Commentary Magazine


America & the World Revolution

Last spring, COMMENTARY invited Lewis A. Coser, Oscar Gass, Hans J. Morgenthau, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., to participate in a three-hour round-table discussion of America’s role in the underdeveloped world. The discussion, held before an invited audience and moderated by Norman Podhoretz, editor of COMMENTARY, was wholly spontaneous. What follows is a slightly abridged transcript of the entire proceedings.

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Lewis A. Coser is professor of sociology at Brandeis, an editor of Dissent, and the author of several books, including The Functions of Social Conflict.

Oscar Gass is a consulting economist in private practice in Washington, D. C, and has served as adviser on problems of development to various governments in Asia and the Middle East.

Hans J. Morgenthau is director of the Center for the Study of American Foreign and Military Policy at the University of Chicago, and has served as consultant to both the State Department and the Department of Defense; his most recent book is a three-volume collection of essays entitled Politics in the Twentieth Century.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., special assistant to President Kennedy, is the author of The Age of Roosevelt, The Age of Jackson, and many other works. He is currently on leave from his post as professor of history at Harvard.

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Norman Podhoretz:

By way of putting our subject into some sort of manageable perspective, let me quote something Walter Lippmann said in May of 1961, about a year after President Kennedy took office: “We cannot compete with Communism in Asia, Africa, or Latin America if we go on doing what we have done so often and so widely, which is to place the weak countries in a dilemma where they will stand still with us and our client rulers or start moving with the Communists. This dilemma cannot be resolved unless it is our central and persistent and unswerving policy to offer these unhappy countries a third option, which is economic development and social improvement without the totalitarian discipline of Communism. For the only real alternative to Communism is a liberal and progressive society.”

There are, of course, people who would disagree with that definition of the situation, but assuming for the moment that Lippmann is right, two large questions immediately present themselves. In the first place, to what extent is the United States capable of offering these “unhappy countries” a third option? After all, forces exist in this country which oppose a policy of lending support to socialist and neutralist regimes, and one of the things we want to know is whether they are strong enough to inhibit a really effective program from being put into action. We also want to know how strong the other inhibiting factors are: our own well-advertised reluctance to intervene directly in the internal affairs of other countries; the equally well-advertised corruption of the governing elites in some of the underdeveloped countries; and the consequent difficulty we have had in fostering social reform even when, as in the case of the Alliance for Progress, we have made social reform a precondition of American aid.

But whether or not the United States is capable of offering the underdeveloped countries “economic development and social improvement without the totalitarian discipline of Communism,” the second big question is: to what extent the United States has, in fact, tried to follow such a policy. There are those who say that our policy under the Eisenhower administration was simply to support the most vociferously anti-Communist faction in a given country, no matter what else such a faction may have stood for politically, and even though there may have been other factions better equipped to lead the country into the modern world. Has this situation changed under President Kennedy? If so, how significantly, and what have the consequences so far been? In short, what is American policy on these matters?

Mr. Schlesinger, you, of course, have had direct experience of the Alliance for Progress, which is a highly relevant example in this whole discussion, and you have also been involved in the making of American policy during the Kennedy administration. How do the questions that I’ve just raised look from the White House?

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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.:

It is, of course, impossible to render any general answer to the question whether the underdeveloped world will move in a democratic rather than a totalitarian direction. By any social or economic standard ranging from the gross national product to, say, the number of doctors in relation to population, the gap between what one can roughly call the developed and the underdeveloped countries is greater today than it was ten years ago. And the momentum of development is such that once a country reaches what Walt Rostow calls the takeoff period, it’s going to move much faster than countries still in the pre-takeoff period. Now, there are some countries in the underdeveloped world of whose future one can speak of with confidence—Venezuela, for example, or India. If favorable conditions continue, these countries will make the leap into the 20th century within a framework that will become increasingly real in its democracy as the process of modernization goes on. On the other hand, there are countries which are probably going to fall farther and farther behind in the whole modernization process, including the process of democratization. I think, therefore, that a general answer to the question of the technical feasibility of democratic development is impossible. All one can say is that some among the underdeveloped countries stand a pretty good chance of successfully completing the modernization process and emerging as democracies, and others are going to have a very hard time—for a period, at least.

