Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What if?

ONE OF THE FASCINATING things to do when studying history is to speculate about "What if?" questions.

Studying history with Scott Powell offers ample opportunity to speculate.  Scott's current course on the Middle East alone (which you can still join in) offers ample opportunity for speculation.

  • What if Britain hadn't nearly bankrupted itself in two centuries of Middle Eastern military adventures in a bid to protect its Indian colony?  What shape would the Middle East's maps be in today if Britain's flawed mercantilist thinking hadn't entangled it in so many misadventures in which it had no need to participate?
  • What if Harry Truman hadn't entangled America in the Middle East in a flawed bid to restrain communism?  What use would the bankrupt Soviet Union have been able to make of the Mid-East even if Truman had left the sphere alone? (And what threat would it have been if Franklin Roosevelt and Klaus Fuchs hadn't both in their own way helped to arm the Soviets?)
  • What if Dwight Eisenhower hadn't pulled the pin on Britain, France and Israel's recovery of the Suez Canal after Nasser's nationalisation of it?  Would Eisenhower's support for the already successful recovery have helped to nip the incipient Mid-Eastern nationalism in the bud?
  • What if Britain and the US hadn't stood back when the oil fields and refineries owned, established and built up by British and American investors were nationalised by tribal leaders and would be nationalist heroes?  Would this have sent a signal to all potential plundererers of American and British property that property rights would always be upheld by American and British governments, and given a valuable lesson in the importance of property rights?

Perhaps the greatest tragedy thrown up by these 'what-ifs' is a real failure of ideas. I've already mentioned the flawed mercantilist thinking that empowered Britain's military misadventures -- an entanglement that cost Britain in both wealth and manpower, without any real gain. 

Perhaps the most important thing demonstrated by the whole tragedy of the Middle East  -- and the Mid-East's failure to ever really lift off is certainly a tragedy -- is the failure to properly communicate the ideas that underpin the freedom and prosperity of the west.   This is the real failure of the west with respect to the non-west.

YOU SEE, ALL THE countries of the Middle East at one time or another were confronted with the need to to shake off their superstitious pasts and to modernise their bad selves (to use the words of educator Maria Montessori, they developed a 'sensitive period' for learning about what made the west great); when confronted with the obvious military and economic superiority of the west all of them looked westward for inspiration  -- but what countries like Turkey and Egypt and eventually even Afghanistan saw when they realised their own backwardness and looked westward for inspiration was not the ideas of the likes of John Locke or Thomas Jefferson or Adam Smith -- the ideas that had underpinned the west's freedom and prosperity -- but instead the intellectual pygmies who then crawled across the intellectual wastelands of the late-nineteenth century who were then doing all they could to undercut freedom and prosperity altogether.

Instead of Carl Menger, Turkey's Kemal Atatutk picked up Karl Marx.  Instead of Frederic Bastiat, Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser picked up Frederick Engels.   It's a powerful example of the necessity for good intellectual hygiene and of the power of even bad ideas -- that ideas can as easily destroy as make prosperous, depending on the particular ideas one picks up.  

Each Middle Eastern country modernised at a different time, each picking up the intellectual current of that time -- and unfortunately by the latter half of the nineteenth century when most were modernising, the intellectual current of the west was already fast dwindling to become a cesspool*.  The results in large part can still be seen today, with the secular shibboleths of collectivism and nationalism fighting the secular battle against the superstitious backwardness of Islam, and losing.

You see, the game of 'Historical What-If?'  is endlessly fascinating, and what I've said here has only just scratched the surface: I've only posed questions arising from the first few lectures of Scott Powell's Islamist Entanglement course

It's fascinating to speculate for example about what the whole Middle East would be like, hell, what  the whole world be like, if it had never been infected with the stinking collectivism of Marx and the nasty nationalism of the likes of Hegel and the German 'ethnic nationalists': if all the many millions slaughtered by the dictators of the twentieth century had been allowed to live, and if all the billions enslaved by totalitarian ideology had been allowed to live free.

