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Ritual, Politics, and Power

Ritual, Politics, and Power

David I. Kertzer
Copyright Date: 1988
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    Ritual, Politics, and Power
    Book Description:

    In the most comprehensive study of political ritual yet written, David I. Kertzer explains why ritual has been and will continue to be an essential part of political life. Weaving together examples from around the world and throughout history, Kertzer shows that the success of all political groups, whether conservative or revolutionary, is linked to their effective use of ritual."The author delights the reader with numerous excursions into the political rites of the Aztecs, the contemporary Soviet Union, the French Revolution, colonial Africa, the Italian Communist Party, and a host of others, all richly and amusingly analyzed. . . . This is. . . political anthropology as it should be, directed at an interdisciplinary audience, and demonstrating to non-anthropologists the vital relevance of ethnographic comparison for political theory."-Robert W. Hefner,American Anthropologist"A major work in comparative political culture, this book should be mandatory reading for all undergraduate and graduate students of politics."-Choice"An important and compelling book, one that illuminates the role of ritual in human life, as well as the nature of politics. Written in a lucid and graceful style, it should appeal to the general reader as well as to anthropologists and political scientists."-Charles E. Silberman, author ofA Certain PeopleandCriminal Violence, Criminal Justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15970-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Power of Rites
    (pp. 1-14)

    On September 15, 1810, the Creole priest Miguel Hidalgo summoned his parishioners to the village church and called on them to rise up against the oppressive government of the Spanish colony of Mexico, thus catalyzing a bloody revolt. Over a century and a half later, on each September 15 at exactly 11:00 p.m.—the hour when Hidalgo issued his call to rebellion—the president of Mexico steps onto the balcony of the National palace in Mexico City, bearing the nationʹs tricolored flag. Above a central plaza packed with celebrating citizens, he bellows the ceremonial shout: ʺViva La Independencia! Viva Hidalgo!...

  5. 2 Flaming Crosses and Body Snatchers
    (pp. 15-34)

    With a half moon lighting their path, two thousand Georgians puffed their way to the treeless plateau on top of Stone Mountain. They had come in hopes of witnessing a dramatic ceremony, and they would not be disappointed. Up the side of the mountain came the Grand Dragon, in his rich green robe, leading seven hundred white-hooded figures, their sheets reaching the ground. Beyond them marched hundreds of other men, their uncovered heads and dark suits in stark contrast to the white masks and white robes that preceded them. The initiates marched in lock step, single file, each manʹs arms...

  6. 3 Legitimacy and Mystification
    (pp. 35-56)

    Among the Bunyoro, an agricultural people of Uganda, the Mukama reigned supreme, head of the kingdom and ultimate source of all authority. Upon the Mukamaʹs death, succession norms dictated that one of his sons should take over the kingdom. There was, however, no rule determining in advance just which son this should be. Since the Mukama had many wives and thus many sons, the death of the king led to a period of strife. Brothers lined up allies and fought one another, and the successful prince was likely to win the kingship literally over his brothersʹ dead bodies. To make...

  7. 4 The Virtues of Ambiguity
    (pp. 57-76)

    The president lay dead, assassinated in his limousine as the procession was making its way through the streets of Dallas. When the first chaotic reports swept through the nation, people were stunned, yet driven to action. Even across the sea, when news of the murder arrived, swarms of people took subways or buses, taxis or cars, to American embassies to pay their respects. More than a thousand gathered at the embassy in London just minutes after the news reached them that Friday night, November 22, 1963. In West Berlin, Mayor Willy Brandt called on his fellow citizens to place lighted...

  8. 5 The Ritual Construction of Political Reality
    (pp. 77-101)

    It was a day Ronald Reagan had been dreading, even though it was a rite he felt bound to endure. Walking beside Chancellor Kohl amidst the German military graves of the Bitburg cemetery, he looked stiff and uncomfortable, in awkward contrast to his usual ease. While Kohl brushed aside tears, Reagan looked straight ahead, careful not to glance down at the graves lest he spy the SS symbols sprinkled across the cemetery lawn. In spite of the West Germanʹs desire to clasp hands over the graves of the war dead, the Presidentʹs arms remained resolutely at his side. Earlier in...

  9. 6 Rite Makes Might: Struggling for Power through Ritual
    (pp. 102-124)

    On April 15, 1967, they took over the streets of Manhattan, the largest peace demonstration in decades. A hundred thousand (some said over a quarter million) strong, the festive crowd massed at Central Park, having poured into the city by the busload from cities, suburbs, and campuses near and far. At the front of the march strode Martin Luther King, Benjamin Spock, Harry Belafonte, and a variety of other civil rights and religious leaders, arms linked. For four hours marchers would spew out of the park in a continuous mass, making their way past cheering and jeering bystanders to United...

  10. 7 Conflict and Crisis
    (pp. 125-150)

    Notorious among anthropologists as one of the worldʹs most bellicose societies, the Yanomamo Indians of Venezuela and Brazil struggle to survive in a world of continual conflict. Raids between villages are frequent. Festering wounds from battle are a common cause of death among men, and women live in fear of being abducted. In order to protect themselves, the Yanomamo are ever in search of intervillage alliances.

    In order to cultivate an alliance, a yanomamo village holds a feast, inviting the members of one or two selected villages to it. A village that accepts such an invitation is obliged to reciprocate...

  11. 8 Rituals of Revolution
    (pp. 151-173)

    With soaring spirits, the people of Paris descended on the city center for the consecration of the new order, the new French federation. Gathering at the Bastille on the first anniversary of its fall, 14 July 1790, fourteen thousand representatives of the National Guard and the armed forces formed groups beneath the eighty-three flags that proclaimed the departments from which they hailed. As the delirious crowds lining the streets shouted and sang, the men marched. It was a gray and rainy day, but few felt the cold.

    The highlight was yet to come, for, as the marchers entered the natural...

  12. 9 The Rites of Power
    (pp. 174-184)

    After examining political rites in what may seem like a tremendous variety of people, places, and historical periods, I think it is time to ask what lessons these cases offer about the nature of political life. In trying to bury the naive notion that politics is simply the outcome of different interest groups competing for material resources, I want to avoid the opposite fallacy, that of portraying people as zombies imprisoned in a symbolically created universe they are powerless to change.

    The fact that symbols and rites are crucial to politics does not mean that people simply view the world...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 185-204)
  14. References
    (pp. 205-222)
  15. Index
    (pp. 223-235)