Thursday, July 28, 2005

Barbarians

In ages past, men had no qualms between drawing a clear line between "civilization" and "the wild". Civilization, be it a farming community, village, or town, as the source of safety and decency. The wild, be it a dark forest, or an unknown land filled with savages, as the source of danger and evil. When the West went out to colonize distant lands, or when the East went out to form their own colonies, the natives they encountered were considered somehow less than human, fit to be redeemed or treated as chattel.

Among the many foul consequences of this approach is the resuling backlash that has made "imperialism" such a dirty word. This post on the Belmont Club discusses how "failed states", once ignored on the geopolitical stage, now take front and center as they key source of danger.

But what is a "failed state"? How can one judge certain results as failures, and other successes? Poverty clearly cannot be the only, or even the dominant criteria for failure as poor India and China have clearly not failed while rich Saudi Arabia may have. There is no key distinction -- people can discuss "civic institutions" or "property rights" or whatever, but this may simply be because it is no longer acceptable to divide the world into citizens and barbarians. Look at the AK-47 toting warlords, based on kin and fealty, patrolling their territory and competing with similar groups/tribes for territory, looking to deities for guidance and protection, and tell me it does not remind you of hunter-gathering tribes.

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