What Was the Third World
by Clifford Geertz
I begin with a passage from a 1954 essay of Irving Howe's, reprinted in the recent Fifty Years of Dissent volume, called, premonitorily enough, "The Problem of U.S. Power":
The central fact [he writes] is that we continue to live in a revolutionary age. The revolutionary impulse has been contaminated, corrupted, debased, demoralized; it has been appropriated by the enemies of socialism. All true. But the energy behind that revolutionary impulse remains. Now it bursts out in one part of the world, now in another. It cannot be suppressed entirely. Everywhere except in the United States, millions of human beings, certainly the majority of those with any degree of political articulateness, live for some kind of social change. The workers of Europe are consciously anti-capitalist, the populations of Asia and South America [and he might have added, the Middle East and Africa] anti-imperialist. These are the dominant energies of our time and whoever gains control of them, whether in legitimate or distorted forms, will triumph.
Between 1945 and 1965, about fifty-four, depending on how you count, new, independent states, with borders, capitals, armies, leaders, policies, and names appeared in the world. Between 1965 and the end of the century, depending again a bit on how, and whom, you count, fifty-seven more appeared. All the major colonial empires-British; Dutch; French; Spanish; Portuguese; American; German; Australian; and, via the Pacific war, the Japanese; via the collapse of communism, the Russian-dissolved, most relatively peacefully, a few-India, Algeria, the Belgian Congo, the East Indies, Kenya, Indo-China-amid spastic outbursts of generalized violence. An international system, with sixty or so officially recognized players (forty-two countries were members of the League of Nations at its start; another sixteen joined later, and one has to add the United States and a couple of other recalcitrants) was succeeded by one with, by the most recent UN membership count, a hundred and ninety-one. The world resegmented, refounded, and reformatted in the space of a few decades. It was, clearly, some sort of revolution. But what sort-what it was that was turned around, and in which directions-was, and still is, imperfectly understood.
Indeed, its thrust and import, what it signifies for our common future, seems less clear today than it did at its outset, when the infinite grandeur of beginnings that attends all mold-breaking political transformations in the modern age clothed it in a dense symbology of selfhood, progress, solidarity, and liberation. In the Bandung Days of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the charismatic hero-leaders-Nehru, Sukarno, Nasser, Nkrumah, Ben Bella, Kenyatta, Ho, Azikwe, Lumumba, Nyerere, Muhammad V, Solomon Bandanaraike, cheered on by two-and-a-half worlders, Chou, Tito, Castro-projected a heady vision of radical nationalism, cold war neutrality, collective opposition to Western imperialism, and great-leap-forward material progress: a vision that was bound to come apart as the diversity of the interests, the variousness of the histories, and the incoherence of the worldviews it was designed to contain became apparent. Within ten or fifteen years, a generation of parochial and hard-fisted leaders appeared-Bukassa, Suharto, Gowon, Marcos, Boumedienne, Mobuto, and Indira Gandhi all came to power in 1965-1966; Hassan II and Ayub Khan a little earlier; Qaddafi, Assad the Elder, and Idi Amin a little later-replacing popular mobilization and national cheerleading with the pressures and calculations of disciplinary rule. That approach, too, in good part a product of the great-power alliance-balancing and aid-brokering that the spread of the cold war beyond Europe and its regional intrusions and intensifications made possible, didn't last. A few relics or throwbacks, like Mugabe or Niyazov, or isolate outliers like Than Shwe or Ben Ali, aside most of the present-day leaders of the now not-so-new states-Mbeki, Bouteflika, Abdullah, Obasanyo, Manmohan Singh, Mkapar, Yudhoyono, Karzai, Muhammad VI, Salih, Macapagal-Arroyo, Kibaki, Assad the Little, even situational equilibrists like Sharon and Musharraf-are suited and circumspect managerial politicians, not mini-leviathans or world-stage superstars.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that things have come full circle, that Howe's revolutionary impulse in a revolutionary age, "the dominant energies of our times," left things, in the end, only cosmetically altered. Clearly, something transformative happened to the way the world works, or doesn't work, in the forty-odd years from the partition of India to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and, variously visible, spastically explosive, the process continues. The problem is that, imprisoned in categories of analysis designed for a less multiform, and less dispersive politics, and caught up in large misperceptions of our own situation ("the problem of U.S. power"), we have only the sketchiest of ideas, and most of those dubious, as to what that something might be.
