All Commentary
Saturday, September 1, 1962

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1962/9

Barbara Ward, of The Economist of London, is a personable young lady who commands a pleasant prose style. But whenever she tackles an economic subject, she persists in putting the cart before the horse.

Her latest book, The Rich Na­tions and the Poor Nations (Nor­ton, $3.75), is eloquent and, up to a point, quite persuasive. Though she tinctures her writing with the spirit of Shakespeare’s Portia (“the quality of mercy is not strained”), her primary appeal is to the self-interest of the “rich nations” which cluster around the North Atlantic Ocean. Her argu­ment is that the wealthier coun­tries must do something for the “proletarian” nations of the Ori­ent and the African and Ameri­can tropics if only to keep the communists from exploiting the envious anger of those who look upon themselves as the down-trod­den.

In asking the “West” to put up “one per cent of national income” as a fund for bringing the “poor nations” to the “take-off place” presumably leading to the crea­tion of at least a minimum of abun­dance, Miss Ward does, of course, talk a lot about the appeal to “mind and spirit” and “resources of faith and vision.” But she prefaces her succession of Portia-like speeches with the statement that “to me, one of the most vivid proofs that there is a moral gov­ernance in the universe is the fact that when men or governments work intelligently and far-sight­edly for the good of others, they achieve their own prosperity, too.”

Well, how can you be against Portia when, to the “quality of mercy,” the lady also adds the ap­peal of the profit motive? All this and 6 per cent, too! The answer, in the particular instance of Bar­bara Ward, is that she doesn’t really know what it takes to work “far-sightedly for the good of others.” She knows the words without really knowing the tune.

Miss Ward’s main trouble is that she leaves out of account the concept of the inalienable rights of the individual. On page 155 of her book, four pages from the end, she does finally get around to men­tioning “freedom.” But this comes as an afterthought, as applied to individuals in the “proletarian” nations.

One of Miss Ward’s earlier books was titled Five Ideas That Change the World. In The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations, still addicted to the numbers game, Miss Ward speaks of the “four revolutions” that are alter­ing our environment and the way we live. The “first revolution” is that of “equality”— “equality of men and equality of nations.” The “second revolution” concerns “the idea of progress,” an emphasis on the “here and now,” the “this ­worldiness” of wanting goods and opportunities. (Adlai Stevenson’s phrase for it is “the revolution of rising expectations.”) The “third revolution” is the “biological rev­olution,” sometimes called the pop­ulation explosion, a two-edged phenomenon that can create both markets and misery. And, finally, there is the “fourth revolution” deriving from the “application of science and saving— or capital—to all the economic processes of life.”

Miss Ward argues that the four revolutions, taken together, have produced “the mutation of a quite new kind of society: the wealthy or affluent society.” And she in­sists that the proletarian nations of Asia, Africa, and the American tropics will turn to communism to achieve the “mutation” if the West does not help them to get it.

A Question of Privilege

Before offering her own blue­print for aid, Miss Ward gives us a good deal of back history, both of the development of the commu­nist idea and of the Western re­treat from colonialism. Though much of this history is unexcep­tionable, her phraseology, for all of its graciousness, occasionally sets the teeth on edge. She uses the latter-day economic gabble about “take-off” and “infrastruc­ture,” which are the cliches of the new “sophistication.” And she talks of the North Atlantic cluster as the “privileged nations,” which must mean, if it means anything, that such things as the steam en­gine and the Bessemer process and the atomic pile and the dis­covery of antibiotics are to be classified as gifts from a rich uncle, not as the end-products of decades and even centuries of pa­tient experimentation and work.

The truth is that the West scrabbled for every inch of its suc­cess as Miss Ward herself recog­nizes on page 39 of her book when she remarks that “for over a thousand years, one of the great drives in the Western economy was to open trade with the wealth­ier East.” (The italics are ours—and in the margin of Miss Ward’s book we note our own scribbled no­tation, “the ‘privileged’ West, my foot! “) As Miss Ward says, “one of the problems facing [East-West] trade was the West’s in­ability to provide very much in return.” So it seems that it was the East that was “privileged”—and that the West had to work like the devil to make things that were worthy of barter before it could trade at all.

Discovery of the Individual

In its effort to transcend the conditions of life in the “cold and uncomfortable” regions around the North Atlantic, the West got nowhere until it discovered the primacy of the individual. This is what Miss Ward leaves totally out of account for 155 pages of her 159-page book. The revolution of the individual and the accompany­ing development of the philosophy of freedom created the aspiration to “equality” and gave rise to the idea of the possibility of progress. It also set men to tinkering and to scientific research. Assured by the new Lockean revolution that the rights to property would be re­spected by governments, men started to save. And, sparked by savings, capitalism flourished—and the “wealthy or affluent so­ciety” came into being.