JUST IMAGINE IF THE world hadn't been intellectually empowered to give power to those killers, "those depraved individuals who would rather kill than live, who would rather inflict pain and death than experience pleasure, whose pleasure comes from the infliction of pain and death. Unfortunately," observes George Reisman in his book Capitalism, "there is no lack of such individuals...

[and no shortage of] philosophical justification for [their] murders, such as the security of the State, the will of God, the achievement of Lebensraum,or the establishment of communism and a future classless society. Each of these alleged values supposedly justified the murder of living human beings. As the Communists were so fond of saying, “The end justifies the means.”

And with enablers like Hegel and Marx to  state the ends -- which amount to making one neck for one noose -- the killers were given power and the means by which to carry out their atrocities.  But "just imagine," as Reisman invites ...

In eras that are philosophically and culturally better than our own, [these killers] might even pass their entire lives quietly, in modest obscurity, causing harm to no one. In such a better era, Hitler might have passed his days as an obscure paperhanger, Himmler as a chicken farmer, and Eichmann as a factory worker or office clerk. Lenin would probably have been just a disgruntled intellectual,and Stalin perhaps an obscure cleric. But in the conditions of a collapse of rationality, frustrations and feelings of hatred and hostility rapidly multiply, while cool judgment, rational standards, and civilized behavior vanish. Monstrous ideologies appear and monsters in human form emerge alongside them, ready to put them into practice.

In short, the real lesson from even these few 'what-ifs' is the life-saving necessity for good intellectual hygiene.

How's yours? 
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* Thank goodness New Zealand was settled in 1840, when John Locke and Adam Smith were at least remembered, if not still admired.  The Treaty of Waitangi at least pays homage to the shadow of John Locke, which is really its chief and perhaps only boon. (And thank goodness that when Asian tigers like Hong Kong and Taiwan began to take off in the latter half of last century, they chose to ignore the then-fashionable intellectual fads of the west, and go for prosperity instead)

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32 Comments:

Blogger Berend de Boer said...

The West, from the 300 Spartans, Alexander the Great till George W. Bush has walked over them for 2500 years.

I'm sure that if they were capable of learning, they would have.

4/29/2008 04:51:00 pm  
Blogger AA said...

It seems a bit unfair to criticize the British for their military misadventures and not praise them for their brilliant ones. They got it right a lot of the time.

What if England had stayed home and then had to face the Germans and then the Soviets without her colonies and former colonies to back her up ? She would have beeen rolled over like Poland and the world would be ruled by the Soviets and the Japanese.

The British colonies have got to have been one of the best investments ever made with a return that was simply incalculable.

You say Britain nearly bankrupted itself but it is still the world's fifth largest economy. That aint bad and what an incredible adventure it was, worth every penny.

God Save The Queen.

4/29/2008 05:25:00 pm  
Anonymous Elijah Lineberry said...

Interesting list, Peter, and I think it is fair to say... (in the words of Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister)... "It seemed like a good idea at the time"

4/29/2008 05:42:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Berend,

Ever cross your mind that "walking over them for 2500 years" means they're not inclined to learn from us?

4/29/2008 06:21:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the most important thing demonstrated by the whole tragedy of the Middle East -- and the Mid-East's failure to ever really lift off is certainly a tragedy

The mid-east is a tragedy in terms of godbaggery and women's rights to be sure - but in terms of it 'lifting off' - do you not read the financial pages Peter?

They are at the forefront - they are employing all the best people from the West. They are bankrolling the West's financial failures. No one is going to bomb them now they have got our asses out of trouble. And that's capitalism and globalisation.

It's ridiculous to say the Mid East is a failure.

4/29/2008 06:43:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elijah : Interesting list, Peter

For goodness sake Elijah, stop worshiping Peter, because I think the man is embarrassed with your continual praising of him. How about you brief us on forex trading, heh?

4/29/2008 08:03:00 pm  
Blogger AA said...

the failure to properly communicate the ideas that underpin the freedom and prosperity of the west. This is the real failure of the west with respect to the non-west.

