On Its Stomach

The news from eastern Congo is, as it has long been, not good. I understand why outside mediators and observers want to keep trying to patch up old cease-fires or broker new ones between the ever-shifting array of combatants in the region. It’s a pointless effort, however.

Cease-fires work between combatants who have been using warfare as a means to achieve a political end which is separable from war itself. They work when those combatants are mutually convinced that further attempts to achieve those ends by military means are likely to be fruitless, or that there is more risk involved in continuing to fight than there is in ending the fight. They work when one power has achieved all that it reasonably can hope to achieve through military means and the other power is looking for a graceful way to acknowledge defeat or loss.

War in the eastern Congo is politics. There isn’t any state or sovereignty outside of armed combatants. The state which exists around Kinshasa may technically own the territory of eastern Congo, but it has no real governing authority there beyond its own projection of military force. As Thomas Turner has written, the political economy of eastern Congo is plunder. People who are not part of a band of armed men are resources to the armies, nothing more. They are not ruled or controlled or part of a sovereignty. If you want an analogy in European history, the Hundred Years’ War in France is fairly close: mercenary bands composed of men from many parts of Western Europe prowling the countryside, taking what they please, killing, maiming and raping the peasantry, sometimes working for established nobles or the monarchy, sometimes against them.

Though if that’s the analogy, the Congolese peasantry has yet to have its jacquerie, more’s the pity. Without the civilian population who surge from refugee camp to refugee camp, these armies would struggle to survive. They’d have no labor to conscript for pit-mining, no farmers whose crops they could steal, no women to rape. But there is no way to take the civilian population permanently out of the picture. I almost wish that the U.S., Canada and Western Europe could offer residency permits to every single resident of eastern Congo, agree to transport everyone accepting the offer, and give each of them a transitional allowance until they get established in their host country. That can’t happen, and the local alternative forms of refugee housing simply move the bullseye target for victimization around from place to place, border to border.

No cease-fire will hold until the armed men themselves want to stop fighting because they’re tired of it, see no future in it, or until some regional power (the Congo government or some other) is able to project overwhelming military force in a sustained way throughout the entire region. Given its topography, that’s very unlikely barring a massive investment by outside parties. So the mediators will fret, the UN will rattle its very small sabers, and the suffering will continue.

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52 Responses to On Its Stomach

  1. Carl says:

    Thanks – this seems right, and of course frustrating – but aren’t many of the various armed bands actually themselves a fractal jacquerie, composed of those elements of the peasantry for whom violence is an option?

    Classically the way this settles down is along the lines of “The Magnificent Seven” – localities pay ransom or ‘protection money’ to one group of violence experts to first, moderate their own depredations and second, defend them from others in exchange for stable residence, political power, status and exclusive rights of exploitation. How might the international community help that along here? First, perhaps, by finally giving up on the colonial/nationalist fiction of “The Congo” as a coherent and useful entity?

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    I suppose in a way those men are a jacquerie of sorts in their composition, but the “original” jacquerie of the Hundred Years War was pretty particular in their choice of targets, going after the gentry and nobility–it was unmistakeably a revolt. I don’t see Nkunda’s men or any other group in Eastern Congo as engaged in that kind of purposive political activity, more just in their own social reproduction through plunder.

  3. Carl says:

    Yes, I see, although insofar as Nkunda’s Tutsi and others can be seen as rebelling against the Kinshasa ‘nobility’ for failing to protect them against Rwandan Hutu banditry the analogy might hold. Who would be those targets in the Congolese context?

  4. moldbug says:

    But hey, at least we got the Belgians out.

    BTW, there’s some good Congo footage in Africa Addio

  5. moldbug says:

    Also, I’m all about this Congo importation plan. As a big fan of R.J. Dabney’s Defence of Virginia, I feel it’s about time we started the trade back up. Two hundred years is a nice round number – and isn’t there a 2.0 for everything?

    But it brings up plenty of questions. Would we bring the Congolese over on container ships, for example, or is it worth springing for plane tickets? I’m unavoidably reminded of Hunter S. Thompson’s characterization of Senator Bilbo’s ’30s repatriation plan, which involved the phrase “big iron barges.” And once they got settled in, what would we use them for? Agricultural labor, do you think, or domestic service?

    And how would our 60 million new Americans vote? Would the traditional Congolese commitment to family values produce, perhaps, a historic shift toward the Republicans? Karl Rove must be rubbing his hands with glee. Should they live in my neighborhood, do you think, or yours? I say we put at least 10 mil in the Bay Area. There’s plenty of open space that could be used as shantytowns, and we could certainly do with a few more Republican votes.

  6. Timothy Burke says:

    Sigh. I’m simply pointing out that without the people of the Congo, the armed militias would be nothing, that they are the “food” that they march upon. But there’s nothing to be done, from what I can see.

    I have a hard time figuring out your angle. When I asked you in a previous thread if you thought colonialism was an ideal, you said not. You’re not much interested in the precolonial history of African societies, from what I can tell. I agree with you in at least some respects about the structural failures of postcolonial development institutions (and so do a significant number of scholarly critics, which I’m not sure you’re aware of). So. Are the failures of the state in postcolonial Africa general failures of the modern state as a form, from your perspective? If they’re particular to Africa, what’s the cause of that (considering that you don’t seem to think colonialism has *any* causal role)? If they’re rooted in precolonial societies, how in specific? Unless you’re really arguing for racial inferiority, at which point the conversation really does grind to a halt. (And I don’t think you understand Carlyle very clearly if that’s what he boils down to at an elemental level for you.)

  7. moldbug says:

    To say something isn’t perfect, which colonialism wasn’t, which no government in history has been, is not to say it can’t be made worse. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    I am hardly an expert in the (post-Leopold) Belgian administration. My impression is that it was somewhere between French and Portuguese standards. But any variant of European imperialism, even the Portuguese, would represent a considerable improvement on the decolonialized Congo. Heck, the Sultan of Zanzibar could probably improve on what the State Department has made of the place. There’s another saying: “you broke it, you bought it.”

    I am not very interested in precolonial African history, true. That’s because precolonial African history is not very interesting. I seem to recall a post on your site describing the series of gruesome murders that was the precolonial history of the Mashona – or was it the Matabele? And I’m sure you’ve read Richard Francis Burton’s Wanderings in West Africa, in which he visits some precolonial Nigerian cities. As well as, most interestingly, Sierra Leone. You must know that in Sierra Leone in the 1860s, a traveller could be sued for using the N-word. And you’ll recall the dedication of Wanderings, which really sums it up in a sentence.

    So, let’s see: before the European colonialists arrived, life in Africa was nasty, brutish and short. While the Europeans were there, Africa became relatively peaceful and civilized. You kicked the Europeans out, and life went back to being nasty, brutish and short. And this is – let’s see – the Europeans’ fault? Good morning, Mr. Orwell, how would you like your eggs today?

    Carlyle’s philosophy certainly cannot be reduced to his unscientific, but remarkably prescient, instincts about human biodiversity. Nor can Hume’s, and Hume saw it exactly the same way. And does the name “James Watson” mean anything to you? Facts matter, you know.

    What Carlyle would tell you is that you’re in the grip of a religious mania that affects Englishmen and Americans of the Dissenter, Nonconformist or Puritan persuasion, originating in Britain in the early 19th century and soon spreading to New England, in which the victim assumes based on no evidence whatsoever that the average African is a European with a black skin.

