We and the Third World
FEBRUARY 01, 1972 by ERIK KUEHNELT-LEDDIHN
Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn is a European scholar, linguist, world traveler, and lecturer. Of his many published works, perhaps the best known in America are Liberty or Equality? and The Timeless Christian.
As a world traveler more or less permanently on the move, I must confess to the odious crime of thorough disagreement with current conceptions in regard to the Western world’s relationship with, and duties toward, the so-called developing nations. My disagreement concerns not only the secular views on the subject but also those prevailing increasingly in the majority of the Christian Churches. Travels and intensive studies over a period of fifteen years have convinced me that our general Western notions in regard to this delicate subject must be thoroughly revised. Obviously, an exhaustive argument cannot be expected within a short article, nor elaborate statistics presented. All that can be done here is to tabulate various of the current — largely erroneous — views, followed by a few critical remarks.
"Colonialism Was a Crime, Its Record Entirely Negative"
Let us begin with the widespread assumption that "colonialism" was a crime and its record entirely negative. Many Americans especially, I would say, are "dedicated" to this notion, forgetting that the United States still has colonies (in the Pacific) and that without the British colonial effort the glorious American nation would not exist. A patriotic American "anticolonialist" can be likened to a man in his prime, proud of his record and achievements but fulminating against fatherhood—without which he would not exist — an attitude reminding one of the Oedipus Complex and worthy of medical attention.
Without British colonialism there would be no Nigeria, Ghana, or Australia, no India liberated from the Moslem yoke, and so forth. Without the Roman colonial drive neither the French nor the Spanish language would exist, nor English as we know it, and presumably not even our modern civilization. And let me add that without Bavarian colonizing my own country, Austria, would not exist either. A furious Brazilian anticolonialist would seem very funny to me. Several years ago, when I was asked in Irkutsk what I thought of that capital of Eastern Siberia, I replied that it testified to the vigor of Russian colonialism. Thereupon, I was earnestly exhorted not to say "kolonialism" but "osvoyeniye," which means "incorporation." Keeping a straight face, I wrote this word down in my notebook while, out of the corner of my eye, I watched the broad grins all around me.
"Colonialism" is a neologism not to be found in older dictionaries. It is not an "ism," but expresses a mere law of history and politics. No power vacuum can exist for any length of time; it invites penetration and occupation. In this respect, geography does not differ from physics.
Point two is the charge that Europe and the United States continue to take brutal advantage of the former colonies and other "developing countries" through investments there. However, "emerging nations" are in need of capital — foreign capital, if they have none of their own and refuse to practice the harsh policy of low wages and high investments. This harsh policy characterized our European economy and industry more than a hundred years ago —and laid the foundations for our present high living standards.
Until the end of 1958, Franco desperately and foolishly struggled against foreign investments in his then truly "underdeveloped" country whose living standards were well below those of Chile. Fortunately, he was finally prevailed upon to give up this sterile attitude; as a result, not only foreign capital and local investors, but the Spanish masses, too, began to prosper. On the other hand, many "capitalists" until recently still invested considerable sums in politically unstable overseas nations and lost them through revolutions, riots, guerilla warfare and confiscations, or simply because of the unavailability of efficient manpower. And as for foreign aid, the French — to cite only one example — still pay more per capita than the Americans do, and they pay more to their colonies than they did in the colonial period. If the Italians do not shell it out in similar fashion, the reason may be that living standards in parts of Nigeria are higher than they are in Italy’s deep south, in the Mezzogiorno.
"Decolonization a Boon"
Thirdly, there is the prevalent view that "decolonization" has been a real boon for the liberated masses, giving them a chance to develop their own cultural heritage. Yet, in most cases only a thin layer of westernized "natives" benefited from a premature decolonization — for which they have to thank the Cold War and the invisible Washington-Moscow Axis of "anticolonialists" outbidding each other under the motto: "I can be more anticolonialist than you are." But the rule of the new men, whether politicians, mob-masters, or dictators, has not been marked by greater efficiency, greater justice and magnanimity, more peace, or (least of all) less corruption.
Nobody would have dared to slip a hundred rupee note into the hand of a British judge in India; among the little people there one finds today the greatest admirers of colonial rule, which to many of them now appears as a Golden Age. (Did you ever talk to the montagnards in Vietnam? Or to simple Cambodian farmers? You will find the same attitude there.)
Let us also remember our own Germanic ancestors, real savages who destroyed the already Christianized Roman Empire. How long did it take them to gain standards comparable to those of the Roman culture they destroyed? Six hundred years? Eight hundred years?