This seems blissfully ignorant of the facts of history. The West indulged in imperialism, racism, looting and pillaging, reprisals, slavery, invasion and occasionally extermination. Empires were built on the foundations of stolen gold and slavery prior to industrialization.

But of course it is the "ideas" and not the actions of the West that need to be communicated. Do as I say and not as I do little children.

While I think it is a good idea for non-western people to cherry pick the best ideas from the West (like the Japanese did after first disastrously emulating Western style action) it's not hard to understand their bitterness about the past. They still remember and continue to see the hypocrisy of the West from a different vantage point We’ve moved on from our rapacious tendencies but it is still a stumbling block for them.

4/30/2008 07:11:00 am  
Blogger Berend de Boer said...

Very funny AA. Straight out of the lefties history book where facts are irrelevant.

4/30/2008 08:02:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Care to actually contribute a few facts Berend? Or are you just here to engage in bluster? AA's post seems to just be stating the blindingly obvious to me...

4/30/2008 08:26:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

AA, you appear to have either missed the point, or I have failed to make it.

The key phrase in what you quoted was " ideas that underpin the freedom and prosperity of the west."

If ideas were communicated, it wasn't unfortunately those ones.

As I suggest in those few examples I gave, it is not a question of whether or not the west communicated ideas to the non-west. They did. As each Middle Eastern country recognised its need to modernise, it looked to the west for the new modern ideas, and took what it thought it needed.

But the fact is that the ideas they picked up were not those that underpinned the freedom and prosperity of the west, which they would have got a century earlier, but ideas that do precisely the opposite: specifically, the ideas of nationalism and collectivism.

This explains a lot about Middle East history over the last century or so.

4/30/2008 08:47:00 am  
Blogger Rebel Radius said...

It's ridiculous to say the Mid East is a failure.

"A region awash with oil money has one or two clouds on the horizon.

Diabetes is a useful metaphor for the Gulf's present problems. The region's economies are struggling to absorb petrodollars, accumulating like glucose in the bloodstream.

The risk they face is the economic equivalent of renal failure: inflation, a hollowing-out of the non-oil sector, and a young, growing workforce in chronic need of outside labour to supplement it."

Full article at the Economist.com

4/30/2008 09:20:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Someone too scared to leave their name said, "It's ridiculous to say the Mid East is a failure... do you not read the financial pages Peter?"

Do you not read any other pages, Oh person too scared to leave their name?

With the partial exception of the Emirates, who've capitalised more on their trading heritage than their limited oil resources, the 'wealthy' countries of the Middle East are feudal slave states.

That's the tragedy.

In every important respect,oil wealth has been a curse for Mid-easteners, rather than a blessing. Rather than increasing freedom in the region, oil riches (most of which came from nationalising the oil fields and refineries) have allowed feudal rulers to extend and enhance their power over their subjects.

That's a tragedy, and not just for "women's" rights.

4/30/2008 11:16:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're still a cantankerous old goat Peter. Must be the reason you've got so grey, eh.

4/30/2008 12:21:00 pm  
Blogger AA said...

I understand and agree that the ideas are worth taking on. It's just that it will take a lot of maturity on the part of people like Middle Easterners to look past their distrust of the West.

They distrust everything the West does and see conspiracies everywhere. And there is justification for the distrust. China, for instance, was attacked by Anglo-French forces and forced to accept embassies in 1860 even though they didn't want them. Embassy staff were endangered later during the Boxer Rebellion (1900) and rescued by an army of eight Western nations (including Japanese who had adopted the Western practices I described earlier) executed 50,000 or so people and made China pay a huge fine that they didn't finish paying off until 1939 causing significant economic hardship.

Few Westerners are aware of these things today as Berend so helpfully illustrated but non-Western people are taught them still and it affects their judgement when contemplating adopting Western ideas.

4/30/2008 01:50:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

AA you said, "I understand and agree that the ideas are worth taking on. It's just that it will take a lot of maturity on the part of people like Middle Easterners to look past their distrust of the West.

