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Friday, May 20, 2016

Nation Building

The Delhi Durbar of 1903 by Roderick MacKenzie
Stolen complete from Rotten Chestnuts, via Dustbury. Except for the picture. I added that.
by severian

I was one of the fools who believed in W’s grand “nation building” project in the Middle East.  I know more history than the average guy, and yet I was fooled, too — such is the power of wishcasting.

In reality, representative government is an Anglo-Saxon thing.  And given the problems we have with it — our current election is between a criminal narcissist and a narcissist criminal — it’s no surprise that cultures with no tradition other than the despotic can’t get the hang of it in just a few years, despite the best efforts of National Review and the Peace and/or Marine Corps.

India is the best case scenario.  Lots of Britons said, and some acted as if they sincerely believed, that the Raj was a “school of democracy” — at some indeterminate future time, Indians would be ready for self-government, at which point Great Britain would leave in peace.  Take that with as much salt as you require, because whether or not any of them would’ve actually accepted a hard date of departure, they still ran the place as if it were a sort of Junior England.  They had to — a subcontinental population in the hundreds of millions was held down by at most 100,000 white folks, commanding a native bureaucracy and army of maybe three times that.  Without significant native buy-in, the Raj was toast, as they found out in spectacular fashion in 1857.

The Indian Civil Service was open to natives almost from 1858, the Ilbert Bill put Englishmen (theoretically) under the jurisdiction of native judges, and the Morley-Minto Reforms provided for direct election of natives to the councils of state.  However it played out in practice — and “Subaltern Studies” people will of course tell you that it was all just a sham — the fact remains that India was about the only place not to go tits up (again, relatively speaking) at independence… and even the Postcolonialists must, however grudgingly, admit that the ICS, Morley-Minto, the Indian Army, etc. were major reasons for that.

Now, none of this should be taken for an argument that only white people can do democracy — as if the ability to mark a ballot is somehow genetic.  Again, see Presidential Election 2016, or any of the literally Caucasian countries surrounding the former USSR.  The point is that representative democracy is the result of a long, long, long history, a unique combination of circumstances stretching back to the Greek polis (and, again, if you want to maintain that white folks have a “government” gene, imagine what would happen if you time warped Demosthenes into modern America and told him that this is representative government.  The poor dude would stroke out).  Other cultures simply don’t have that history, and even the best-intentioned  attempts to impose a facsimile from above give you — at best — India.  Which bills itself as “the world’s largest democracy,” and it is…. sort of, if you add a list of qualifiers about the size of the Chicago phone book.

There’s no substitute for history.  Or, if you want a much prettier phrase, Edmund Burke said that “experience is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.”  The best we can do is show ’em how it’s done.  A rational foreign policy starts by acknowledging that…. and best of all, showing ’em how it’s done entails a complete reform of our own system.

It’s either that, or admit that democracy itself is deeply unnatural, and just elect ourselves a despot.

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