The Myth of Development: Non-Viable Economies and the Crisis of Civilization, Second Edition

The Myth of Development: Non-Viable Economies and the Crisis of Civilization, Second Edition

by Oswaldo de Rivero

Paperback(2nd ed.)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Usually ships within 6 days

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781848135840
Publisher: Zed Books
Publication date: 09/15/2010
Edition description: 2nd ed.
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 964,675
Product dimensions: 5.43(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Oswaldo de Rivero is a Diplomat, Ambassador (retired) with the Foreign Service of Peru. He has written numerous essays and articles in Le Monde Diplomatique, The UNESCO Courier, as well as the written press in Geneva and Latin America.

Read an Excerpt

The Myth of Development

Non-Viable Economies and the Crisis of Civilization

By Oswaldo de Rivero, Claudia Encinas, Janet Herrick Encinas

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2010 Oswaldo de Rivero
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84813-584-0


The Twilight of the Nation-State

Quasi nation-states

Seen from outer space, our planet appears as a blue orb, robed in a thin film of life, the biosphere. Inside that layer, micro-organisms, plants, animals and the human species exist. By dint of centuries of violence and political evolution, the latter gradually organized the earth's territory into different nation-states. Although these entities' frontiers are invisible from outer space, they are ever present here on earth. With the exception of the polar regions and the oceans, not one centimetre of the planet exists without delineation and occupation by some state authority. At the end of the twentieth century, there were more than 195 nation-states, and that number may still increase, with time. This form of political organization continues to constitute the ideal for numerous human communities aiming to differentiate themselves from other groups, to achieve security and prosperity, and to participate on the international stage as sovereign nations. Throughout its history, humankind has given shining examples of heroism, of altruism and of creativity in the name of the nation-state but, in that same name, it has perpetrated acts of cynicism, cruelty, human destruction and environmental waste.

The nation-state, as we know it today, is the product of four hundred years in the evolution of Western political thought. Its foundations hark back to the Renaissance theses about the reasons for the existence of the city-states put forward by Niccolo Machiavelli, and, above all, to the ideas of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes expounded the most convincing arguments of his time concerning the necessity for a supreme central authority in order to liberate man from his natural, brutish state, and grant him security. Hobbes compared this highest authority to the Leviathan, the supreme biblical monster described in the book of Job, whose power was unparalleled. From that time forward, the Leviathan became the idol of a new civil cult exalting the 'reason of state', or national interest. In its name, mountains of human sacrifices have been offered. The cult of the Leviathan has encompassed a great variety of rituals, from absolute monarchy to democracy, passing through Nazi-fascist and communist totalitarianisms on the way.

The absolutism of European monarchs was the human incarnation of the Leviathan. During the sixteenth century, the monarchs extended their reign over feudal lords, counties, duchies, free cities, and in general over all the feudal powers of that time. They imposed a recruitment method for the royal armies, applied a centralized system of tributes, minted money, created the public treasury and established the nucleus of what would become modern state bureaucracy.

The continual fighting under royal flags and emblems, the hegemony of a common language over Latin and the existing dialects, as well as the adoption in all the kingdoms of Europe of the Christian religion, in its Catholic or Protestant versions, all combined to increase each population's identification with the monarchy and to fortify the state, lending it the significance of the present-day nation-state. In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia, which put an end to the wars of religion under the European monarchs, established the classic characteristics of the modern nation-state, closely patterned on the attributes of monarchy. Since that time, states have been seen as sovereign and equal, as were the kings before them. There is no authority or entity above them. All are Leviathans and, as such, are supreme, sovereign, equal and independent powers. Somewhat later, Louis XIV of France and Frederick the Great of Prussia personified this absolute sovereignty, with enormous bureaucracies and great military power.

With the independence of the United States in 1776, the monopoly of sovereignty held by the monarchies began to disintegrate. That revolution laid the foundations for the cult of the state under republican, democratic procedures and the respect for the individual's civil and political rights. In 1789, the French Revolution adopted the American principle of guaranteeing individual freedoms. However, instead of investing sovereignty in the people, as decreed by the United States Constitution, it placed sovereignty in the hands of the 'nation', a new, abstract concept born of French rationalism. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of 1789, proclaimed that no individual could exercise any sort of authority that did not emanate from the nation. But what was the nation? According to Sieyès, the nation was nothing but the third estate, or the general will of the majority, as Rousseau had propounded.