They distrust everything the West does ...
"

Yet my point was that at specific times in history, specifically when they recognised the need to modernise, Middle Easteners did look to the west to seek answers -- Turkey in the 1839 Tamizimat reforms, Egypt in the 1860s, and Afghanistan in the early 1920s, to take just three examples -- but it was unfortunately at times when the poison of nationalism and collectivism were in the west's intellectual air rather than the ideas of reason, individualism and capitalism that made the west both free and prosperous.

4/30/2008 02:42:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then maybe you should have made that clear Peter.

Also a country does not have to be 'Westernised' to be prosperous and successful. Globalisation and world finance markets are bringing western ideology to the mid-east as we speak, whether you believe that or not.

It's either money or a gun- and it's money now. Thankfully.

4/30/2008 02:53:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Someone else who didn't want to put their name to their opinion said, "... a country does not have to be 'Westernised' to be prosperous and successful.

Yet history shows that the extent to which a country accepts the basic tenets that underpin the west's prosperity -- reason, individualism, capitalism -- is the extent to which it is boy prosperous and successful.

"Globalisation and world finance markets are bringing western ideology to the mid-east as we speak, whether you believe that or not."

But surely you've noticed that not all the Middle East is included in that happy number? And not even all of those places that are completely plugged into globalisation and world finance markets. In fact, the number of places in the Middle East in which globalisation and world finance markets are bringing western ideology are remarkably few. There's the Emirates, and there's ... um, well, ...

"It's either money or a gun- and it's money now. Thankfully."

Would that it were so.

4/30/2008 03:13:00 pm  
Blogger Rebel Radius said...

"Allhumdulilah, we are in a unique situation as compared to Jews and Christians and other people in this world who are not in possession of this perfect and divine revelation from Allah (swt). Therefore they are forced to turn to other sources such as human reasoning which is not perfect as the perfect revelation of Allah.


When we look at philosophy-- modern day or Greek-- we will come across strange ideas and notions. This is not surprising because many times these philosophers or ‘modern-day thinkers’ are writing about subjects that are beyond human understanding, beyond the abilities and understanding that Allah has bestowed upon human beings.

We should feel sorry for them because they have been deprived of the revelation of Allah and hence, deprived of the answers to all the questions that man has always wondered about such as who is man, what is his purpose and goal in this life and so forth, yet where man has failed to reach even close to the ‘correct’ response

Unfortunately, many Muslims discovered many ideas once they started reading physics and mathematics inherited from the Greeks. They failed to distinguish between the good and the bad ideas. Many of them began to accept all of it together as philosophical reasoning and etc., similar to what is happening in today’s Muslim world.

When Muslims saw the material advancements in Europe because of their advanced scientific base, they thought that as a consequent Europeans would be advanced in religion and cultures too. Hence, they considered taking these from Europeans as well in order to be known as ‘civilised’.


They forgot that there was no way that the Greek teachings could be superior to what Allah has already given us or spoken about. And they also forgot that perhaps in math and physics there was room for human intellect and mind to discover many things, but when it came to philosophy and subjects like nature of
God and God’s existence, these are subjects known only to Allah and revealed to human beings in only a limited arena. They forgot that in some areas the only source and the only truth can be found ONLY in the revelation of Allah. Human reasoning had severe natural limitations when dealing with these subjects since they do not possess the mental capability to decipher all or even most of the secrets of the universe-known only to Allah.


Instead of going to the pure Qur’an and Sunnah, they allowed rationalistic thoughts and believed in them and put them above the Quran and Sunnah"


Words against "reason" from the
Islamic Network

4/30/2008 03:14:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Berend, I've only just worked out what it was you were trying to say in your first comment. You said, and I paraphrase, "The West ... has walked over the Middle East for 2500 years.
I'm sure that if they were capable of learning, they would have
."

In fact, for a long time it was the Middle East walking over some of the real estate of western Europe, and threatening to walk over more. I'm sure you're familiar with that history, Berend?

In fact, it wasn't until the Siege of Vienna in 1683 that the threat was annulled, and not until Napoleon's victory at the Battle of the Pyramids in 1798 that the Mid-easterners first realised how much these nasty westerners had advanced beyond them.

