Wednesday 12 January 2011

Secular utilitarians ought, if consistent, to mourn the end of colonialism


The national liberation movements that brought about the end of colonialism had at best dubious, and mostly clearly negative, consequences for the mass of people who they purported to help; while having very clear and definite benefits for the elites to whom power and wealth were transferred.


In mainstream political discourse the bottom line is hedonic, utilitarian: policy purports to aim at the greatest happiness of the greatest number and at the minimization of suffering.

And it is pretty uncontroversial that endemic violence and permanent starvation cause suffering.

Therefore mainstream political discourse ought to mourn the end of colonialism, and set-out restoring it.


The ending of colonialism in Africa is the clearest example of what I mean. In many places 'liberation' from colonialism had clear and immediate benefits for the local elites - who became top dogs instead of second fiddle to the colonial powers.

But the mass of the population suffered the most extreme starvation and violence yet seen on earth.

This outcome would generally considered to be the worst possible situation, yet of course the end of colonialism is seen by PC as a cause for celebration.


Something similar happened in India - exacerbated by the partition into Pakinstan, then re-partitioning into Bangladesh - each 'liberation' caused immense disadvantage to everybody... except the new elites.


But I do not advocate a return to colonialism, because clearly it leads to immense resistance from the colonized - proving that (in a this-worldly and hedonic sense) humans obviously do not know 'what is good for them'.

The repeated rebellion of colonials throughout history has demonstrated as a fact that people en masse act as if they have different and non-material goals from optimizing peace and prosperity (or else, more precisely, they can readily be manipulated to act in this way by local elites, which amounts to the same thing in practice).

The repeated successful pattern of 'liberation' from colonialism is therefore yet another proof of the poverty of secular materialism.


Secular materialism - utilitarian policy aiming at comfort for all - is weak, weak, weak.

People like it when they have it, but don't want to keep it strongly enough to lift a finger to defend it.

Even nationalism - such a feeble and artificial emotion compared with religion - is easily strong enough to defeat secular materialism.


[Note: The European Age of Nationalism was only possible due to the decline of religion - ethnic-Nationalism becoming (by default) the next-strongest force of social cohesion possible in that era.]



sconzey said...

I'm not sure I agree with you that the end of colonialism was inevitable. All things being equal, a dispersed, underfunded guerilla movement cannot defeat a secure and well-managed State.

What we see time and time again where the guerillas *did* win is a rich State (or a sizable political movement within one) intervened on their side, as the British did in Greece, as the US did in Suez, as the "international community" and particularly the British did in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and as an alliance of French Gaullists with the Arab brotherhood and American anti-colonialists did in Algeria.

Bruce Charlton said...

I wouldn't say that it was inevitable - e.g. the Cayman Islands is still a British colony, albeit minuscule.

But that *in fact* dozens of 'dispersed and underfunded' nationalist movements did 'liberate' their elites from the elites derived from world power nations.

Of course I agree that there were forces of the kind you mention at work, and vitally, also, a fifth column at work within the world power nations.

But it happened, again and again; such that 18th 19th century style colonialism really does not look like a long-term viable form of organization.

What probably is more politically viable is to conquer, subordinate and exploit weaker nations - impoverishing their citizens in the process.

What is probably not viable is to conquer then *build-up* colonies - making the people richer per capita, improving health and suppressing internal violence - as often happened in the nineteenth century.

What is also certainly non-viable is the current situation in ex-colonies - of exponentially increasing endemically-semi-starving populations with a doubling time of just 15-25 years.

This is only possible due to semi-Westernization; and as the West commits PC-driven suicide and collapses, the world will revert to the old Malthusian situation - a horrible prospect.

tenkev said...

The only reason those many 'dispersed and underfunded' nationalist movements won their freedom or even became movements was because of the ascendance of PC within the imperial cultures and within the cultures being ruled. So, these successfull revolts are not because of any inherent human aversion to being ruled; but, from the worldwide ascendancy of liberalism.

See: any post by Mencius Moldbug,

Bruce Charlton said...

I think I have already read everything by MM...