My interest in all this, in what istiqlal, merdeka, uhuru, swaraj, and the rest have come to as practical realities, and what they portend for the general direction of things, stems most immediately, of course, from my involvement, up-close and personal, as an anthropologist-an American anthropologist, with American commitments and American concerns-working in and on post-colonial Indonesia and Morocco over almost the whole span of my career and their existence. I first went to Indonesia in 1952, a little over a year after the new republic was founded. (I arrived, in fact, on the day of the first anti-Sukarno coup attempt, which, with his usual Èlan, the Voice of the People-"all tongue and no ears"-talked down on the steps of Parliament.) I first went to Morocco in 1963, shortly after the country's cafÈ society Prince Hal, Hassan II, came suddenly and emphatically to power, brandishing tradition and pursuing back-country malcontents. (His hero-father, Muhammad V, had just died-a freakish, premature, politically destabilizing death.) Since then, I have shuttled back and forth between them, both physically and in my research attention, as they attempted to find their way in a fractionated world as volatile and shape-shifting as they were themselves. In Indonesia, populist hypernationalism gave way to factional mass murder, which gave way to military Gleichsaltung, which gave way to nebulous and dispersive, ethnically inflected factional politics. In Morocco, royal restoration was followed by a couple of spectacular, near-miss outdoor coup attempts by renegade aides and student soldiers, pitiless exercise of sovereign revenge, and imperatorial expansion toward the Sahara, which was followed by hesitant and indefinite moves toward quasi-constitutional, quasi-democratic quasi-monarchy.
This sort of in media res, "what next?," education, particularly when combined with a concern to relate what is taking place in front of you with developments elsewhere similar enough to be interestingly different, gives, inevitably, a particular and peculiar cast to one's mind and character, and, especially as one ages, a desperate urge to sum the unsummable and order the unorderable. In all this indirection, finding direction out is, admittedly, a formidable enterprise. But not, I think, a bootless one, and for several reasons.
In the first place, most of the new or newish states, and especially the more consequential ones, have by now a track record, a half-century or so of fitful and multifarious but nonetheless patterned change. Political styles, as opposed to mere regimes and governments, which pass, like their leaders, with the headlines, have begun to take form, with the rudiments, at least, of distinct and recognizable casts and complexions. "Nation-building," the slogan-goal of the fifties and sixties, may still be more notional than real in most places, or a supposititious cover for endemic separatism; imagined communities largely imaginary. But locally specific ways of asserting claims and countering them-"the way things work around here"-have developed virtually everywhere. You don't have to be in Indonesia or Morocco for more than a few months (or, I daresay, in Nigeria, India, Sudan, or the Philippines; the African Great Lakes, the Sahel, the Caucasus, or stanistan Central Asia) to get a definite sense of how the collision of interest and the play of power characteristically proceed, however amorphous or divided the society, the state, or the national body.
Second, the central impulses driving the original thrust toward revolt and independence may have stalled, been diverted, or grown diffuse, but they continue to loom over collective life as a general background, a half-remembered, half-envisaged frame of hope and expectation. Developmentalism, the drive toward technological modernity and sustained growth; integralism, the political solidification of inherited peoples and devolved territories under a capable and responsive government; and particularism, the cultural articulation of an original and singular social personality remain the founding purposes of national existence, if not as realities at least as ambitions. Economic takeoff, effective sovereignty, and bona fide peoplehood are still the third world, postcolonial, new-state mythos: Howe's social change that millions, articulate and inarticulate alike, irrepressively live for.
Third, and in my view most critically, all this-the formation of distinct and persistent political styles, the deceleration of nation-making, and the lingering hold of liberationist ideals-is taking place in the context of the global reformatting that decolonization and the dismemberment of empire brought into being. The capital founding, the border fixing, and the multiplication of consequent actors, the general scrambling of the world's catalogue, form the overall environment in which we all-what Sukarno used to call the "Nefos" and the "Oldefos" (the new emerging forces and the old established forces)-nowadays collectively function.
The irregular and miscellaneous dynamics of this altered landscape-the runaway urbanization (Cairo, two million in the fifties, sixteen million today; Bombay-Mumbai, four and fourteen million; Lagos, three-hundred thousand and ten million-not to speak of Shanghai, Mexico City, Bangkok, or S“o Paulo); the headlong, multidirectional migration (twenty million Indians live outside of India, a couple hundred thousand of them in northern New Jersey; there are nearly a quarter million Turks in Berlin, forty thousand in Amsterdam; movement from the third world accounts for two-thirds of this country's, and all of California's, annual population rise; 90 percent of United Arab Emirates residents are foreigners; God only knows how many Chinese are now "overseas"); the explosion, one after another, like invisibly connected firecrackers, of ethnic and ethno-religious, primordialized violence (Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Aceh, Darfur) and after-the-border-drawing micro-wars (Timor, Kashmir, Chechnya, Eritrea, Bougainville, Rio De Oro)-not only threaten to overwhelm our machinery for managing them, they escape, or nearly, the established categories of our understanding. It is not just our policies that are inadequate, or our analyses and explanations. It is the conceptual equipment we use to think them with.
A simple thought experiment, concrete and elemental, can, I think, help us see this. Visualize, or try to, what-assuming there to be such a thing-the prototypical new state of the last half-century-just emerged from a disused and distanced colonial past into a world of intense and implacable great-power conflict-had to address-ab initio, from a standing start. It had to organize, or reorganize, a weak and disrupted, "underdeveloped" economic system: attract aid, stimulate growth, and set policies on everything from trade and land reform to factory employment and fiscal policy. It had to construct, or reconstruct, a set of popular (at least ostensibly), culturally comprehensible political institutions-a presidency or prime ministership, a parliament, parties, ministries, elections. It had to work out a language policy, mark out the domains and jurisdictions of local administration, elicit a general sense of citizenship-a public identity and a peoplehood-out of a swirl of ethnic, religious, regional, and racial particularisms. It had to define, however delicately, the relations between religion, the state, and secular life; train, equip, and manage professional security forces; consolidate and codify a thoroughly pluralized, custom-bound legal order; develop a broadly accessible system of primary education. It had to attack illiteracy, urban sprawl, and poverty; manage population growth and movement; modernize health care; administer prisons; collect customs; build roads; shepherd a press. And that was just for starters. A foreign policy needed to be established. A voice in the expanding and proliferating system of trans-, super-, and extra-national institutions needed to be secured. Attitudes toward the half-hated, half-loved, politically discarded but very much not forgotten, metropole civilizations-London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid-needed to be rethought, their heritage, the only even quasi-modern one the country had, reassimilated; which meant, among other things, turning nationalism around from a restive and reactive, what-we-are-not, separationist ideology to a persuasive image of a natural, organic, what-we-are, historic community, ready for deals, development, and practical alliances: Mazzini modernized. It was a heady time. No wonder it was followed by ambiguous successes, precipitate turnarounds, sobering disappointments, and, often enough, murderous disruptions.
If a standard, prototypical third world state is too great an imaginative stretch-which, given the dishevelment of a category that includes India, Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Belarus, Laos, Qatar, South Africa, Suriname, Yemen, Myanmar, and Vanuatu, it well may be-consider, instead, one of my own referent cases: Indonesia. In the fifties, the velocity of public life there had to be experienced to be disbelieved. A long, strung out, irregular archipelago of six thousand large, small, and microscopic islands, its extent fixed by the mercantile reach of Dutch navigators in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was home to fifteen or so large ethnic groups and hundreds of small ones, their demarcations and definitions uncertain and mobile; to three or four or five hundred languages, depending on how you count; to Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, and so-called "animist"-now upgraded to "indigenous"-religious groups; to a Chinese commercial minority, a Papuan racial one, resident Arabs, in-migrant Indians. And, of course, there were intruding Westerners-economists, businessmen, technical experts, diplomats, tourists, journalists, spies, anthropologists, all trying, they said ("here, let me show you"), only to help. To set up a going nation, to use a term itself worn and imprecise, in the midst of all this was at once a magnificent aspiration and a mug's game.
Or, again, if the Land Beneath the Winds (as the Portuguese called it) seems extreme, or far too complicated, consider my other, less generally obtrusive, more compact and homogeneous referent case. Where Indonesia had to pull some sort of collective existence out of a potpourri of language, custom, faith, and locality, accidentally assembled, Morocco, ostensibly a kingdom but actually a tilting field of fractious and parochial jousting strongmen, had to define one against the enfolding background of a much more continuous regional civilization-"North Africa," "The Maghreb," "The Arab West"- diplomatically divvied up by France, Spain, Italy, and Britain into more or less arbitrary, sketchily configured, shallowly rooted administrative bailiwicks. Colonized for fifty years rather than two-and-a-half centuries, wall to wall Arabo-Berber, wall-to-wall Muslim (except for a Jewish merchant minority, soon self-exiled when the Israel option became available), and more a collection of oases, piedmont, and mountain-pass micro-polities than island-scattered culture communities, its everyday political life was a bit less hectic, its thrust toward nationhood a little less desperate. But faced, nonetheless, with about the same calendar of clamoring exigencies, things that had to be done and immediately, it responded, or tried to, with a similar mix of received formulas, local contrivances, stop-gap evasions, and borrowed institutions.
It is in this emblematical and iconical sense, not in any standard, average statistical one (something that, with so irregular and discontinuous a distribution, a collection of outliers and singularities, is really not meaningful here), that the two countries can serve, suitably massaged and redescribed, as type examples, diagnostic expressions, point-of-fact instances, of the third world revolution-what frog, worm, and fruit-fly biologists like to call model systems. What makes them so is neither (or anyway not only) their ethno-religio-linguist complexity nor their culturally arbitrary, externally determined frontiers. That they share with virtually all ex-colonies. (Think India, Nigeria, Myanmar, Lebanon, Papua New Guinea.) It is their common subjection to a common phenomenon, characteristic not only of them but, to some extent at least, of just about every inchoate Nefo country, and increasingly, as the masses move, some of the supposedly more crystallized Oldefo ones as well: that is, the dissociation of what in the modern West we have come, since Westphalia, to regard as near synonyms, interchangeable forms of one another, connatural and coincident, internally connected, ingenerately bound collective realities-"State," "Nation," "People," "Land," "Society," and "Culture." These, the master concepts of modern political description and understanding, the terminal frames of loyalty, identity, membership, sovereignty, and support, marked on our maps as colored spaces, and in our vocabulary by gazetteer names, grow not only increasingly awkward of sense and application, they project an evolution toward commonality and consolidation not, on the face of it, in fact evolving.
The unific vision of classical liberalism (John Stuart Mill: "It is generally a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of government should coincide in the main with those of nationality"; and Ernest Barker: "[There is emerging] a worldwide scheme of political organization in which each nation is also a State and each State is also a nation"-quotations I owe to Walker Connor, one of the few contemporary political scientists, virtually all of them closet Wilsonians, not entranced by it) seems in a world of Indonesias and Moroccos-Congos, Iraqs, Sri Lankas, Georgias-an intellectualist dream from before the flood. Divergence and irregularity, plurality and overlap, the derangement of categories and the confoundment of loyalties seem here to stay, as does-think Singapore, Nepal, Cyprus, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia-the vast variety of political form. Whatever the third world revolution was, it was not, as promised, a homogenizing force.
Of course, the so-called "developed" or "mature" or "modern" nation-states of Europe and North America have not always been quite the "one-country, one language, one people" monads they represented themselves, both to themselves and to each other, to be; and to the degree that they were, they became so fairly recently, and not without incident. Eugen Weber has shown how slow, difficult, and incomplete the process of turning "peasants into Frenchmen" was. Linda Colley has done something similar for the emergence of "Britons" out of English, Scottish, and (rather more uncertainly) Irish Protestants in the religio-cultural alliances and oppositions of the eighteenth century. And even Mazzini is supposed to have remarked that having made Italy he had yet to make Italians. The crystallization of Turks, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, and Hungarians out of the Ottoman-Hapsburg mÈlange, generating majority-minority problems of fearsome complexity, are more recent examples, almost proverbial. Canada and the United States, both of them settlement areas, variously populated, have never really been more than notionally compact-racial, ethnic, cultural, and geographical assemblages, put together piece by piece, and then represented, not without strain, as fixed and irreducible natural kinds. And so on and so forth, not to speak of "Germany," "Russia," "Spain," or "Brazil."
But, whatever the illusions and strategic suspensions of disbelief involved, not to speak of the internally directed Blut und Boden propaganda, the conception of a world composed of consolidated peoples distributed into discrete territories and impartible states-Renan's implicit plÈbicites de tous les jours-developed with increasing rapidity over the period that we, perhaps prematurely, call modern, materializing most completely, I suppose, and certainly most passionately, in the marching nationalities of the two world wars. And it is this order of things, real or putative, that the third world revolution has made to look less like a developmental endpoint, the convergent attractor toward which all statecraft moves, or ought to, than a rickety and obsolescent, class-invested ancien rÈgime. As imagery and representation-an ideological figuration of Barker's "worldwide scheme of political organization"-the colonial-era map of a small set of well-formed nations, mostly West European, projecting their institutions and their identities onto shapeless countries, irregular societies, and exotic peoples, worked more to obscure how notional, how arbitrary, and, what with respect to British India has been called "the illusion of permanence," how temporary, that scheme really was than it did to instantiate it or render it effective. The imperial imaginary, to use for the moment some up-market terminology, was just that: counterfactual make-believe, designed to contain a scramble of odd points and disparate particles within a manageable set of standardized boxes-ordered categories, broad and familiar.
What made the upheavals and separations of 1949 to 1991 so genuinely transformative of how we think, or should, about our political world, and so disruptive of our received procedures for acting in it, defending our interests or advancing our ideals, is not, however, simply the rearrangements of citizenship and government, or even the shifts in legitimacy, they brought about- the map changes. What made them transformative is the curiously double-edged set of ideas, equivocal and counteractive, that drove them and in terms of which they had almost everywhere their indeterminate outcomes: what, to have a name for it, we can call "the nationalist paradox."
Paradox, because the ideological basis on which the would-be new states, or anyway their leaders, sought autonomy and independence-"Freedom!" "Merdeka!" "Istiqlal!"-was, of course, the same assertion of a broad, intrinsic coincidence of nation, state, country, culture, and people upon which the imperial powers-even, beneath its soviet disguise, Russia-based their own claims to identity and sovereignty, legitimacy and self-rule. The "oil drop" view of the diffusion of third world nationalism from Bolivar's Latin America, via Europe and the United States, and then on again to Asia and Africa on the spreading currents of print literacy, most closely associated perhaps with Benedict Anderson, and the mobilization for modernization view, which sees it as a reflex (or perhaps it is the cause) of the evolution of a village-centered agrarian civilization into an urban-centered industrial one, ý la Ernest Gellner, may have their historical difficulties and their polemical simplifications. But that the third world vanguard built its arguments and its program out of a reworked version of the same conception of integral nationality that solidified, or tried to, Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Russia, and the Netherlands, the regimes that half-enfolded them into foreign selves, is clear enough, as is, indeed, the ambiguity that doing so introduced into their struggles and into the volatile outcomes, excursive and unlooked-for, that followed.
