Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kaplan on National Character

"As I had found in Romania and elsewhere on my journey, the issue of national character again became unavoidable. To the average person, the idea that different national groups - Swedes and Iraqis, say - exhibit different characteristics is self-evident. Yet some intellectuals have trouble with such commonplaces, and for good reason: The acceptance of national ingrained characteristics can lead to stereotyping and the subsequent dehumanization of individuals. Moreover, the acceptance of national characteristics tempts pessimism, since if group traits are ingrained, then the optimistic notion that parliamentary democracy and free-market capitalism can transform societies is weakened. However, a viewpoint is not necessarily inaccurate because it happens to be morally risky and pessimistic, especially if it helps explain phenomena that are otherwise unexplainable." (Italics mine)

1 comment:

james said...

He seems to grasp at straws at the end of the book:

"The fact that national characteristics were undeniable did not mean that they would always be so. The fact that the Near East was a battleground of power politics did not mean that power politics could not make a positive difference. It was the impermanence of bad governments that gave me hope."