    You have received this belief system through the New England oligarchy, famed operators of fine universities, which first won the Civil War, then decided it would be fun to intervene in WWI, than won WWII and inherited the earth. With what results, we see above.

    Brother Jonathan, the city-on-a-hill man, the peace-loving Yankee, believes it is not only his right but his duty to do everything he can to impose on them that system of government which he considers morally essential for Europeans. His evidence for the latter proposition being that it works, sort of, for Yankee yeomen in Vermont. And then, with Jonathan’s usual effortless effrontery, he tells us he believes in “diversity.” When what he really believes is that everybody is the same, wants the same things, and should live under the same form of government, ie, his. Jonathan being always the expert in “public policy.”

    If you’re interested in Carlyle but you have some kind of pathological aversion to the word “Quashee,” try his Latter-Day Pamphlets. They encapsulate his perspective of society and government quite well, and I believe they’re actually legal to print out and keep in your office.

  8. moldbug says:

    And lest I be accused of ducking the question: no, I don’t think a form of government which expects every man and woman to be an 18th-century philosopher is terribly suited to populations with a mean IQ of 70. In fact, I don’t think democracy is terribly suited to populations with a mean IQ of 100, 120, 140 or 160, but it probably works best around 120. (Much above that and your voters are too smart for their own good, a problem we see demonstrated every day at America’s finest universities.)

    Although there is not much evidence for the proposition, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that West African cognitive skills could be raised, perhaps if nothing else by nutrient supplementation. The African-American mean IQ of 85 may not be out of reach, although African-Americans average about 20% European admixture.

    However, you might want to try doing this before you impose the political system of New Jersey on them, and assume that this will turn the Congo (or Zimbabwe, or South Africa, or…) into New Jersey.

    BTW, while Carlyle’s predictions on this issue have mostly been validated, he (and similar thinkers, such as Froude) made one glaring error: predicting that the freed slaves would fail to thrive and disappear. In fact, the period 1900-1950, during which African-Americans had essentially no political power, is also the period during which their cultural and economic achievements were the greatest. Which do you prefer? Little Jeezy, or Louis Armstrong?

    But all that ended when progressives learned to use black rage as a club to beat (often, indeed, ethnically cleanse) their reactionary opponents, and black votes to keep the Democrats in office and the policy wonks in business. Now Bronzeville, Sweet Auburn and the Fillmore are distant memories, and in the era of The Wire, Carlyle starts to look prescient again.

  9. Holy dystopian fantasy, Batman!

    Have you spent any time in Africa, moldbug? It’s possible you have–I can imagine a person with some experience of the place writing this stuff. I’m pretty sure that you haven’t been to precolonial or even colonial Africa, though, so your certainties about life before and during can’t be anything but heavily mediated.

    It’s all abstraction–a bunch of sweeping generalizations based on a reality-starved synthesis of credulous or superficial impressions of sources that flatter your worldvew in the first place. There’s a lot of vague historical sweep and some desiccated rationalism but no signs I can see of thoughtful contact with real people living real lives in the real places that you’re writing about.

    Advanced Western cognitive skills should be up to more of a challenge.

  10. peter55 says:

    Timothy and Robert — I decided after an earlier exchange here that trying to debate rationally with moldbug is an impossible task. His or her views are incoherent, not grounded in any empirical reality, not subject to rational contestation or reflection, and largely indistinguishable from racist claptrap.

  11. moldbug says:

    Robert, I’m an amateur historiographer, not a traveler, diplomat or aidocrat. Have you ever visited the 19th century? If not, do you know anything about it?

    No, I’ve never been to Africa. My father was US economic counselor in Lagos in the early ’90s, when I was in college – I regret not visiting him then.

    As for abstractions, I certainly hear quite a few coming from your team. To nip this tendency and get back on topic, here’s an excerpt from George Ball’s memoir, The Past Has Another Pattern:

    I had first been introduced to the Congo’s problems in the late 1950s, when one of my European law partners brought a minister of the Belgian government to my house in Washington. The minister knew that, as an advisor to the French Patronat, I had shown interest in France’s colonial problems in North Africa. He wished to persuade me that the Belgians could succeed where the French were failing. By its enlightened economic policies, Belgium could maintain control of its Congo territories without fear of the turbulence bedeviling the French in the Maghreb. During a long afternoon, he displayed an impressive portfolio of charts, pictures and plans to demonstrate how Belgium was improving the physical environment and elevating the living standard of the Congolese. He exuded smug confidence that Belgium was in the Congo to stay. The benign attention of the government in Brussels was, he said, fully appreciated by the Congo indigenes.
    In spite of the minister’s self-assurance, I remained unpersuaded. Belgium, I told him, would have no better luck than other countries in trying to buck the tide of history. The domination of colonies by a European metropole could not, I declaimed – perhaps too pompously – long withstand the rising force of Third World nationalism.

    Ball and our host are, of course, members of the same intellectual tradition. Note the same tantalizing moments of self-awareness – Ball is aware that he, himself, sounds a little smug. But he knows he has the “tide of history” on his side. So he goes ahead and smashes the Belgian Congo, and then Katanga.

    Frankly, it takes quite a bit of nerve for those who still believe in the “tide of history” to talk about “abstractions.”

    There’s a somewhat simpler narrative for what happened in Africa after 1950: it was the second Scramble. The US and its brutal and inept imitator, Russia, kicked the Euros out and established their own purportedly “independent” client states in Africa. These were ten times as badly governed, but created ten times as many jobs for white people. Such as, of course, yourselves. Is that concrete enough for you?

  12. Your concrete is just as wild as your abstract, moldbug. Not that I have any objection to abstraction per se, or generalization, and as I think about it that’s the operative word. I don’t have any radical skepticism about the possibility of knowing anything about the 19th century, either. Maybe I can make the point with a quick example–your most overblown generalization:

    before the European colonialists arrived, life in Africa was nasty, brutish and short. While the Europeans were there, Africa became relatively peaceful and civilized. You kicked the Europeans out, and life went back to being nasty, brutish and short.

    It’s a monumentally simplistic, egocentric and uncritical reading of the evidence that reduces millions of lives over hundreds of years on a vast continent to a bitter formula for putting “us” in our place. And who kicked out the Europeans? Timothy? “[Our] team” (the one spouting abstractions)? Is it only Timothy, or Timothy and me, or the whole team who are “members of the same intellectual tradition” as George Ball? Anyway, because of his pompous remark, it seems that we (or at least I) must still subscribe to the idea of a “tide of history.” And whatever we (or I) say is therefore tainted by the US government’s heavy-handed cold-war manipulations?

    As a critic, I don’t see how you could get much more self-indulgent.

  13. peter55 says:

    moldbug says: “While the Europeans were there, Africa became relatively peaceful and civilized.”

    So the invasion and conquest of citizens, the rape, torture and murder of innocent people by the state, the eviction of people from their farms and their homes, the arbitrary separation of familites, the waging of military campaigns against indigenous peoples, the theft of natural resources, the imposition of internal passport systems, the refusal to allow indigeneous peoples to enter formal education, and the imposition of racist economic, social and political structures is “civilized”, is it? This one sentence tells me a great deal about Moldbug’s value system.

    As I said, Moldbug’s statements bear no relationship to empirical reality and are indistinguishable from racist claptrap.

