All Commentary
Friday, January 1, 1971

The Woes of the Underdeveloped Nations

Dr. Kuehnelt-Leddihn is a European scholar, linguist, world traveler, and lecturer. Of his many published works, the best known in America is his book, Liberty or Equality? His most recent publication is The Timeless Christian.

A feeling of love and charity to­ward one’s neighbor, a sense of responsibility and personal guilt have characterized Christian thought at all times. Now the world has shrunk, due to the new means of transportation developed by modern technology. Hand in hand with diminished distances goes a sudden discovery of the great dif­ferences between the nations and races—less the psychological, more the material differences.

Of course, the Western nations have known for some time that they were richer than the peoples of the various tropical and not-so­ tropical colonies, while the latters’ awareness of their own poverty is something relatively new. Thanks to official travels and scholarship residences in North America, Eu­rope, and also in Japan, they started to realize that in spite of their newly won independence their living standards are way be­low those of the West. But it is primarily the impressions gained from tourists, illustrated papers, movies, television, and books that have given them a hitherto un­known feeling of inferiority, of envy, sometimes even of hatred. They have questioned themselves as to why they are so “underdevel­oped,” why the already rich na­tions are getting richer while their progress (though visible here and there) is so slow that the gap be­tween them and their former mas­ters continues to increase—mak­ing, in a way, a sham of their independence, their emancipation.

This sort of questioning goes on not only among the “emerging na­tions,” but also in our midst. Since Christians are sometimes moved by virtues and often have a laud­able propensity to seek the rea­sons for an unhappy state of af­fairs in their own and not in some­body else’s failings, they increas­ingly tend to attribute the poverty of the “emergers” to their own colonialist expansionism in the past and their grasping economy in the present. The Latin Amer­ican masses, the starving Hindus, the miserable “Blacks” in Africa are all so badly off because we are so prosperous! Human beings, so they reason, after all are equal; they have basically the same de­sires, the same intelligence, the same reactions, the “fundamentally same” attitude toward work, pleas­ure, love, and food. So, if a con­siderable part of the world is left way behind in the general scram­ble for prosperity, it cannot be their fault—and if it is not their fault then it must be ours. Either we progressed so fast that they cannot keep pace or we brutally exploited them in the past, stunted their growth, and are still contin­uing such malpractices. As a re­sult, their living conditions are “incompatible with the dignity of man.”

In this reasoning there are sev­eral fallacies, starting with the attempt to internationalize the ab­surd idea that equal wealth is a just demand of all individuals of one country—all differences in this matter today constitute a provocation and a manifestation of rank injustice. Even if one might advocate equal pay for equal work, what happens to the man who toils much harder than the average? In Austria, for example, the legal 43-hour week for workers is soon to be reduced to 40 hours, but (as a poll found out) the self-employed work more than 62 hours on the average. (My own average is 81 hours.) It is also obvious that work which requires decades of training and education cannot be remunerated in the same way as skills that can be acquired in a week, a few months, or a year.

To Lack Is to Envy

Yet, whatever the reasons for a bigger income, envy comes into play. And envy also has a leading role in international relations. A country which acquires wealth quicker than another one is, in our present “climate,” committing an injustice, an act of collective ag­gression and must be morally con­demned. But since it is not (not yet!) considered immoral to work harder or to be more intelligent—though personal qualities are sys­tematically ignored by the demo­cratic doctrine in the political field—one has to look for or in­vent moral arguments that are still accepted. In other words: if nation A has a much higher living standard, has greater wealth than nation B, the reason is that A ex­ploited or still exploits B. (New Lefters have leveled this accusa­tion also against the USSR.)

The poverty in certain “under­developed” nations appears to us to be real misery. But is it really “extra-ordinary”; is it really “in­compatible with the dignity of man”? This might be so from our subjective Western point of view if, for instance, we compare the living standards of an unemployed German worker with those of a jobless Indian in Calcutta, a city where one-fourth or one-fifth of the population is born and dies in the streets. But at the same time we have to take into consideration that mankind, according to the lat­est estimates, is about half a mil­lion years old and that anything approaching “conditions compat­ible with the dignity of man” 5,000 years ago existed only in a very few spots among a handful of a chosen few.