Yes, PC was the cause of losing the colonies - but early-PC was also the reason why the colonies prospered - and why (by the end) the colonies were probably costing the colonial powers more than they yielded.

Traditional colonies were crushed and exploited and per capita did badly from the process (usually - for instance being enslaved), but exploited colonies (usually) were so weakened that they could not break-free until the empire collpsed or was conquered.

But 19th century 'PC colonies' did very well from being colonies, yet broke 'free' from this state of material largesse into violence and starvation...

sconzey said...

That's an interesting thesis; not one I'd considered before. In some of those examples I cited, failure was inevitable. There was no way -- for instance -- for the Ottoman Empire to have fought off Russia, and Britain, and France.

In other examples however it wasn't so much that the colonising country was forced to relinquish their territory, but that they lacked the moral courage to hang on to it, and voluntarily ceded it. Suez could have ended very differently, had the Eden administration had a little more strength of character. Algeria too, might today be a pleasant place to live had the Algiers putsch been successful.

As to your assertion that the only way for colonisation to be profitable is by pillaging the colonised country, I disagree! Government is a fantastically useful service, the wealth-generation which enables all other wealth-generation. A well-managed state should be fantastically profitable for its owners, who can then philanthropically apply their wealth to the relief of human suffering.

1. Enforce contracts and private property rights, enabling wealth creation
2. Tax real estate, capturing some of the value of the wealth creation you enabled
3. ?????

The only circumstances in which pillage is more profitable than the above is where your ability to enforce property rights and collect taxes is insecure; the whole leased vs. owned slaves thing.

Bruce Charlton said...

Well, in theory it should be possible to balance this against that and everyone should benefit; in practice I don't think so.

In practice, politics is very simple indeed - intrinsically so.

Either colonization is for the benefit of the colonial power, or of the colony - and the situation will gravitate one way or another.

The mutually beneficial symbiosis that you describe I would regard as merely a *transitional state* on the way to one or other of the states I described - only one of which is potentially stable.

Even in biology symbiosis is (over evolutionary time) an unstable state - since both sides have an intrinsic tendency to evolve to exploit the situation in their own favour (e.g. for the crocodile to let the little bird clean its teeth, then to eat the little bird afterwards; for the little bird to steal the food from the crocs jaws but not to bother with the fiddly business of cleaning its teeth).

Even co-operation between the cells of our body is a contingent transition - if we live long enough the cells will evolve to exploit one another (i.e. cancer).

All this happens *much* faster in politics, since there is never enough time for any equivalent to natural selection in social processes.

sconzey said...

The cancer analogy is a fitting one; I often imagine departments of democratic governments as cancers; each competing to expand over the others and absorb this stream of taxpayer cash; none of them looking to increase the flow.

But my general point is that if a colonising power's control over the colonised territory is secure, the interests of the colonised territory and the colonising power are aligned. The colonised territory wants protection of private property and the Rule of Law so they can become more wealthy, and the colonising power wants to protect private property and ensure the Rule of Law so they have a bigger pie to take a slice from.

Any insecurity in that power; beit from other colonising powers, or internal charismatic leaders attempting to redirect some of the State's revenue towards themselves and their supporters and the incentives for the governing power change... In the worst case they decide to extract as much wealth as they can from the country, even at the expense of future profitability.

When the donkey is owned, you take good care of it in order to get as many years work out of it as you can. When the donkey is leased you work it as hard as you can, getting as much work out of it while you still have it.

Bruce Charlton said...

I think we pretty much agree.

The problem with colonies is that when peace and prosperity depends upon the leadership of the colonizing country, then the local elites are restricted to junior officer status (clerks and school teachers); and they personally would benefit (at least in the short-to-medium term) from kicking-out the foreigners.

And this assumes that the local elites 1. understand the basis of the national peace and prosperity and 2. are capable (in principle) of long-term thinking: clearly these conditions do not always, or usually, hold true. Otherwise Africa would not be in the state it is. Or India/ Pakistan/ Bangladesh.

(It is easy to forget that India suffered several decades of near continuous famine after independence - up until the Biafran war/ famine, India was the poster-child for international poverty and the focus for Western 'aid'.)