As to the contribution the U. S. has made, is making, and can make, to this process: I think the first point to be emphasized here is the one that D. W. Brogan made in a Harper’s article ten or twelve years ago when he spoke about the delusion of American omnipotence. The United States cannot, by its own efforts or its own economic assistance or its own political exhortation or its own political blackmail, produce changes in underdeveloped countries if the means and desire to make those changes do not exist already. All the United States can do is provide the supplement and the reinforcement. It cannot furnish substitutes for the economic resources or the political will which are necessary to enable a country to begin the development process on its own.

This supplement, this marginal assistance, may be a vital element in enabling a country to choose between totalitarian and democratic methods of development. I have no doubt that external assistance to the Indian development program, for example, has permitted India to preserve and strengthen democratic political processes. Had that external assistance not been available to help generate capital investment, India might well have had to resort to much more authoritarian methods. In that sense, the element of external assistance may make a considerable difference.

Still, what really counts in the process of development is the existence in the country itself of two things: one of them is sufficient economic resources to meet a large share of its need for capital investment, and the other is a political will to modernize and a cultural aptitude for participating in the processes necessary for modernization. Where those things exist, then the United States can help them along. But I think we delude ourselves if we suppose that by voting twice as large an economic assistance program, or by accompanying the economic assistance program with all sorts of stipulations about structural reform, or by divesting it of all sorts of prohibitions against nationalization, the effect will be magical. It will not. In the end, the role of the United States in the underdeveloped countries can only be to supplement and reinforce the conditions working toward modernization.

Now, to what extent has the United States done this in the past, and to what extent are we doing it now? I think that our record since the foreign-aid program began has been one of considerable groping and uncertainty. That groping and uncertainty were in large part inherent in the problem of trying to come to terms with conditions and issues of underdevelopment which, in this acute and exotic form, were unprecedented in our national experience. We know much more about the processes of development today than we did in the late 1940’s when the foreign-aid program began. Development economics is a relatively new discipline, and the development economists themselves have learned a great deal from the trial and error through which we have gone. We understand now, for example, that economic development must be studied in a much broader political and cultural setting if we are really to advance the processes of modernization. And the whole problem is, of course, further complicated both by the politics of the cold war and by the domestic politics that shape the foreign-assistance program.

I’ve never been a great admirer of the Eisenhower administration, and I think that administration made many errors in the field of foreign aid. One of those errors, in my opinion, was their belief that Latin American economic development could be brought about essentially by private investment. I think this error also produced accompanying errors; for, if creation of a climate favorable to private investment was the most important thing, it followed that the United States should support conservative governments, even military dictatorships, which promised to give highest priority to the protection of foreign investors. Yet even the Eisenhower administration was far from consistent or dogmatic in this line. For almost a decade it accepted and to a degree subsidized the Bolivian revolution, which was one of the authentic Latin American revolutions.

I think there has, however, been a clear change since the Kennedy administration came in, partly as a consequence of the greater insight we now have into the processes and requirements of modernization, and partly as a consequence of a different political drive and direction. The Alliance for Progress is one expression of the new drive. It is based on the assumption that external assistance by itself, and unaccompanied by changes in social structure, will not produce effective economic growth and will probably even aggravate the social and economic inequities which remain the great obstacle to modernization. If modernization is going to come, there must be reforms, not just for purposes of equity and out of compassion, but also to make external assistance effective. The Alliance for Progress therefore assumes a series of changes in social structure as a condition concurrent to the effective use of economic aid. This has produced many political and diplomatic problems of its own, for how one country can guide another into doing things internally it may not want to do is a very difficult question, and in some respects an insoluble one. Even so, the general model of the Alliance for Progress seems to me the best hope for the United States to make an effective contribution to the processes of democratic modernization in the underdeveloped countries.

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Podhoretz:

Mr. Coser, I know that as a socialist you’ve criticized the notion of an ineluctable drift toward totalitarianism in the underdeveloped world, and I believe that you’ve also urged a greater stress on the factors of equity and compassion—to use Mr. Schlesinger’s terms—as distinct from considerations of American national interest. I suspect, therefore, that your view of the problem before us would differ somewhat from Mr. Schlesinger’s.