  14. moldbug says:

    peter55, you strike me as an informed person. So I suppose the word “Mfecane” means something to you. Do you, by any chance, judge Zulus by the same standard you use for Europeans? If not, why not?

    On a more modern note, you might enjoy perusing the web site Thug Report. Dare you click? It’s a compendium of crimes committed by the American underclass – mostly black. Do I believe Africans in America are guilty, as a race, of these crimes, and should perhaps be required to pay some kind of reparations for the crime spree of the last 40 years? Well, it would be a fun point to argue, but no, I don’t. Do I believe that all African-Americans are murderous ogres? Of course not.

    So, yes, I’m sure you are a very diligent student of the crimes committed by Europeans in Africa over the last few centuries. Under the Third Reich they studied Jews in exactly the same way, and they were just as academic about it. My guess is that these bodies of scholarship will prove equally lasting.

    Civilization, to answer your question, is peace, the rule of law, the absence of crime, the protection of property and commerce, the availability of basic services such as water, electricity and transportation, etc, etc, etc. I don’t know where you’re posting from, but my guess is (a) it’s not the Congo, and (b) it enjoys the benefit of these facilities. And, I am very, very confident that the Congolese, whatever their IQs, are just as fond of these basics as you and I are – if not more.

    Colonial Africa, while certainly imperfect, had them. Present-day Africa, largely, does not. And while colonial Africa still existed, as you may know, its critics were not suggesting that the departure of the Europeans was such a boon as to be worth the termination of “civilization.” Oh, no. The standard story in the ’50s was that colonialism was actually retarding the development of Africa, by keeping their economies focused on agriculture, small trade, native industries, etc, instead of industrializing their economies and turning into Sweden.

    Certainly, if you have any anticolonialist sources from the 1950s which suggest either that (a) the newly liberated nations would probably retrogress due to those famously ill-drawn colonial boundaries, or (b) that decolonialization would result in the return of large parts of Africa to precolonial levels of tribal savagery, I’d be interested in hearing them. I can certainly give you plenty of sources that predicted (b), but I’m afraid none of them are anticolonialist.

  15. moldbug says:

    Robert, do you have a question? If you’re questioning my statement that US foreign policy – and in particular the State Department and the academic establishment around it – is responsible for the termination of classical European colonialism, let me know and I’ll try to dig up some sources that can satisfy you. I really don’t think the point is very debatable.

    The Cold War lunacy certainly imposed another layer of complexity on the whole experience, but the US right’s flirtations with the likes of Rhodesia, South Africa and imperial Portugal were neither deep nor successful, and they existed against a steady background of grinding anticolonialist pressure.

    See, for example, this South African episode. I love the comment that Botha’s real constituency was Western public opinion – it displays the typical State Department contempt for the idea that anyone, anywhere, might want to operate an actual independent country.

    BTW, I suspect anyone who enjoys Professor Burke’s blog would also enjoy reading George Ball’s memoir. Both are equally well-written, and both write from more or less the same perspective. And Ball is a little more candid than some of his colleagues, such as Dean Acheson, because despite his considerable influence he was never really a public figure.

  16. IWHock says:

    Reading your analysis of the situation in Congo, I am reminded of Edward Luttwak’s piece, “Give War a Chance.” He suggests that peace occurs only when one combatant wins a decisive victory or when both combatants exhaust their resources. Mediated cease-fires, peacekeepers and other forms of outside intervention then prolong wars because they prevent decisive victories and allow combatants to rebuild their capabilities. In general, I find Luttwak’s positions and politics reprehensible, but I wonder if his analysis is correct. Has outside intervention in Congo made the conflict more intractable?

  17. Carl says:

    IWHock, I went to a NAMI family support group meeting once, and the facilitator argued much along these lines, that when the mentally ill are acting crazy it does little good to try to help them until they’ve hit rock bottom and shed their last prideful resistance to complete subordination to their caregivers. I too found this appalling, but not necessarily inaccurate.

    On this basis there are those who altogether reject the idea of mental illness and treatment; they think we need to respect people’s decision to be crazy and either leave them be or support them as best we can.

    There are two arguments here: whether there’s a disease; and if so, whether certain cures are worse than it.

  18. moldbug says:

    I am impressed to see Luttwak mentioned on this blog. Somebody has an open mind. And on a slightly related note, I’m sure everyone’s read Kim du Toit’s famous essay, Let Africa Sink.

    The unsquarable circle of postcolonialism is the attempt to govern Africa without governing it. If you feel that Africans are morally entitled to a Western standard of government, govern them. If you don’t, have the decency to leave them alone. Philanthropy without authority is not a success.

    For example: if Paul Kagame conquers the Congo, as he surely would in the absence of ambiguous Western muddling (I suppose he’d have to contend with the Angolans, but perhaps they could work out a partition), does this count as imperialism? Is it better, or worse, than inviting the Belgians back?

    And there’s always China, which I’m sure would be perfectly happy to take the whole continent off the “international community”‘s hands. (Seeing as the phrase “international community” in any sentence can be exchanged, without fear of contradiction, for “State Department.”) Perhaps we could even sell it to them. They have dollars, we have debts…

  19. paul cossins says:

    Timothy, the situation in the Congo reminds me of “the meaningless gyrations of barbarous tribes in remote and irrelevant parts of the globe”.

    Let’s see. Meaningless? Yes: no wide significance hence largely ignored elsewhere. Gyrations? Yes: tis the same old story. Barbarous? Yup: not exacly a model of civility and decorum in Congo. Remote and irrelevant? Nobody would deny it.

  20. Sorry to be flogging this pet peeve of mine, but…

    Civilization… is peace, the rule of law, the absence of crime, the protection of property and commerce, the availability of basic services such as water, electricity and transportation, etc, etc, etc. …
    Colonial Africa, while certainly imperfect, had them. Present-day Africa, largely, does not.

    Based on my personal experience with Kenya–cumulatively, over the course of the last 20 years, I’ve spent over a year there–moldybug’s schematic history is nonsense. It’s tempting to explain why, but I’m not going to, except to make the straightforward point that very few indigenous Kenyans got “basic services” during colonial times. Moldybug has framed his argument in such simplistic and self-serving terms that a straightforward point-by-point counterargument just endorses the frame.

    Anyone who sincerely wanted to know what colonization brought to Kenya would have to put together a before-during-after account of the living conditions of a few different populations of the area–e.g., pastoralists, agriculturalists, highlands, savannah, coast, etc. The first challenge is a realistic picture of pre-colonial life that’s not romanticized or condescending–if the baseline is a society of little value or a society of great but ineffable value, most likely the conclusions are already in place, and pre-colonial Kenya was not one society but a diverse collection of them. If the question is how much civilization, as defined by moldybug, the Brits provided while they were there and how much was left after they were gone, there is no simple answer. I assume there’s some literature about all this, but I’m not well versed in Kenyan history. It’s definitely not a slam dunk for either the procolonial or anticolonial perspective, but to approach such a rich history in order to validate one or the other seems like an awfully tedious and unenlightening thing to do.

    Moldybug has constructed a fantasy world that serves little purpose beyond nursing ideological grudges. Getting down on his court to knock back some counterarguments is, it seems to me, to lose the match–it amounts to agreeing to an intellectually sterile and dehumanizing debate. Despite his first impulse, peter55 helped to make the point. It’s possible to respond by reframing, but it’s hard to match the seductive punch of ideological oversimplification. Looking back to an earlier thread, some of these anti-anticolonial diatribes may be concrete examples of the things that are best “push[ed] to the margins of our consciousness.”

