By Constandine Patronidis*, International Relations Expert
The correct path of political development is a contentious topic due to ambiguity when placing a definition on ‘development’. As development is often viewed through the lens and the experiences of Western liberalism, the West protrudes notions of assertiveness to developing countries, in which their approach to development should mimic that of the West. As sensible as this idea seems, the West’s control over a limited amount of resources and wealth, as well as a well-established state system, only maintains the wealth-divide between the West and the underdeveloped world. This paper offers a cynical but a realist view on political development, the nature of statehood, and the future outlook for developing countries.
Development Defined: West vs the rest
The term ‘development’ is used regularly in the political sphere to imply progress, particularly by Western standards. The Western definition of development entails liberal concepts such as: the modern nation-state, free markets, industrialization, capital growth, and consumerism. This cannot be labelled the correct and sole definition of development as it was sculpted and evolved to best suit the Western state, through its history and experiences with various political ideologies and cultural norms. The fall of European empires, the rise of nationalism and the nation-state, industrialization and colonization all occurred over a gradual period in the Modern West, thus creating Western development; a style of political development that is indivisible from the West and unusual to elsewhere in the world.
Victims of Progress
The process of Western development was reliant on the exploitation of the underdeveloped world, as “the ‘underdeveloped’ resources controlled by the world’s self-sufficient tribal peoples were quickly appropriated by outsiders to support their own commercial progress” (Bodley, p.16). In correlation, the outcomes of Western development further allowed the West to exert forms of military and economic power on non-Western actors. Colonizing, industrializing and technologizing are merely a few fields of advancement that allow the West to establish dominion over non-Western actors. Moreover, these advancements systematically fuelled one another; resources from colonization grew industry, technology promoted the retention of colonial power, and industry spurred the accumulation of wealth. The creation of the modern nation-state and its legitimacy was another Western imposition on non-states to “embody Euro-centric concepts of sovereignty and standards of civility as conditions for the recognition of states” (Jackson & Rosberg, p.5). The West had the means to establish a political order that would best suit their interests. In addition, international law was heavily influenced by Western standards, “the global European imperial order was legitimated by international law that was rooted in the dominant power of the European states at the turn of the (20th) century” (Jackson & Rosberg, p.5). After a consensus on political order was formulated by the most powerful actors, underdeveloped countries did not have the opportunity to establish a government that considers their own national interests. Specifically in modern African states, “governments were organised according to European colonial theory and practice (tempered by expediency), and were staffed almost entirely by Europeans at decision-making levels” (Jackson & Rosberg, p.6). These factors only contributed to Western development, which in turn, allowed the West to surpass the non-West and establish an unalterable division between developed and underdeveloped.
The West certainly does not hold the solution for development, they simply have fabricated a model that is reconcilable with Western norms. Non-Western actors will not become a developed country by Western standards, through an outsider’s model, that is not compatible with the respective societal and normative characteristics of their societies, and virtually artificial to their nature. Furthermore, historical differences and the disadvantage of the underdeveloped country being subordinate during the steady process of Western development were major drawbacks.
Above all, the world does not contain the wealth and resources for underdeveloped countries to enjoy the same high standard living that is seen in the West, without debasing the societal structures of the West; which will not occur as a result of the Western, Liberal hegemony. The unprecedented growth seen in the West was built and is sustained through the exploitation and uneven allocation of resources, power and control; as “almost overnight, the commercially organized nations ate up their own local resources and outgrew their boundaries… This was dramatically apparent in England, where local resources comfortably supported small-scale societies for thousands of years, but after one hundred years of commercial progress the area was unable to meet its basic needs for grain, wood, fibers, and hides” (Bodley, p.16). In summary, inputting a Western-style development is irreconcilable with non-Western societies, and outputs would differ due to an unachievable high standard of living that the West enjoys.
Solution: Western development is the only way forward
Although Western-style development is not suited for the underdeveloped, in the contemporary world, it is the only way forward. As long as the West maintains its hierarchy and authority in self-created international organizations: the nation-state, free markets and capitalism are inescapable realities. The underdeveloped country will always exist due to the established political order, which rests on prosperity on one end and impoverishment on the other. Furthermore, Western-led internationalism imposes regulations that limit the growth of industry in underdeveloped countries, preventing any sort of ‘catch-up’. These regulations were implemented to prevent overproduction and the exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources; however, the West accumulated resources and industrialized decades and centuries prior, excessively and without imposed restrictions.
Due to the unequal divide amongst nation-states, many underdeveloped states will only experience ‘negative sovereignty’, or the granted legitimacy of sovereignty through international communities and powerful states. Subordinate states may never achieve the concept of positive sovereignty, which is the ability to influence their own future (Jackson & Rosberg). Some recommendations will be offered, but unfortunately, some states are destined to remain impoverished.
Development: The end goal
First and foremost, developing countries should acknowledge that their respective end goal of development will differ from the West’s. Relative to the West, underdeveloped countries will remain poor but the overall aim is to attain a level of economic development and political autonomy that raises the standard of living to a point that minimizes the devastating implications of poverty such as high infant mortality rates, epidemics and starvation; and allows some societies to remain self-sufficient and to maintain their cultural norms. An underdeveloped country’s progress entails meeting the basic human needs of life, such as providing clean drinking water and access to food.
In conclusion, the dissolution of the state and free markets will never occur, nor will the West’s forefront be altered. There is no correct solution to the complex topic of development but at the core of it, is the concept of “trade-offs”. An underdeveloped country attempting to fully adhere to Western-style development is at risk of devaluing the long-standing cultural norms that have long existed and further propelling domestic inequality; whilst being disconnected from the globalized, mainstream culture may result in a state wallowing in poverty and have no merit to the world’s wealth. Placing a definition on development is not possible, nor is the world reaching the ‘developed’ status, based on the criteria drawn from the West’s mainstream definition of it. Ultimately, one common trait shared amongst cultures and societies is the appreciation of life and desire of longevity, and if the most basic necessities of life are available for the majority, then perhaps we will have reached a global end goal of development.
Bodley, J.H.“Victims of Progress”, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Print. Chapter 2, pp. 13-36.
Jackson, R.H. and Rosberg, C.G. “Sovereignty and Underdevelopment: Juridical Statehood in the African Crisis”, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 24, no. 1 (1986), pp. 1-31.
Tilly, C. “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime”, in Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1985)
*Constandine Patronidis recently graduated from the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki with a master’s in International Public Administration. Prior to that, he completed with honours his undergraduate degree from the University of Guelph in Canada in Political Science. Constandine is a Canadian of Greek heritage and is fluent in Greek and English. His main research interests lie in diplomacy, armed conflict and nationalism & identity. He has been an intern at the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy(ELIAMEP) based in Athens, Greece in 2019. In addition, he has interned at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nicosia, Cyprus in 2017. Constandine has been employed in a variety of fields ranging from marketing, life sciences, restaurants, sports and education. Ideally, Constandine’s future plans involve working in an international organization or an NGO.