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Lewis A. Coser:

Well, when I just heard Mr. Schlesinger talk about the groping and the uncertainty of American foreign policy, I felt that this was very much an understatement. My feeling is that, by and large, there isn’t really any American policy toward the various underdeveloped countries. There has been a tendency to try and work somehow with anyone who happened to be in power in those countries—good, bad, or indifferent—and as far as I can see, there has been no serious effort to determine what lines of development would be desirable, what kinds of policies should get priority, and so on. As a result, the image that the typical intellectual in the underdeveloped countries gets of the United States is totally confused. I don’t mean those intellectuals who have gone over to the other side. I am talking about those who in some way would perhaps be quite willing to listen to initiatives coming from our side, but who simply don’t know what we stand for. For example, we talk sometimes about the struggle for the minds of the uncommitted peoples, but what is an uncommitted intellectual to think when he reads about our military aid to Mr. Diem in South Vietnam and more particularly about the kind of chemical warfare that we have been introducing into South Vietnam recently—destroying the rice paddies and the foliation in the jungles so as to make it impossible for the peasants to survive in those areas and hence to help the Communist guerrillas? Well, if I were a South Asian intellectual and I read about the battle for the minds of men and then about this sort of thing, which quite inevitably drives these peasants in precisely the direction we don’t want them to go—namely, into more support of the guerrillas—I think I would be totally disillusioned with any kind of lead that America might offer to give.

Let me cite one or two other examples. Most intellectuals in these countries appear to believe that development is only possible along planned and guided lines. There is simply no private capital available in these areas; there is simply no independent entrepreneurial class that could play the role that such a class played, let us say, in the development of English capital. Therefore, no matter what their particular political line, the intellectuals in the underdeveloped countries are all convinced that some kind of planned development is necessary in order to boost production. And then they read about a certain report by a certain Mr. Clay—the famous Clay Report—which tells the President that we must not in any way support anything but free private enterprise. Well, if I were an Asian or an African intellectual, I would say either that these people are crazy, or if that is what they stand for, then it might be better after all to establish a closer connection with the Russians: we don’t like them, but at least they know that private enterprise can’t bring about economic development.

Or take Latin America. If I were a Latin American intellectual, I would have been very favorably disposed toward the Alliance for Progress and its stated aim of fostering social reform to make economic development possible. But by now I would be very confused about the real intentions of the United States. In Peru not long ago, there was a military coup and a suspension of democratic processes. The American ambassador protested, and it looked as though things would go in the right direction: America, after all, was going to do something. And then a week later, the ambassador was withdrawn, and Washington recognized the new regime. It is things like that, I think, which have completely blurred the image of America, and sometimes even made it a most undesirable image for people in the underdeveloped world who aspire to democratic ways.

Now, there remains one question: Given the highly rigid and in most cases fairly reactionary structures that prevail in, let us say, Latin America, is it possible to do anything in these countries without profound structural changes? The current administration seems to think that it is—that, after all, you’ve got to work with what is there and hope for the best. And this, in my opinion, only strengthens those Latin American intellectuals who have become Castroites, who say that if America is going to back these structures, then, obviously, the only thing to do is follow the Cuban model. The question, then, is: could an American administration, despite all the difficulties, come up with a policy which deliberately supports major structural changes? I don’t mean gradual reforms that would come into effect sixty years from now; I mean drastic radical reforms that would make a difference now in, say, the Northeast of Brazil. Can this be done? I become more and more skeptical. Observing the present administration, I more and more have the feeling that it will not be done. And if it will not be done, then I’m very much afraid that the drift, among the intellectuals at least, will simply be away from America and toward the Communists. The intellectuals have, of course, become the key figures in all these countries. They will be increasingly decisive in the political struggles that are to come, and if we lose them, we will finally have lost the battle for democratic development.

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Podhoretz:

Mr. Morgenthau, you wrote once, probably with provocative intent, that as there are bums and beggars, so there are bum and beggar nations—which indicates your view of the limits of American initiative in supplying a “third option” to the underdeveloped countries. You’ve also spoken of the necessity for framing foreign-aid policies in terms of political aims dictated by the American national interest. So I imagine that your view of the situation would differ radically from the one Mr. Coser has just given us.