Again, my model-system referent countries exemplify the case, especially if I may excerpt, not to say plagiarize, from some of my earlier and more elaborated writings on their short but originative histories.
In Indonesia, the first five decades of self-rule have consisted of one after another impassioned and determined ideological thrusts-Nationalist, Communist, Praetorian, Islamicist-attempting to fasten a unique and definite identity upon the country-each of which has failed, none of which (except perhaps in its original form, and then only literally, the Communist) has gone away, and all of which have brought on an even stronger sense of difference and disunion. Whatever the effort to construct a proper, spiritually pulled-together nation-state may have come to elsewhere, here it has been, to this point anyway, an elusive, spasmodic, disruptive project.
The Indonesian independence movement essentially got going, in general imitation of European models, in the twenties and thirties of the last century. Under the theatrical leadership of Sukarno-a speaking subaltern if ever there was one-it was a radically unitistic movement in a radically pluralistic situation-a characterization (or a fact) that applies, as I say, to the whole course of the republic's political history. During the fifties and early sixties, this attempt to provide a conceptual foundation for integral nationhood (it involved an odd and eclectic hodgepodge combination of nativist Indo-Javanese symbolism, Dutch social-democracy, and a Maoistic sort of peasant populism) increasingly faltered under the combined pressures of factional conflict, the induced hostilities of the cold war, and-not the least important-the uneven impact of economic change across the strung out and discontinuous regions of the archipelago, energizing some, marginalizing others, and inducing a strong sense of distributional injustice between the resource-rich regions-oil, timber, minerals-where exports originated, and people-rich Java, where the imports they paid for were consumed. (Or, at least so it was thought: an otherwise sedate national newspaper was banned in the late fifties for printing on its front page, bare and without comment, a bar graph depicting just that.)
In 1958, after the first general election demonstrated how incorrigibly divided the country really was (Nationalists, Islamists, and Communists-there were more than forty parties in all, versions and counter-versions of one another-split the vote more or less evenly), open rebellion against the government in Jakarta broke out in several of the regions. Sukarno put it down and suspended parliamentary government in favor of his famous, or infamous, "guided democracy." By the late sixties the country was so intensely beset by culturally inflected partisan conflict that, after a palace coup failed in Jakarta, it was caught up in an enormous hand-to-hand bloodbath. Hundreds of thousands died, thousands more were exiled or jailed, and an authoritarian soldier-government, General Suharto's suggestively denominated "New Order," took power in Jakarta. But, though Suharto turned away from Sukarno's hapless populism toward army-enforced disciplinary rigor, he continued to base the country's idea of itself and where it was going on the sort of synthetic and symbolic, culturally eclectic coordination Sukarno had put it place. And when he, in turn, fell after thirty-five years of astringent rule, a good deal of officially backed violence, ethnic, regional, and religious conflict flared up again over a large part of the country.
I need not continue this chronicle through its most recent phases, which you can glean from the newspaper: the riots, bombings, and insurrections, the Timor catastrophe (itself in part, at least, of elaborate nation, state, and culture confusions pressed into the space of a single, small, colonially severed island); the recovery of parliamentary government and popular elections; the rapid and dizzying succession to leadership of a vaguely Muslim, vaguely nationalist, German-trained technocrat, a flamboyant, erratic, blind, and progressive Islamic cleric, Sukarno's elusive and traditionalist, de haut en bas eldest daughter, and, just now, a restrained and circumspect Forts Benning and Leavenworth military bureaucrat. And of course-never aloof from any available form of disruptive difference-there have been the jihadist atrocities in Bali and Jakarta. The country still holds together, so far anyway. But it does so more by managing the clashes and discontinuities in which it consists-blunting, deflecting, and desperately juggling them-than it does by aligning them or spiritually enfolding them into (Renan again) an overriding grande solidaritÈ.
Morocco, as I indicated, does not have the jumble of languages, religions, peoples, cultures, and habitats that Indonesia has, nor has it experienced the same succession of differently conceived mega-ideological programs designed to give it identity, direction, and world-position. Its problem has been rather to define such an identity, compact and original, against the background of a diffuse and encompassing, some might say suffocating, world-historical social formation, what Samuel Huntington, raising the people-equals-culture-equals-polity illusion to a higher level, would call, I suppose, a "civilization"-the so-called Arab World. Morocco is defined neither by its edges, which as a matter of fact are both faint and porous and at points contested, the product of exterior negotiations among exterior powers, nor by its cultural specificity, which hardly sets it off from the other new-state countries around it: Mauritania, Algeria, the rest of the Arab West Maghreb, even the stricken and shattered Sahel into which it fades, and which fades into it, to the east and south. It is defined by the presence at its center and apex of a peculiar, and peculiarly ambiguous institution, at once archaic, traditional, perseverant, and thoroughly remodeled: the Alawite monarchy.