Still, many are those who insist that the undeniable "backwardness" of the emerging nations is due to our past oppression and/or to our refusal to educate them. But what would have happened, let us say, had we thrown a cordon sanitare around tropical Africa and never set foot on that part of the Dark Continent? Do we not have the admission of Mr. Tubman of Liberia and of Emperor Haile Selassie that their countries, unfortunately, are lacking the hard but salutary experience of colonialism? Have the Portuguese been really so amiss in educating the Angolans? (What is the illiteracy rate in Portugal proper?) Or what of the Belgians in the Congo? Did not Lovanium University have an atomic reactor before the University of Vienna? How many Ph.D.s and M.D.s were there in the ancient Kingdom of the Congo before the white man arrived? And as for wicked westernization: is not the Third World desperately trying to continue this process? Is not Marxism more western than Confucianism, Taoism, or Buddhism, or modern technology and medicine more so than ancestor worship, magic, and sorcery?
"Old World Domination"
Fairy tales about the Third World abound in America as well as in Europe. Thus, we hear that, in Latin America especially, the hangovers from Old World domination are responsible for the big social differences and the continued internal exploitation. Now, whence does the poverty of the Latin American masses come? How great is the expectation of raising disciplined, skilled, laborious men in the sometimes nearly polyandric and matriarchal "families" with up to 80 per cent illegitimate births, characteristic of the Caribbean and other more southern areas?
In addition, one has to remember that only three areas in the entire world have "modern" work ethics or what the Spaniards call la gana de trabajar: Europe (with the center of gravity in the Northwest), North America, and East Asia (including perhaps Vietnam, but certainly excluding Laos and Cambodia). We must bear in mind that in the Middle Ages the year, according to regional customs, had between 90 and 130 holy days of obligation besides the 52 Sundays. Systematic and rationalized work became an ideal only with the Reformation. In a generally easygoing country, if a small minority (often of alien origin) works really hard, it will, for want of competition, become rich almost overnight. Hence the "social problem," hence the rapid rise of fervently envied minorities all over the globe — the Parsees in India, the Japanese in Brazil and Peru, the Spaniards (los zopilotes!) in Mexico, the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Lebanese in Africa, the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe, the Ibos in Nigeria, and so on. They will always serve as scapegoats for mankind’s most deep-seated vice: envy, murderous, furious envy. Naturally, these unpopular minorities rarely feel safe; demagoguery agitates against them, and they tend to seek security for their savings.
Related to the myth of the Old World’s culpability is another one: given the "deplorable sins of the past" in these areas, the only reasonable economic development can be one along socialist lines. "Let us help them to follow Marx!" True, individualism and a competitive spirit are essentially Western characteristics, but besides Spain we have the cases of Japan, Formosa, Singapore, the Ivory Coast, and Lebanon where free enterprise has, after all, proved to be the goose that lays the golden eggs. Russian living standards (we are not speaking of the GNP) are barely above the levels of 1914.
Then there are those who insist that we are "bound in justice" to help the emerging nations economically, financially, materially. Well, in more than 150 years we managed with blood, sweat, and tears and with endless patience to build up an industrial civilization which only in the last two or three decades has yielded a "life of plenty" for any sizable numbers among us. Due to the big capital investments required in the beginning, only few branches of production in a young industrial economy can afford to pay "liberal" ("living") wages. In some cases it takes generations. Our wealth, too, did not come swiftly or smoothly. Out of voluntary charity we ought to help the others to catch up with us materially, but they have no demands on us "in justice."
In this connection the "idealists" among us might reply that our wealth does not stem from our efforts, but from the past and present exploitation of "colored" peoples and their raw materials. The alleged immense benefits from our colonial period, however, are yet another myth. Decolonization, in spite of large-scale confiscations, ushered in our European prosperity. (The most prosperous
European nations, such as Switzerland or Sweden, never had colonies.) Even the Belgian Congo was profitable only between 1940 and 1957; of the German colonies only little Togo paid off. Adam Smith, in the face of American Independence, declared that business with colonies is no more profitable than with foreign countries. Actually, trade with the former Thirteen Colonies rose from 15 to 61 million dollars in the period 1775-1806. In 1852 Disraeli, referring to Britain’s foreign possessions, spoke about "those miserable colonies" and Cobden asked ironically: "Who is the enemy who will do us the pleasure to steal our possessions?" Colonies appealed to patriots, missionaries, naval officers, and adventurous entrepreneurs (and speculators) who rarely saw their dreams come true. The necessary initial investment — roads, railroads, hospitals, military establishments, canals, drainages, pest control, schools, training centers, ports, telegraph lines, sanitation —was so enormous that decolonization frequently came before real profits began to make themselves felt.
