Political Dynasties Forbidden by Law?
November 18, 2012 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Political Dynasties Forbidden! Has there ever been a country (culture/society/whatever) that has forbidden the children of those in high office from serving in high office themselves?

I saw a mention of Oliver Cromwell in passing in a book I was reading and it got me started on this train of thought, probably helped along by the repeated factoid this election season that the GOP hasn't successfully elected a president without a Nixon or a Bush on the ticket since Hoover. It's always bothered me that Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy and then had his son succeed him as Lord Protector. Power was also inherited in Athenian democracy.

So this got me to thinking about the Kennedys, Bushes, Tafts, etc., and the various American political dynasties. On the one hand, the children of these families grow up breathing politics and well-connected and so are often effective in political roles. On the other hand, it stinks of aristocracy at the expense of democracy. But probably there would be huge unforeseen consequences to forbidden children of politicians from seeking political office themselves. Then I wondered if someone had tried it.

So that's the question: Has a society (it can be a smaller or less-organized subidivision than a country, if you like) ever excluded the children of certain elites from seeking high office? What resulted?

The one that comes to mind for me is that, for example, the Prime Minister in the U.K. has to be a commoner these days, but the children of the peerage aren't forbidden from seeking ALL high offices, just a few. But I suppose things like that could count.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Law & Government (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hm, well John Quincy Adams became president pretty much as soon as the post-Revolutionary generation came of an age to be president. Which implies that the US has never had a problem with it.

Don't know if that is an answer at all, but it seems interesting since the Jeffersonian generation of the US is probably one of the key "OMG NO ARISTOCRACY EVER" moments in western history.

I wonder what the early French republican approach was? That's the only other historical group I can think of who was as radical about getting rid of any trace of "god-given" inheritable power.
posted by Sara C. at 1:14 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Possibly further back in time than you're looking for, but the use of eunuchs in high government/court positions in the Byzantine, Ottoman, and Chinese empires came more or less from this line of thinking.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mamluks: "Mamluks' sons did not enter the ranks of the mamluks, and tended to blend in with the wider society. The ranks of the Mamluks were always replenished by importing fresh slaves from abroad."
posted by languagehat at 1:22 PM on November 18, 2012

The Catholic Church banned nepotism in 1692 after dynasties like the borgias, etc.
posted by empath at 1:22 PM on November 18, 2012

I was going to post about the Indian subcontinent's Slave Dynasty, and discovered that it is also called the Mamluk Sultanate. This is different from the Mamluk Sultanate languagehat linked to above. Mamluk literally means "owned".
posted by bardophile at 1:37 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, Professor Akhil Amar argues that the U.S. Constitution's minimum age requirements for President and other officers actually were designed to discourage political dynasties:
The more likely scenario underlying the age clause involved favorite sons-- young men who sprang from famous fathers but had yet to show their own true colors. Instead of being evaluated based on their individual merits and vices, as revealed by a long track record of personal accomplishment and failure, such favorite sons would unfairly benefit from their high birth status and distinguished family name, thus retarding the growth of a truly republican society equally open to meritorious men of humble and middling origin. (America's Constitution: A Biography, p. 160)
Amar also notes:
John Quincy Adams did indeed become president-- but only in his mid-fifties after a distinguished political career in his own right. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard and later a Harvard professor; an accomplished diplomat fluent in several languages, with decades of experience in foreign affairs, including a successful eight-year stint as secretary of state under a president not closely associated with his father. (p. 161.)
posted by willbaude at 1:41 PM on November 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

The elite military Janissaries were originally non-heritidary, in part so that the corps would be loyal to the Sultan rather than to any tribe or family ties. It was only hundreds of years later that Janisaries started to enroll their children as Janissaries, and that ultimately led to their disbandment.
posted by deanc at 1:51 PM on November 18, 2012

I think there was a sequence of Roman emperors who intentionally avoided having their children succeed them, in order that they could choose a successor based on merit (or something) rather than blood. I may be thinking of the "Five Good Emperors"? Someone with more than a dim memory of freshman history should jump in here. :)
posted by hattifattener at 1:52 PM on November 18, 2012

(Ah, the Nerva-Antonine dynasty and their adoptive succession.)
posted by hattifattener at 1:55 PM on November 18, 2012

The one that comes to mind for me is that, for example, the Prime Minister in the U.K. has to be a commoner these days, but the children of the peerage aren't forbidden from seeking ALL high offices, just a few. But I suppose things like that could count.
No, the children of the peerage aren't forbidden from seeking any high office, including the Prime Ministership. The main problem that could arise is what happened with Alec Douglas-Home, which of course didn't stop him from becoming Prime Minister.

(Also, Oliver Cromwell may not have nominated his son to become Lord Protector.)
posted by Jehan at 3:46 PM on November 18, 2012

a sequence of Roman emperors who intentionally avoided having their children succeed them

No, none of them had biological sons who lived to adulthood/were the right age. It was pure chance that five straight emperors passed without one having a son as successor. None of them deliberately passed over their sons in order to nominate others. The first time it was convenient -- Marcus Aurelius' son Commodus -- the bio-son got the job. And, of course, it was a disaster.

I think Mamluks, Jannisaries, and eunuchs are kind of a different thing. In that situation, there is a hereditary supreme ruler who wants to prevent uprisings and rival claimants so that his dynasty can continue. Though I guess it would imply a non-heredity based peerage or aristocracy or whatever category you'd put a Mamluk or a Jannisary into.
posted by Sara C. at 4:51 PM on November 18, 2012

The Romans attempted it with the tetrarchy but after one succession, the sons that were passed over started a civil war, ending with Constantine as sole emperor.
posted by empath at 7:19 PM on November 18, 2012

Part of the post WWI agreement with Austria was that the Hapsburgs cannot seek political office.
posted by Neekee at 8:28 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks, guys. I'll read up on these. Seems like in most cases this was an aristocracy/ruling class with a centralized powerful ruler, so the goal was to make them loyal to the ruler rather than their families, or to prevent the dissolution of property by distributing it to children. Be interesting to see an example where the rulership AND the aristocracy/bureaucracy are banned from being hereditary.

Just this morning one of my news feeds had a story about rising GOP star George P. Bush and how it's him, not Jeb, who'll take over the dynasty and so I was thinking about this again!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:34 AM on November 26, 2012

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