The International Community is not a fundamentally predatory force

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Mencius Moldbug recently looked at three anomalies in progressive political thought: a surprising definition of the word independence, an oscillatory ambivalence around the concept of nationalism, and a chiral gradient in sensitivity to human rights violations.

These anomalies all make a certain sense if we assume that the International Community is a fundamentally predatory force. It’s not, Moldbug notes; it just looks that way:

The hypothesis is that the “international community” — a phrase we see used on a pretty regular basis, although perhaps we are not quite as clear as we might be as to what exactly it might mean — is, and always has been, a fundamentally predatory force.

The fact that falsifies the hypothesis — at least for me — is that my father was a US diplomat, and if the “international community” means anything it must mean Foggy Bottom. And I can tell you that it is simply impossible to mistake a transnational bureaucrat (or tranzi) for an SS officer, or vice versa. If the Third Reich is your image of an international predator — and why shouldn’t it be? Can’t we make Hitler work for us? — the adjective is clearly misapplied.

As anyone who has ever known any number of progressives knows, progressives are generally decent, intelligent and well-meaning people. Moreover, this fact does not stop at the edges of government. By definition, decent, intelligent and well-meaning people are not predatory. Since the “international community” is clearly progressive, the hypothesis is falsified. Whew!

But, not endorsing this false hypothesis, but simply using it as a tool of argument, it sure is interesting to look at how nicely it explains our little anomalies. It may or may not be productive to replace three poorly explained phenomena by one incorrect assumption. But at least it reduces the number of problems. Let’s work through them one by one.

Yes, let’s:

First: what happened to the Third World?

Well, that’s pretty easy. It was conquered and devastated by the “international community.” Admittedly, the “devastated” part kind of sucks. But when you’re a predator, it’s better to conquer and devastate than not to conquer at all, n’est ce pas?

Let’s take a look at this independence thing. What exactly is a multilateral declaration of independence? Since it’s not this?

Well, on the sweet and good and true side, MDI seems to involve a change in the ethnicity of government officials. Foreign officials are replaced by native-born officials. Clearly, for example, it would be an outrage for true-born Americans to be governed by a dirty no-good Mex— oh, wait. We’re progressives. We’re not racists. Ethnicity means nothing to us.

Well, the postcolonial regimes are no longer controlled from overseas. They can do whatever they want. They’re free!

Sure they are. They’re so free that they’ve received $2.6 trillion in aid since 1960. Does the phrase “who pays the piper calls the tune” ring any bells? Again, in English at least, the word “independence” is a compound of the prefix in-, meaning not, and dependent, meaning dependent.

You would expect independent states to follow their own political traditions:

Across most of the Third World, however, we see a very simple transition: from the traditional forms of government and tribal leaders whom the British, French, Rhodesians, etc, supported at a local or even regional level in the policy of indirect rule, to a new elite selected and educated in Western missions, schools and universities. In Africa these men are called the wa-Benzi — “wa” is the Swahili prefix for “tribe,” and I think “Benzi” speaks for itself.

Moreover, the rhetoric of tiers-mondisme is and was almost the same everywhere. If Algeria and Vietnam were truly growing up and following their own destinies, you might think the former would be ruled by a Dey and the latter by emperors and mandarins. You’d certainly be surprised to find that they both had an organization called the “National Liberation Front.”

Moldbug notes that “the English language has a perfectly good word for a regime which appears to be independent” — puppet state. But these regimes aren’t quite puppet states:

A muppet state is not quite a puppet state. It delivers a far more lifelike impression of individual identity. It has not just an invisible hand supporting it from below, but invisible strings pulling it from above. In fact, muppet states often appear quite hostile to their masters. There are a variety of reasons for this — one is internal conflict within the master state, which we’ll get to in a bit — but the simplest is just camouflage.

