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Unequal Friendship

The Patron-Client Relationship in Historical Perspective


Antoni Mączak

This book analyzes the patron-client relationship over both space and time. It covers such areas of the globe as Europe, Africa and Latin America, and such periods in time as ancient Rome, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Poland, as well as twentieth-century America. It also analyzes clientelism in U.S. policy toward the Vietnam War and in Richard J. Daley’s mayoral rule over Chicago. In his comparative approach the author makes broad use of theories from such fields as history, sociology, anthropology and linguistics while considering the global scale of the patron-client relationship and the immense role that clientelism has played in world history.

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Chapter 4: Antiquity: The Forgotten Clientele


Forgotten? Not exactly. The classic philologist, the expert in Latin literature, and more than one historian of more modern times, have never lost sight of the clientele in ancient Rome.219 But in the social sciences, the ancient lineage of this phenomenon and its terminology have become highly blurred. We are not always aware of the barriers that even dynamic developments in academia have not been able to tear down. Generally, only Lily Ross Taylor’s book and her article published in Friends, Followers, and Factions220 consistently show up in the extensive bibliographies found in works written by non-historians on patron-client relationships. But similar collections, usually intended for student reading lists, may actually limit the horizon of knowledge for some scholars.221 For anthropologists, especially those conducting field research in Latin America, the term “patron” is usually not associated with the ancient patronus, but rather with the Latin American patrón.222←87 | 88→

Today such a gap in social memory and inadequacies in humanistic education are glaring, which have led one eminent American-born British historian of the ancient world, Moses Finley, to write:

I make scarcely any reference to the recent outpouring of sociological and anthropological literature on patronage because I have found little of it helpful. The field of study is restricted to an odd combination of small societies in the colonial (or ex-colonial) world, backward agrarian regions in the Mediterranean basin, and machine politics in big American cities. The vast expanse of historical societies is...

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