What has happened in recent years is that the newly emergent nations see the end results of the revolution of the individual with­out grasping the importance of the unique dynamism that origi­nally set everything in motion. A Castro, a Mao Tse-tung, thinking that the results can be had with­out ascertaining the true cause, plunge blindly ahead, confiscating individual capital, telling scien­tists that they are wards of the super state, and treating personal “equality” as the right to an equal share in misery, not as title to equal respect for one’s inalienable rights before the law. And in­stead of breaking out of the circle of the “have-nots,” Cuba and China become far more miserable than they had ever been under “colonial” and “bourgeois” and “imperial” dispensations.

As for Communist Russia itself, it has had to liquidate three mil­lion kulaks, accept four years of lend-lease from the West, and con­fiscate the rocket technology of the Germans in order to create the basis for its contemporary mili­tary might. This military might looms large to Poles, Hungarians, Chinese— and to many in the still “uncommitted” and “neutral” countries. But to feed the men in the Russian munitions industry and in the armed forces, half the Russian population must remain chained to the hoe and the plow. Such a waste of manpower is hardly a happy augury for sus­tained offensive effort in any long war with nations that feed them­selves by giving a mere 8 or 10 per cent of their human energy to the raising of crops.

The Conditions for Progress Must Come First

In a backhanded way Miss Ward knows that behind the affluent so­ciety there is considerably more than the idea of “equality” and the development of science and the constructive augmentation of the birthrate to expand local markets. She speaks of the British gift to India as including “the develop­ment of modern commercial law, the notion of contract, a new sense of security for property, a new belief that if the merchant sets to work to develop, accumulate, and invest, his wealth should be se­cure.”

Exactly! But this, like the casu­al introduction of the idea of in­dividual freedom, comes as an af­terthought. Instead of preaching to the “proletarian” nations the need to develop a middle class that doesn’t have to kowtow to a state which owns the “commanding heights” of industry, Miss Ward acquiesces in all the old Fabian nonsense that economic “input” might just as well be left to the hands of a government bureauc­racy.

Strangely enough, the antidote to Miss Ward’s way of thinking is to be found in John Kenneth Gal­braith’s most recent book, Eco­nomic Development in Perspective (Harvard, $2.50). Before going out to India as President Kenne­dy’s Ambassador, Professor Gal­braith was known as a proponent of such things as price-fixing and the glorification of the “public sector” of the economy. But to the Indians Galbraith has urged the virtues of letting the corporation grow “under conditions of lib­erty.” The “corporate personal­ity,” says Galbraith, is “damaged by both well-intentioned and ill-intentioned intervention. There is little to choose between the two.” (The italics are ours, occasioned by our extreme surprise to find such a sentence in a Galbraith book.)

As for aid to “undeveloped” na­tions, Galbraith argues that it is useless to pump capital into re­gions that lack honest standards of government and literate popu­lations. India herself, as a result of administrative and entrepre­neurial talent inherited from the period of British “oppression,” may be ready to use capital. Even so, Galbraith warns the Indians that the danger of accepting capi­tal from abroad is that it “can be a substitute for earning from abroad.” Galbraith concludes this portion of his lecture by urging the Indians to emulate the early twentieth century Japanese in building an export industry for selling goods to “high-cost, high-living” nations.

All of this represents a “new Galbraith.” What we now need is a “new Barbara Ward.”

African Genesis, by Robert Ardrey. New York: Atheneum Publishers. 380 pp. $6.95.

Reviewed by Edmund A. Opitz.

This book is, first of all, an in­teresting yarn which, before the story is told, has undermined the major premises of collectivism and utopianism. The author, a drama­tist, has spent some years and traveled thousands of miles trying to unravel the mysteries of our creature hood in terms of the new field knowledge of animal behavior and especially in the light of re­cent African archeological finds of Raymond A. Dart and others.

Were Dart’s discoveries and re­searches to be accepted by his fel­low scientists, revisions of cur­rently cherished scientific theories would be in order. But scientists are human, after all, and once they have made up their minds, they dislike unsettling evidence. Dart’s evidence is unsettling, and not to anthropologists alone, but to political scientists and econo­mists as well— to all who are try­ing to figure out what it means to be a human being. Ardrey is a champion of Dart’s work and as­sembles the evidence so as to make out a cogent case— at least in a layman’s eyes.

