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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 of A Certain People and Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780300043624
ISBN-10: 0300043627
Format: Paperback
(234mm x 156mm x 14mm)
Pages: 250
Imprint: Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publish Date: 20-Sep-1989
Country of Publication: United States


US Kirkus Review » A scholarly politico-cultural study of the function of symbols and rituals in maintaining political legitimacy, by Kertzer (Anthropology/Bowdoin), author of Comrades and Christians: Religion and Political Struggle in Communist Italy (1980). Daily newspapers provide hundreds of examples of ritual in politics; the recent ceremonious meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev are one instance. Kertzer explores the power of this kind of political ceremony - not just in our own country but around the globe, from May Day parades in Moscow to cannibal rites of the Aztecs to Reagan's Bitburg visit. All of these examples, and ritual in general, Kertzer argues, are used by reigning governments to legitimize the state, foster solidarity, build political organizations, and placate an aroused citizenry. But rituals aren't used only by sitting governments; the author examines how they are also vital to aspirants and revolutionaries. This may strike readers as a bit obvious, but the fact is that most works of historical anthropology assume ritual is politically significant only in primitive societies. Kertzer's point is humorously brought home by a Monhegan Indian chief who, questioned about the origins of his headdress, readily admits that it was ordered through a Sears catalogue but says, in effect, that "the public had come to expect such attire from Indian chiefs." Kertzer's work is chock-full of examples - ranging from Ferdinand Marcos' posturing in the face of Aquino's ascendancy to Khruschev's de-Stalinization program, an example of a "rite of degradation. . .delegitimizing the authority associated with the symbolism of leaders of the past." A valuable work for scholars - of limited interest to others. (Kirkus Reviews)

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