5 APRIL 1963, Page 7

Development or Identity


MANY of the formerly imperialist countries must feel with Ovid that `it is annoying to be virtuous to no purpose.' Here they pour advice, funds, machinery, know-how into their former colonies and other underdeveloped re- gions, and what do they get in return? Suspicion, censure, contempt for their institutions, sym- pathy for the Soviet Union which barely lifts a finger and a hatred for themselves that increases in proportion to the economic assistance they offer. Could anything be more unreasonable?

The trouble is that there are situations in which the unreasonable is reasonable and, con- versely, in which reason becomes treason. It is not for nothing that these two words are so similar. Thus it is certainly reasonable that re- tarded countries should wish to develop. But what do they mean by economic development? The patriotic preservation of the Cuban, Puerto Rican, Ghanaian, Laotian way of life, with its engaging emphasis on musing, dozing, praying, feasting, dancing? This is precisely what re- tarded them. What they mean by development i. the treasonable opposite: to stop living like ir,dolent Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Ghanaians, Laotians, and begin living like energetic Westerners. Instead of somnolent churches, they want buzzing steel mills (the new objects of tribal worship, as someone has called them); in- stead of wind-cooled tropical bamboo huts, air- conditioned concrete pneumonia traps; instead of mules, cars from Detroit; instead of siestas, American efficiency. In other words, what they mean by economic development is Westernisa-

tion or, considering the technological leadership of the United States, Americanisation.

Thus, whatever the new nations are gaining in development, they seem to be losing in iden- tity. The first to experience the full impact of this unexpected by-product of progress was Puerto Rico, for the simple reason that, as a result of her justly famous Operation Bootstrap, she was also the first of the underdeveloped countries able to declare by 1960 that she had reached the threshold of development. But at the same time she had suddenly become so alarmed by the magnitude of the psychological damage that her Governor, Luis Munoz Mann, lost no time in arranging that top priority must henceforth be assigned to what he hopefully christened Operation Serenity—an emergency programme devoted to the preservation of the national image which the very success of Operation Bootstrap had so visibly undermined.

The only question is: how can the identity- destroying effect of an otherwise desirable eco- nomic development best be countered? Through accelerating the pace of development in the hope, as some believe, of making it so fast that it will leave no trace on national character? This would merely accelerate the process of Americanisa- tion, considering that speed is one of the latter's chief characteristics. Through a different kind of development? There is no different kind. The British feel this no less than the Cubans. Hence their reluctance to abandon cherished modes of production which may be quaint but, because of this, are at least British. Even the Russians use America as both measuring-rod and aim of development, expressing their achievements not so much in terms of any Marxist-Leninist objec- tive as on the basis of the position they have reached in comparison with the standards set in the United States.

Thus, while economic deve!opment is un- doubtedly altogether reasonable, it threatens at the same time to wipe out the identity of the very nations which have fought so hard for the. freedom to cultivate their own personality. To ensure their national survival, the leaders of the new countries have therefore no alternative but to balance the reasonable, which helps their economies, with the unreasonable, which helps their identity; to ask for assistance from the for- mer colonial powers and, when they receive it, accuse them of neo-imperialist aspirations and treat them with scorn.

In a way, the new nations are in the position in which Germany found herself at the begin- ning of the nineteenth century, when The Age of Reason radiated from England and France its detached universalist message of the likeness of all human beings, the inalienable character of their inherent rights, the wisdom of the natural order, the horse-sense of economic man, the soundness of laissez-faire, or the beneficence of free trade. But while these concepts served won- derfully the further advance of France and, particularly, of Great Britain, which by then had long consolidated her national image and was already far ahead of everyone else in economic progress, they did little for a retarded and nationally stilt shapeless Germany (or the then similarly underdeveloped United States) except make her still more retarded. For what interest Should a rationally acting German businessman, bent on maximising his gain through the free importation of inexpensive machine-produced British goods, have had, for instance, in the en- forcement of trade impediments such as tariff walls? Though these would have enabled his country to develop its own industry, they would have severely cut into his profits. All the en- lightened principles of The Age of Reason could therefore have achieved under the circumstances would have been to turn the world as British as they are now threatening to turn it American. To avert this consequence which from a ralionalist one-world point of view would have been highly desirable, protectionist schools de- eloped in both Germany and the United States la reaction to what in their retarded develop- ment stage wcre considered the damaging inter- nationalist free-enterprise free-enterprise doctrines of the Eng- ish classical economists. The names given them were 'Neo-Mercantilists, 'Nationalists' or, in the case of those whose work is perhaps the most sig- cant for a study of contemporary develop- _rnent problems, 'Romantics.' The outstanding ePresentative of the 'Romantic School' was the .".erman economist Adam Willer (1779-1829), w•tio insisted that economic considerations must l'lay a secondary role in nations such as his own, tvvn .nalielli have not yet reached maturity. No wonder tis profession has not taken too kindly to

him. e centre of the stage, he thought, ought t,°•be 1.h held by problems of national identity, by iPn°11cies designed to strengthen community feel- g• by the cultivation of the national mind or, as he called it, the formation of the .Volksseele. Instead of embracing the atomistic idea of self- interest, however enlightened, he therefore stressed the community value of mystic collec- tive experience such as is engendered by the shared hardship and comradeship of war. This is another doctrine rational economists find hard to forgive, though no less a rationalist than Sir Francis Bacon had come to a similar con- clusion when he wrote that `nobody can be healthful without exercise, neither natural body nor politic, and certainly to a kingdom or estate, a just and honourable war is the true exercise.'

