“No person connected with me by blood or marriage will be appointed to office."
Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th U.S. President*“Nepotism in many ways is like its furtive sibling, onanism: a practice that people are irresistibly compelled to indulge in, and one that gives them great satisfaction, but one in which no one can take public pride.”
John Homans****“Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back? Nephews--sons mine . . .”
Robert Browning, “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church, Rome”
*One wonders if on their deathbeds Pope Alexander VI, who “elevated not fewer than ten of his relatives to the College of Cardinals, and endowed others with a host of fiefdoms in the Papal States,” or Pope Sixtus IV, who “elevated six of his relatives to the Sacred College,”** were surrounded by those who gained from the largesse of their relative.
One wonders, also, if Adam Bellow was at the foot of the bed of his Nobel Prize winning father, Saul, when the latter shuffled off this mortal coil. As he himself admitted in New York magazine, “The son of a famous writer, I attended an exclusive private school along with the children of other distinguished people: writers and actors, musicians, politicians, art dealers, and editors of the New York Times.” He has also admitted to being a great lover of nepotism; in fact he wrote a whole book to praise it.
Of course, he found it necessary to try to separate the nepotism of Renaissance popes from that of democratic American life. Bellow doesn't see us as “returning to a society based on hereditary status, complete with a corporate aristocracy and a political House of Lords.” What he sees is something like “the family that works together, stays together.” He says, “Occupational traditions within families are very much a part of our national fabric,” going on to point out that children go into family businesses and some actors' children become actors and some home run hitters' offspring also swing major league bats.
As John Homans pointed out in his review of Bellow's book In Praise of Nepotism, the author uses a definition of nepotism so capacious that whatever sordid taint the word had is so diluted as to be barely detectable.” Surely, the issue with nepotism isn't talent following talent from generation to generation, or learned skill following learned skill from generation to generation, but of the privileged using their advantages to maintain their power from generation to generation.
It is interesting that Bellow cites Jim Hightower's attack on George Bush the elder: "He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." But he sloughs off this observation that holds true in so many cases to justify Bush junior's electoral success as somehow down to personality and achievement. Nevertheless, Bellow does attempt to defend nepotism (however he defines it)--an attempt which is perhaps an apologia pro sua vita, understandable as he himself seems to be too honest to sing in the shower, “I did it my way.”*
I once had a desk plaque that read: “All I Ask is an Honest Advantage.” I would clasp to my bosom the man who would defend any advantage I had and proclaim:“I will go to the barricades to protect your right to dine on caviar and champagne, while I gobble my bowl of gruel.”But somehow I doubt I shall ever meet that fellow. The defenders of privilege always seem to be those people who already have them and not those people whose cupboards are bare.
I will clasp to my bosom, though, Paul Bernal, who recognizes his privileged status and what that should entail:
“With great privilege should come great humility. Those of us who are privileged . . . should be able to find that humility. To know that we really don’t know what it’s like to live without our privilege. We can try to imagine – but we’ll never really succeed. And we should know that we’ll never really succeed – and be far, far more willing to listen properly to those who do know it. Most of all, though, we should know when not to talk as though we had all the answers. We should know when to shut up.”***