The White Man's Burden


The BBC reported today that

David Cameron will reaffirm his commitment to increase Britain’s aid spending . . . despite opposition from within his own party.

The prime minister will underline the pledge in New York, while attending the United Nations General Assembly.

He is expected to challenge world leaders to honour their promises on aid for developing countries[,]

because when he became the United Kingdom’s head of government in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition,

[t]he coalition . . . promised to hit the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of the national income on overseas aid by 2013 - around £12bn a year.

Members of the Conservative Party have criticised the Prime Minister over the issue, but, unsurprisingly, given what we know about conservatism, they have offered the weakest of all arguments: i.e., that

much of this money ends up wasted or stolen,

leaving the field wide open for Mr. Cameron to respond with a much more powerful moral counter-argument, stating:

‘ . . . we must . . . send a clear message to everyone who signed up to Millennium Development Goals that now is the time to step up and honour those promises.

‘And I know there are some who say we can't afford to do that right now.

‘They believe we have to focus on ourselves. And if that means breaking promises, then they're sorry but it just has to be done. Well I'm sorry but it doesn’t.’

‘So to those who say we can’t afford to act: I say we can’t afford to wait.’

Mr. Cameron, ‘who is co-chairing the UN meeting to plan for an international aid framework after 2015’, will cover the topic in a keynote speech scheduled today. He is expected to say that

it would be wrong to use the economic downturn as an excuse to go back on pledges to achieve the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to help the poorest in the world - including cutting child mortality and improving maternal health.

Obviously, this is simply another incarnation of the colonial-era justification for imperialism. The root cause of Mr. Cameron’s warped mentality lies with his belief in liberalism, a ‘muscular’ form of which he believes is the solution to many of our social problems.

Liberalism’s historical subject is the individual. The idea behind liberalism is to ‘liberate’ the individual from anything external or transcendent to him: faith, tradition, and authority. The latter imply hierarchy, so their rejection means equality as an absolute moral good. At the same time, the rejection of anything transcendent leaves a world that is entirely material. The consequence is that happiness is then measured quantitatively in material terms, a practice that leads inevitably to productivism, progress, and economism. This is, of course, the worldview of the United Nations, since with the defeat of the 20th century’s critiques of liberalism (Fascism / National Socialism in 1945, and Marxism in 1989), the above organisation has been shaped by liberal Atlanticism and there is nothing out there to challenge it.

Accordingly, all societies around the world are evaluated in material terms. And since all men are, according to the dominant liberal worldview, ‘equal’, significant differences in material conditions are necessarily an evil in need of redress.

The Conservatives objecting to Mr. Cameron’s pledge believe this too, since they are all liberals. The only difference between them and their peers on the Left is that they are a subset of liberal who wants to keep the status quo, go a little slower, or take a few steps back. Therefore, their objections, as we have seen, can be of a practical or economic nature, and this leaves them effectively with no answers in the face of moral appeals by fellow liberals.

Yet, it is not as if Mr. Cameron’s moral arguments are unassailable. There is much one can object to the idea of having a ‘development goal’ in the first place, particularly since ‘development’ means, in fact, material and ideological convergence with the West—the wiping out of what makes a non-Western society unique in order to replace it with what is uniquely Western: a liberal, democratic, secular society where everything revolves around economics.

Liberals cannot imagine liberalism, democracy, and economic growth not being good for everyone. Their belief in the equality of man tells them that what is good for one, is good universally. Their belief in the equality of man also tells them that liberalism, democracy, and equality can be successfully implemented anywhere, on any society, on any culture—it is just a question of money and training, and, where the locals are obdurate in their traditional beliefs, in policing them so that they do not go off course, and of bombing them until they get back with programme. Liberals cannot accept that a sane, moral person would not care for equality, freedom, secularism, and progress—anyone who does is either ignorant or insane. To the liberal, the fact that non-Westerners want to enjoy the same goodies as the Westerners is sufficient justification. This, to me, seems incredibly arrogant, and expresses a profound contempt for other cultures.

There is no question that some societies around the world live in what for us are disgusting conditions, and that the images captured by Westerners who venture into these societies can be disturbing. There is no question either that, once exposed to or aware of the material comforts and technological advantages enjoyed by Westerners, many members of these societies want to enjoy them too. Yet, we must distinguish between societies that are poor and societies that are, in material terms, rudimentary. A rudimentary society, such as a traditional society in the African bush, is not necessarily a poor society just because they have no electricity or running water. They are ‘poor’ in material terms, but those are not the only terms we should consider. Poverty is relative. And it is often a function of the degree to which a non-Western society has attempted to Westernise, or attempted to carry on the Western infrastructure and institutions inherited from the colonial period. Were some of these societies to abandon Westernism and return to a traditional model, one can argue that they would become rudimentary, but they would not necessarily become ‘poor’ (i.e., unhappy), even if its members lived ‘on less than a dollar a day’. They would also feel less compulsion to migrate to the Western El Dorado—the migration from these regions is largely driven by a desire for money, which they never previously had and which the West constantly promises and promotes as the answer to everything.

So what if many societies in the south of the world are vastly different from ours? I say we keep out and let them define themselves on their own terms, and be masters of their own destiny. Let them find their own sources of pride and happiness, however different they may be from ours, rather than have Western liberals constantly tell them that they are not good enough because they lack Western money. In fact, let them get rid of Western money altogether, and return to their own traditional means of exchange.