The Rarity of Freedom

If we were to envision man’s long emergence on the dial of an ordinary clock, then such—still exceedingly rare—conditions arose just 5 minutes before twelve.

Larger areas with a slightly in­creased number of “comfortably off” people—let us say, during the High Middle Ages—existed only one minute before twelve. And a sizable number of countries with majorities enjoying the blessed state of “material dignity” can only be found in the last 80 years or, according to our time table, 14 seconds before twelve. Needless to say, there still are many areas today where living standards are not much higher than they were in the Neolithic period (11:50 to 11:56 on our clock). This means life in caves, in illness, heat and cold, hunger, boredom, despair, in perpetual fear of wild beasts, snakes, all the enemies of early man. During that period, as we learn from excavations, the aver­age age of men who survived childhood was 28, of women 22 years.

I think that we even have illu­sions as to the life of the upper crust in the more recent past. Louis XIV could never get rid of his lice and Versailles in the sum­mer emitted an unbearable stench. Frederic II of Prussia smelled to high heaven. Travel was an un­mitigated torture. It has been es­timated that the living standards of His Excellency, Herr von Goethe, Prime Minister of Wei­mar, would never be accepted to­day by a skilled German laborer who just pushes buttons to get classic music, jazz, warm air, or a movie right in his room, a man who owns a vehicle outranging in speed and comfort anything Goe­the could have dreamed of. Viewed in the light of statistics, the ques­tion as to what is compatible with the dignity of man is a very diffi­cult one to decide. There was a time—Biblical times!—when len­tils were a choice dish. Obviously, the various nations, races, and tribes are living in various stages of development. But where would we be if no individual, no tribe, no nation could progress unless all the others did as well? Prog­ress always implies a few pioneers leading the path—and not waiting endlessly until the rest, the less endowed, the lazier, the less enter-prizing, the less self-disciplined ones decide to catch up.

Sentimental Romanticists

Yet here, precisely, we come to the initial error about the woes of the “underprivileged” countries. Individuals within a nation, and the nations themselves, are neither identical nor equal. There are some biological reasons for this state of affairs (scientifically too much under debate to be enumerated here) but, above all, there are de­cisive cultural patterns which might be changed in the long run but certainly not overnight. We have seen minorities (often of a combined ethnic, racial, and re­ligious character) doing materi­ally better, sometimes even much better than their neighbors living in the same climate, under the same government, the same laws, the same economy. (Climate, as the student of anthropogeography knows, is one of the least im­portant but most frequently cited factors determining the inclina­tions for hard and systematic work.) Yet all these differences are almost willfully overlooked by the sentimental Christian roman­ticist. Knowingly or unknowingly, he is even affected by a number of Marxist notions.

Leftist thought, we must bear in mind, has infiltrated Christian thinking to a remarkable degree. (See THE FREEMAN, February, 1968.) A superficial reading of the Bible, the exhortations of Christ not to become a servant of Mammon but to remain “poor in spirit,” the monastic ideals (in a secular version), the tradition of the mendicant orders, the rise of a bourgeois civilization not par­ticularly devoted to religious fer­vor, “practical materialism” which is possibly a result of a commer­cial outlook—all this has initially fostered leftist currents in the Evangelical (“Protestant”) world, but then also appeared with un­expected vigor in the Catholic domain. This is an odd development because, as Max Weber and, later, Alfred Müller-Armack have dem­onstrated with clarity and full documentation, it was in the world of the Reformed faiths that Ital­ian-born “capitalism” reached its apogee and the modern so-called “Protestant Work Ethic” came in­to being. Medieval man worked very little. Between 90 and 140 feast days (besides the Sundays) were no rarity. On the other hand, Christmas was not a holiday in Scotland even at the turn of the century. The combination of free enterprise, hard work, and the saving habit helped the “Protes­tant” countries to overtake the Catholic and Eastern Church na­tions; and only after they adopted the “Protestant Way of Life” were the Catholic countries of the West in our days able to compete successfully with their neighbors to the north. This process, how­ever, has not taken place in most countries of Latin America. We look for it in vain elsewhere, ex­cept in the Far East, where an entirely different motivation ex­plains the contempt for the dolce far niente (delightful idleness).

