On Tribalism And Colonialism

By ilana mercer

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee for 2016, has something in common with Donald Trump: Sinophobia.

During a 2011 visit to Zambia, she warned about “a new colonialism in Africa.” This time, the Chinese were to blame. As Clinton sees it, the Chinese are extracting wealth from the continent by buying its raw materials. “We saw that during colonial times it [was] easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave,” she griped.

Clinton was adamant. She did not want to see a European-style colonial redux in Africa.

Certainly Chinese state capitalism is not free-market capitalism. But is Chinese mercantilism not preferable to American militarism, an example of which is Libya, a north-African recipient of madam secretary’s largess? Not according to Mrs. Clinton.

As Clinton sees it (as do, no doubt, the Paul-Ryan Republicans and the Bernie Sanders socialists), the “old colonialism” saw underdeveloped nations “bilked by rich capitalist countries,” a phrase used by Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress.

According to these highly politicized, socialist, zero-sum formulations regarding colonialism, class warfare and “income inequality,” one person’s plenty is another’s poverty. The corresponding antidote invariably involves taking from one and giving to the other—from rich to poor; from North to South.

The notion, however, of a preexisting income pie from which the greedy appropriate an unfair share is itself pie-in-the-sky. Wealth, earned or “unearned,” as egalitarians term inheritance, doesn’t exist outside the individuals who create it; it is a return for desirable services, skills and resources they render to others. Labor productivity is the main determinant of wages—and wealth. People in the West produce or purchase what they consume—and much more; they don’t remove, or steal it from Third Worlders. Wrote the greatest development economist, Lord Peter Bauer, in Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion: “Incomes, including those of the relatively prosperous or the owners of property, are not taken from other people. Normally they are produced by their recipient and the resources they own.”

Not unlike Obama’s Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who “dramatically increased U.S. foreign aid” (as reported approvingly in Foreign Affairs magazine); Mrs. Clinton also committed more funds to the Agency for International Development during her tenure as secretary of state.

When it comes to Africa, it’s worth noting, however, that four or five decades since decolonization; colonialism, dependency and racism no longer cut it as explanations for Africa’s persistent and pervasive underdevelopment. “Pseudo-scholars such as [the late] Edward Said and legions of liberal intellectuals have made careers out of blaming the West for problems that were endemic to many societies both before and after their experiences as European colonies,” noted Australian historian Keith Windschuttle, in a 2002 issue of American Outlook.

The truth is that colonization constituted the least tumultuous period in African history. This is fact; its enunciation is not to condone colonialism or similar, undeniably coercive, forays, only to venture, as did George Eliot in Daniel Deronda, that “to object to colonization absolutely is to object to history itself. To ask whether colonization in itself is good or bad is the same as asking whether history is a good or bad thing.”

“The decolonization process” in Africa “was substantially completed by the end of the 1960s,” notes Harrison, in the aforementioned Culture Matters. Yet half of the more than 600 million people south of the Sahara live in poverty. In at least eighteen countries life expectancy is below fifty years, and half or more of women are illiterate. In at least thirteen countries, half or more of the adult population is illiterate. Since the colonial powers decamped, economic conditions have declined across the Dark Continent. Democratic institutions have been slow or have failed to emerge.

The colonialism humbug, unhelpful in explaining and hence helping the Third World, was once “conventional wisdom that brooked no dissent.” Now, claims Harrison, it is rarely mentioned in intellectually respectable quarters. “For many, including some Africans, the statute of limitation on colonialism as an explanation for underdevelopment lapsed long ago.” “Moreover, four former colonies, two British (Hong Kong and Singapore) and two Japanese (South Korea and Taiwan) have vaulted into the First World.”

A former USAID (United States Agency for International Development) official, Harrison, also author of Underdevelopment is a State of Mind, knows of what he speaks: “Over the years, the development assistance institutions have promoted an assortment of solutions,” from land reform, to sustainable, and culturally sensitive, development. Billions of dollars later, “rapid growth, democracy and social justice” remain rare in Africa.

As the researchers cited insist, human behavior is mediated by values. Nevertheless, their cultural argument affords a circular, rather than a causal, elegance: People do what they do because they are who they are and have a history of being that way. But what precisely accounts for the unequal “civilizing potential,” as James Burnham called it, displayed by different groups?