  21. paul cossins says:

    Oh, and the idea of a solution via massive demographic re-engineering through population transfers strikes me as a typical utopian plan with predictably dire consequences. Isn’t that how the likes of Stalin planned to “solve” the Chechen “problem”?

    Of course, one result will be that people from overpopulated Rwanda and Burundi will just move in to repopulate the area and start the same gyrations all over again.

    My solution: mercenaries. They dealt with Congo unrest back in the 60s, so let them do it again.

  22. moldbug says:


    Of course, Africa is a huge place and every country in it is different. Kenya is, relatively speaking, a success story – so far, largely thanks to a bit of corrupt and iron-fisted dictatorship, it has held together remarkably well. Call me in another decade, though.

    To think, one must generalize. Generalization: the Nazis were evil. Exceptions: many individual Nazis, blah blah blah; Nazi environmentalism, Nazi anti-smoking campaigns, Nazi full employment, blah blah blah. You can find all these exceptions, and yet the general statement, the Nazis were evil, holds and remains pertinent.

    Here the pertinent question is: was there any country in Africa in which the “independent” or “liberated” government provided, for natives (let’s not worry about those evil Europeans right now), a better quality of governance than the colonial administration? Or even an equal quality of governance? At the risk of generalizing, I would say the answer is pretty clearly “no.”

    Pope’s Essay on Man comes to mind: “For Forms of Government let fools contest;/ Whatever is best administered is best.”

    So I find it very curious that those responsible for creating and overseeing the “independent” and “liberated” regimes of the new Africa can wax so emotional on the evils of colonialism. It’s almost as if they were trying to convince us that white is black and black is white. Now why would that be? You’d think that if we were just looking at two shades of grey here, as you say, we wouldn’t have a gigantic academic establishment devoted to convincing us that the question is indeed a slam dunk.

    Imagine if the Nazis had won the war. We would all be Nazis now, and we would be constantly regaled with the evils of Jewry, now exterminated of course. Whew! A close call for the Aryan race. Clearly, it was them or us. But were they all conspiring, murderous tricksters? And couldn’t they have just been deported to Madagascar? No doubt the apparatchiks of the day would, indeed, be pushing these questions “to the margins of their consciousness.” Cognitive dissonance is like that.

    The case of Kenya is especially interesting, because the conflict between the white settlers and the Colonial Office was already fairly pronounced before the war. Certainly by the time of Lord Passfield (Sidney Webb), the Colonial Office thought of itself as the protector of the natives and was very, very reluctant to let the whites govern the country, Rhodesia style. Of course this trend toward Commonwealthism evolved into our modern, or American, aidocracy – leading to Malcolm Muggeridge’s famous crack that the British had traded an Empire on which the sun never set, for a Commonwealth on which it never rises.

    I suspect this conflict is pretty heavily papered over in most anticolonial histories. One of the facts that gets airbrushed out is that British imperialism, at least, was always politically on the back foot – Exeter Hall having won all the battles it ever fought, then and now. The trend was clear. Mrs. Jellyby was the future. But I wonder how many modern anticolonialists even recognize the phrase “Exeter Hall.”

  23. jpool says:

    Where do you think you’re drawing these neo-colnialists/Africa haters from?

  24. moldbug says:

    Welcome to the big bad Internet, jpool.

    Wouldn’t you like to know who I am, so you can rat me out to some committee? Doesn’t everything about me just scream “enemy of the progressive Soviet peoples?” Why don’t you go read Prairie Fire for a while, administer a thorough scratching to that big Stalinist itch, then come back over to my blog, where you can denounce me ad libitum et infinitum in the comments.

  25. Timothy Burke says:

    Ok, cool it.

    I’ve been busy for a few days, so sorry that I let this thread alone so long.

    Look, Moldbug, a few things to consider, put in as friendly a way as I can.

    1) You’ve used Carlyle and other touchstones as a way to erect a pre-emptive shield against anything that people with expert knowledge of African history or current affairs might answer to your characterizations, by setting up said experts as the direct descendants of 19th Century humanitarian critics of empire, motivated by their social class alone. Can I suggest first that as even as an intellectual history of liberal humanitarianism this is weak, as it leapfrogs well over a century of complex interweavings of sentiment, social formation, institutional change, and so on? (You’re also using Carlyle’s late writing on slavery in a very reductive way, by the way, rather than trying to think through the whole context of his writings and the evolution of his disagreement with mid-century liberals like Mill.) But it’s also not much use in a conversation, because it puts you in a position to say that no matter what anyone has to tell you about the historical specifics, you already know in advance that what they’re saying isn’t based on anything factual that you’re bound to respect. There is very simply a difference between the training I or most scholars studying Africa have received and the processes of knowledge creation that we employ and the kinds of information about the history and culture of slaves in the Americas that a Non-Conformist evangelical abolitionist might have used to call for the end of slavery.

    So you tell me: is it worth my while to lay out for you the concrete historical specifics of something like the Kuba Kingdom or Luba Empire in order to correct the assertion that Africa was just nasty and brutish and then there was the order brought by Europeans? Or are you just going to brandish your view that I am just a product of my social class and that this is all made-up nonsense that I and others have concocted to give ourself comfort?

    And let me be clear: the very concrete histories of many different precolonial societies that I can lay out for you are not “Merrie Olde Africa”, not paradise. But in most cases, these are societies whose flaws and failures were very human ones. You mention (and misunderstand) an earlier point I had made about some murders in one of the Shona chiefships I’m most interested in. These were political assassinations, and there were four of them in the chiefship in the course of about 100 years. This is hardly a history which makes this particular African society look morally worse or more flawed than Western Europe, even during this exact time span (c. 1840-1940): shall I list for you significant political assassinations in U.S. history in that time span? In the Balkans? In France? In Russia?

    Is it worth it for me to pose to you information which is historically grounded that complicates your characterization of colonial rule, or complicates your view of the causes of postcolonial chaos? Consider alone the AK-47. I’ve pointed out on a number of occasions that one of the very unusual things about 1880 or so was that even in purely military terms the force asymmetry between African states and European ones in 1880 was unique (and short-lived) in world history at that exact moment. “Hegemony on a shoestring” worked from the end of World War I to the 1940s in part simply because there were no cheap, easily available land mines or AK-47s in the world. The Rhodesian experience demonstrates in part that no European state could have maintained imperial domination over African territories at the level of expense and effort employed in the early 20th Century simply because the military gap between colonized subjects and imperial occupiers closed over the course of the 20th Century. Or I could observe that the relative prosperity of colonial economies in Africa (compared to the wretched present in most states) was visible only in a very, very brief period of time from about 1945 to 1960, at a point when there was economic growth almost everywhere in the world, that 1917 or 1931 or 1890 don’t make colonialism look particularly different in economic terms. In fact, as I’ve pointed out to you before, between 1870 and 1930 in southern Africa, imperial authorities actively suppress relatively enthusiastic participation by African farmers and workers in entrepreneurial activity in order to favor whites–they actually stop certain kinds of economic growth dead in their tracks and appropriate property and rights from the most entrepreneurial and educated Africans.