The French revolutionaries could not have imagined the totalitarian consequences that might derive from the interpretation of this idea of the general will. In fact, the Jacobin revolutionary terror shortly thereafter proved very proficient in interpreting the general will and representing the nation above individuals, especially if these individuals were aristocrats or enemies of the Jacobins. Thus it was that, paradoxically, the exaltation of the nation allowed the Leviathan to increase its power and to override the human being's individual rights. Consequently, it is not surprising that, from that time on and throughout the ensuing pages of history, totalitarian interpretations should arise, confusing the general will of the majority or of the 'nation' with that of a predominant ethnic group or a predestined social class. The Nazi state and the Soviet state were perverse results of the personification of the general will in the Aryan race or the proletarian class. Ideologies such as Nazism or communism, perhaps inspired by Rousseau, were very distant from Jefferson, whose main concern, following Anglo-Saxon tradition, was the protection of the individual's inalienable liberties against the Leviathan's excesses or excesses of any other political abstraction, such as the 'nation'.

Without a doubt, it was the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States that put the final touches to the modern nation-state as we know it today. The development of industrial capitalism identified the cult of the Leviathan with the creation of a national market and a beneficial integration into the international market. The paradigm of a nation-state that was sovereign, integrated and united – not only by ethnic, cultural and religious ties, but also by the material well-being of its population – prospered in various parts of the globe. To the Leviathan cult was added the concept of national economic progress. In this way, the new civil religion, originated with Hobbes, was brought to its completion with the prediction that personal prosperity and happiness would be achieved through the growth of the nation-state's gross national product (GNP). Thus were born the twin myths of progress and development, which still today are pursued as El Dorado by the majority of the backward and underdeveloped countries which have never undergone a real capitalist industrial revolution.

The illusion of a republican and democratic nation-state, where the people's well-being and happiness would be assured, was fundamentally the product of the American and French revolutions. After that era, it began to take root all around the world. In the nineteenth century this idea finished off the Spanish and Portuguese empires, giving rise to the new Latin American republics. At the beginning of the twentieth century, as a result of the First World War, the ideal of the nation-state destroyed the multinational Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and gave rise to new states in the Balkans and the Middle East.

After the end of the First World War, the dream of having a state of one's own grew ever stronger; this was as a consequence of the principles proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson, and confirmed in the Versailles treaties, concerning the right of nationalities to create their own state organization. Wilson's misguided idealism awoke the dragon of nationalism in all its guises. Starting with Versailles, every human group endowed with some ethnic, cultural and religious affinity felt that it had the right to become a state, even though it did not constitute a true nation and did not have the economic and technological means to be viable. Thus the cult of the Leviathan had reached its apex.

The nationalist dreams of the twentieth century relied on the principle of self-determination as their political and juridical instrument. Its application so far has been based on the assumption that as many nation-states can be created as there are nationalist elites that wish it, with no thought for these new states' governability or viability. The only thing needed is international recognition. While independence admittedly gave dignity to peoples who had been the victims of domination and discrimination, it did not necessarily create viable nation-states. The result of this is that a large number of countries find themselves in a worse situation than when they were colonies, and many of them wish they could be recolonized.

The cult of a Leviathan of one's own and an ideology based on the principle of self-determination caused an unprecedented proliferation of nation-states during the Cold War. At that time, demagogues scoffed at any caution in applying the principle of self-determination, treating it as a pro-colonial, imperialist or racist attitude. To delay the right of self-determination unleashed the counterpart right to wars of liberation with the accompanying duty to help the insurgent population. It was anathema to go against the decolonizing avalanche that tried to reproduce the European model of the nation-state in human communities that had no concept of the state, or of the nation, and that lacked both the middle class and the national market they needed in order to be governable and viable. Upon granting them recognition as independent countries, the rivals of the Cold War lost no time in lavishing international aid on them so as to exercise their own influence on the new nation-states. When the Cold War ended, the strategic value of these countries evaporated, leaving them on their own, virtually without aid or special treatment as developing countries. They were now at the mercy of a process of natural selection by a new global economy of information and services that was less and less reliant on their raw materials and abundant uneducated labour force.