Secondly, and by derivation, this book is an attack on The Ro­mantic Fallacy, written with evan­gelistic zeal. The Romantic Fal­lacy is the set of assumptions com­mon to virtually the whole spec­trum of social thought since the eighteenth century, from Classic Liberalism to Marxism. The as­sumption is that man is an inno­cent, benevolent, and rational ani­mal who has been corrupted by his institutions. All that needs do­ing, therefore, is external and so­cial. Change man’s environment and, as his circumstances improve, a nobler race will emerge, shed­ding the relics of the ages of bar­barism. Men will be as gods on Olympus; no more war, no more crime, no more poverty— onward and upward forever!  Ardrey de­stroys this thesis and, in so doing, restores Original Sin with a ven­geance. In his hands, however, the concept has no religious overtones.

This book surveys recent studies of bird and animal behavior in the wild, and finds— as might have been anticipated— that studies of these same creatures in zoo and laboratory convey misleading im­pressions. Deeply rooted patterns of behavior include a pecking or­der among birds and a leadership spectrum among animals. Birds and animals have a strongly de­veloped sense of territory, of ex­ercising domain over a given spot of the earth’s surface; and they have a rudimentary sense of own­ership as it pertains to things. They are pugnacious in defending their society and their own place therein.

Urging that man is linked to lower forms of life and has the same basic instincts deep within him, Ardrey argues that neither human beings nor their societies can depart far from the basic pat­tern of all life. The ineradicable pattern of human society will be a social structure characterized by hierarchy, nationalism, and prop­erty; the basic virtues will be martial. Cooperative and ethical behavior stem from “our innate necessity for society as a means of primitive survival,” but ethics and cooperation halt at the na­tional boundary; war is the natu­ral mode of expression when deal­ing with those beyond. “The pri­mate has instincts demanding the maintenance and defence of terri­tories; an attitude of perpetual hostility for the territorial neigh­bor…” Pushing the evidence pretty hard, Ardrey concludes that we are children of Cain, murder­ous by original nature and in­clined to bellicosity by latent in­stincts. Man is “a predator with an instinct to kill and a genetic cultural affinity for the weapon,” the weapon is mankind’s “most significant cultural endowment,” are typical reiterated statements.

It is combat that has made us, asserts Mr. Ardrey, and “no con­ditioning force can eradicate our genetic affinity for the weapon.” Not war, but the elimination of warfare would undo us, opening up “a nightmare of unpredict­ables.” We may mouth the phrases of peace, “yet war has been the most natural mode of human ex­pression since the beginning of human history, and the improve­ment of the weapon has been man’s principle preoccupation since Bed Two in the Olduvia Gorge. What happens to a species denied in the future its principal means of expression, and its only means, in the last appeal, of re­solving differences? What will happen to a species that has dedi­cated its chief energy to the im­provement and contest of the weapon, and that now arrives at the end of the road where further improvement and contest is im­possible?” As Mr. Ardrey sees the matter, without involvement in warfare, man will go to seed. One gets the impression that Mr. Ardrey feels he must shout to gain attention, and overstate his case in order to clinch it. This is unfortunate, for it may tend to obscure the many merits of the book, both scientific and socio­logical. Mr. Ardrey attacks The Romantic Fallacy with such vigor that he overshoots the mark and falls into another error, The Ge­netic Fallacy.

The Genetic Fallacy is the as­sumption that the final flowering of a thing may be fully accounted for in terms of its first manifesta­tion; that there is nothing in the fruits which wasn’t in the roots; that the mature form is discred­ited by its embryonic origins; that the lesser explains the great­er; that a thing is understood when it is broken down into its constituent parts. Ardrey assumes that man’s immediate ancestor was a murderous ape, and then further assumes that twentieth century men, egged on by our kin­ship with all life, have an irre­sistible itch in the blood to behave in like fashion.

If the origins of contemporary behavior run this deep, then, by the same reasoning, the wide­spread acceptance of The Roman­tic Fallacy argues that it, too, cor­responds to something deep and ineradicable in man. If so, man is not just a murderous ape, but an immensely adaptable creature with a wide range of possible “natu­ral” behaviors. He loves to bam­boozle and swindle himself, now by calling up visions of himself as little lower than the angels, and now by posing as a pretty tough hombre. Primitive men were pret­ty tough, and so were our ances­tors on the frontier a scant cen­tury ago. Real history is not for the squeamish. But primitive man was also— and this is important if we wish to keep the picture in focus— an artist, a worshiper, an inventor, and the domesticator of the only animals and plants com­monly seen today. He had to be handy with a club in order to sur­vive, but the house dog and cat were not retrieved from their wild state with a club, but by using kindness and patience and a kind of empathy we seem to lack.

Finally, as to the book’s paean to Mars, it is true that there is an innate bellicosity in man, and a will to power which never sleeps. But modern war is about as far from this as the rudimentary number sense of the savage is from differential calculus. There is a connection, but it requires im­mense labor and sophistication to hook it up. And, then, having ar­rived at war, it is wrong to as­sume that war is merely war.

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.