Modern nation-builders such as Nehru or Sukarno have recently demonstrated that they are more appreciative of the concepts of the romantic German economist than either his or their critics. And so have leaders such as Fidel Castro or Dr. Nkrumah who, unable to indulge in actual warfare, try to strengthen the national identity of their peoples by falling back on the next best thing—psychological warfare. In this the exhilarating experience of collective action is replaced by the equally exhilarating experience of collective hatred—hatred of Americans, hatred of the English, hatred of capitalists, the white race, of ,anything as long as it is zestful enough to close the ranks of the haters and make them emotionally distinguishable from those of the hated. This is the whole mystery behind the spectacle of new countries raving even at those who assist them, and having to rave at them the more the greater the benefits they receive. For the spontaneous, human and rational response in such a case would be love. But love brings peoples together, creates bonds, forms unions, internationalises and denationalises them—the very consequence which in the eyes of nation- builders bent on separating peoples, prying them loose from existing unions, and endowing them with distinguishing features and differences that do not exist, does not spell reason but treason.

That is why the Romans had to burn the Christians whose doctrine of universal brother- hood threatened to deprive them of their national distinction. Or why they executed Cicero (though not formally on this ground), who, instead of confirming their uniqueness, sapped their strength by telling them that `no single thing is so like another, so exactly its counterpart, as all of us are to one another"; and `however we may define man, a single definition will apply to all. This i; sufficient proof that there is no difference be- tween man and man; for if there were, a single definition could not be applicable to all men.'

'I'm afraid you haver '1 rendered quite enough unto CteSar.' Most reasonable thoughts. But what use were they to Romans insisting that all others should bow to their rule? And how could Ghanaians, in search of a national image, be convinced they should live apart from the British, or the Cubans from the Americans, if they are told that the definition a Castro defines also Kennedy, or that no single thing is so exactly its counterpart as Dr. Nkrumah is to Lord Beaverbrook?

They cannot. Hence the continued need of underdeveloped countries to complement their Operations Bootstrap with Operations Hatred rather than Serenity or Gratitude. The only other way of gaining an identity that would make them distinguishable from all other peoples would be by developing their economies the hard way. Not with American, British, Russian, capitalist or anybody's help, but slowly, ob- stinately, painfully, through trial and error. This is the method by which not only all the nations of Europe, but also, within the nations, all their countless principalities •and city-states, have achieved their much admired identity and scin- tillating differences. And, as the young United States of the nineteenth century has demon- strated, the physical struggle connected with a defiantly independent economic development is quite as effective in creating the institutions, shared heroes, folklore, poetry and national romance necessary for fusing peoples into strong communities as the hardship of war or the in- toxication of hatred. And it leaves them with pride and confidence, not an inferiority com- plex engendering still more hatred. But to set out on a programme of this nature at a time when results can be had so much more quickly by frightening the strong and blackmailing the rich would, of course, again be nothing but a piece of unrational and romantic nonsense.

For all this, Adam Muller's much-despised romanticism may yet offer better guidance to the understanding of the problems and puzzling responses of underdeveloped countries than the contemporary rationalist experts, teaching the leaders of steaming pre-capitalist tropical lands the economics picked up in the long-cooled en- vironments of post-capitalist centres of learning such as Haryale or Oxbridge. They offer fur coats to Havana because they are useful in Boston. Willer, on the other hand, might prove the more rewarding, as he was himself not a befuddled romantic but an analyst who, far from advocating war, merely stressed in clinical fashion that it is good for the body politic, the Vol ksseele. Nor did his conclusions indicate that he hated The Age of Reason, the British or their classical economists—not any more than Dr. Nkrumah's anti-imperialist exhortations mean that he hates the Queen. On the contrary! Just as Dr. Nkrumah is the most enthusiastic admirer of British royalty and, in spite of his inflamma- tory actions as a nation-builder, a man of such an engaging personality that he can charm the most antagonistic birds from the trees, so Adam Muller had the greatest admiration for the glories of reason, the English people, and in particular the philosophy and economic doctrines of Adam Smith. He found them all unexceptionable. But what he also thought was that giving the heady wine of reason to the too young raises not rationalists but alcoholics—an idea which has only rarely appeared to the sellers of wine.