Nevertheless, the steady lament about our European (and even American) mistreatment of the formerly colonized nations continues. Europeans, especially if they broke with the Christian faith and fell for neo-pagan ideologies, have always been far more cruel toward each other (remember Auschwitz, Dresden, Katyn) than toward any "natives"; and as for the "natives" among themselves, we need only open a newspaper almost any day to hear what they do to each other. (Imagine the reactions if the Bangla Desh movement had been suppressed in the way it was by a British general! And the same applies to the extermination of the Ibos, to mention only two especially stark cases.) Brutal treatment? Probably two-thirds of the populations of the "emerging nations" would not exist were it not for Western medicine. Sleeping sickness, bubonic plague, yellow fever, bilharzia, filhosis, cholera, dysentery, and leprosy would still decimate entire regions. Horrors like Zenanyana, Dahomey’s "Evil Night," the antics of the Kings of Benin, Suttee (burning of widows) in India, "eating long pig" (cannibalism) in Polynesia, not to mention the bestial slaughters on Mexico’s Teocalli, would still go on were it not for "colonialism."
However, we are constantly exhorted: "The world cannot be permitted to go on being one quarter rich and three quarters poor." To this we have to reply that the difference in living standards between Europe-America-Japan and the rest of the world will continue to exist as long as the human element — skill, management, economy, intelligence, determination to work hard — differs so significantly. (In the Congo the Belgians imported highly paid bricklayers from the homeland because each one did more than three times the work of a native.) Of course, this might change in time. Today German manufacturers prefer Spaniards and Balkanites to "native" workers.
A Framework of Technology
The dream of European-American-Japanese living standards on the basis of "Protestant work ethics" can only be fulfilled within the framework of a high order of technology. Scientifically speaking, there is no answer to the question whether we are normal and the others lazy, or the others normal and we neurotic. (Climate has hardly anything to do with the issue which depends upon a voluntary choice between leisure and spending and poverty, or hard work and saving and wealth.) Three years ago Dr. J. S. Kamwar of the Indian Council for Agrarian Research stated that if only two of the larger Indian states were to till the soil intensively and with modern methods, all of India could be fed properly; and if all the farmers in all 14 states were to toil scientifically and diligently, two-thirds of the produce could be exported.
To all this I would like to add four supplementary remarks:
1) The democratic republic, sometimes a failure even in highly civilized nations (vide the case of Germany), becomes swiftly bankrupt outside of "Euramerica." When monarchy is ruled out as obsolete — and the Third World always craves for what it considers the most "modern" institutions — the father image is soon replaced by that of Big Brother. Yet, tyrannies tend toward a bureaucratic and centralized collectivism ("socialism") and thus the economy is "politicized." Confiscations ("nationalizations") always contribute to the reluctance of foreign investors. In fact, the industrial entrepreneur or landowner who, under such circumstances, does not salt away at least some of his profits to foreign banks, must be a super-patriot, a saint, or a soft-brained simpleton.
2) Almost everywhere in the Third World there is the failure to recognize that Western culture and civilization represent a package deal. One cannot arbitrarily pick some items and leave the rest. He who wants to own, keep and repair a car has to accept — consciously or unconsciously — Aristotelian and Cartesian notions. Neither modern wars nor modern agriculture are possible without an industrial background. No industry can be based on animistic, Buddist, or Vedantic foundations. The engineer has been born in the shadow of the Cross. Scientific thinking is "exclusive," not syncretistic or relativistic. Whether Western civilization is superior or inferior to others is beside the point. The fact remains that all nations on this globe want to be westernized. But with an unerring instinct they usually choose the worst the West has to offer, for example the obsolete nineteenth-century ideas embraced by Marxism.
3) "Social engineering" will not alleviate poverty. This is even more true if (as it happens in the Third World) the social pyramid has a very broad basis, shrinks rapidly toward the middle and ends in a long, thin needle. The needle may be conspicuous, but its cubic content is very small. "Redistribution" will not cure the misery of the masses, only the baking of a bigger cake will have this effect, which presupposes wise leadership and motivation among the many.
4) Humanity, according to the scientists, is at least half a million years old. If we equate this period to 12 hours we can say that what we today arbitrarily call "decent human living standards" have been the privilege of a very few only during the last five minutes before twelve — and available for more or less entire nations only within the past thirty seconds. Up to then there was only hunger, cold, vermin, fear, disease, despair, brutishness, and boredom. The average life-span for those who survived infancy in the neolithic age was 28 years for men and 22 for women. Even Louis XIV could never get rid of his lice, and in the summer Versailles emitted an unbearable stench. The living standards of His Excellency, Herr Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, would be rejected by any German skilled worker today. Historically and geographically speaking, "a decent life" (or family wages) has always been something of a "unique situation" in this world.
Christian Aspects of the Problem
As for specific Christian aspects of this whole problem, let us add a few more points:
The masochism, the cringing self-accusation of good Christians in regard to the Third World is not so surprising if we bear in mind that Christianity always feared a Pharisaical, holier-than-thou attitude. To beat one’s breast over one’s shortcomings is very Christian, but this should never be an automatic, thoughtless gesture. A feeling of guilt must be based on real guilt, otherwise it becomes a purely medical problem — and ceases to be of any spiritual value.
