Mark S. Weiner

Interview on WNYC

In Conversations, Rule of the Clan on March 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I was interviewed today on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. To listen to the interview, click here—or use the audio player directly below. Happily, while I was in the studio, I also had the chance to meet performance artist Marina Abramović, and on my way down the elevator, I saw John Sexton, president of NYU, waiting in the lobby. After the interview, my wife and I had a celebratory lunch at Chipotle, and then we took in the wonderful first installment of the Audubon show at the New York Historical Society.

Thanks to everyone at WNYC for an enjoyable conversation!


  1. Super-fascinating interview; and familiar, of course, from your wonderful course on the history of the common law. But, I still have trouble wrapping my head around the clan-shaped hole that you say exists at the heart of liberal democracies. Somehow you connect this with the great (greater) human-ness of clanism, but how, exactly, I don’t follow. I mean it seems paradoxical: individual rights wither in the clan, yet liberal democracy doesn’t satisfy our need for the clan and its individual rights withering human-ness? I’ll have to read the book–but slowly!


  2. Thanks for the kind words, Matt–and for the memories of our class, which indeed was an incubator of the book. You put your finger right on a paradox I explore: that citizens of liberal democracies need to defend a healthy and effective state as a precondition of individual freedom within liberal modernity, yet at the same time we need to be aware that clan societies are more effective than liberal democracies at providing the solidarity a society ultimately needs to survive. We have to attend to that need, appreciating the values of the rule of the clan. Yet the clan in a healthy liberal democratic state transforms, permanently, from a hard, legal institution to a “soft” cultural one, a part of the fabric of civil society. That’s an issue I take up both in chapter two, in the discussion centered around Molly Macpherson’s bar in Savannah and the transformation of the Macpherson clan crest (“Touch not the cat but a glove”) and in section five, where I discuss Michener’s novel about Afghanistan, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and Walter Scott’s _Waverly_. I’ll look forward to hearing your reaction!


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