The classic story is de Gaulle’s legendary obstreperousness during World War II. De Gaulle had to cause problems for the British and Americans, because his whole story was that he represented the true spirit of oppressed France — rather than being just some guy that Churchill set up in an office, which is of course exactly what he was. Furthermore, because a blatant display of puppetry would have been no use to the Allies, they had to tolerate his acting out.

The phenomenon of dependent rebellion is quite familiar to anyone who has ever been a teenager, an analogy that’s a good guide to the sort of “independence” we see in the likes of a Mugabe, a Castro or even a Khomeini — each a member of the “I got my job through the New York Times” club.

It’s easy to see what a network of postcolonial muppet states harnessed to the hegemonic will of an imperial alien overlord looks like. We have the perfect example: the Warsaw Pact, and its assorted flunkeys in Africa and Asia. (In fact, we have two evil muppet empires to look at, because the Maoists spun off their own.) The Marxist-Leninist muppet states all insisted fervently that they were liberated, independent, etc, and that their alliances were brotherly partnerships of equals, with their own Politburos and everything. And of course the whole enterprise was run by Comrade Brezhnev, from the white phone in his petit salon. Even Hitler’s quislings in New Order Europe did not exhibit quite this level of gall — there was no pretence that Vichy France, for example, was an equal of the Third Reich.

And since the Soviet and Western blocs often competed for the same set of muppets — for example, Nasser, Tito, and even Ho Chi Minh, who never lost his popularity out in Langley — I’m afraid the pattern is really quite clear.

The original piece says much, much more, but I must include at least this next bit:

What’s especially interesting is that when we step back and consider the history of the non-Western world since 1500, we see a broad trend that does not reverse course at all the 20th century. If anything, the 20th century is more of the same, only more so.

We see four basic structures of government: native rule with private Western trade, native rule under the protection of chartered companies or other monopolies (like the East India Company, the British South Africa Company, Anaconda Copper, etc, etc), classic nationalized colonialism with indirect rule, and the postcolonial muppet states.

Across all these stages, as time increases, we see the following trends. One, the non-European world becomes culturally and politically Westernized. Two, more and more Westerners are employed in the actual task of governing them. (I don’t know the ratio of aid workers today to colonial administrators 50 years ago, but I’m sure it’s tremendous.) And three, the profits accruing to the West from all of this activity dwindle away and are replaced by massive losses. (“Aid” is essentially a subsidy to the muppet states, which are to the old chartered companies as a Lada factory is to a Honda factory.)

Who benefits from these trends? The “international community,” ie, the vast army of international administrators who labor diligently and ineffectively at healing the great wounds they have torn in the side of the world. Who loses? Everyone else — Western taxpayers in the usual slow, relentless dribble, Africans and Asians in the gigantic revolutionary hemorrhage of “civil war, poverty, corrupt government and the collapse of medical care.”

If you read travel narratives of what is now the Third World from before World War II (I’ve just been enjoying Erna Fergusson’s Guatemala, for example), you simply don’t see anything like the misery, squalor and barbarism that is everywhere today. (Fergusson describes Guatemala City as “clean.” I kid you not.) What you do see is social and political structures, whether native or colonial, that are clearly not American in origin, and that are unacceptable not only by modern American standards but even by 1930s American standards.

So, again, we have two theories of the “international community.” One, its own, depicts it as the savior and liberator of the planet, and essentially global and universal in nature. Two, the one I’ve just developed, shows it as a ravenous predator, the dominant player in a second Scramble for Africa with Asia and South America added to the plate — essentially, a new version of the Delian League, with Washington in the part of Athens.

And neither quite makes sense. The first hypothesis is very hopeful and reassuring, and most people believe it, but it has these odd, Orwellian tics in the way it uses English. And the second is, once again, quite counterfactual. I know these people. They are not at all predatory. There is no denying that transnational bureaucrats have the world’s best interests at heart, and they are certainly not in any way American nationalists. They simply do not remind me, in any way, shape or form, of Corner Man.

Leave a Reply