Racism exists undeniably and it has been traditionally much stronger in countries belonging to the Reformed Churches than in the Catholic orbit. (Toynbee has some pertinent passages on that subject.) In the World Council of Churches (with its seat in Geneva) Christian masochism has led to a policy which reminds one of all those benighted spirits who started out as blinded do-gooders and ended up as criminals if not murderous terrorists. To finance the Chinese-trained and Chinese-led terrorists in Southern Africa, who have committed abysmal atrocities (mostly toward other Africans) is the height of confusion. "We have been racists, now we must do something against racism and not only preach against it," are the words of Dr. Eugene Carson Blake. An "Anglo-Saxon" telling the Portuguese not to practice racism — this is the zenith of impudence!
The Catholic world, on the other hand, has always been lacking in first-rate economists and financial experts. For this there are good reasons; one need only read St. Thomas on commerce in De Regimine Principum. I can think of only two living contemporaries who are Catholics and economists of world renown. To talk about global, especially "Third World" problems without clear economic and financial concepts is just as futile, silly, and criminal as to talk about economics without ethical considerations. It is difficult to say whether today Catholic or communist political-economic-social thinking is more divorced from the deeper realities of life and from truly global perspectives.
Another thing we can observe is the evil inherent in the transfer of monastic ideals to secular life, a tendency which is at the bottom of Catholic leftism, insofar as it is not inspired by purely worldly notions. (The fact that there are today Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Lutheran monasteries and convents indicates that one should not underrate the all-round fascination of monasticism.) It is interesting that in many Catholic quarters the envious hatred for the rich — for the Jewish banker, the Calvinist manufacturer, the Anglican landowner, depending on the country in question — is connected with an ecstatic love and admiration for the poor whom, paradoxically, one wants to render wealthy (and thus less likely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?), preferably by expropriating the rich rather than by teaching the natural virtues: a Third World problem of the first order.
There exists, moreover, not only a Western but also an ecclesiastic masochism which fosters Social Romanticism and Third World reveries, according to which the Church has always sided with the rich and is also in possession of "great riches." Actually, most priests, monks, and nuns come from the poorer classes and are today often the victims of leftist political trends fostering (after so many excesses in the opposite direction) a startling disloyalty toward the Catholic past. The self-accusing lament that the Catholic Church has, through its missionaries, westernized other nations and races and thus weakened, if not destroyed, local cultures in the Third World can frequently be heard. Of course, in the Christian faith the European past is as ineradicable as the Hebrew, Greek, and Roman background, whether we take the religion of a Catholic Irishman, a Methodist American, a Christian Japanese or Angolan — an undeniable phenomenon.
The bleeding-heart approach to the Third World — caused by real sympathy — is perfectly in order, but Catholics especially should bear in mind that among the nations invited to dig deep into their pockets there are only two predominantly Catholic ones: France and Belgium. Catholic sentimentalists are actually asking countries belonging to the Reformed Church to shell it out, countries that worked hard while the Catholic nations (to whom I myself belong) enjoyed a dolce vita of leisure, reverie, and artistic pleasures (even if in relative poverty.) How loudly can Catholics ask their separated brethren to be the main providers?
If, on the other hand, the entire Christian world decides to help the "emergers," we have to reflect most carefully on how this is best to be done. Obviously, not by distributing bank bills on street corners, nor by giving money to certain governments one would not like to touch with a barge pole. Under no condition would I like to see my tax money squandered on socialist experiments which have empirically shown such a poor record. Realistic aid is given by Misereor, Oxfam, and other charitable organizations. And there are also our courageous entrepreneurs who have gone out to teach skills and disciplines, to provide for jobs, salaries and tax moneys.
All in all, I think that we ought to make concerted efforts to reinvestigate all these issues, cease to be lachrymose cry-babies, calculate with paper and pencil, travel, read the necessary source books, learn languages, study the many facets of human nature. Only then will we put an end to making fools of ourselves and begin to help the developing nations — firmly, scientifically, without yielding to blackmail, impudence or guilt complexes, helping them in all charity, as we would help our children, to grow up and to achieve what we have achieved.
The Tyrant As Slave
He who is the real tyrant, whatever men may think, is the real slave, and is obliged to practice the greatest adulation and servility, and to be the flatterer of the vilest of mankind. He has desires which he is utterly unable to satisfy, and has more wants than any one, and is truly poor, if you know how to inspect the whole soul of him: all his life long he is beset with fear and is full of convulsions, and distractions, even as the State which he resembles: and surely the resemblance holds?
PLATO, The Republic