Once more, I need not go into the details of the matter here: the long, semi-mythic history of the monarchy ("Alawi" is the name of the present dynasty), stretching back to the days of Arab Spain; its evisceration under the French protectorate; its reinstitution as a consequent force after the confused struggles of the divided and disorganized independence movement, at once less massive and less excited than the Indonesian; its passage from the sainted, hero-king Muhammad V to his son, the implacable Hassan II, to his grandson, the faint and faintly reformist Muhammad VI. The point is that, if it is a sequence of incomplete (and possibly incompletable, though that, admittedly, remains to be seen) thrusts toward national consolidation that defines post-Indies Indonesia, it is the monarchy, or more accurately, persistence of the monarchy, the country's singular and singularizing institution, that defines (again, so far anyway) post-Protectorat Morocco.
The peculiarity of the monarchy is not just that it exists, a traditionalist curiosity unique in the Maghreb among a collection of parvenu regimes led by upstart soldiers (Qaddafi, Ben Ali, Bouteflika, al-Bashir, Ould Taya), but that, through the grand upheavals and transformations-modernization, political mobilization, decolonization, collective self-assertion, administrative rationalization, popular government-that have marked, however partially and irregularly, what I have been calling the third world revolution, it persists. There are monarchies elsewhere in the third world, but either they are the products of late-colonial manipulations, as in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf, or ceremonial hangovers of a reclusive past, like Thailand, Bhutan, Cambodia, or Tonga. The Moroccan monarchy, however, is neither a pretense nor a relic. It is both formally sovereign and practically consequential, and just about every scholar, foreign or domestic, who has reflected on the political life of the country has asked essentially the same question: what is it that sustains it and its occupants in a world of elections, parliaments, ideologies, corporations, newspapers, labor unions, and political parties? What is a Medici prince doing in a century like this?
The answers, of course, are complex and very much in the process of appearing. But one thing he, or, more exactly, the position he occupies and the role he plays, surely does, and emphatically, is mark out the population, and, with the population, the space, over which nationality or citizenship or subjecthood-that is, "Moroccan-ness"-extends. At once, as "king" (malik), head of the all-too-secular palace-managed government at Rabat, and "Commander of the Faithful" ('amir l-mu'minin), the sacred, charisma-charged head of the religious community that spreads out around it, the local ummah, the king makes the country: not by decree, not even by the force of arms-though both are more than marginally involved-but through the network of loyalties and attachments that surrounds and leads up to him. The country has borders, a capital, a bureaucracy, an international personality, an army, and a name. But it is neither cultural distinctiveness nor collective solidarity, nor even a demarcated territory, but the personal reach of the king, insofar as he in fact has it and displays it, that makes them real.
Not that this way of turning a place into a polity has been smooth, cumulative, uniform, and complete, any more than the irregular thrusts toward symbolic, all-over belief-system unification that are its equivalent have been in Indonesia, though it has been, to date, those flamboyant assassination attempts aside, a bit less crisis-ridden. The throne has had its successes: the more or less peaceful integration of Tangiers and the former Spanish zone into the new state; the forceful turning back of tribalist challenges to central power; the bringing to heel, violently or otherwise, of rive gauche republicans and renegade soldiers; and most spectacularly the enormous, royal-decreed and royal-led "green march" incursion-thousands of ordinary Moroccans streaming across the dotted-line border on foot into the Spanish Sahara. But the very conditions of the monarchy's ascendancy are at the same time the source of its difficulties, large and growing, in maintaining its position as the ordering center of a would-be nation.
In particular, as the dispersion of the Moroccan population beyond its indefinite homeland and the impassioned politicization of North African Islam advance-the one feeding off the other as traditionalist Muslims find themselves projected into settings not historically pre-arranged to support their faith and affirm their identity-both the traditionalist-secular and the charismatic-religious foundations of royal rule come under pressure. There are nearly three million Moroccans out of a total of thirty-some (though the figures vary, depending upon who's counting and to what purpose) now living in Europe: six-hundred thousand in France, two-hundred and seventy thousand in Belgium and the Netherlands, a hundred-twenty thousand in Italy, ninety thousand in Germany and, most fatefully in terms of recent events, eighty thousand in Spain. Though increasingly inclined to become resident abroad, rather than temporary sojourners, they remit-again, the figures are shaky, and vary year to year-nearly two billion U.S. dollars home annually (let us not talk of smuggling), and hundreds of thousands of them return periodically across the narrowing Mediterranean, now virtually a ferry-crossing, transforming thus the very shape of the country. (By comparison, ethnically involuted Indonesia has exported less than 1 percent of its citizens, against Morocco's 10 percent or so, and four-fifths of those to immediately neighboring Malaysia and Singapore.)
The degree to which the king's writ still runs with these relocated subjects of his is something of an open question, and the religious anxiety that seems to arise from trying to live as a Muslim in a non-Muslim environment raises even more serious issues along these lines. The recent terrorist attacks in Casablanca and Madrid (the Rabat government has rounded up more than twelve hundred of its citizens in connection with one, the other, or both of them, and the Spaniards have detained dozens more), along with the appearance of serious religiously based dissent in domestic politics-Sufi sheikhs and Salafi mullahs-suggest that maintaining an ascendancy and control over so distended a community, much less turning it into a unific nation, is a delicate enterprise at best, even for a sacralized prince.
