poly: Civil empire

From: Damien R. Sullivan <phoenix@ugcs.caltech.edu>
Date: Tue Apr 21 1998 - 14:26:39 PDT

This message was mostly written for another list, but is brought here by James
Rogers' talk of 'cultural dysfunction' and Carl's reply.

I suggested some time ago that much of Africa and the Middle East
suggest that colonialism ended too early, and that one virtue of an
occupation could be a unification of the natives against the empire.
(I.e. they're hating you, not each other.) Tien replied that the unification
would be temporary and the experience traumatic for the society.

One version in my mind has been destroying the organized military of a
country, removing most government above the municipal level, declaring
yourself in charge, and then doing nothing besides preventing any mass killing
of each other. Maintaining the currency, building some infrastructure,
leaning on the municipal governments to allow free speech, emigration, free
trade or birth control stores, and bringing in things like the Grameen bank
would all be nice if possible while maintaining a low profile, but not
necessary. People could still get all outraged, but it's hard to see how they
could be traumatized by the occupation if they never actually see occupying
police or soldiers. Of course, they might manage to traumatize themselves.
Still, it's hard to see how this could be worse than what happens in some
places now, and there's a possibility of civilization by osmosis.

It was also said that it's unlikely the occupying power would be nice. But we
know that general 19th century colonialism was ugly, and can learn from that;
the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after WWII shows that an occupier can be
civil and intelligent, at least for a while; the Indians wanted the British
out, but they have remained somewhat democratic and somewhat liberal (and
somewhat socialist) since independence, for all the troubles there, so
something good happened. I think that the British were trying to uplift in
India, whereas a lot of the African colonies were just exploitative. That
is, the ugly results are partly from ugly intentions.

All of which is to say that I'm not sure it's implausible that an occupation
could happen and proceed with the intention of imposing a liberal order, and
hoping it set after long enough. And self-interest can be involved: stable
trading partners and tourist regions are better for the occupier than
cauldrons of warfare.

As for the standard objections to invading other countries, I think there's a
chance they're partly misguided. Hayek distinguished between the classical
liberalism of Britain, concerned with the just behavior of individuals (or the
lack of unjust behavior), and with self-determination for individuals, limited
by other people's equal liberty, and the Continental "liberalism" which valued
free speech and anti-clericalism, but was otherwise tied to the
self-determination of groups, with the right of a group to choose its
government, with democracy. The two movements were natural allies in fighting
aristocracies, but once general democracies were established they tended to
drift into nationalism, socialism, and other illiberal behavior.

The current respect for national borders and sovereignty probably owes most to
the self-interest of all existing governments, but it's also tied to an
emphasis on democracy and group self-determination. Valuing liberalism more
leads to the possibility of intervention and civil empire.

And the idea that the Austro-Hungarian empire should have been reformed after
WWI, not dissolved.

-xx- GSV Polypedant X-)

"The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves,
only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that
there may be something to them which we are missing."
                -- Gamel Nasser
Received on Tue Apr 21 21:44:32 1998

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