What's instructive is that the immediate impact of Napoleon's victory in most of the Mid-East was to inspire modernisation -- which meant learning from the West.

But as I've said again and again, what they learned was not the ideas that were responsible for the west's success, but much of the poison we still see spat back at us today.

4/30/2008 03:25:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think only Emirates are involved in global finance you probably have been listening to Rebel Radius - who wouldn't know Islamic finance from the South of France - for far too long.

Everything is connected these days - and sharia finance is taking ALL Islamic countries into the 21st century. It's not perfect, but it's a foot in the door for capitalism and our values.

I am afraid we are coming to the moment of the Great Divide within the Conservative/Libertarian Right Movement. It is increasingly apparent to me that a substantial number of 'Conservatives' have never shared the noble impulse of President Bush's vision of a democratic, secular and prosperous Muslim world. Instead, that vision has been co-opted by those whose vision begins and ends with the application of brute force - like RR and others in LIbz - those who have come to the belief that subjugation or destruction are the only option available to us when dealing with Arabs/Muslims. Our final solution, as it were. I see commerce as the solution.

I wonder how you see the Mid East in 5 years time. I am very optimistic.

And I am not keen to give my name to a hostile group of people who have threatened me and my family in the past. On friendly blogs I give my name.

4/30/2008 03:45:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

A person who won't give her name because everyone here is too hostile said, "If you think only Emirates are involved in global finance..."

No, that's not what was discussed. The point in question was that "Globalisation and world finance markets are bringing western ideology to the mid-east... but ...not all the Middle East is included in that happy number"

So we have two groups: 1) those Middle East countries involved in global finance, and 2) those those Middle East countries involved in globalisation and world finance to whom that involvement is bringing western ideology.

Can you name more than one region or country in the Middle East in the second group?

You also say, "It is increasingly apparent to me that a substantial number of 'Conservatives' have never shared the noble impulse of President Bush's vision of a democratic, secular and prosperous Muslim world."

Yet when posting under a different guise, you yourself were casting aspersions on that "noble vision."

You ask, "I wonder how you see the Mid East in 5 years time. I am very optimistic."

With exceptions such as the UAE, if they can keep out of the area's troubles, I'm not optimistic.

My pessimism is based on one simple thing: there is at present a major ideological conflict in all the major countries of the Middle East, a conflict that has been bubbling under for at least a century. On the one side you have the flawed secularism of collectivism and nationalism, and on the other you have the increasingly poisonous ideology or totalitarian Islam.

I see nothing optimistic in that. I don't see Syria or Egypt or Iran or Turkey doing a Hong Kong soon, do you?

4/30/2008 04:50:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2)[Name] those Middle East countries involved in globalisation and world finance to whom that involvement is bringing western ideology.

I can name two apart from Emirates - Syria and Turkey.

Look I don't care what you think - your hero du-jour is an ivory tower intellectual who has no experience in the business world, and has no interest in global trading instruments and the benefits they provide.

I believe the good and the right will triumph here - but then I don't believe in a malevolent universe like you obviously do.

Over and out. The benefits of capitalism - even if it is sharia - is not a legitimate subject for debate among rational beings.

4/30/2008 06:10:00 pm  
Blogger AA said...

they chose to ignore the then-fashionable intellectual fads of the west, and go for prosperity instead

OK I've re-read everything really carefully and see the point - a good point too. Sorry for being a slow learner.

4/30/2008 07:52:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"OK I've re-read everything really carefully and see the point.."

No worries, mate. If it wasn't clear to you, then more than likely it wasn't clear to others either. :-)

4/30/2008 08:03:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"I can name two apart from Emirates - Syria and Turkey."

I'd be interested to hear your argument.

"Look I don't care what you think ..."

Except you apparently don't care what I think. ;^)

4/30/2008 08:05:00 pm  
Anonymous Michelle said...

Rebel Radius,

I haven't heard you recently made any noise about the sale of Vector to Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings? Why is that?