The principle of self-determination of the United Nations Charter was applied during the decolonizing fever without concern for the political, economic, social and cultural factors that determine the governability and the viability of a nation-state. Decolonization within the United Nations became a rather routine diplomatic posture to avoid making waves during the Cold War. This stance prevented a calm and gradual application of the self-determination principle, an application that would take into consideration the possibility of instituting a process towards self-government and economic viability. The colonial powers seemed to be in a great hurry to rid themselves of the explosive socio-political burdens caused by an anti-colonial movement that was more fired up by nationalist ideology than by the feasibility of economic and social development. Even more, the ideological embodiment of self-determination reached such heights of fantasy as to believe that it was impossible to have development without independence and that, in the end, it did not matter that a country be born poor, since international aid would bridge the economic gap with the former metropolis. Today's reality stands in stark contrast. Economic and social development is merely a distant myth propagated by the political classes and international technocracies in these poor countries. After fifty years of experiments in development and billions of dollars in aid, the majority of them are still underdeveloped.

The emancipation euphoria often propelled by tribal nationalism and the Kalashnikov has ended in catastrophic processes of underdevelopment and national non-viability. The uncontested dream of one's own Leviathan overrode the real possibility of many human communities to organize themselves as civilized states. The majority of the member states of the United Nations supported this illusion, often with ideological automatism, without measuring the later consequences on regional and world stability to be caused by independence devoid of economic viability. In applying the principle of self-determination, they did not take into account the minimum prerequisites for the governability of the new entity, its capacity to provide well-being for its population, the availability of competitive enterprises, technology, food and energy production, as well as the probability of its exercising respect for human rights. Dozens of states joined the hitherto exclusive Leviathans Club, without having the conditions for their own future governability and viability. They were recognized as sovereign, but paradoxically were considered in need of international aid in order to survive. In direct contrast to the nature of the Leviathan, they were recognized as 'unequal' states. In other words, they were seen as 'incomplete' quasi nation-states, 'needing to develop'. Time would prove that they would never be completed either as states or as nations, and that the majority of these underdeveloped entities are not Leviathans. The idea that the European model of the nation-state could be reproduced proved to be not only false but dangerous for the stability of the region and of the world.

During the Cold War, all those false, incomplete Leviathans called 'developing countries' acquired strategic value by taking advantage of the East–West conflict in one way or another. Thus they gained room for manoeuvre for the purposes of obtaining economic aid or political support from one of the two blocs, in order to finance their non-viability. This allowed the dream of the nation-state to continue and entities that lacked future viability to survive. The end of the Cold War has turned that dream into a nightmare. Today the governments of the so-called developing states are beginning to confront the cruel reality of their urban population explosion, meagre production of food and fuel, and their lack of competitive advantages. In addition, they lack a strategic position which would permit them to negotiate more aid, a reduction of the heavy payments on their foreign debt or a 'special and differentiated treatment' in trade, investments or intellectual property. During the 1990s, under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO), all these nations were obliged to take part in the global economy on equal terms with the industrialized countries. A great majority of these poor, technologically backward countries are today unable to stand the transnational competition and will be discarded as inappropriate economic species.

In the end, the price for the thoughtless overuse of self-determination in the second half of the twentieth century, together with the loss of the underdeveloped countries' strategic importance, is being paid by millions of unemployed young people in the countries that became independent over that period. Now they think only of emigrating to the capital of the former colony against which, ironically, their fathers and grandfathers had rebelled so as to give them a nation-state. It is not so strange, therefore, that the inhabitants of Puerto Rico and of the Pacific island of Palau do not want to become independent from the United States and that the inhabitants of the Comoros wish to be recolonized by France.

Nowadays, support for the right to self-determination is not as enthusiastic as it once was and is tempered by worries about the fragmentation processes that have occurred in multinational nation-states such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The great Western powers, which had the responsibility to create a new international order after winning the Cold War, did very little to preserve Yugoslavia's unity or the new version of the territorial economic union of the USSR proposed by Gorbachev. This inertia in the face of the disintegration of such strategic states will carry a very high price in the future. One cost already has been the failure of the capitalist democratic project in Russia and in all the new quasi nation-states that arose from the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus. As the USSR and Yugoslavia fell into fragments, new Caucasian, Central Asian and Balkan states were recognized, even though they had no experience in self-government and had little capacity for survival as states in the twenty-first century.


Excerpted from The Myth of Development by Oswaldo de Rivero, Claudia Encinas, Janet Herrick Encinas. Copyright © 2010 Oswaldo de Rivero. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction, 1,
Excerpt from the Introduction to the First Edition, 2001, 4,
1 The Twilight of the Nation-State, 6,
2 Global Empowerment and National Impoverishment, 28,
3 International Darwinism, 51,
4 The Search for El Dorado, 71,
5 Human and Natural Depredation, 92,
6 The Crisis of the California Model, 121,
Notes, 148,
Select Bibliography, 152,
Index, 156,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews