Wednesday, December 10

Nils Gilman on black globalization, the world as it is today, and how it got that way

Here's the link to the video of Nils Gilman's November speech, given at the European Futurists Conference, about the global illicit economy.

Last week I wrote that his discussion about the politics of black or "deviant" globalization, as he terms it, is the best overview of the security challenges in the modern era, but I was hedging. Nils Gilman's observations have profound implications for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy, defense planning, and even U.S. domestic economics. So at this point I will go so far as to say that one can't understand the present era without grasping the concepts he lays out.

If, after listening to his speech, you think he dynamites several articles of faith about globalization, wait'll you read his Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America.

Mandarins is mind-blowing -- and the more you know about development and aid programs launched by the wealthy nations to assist the world's poorest during the past 30 years, the more stunning the revelations.

The book provides the first history of the progression of ideas that laid the groundwork for development of poor, postcolonial countries by the World Bank Group's IDA and copycat institutions; as such, it is indispensable for understanding how the world arrived at the juncture it is at today.

Long after modernization theory was discredited it continued to shape how institutions in wealthy countries viewed societies in poor countries and administered to them. Not all the resulting development/aid programs have been 'bad,' by any means. But the intellectual constructs that supported them were just that, so when met with the cold light of events in this past decade they were as castles of sand meeting the ocean's tides.

The above is another way of saying that a study of Gilman's work is the best talisman against the fear that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. One finds assurances within the pages of the book that the world is just doing what it's always done: going its own way, raucously independent of how social scientists and economists think it should behave -- a point shored by Gilman's study of black globalization.

I warn that there is one terribly depressing aspect of Gilman's book: he explains with great precision how it came to pass that the world's longest-running democracy -- the United States of America -- gave support to several dictatorial regimes. The answer, which culminates in Chapter 5, is surprising and does not fit neatly into the standard explanations of anti-communism and Containment policy.

What you learn from Gilman's research is that intellectuals built a sort of tower of premises that undisturbed by facts on the ground kept sprouting more floors, and much to the detriment of democracy.

I note that much of the edifice remains intact -- bolstered by the sort of things, such as trade and defense deals, which so inflame today's Leftists, Doves and Paleoconservatives. But Gilman's history makes clear that without a precise understanding of how the tower was erected it's been devilishly hard to dismantle it. Thus, the many "democracy stage shows" of the post-Soviet era, which I complained about so vociferously during the first year of this blog.

If cynics argue that knowing exactly how the U.S. came to support dictators will not halt the practice, they should think twice. Mandarins of the Future is mind-blowing because it demonstrates beyond argument that it was ideas about the best way to improve the lot of the poorest nations -- not the Cold War, not trade considerations or a desire for global hegemony -- which led the U.S. to support dictators.

As revolutions in thinking created the rationalization for democracy's support of dictators, so revolutions in thinking are the only way to undo it. Any doubts on this score, read Mandarins of the Future to witness the awesome power of ideas that within a relatively short time came to shape entire regions of the world.

The caveat is that the edifices of thought that Nils Gilman examines have been so hard to grasp because their study has been hindered by a screen of strong emotions -- emotions associated with one ideology or another or one political, economic or foreign policy viewpoint or another. That means you will need to muster some of the author's dispassion to finally see that which has been hidden for decades from public view.
I should have mentioned that Mandarins of the Future was published in January 2004 then published in paperback in February 2007. At first I was shocked to learn how long the book had been out. But on reflection it’s no great wonder that the book did not get as much as attention as it merited when it was published given the era, which seems a thousand years ago considering all we’ve learned since then. It was at the time when the Iraq expedition, and all the expectations that went with it, were falling apart, and Iran was taking center stage.

But to everything there is a season. I think that those of us who have kept informed about the struggle around the globe for democracy, the progress of transnational terrorism and crime, and the scaling back of expectations that globalization would solve all the world’s ills, are much better prepared than in 2004 to absorb the history covered in Mandarins and its lessons.

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