for the job, but as it turns out all but one of their choices was a Habsburg after the fifteenth century.

    But if we’re talking swords and stones then Arthur had it easy. Theseus not only had to move a huge stone to recover his ancestral sword (and a pair of sandals!), he also had to slay a series of bandits (and, weirdly, one giant pig) on the road from Troezen to Athens using ironic punishments, then fetch and sacrifice the Bull of Zeus from Marathon, then overcome his cousins the Pallantides.

  8. cartomancer says

    There is also co-option and royal adoption as a method of power transfer. During the late 1st and early 2nd centuries it tended to be the practice of Roman Emperors to adopt promising young men and groom them as Imperial heirs, often ruling jointly with the successor to ensure a period of stability and an easier transfer of power. Nerva adopted Trajan, Trajan appointed his distant cousin Hadrian, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius, Antoninus adopted Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius (who ruled together), and the practice was broken when Marcus’s biological son Commodus took over (and we all know how that turned out…).

    King Henry II of England also raised up his son, Henry, to rule jointly with him from 1170-1183. He got a proper coronation and everything. Young Henry died before his father, though, so we don’t tend to remember him as an actual King of England. But there’s no good reason why we shouldn’t – both he and his father thought of him as such. That’s very much a case of #4 not being a sub-case of #2!

  9. Siobhan says

    “Here you have a guy who has no government experience, and he’s in charge of the whole thing,” Kushner said, in an interview with Fox News. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

    There isn’t an antidepressant strong enough in the world for this,

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    Eh. A difference between democracy and royalty: Trump was not the king when Kushner married Trump’s daughter.

  11. Brian English says

    I just want to register my offical® protest that nobody dealt with the argument of Dyonisious, late of filth-pit of the Holy Grail of Monty Python. When someone offers the justification that a house has right to be sovereign, I can’t go past Denis’ logic. Granted, there’s never been a true democracy, as understood by moderns, but it’s a nice idea and divine right is up there with catching lobbed swords of water nymphs.

  12. brucegee1962 says

    OK, Brian, I’ll go ahead and go out on a limb here and defend hereditary monarchy for the time and place in which it developed.

    1) For most people in eras prior to the modern era, the #1 concern was that there were other people within a couple of days march who would gladly invade their village, take all their stuff, and enslave or kill them and everyone they knew. I think that awareness must have hovered behind everyones’ thoughts the way nuclear war hovered behind the thoughts of those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s and 80s.

    2) Meme theory: In the same way that species would have to either develop defenses against predators (speed, tough hide, claws, etc.) or else go extinct, in the same way cultures that didn’t develop martial capacity would be wiped out or enslaved by cultures that did. Epic war poetry, the cult of heroism, and a soldier class were all created by evolutionary pressure, competition for resources, and survival of the fittest.

    3) In an age before widespread literacy, a democracy would only work at a fairly small scale, like in a town where everyone knows everyone. It wouldn’t “scale up” to a group of towns connected ethnically and culturally. Kings, on the other hand, allow centralized authority over a widespread area. The ability to tax and levy troops over a large number of connected cities was literally a matter of life and death, because most battles weren’t settled by technology, they were determined by whoever showed up with the most troops.

    4) If the best way for your people to survive was “get a whole bunch of soldiers to show up at such and such a place on this day,” then feudalism works really well — better than anything else that had been tried previously. That’s why it lasted so long.

    5) Kings and nobles could also be a culturally unifying force, just like religion or literature. If you’re a peasant and your own life sucks, you can at least live vicariously by the adventures of your local noble, just like nowadays people live vicariously through celebrities and athletes.

    6) It’s in everyone’s interest to have a clear and easily understood method for ensuring an order of succession. Otherwise, you get a civil war every time a king dies, which leads to the remnants being snapped up by aggressive neighbors. Hereditary succession fits the bill.

    7) When an institution or meme fills an evolutionary need, it develops various submemes like “divine right” and “royal blood” to protect itself. I think that most of the bad rap that monarchs and nobles got was simply due to those submemes. By the eighteenth century in Europe, most of the military advantages that the nobility had provided were no longer in effect. Gunpowder made expensive armor useless; inventions like Prussian drilling made standing armies better than militia; better communication eliminated the need for a feudal draft of peasants. But because of all the submemes supporting the aristocracy, it hung on for several centuries after it had ceased to provide its original benefit to the culture. And that’s why we ended up with peasants like Denis who don’t see the use of any silly king.