Twisting Theology

The inroads of leftist economic and social thinking became mani­fest first in Protestant theology. Suddenly, one remembered that the only persons physically chas­tized by Our Lord were the mer­chants. Now the same process can be observed in the Catholic Church. There are “internal” rea­sons for this state of affairs, but also external (Marxist) influences. Not to be overlooked is also a certain amount of subconscious opportunism. A new (leftist) “trimphalism” thinks to regain the “lost working class.” The de­nominationally mixed areas of Central Europe reflect the age-old Catholic animosities against the Jewish banker, the Calvinist man­ufacturer, and the Lutheran big landowner. To St. Thomas Aqui­nas, trade was of the most doubt­ful moral value; but if one reads the great social-economic Encycli­cals from Leo XIII to Pius XII one still finds no trace of leftist thought. A man like Father Gus­tav Gundlach, S.J., of the Gregori­an University, a friend of mine and practically the author of Quadragesimo Anno, steered clear of all leftist pitfalls. The situation changed under John XXIII, per­sonally a very conservative pon­tiff, when the Encyclical Mater et Magistra was composed largely-by professors of the Lateran Uni­versity.

In the Encyclical Popularum Progressio which had a distinct “overseas message,” the leftist tenor was somewhat more distinct. Not the Gregorian, not the Lateran University, but a group of Dominicans in Paris working under the leadership of the late Father Lebret were the main au­thors of this message. Father Lebret who before his demise lec­tured in Latin America said at a meeting in Sao Paulo: “Whether God is on the side of the commu­nists or the capitalists, I do not profess to know, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that God rather favors the communists. And if you ask me whether I am unhappy about this, I must answer you candidly that I am not.” These circumlocutions simply imply that a good Catholic ought to lean rather toward communism than toward free enterprise and the ideals of personal liberty. No won­der that Latin-American “Chris­tian-Democratic” parties are often far more socialist than the social­ist parties themselves. They fre­quently excuse their attitude as designed to “take the wind out of the sails” of the Marxist par­ties, but in this respect they are singularly ineffective. Note the case of Chile where a most thor­ough agrarian reform has merely resulted in a marked decrease of agricultural production and an equally marked increase in leftist votes which has produced a Marx­ist president.

The ascendancy of leftist ideas under the pontificate of Paul VI, certainly not known as a radical innovator, may be attributed to the fact that the Catholic Church has practically no outstanding economic or financial minds of the first order. At the moment only one living author comes to my mind. Here we are faced with a situation aptly described by the late Wilhelm Roepke, who had pointed out that economics with­out ethics are inane and that moralizing without economic knowledge is disastrous.

Charity or Justice?

This sort of injunction also should have been heeded by Miss Barbara Ward (Lady Jackson) who for some time has been con­sidered an expert on the “emerg­ing nations.” In her recently pub­lished book, The Angry Seventies, prepared for and published by the Papal Commission on Justice and Peace in Rome, she reminds us of the plight of the hungry and des­titute masses overseas which will wreak the most terrible venge­ance if we do not make bigger and better efforts to aid them ma­terially and if we do not redress our trade balance with them. To her—and to a number of well-meaning souls—we are guilty of their misery. (Last February the Bishop of Innsbruck, in a pastoral letter, claimed that poverty in India is due to the colonial period. Apparently the wily sons of Al­bion introduced the caste system and some 250 million holy cows to India!)