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Hans J. Morgenthau:

Well, I’m not sure that my views differ radically from those of Mr. Coser, and I’m sure that I had no provocative intent when I wrote the sentence which you and so many others have quoted. There are also many other sentences in that article which have not been quoted. But let me say first of all that our attitude toward the uncommitted third of the world has been influenced greatly, decisively, by an economic determinism which I think has now proved to be entirely erroneous. We have fashioned our foreign-aid policy toward the uncommitted, underdeveloped nations in terms of a number of simple equations, based on assumptions which are deeply ingrained in the American folklore of politics, but which are, nevertheless, very gravely at odds with reality. First of all, we have thought that economic underdevelopment results from the lack of capital and technological know-how—that certain people are so poor that they cannot create capital and technological know-how—and that therefore we can put them on the road to economic development by introducing those two factors from the outside. I think if one wanted to overstate the case, one could rather put it the other way around—that is to say, that certain nations lack capital and technological know-how because they are underdeveloped in the rational and moral faculties which go into the making of a modern industrial and economic system. In other words, it is not by an act of fate that certain nations are underdeveloped economically. It is rather that they don’t have the non-economic human resources—at least they don’t have them as of now—which are the prerequisites for creating a modern economic establishment.

We should always remember the history of Western economic development and the profound intellectual and moral revolutions which were necessary to bring it to fruition. Regardless of whether one accepts Max Weber’s idea that the Protestant ethic was the main factor in the rise of Western capitalism, certainly without the secularization of the Western outlook, economic development in the modern sense would not have been possible. Nor would it have been possible without the rationalization of Western civilization.

Take, for instance, what seems to us to be a simple and self-evident instrumentality for economic development—saving for a future emergency or for gainful investment. There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who have no conception of saving—who don’t know what it is. There is a story, which may be apocryphal, of an Indian porter who refused to carry another suitcase because he had already eaten that day. Or take a civilization like the Burmese, which has driven our foreign-aid officials in that country almost to despair. The Burmese have an otherworldly orientation, they believe that success in this world is an impediment to the success that really counts, success in the other world. It seems to me rather questionable whether one can establish a modern economic civilization on such a moral and intellectual basis.

It also seems to me questionable whether the assumption which underlies our foreign aid—that is, the idea that industrial civilization is a common aspiration of all mankind—is really justified. A couple of years ago I took a trip through Asia looking for the revolution of rising expectations, of which I had written and spoken before very eloquently and with deep emotion. I looked for those rising peasant masses, dissatisfied with their lot. In Japan there are certain segments of the peasantry who may have such aspirations, but everywhere else you look in Asia, you find tendencies toward what one can call national revolutions; but the revolution of rising expectations, in the sense in which we use that term in the West, is at the very best a spotty affair. At the beginning of that trip, when I was more naive than at the end, I remember asking one of our ambassadors on the Asian mainland: “Where are those revolutionary peasants?” He said “I’ll give you a dollar for each one you can find.” So this revolution of rising expectations is a literary phrase which appeals to our emotions and our liberal instincts (insofar as we’ve got any), but which is really a very doubtful proposition as a description of reality. I won’t here go into the other equally doubtful equations in terms of which our foreign-aid program is framed—the ones that tell us, for instance, that economic development leads to social stability, that social stability leads to democracy, that democracy leads to a peaceful foreign policy. All those propositions, I think, have been refuted, if not by theoretical analysis, then certainly by historic experience. So let me say at this moment only that the idea of foreign aid as a third choice, an alternative to backwardness and Communism, which we can present by our own volition to the rest of humanity, is an enormous simplification and a real misstatement of the tremendously complex problems we are facing.

To elaborate on the point Mr. Coser made, and also to elaborate on what I have said before, we have greatly underestimated, and I think we still underestimate, the primacy of politics in this whole area. Take as an example the seemingly simple idea of remedying illiteracy by teaching people how to read and write. The underlying assumption here is that there are people so poor and so miserable that they don’t even have the means to teach their children how to read and write, and we must therefore help them to do so. But what we forget is that there are many countries in the world where the maintenance of illiteracy is one of the chief political weapons in defense of the status quo. For an illiterate peasant is more likely to be a pliable object of the rule of an oligarchy than a peasant who can read and who can therefore inform himself about what is going on in the world and can acquire certain ideas about the legitimacy of the status quo. So the maintenance and the abolition of illiteracy are in themselves primary political acts. The remedies for illiteracy cannot be introduced into backward nations through a free choice on our part, because even if we don’t know it, the oligarchies in those countries know that education, the enlightenment of these oppressed masses, represents an implicit challenge to the status quo.

