Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Monday, July 12, 2004
"Colonialists against imperialism." "Who," asks Laban Tall, "is this erudite blogger at God Save The Queen? Posts about the Saxon kingdoms, the differences twixt empire and colony - and he doesn't seem to be a Robert Fisk fan. If s/he keeps up the opening standard none shall be happier than I."

Seconded. Here are a great many lines from the anonymous author (I started by saying "a few lines" but found myself unable to stop quoting):

But consideration of the different levels of imperial activity leads one on to a curious phenomenon. If we sort the countries of the world by their imperial experience we can see five levels, not that these have strict boundaries:

1 - full colonisation (America, Australia);
2 - partial colonisation (South Africa, Algeria);
3 - prolonged imperial rule (over a century, say) without settlement (India, Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia);
4 - brief imperial rule (a few decades only) without settlement (Nigeria, Egypt, Burma);
5 - no European rule (Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Thailand).

The correlation between present-day democracy and the level of colonial/ imperial experience is striking. Countries in category 1 are overwhelmingly free. Categories 2 and 3 are mostly free. Algeria is arguably the first major Arab country to hold a meaningful election: it was also the only Arab country to experience prolonged European rule, being run by France from 1830 to 1962, and the only one to experience large-scale European settlement - when the French army pulled out 800,000 civilians went with them. Category 4 is struggling towards freedom and category 5 is the least free of all.

I've chosen this sample rather crudely, of course, and one could easily find countries that don't fit. Zimbabwe, for example, is rather a special case - a short period of rule but with substantial colonisation. Likewise Japan and Korea are peculiar, since both owe their democracy to American military occupation. But most states do fit the model roughly, and the sample covers most of the world's larger nations. A rough fit is the best anyone can ever hope for in these grand historical models.

So what's going on? The best answer I can come up with is to invoke Max Weber, who said that there are three broad types of authority: traditional (obey me - your ancestors did), charismatic (obey me, I'm great) and rational-legal (obey me - I can run things fairly and well).

Democratic countries require the rational-legal or bureaucratic mentality. Tribal and clan loyalties, on the other hand, are the default setting of human organisation, historically: even the ancient Greeks and Romans, thought of as hyper-rational and urban, identified themselves that way (the name 'Julius' in Julius Caesar refers to the Julian clan, etc.). Colonisation, and imperial rule to a lesser extent, destroy the traditional authority of tribes and clans, by a variety of means, for instance by killing or discrediting tribal leaders and promoting urbanisation and academic education. Colonialism is more destructive - it's a form of sociological slash-and-burn - because the level of intrusiveness is inevitably greater.

That means that when the guys in solar topees go home newly independent countries have to choose between charismatic and bureaucratic rule. Being only human, they tend to be suckered by whatever bighead has the loudest voice or the biggest militia: over time they learn the disadvantages that come from the Holy People's Will, and start to reflect that 'appen a bit of bureaucracy wouldn't be so bad.

But pity the countries in category 5.

I'm not entirely convinced. Iran is a sort of cruel half-democracy and Thailand is no hell-hole. I think Mr - er... What do we call him? (It can't be Mr Save-the-Queen because that would make his first name disconcerting. Him, anyway. (Or her, but I don't think so.) I think he should bring the effects of rule by non- or half-European ruling powers such as China, Japan, or Russia, or even the Zulus into the equation.

May I recommend Sowell's Conquests and Cultures, if he hasn't read it already?