At least one per cent of the GNP, so Miss Ward argues, must be set aside and handed over to these nations without too many strings attached. There should be international coordination, some sort of World Bank, to handle these transfers. She even demands that a steadily increasing share of the resources should be chan­neled through international agen­cies. (If I understand her rightly, by the end of the seventies these grants should reach colossal pro­portions.) The amount of aid due should be stipulated in interna­tional treaties and the obligation to shell it out laid down and “given the force of law.” One thinks with horror of what would happen in case of a grave economic crisis when our own populations would be suffering—break the treaties?

Miss Ward’s dream to aid the underdeveloped nations financially and materially is no doubt a pro­foundly Christian one, and we would have nothing against it in principle if she were: (a) to show us a reasonable and effective way to do it, and (b) if she would not call her plan a “new kind of jus­tice,” thus appealing to our rather masochistic Western sense of guilt.

A clarion call to charity would be all right, but “justice”? Nor do I like her big stick, the menace of the hungry millions rubbing us out altogether. India’s untouch­ables or the peons of Colombia would starve to death amidst the ruins of Ruhr valley factories. Their military victory (a most doubtful event) would not solve anything.


Let us first look at the possible methods of such aid. In theory, an effective means of aiding the “emerging nations” would be to enlist all sorts of enterprises of the Free World to invest if the “emerging nations” (a) had polit­ical stability, and (b) could offer real security. If they could meet these two preconditions, the for­eign investors would be satisfied with a rather modest return. But few of the countries can give us these guarantees; and thus the history of foreign capital overseas has always been a history of eter­nal expropriations by “national-socialist” governments.

This lack of stability and secur­ity can be explained. The “new independent nations” which now play such a big role in the U.N. escaped much too early from their tutelage: in the case of Latin America in the early nineteenth century, under the pressure and with the aid of the Washington-London axis; and, after World War II, under the threats of the Washington-Moscow axis, each partner outdoing the other in “anticolonialism.” In this game the Soviets, in the possession of Northern Asia, were thoroughly hypocritical while the Americans projected quite illegitimately their own historic experience to entirely different circumstances. The Con­go obviously had nothing in com­mon with the Thirteen Colonies, and Patrice Lumumba was not a dark George Washington.

Colonialism is not an invention of wicked manufacturers and bankers, as Hobson and Lenin as­sumed, but a natural activity of most nations faced with a power-vacuum (or a cultural void) either on their borders or beyond the seas. Without the British colonial drive the United States would not exist; without Bavarian colonial efforts this Austrian writer would not exist; without Greek colonial­ism Aristotle and Archimedes and Pythagoras would not have been born; without Spanish “colonial­ism” the Aztecs would have gone on slaughtering up to 20,000 men a week at the Teocalli; without the French colonizing spirit the Zenanyana, the unspeakable hor­rors of the Evil Night, would still be celebrated in Dahomey. There is just good colonialism and badcolonialism. And in a free world, “neocolonialism”—one nation own­ing property in another one—is also unavoidable. There is, if one insists, even Swiss and Dutch “neocolonialism” active in the United States. It is significant that Emperor Haile Selassie and President Tubman of Liberia de­plored the fact that their two countries never had experienced the material advantage of a co­lonial period.

If the “underdeveloped nations” (this, needless to say, excludes ex-colonies which were mere exten­sions of the British motherland) escaped much too early from the domination of civilized powers, the same can be said about our Ger­manic-Teutonic ancestors who de­stroyed the Roman Empire thus starting the Dark Ages. A group of historians, discussing the time required for our forebears to match again roughly Roman lev­els, agreed on a period lasting up to nine hundred years.