Now, as far as the question of revolution or radical reform in the underdeveloped nations is concerned, it seems to me that the problem is again more complex than it has been made out to be. For we are really faced here with a terrible, and, perhaps, insoluble dilemma. Where social reform and the establishment of a modern economic and technological system require political change, we must either give up our desire to bring about economic and technological development, or we must be willing to support radical political reform, if not revolution. And I am convinced that in many of the underdeveloped nations the alternatives before us are not the support of the status quo as against the support of revolution, but rather revolution under non-Communist auspices as against revolution under Communist auspices. And here, I think, we are faced with two further dilemmas.

First of all, we pride ourselves on being a revolutionary nation—and, of course, in terms of our history we are a revolutionary nation. But our revolution was of an entirely different nature from the revolutions which are incipient in many underdeveloped nations. For ours was essentially a national revolution—what Mr. Khrushchev would call a “war of national liberation”—while the revolutions which are incipient in many of the uncommitted and underdeveloped nations are really social revolutions, more on the order of the French Revolution of 1789. And so, if our own conscience, our awareness of our own revolutionary past, leads us toward the support of revolution, our political insight also tells us that the revolutions we are called upon to support are entirely different from the one we made.

The other dilemma is practical rather than moral and intellectual. It is easy to start a revolution—if we put our minds to it, we could certainly instigate revolutions in many of those countries—but it is difficult to control the course of a revolution once it has been set going. Thus while we might start a revolution under non-Communist auspices, in view of the fact that in many underdeveloped nations the only disciplined, dedicated social force are the Communist cadres, the likelihood exists—as the Cuban developments have shown—that this revolution will end under Communist auspices. And so, though I agree with the details of Mr. Coser’s criticisms, I would not want to support the opinion that a more intelligent or more determined administration could very well change the course of our policy. I think we are faced with a real dilemma, and by definition, there is no clear-cut solution to it.

I should also add, in view of what Mr. Schlesinger has said, that I don’t believe that the difference between the policies of the Eisenhower and the Kennedy administrations is so radical as it must appear to him from his peculiar perspective. I would rather say that in theory there is much more enlightenment in the councils of government today than there was a couple of years ago; this becomes obvious when you look at the philosophy underlying the Alliance for Progress. But if you look at the practice of the Alliance for Progress, you find again to what extent the objective factors with which we must deal in the underdeveloped nations leave us hardly any choice with regard to our policies. It is true the philosophy of the Alliance for Progress stipulates that assistance to Latin American countries should be predicated upon the social and political and fiscal reforms necessary to the success of economic aid. And so we tell Brazil, for instance: you must do this, you must do that, you must do the other, before we can give you foreign aid. But then one day the Brazilian Minister of Finance comes to Washington and says: If we don’t get so many million dollars by next Monday, we’ll go broke and the Communists will take over. The result is that he gets, well perhaps not exactly what he wants, but two-thirds of it. I’m not criticizing the administration for this—it is inevitable. It does, however, show that while the theory is much better than it used to be, the practice has largely remained—and is perhaps bound to remain—what it has always been.

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Podhoretz:

Well, Mr. Gass, Mr. Morgenthau has given you a very good opportunity to make some money. You’ve spent a lot of time in the underdeveloped countries, and Mr. Morgenthau has a friend who’s offering a dollar for every peasant with rising expectations you can show him. How many can you produce for him? Is there a revolution of rising expectations and if there is, what are we doing about it?

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Oscar Gass:

I’m going to answer Mr. Podhoretz’s question only indirectly, after my fashion. I take it that the reason I was asked to speak fourth in this sequence is that I could be counted upon to agree with all the preceding speakers. And I do. Nevertheless, as they spoke, my mind kept running back to the days when I was working on these problems of economic development in one of the more promising situations—in Jerusalem, some years ago. From time to time the tensions and frustrations of the job we were trying to do almost overcame me. I could not accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. And it seemed to me, when I was in a slightly more philosophical mood, that the reason was that my Israeli friends and associates were more concerned to be, in their language, k’chol adam—like all of humanity—than I wanted them to be. I had a colleague who used on such occasions to comfort me—he thought he was comforting me—with a French witticism: “The loveliest lady of France cannot give more than that which she has.” In our case the lady was Israel, who was ostensibly exerting herself, but could not give more than what she had. The lady we’re talking about now is the United States. And it has occurred to me today over and over again that what we are mainly dealing with are the limitations of the actor. We are regarding the less-developed countries as the acted-upon. Sometimes we talk about their limitations, but I think primarily we’re talking about our own. And since one speaks so critically about what can be accomplished and what cannot be accomplished by economic means, I would like to bore you a little by introducing a few numbers.