The nationalist paradox-that a series of loosely interconnected, similarly inspired movements to liberate one-people, one-country, one-culture political communities supposedly concealed beneath the artificial surfaces of the colonial map should have led to a deconstruction of the very terms in which those movements were cast-is, perhaps, not in itself so entirely surprising. Revolutions, if they are real, have a way of bringing about the inverse of their intentions.
Indonesia and Morocco, are, as I say, but cases-in-point, part-for-whole examples unique in themselves and broadly illustrative of the overall process that has produced the chopped-up and irregular world in which we all now live. Sudan, with its seemingly endless racial, religious, and ethnic clashes arrayed along its line-in-the-sand perimeters, is plagued at once by Indonesian diversity and Moroccan indefiniteness, without the buffering eclecticism of the one or the center-making monarchism of the other; and, unlike Holland in the Indonesian case or France in the Moroccan, it has been more or less totally abandoned by the Britain that, largely for its own purposes, originally invented it. Sri Lanka, with its Sinhala-Tamil frozen civil war, now more than forty years old, is a binary version of Indonesia's pluralism in which nearly half of the population has to contrive, somehow, to live effectively as a permanent minority, something true as well for Indians in Fiji, Chinese in Malaysia, blacks in Guyana, and Sunnis in Iraq. In Rwanda, Burundi, and the northeast Congo, tribalized factions, artificial and arbitrary, tumble backward and forward across territorial borders, also artificial, also arbitrary, in a cacophony of intimate violence, and something similar takes place in the northern Caucasus and the southern Philippines. India and Nigeria are geographical agglomerations, their component peoples-Punjabis, Bengalis, and Tamils, Yorubas, Ibos, and Fulani-Hausas-spilling diffusely over country frontiers. Singapore and Taiwan are cultural fragments, Myanmar and Lebanon administrative relics. And, as for that supposed monopolist of power, legitimacy, and cosmopolitan expression, so absorbing to Weberian political theorists and cafÈ radicals, "The State," the enormous variety of its forms and expressions and the multiplicity of the regimes it houses and of the politics it supports render the very idea elusive, awkward, protean, and problematical. There is talk of "failed states," "rogue states," "super-states," "quasi-states," "theatre states," "contest-states," "orphan states," "presumptive states," and "micro-states"; of "tribes with flags," "imagined communities," and "regimes of unreality." China is a civilization trying to be a state, Saudi Arabia is a family business disguised as a state, Israel is a faith inscribed in a state, Iran is- hippogriffically-a populist theocracy. And who knows, aside from a postal address or a tourist destination, what Kyrgyzstan is?
Then there are the so-called "international" organizations, public and private, regulatory and remedial that have emerged in such abundance and variety since the end of the Second World War in the effort to bring these places and populations into some form of effective relationship with one another or to keep their champions from one another's throats, and which, considering the problems they address and the ways in which they address them, are perhaps more accurately to be called "trans-," or "extra-," or even "counter-national."
The United Nations, originally an attempt to restore and extend the lamented League, has proved to be more of a complicated device, occasionally successful, more often frustrated, for setting up ad hoc arrangements to address ad hoc crises than it has the institutionalization of self-determination, collective security, and world-state supergovernment originally envisaged in San Francisco and Lake Success. (As with nationalism itself, its founding language remains: forced, abstract, nostalgic, not a little phantasmal. RomÈo Dallaire, the Canadian general in command of UN forces, such as they were, during the Rwanda upheaval in 1994, has noted with well-earned bitterness that the phrases in which the UN assembly framed that crisis and the ones in which it is now framing that in Sudan a decade further on, are essentially identical-"reaffirming its commitment [the resolutions read] to the sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity and independence of [Rwanda/Sudan]" . . . something of a sick joke-even though what it was really trying to do was to put together a nonce coalition of reluctant African states, stand-aside Western governments, some ground-level nongovernmental organizations, and some of its own special agencies as a momentary stay against murder, rape, rampage, and ethnocide.)
So far as the European Common Market to Community to Union-six members become fifteen become twenty-five-is concerned, the arc is similar. From postwar dreams of forming some sort of neo-Carolingian super-state in the Treaty of Rome, through the pragmatic adjustments and distinctions of Maastricht ("pillarization," "subsidiarity"), to the expansion, south, north, and east, beyond any even approximate coincidence of history, culture, polity, and society (Latvia? Malta? Cyprus? Turkey?), the move has also been from the fabrication of unities to the navigation of difference. Similarly with the evolution of extra- or counter-national economic institutions that began with Bretton Woods and proceeded on through trade treaties, multinationals, adjustment programs, and various sorts of summits and clubs, to that collection of speeded-up mobilities of capital, labor, organization, and technique we refer to, uncertainly, as globalization. Multiplicity, "the world in pieces," is with us now, late and soon.