    There’s a whole host of concrete factual information like that to consider that either complicates or outright refutes your understanding of empire. But I get the sense that it’s not worth my time or anyone else’s time to lay it out for you, because you’ve got six layers of selective readings of selected 19th Century intellectuals to defend you against any knowledge that’s been produced after that date.

    2) Can you help me to understand just what it is that you value about empire in Africa? From what I can see in this thread and in past threads you’ve responded to, it is one thing and one thing only, that empire suppressed military conflict and violence in Africa. This is what I guess you’re extending out of Carlyle’s “Nigger Question”, his argument that slavery maintained order and compelled labor where no labor would have otherwise have occurred.

    I ask this because as I read you, every other latter-day or nostalgic defense of empire is denied to you by your own declared views. You’re not much interested in Africans as (potentially) liberal subjects whose human potential cannot be reached without some form of outside intervention that prepares some kind of democratic or liberal state that is well-integrated into a globalized, modern order. That’s “liberal imperialism”, whose intellectual roots go well back into the 19th Century.

    You can’t be much interested in the argument that the West requires African resources and that this requires some form of imperial administration. (Lugard was surprisingly frank about this argument at points in his defense of British rule.) I say you can’t be much interested in it because the history since 1950 bluntly demonstrates that this belief was a fairytale. Whatever the global economy needs by way of raw materials from African territories today, it pretty much gets whether there is a strong state, a weak state or not much of any state at all. No colonialism required. Nor is there any need, in the context of global capital, for an imperial state to compel African subjects to labor. The absence of African labor from circuits of global capitalism doesn’t bug global capitalism. It should only bug you if you’re primarily concerned with remedying African poverty, which takes a more-or-less liberal interest in the humanity of African subjects.

    So you’re left with this being about the maintenance of order and the suppression of violence in Africa. Can I ask why you care about this at all? There are really only three reasons to care.

    The first is once again a liberal concern: that Africans are human beings whom you take to be equal to yourself in every respect, and equally entitled to protection from violence, to the guarantee of equal and natural rights, and so on.

    The second would be self-interest: that you judge that disorder in Africa poses a direct threat of some kind to your own interests or safety. There are isolated places on the continent about which that might be said: say, the coast of Somalia. But the solution to this, if you take this kind of perspective, is hardly “imperialism”, with its enormous expense and difficulty. (Not to mention the fact that owing to military, social and technological changes I’ve already alluded to, it’s not even clear that imperial occupation in 2008 actually can reduce supposedly dangerous instability.)

    The third argument would simply be that you find violence and chaos aesthetically displeasing, and believe that the use of state-sanctioned forms of violent suppression of some populations makes the world look or feel better and therefore eases your troubled mind, regardless of the consequences for the people in those violent places. I suppose this is the extension of Carlyle: that the violence of empire or slavery is necessary to produce order, and order has an intrinsic aesthetic value in and of itself, regardless of what the existence of order actually makes possible. If this is it, then yeah, you aren’t really going to care about any historical details or specifics, and moreover, I don’t know that we have much to discuss.

    Or this is just about saying, “White people good, black people bad” in whatever way seems to hold water for a few seconds.

  26. How about that. Substance! If nothing else comes of all this, at least I’ll learn something.

    There’s an embarrassing misspelling in my previous comment that I have to apologize for. It may be a kind of Freudian slip, but it’s not something I would do on purpose. Sorry, Moldbug, for obnoxiously mangling your name.

  27. moldbug says:

    Substance! I’ll drink to that.

    Professor Burke, you can’t really be serious in comparing the Kuba Kingdom to any Mediterranean, European or Asian civilization of the historic period. In fact, by the normal gauges that archaeologists and paleontologists use to judge cultural development – complexity of artifacts, technologies and social structures – you’d have a tough time comparing the “Children of Woot” to most prehistoric cultures from outside sub-Saharan Africa.

    You’ve inadvertently illustrated the collective flight from reality that your profession has taken. Here, to try and eliminate your Eurocentric bias, take this test: compare the Kuba and the Luba to the Khmer kingdoms of medieval Cambodia. Is there any doubt that if the Khmer culture had been in the Congo, it would have been your first choice as an example?

    Let me again recommend Michael Hart’s Understanding Human History, reviewed and available as a free PDF at the link.

    Hart’s book is slightly mistitled – it should probably be called Understanding Human Prehistory. It sheds little light on, say, World War I. Nonetheless, Hart is up on the latest research in genetic anthropology and recent human evolution. We’ve learned a lot in the last ten years, and we’ll learn a lot more in the next ten. Especially relevant is the discovery of acceleration.

    If you want to see these issues regularly discussed, check out Gene Expression. Many of the pseudonymous posters teach and/or study at R1 universities. And for a gentler, more mainstream introduction, try William Saletan. As Saletan puts it: “The truth doesn’t care what you want.” Change is coming, Professor Burke. You can be a dinosaur or you can be a mammal.

    Your mention of Rhodesia is another “good grief” moment. You’re really arguing that Rhodesia surrendered because it was defeated by the guerrillas? Rhodesia surrendered because Kissinger convinced Victor Vorster to cut off its oil supply. As late as March 1980 the Rhodesian military was prepared to reverse the issue. In retrospect, they should have. Vorster, Kissinger and Mugabe: three great tastes that taste great together.

    Let me ask: what histories from the Rhodesian perspective have you read? Surely you’ve at least perused Ian Smith’s memoir. And BTW, I assume you’re aware, since you seem so enthusiastic about land mines, that Rhodesian MRAP designs are saving the lives of American soldiers as we speak. If it’s any consolation, some of those soldiers are blacks and Mexicans. (Okay, that was a cheap shot – I retract the remark.)

    So I don’t cite Carlyle because I consider him some kind of infallible genius from the past. I cite Carlyle because (a) his grip on reality appears, in the light of hindsight, to have been far tighter than that of his opponents, and (b) despite this, the radical-imperialist perspective that he represented has been written out of history and disappeared as anything like a scholarly tradition.

    As we can see by your obvious lack of experience in arguing with reactionary neocolonialists. Few of whom I’d guess are your colleagues on the Swarthmore faculty. Doesn’t this strike you as just a little bit Orwellian?

    I admire your ability to caricature this criticism as Marxist historical determinism. It’s is mere historiography 101. As usual, the winners wrote the conventional history that is taught today in our schools. How can we revise and correct this, to see the past – as Ranke put it – “as it really was?”

    In our case, the winner is the Nonconformist/Puritan/Roundhead, New England, Whig, Exeter Hall, liberal Anglo-American tradition. The losers are every other European and American current of thought, including not only English and Southern American Toryism, but the French, German, and Spanish nationalist traditions. None of which are still taught anywhere on earth. All, since 1945, have been replaced by happy-clappy Unitarian blue-state Americanism. Ah, diversity.

    But you have a principal question, which is a question of great substance, and really goes to the heart of the democratic misunderstanding of government. Why is it that I value the peace and order that colonialism brought to Africa? And why is it that I think this peace and order is not an artifact of a certain historical period, but could be returned to Africa at any time by reversing the changes in Western foreign policy that, in my judgment, destroyed it?

    The first is once again a liberal concern: that Africans are human beings whom you take to be equal to yourself in every respect, and equally entitled to protection from violence, to the guarantee of equal and natural rights, and so on.