Let me again begin with the State of Israel, of whose economic problems I have had some personal experience. The State of Israel has been in existence for approximately fifteen years, and now has a population of about two-and-quarter million. In the course of those fifteen years of what is regarded by some as successful economic development, there has been a capital inflow into Israel of the rough order of magnitude of four-and-a half, perhaps five billion dollars. Let’s think a minute. That was a capital inflow of about two thousand dollars per person over a fifteen-year period. Israeli circumstances are somewhat special, the achievement in the case of Israel is greater than in other countries, the human material is different, the social situation is different. None of us working there, however, would have believed that anything remotely like what we achieved in Israel with a capital inflow of two thousand dollars per person could have been achieved with a capital inflow of five hundred dollars per person. I think that those who lived through the process and have thought about it would probably say with very considerable unanimity that with a capital inflow of five hundred dollars per person we probably would have gone under, and the State of Israel probably would not have survived.

Now, with that example in mind, I’d like to look for a moment at what the United States is in fact doing in quantitative terms for the underdeveloped countries, because the popular discussion of this matter is usually grotesquely out of proportion to the reality. Let’s take a year like 1962. In 1962, the total foreign-aid program of the government of the United States—and that includes grants and loans for all purposes—was about four-and-a-quarter billion dollars gross. However, the rest of the world repaid us slightly more than a billion-and-a-quarter dollars gross, so we made available to all the world approximately three billion dollars net. Of that three billion dollars, rather more than a billion was aid in the form of military hardware supplied without payment, and approximately three-quarters of a billion dollars more was aid to a limited number of East Asian countries—South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and their near neighbors—to support what we call the defense buildup. We also made available approximately 150 million dollars to various international institutions like the International Bank and the International Monetary Fund. What was left over from all this went to the rest of the world.

Let me now particularize what was left over and talk about it in an area which very much concerns us, and let me talk about it not in any critical partisan mood but only in an effort to understand. Roughly, over the fifteen-year period from 1945 to 1960, the United States made available to Latin America in grants and loans about one hundred million dollars net a year—on the average. As Latin America has about 225,000,000 people, that was about fifty cents per capita each year. Think of it: we made available for development fifty cents. Now I’m not saying this to be facetious. I’m saying it so we can see the perspective of these things. We changed to the Alliance for Progress—and a much wider perspective, a much more thorough involvement, a feeling on the part of a new government of the United States that while we had concerned ourselves with problems in other areas of the world, here was an area on our very doorstep about which we had done nothing. And so we committed ourselves to try to make available to Latin America, in various ways and from sources of all kinds, approximately a billion dollars a year for development purposes. Let’s look at what happened in the year 1962.

In the year 1962, the U. S. government lent five hundred million dollars net to Latin America. It gave to all of Latin America approximately three hundred million dollars in military and non-military aid. And American private capital invested in Latin America one hundred and fifty million dollars, and in 1960, less than a hundred million dollars. What do these figures mean? The United States earned on its property in Latin America in the year 1962 about a billion, two hundred million dollars—from earnings on direct investments, on portfolio investments, and on the debts payable in dollars that the U. S. government had outstanding. We did make available in various forms, private and public, about a billion dollars of capital to Latin America in the year 1962. But we earned a billion, two hundred million. In other words, two hundred million more than we poured in.

Having said something specific, I’ll tell you my conclusion in general. It is this: the quantity of U. S. loans and grants to the rest of the world is not of the order of magnitude to be a factor of the first significance in the development of the poorer countries. It’s just not that important. One understands that capital can be used for strategic purposes and for non-strategic purposes—I mean strategic in terms of economic development. But you see, even in the area of the world to which we are devoting our greatest effort—and an effort quite unprecedented in our recent history—we are only exerting a lever which is so small that it’s ridiculous to expect from it any really significant consequences. No serious person could expect such a thing. What is a billion dollars to Latin America? A billion dollars is between four and five dollars per capita. Archimedes said that if he had a big enough lever, he could move the whole earth, but he wouldn’t have thought he could move the earth with this pencil.