Why have some people produced Confucian ethics (Clinton and Trump’s dreaded Chinese), or Anglo-Protestant ethics—with their mutual emphasis on graft and delayed gratification—while others have midwived Islamic and animistic values, emphasizing conformity, consensus, and control?

Why have certain patterns of thought and action come to typify certain people in the first place? Such an investigation, however, is verboten—a state-of-affairs another Harvard sociologist, Orlando Patterson, blames on “a prevailing rigid orthodoxy,” which is the preferred academic phrase for political correctness:

Culture is a symbolic system to be interpreted, understood, discussed, delineated, respected, and celebrated as the distinct product of a particular group of people, of equal worth with all other such products. But it should never be used to explain anything about the people who produced it.

Still another process that has eluded Africa is detribalization. Tribe burrows deep in Africa’s marrow and, some might contend, infects its lymphatic system in a bad way.

Historians (and certainly treacherous politicians) are in the habit of commending the West for detribalizing and condemning us for Trump-style tribalism.

The beginning of the English nation began with Anglo-Saxon colonizers who massacred the Britons, recounts historian Kenneth M. Newton. “The descendants of these Anglo-Saxons went on to colonize America, replacing the ‘Red Indians.’” The “bloody nature of the various colonizations in the past” notwithstanding, in the case of England, what emerged was “a distinct identity for a people descended from diverse ethnic groups that had previously tended to slaughter each other.” That nation produced Shakespeare, Newton, and George Eliot.

The American Founding Fathers were sired and philosophically inspired by the same Saxon forefathers—and the ancient rights guaranteed by the Saxon constitution. They went on to forge a constitution that transcended their tribe, as we are constantly lectured by the likes of Clinton and Ryan.

Perhaps for all their continent’s “backwardness,” a concept development economists are no longer allowed to deploy, Africans are at least constitutionally more true to their nature than Westerners, who prefer to tame their tribalism and risk perishing.


ILANA MERCER is a paelolibertarian writer, author of Into The Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa. Her forthcoming book (June 2016): The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed. For 15 years, She penned WND’s popular, paleolibertarian, weekly column, “Return to Reason,” which was begun in Canada, circa 1999. Ilana also contributes to “The Unz Review,” America’s smartest webzine, to the spectacular British Libertarian Alliance (every bit as smart), and to Quarterly Review (the celebrated British journal founded in 1809 by Walter Scott, Robert Southey and George Canning), where she is contributing editor. For years, Ilana’s “Paleolibertarian Column” was a regular feature on Russia Today and in Junge Freiheit, a German weekly of excellence. Ilana’s online homes are www.ilanamercer.com & www.barelyablog.com. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. I agree with the thrust of the article, that the racial explanation is important to all this. Your axiomatic statement that how people are is a reflection and result of who and what they are, is a simple matter of logic – even common-sense. It is dispiriting and disappointing that this common-sensical anthropology is not common currency.

    I also agree that racial explanations are not necessarily ‘racist’, or for that matter uncharitable, mean or cruel (which goes to motive anyway, something we can’t always interrogate). African societies are under-developed. That is a simple observable fact. There are no examples of indigenous technical cultures emerging from Africa. Africans on average have significantly lower measurable IQs than most other races. These facts cannot be denied and are of sociological significance. There are also obvious policy implications. To import Africans en masse into Western societies is dangerous and harmful – both for Europeans and for Africans themselves, who are in this way losing vital resources.

    However, even I think the ‘racial’ thesis can sometimes go too far. A counter-balance is necessary. I believe the (mostly Jewish) Boasian anthropologists, whatever might have motivated them, had some broadly valid points that need to be critically re-appraised and re-examined constructively in light of a revival of ‘true’ scientific anthropology.

    In that regard, this paragraph in the article stood out for me:

    [quote]”When it comes to Africa, it’s worth noting, however, that four or five decades since decolonization; colonialism, dependency and racism no longer cut it as explanations for Africa’s persistent and pervasive underdevelopment.”[unquote]

    I am not any sort of expert on this topic, what follows are just some thoughts that occur to me.