    I certainly don’t believe that any two human beings can be found who are equal in any meaningful respect, excepting perhaps identical twins. As Maistre put it: “Who are these humans? I have met Englishmen, Spaniards, Russians, Germans, but I have never met a human.” Morally, however, yes: I believe that everyone should enjoy the benefits of good government, first and foremost of which is security (protection from violence).

    But as a reactionary rather than a liberal, I don’t believe the “right” to exercise political power is properly grouped with civil liberties. I also believe that whenever liberty and security conflict, security wins. In a state of chaos, civil liberties are suspended and martial law prevails. Basically, my political philosophy is much the same as Filmer’s, except without all the God stuff.

    The third argument would simply be that you find violence and chaos aesthetically displeasing, and believe that the use of state-sanctioned forms of violent suppression of some populations makes the world look or feel better and therefore eases your troubled mind, regardless of the consequences for the people in those violent places.

    Listen to this curious sentence you’ve constructed. I find violence displeasing, so I believe in violence? I realize that it’s a strawman, but it makes no sense.

    I’m reminded of a cartoon reprinted in one of Niall Ferguson’s histories, in which General Dyer of Amritsar fame is mocked for his purported belief that he’s massacring Indians for the sake of keeping Indians from massacring each other. Dyer’s troops, firing on an illegal mob, killed, what, a few hundred people? And thoroughly suppressed the ethnic violence in the Punjab. Thirty years later, unsuppressed mobs would massacre millions. (But I agree – Dyer should have at least ordered the mob to disperse before firing.)

    What we see here is, first, again, a lack of perspective. First, the violence and suffering due to government repression is negligible compared to the violence and suffering due to government inaction. One can certainly find cases in which the human impact of tyrannical (pointlessly brutal) government is comparable to the human impact of anarchy and tribal violence – Stalin, say, or King Leopold in the Congo. But we were talking about the British Empire, not King Leopold. You can’t simply lump Lord Lugard and King Leopold together on the same page, just because they were both Europeans in Africa – any more than you can lump Stalin and Nicholas I on the same page, because they were both absolute rulers of Russia.

    For a sustained analysis of an imperial experience from the reactionary perspective, I really really recommend Froude’s history of the English in Ireland (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). You’ll find it makes a surprising amount of sense.

    What you’re really missing, I think, is the Zen of imperium. You are so thoroughly steeped in the tradition of government by consent that you fail to recognize that government without consent is the overwhelming rule throughout human history. And that it’s really rather easy, and works rather well.

    There is a fascinating Victorian metaphor which I think goes to the heart of imperial Zen: the phrase grasping the nettle. Supposedly, when you wrap your hand firmly around a stinging nettle and pull, the stings are disabled in some way and you are unharmed. But if you just brush the stem, wham. I have not personally verified the truth of this and I don’t recommend trying it at home, but hey, it’s a metaphor.

    The thrust of the metaphor is that violence, as the commenter who cited Luttwak implied, is a consequence of weakness. A strong imperial administration does not allow violent opposition to develop. It certainly does not permit, for example, political parties with anything like an armed wing. Or, in conditions of unrest, any parties at all. It does not yield to mob violence. It handles irregular warfare with the full asperity of classical international law, without any restraint in hanging bandits, pirates, thugs, and other such scum.

    Read Lord Cromer’s Modern Egypt (vol.1, vol.2), and look at his treatment of the Dinshaway Incident. Compare it to Wikipedia’s. That’s imperialism in a nutshell.

    Bear in mind: Lord Cromer governed Egypt, a country remarkably comparable to Iraq, peacefully for 20 years, with 5000 British troops, paid for entirely by the Egyptian revenues. He made Egypt such a desirable place to live that a large international community of Europeans, Greeks, Jews, Armenians – all since expelled, of course, by your nationalist pets, with the shirts on their backs – moved there and thrived. And he did so without F-16s, laser-guided JDAMs, Predators, or anything of the sort. What did his opponents, to the extent that he had any, have? Bombs and guns. The same basic technologies you are so enthusiastic about in the hands of Mugabe and Nkomo.

    So compare this to the liberal theory of government without consent, which you espouse. The liberal theory is (a) that government without consent is impossible, will never work, and should not be tried; and (b) the “pressure-valve” theory, that only way to defeat a military rebellion is to accede to the pressures of its political wing. And certainly not to crack down harder, which is always counterproductive. Shooting into a mob, for example, is the worst thing you can do. Absolutely the worst. Never, ever works.

    Note how effectively this pair of theories can be used to prove itself, even assuming that the conflicting grasp-the-nettle theory is true and the pressure-valve theory is false. If the grasp-the-nettle theory is true, giving in to a mob is the worst thing you can do. So if the people making policy espouse the pressure-valve theory, they give in to the mob, and the whole system falls apart, what does it mean? It means the empire was due to crumble anyway. Because government without consent is impossible. Thus the liberal murders his parents, then demands clemency on grounds of orphanage.

    We had an interesting test of these theories in 1989. A government used troops to fire on a mob. According to all liberal experts, a clear-cut case of what not to do. I along with everyone else in the world was watching on TV, and I was quite confident, being a good liberal, that I was watching the end of Communism in China. Wrong. It worked beautifully. I was watching the end of democracy in China, and I am very confident – like most Chinese today – that China is vastly better off for it.

    So, as the Duke of Wellington used to put it: pour la canaille, la mitraille. (And note that mitraille means “grapeshot,” not “machine-gun” (mitrailleuse) as many assume – if the Iron Duke had had machine guns, he wouldn’t have worried for a second.) Suppressing irregular rebellions is a militarily straightforward task which has been made artificially difficult by the political allies of the insurgents, ie, you. If you’re still not convinced, have a look at Roger Trinquier – he tells it like it is. Surely you’re not going to tell me that you know more about counterinsurgency warfare than Roger Trinquier.

  28. nord says:

    well, if you weren’t a liberal, I’d say an excellent fisking …

  29. Timothy Burke says:

    You never really did answer my question. Why are you so concerned to suppress violent conflict in Africa through the use of imperial power? Why do you even care? You believe that that imperial rule can be sustained indefinitely through the use of force, if that force is only strong enough. You’ve got some kind of yardstick for the comparative worth of past civilizations that’s based on unknown criteria, which I think is a conversation that’s going to lead us nowhere but down rabbit holes of your own choosing. You have a thin grasp, in my view, of the basis of imperial power in Africa between 1880 and 1950. But we’re not going to get very far on those kinds of points, because if anything you’re more easily distracted than I am. More importantly, we have a disagreement so vast that there’s not much left to talk about when it comes to the basics, and I’m not much motivated to continue to banter away with you here at my blog, which I maintain mostly for my own amusement and edification, which seeps rapidly away when I’m reading lengthy disquisitions in favor of authoritarian or absolutist forms of state power.

    But you didn’t answer the core question. What skin is it off your nose whether there are civil conflicts in Africa, whether insurgents kill peasants? You want peace and order in Africa through the reimposition of imperial rule, whatever it might cost in resources and lives. Why? Leave aside all the bangles and whistles and feints at erudition. Give me a clean, basic answer. Telling me you’re a reactionary or that you believe in some form of absolutism doesn’t answer the question of why you’re so drawn to Africa in specific, unless you somehow think that Africa is a great place to strike the first blow in favor of undoing democracy and reestablishing autocracy. (Though you seem to think China’s already a working version of your dream.)