I think I know something about the cultural factors that are relevant here and that Mr. Morgenthau mentioned—the institutional factors, the availability or non-availability of entrepreneurships. I think I know what economic investment plans mean, and what their absence means, too, But I do not, in any way, wish to minimize the importance of capital supply. Let me take an instance from another part of the world. China, 1960. The Chinese program in 1960 broke down for a variety of reasons. But one of the bitterly important ones was that the measure of capital supply—involving certain critical parts, pieces, tools, materials, and engineering skill—which had been made available by the Soviet government in previous years, was cut off in 1960. And not for that reason alone, but for that reason in substantial part, the Chinese economy ground to a halt.

Now, Mr. Podhoretz has offered to get me a dollar a head for every peasant I can find with rising expectations. I shall find a few in a moment. But before I do that, I want to suggest that it’s not really important. If you’re talking about industrialization and the drive for industrialization and the wish to have an industrial society, the desires and aspirations of the peasants in most countries are of no importance. What is important is that, though they very often do not will the means, all the alert political leaderships of the most inert countries of Southeast Asia, for example, do desire industrialization. There may be exceptions in Africa, but I do not know a country in Southeast Asia in which it could be said that the political leadership does not desire a substantial element of industrialization. If such a country is to be found, it is to be found in the fragments of the former French Empire in Asia. It certainly is not to be found among the relatively inert peasants of a country like Indonesia, if I take them as an example. And even in the most inert portions of Western Java or South Sumatra, I can find a few million peasants on whom to collect a dollar a head. Of course they don’t express their rising expectations by putting forward plans for industrial projects. They express them by holding riots against the Chinese. They identify the enemy and the obstacle with something visible and something intelligible, in terms of the conceptions they have—not in terms of conceptions to which they have not yet attained.

And now I want to leave the acted-upon and go back to us, the actor, and to make this avowal. What we have to recognize when we talk about any form of aid, assistance, or participation in the development of the less-developed countries, is the great gap between them and us—the great gap between our mode of life and consciousness and theirs—our remoteness from them and our unwillingness to merge ourselves in them. There is a wonderful little story of Thoreau’s about two people who wanted to travel together around the world—one had equipped himself with a letter of credit and the other proposed to work his way around. Thoreau said that this partnership would quickly be dissolved because one of them was not prepared, in his language, to “operate” at all. Close associations of this kind, he said—and Thoreau was a pre-Marxian—are possible only between people who get their living together. So with us. We can give capital to the underdeveloped countries, of course; we can to a limited extent also give them higher skills and training. But much as we try, we don’t participate as equal members in the solution of their political problems. I think we should try, because I wish to make it clear, if I have failed to make it clear up to now, that I am an interventionist, morally and politically: I believe we should intervene all over the world. But there are prudential limitations. There are places where you can’t do anything, where you can’t accomplish anything, where your reach doesn’t bring you into contact with the problem. You have a moral and political responsibility, but you have to know what you can do and what you cannot do. We cannot provide the higher political direction for most of the countries of the underdeveloped world because they’re too far from us. They’re too far from us in sympathy, in thought, in intent, and in possession. And the same thing is true of the higher economic direction. It’s very rare that we can be of assistance to them in the problems which count most to them and which are most important for their success. Obviously, as we are such indifferent successes in our own society in achieving a fuller degree of economic justice and political democracy, we are in that measure very, very much more incapable of doing these things for others. We have to try, we have to keep on trying all the time, and we have to recognize our limitations.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

Gentlemen, at the risk of sounding sentimental or like an “unreconstructed liberal,” I think I ought to say explicitly at this point that behind the abstractions we’re using here are millions and millions of hungry people, who live in conditions of squalor and misery that we can scarcely imagine but that we are surely called upon to do something about. Mr. Gass mentioned Jerusalem, which reminded me of William Blake’s famous lines about not resting until “we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.” And I was also reminded of Theodor Herzl’s statement: “If you will it, it is no dream.” Yet—I know this is an oversimplification—all four of you seem to be saying in one form or another, really, that there isn’t very much more we can do; perhaps we should be doing more than we are presently doing, but the difficulties are too great, and we can’t.

