The Doctrine of Development
T he concept of development is a historical legacy. In the course of the evolution of its meaning, it has assumed a definitive, if amorphous, economic connotation in the current usage of the word: improvement of the economic status of the society, widening of the individual’s life opportunities, betterment of the quality of life. But this connotation is historically linked to, and rooted in, particular interpretations of the 19th century theories of biological evolution and social progress. The origin of the modern connotation of development may be traced to Ernst Haeckel’s description of the ontogenetic development of an organism (from the fertilized ovum to adulthood) as progressive, unidirectional and preordained process of physiological change. His study of embryonic development provided the ideological metaphors of social developmental hierarchy and later served to nourish racist and imperialist ideas associated with the notions of development and progress. Haeckel, who coined the word ‘ecology’, was to become – a century later – one of Nazi Germany’s major ideological figures for racism, nationalism and imperialism.
Owing to its roots in biology, the concept carries a normative burden. No sane person is opposed to development in the sense of economic uplifting of the nation, betterment of the standard of life or improvement of the quality of life. Development is the goal of society, nation, and the material world. Everyone strives to attain the goal of betterment of life, easing of life’s hardships, increasing life’s opportunities, comfort and leisure; in short, everyone strives to develop. In fact, everybody, every society, every nation ought to
develop. However, the normative aspect of the accepted notion of development obfuscates the difference between the perceived
goal and the practical means to achieve it. Indeed, we all want to increase our comfort and leisure, but how? It is sought by increasing production of goods and services; by increasing gross national product (GNP, now called GNI, gross national income); by means of growth in industry and agriculture. Societies that do not have high GNI, or a fast rate of growth of industry, agriculture and technology are less or under-developed, and must be brought into the mainstream of development. Thus, development is globally defined in terms of industrial and technological growth, the means which becomes the goal. Economic growth is assumed in what Harvey (1996) calls the ‘standard view’ of professional economists to construe improvement of the quality of life. By assuming equivalence of the means to the goal, the notion becomes doctrinaire in mainstream economics.
The global perception of development and its social, political and ethical implications – both at national and global levels – derive from the prevailing, mainstream economic dimension of the concept of development. The economic dimension cannot be separated from the normative load of the concept, and its paradigmatic use in national and international economic practices. The faith in economic growth and material prosperity as destiny construes the ideology of development, which propels the global political economy and legitimizes the doctrine of development, a doctrine that is self-reflexive in that it is both the reference point and the goal of societal progress to which it refers. I intend to show here that this doctrine is a polymorphic paradigm, drawing theoretical support from various streams of social and intellectual movements at different historical periods, and creating its own ‘epistemic community’ as Haas (1992) calls it. The process of consensus building and multilateral action in international economic and environmental regulatory decisions, Haas showed, is ‘knowledge-based’ (that is, informed and advised by a community of authoritative experts who operate on the levels of uncertainty of ecological and economic models in terms of their outcome). Governments are increasingly dependent upon these experts who, ‘to the extent they are part of epistemic communities, are more important to the political solutions than is the content of the ideas per se,’ and ‘whose ideas and models of development are entirely self-reflexive’ (Watts 2001: 291).
In the following sections, I intend to discuss the evolution of this doctrine as an epistemological entity, and then examine how the paradigm has influenced national economies and politics.
1.1 The Epistemology of Development
In the beginning of its usage in social sciences, the term ‘development’ was primarily understood in the naturalistic sense, as the unfolding of things over time. However, development accreted value and directionality in the 19th century social
and biological writings, which fed into each other. The directional sense borrowed support from contemporary biological literature, especially Haeckel’s study of embryonic development.
The 19th century philosophical ideas of progress, combined with metaphors constructed from Haeckel’s ontological development, informed the theories of social evolution current before the Darwinian evolutionary theory was published. Conversely, the Darwinian view of the continuous process of evolution was in fact borrowed from the theories of social evolution of Thomas Hobbes and Herbert Spencer, but took a completely new meaning in the light of his seminal idea of non-directional, blind natural selection. In Darwinian evolution, there exists no perfect model, and evolutionary superiority cannot be attributed to any organism or individual in terms of strength or size. This fundamental feature of Darwinism was missed by social theorists of the 19th century, who reproduced current prejudices about social evolution with an aura of scientific authority. The misreading of Darwinian view of evolution and its misapplication to social evolution gave birth to Social Darwinism,1
whose proponents postulated the history of human civilization as a series of connected economic stages described as hunting-gathering, pastoral, agricultural and commercial or industrial. In this presentation of history, the contemporary Europe represented the highest form of social configuration, while the non-Western, pre-capitalist societies represented the inferior rungs of the ladder of human civilization.2
This linear course of social evolution provided the purpose and directionality of history of all societies, who ought to strive to progress. An ideological outcome of this philosophy of social progress was that, in the Victorian ethnographic view, Native Americans, Africans and the aboriginal peoples of Asia, Australia and New Zealand represented the primitive stages of human evolutionary history,3
and Asian societies and cultures were viewed as cases of ‘arrested progress.’ The marked achievements of ancient Asian civilizations in abstract thinking – mathematics and philosophy – as well as in engineering skills, were halted, as it were, by numerous social institutions that proved to be stultifying for human freedom, dignity and ingenuity – the torches that enlightened the path of progress of European civilization. In the glow of Enlightenment, the general European attitude toward Asian societies and their traditions was one of contempt.4
The Victorian social evolutionary theory was epitomized in Spencer’s work Progress: Its Law and Cause
, published in 1857 – two years before Darwin’s Origin of Species
was published. Spencerian progress consisted of growth from germinal homogeneous forms to increasingly greater structural complexity. This law of growth and change, equivalent in the growth of plants
and animals as well as for the development of civilizations, Spencer claimed, was universal.
…this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development of Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, Art, this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through a process of continuous differentiation, holds throughout. From the earliest traceable cosmical changes down to the latest results of civilization, we shall find that the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous, is that in which Progress essentially consists…. that which the German physiologists have found to be the law of organic development, is the law of all development. (Spencer 1857, cited in Halsall 1997)
In the Spencerian view of social progress, society developed from the level of savagery – on which germinal political institutions took form in primitive chiefdoms and god-kings – to the fully developed European state, marked with separation of church and state. In this teleological view of progress of civilization, more developed societies vanquish less developed societies, and superior races, better adapted to adversities of nature, are impelled to eliminate, or overcome, the less adapted races.5
Following Spencer, sociological theories drew analogies from biological evolution to depict a progressive change of social organization from ‘infancy’ or primitiveness to more advanced stages, culminating in modern European civilization. Thus, ‘Darwin had provided a biological theory which became improperly joined to a pre-existing stream of ideas’ (Megarry 1995: 39), which flowed into the following century. Forged from an incongruous mix of Victorian progressivism and a misunderstood Darwinian theory of evolution, Social Darwinist theories vulgarized Darwinian metaphors of ‘natural selection’, ‘struggle for existence’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ to serve racist doctrines, colonial expansion, extermination of aboriginal ‘savages’, and imperialist war. War – ‘struggle between nations’ – was necessary for the evolution of peoples as a manifestation of ‘effort pour la vie
’ (Bazaine-Hayter 1910). A strong army was thus necessary for the struggle for life of nations. Lieutenant Raymond Peyronnet argued in his Dix Leçons de Morale
(1900: 58–59) that
The biological sciences teach that the feeble must disappear before the strong; and extending these consequences from men to nations, one must admit that no sentiment of humanity or right would be powerful enough to prevent a strong State from taking possession of a weaker State. (cited in Clark 1984: 168)
Social Darwinism was also used to justify free-market competition as a state natural to man.6
It transformed moral and policy issues of helping the poor into ‘scientific’ issues: helping the poor was unnatural; letting them perish was nature’s
way. Social Darwinists argued that a free-market system that would allow for an unconstrained operation of the law of survival of the fittest was more desirable than a system of state intervention into the market through income redistribution programmes to provide income supplements to the poor and dole to the unemployed. Social Darwinists believed that the operation of the harsh natural law of survival of the fittest (and elimination of the unfit) would in the long run benefit the human species and society. To the early proponents of free market, the poor were the unfit, and therefore their death was only natural. Thus, Rev. Joseph Townsend (1786) argued that poverty was a necessary condition of wealth, and that state intervention through the likes of Elizabethan poor laws that aimed to reduce poverty was undesirable, because it was unnatural. State interference would only ‘increase the number of unprofitable citizens, and sow the seeds of misery for the whole community; increasing the general distress, and causing more to die than if poverty had been left to find its proper channel’ (cited in
Clark 1984: 40–41). Rev. Thomas Malthus subsequently copied pages from Townsend’s works, and reiterated this doctrine of the naturalness of poverty and hunger (see Section 3.2.2
for a detailed discussion). To Social Darwinists, an unbridled market allowed the poor to perish. Free market, where hunger was ‘the most natural motive to industry and labour’ (Townsend 1786: 23), operated on principles of natural selection, and therefore a market with no state intervention was likely to be more successful than any other systems driven by moral imperatives. Spencer’s application of Darwinian principles to social practices construed a natural defence of entrepreneurial capitalism.
This kind of relation between nature and society was just what economic science needed to sustain its claim that natural man was economic man. Biology and economics, the blacSkbird and the cowbird. The rest, as they say, is history. (Schwartz 1986: 91)
Thus entrepreneurial competition on market was a reflection of the struggle for existence in the capitalist market, in which fitter individuals amassed more wealth and had ‘a greater store of economic virtues’. Laissez-faire
capitalism facilitated the selection process that propelled the progress of civilization. Capitalist competition was thus ‘a law of nature which men can ignore only to their sorrow’ (Hofstadter 1959: 57). The Spencerist philosophy in business circles was more influential in the United States than in Europe, and as Hofstadter showed, captains of monopoly capitalism in America, like John D. Rockefeller and James J. Hill, believed that the growth of a large business is merely survival of the fittest and that ruthless capitalist entrepreneurship is merely the a law of nature in operation. Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan, American business leaders and famous Social Darwinists, also believed that
monopolies represented the natural accumulation of economic power by those individuals fittest for wielding it.
While the emergence of capitalism gave credence to Spencerian sociology, the idea of progress and the evolutionary ranking of societies came down from earlier centuries. The Industrial Revolution reinforced Europe’s technological and military superiority over the rest of the world. Spencerian sociology provided an ordering schema for the Eurocentric view of the East, which had already taken shape in earlier centuries. The European discovery of the New World had opened for Europe a unique window into its own past, and forged the identity of the non-Europe, the Other, contradistinguished from Europe’s own identity. The Other’s present embodied Europe’s own past, while Europe’s present heralded the Other’s future. The history of human civilization’s progress seemed to be captured in the differential stages of barbarity existing in the aboriginal societies of the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, where primitive societies remained isolated from the world of civilization, so as to demonstrate the rungs in the ladder of the historical progress of humanity. This view of evolution of human progress, as reflected in the continuum from the primitive ways of life in the non-European societies to the European techno-industrial civilization, was formalized in the writings of European scholars of the 19th century. Said (1978) takes late 18th century as the starting point of Orientalism, as symptomatic of the Eurocentric hubris:
Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point, Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism is a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient. (Said 1978: 3)
Orientalism thus encompassed three aspects of the East-West contact. First, modern European scholars acknowledged the great achievements of ancient India and China in literature, astronomy, chemistry and mathematics (including the symbol of zero and the decimal numerical system), which the Arab scholars later transmitted to Europe. However, scholars of Oriental studies refrained from calling on Europeans to adopt the Oriental culture, which the latter considered degenerate. Second, the East was a fabulous El Dorado where vast resources were awaiting commercial exploration and exploitation. Finally, on the ideological level, European trader-conquistadors and colonists sought to justify subjugation and annihilation of alien cultures in terms of European techno-military supremacy. It was on this last account that progress and development became meaningful to the European mind.
The notion of the Orient was shaped by the Western views of the Other, which included Asia and part of Africa in the 18th century. Although some great European thinkers like Montaigne and Rousseau wrote about ‘noble savage’ societies7
where treachery, lying, greed, murder and rape were unknown, Europe saw the barbaric peoples of Africa and Australian islands as savages without qualification, in the pejorative sense of the word, stuck at the lowest level of civilization. The idea of the Orient as the abode of savages eventually broadened to encompass what in the post-war period came to be known as the Third World, including Central and South America. The positing of the geographic and cultural identity of the East, the discovery of its uniqueness and its conquest were all manifestations of a single Eurocentric approach, according to which the West, with its historical structure, polity, art and culture represents the only value opposite to Oriental ‘irregularity’ and ‘backwardness’. The existence of ‘savage’ cultures outside of Europe was an evidence of its advanced position in social evolution. Europe’s ethnographers and anthropologists depicted the ‘primitive’ customs of non-Western societies to reconstruct the infancy of humanity. Renaissance thinkers believed that primitive societies of the East were living through Europe’s past only to describe the evolutionary path to European modernity. This Spencerian progressivism laid out the Social Darwinian schema, which failed to grasp the prime significance of Darwin’s achievement in describing organic evolution as non-teleological – without the assumption of any predetermined goal, sequence, or outcome. While Social Darwinism was seldom taken up in any serious economic analyses (Arndt 1981: 460–61), the Spencerist social evolution, marked by ordered progress, was accepted by a more receptive audience than was the Darwinian theory of evolution (Kuennen 1994: 48.).
The notion of goal-directed social evolution was prevalent in all European social theories of the 19th century. Marx and Engels, in their radical social and political theory, also interpreted social evolution in teleological terms: human societies move along a linear course of evolution, in a time series as it were, each stage evolving into a successive higher stage. From primitive, barbarian and s...