So, to wrap all this up for the moment and escape a drawn conclusion: What, slightly more than half a century after Howe's characteristically hope-in-the-face-of-history, resolve-in-the-face-of-evidence essay, does what he would never have consented to call his "problematic"-The Problem of U.S. Power-come to now? His immediate targets then, McCarthy ("[he] may suffer defeats, but the political mood he personified will not disappear"), "Ikeism" ("tideland oil, tax 'relief' for corporate business, plundering of national resources, acceptance of a reserve army of four to five million unemployed . . . fear, cowardice, suspicion, anti-intellectualism, swagger, distrust, denunciation"), and "the men who rule in Washington" ("[they] sincerely believe that material strength, wealth, money, technology, know-how will vanquish all obstacles; that the sum of these constitutes a policy") have something about them of the remembered evils of a remembered darkness, and of the uneasy awareness all of us foolish enough to traffic in the present immediate have that today's polemics wrap tomorrow's fish. But they also project, and more profoundly, the unnerving sense that the more things change the more we are trapped in the Eternal Return. The Problem of American Power is still the same problem in 2004 as it was in 1954. Only more so.
It is hard for me, trying to make sense of my experience as an exterior observer in the third world and a political subject in the first, to take in the fact that not only were Howe and I very near contemporaries (he was six years the older), but that between us we rather frame the reach and catalogue of the America we separately lived through. (We met only once, that I remember-as co-honorary doctorands with-can you believe it?-Dizzy Gillespie and Isaiah Berlin at a New School commencement. He asked me for references to anthropological accounts of "little stories that seem to encapsulate a culture's feelings," because he was working, he said, on the use of anecdote in "pre-urban" writers-Leskov, Sholom Aleichem, Twain, and Silone.) It is not merely that he came out of Great Depression New York amid Trotskyists, Shactmanites, YPSLs [Young Peoples Socialist League] and other urban accumulations and I out of New Deal San Francisco, amid Okies, war plants, Japanese displacement, and Wobbly rural radicals; that he was headlong, declarative, and confrontational and I tentative, parenthetical, and indirect; or that we both spent the Second World War, he in Alaska, I in the Pacific, waiting for a life-test that, thanks to the A-Bomb, never came. That our central concerns, not to say obsessions, mine with the transformation of the global structure of identity and difference by the coming into public consequence of the dispersed and particulate voices of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the European near-abroad, his with-quoting him again-"the tragedy of American power [that] becomes more terrible and terrifying every day [as communication] between America and the remainder of the world become[s] increasingly uncertain, sporadic, bitter," should now, at this time, so converge is about as inevitable as it is surprising.
As American power has grown over the past half-century, to the point where it is the only "supergrand" (they say that we now account for nearly a third of the world's GDP and two-fifths of its military spending, and we have a hand in or an option on a lot of the rest), and the country's internal heterogeneity, always very great, has accelerated and grown obvious, hedgehog nationalism, the desire to make everything whole again as it never really was, and managerial imperialism, the hope for a coordinative control beyond our reach and right, spread and flourish. "There has developed in this country," Howe wrote in that same, at once dated and prescient, 1954 article, such a concentration of wealth and power, with so many new attendant values, as to make America increasingly isolated from the rest of the world . . . The power potential of the country, its unprecedented emphasis on . . . accumulation and efficiency, its literal incapacity to understand and irritated refusal to sympathize with the patterns of thought which dominate Europe and the Third World [he actually wrote "Asia," but I think he would be content with change]-these are the factors . . . which make America into a lonely power colossus . . . sincerely convinced that only by the imposition of its will can the world be saved. But the world resists this will; it cannot, even if it would surrender its own modes of response.
Howe's response to this, his recipe for countering it and turning it around, from the side of American power, was, of course, in his famous allusion to the story of the man hired to wait for the Messiah, "steady work": the patient and determined effort to make things clear so as to make them tractable. And so is mine, hardly less exhausting, hardly more promising, from the side of the third world revolution, the nationalist paradox, and the explosive dispersion of the post-colonial directions of transformational change. Michel Foucault remarks somewhere in his vast and tangled corpus that we usually know what we are doing, we sometimes know why we are doing it, but we almost never know what our doing does. We had, I should think-and with this I am sure Irving Howe, however he might have regarded the rest of what I have had to say here, would thoroughly agree-damn well better soon find out.
Clifford Geertz is professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study and author, among many works, of Available Light: Anthropological Reflections on Philosophical Topics (Princeton University Press) and Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (Polity Press).
This article was
given as the Ninth Annual Irving Howe Lecture, at the City University of New
York in November 2004. The lecture is sponsored by the Center for the
Humanities, the Graduate Center, and is made possible by a gift from Max
What was the Third World revolution?, in: Dissent. Independant social thought since 1954 (New York/N.Y./USA: Foundation for Study of Independent Ideas, Inc.), vol. 2005 (winter 2005; online), pp. 35-45
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