“tribal communities are the default system of human social nature. Humanity evolved that way for millennia after exiting the hunter-gatherer band stage of social life. Many of the planet’s diverse societies have since moved on toward becoming modern states, but not all of them have. And even for those that have, the shadowy emotional residues of the distant past remain; we never lose anything in evolution, but instead add new developments to older ones. That is Fox’s central idea and the theme running through The Tribal Imagination.

It is also a truth, Fox believes, that we ignore at our peril as we go stumbling about in far-away strange places where tribes rule with an authority denied the more-or-less absent state. The pride and latent violence of groups of mutually suspicious kindred must be the starting point, Fox says, for anyone venturing into this political landscape. Such men and women are not the free individual citizens of a recognized territorial jurisdiction; nor are they people with clearly defined and defensible legal rights with respect to the state, whether in Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan.

This truth, he says, sheds a harsh light on instances when “our leaders make claims about human nature and the natural state of human society as justifications for political action, armed intervention included.” These leaders, more often than not, suggests Fox, simply refuse to understand the essentially tribal nature of the lands they hope to remake. They are reluctant to grasp that

there is no ‘Iraqi People’. The phrase should be banned as misleading and purely rhetorical. . . . What is not understood is that Iraq, like the other countries of the region, still stands at a level of social evolution where the family, clan, tribe and sect command major allegiance. The idea of the individual autonomous voter, necessary and commonplace in our own systems, is relatively foreign.

Numerous unforeseen events during the Iraq occupation have illustrated the priority of tribal authority. When men came out and stole copper wire connecting hospitals to the electricity grid, indignant U.S. soldiers tried to make the thieves see that their actions would hurt “the Iraqi people.” True to form, the thieves responded just as Aouda had a hundred years before: Who were these “Iraqi people”, they wanted to know, whose claims outranked those of their own needy relatives? The thieving clansmen felt no responsibility for some mythical collectivity called “the people” that, as far as they knew, did not include them and that, in any case, foreigners had invented without their approval. In contrast, they were absolutely bound by customary law to help their kin” http://www.the-american-interest.com/article-bd.cfm?piece=990