4/30/2008 08:08:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter - you don't care for my argument.Your mind is made up. You should spend a couple of days in a dealing room. Oh and that's not the telex and phone/carrier pigeon at the faux dealing room at Lineberry's abode.

You say so many good things, but I'm not going to kiss your ass on the things you get wrong.

My daughter reads this also and says "Come bitch" to you. So there you go ;-)

4/30/2008 08:32:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

"Your mind is made up."

And here was me thinking I was asking for evidence from you to support me changing my mind.

"You should spend a couple of days in a dealing room."

Is that an offer?

4/30/2008 11:54:00 pm  
Blogger Eric Olthwaite said...

Hernando de Soto on what the Third World should learn from America...

http://www.reason.com/news/show/28018.html

It's all in the squatters.

5/01/2008 10:27:00 am  
Blogger Rebel Radius said...

I haven't heard you recently made any noise about the sale of Vector to Hong Kong-based Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings? Why is that


The purchaser of Wellington's electricity network by Hong Kong based Cheung Kong Holdings erects a line for islamic funds, by investing http://www.ckh.com.hk/eng/media/2004/announcement08Sept2004.pdf US$34 million into Al Islami Far Eastern Real Estate Fund Ltd.

Meanwhile Cheung Kong Holdings are very “interested in buying up more New Zealand infrastructure assets.”

Naturally Zakat must be paid and as highlighted in the news report above, “It puts (Islamist ideologues) in a position whereby they can steer very substantial capital and credit flows to activities they favor - and away from activities they don't favor,"

In other words Zakat money to charity or university funding for a cause to help the cause.

Like this for example: Moderate?? Islamic Practice
Project Title: A Way to God for Sufis, Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims in Indonesia: Susila Budhi Dharma as Funding Sources: DEST and the Cheung Kong Foundation

Islamic jurisprudence
This research is supported by an Endeavour Australia Cheung Kong Award and an ARC Federation Fellowship doctoral scholarship.

Although this is not new news, Cheung Kong were investing in sharia compliant real estate back in 2006

Communism and Shariah at work
Hong Kong’s “Securities & Futures Commission has signed an Islamic finance pact with the Dubai Financial Services Authority. The Memorandum of Understanding calls for mutual cooperation on capacity building and human capital development in Islamic finance.”

China and Dubai trade jumps to $19.4 BILLION DOLLARS - China & Dubai Trade jumps to 19.4 billion dollars

5/01/2008 05:09:00 pm  
Blogger Rebel Radius said...

The New Zealand government has published its Sharia Law compliance brochure.

It is available here Courtesy of the Ministry of Economic Development.

Sharia Compliant Investing: Concepts and opportunities
Council for Socially Responsible Investment

5/01/2008 05:18:00 pm  
Blogger Rebel Radius said...

The Islamic Finance world forum was held in Canada last year. (would you like your name on this list?

On the same website they are advertising another conference to be held this year in July ASSET ALLOCATION SUMMIT New Zealand.

Notice the slogan for this conference “The institutional Hunt for Alpha”

Elijah - Does Alpha actually denote something in the finance world other than being a letter in the Greek alphabet? Perhaps it is phonetic and it means (a) = assets?.)

Coincidentally, Sharia Finance Watch has listed ALPHA Natural Resources Sharia compliant banks.

The same advertisers appear on both conference pages but the links don't work. One would have thought that the advertisers best interests would be well maintained, unless of course there are no advertisers because they are not proud of
being associated with the conference or because they don't need revenue from advertisers because payment has been made from another source.

List of NZ participants signed up for the "Hunt for Alpha"

Asset Allocation Summit New Zealand attracts institutional investors from the region including Victorian Funds Management Corporation, CalPERS, New Zealand Super Fund, Government Super Fund & National Provident Fund, Accident Compensation Corporation, Government Super Fund, Statewide Superannuation Trust, The Community Trust of Southland, Otago Trust, Whanganui Community Foundation, NZ Steel Pension Fund, Dairy Industry Superannuation Scheme, New Zealand Anglican Church Pension Board

5/01/2008 05:46:00 pm  

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