Blaming Colonialism Invalid, Even In Academe

Africa,Colonialism,Environmentalism & Animal Rights,Pseudoscience,Racism,South-Africa,The West


Media, most in academe, and a distressing number of radical, uninformed libertarians have adopted the unidirectional, zero-sum analysis, whereby the West is depicted as the culprit in the plight of the undeveloped world.

The argument, as I’ve written, sees colonialism as our original sin; capitalism as our cardinal sin, and our so-called voracious system of production as a zero-sum game. To wit, the standards of living we enjoy come at the expense of Africa’s poor.

Of course, P.T. Bauer, the seminal thinker on development—and a genius in my opinion—has demonstrated analytically and empirically why this was never so.

Bad generally displaces good thinking in the market place of ideas. Still, and not that you’d know it, there’s a bit of good news on this front. Colonialism, dependency and racism—all highly politicized constructs—are beginning to be seen as humbugs, untrue and unhelpful, in explaining—and hence, helping—the Third World. What was once “conventional wisdom that brooked no dissent,” in the words of Lawrence E. Harrison, is rarely mentioned today in intellectually respectable quarters.

The intellectual mainstream, as always, is belatedly arriving at the truth—or rather, distancing itself from libels and lies.

I try to remain congruent and consistent as a classical liberal and a rightist. Therefore, equally important for my purposes is it to identify the roots of the analysis that implicates colonialism, dependency and racism in the plight of poor countries.

Where you see this among libertarians—you are also witnessing a Marxist-Leninist analysis, wildly popular (and oh so hackneyed) in universities. The Marxist-Leninist analysis of underdevelopment is tantamount to the rape of objective reality with political, theoretical, highly artificial constructs.

Writes Harrison, in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress: “For many, including some Africans, the statute of limitation on colonialism as an explanation for underdevelopment lapsed long ago. Moreover, four former colonies, two British (Hong Kong and Singapore) and two Japanese (South Korea and Taiwan) have vaulted into the First World.” …

“The racism/discrimination explanation of black underachievement is no longer viable fifty years later.” Hispanics have the dubious distinction of having usurped African-Americans in underachievement. Yet they have not endured discrimination as black once did, and no more so than have Chinese and Japanese immigrants who’re among the highest achievers in the US (other than Ashkenazi Jews).

This is not to condone colonialism, but is, rather, written in uncompromising fealty to reality.

Over to P. T. Bauer’s Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion:

“…Much of British colonial Africa was transformed during the colonial period. In the Gold coast there were about 3000 children at school in the early 1900s, whereas in the mid-1950s there were over half a million. In the early 1890s there were in the Gold Coast no railways or roads, but only a few jungle paths.” Transporting goods was by canoe.

Before colonialism, Sub-Saharan Africa was a subsistence economy, because of colonialism it became a monetized economy. Before colonialism, the absence of public security made investment impossible. After it, investment flowed. So too was scientific agriculture introduced by colonial administrations, or by “foreign private organizations and persons under the comparative security of colonial rule, and usually in the face of formidable obstacles.” (Bauer 1981, p. 167)

“In British West Africa public security and health improved out of all recognition…peaceful travel became possible; slavery and slave trading and famine were practically eliminated, and the incidence of the worst diseases reduced.” Mortality fell, population increased, communications and “peaceful contact within Africa and with the outside world” increased in British colonies.

I’ve been going through the authoritative work of liberal historian Hermann Giliomee. Imagine my surprise at seeing this unmistakable trend documented in Apartheid South Africa, and conceded during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s agonizing sittings. The African population’s longevity, education, and numbers were markedly increased under white minority rule. Naturally, to describe reality is not to condone apartheid.

Of course, all the above is predicated on the premise that development is good and fine. That’s the libertarian position, as I know it. To the extent the colonial disruption of the state of squalor, disease and death associated with lack of development is condemned—to that extent you have a Rousseauist worship of primitiveness and savagery.

Some radical lefties and libertarians might counter by saying that Africa’s poor did not elect to have these conditions, good and bad, foisted on them. Fair enough. However, once introduced to potable water, sanitation, transportation, and primary healthcare, few Africans wish to do without them. Human beings, poor especially, choose development freely; only pseudo-intellectuals sitting in plush apartments and offices depict squalor and sickness as idyllic and primordially peaceful.

When the affluent relinquish their earthly possessions to return to nature it is usually with the aid of sophisticated technology (check out Mother Earth’s Commode), and the option to be air-lifted to a hospital if the need arises.

4 thoughts on “Blaming Colonialism Invalid, Even In Academe

  1. EN

    The fixation on the wonders of tribal/rural living never ceases to amaze. The belief that the first world west destroyed Africa carries over from another flawed premise, that is the industrial revolution destroyed a lovely pastoral society in Europe.

    Although anecdotal this story is borne out in Ayn Rand’s, Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal. My Great Grandfather (GGF) grew up on a farm in Sweden at the turn of the century. Out of nine children only he and his sister survived in this picturesque, but quite brutal, setting. Both surviving children immigrated to Minnesota. GGF had seven children in a crowded northern factory district and all but one lived. The surviving children went on to have families and pretty nice lives of their own choosing. All 21 Great Grand children save one (killed in Vietnam) are still around. This “failure” is what the Socialist multicult regards as first principles. Getting anything else right is not likely when you’re proceed from that point.

    As for Africa, I believe it was Fred Reed who said it best. “If your ancestors were slaves brought to America, you won the lottery!”

  2. Myron Pauli

    You can add one more canard – how the West “exploits” the natural resources of the Third World. In other words, France and Japan use the Congo’s Uranium up in nuclear reactors for electricity which powers their high speed railroads. …. and IF no “colonialists” had come to “exploit” those resources, the Congolese would have had their own nuclear reactors, high speed railoads, etc….

    It is also interesting to look into the history of many countries to see how well they prospered AFTER they deported their Jews / Chinese / Whites / Indians (Uganda) or other “expolitative” peoples. Robert Mugabe – you’re doing a heckofa job!

  3. EN

    Excellent point Myron and let’s not forget that there’s still a strong belief that the US doesn’t pay for these resources it steals them. It’s amusing to hear people say that the US uses more natural resources then the world combines, as if the others can’t have them because we took them. The truth is that we developed and marketed them, making them available to everyone for the first time. There would be no resource market for Africa to sell without the West.

  4. Myron Pauli

    Well, in all fairness to the anti-colonialists, it is certainly possible for the US or some country or business to BRIBE the local thug / sheik {Idi Amin, Mugabe, King Abdullah…} and take the oil / gold / diamonds at a cut rate price. Or we pay the thug / sheik with weapons or $$ for weapons which are used against his own people. I could see where that can cause resentment. But aren’t we or China or Exxon-Mobil just going along with a bad situation when we deal with the dictators …. the people of those countries have to rid themselves of their tormentors.

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