Friday, May 25, 2007

The Evolution of Civil Society 

A Marine awaiting transport provided an interesting update to the Blogfather's post on the gauche-sphere's take on reported improvements in Anbar. In it he cites an LAT piece by Robert Kaplan that hits upon an idea that I have had concerning many of today's geopolitical problems:
Those who proclaim today that the only real solution to the Arab dilemma is political freedom are correct. The problem is that they are describing a process that could encompass several bloody decades. After all, it took centuries for stable democracy as we know it to evolve in Europe. In this Darwinian shaking-out process, the new forms of political legitimacy may more closely resemble militarized social welfare organizations such as Hezbollah and the Al Mahdi army than the ramshackle contrivances of the European model that we saw in the post-colonial era.
I believe one of the lasting and most regrettable legacies of the colonial era is the existence of non-modern societies that now have access to modern weaponry. This problem is most apparent in Africa, where the combination of pre-colonial tribalism with state-of-the-art automatic arms regularly produces totalitarian rulers, abhorrent violence and genocide. It seems that many of these societies were, during colonialism and subjugation, suspended and at the abandonment of their erstwhile rulers the natural patterns reasserted themselves. This is not condescending or ethnocentric. I do not believe there is anything endemic about the people that make them tend toward autocratic rule, but I do think that these societies largely have not had the same opportunities for growth and development that Europe experienced in the Middle Ages. At that time their density was low enough to preclude extensive interaction between tribal units, the friction from which societal lessons are learned.

Our focus in nation building, or as I think is a more appropriate term, nation bridging is in helping the natural societal evolution from predatory conquest to peaceful cooperation. A key part of this is making the "pie" big enough that the individual groups perceive the piece they can have through working with other groups as larger than the piece they can achieve through violent means. Herein we see a deeper reason for the extensive development efforts in Iraq. Like many have pointed out before, the idea that any nation can step into a foreign society and recreate themselves and their institutions is naive and misguided. But it exactly this which I don't believe was ever a goal of the Bush administration with regard to Iraq. As Bush has said many times, and I agree, given the choice humans and human society will choose peace and freedom. It is our mission to help Iraq bridge the decades and centuries of societal evolution in as short a time as possible to allow them to be able to make that choice.

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