Progress Takes Time

Our democratic illusions as to human equality make us think that the Western (or the East Asian) performance can be re­peated elsewhere in almost no time. It takes generations of mor­ally, intellectually, psychologically retrained people to establish a technological civilization of high material standards, a civilization demanding a maximum of disci­pline, responsibility, enthusiasm for hard work, cleanliness, accu­racy, quickness of mind, reliabil­ity, veracity, objectivity, realism, saving instincts, business sense. Just visit factories in India (or even in Russia) and you will see where the human difficulties lie. Just read the pertinent books on Africa, dealing with the African psyche in its present stage. (To­morrow it might be different since nations are “plastic” and change their character in the course of time, but we are talking about today.) We are here referring to documentary works like Michel Croce-Spinelli’s Les Enfants de Poto-Poto containing taped discus­sions with Africans, or the Social­ist Rene Dumont’s L’Afrique noire est mal partie.

By and large the necessary hu­man presuppositions for a modern, partly industrial, partly agrarian economy do not yet exist in the “emerging nations,” except in Eastern Asia (Japan, both Chinas, Korea, Vietnam, but not in the rest of Indo-China) unless West­ern financing, Western manage­ment, Western engineering and know-how, and the enforcement of Western work discipline are brought into play. Absenteeism overseas sometimes reaches in­credible proportions. Fortunately, thanks to startling discoveries, a new agrarian development is in sight but let us remember the words of Dr. J. S. Kanwar of the Indian Council of Agrarian Re­search in New Delhi who said that if modern agrarian methods were diligently used in only two major Indian States (out of 14), all of India could properly be fed; would this be done in all of India, two-thirds of the produce could be exported. But there are profound psychological and cultural rather than purely “financial” reasons why India starves and why the trouble in the rest of the Under­developed World is about the same. The average working time for the average Mid-African (male) farm­er is four hours a day. After all, it took us centuries of trial and error, of disappointment and real suffering, to acquire our knowl­edge, our skills, our experience, a sense of reality, and our dyna­mism. I am talking here not only as a historian and theoretical re­searcher, but also as a man who annually circles the globe.

Prelude to Investment Would Be Guarantees

In other words, the necessary precondition for effective aid, as far as investments go, would be guarantees—all sorts of guaran­tees. In order to be fruitful and lasting, investments must be secure against expropriation, sabo­tage, brigandage, trade union blackmail, the destructive forces of civil wars, guerilla activities. Yet, how are we going to achieve this? The governments with some sort of permanence who can effec­tively give such guarantees are very few and far between. The democratically governed countries are in many cases even less to be trusted than benevolent autocra­cies because democracy provides the frame for the legal, nonrevolu­tionary rise to power of confisca­tory and collectivist ideologies. I would rather invest on the Ivory Coast—which is effectively ruled by a realistic man dedicated to free enterprise—than in Chile un­der present conditions.

And if we talk not about invest­ments, but about gifts, let me quote you a bright African, who complained that in the old days France as a colonial power paid for everything, but now “we look most ridiculous, one seems to be more incapable than before.” France aids Africa still far too much. “If we really must sink, all right, then let us sink. Only too often, this aid which is given to us makes our lives too easy and it finds no good place in the economy of our coun­try. It really does not help—on the contrary: it makes us lose all sense of reality.” (Les Enfants de Poto-Poto, pp. 360-361.)

Agrarian Reformers

Higher living standards, how­ever, can never be provided by agriculture alone. And, a techno­logical civilization demands great sacrifices in the form of obedience, a sense of accuracy, time, and co­operation. Industrializing a happy-go-lucky, dreamy, agrarian nation without strong material ambitions can only be done with a great deal of training, education, motivation, although some ideologues main­tain that it can be done more quickly by the harsh imposition of totalitarian rule, enslaving un­willing workers. However, one does not get very far by this method, witness the case of Russia and its satellites with the excep­tion of East Germany. Even East Germany is far from having West German living standards because one cannot drive fast in the best car if the brakes are on.

Still, East Germany has the “Protestant Work Ethic,” and that places it apart from the other satellites. Intelligent observers like I. Rosier, Fredrick B. Pike, and Jean Gebser have realized that the key to a material improvement overseas is the refashioning of the minds and habits of “under­developed” nations. This, however, cannot be achieved without a rad­ical change of their cultures. Take only the fact that in Hindi the word for yesterday and tomorrow is the same. (It differs from “to­day.”) The automobile does not mix with juju. As Arthur Koestler has told us in The Lotus and the Robot, civilizations are package deals. One cannot pick out certain items and leave the rest.