    While I agree that the factors you mention would no longer cut it as ‘excuses’ for what we perceive to be African under-development, I think as ‘explanations’ they remain valid to a degree.

    1. Africa is not monolithic in any sense other than basic physical geography. The continent is diverse racially, politically and culturally. I would say that, with the exclusion of settled whites, indigenous Africans can be split into at least two distinct and discrete racial groups. I know that African Pan-Nationalists and black nationalists themselves like to pretend there is a single African identity and culture, but I am sceptical about this. To suggest that Africans are one people is a bit like saying that British and Japanese people are part of the same race because both groups look pale. The significance of this being that within the ‘black’ African population as a whole, it’s likely there are some groups of comparable ability to Europeans – I’m thinking mainly of the Igbo, a well-known example, and other groups that have significantly less capability. The latter groups might drag down the former, but we might also ask why the former superior groups have not over-run the ‘inferiors’ in the same way that we must assume the Anglo-Saxons mentioned in your article did? I think most of the explanation for this is likely to be environmental and cultural.

    2. The long-term ramifications of colonisation should not be underestimated. It would have left quite a deep institutional, social, cultural, and economic legacy, and against that background, under-development would be expected even 50 years later. It’s a bit like expecting British domestic institutions to recover their full political vigour within a few years of a formalised secession from the EU, except that African societies will have started from a much lower base in relative terms.

    3. I would question whether any process of ‘decolonisation’ has actually taken place, except in a very superficial sense. The British, Dutch, Belgians, Germans, Italians – and of course, when it comes to Africa, let’s not forget the French – might not enjoy the same little vanities they once did on perusing world atlases, but the power of these comparatively wealthy European nations and their daughter, the United States, is still immense in Africa. Spain even still has colonies there, but the point is that European (and ethno-European) power is now exercised mostly informally and via corporate and economic power. Africa is still colonised, just in a slightly different way. In the case of Britain, you might even say the mode of colonisation is pretty much the same. Anton LeRouche (or whatever his name is) isn’t being totally crackpot when he talks about an enduring British Empire – there is a kernel of truth in what he says. Remember that the Empire that Britain had was mercantile rather than ‘imperial’. The imperial phase ended with the American Revolution. What followed was basically a privateer and trading network with a few light military bases here and there. Is the situation much different now?

    4. I mentioned in 1 above about environmental and cultural factors in African underdevelopment. There are some such factors that will have hindered African civilisations and that will not be of the same significance elsewhere. A few basic ones that come to mind are the presence of vast deserts and tropical rain forests, dangerous wild animals, harsh climate. These would have made it more difficult for human groups in African to coalesce at a more sophisticated level beyond tribal systems and would in turn also have resulted in a stagnant culture by our standards. Have these environmental factors resulted in lower fluid intelligence among indigenous Africans, and this is what Europeans have been able to take advantage of? Probably. If you look at the Igbo, they did not have the same environmental challenges and have, apparently, developed to an intellectual level comparable to Europeans.

    5. The last point about this whole ‘development’ question is of a more philosophic kind, but I consider it important. I think we have to question whether ‘development’ ought to be important to every human group, and even what ‘development’ means. Some groups that we consider primitive might look on the West as having undesirable societies and might not want to develop. Do the Amish want to ‘develop’? They seem happy enough to me. My view would be that the global community should implement a ‘prime directive’ in the matter of Africa and other indigenous societies and treat them almost as a nascent separate species with a manifest destiny of their own. In short – leave them alone, and leave their natural resources untouched and in trust for future generations of Africans. That sounds Quixotic, but I also think it makes a lot of practical sense. We don’t know what we might be losing by enforcing our own ‘superior’ standards on other, alien human groups that are not comparable to ours. They should be left alone to undergo their own development. I realise that some people take a ‘survival of the fittest’ view and believe that Africa is fair game, but I see that as just another of the perils of the liberal mondialist worldview and the market system – which is what manifests in the ‘racism’ that Afrocentric thinkers like Chinweizu and Garvey wrote of.

    I don’t think capitalism can equip us with the more civilised and magnanimous attitude that an advanced people need. We live in a world of abundance. We can surely now move beyond the economic paradigm of ‘growth for growth’s sake’ and profiteering, and find a harmony and balance with Nature that befits us.

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