  30. Carl says:

    I think Timothy is right that selection and deployment of historical facts (‘substance’) gets nowhere in a discussion like this. The thinking is ‘motivated’ by political commitments second, cognitive dispositions first, so what counts as a dispositive argument is unsynced. If there’s communicative common ground, it has to be in a concept space that bridges the gap.

    How about Machiavelli? Great theorist of the judicious application of power to create security and stability, should be a moldbug winner. The Prince would certainly not hesitate to gun down a crowd to nip a larger unrest in the bud. This was Machiavelli’s model for stabilizing a chaotic situation.

    But let’s not be too hasty about dismissing consent as a tool of order. Machiavelli understood that naked force was in any kind of long run an exhausting and uncertain way to rule people. As he discusses in passing in The Prince and at length in The Discourses on Livy, a republic is preferable because people rule themselves without the application of force:

    “And if the princes are superior to the peoples in ordering laws, forming civic lives [vite civili], ordering statutes and new orders, the peoples are so superior in maintaining things in order, that they without doubt add to the glory of those who have ordered them.” Discourses Book I, ch. LVIII. (I’ve translated this myself to accurately reflect all the weight Machiavelli puts on the one word ‘order’, and how he shifts it from the kind that’s established by exceptional force to the kind that’s maintained by ordinary consent.)

    Moldbug, I’d suggest that there’s a dimension missing from the version of your theory you’re using to flail this site with. You’ve got the exceptional application of force to establish order, but that’s plainly unsustainable, pace Hobbes. Implicit in Carlyle and further back, Burke, is an idea that tradition is the source of long-term stability; so if there isn’t any, or it’s corrupt, it’ll have to be imposed and enforced until it can take root. What Machiavelli says is that you can’t get from corruption to tradition by violence. Purposeful consent is the mechanism for that transition.

  31. Carl says:

    Oops, TB’s latest posted while I was composing. Sorry for the distraction.

  32. withywindle says:

    A very late intervention here … Tim’s thesis of complexity and wariness of intervention can be used to critique both colonial impositions of force and post-colonial aid interventions, and offer instead a prescription of strict non-interventionism in Africa for any reason, humanitarian or otherwise. On such a line of argument, the justification for colonialism would not be that it did more for Africans, but precisely that it aimed to do very little for Africans–order, and a smidgeon of law–and left them at liberty to make their own lives within the constraints of colonial order. This argument would have as a corollary that the colonial regimes acquired some real authority, and consent from the colonized, by virtue of the very limits of their aspirations; that this authority was a historical fact underwriting colonial rule for a given period of time, although acquiring thereby no necessary status as an ideal of human governance. This the Burke-Lugard-Moldbug Thesis, to complement the Burke-Belloc Thesis, “Whatever happens we have got / the Maxim gun and they have not.”

  33. jpool says:

    Huh. I came to read this this morning convinced that moldbug was simply throwing out various provocations and attempting to ruin nerds’ lives. Instead we have a spirited defence of racism and authitarianism. How refreshing, in a sad disgusting way.

    withywindle, you’re failing to distiguish between passive and active consent. Colonial regimes aspired to active consent (“when will they appreciate how much we’ve done for them?”) but mostly got a kind of grumbly passive consent. Authoritariansim is only fun if you get to be part of the authority rather than only subject to it.

  34. withywindle says:

    I fail to distinguish? I refer you to Burke-Lugard-Moldbug; I am a mere synthesizing mouthpiece, trying to throw oil on troubled salads. But speaking as a mouthpiece … the BLM Thesis would indicate that the aspiration to “active consent” was counterproductive, and undermined what limited authority the colonial regimes possessed. In propria persona, I’m not sure one should distinguish between “passive” and “active” consent. At any rate, I suspect there are various political philosophies lurking behind such a distinction, and that I’d want to have them spelled out before accepting it. Would Hobbes, for example, subdivide consent in this manner?

  35. moldbug says:

    Professor Burke,

    I certainly did answer your question, though since the answer was indeed buried in a “lengthy disquisition in favor of authoritarian or absolutist forms of state power,” I understand the temptation to skim. As I said:

    Morally, however, yes: I believe that everyone should enjoy the benefits of good government, first and foremost of which is security (protection from violence).

    I really don’t know how this can be clarified any further.

    As for the rest, please remember that while you are certainly entitled to your own opinions and your own morality, you are not entitled to your own facts.

    The historical narrative in which you have earned your expertise has been constructed over the last two hundred years by a intellectual tradition which claims to derive itself from pure reason, but whose theistic roots are obvious, and whose most fundamental axiom is a form of left-wing creationism which, while perhaps philosophically defensible in the 1830s, is supported by no evidence whatsoever, and appears more preposterous every year in the light of 21st-century molecular anthropology.

    I refer, of course, to the hypothesis that West Africans are best understood as Swedes with black skins. The fact that this theory now dominates the main stream of educated Western thought is not at all inconsistent, at least in the mind of this non-democrat, with the evidence that it is a form of lunatic crackpottery on a par with phrenology, phlogiston or astrology. Remove it, and what is left of your narrative? The obvious explanation dismantles all your artful, scholastic rationalizations. Occam’s razor wins again, and your work, nay your whole field, is writ in water.

  36. moldbug says:

    jpool, I’m always happy to provide a little refreshment! I understand how a steady diet of “diversity” and postcolonial studies might leave one a little parched.

    I must note, however, that your standards of “fun” are quite high. It is certainly fun to exercise political authority. It is also fun to recline in a hot tub, eating Iranian caviar and having one’s toes sucked by blondes. However, I suspect most citizens of the Congo would cheerfully consent to abandon both these ambitions, in exchange for not being gang-raped by tribal militias.

  37. moldbug says:


    It’s nice to see people citing Hobbes. But frankly, Hobbes was a liberal. Again, I prefer Filmer. (It’s quite clever, don’t you think, how Filmer castigates the “right of rebellion” as a Catholic heresy? Almost Jesuitical of him, I have to say.)

    As for the durability of government, even preposterous misgovernment, without consent, I direct you to the experience of Communism in the 20th century. The number of successful rebellions against Communism can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and all involved unusual circumstances.

    What we see in a modern, well-governed, post-democratic state such as Singapore is that the residents simply don’t care about politics. They care about their lives, like normal people. Nor are their administrators sadistic, power-hungry freaks – they care about their jobs, like normal people. And Singapore, with all due respect to its achievements, is a backwater: a tiny, second-rate, forgotten corner of the British Empire that might, but for America and its tidal wave of conquering liberalism, still be.

    If you’re interested in Machiavelli, you might also enjoy James Burnham’s The Machiavellians, a bit of which I excerpted here.

  38. moldbug says:


    Your argument for non-intervention is certainly cogent and morally consistent, although it’s not the only consistent solution.

    A more extreme approach would be the Kim du Toit solution of cordoning off sub-Saharan Africa and treating it as a sort of human wildlife park. The Brazilians have done this with their last uncontacted tribes, and the Indians with the Andaman Islanders – a very defensible stance, especially to Star Trek fans. I would also favor treating other highly isolated Stone Age populations, such as the New Guinean highlanders or Australian aboriginals, this way. It is probably a little late for Africa, however.

    What’s certain is that no attempt to construct a modern Western civilization out of hunter-gatherer or protoagricultural populations has been successful. Occam’s razor suggests that this is due to genetic adaptations amplified by selection in sedentary and urbanized Eurasian populations over the last 10ky, perhaps in addition to the selective pressure induced by cold northern climates over the last 50ky. The prevalence of recent selection is remarkable – the latest work, for example, suggests that white skin is less than 10ky old.

