High Modernism in the Twentieth Century Multicultural Policies

By Regis Hijnekamp

In Seeing Like a State, James C. Scott argues against the “high modernist episodes of the twentieth century.” [1] Scott argues that the bureaucratic practice of the twentieth century consisted of visionary intellectuals and planners who arrogantly thought that one bureaucrat or advisor was capable of “designing” or “planning” the best, utopic society. [2] The ideas behind them were no “cynical grabs for power and wealth” but a “genuine desire to improve the human condition.” [3] Bureaucrats claimed that historical laws and specific variables could standardize the subjects of development. However, in all the planned urban centers, collectivized farms, and large development plans from the World Bank, the reality ‘on the ground’ and the future changes in the societal and natural environment were ignored. [4] The consequences of “high modernism,” Scott argues, were collective, societal dramas. [5]

The twentieth century multicultural immigration policies of the Netherlands are an example of high modernist planning with detrimental outcomes. After WWII, labor migrants were ‘invited’ to the Netherlands to partake in low-educated labor. [6] The migrants were considered to be “guest workers:” temporal immigrants who would return to their country of origin. Policies were designed to facilitate the guest workers’ time in the Dutch society and to create a perfect multicultural society. [7] [8]

Governmental policies ‘applied’ pillarization to the guest workers. [9] Top-down state-interference demanded immigrants to construct a public identity and “pressed individuals to organize into groups on the basis of perceived cultural similarity.” [10] The Dutch government influenced the number of organizations, their nature, goals, and continuity. [11] Subsidies and exemptions from general rules encouraged immigrants to “retain tot their ‘original culture.” [12] Organizations received subsidies if their plans were based on stereotypical ideas. [13]

Consequently, the government’s aspiration to create the best multicultural society – in which every cultural expression can be exercised – stimulated the ‘Othering’ of migrants and reproduced stereotypes. [15] [16] When it appeared that the guest workers settled permanently in the Netherlands, the pillarization had led to reinforcement of essentialist ideas about migrants and their descendants and stereotypical mindsets. [17] The multicultural plan failed as it stimulated intolerance, racism, and a segregation of cultures. [18] As Scott argues, the ideas designed on a map are always “misrepresentative and indeed nonsustainable” in reality. [19]

Good Policies, Bad Politics

By Regis Hijnekamp

Banerjee and Duflo discuss the divergence between politics and policies.[1] They state that “the real problem in development” is ensuring good policies.[2] This, obviously, can be done through ensuring good politics, because “if the politics are right, good policies will eventually emerge.”[3] Yet, there is another route as well.

On February 20, 2016, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year rule with a next presidential term.[4] European and Commonwealth observers criticized the handling of the election.[5] There were “lengthy delays in the delivery of polling materials, outbreaks of violence, and a government shutdown of social media.”[6] The “lack of transparency and independence” at the Ugandan electoral commission undermined the polls too.[7] The atmosphere was “intimidating (…) for both voters and candidates.”[8]

Entering his fifth term, Museveni faces serious criticism. The president “is accused of presiding over corruption, personalizing the country’s institutions, and buying weapons to retain power.” [9] [10] It is feared that Museveni wants to uphold power – something that reminds Ugandans of the traumatizing Idi Amin dictatorship, Museveni’s predecessor.[11]

Yet, Banerjee and Duflo argue, “policies are not completely determined by politics. Good policies (sometimes) happen in bad political environments.” [12] Then, good policies might break through a vicious circle of bad politics and bad institutions. [13] So far, Museveni’s policies have resulted in “remarkable strides in the fight against HIV/Aids, an end to active conflict in most parts of the country, and economic growth fuelled by liberalization and direct foreign investment.” [14] Over the last 25 years, poverty rates have fallen from 56% to 19%. [15] Since his first election in 1996, Museveni has brought peace, security, and impressive economic growth. [16] These ‘good policies’ might drive out ‘bad politics,’ Banerjee and Duflo argue. [17] “Good policies can also help break the vicious cycle of low expectations: If the government starts to deliver, people will start taking politics more seriously and put pressure on the government to deliver more, rather than opting out or voting unthinkingly for their co-ethnics or taking up arms against the government.” [18] Only the future can reveal if Uganda can distance itself from ‘bad politics.’

Why did Rwanda escape slavery?

By Regis Hijnekamp

Nathan Nunn argues that the proportion of African slave trading had adverse effects on economic development (1). Nunn explains that “preexisting governance structures were generally replaced by small bands of slave raiders,” which weakened institutional structures and increased political instability, causing corruption of previously established legal structures (2).

Yet, Rwanda contrasts Nunn’s analysis with its low GDP per capita while having an enslavement export history of zero (3). Also, Nunn’s explanation that a region’s higher prosperity (measured by population density) led to higher slave export does not account for the difference: Rwanda’s population density in 1400 was single highest to that of the African countries while, again, the slave export was equal to zero (4).

Nunn confirms that, “to the known history of the slave trades, it was the location of demand that influenced the location of supply and not vice versa,” (5) and “being further from slave markets was good for growth.” (6) Yet, other landlocked African countries at roughly a similar distance to the coast as Rwanda, such as Zambia, Chad, and Burundi, witnessed more export of slaves (7).

An alternative explanation to the volume of enslavement in African societies may have been the strength of the bureaucracy or institutional structure weaponing itself against “political instability” (8) from “small bands of slave raiders.” (9) The societal characteristics in Rwanda may have been explanatory. In contrast to most African regions, Rwanda had already “a highly organized political structure” when it became colonized (10). The few reliable sources available “inform[ing] us about the history of a kingdom which by its end came to dominate a large territory and the lives of perhaps two million people.” (11) Court reports reveal information about kingdoms with powerful armies, about a bureaucracy with commanders in charge of their regiments, and the establishment of property rights over land (12). Yet, available data on the political structure of Rwanda is scarce and often unreliable.

The limitation of data available, combined with the negotiable credibility of most of this historic data, yet, cannot allow one to discard the pre-colonial period as a static homogeneity across the African continent in which villages and communities carried similar characteristics that become subordinate in a history of enslavement. Even more, one should grasp beyond generalizing explanations for long-term economic development. In considering the role of the bureaucratic and institutional strength of societies prone to enslavement, one might further develop coherent theories on development of African countries in a path dependency framework.