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February 21, 2004 by AK

Kilts and all that (might get me killed)

Most small nations and ethic groups achieve the most within greater, imperial cultures, although at a high price. There have been plenty of great Scots and even a greater plenitude of outstanding people with Scottish names and/or blood, but Scotland was really nothing much before it came close to union with England: a poorer country, a less developed economy, and a backward society. Compared with the enormously complex and dynamic England, Scotland’s highlands, a land of clans and austere simplicity, belonged to a long-gone era.

Mountainous peoples all over Europe and the Caucasus share, or used to share until quite recently, a distinguishing set of traits, from Scotland to Corsica to Montenegro to Chechnya: strong clan ties (English even borrowed a Scottish word for the concept); “blood revenge” (vendetta, of Corsican or Sicilian origin); a strict, compulsory honor code; a cult of personal courage and warfare; contempt for trade… The status of women varies, but in none of those places was it particularly high. Those cultures are cute objects for romantic adoration (all the lovely Circassian maids, Alan Brecks, Mateo Falcones and Bonapartes), but let’s face it, the high-altitude cultures Romantics so praised were developmentally retarded in comparison to their lowland neighbors.

Christianity has mollified ancient cultural excesses, but at certain times — interesting times no doubt — highlanders become vulnerable to fundamentalist teachings. An odd, militant strain of Sufism impassioned Chechen resistance in the 19th century, when imam Shamil managed to repel the Russian army for decades; nowadays, it’s sheer Wahhabism. Four centuries before Shamil, Scotland converted to Protestantism — that is, to Calvinism of strict varieties, amazingly fast. Even Knox’s zeal wouldn’t work if the soil had not been ready.

Like all broad generalizations, this one is, well, wrong. The question is whether it helps understand something.


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