    Probably the most ambitious attempt to civilize hunter-gatherers was the Jesuit Reductions of Paraguay, which in terms of intrusive supervision certainly dwarfed any of our modern Protestant attempts at missionary work. The Reductions were successful, in a sense, but when the Jesuits were expelled the Guarani returned to their former tribal existence.

  39. jpool says:

    See, the problem with pouring oil on a salad is that, absent an emulsifying liquid, it tends to make the compnents stick together in an unappetizing (and perhaps unedifying) lump (unless you pour on so much oil that the components are essentially swimming in it, which is just … it’s not good).

    As for whether one ought to distinguish between active and passive consent, well it depends on the question one is asking, doesn’t it. One can achieve hegemony either through active consent (this government is truly what’s best) or passive consent (I can’t do anything to change this awful and corrupt system, and I dare not try). If one were argue, however that consent, in the form of the absence of visible resistance, conferred authority (by which I assume you mean legitimacy, otherwise it’s just a meaningless placeholder), then it would indeed matter whether said consent were active or passive.

  40. kimdutoit says:

    “I almost wish that the U.S., Canada and Western Europe could offer residency permits to every single resident of eastern Congo, agree to transport everyone accepting the offer, and give each of them a transitional allowance until they get established in their host country.”

    We’ve already done that, in practice, with the residents of northern Mexico, and the results have been violence (e.g. Mecha 13), rampant drug trafficking, -crime and -addiction (ibid.), and exceptional unmarried teenage pregnancy rates — all resulting in misery.

    What makes you think that a wholesale importation of yet another group of people with a foreign culture, a non-heritage of Western philosophy and government, and an ingrained tendency towards violent crime would result in any other outcome?

    How about this radical suggestion.

    The current murder rate in our inner cities is about 15 per 100,000 — a staggeringly-high rate, to be sure, but one still less than the 185 per 100,000 (approx.) in the eastern Congo.

    Using your desire for alleviation of misery in Africa, let’s apply that “resettlement” policy towards, say, White South African farmers, who are currently enjoying [sic] a murder rate of over 300 per 100,000.

    Here we have, at least, a group of people who have a long (albeit admittedly skewed) history of Western democracy (of a sort), who are among the most productive farmers on the planet, and who would assimilate into almost any Midwest Protestant farming community and disappear without a trace within about a generation.

    And there are far fewer White South African farmers than eastern Congolese, which would make a good case for efficient subsidy, if we’re to look at the whole exercise in terms of an evil capitalist ROI exercise rather than a bleeding-heart exercise in futility.

  41. Anjou says:

    Kimdutoit, 185 per 100,000 sounds like a surprisingly low murder rate for the Eastern Congo. Where did you find that figure?

  42. kimdutoit says:

    Oh, and one last point:

    “…pre-colonial Kenya was not one society but a diverse collection of them.

    You forgot to finish the sentence with: “…all of which had been warring with each other, in the manner of the modern-day eastern Congo, for centuries.”

    Sic semper Africa (except for that inconvenient era of Western colonialism).

  43. Snake Plissken says:

    Why wouldn’t the suffering continue as it has since the beginning of time? And as for outside intervention, if we in the US, with all the billions we waste on welfare, cannot stamp out poverty and violence, why could ANYONE hope to do the same in Africa?

  44. Aljabik says:

    The longer the period of rule by “heroes of the revolution”, the worse the state of the country. Its an unpopular view outside of Africa, but very common among people of all skin tones in Southern Africa.

    I travelled extensively throughout the 90’s through Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa and Botswana, and saw all this first hand many many times.

    It took KK 25 years to destroy Zambia, Uncle Bob 25 years to destroy Zimbabwe, how long do we give South Africa under the ANC?

    Botswana is the one glaring exception to this human tragedy, the destruction of so many lives and the blighting of generations. Of course it would have nothing to do with the ruling class rejecting socialist progressive policies but instead governing with the mandate of the royal family and engaging in real improvements in the infrastructure, health and education services.

    Maybe President Khama’s English mother has been a good influence? Or perhaps his education by the British military rather than American socialists? Maybe it is the total domination of the country by one tribe? Maybe its the diamonds?

  45. jpool says:

    “West Africans are best understood as Swedes with black skins”

    Does this guy mean Marcus Samuelsson? He’s originally from Eithiopia; East African, not West.

  46. moldbug says:


    I realize that, as a racist, I should favor the English-mother interpretation.

    But what’s really ironic is that Botswana, the “democratic” “success story” of Africa, has pretty much the same relationship with De Beers that Guatemala once had with United Fruit. Plus a dose of Verwoerd-style traditional leadership camouflaged as democratic party. (Botswana is a one-tribe state as well as a one-party state – and the Khamas are its traditional chiefs.)

    Naturally, all this proves that “independence” in Africa can work. Hypocrisy, thy name is academia.

  47. kimdutoit says:

    “Botswana is the one glaring exception to this human tragedy, the destruction of so many lives and the blighting of generations.”

    Well, yes, unless one counts the AIDS epidemic, which is rendering (the already sparsely-populated) Botswana almost desolate.

    And Sir Seretsa Khama did not have a White mother, but a White wife.

    Sir Khama’s education is actually irrelevant: many African oligarchs boast a Western education. Sadly, most of that education has been overcome by the lure of easy kleptocracy, and Khama’s own probity is the sad exception. Maybe it was because his education came from Sandhurst rather than a socialist-style indoctrination center like, oh, Cambridge or, for that matter, Harvard or Swarthmore.

    But to answer your question more succinctly: Botswana escaped the usual tribal slaughter of Africa because it’s a.) largely populated by a single tribe (the Tswana) and b.) even where other tribes are in evidence, they’re so far removed geographically from the Tswanas that it’s possible for most Tswanas to grow up without ever seeing another tribe’s members.

    Diamonds, actually, have been Botswana’s salvation. Without the bling, Botswana’s gross domestic product, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, would have been death by starvation, and its principal export, refugees. (cf. Mozambique, Tanzania, Chad, Somalia, etc etc etc.)

  48. kimdutoit says:

    Sorry about the open italics.

  49. Anjou says:

    You may have missed my last comment… anyone care to help?

  50. jpool says:

    Anjou, not to encourage engagement with those who have (deliberately) misread the point of the post, but…
    I have no idea where kimdutoit got their figure for murder rate for the eastern DRC, but mortality rates can be found here. The IRC reported that, in 2007, violent death was rare (in fact the per anum rate is much lower what kimdutoit listed, so I don’t know what sort of timescale they are working with), at least compared to the situation when they conducted their previous mortality survey in 2004 (in 2007, .6% of over all mortality, down from 1.5% in 2004), but overall mortality rates had not significantly declined (in fact they’d gone up in the western DRC and thus for the country as a whole). While there are still dramatic attacks on civilians, disease, displacement and famine are the more deadly results of warlordism.

    As for the murder rate for among SAf white farmers, the only references for the 313 number (which I can only imagine to be cumulative rather than per anum) I can find are from the farmers themselves and their on-line advocates. Specialists probably know more of this dynamic than I do, but here’s the wikipedia page on attacks against white farmers and the multiple representations of them.

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