Emerging Nations, Orphaned Too Soon

At the root of the tragedy we indeed find the premature decolo­nization. In this connection it has always to be kept in mind that colonies, contrary to a generally accepted myth, were profitable on­ly in a very few cases. Of Ger­many’s colonies before 1914, only little Togo was in the black. The Belgian Congo was a sound finan­cial proposition only in the 1940­1957 period. Between 1908 and 1960 Belgium invested no less than 260 million gold francs and earned 25 million. The profits France derived from its colonies in this century was about one-fourth of the original investments. Disraeli thundered against the “miserable colonies” and Richard Cobden inquired: “Where is the enemy who would do us the favor to steal them from us?” Adam Smith was right when he ridiculed the panic which broke out in Brit­ain after the loss of the Thirteen Colonies: British exports to North America, valued at $15 million a year before American Independ­ence, reached $61 million dollars by 1806. Colonies might be a mat­ter of national pride or of military interest, but if inhabited by a “backward” population, they sel­dom are a paying proposition.

It is, moreover, by no means accidental that the present Euro­pean prosperity arose with the loss of colonies, that the European nations with the greatest per cap­ita incomes (Switzerland, Nor­way, Sweden) never had colonies. The expenses involved in provid­ing the colonies with roads, rail­roads, hospitals, health services, schools, universities, administra­tive machines, military and naval installations, while still so much had to be done at home, were enormous. And if well-meaning Americans complain that the Bel­gians or the Portuguese did noth­ing for the higher education in their colonies, that native M.D.’s and Ph.D.’s did not roll en masse from the assembly lines, let them remember the net result of the “intellectualization” of the Amer­ican Indians; in spite of great material sacrifices, the results are not encouraging. What simply happened all over the globe is that the colonial youngsters left the home of their foster parents prematurely in a huff and now demand that someone else care for them. (The two sugar daddies, Uncle Sam and Uncle Ivan, are in for it too.) The young runaways refuse to face their defeat. They belong—to use the labels of H. Fortmann—to Cultures of Shame, while we belong to a Culture of Guilt. And they have nicely suc­ceeded in making some of us feel very guilty. Of course, Westerners are occasionally tough people, but there can be no doubt that we have treated each other infinitely worse than we treated the nations and tribes in overseas areas who, without Western medical services, would exist on a much smaller scale.


As charitable Christians, we ought to aid them. Let us, how­ever, discard the notion of a “New Kind of Justice.” Let us find intel­ligent ways to help them in trans­forming themselves into modern nations because, for better or worse, they want it. In the mean­time we ought to determine the way and modality of such (chari­table) efforts. This is a most diffi­cult problem whose treatment ought to vary from place to place. Handouts certainly will not do.

Who, after all, should be the im­mediate recipients? Certainly not the governments of most of these countries. I think with horror of the palatial buildings erected by Mr. Kwame Nkrumah, of his lux­ury yacht, of the golden bed of his finance minister, of Mrs. Indira Ghandi’s check for $50 million offered to Nasser after the Six-Day War, of loans to certain Latin American countries reappearing as deposits in American and Swiss banks. Or should we distribute cash at street corners?

God gave to most, though not to all, of these countries prodigious natural wealth. Tangible wealth, however, as Japan, Switzerland, Scandinavia, and Taiwan teach us, is the fruit of human effort. Therefore, we have to try pa­tiently to show them a way which, after everything is said and done, can only somehow resemble ours. This is a most complex and, above all, psychologically difficult ven­ture. The “underdeveloped na­tions” would have to take our ex­tended hand without any display of false pride—take it or leave it.



John Milton

But what more oft in nations grown corrupt, And by their vices brought to servitude, Than to love bondage more than liberty—Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty?