Balkinization  

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The "Nation Building" Delusion

Brian Tamanaha

The phrase “nation-building” (or “state-building”) embodies and perpetuates a delusion—the belief that nations can be deliberately constructed.

For a technocratic mindset, building a nation state might appear to resemble a straightforward exercise in reverse engineering. We know the elements common to stable nation states, so the way to proceed is to put these elements into place: write a constitution; call an election; create a legislature; create government agencies to manage basic functions; build a police force and an army; write a legal code; set up a system of taxation to fund the government; train judges. Turn it on, and watch it go.

All of the pieces in this standard blueprint are correct, but the blueprint omits what matters above all else—the arrangement is an organic whole in which each part is mutually interrelated, dependent upon one another, and the entirety is enveloped within a supportive social, cultural, economic, and political environment. (My essay, "The Primacy of Society and the Failures of Law and Development," elaborates on this.). Take an obvious example: Japan and the United States both possess the core elements listed above, but the individual elements in each nation and how their respective arrangements hang together are radically distinct owing to their organic development.

“Nation building” is a delusion because, while the individual elements can be put into place pursuant to a deliberate plan, the organic whole cannot (hence the elements will not function according to design). Burke and Hayek famously made this point. They were right.

This is not a counsel of despair for societies with failed states--although the situation for people in these societies is often tragically desperate. The point, rather, is that the process occurs on a historical time scale (generations at least) through the sustained, collective efforts of people within a given society striving to make a common life work.

The obvious subtext of this post is that we--the United States--cannot build a nation state in Afghanistan.


Comments:

Brian sets forth a cogent description of "Nation Building." This should be contrasted with: "Neocolonialism" which might result if the former fails to recover a failed state. Perhaps Brian (or others?) has some thoughts on "Neocolonialism" that he might share with us.
 

Brian:

We finally agree. The United States cannot build a nation for the Afghans any more than we could for Iraq. The best we can do is help establish he security and the democracy to enable the Afghans to form their own nation as the Iraqis are in the process of doing now.
 

Prof. Tamanaha:

We know the elements common to stable nation states, so the way to proceed is to put these elements into place: write a constitution; call an election; create a legislature; create government agencies to manage basic functions; build a police force and an army; write a legal code; set up a system of taxation to fund the government; train judges. Turn it on, and watch it go.

We know from the previous thread how this is done:

Prop up dictators.
Give them arms.
Train their secret police.
Wait.
Then insist that we were calling all the while for "fair and democratic elections" and insisting that our "boys in Havana" (or wherever) step down.
Or just invade them when the monster gets out of hand (see, e.g., Panama and Iraq)....

Cheers,
 

With this:

"The best we can do is help establish he security and the democracy to enable the Afghans to form their own nation as the Iraqis are in the process of doing now."

our Backpacker compares two nation states with significantly different histories. Who knows how long the process for Iraq will take? But Afghanistan would take much longer. Even with eventual success in Iraq and Afghanistan, will either survive the interim "Neocolonialism"? Iraq was not a failed nation state when Bush/Cheney invaded. Contrast that with Afghanistan which, if not a failed state at the time of its invasion, was on the brink; and eight (8) years of Bush Cheney accomplished what?

Meantime, North Korea continues as a problem. Iran is between the rock (Iraq) and the hard place (Afghanistan). African problems continue. How does the US continue to fund its "Neocolonialism" with the hope that Iraq and Afghanistan will come out of the equivalent of political Chapter 11? Consider the financial effect of the Cold War that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
 

I appreciate the references to Burke and Hayek. I am trying to convince my students that a theorist's being classified as an 'X' does not mean nothing the theorist said has value.
 

I do not accept Professor Tamanaha's proposition that the expression "nation building" necessarily embodies the delusion he posits.

Professor Tamanaha's paper reviews only the last 50 years. It may be more instructive to look at the transformations of the British Empire over its relatively brief period of ascendancy (as compared to other empires of history) and examine what has worked and what has not. I could not dream of conducting a complete review in the years I may have left to me, but I would suggest that if one just considers the export of the Anglo-Norman legal system, one finds that it has transplanted remarkably well into many of the 53 states which are now independent sovereign states of the [British] Commonwealth. Even in the 13 original colonies which chose revolution rather than evolution and broke away in the 1770's, many of the concepts have survived - only yesterday I was reading an Opinion of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in which it exercised its "King's Bench Powers" which I then discovered trace back directly to the Pennsylvania Colonial Provincial Act of 22nd May 1722, which vested in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court all the jurisdictions and powers of the three superior courts at Westminster, namely, the King’s Bench, the Common Pleas, and the Exchequer.

What is, indeed, a delusion, is that one can instantly create a nation state, or that one can impose on a state a constitution and/or a legal system imported from elsewhere and expect it forthwith to work as intended, or in some respects at all - inter alia, for the reasons Professor Tamanaha puts forward.

Therefore, I agree that the Bush Administration's Neoconservative vision of the instant and workable imposition of a western style constitution for Iraq as was attempted under the ludicrous Coalition Provisional Authority (aka Paul Bremner's Mess in Mesopotamia) was a mirage just as was the vision of the sudden creation of a working nation state by way of the invasion of Afghanistan under the Orwellian newspeak title of Operation Enduring Freedom™.

I have very grave doubts about the viability of both the present constitution and about the Kharzai government as the necessary local partner for rebuilding. I am fortified in that belief by the mere fact that both were put in place under the Bush Administration. Personally, as set out in previous posts, I would have favoured a restoration of a constitutional monarchy with the familiar institution of the loya jirga playing its traditional role.

I hope the Obama Administration will regard the Kharzai government as being "on probation", because the early signs since his recognition after the flawed elections are not good.

When one speaks of "nation building" one is addressing a process which may take 25 years or more. Ataturk's vision of the transformation of the remains of the Ottoman Empire into a modern secular nation has just passed its 75th Anniversary and, while incredible progress has been made in that time, it is still in the nature of things a work in progress. Could one reasonably expect the process of devoloping a stable Afghanistan, let alone a democratic one, to take any less?

I hope the USA will not "jump ship" and abandon the Afghans to their fate. But given the American expectation that their leaders produce instant results, I am not confident of the ability of any administration - even this one - to take a long-term view.
 

I agree United States cannot build a nation state in Afghanistan. However, US can support them in there Nation Building. Nation Building is not a two days work; it is ongoing process of building an entire nation. At least US can support Afghanistan to build there own nation state.
CD rates
 

Thank you for the recommendation of "Speech Out Of Doors: Preserving First Amendment Liberties in Public Places" by Timothy Zick.

It was interesting and thought provoking, providing a promotion of public expression not limited to any one ideology. For instance, in a way I share, it supports protecting the rights of abortion protestors in ways more protective than current SC precedent.

The photos and use of same page footnotes also was helpful. The use of terminology like "embodied places" was a bit much for the general reader, but it was written for a broad audience all the same.

Appropriate to this blog, it was dedicated to BT and cited Levinson/Balkin's discussion of the surveillance state.

Overall, it dealt with current day real life effects, and noted how our constitutional liberties are harmed in part by matters outside of the law as such (e.g., modern architecture).
 

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