Friday, October 1, 2010

The Folly of Nation Building

It's hard to build a nation when the people you are building it for are shooting at you...

Neocons:  Small government conservative at home, big government progressive overseas.  It's nuts...

Steven Horwitz asks, "Can a Nation be Built?"
Many people who are ordinarily skeptical about the benevolent power of the U.S. government at home have come to believe it can accomplish what they see as the noble task of nation-building in areas of the world that have been plunged into some degree of chaos by political upheaval and/or war.  (Steven Horwitz - Can a Nation be Built?)

He goes on to make an excellent libertarian case against nation building...
Put in the language of F. A. Hayek, nations are spontaneous orders that emerge from the daily choices of people about the language they use and the other ways in which they participate in or withdraw from a variety of cultural forms.  

Only the people themselves constitute a “nation” by their own individual choices. And it is nations constituted this way that make the decision to create a State.  States imposed on nations by princes, Mises argues, are doomed to fail because they normally attempt to eliminate all forms of community that lie between the prince and the people.

Nation building is statist central-planning imposed on another nation.  Here's the money quote:
By engaging in nation-building, governments take on a task that is no different in principle from the attempt to plan an economy domestically.  Once we understand that true nations are the unintended consequence of decentralized cultural processes involving the millions of choices of millions of people, the absurdity of trying to build a nation as if it were a child’s toy or even a skyscraper becomes clear.  

Once we start to muck around in processes that are complex and whose relevant causal connections are beyond our ability to understand, we are certain to produce unintended and undesirable consequences precisely because we act from the hubris of the planner.

The astute will ask, What about the post-WW II Marshall Plan?  Easy.  It was not imposed upon Europe. The Europeans wanted it, and they did the lion's share of the heavy lifting.  Indeed, every successful nation building exercise was done with the cooperation and hard work of the recipients (South Korea, Japan, etc.)

Nation building sounds noble, but it is folly when imposed against the will of the recipients.

* - H/T to Left Blogistan denizen (and perhaps somewhat libertarian?) Reality Zone


  1. I've never yet seen anyone succeed at saving someone from themself.

  2. Gorges - I could not have swaid it better myself.


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