Friday, October 1, 2010

The Folly of Nation Building

It's hard to build a nation when the people you are building it for are shooting at you...

Neocons:  Small government conservative at home, big government progressive overseas.  It's nuts...

Steven Horwitz asks, "Can a Nation be Built?"
Many people who are ordinarily skeptical about the benevolent power of the U.S. government at home have come to believe it can accomplish what they see as the noble task of nation-building in areas of the world that have been plunged into some degree of chaos by political upheaval and/or war.  (Steven Horwitz - Can a Nation be Built?)

He goes on to make an excellent libertarian case against nation building...
Put in the language of F. A. Hayek, nations are spontaneous orders that emerge from the daily choices of people about the language they use and the other ways in which they participate in or withdraw from a variety of cultural forms.  

Only the people themselves constitute a “nation” by their own individual choices.And it is nations constituted this way that make the decision to create a State.  States imposed on nations by princes, Mises argues, are doomed to fail because they normally attempt to eliminate all forms of community that lie between the prince and the people.

Nation building is statist central-planning imposed on another nation.  Here's the money quote:
By engaging in nation-building, governments take on a task that is no different in principle from the attempt to plan an economy domestically.  Once we understand that true nations are the unintended consequence of decentralized cultural processes involving the millions of choices of millions of people, the absurdity of trying to build a nation as if it were a child’s toy or even a skyscraper becomes clear.  

Once we start to muck around in processes that are complex and whose relevant causal connections are beyond our ability to understand, we are certain to produce unintended and undesirable consequences precisely because we act from the hubris of the planner.

The astute will ask, What about the post-WW II Marshall Plan?  Easy.  It was not imposed upon Europe. The Europeans wanted it, and they did the lion's share of the heavy lifting.  Indeed, every successful nation building exercise was done with the cooperation and hard work of the recipients (South Korea, Japan, etc.)

Nation building sounds noble, but it is folly when imposed against the will of the recipients.

* - H/T to Left Blogistan denizen (and perhaps somewhat libertarian?) Reality Zone


RealityZone said...

Nation building could also be called colonialism.
Great Britain thought of the thirteen colonies as an extension of their empire.
We were considered insurgents, and terrorists because we wanted our own country.
Most if not all nation building revolves around the access and control of natural resources.
The natural resources road [energy] [Pipelineistan] is now the center of Nation building.
Zbig called C/Asia the Grand Chess Game. Everything evolves around these choke points of energy.
How much longer will we allow our dysfunctional government to sacrifice our soldiers for the Corpocrats, and the MIC?

Silverfiddle said...

I know I'm naive, but what is MIC?

I assume you don't mean Motorcycle Industry Council...

Lisa said...

Military Industrial Complex

Trestin said...

Great post! It should also be stated that the post WWII rebuilding was done among nations with a strong national identity. Afghanistan and many other areas are nothing more than a collection of waring tribes.

Epaminondas said...

Nation building is best performed when the nation to be built is RESURRECTED.

When it MUST be resurrected.

Which means, unfortunately it has to look like Richmond in 1865, Nagoya in 1945, and Dresden the same year.

If nation building is to be done, the armed forces are NOT the right institution. The armed forces have but two main purposes, and neither is to make anyplace else into Virgina in the years after the French and Indian war.

But in the case of Afghanistan perhaps we should better mimic Carthage's ultimate fate.

Better to kill the enemy. Repeatedly. At a distance. And to be seen to do so. For the obvious reasons. Sounds cruel, but ...

"The crueler it is" as the MAN said ....

Silverfiddle said...


Agree completely. We have the power to fight such a war, but unfortunately, we would be branded war criminals for executing it.

Epaminondas said...

"we would be branded war criminals for executing it"

Fine by me as long as american casualties are minimized as the utmost priority. Ironically this probably has as the side effect, of minimizing MOST casualties as well.


Operations Olympic and Coronet.

Which is why some people think of Harry as a war criminal. And he sent a lot of boys home alive.
And slept well that night.

Anybody near the top like that now?

Besides Ann Coulter ;)

Silverfiddle said...

Again, I agree with you, but such winning strategies appear no longer politically viable.

I think the people writing the "international rules" want chaos.

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