Saturday, May 12, 2012

Gobineau on Afghanistan

    The Comte de Gobineau was a French diplomat, among other things, who 150 years ago was assigned to the Persian Empire.  Finally, portions of his two books on Persia,  Trois ans in Asie (1859) and Les Religions et les Philosophies dans L'Asie centrale (1865), have been translated into English, by Daniel O'Donoghue, and published as Comte de Gobineau and Orientalism:  Selected Eastern Writings (New York:  Routledge, 2010).    From page 84, I quote the following description of the area that is now Afghanistan:

    "  I do not know whether the preceding details have sufficiently prepared the reader to understand that in reality the Persian State does not exist and the individual is everything.  The State?  How could it exist if nobody is in the least concerned with it?  In this way, as in many others, the population resembles that of the Roman Empire in despising its rulers whoever they might be, good or bad, depredatory or well-intentioned.  Incapable of political fidelity or self-sacrifice, full of adoration for the country itself, they are devoid of belief in any form of government.  Everybody plunders shamelessly and without scruple, and vies to the best of their ability to misappropriate public funds, to the extent that little or no administration can be said to exist.  It must be acknowledge, if only for the singularity of the fact, that urban policing is fairly well managed.  Since remotest Antiquity Asian towns have known and practised  the excellent surveillance system of having nightwatchmen in every street.  There are no nocturnal disturbances; no public disorder.  But beyond this single point nothing good remains to be said.  A certain portion of the population never pays any taxes, either because unfair privileges justified only by long usage have legitimized an alleged right or royal authority has fraudulently consecrated it, or simply because the taxpayers do not feel inclined to pay, refuse to receive the collectors and chase them off.  I have seen towns adopt this very expedient stance, and the goverors were powerless to act against them, lacking either the necessary troops, resources or simply the will.  But none of this causes undue concern.  "

    While this may not approach being a description of the Paradise of the Libertarians,  it does match the Libertarian concept of the state as only a nightwatchman.  A question emerges:   Is this not far from what Afghanistan is like today?   To what good are we Americans spending a trillion dollars a year on military expeditions to rescue, refurbish, rehabilitate woebegone places like this?


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