_____________

 

Gass:

We deny this.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

O.K., good. Maybe I misunderstood.

_____________

 

Gass:

I don’t think any one of us has said that there isn’t a great deal more that we can do than we are doing at the present time. Does anyone want to be a volunteer for the position that we’re doing everything that can be done?

_____________

 

Morgenthau:

It’s not a question of more or less, but of the quality of our action. We might do something different.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

As for example?

_____________

 

Morgenthau:

Well, I wanted to save this for my rousing conclusion, but I suppose I’ll have to say it now. I personally think that if we want to obey Mr. Lippmann’s injunction of offering a third alternative to the underdeveloped nations, we ought to do exactly that—provide another alternative by demonstrating through the qualities of our own society what this other alternative is. For one should not forget that this is not primarily a contest waged with loans or grants-in-aid, or technological help; it is primarily a moral, and if you wish, a spiritual contest. It is a contest between two different philosophies, two different types of social and economic and political organization—two different ways of life. And this contest is not going to be waged successfully by piecemeal attempts at the manipulation of backward economies. Anybody who has lived abroad and has read foreign newspapers realizes how infinitely more important for the outcome of this contest the problem of American race relations, for instance, is, than any amount of money or technological know-how you can make available to the underdeveloped nations. Therefore I am convinced that if one poses the question as Mr. Lippmann has posed it, then the real issue is clearly not the technicalities of foreign aid, but the visible qualities of American society.

_____________

 

Gass:

Well, let us now for the first time introduce a note of disagreement. Surely, no one here would suggest that it would be of no value for the United States to become the bright and shining example of a successful political and social democracy. Let us suppose that we have racial integration, we have full employment, we have rapid economic growth, we have correctly apportioned districts, we have fine national political parties. What is the rest of the world to do? To copy from us? To simply fall down in admiration before this great American model that we have furnished? You know, nobody in the world is interested in copying the. functional structure of the government of the United States. And if the United States government works a little better, is a little less invertebrate than it has been, it doesn’t make all that much difference to a leadership class in Indonesia or in the Argentine, or in any other place in the world that you’re willing to talk about. I strongly suspect—and here I’m challenging Professor Morgenthau—that this is one of the easy solutions that we make for ourselves: let us become at home the bright and shining example of a successfully functioning democracy and all the rest of the world will merely follow our noble example. I think that’s a fallacy and that if we were to rest with it, we would be greatly deficient in our responsibilities, which require much more positive, much more substantive action not in the United States—where, it is true, our reach is more effective—but also in other parts of the world, where our reach is much less effective.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

Mr. Schlesinger, what’s your reaction to all this? Did I understand you correctly in thinking that you were suggesting that our capacity to do anything about these problems is already being exercised more or less to the full?

_____________

 

Schlesinger:

On this last point, I’m all in favor of the moral and social regeneration of the United States. But I’m in favor of it for its own sake and not because I think it’s going to solve the kind of questions we’ve been discussing today. I do agree with Mr. Morgenthau that in the past the foreign-aid program has been regarded too much as an economic and technical program, whereas the conditions for its success depend equally on political, cultural, and institutional factors. I think that this is now recognized and is one of the differences, it seems to me, between what we’re doing now and what we have been doing in the past. It’s expressed, of course, in the changed composition of the aid program—in the whole approach, for example, to Latin America, which, among other things, puts an unprecedented emphasis in American foreign-aid policy on the production of national development plans by the countries involved and on the use of resources in terms of those plans.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

How well has this new emphasis worked so far?

_____________

 

Schlesinger:

Well, producing a national economic plan is not an easy thing to do. I think only three or four countries up to this point have submitted their national economic plans to the so-called “nine wise men,” which is a group of economists, mostly Latin American, whose purpose is to advise on the plan, and to try to coordinate the objectives of the plan with the general requirements of the hemisphere. Economic development is never short or easy, and planned economic development is more complicated. I think anyone who thought that the Alliance for Progress was going to transform Latin America overnight had a meager sense of history.

Now as to the question: could we be doing more? It all depends on whether that question is asked in general terms or in terms of existing political realities. Obviously, we could be doing much more—and here I agree perhaps more with Mr. Gass than with Mr. Morgenthau—if we had available for foreign assistance each year eight billion dollars or twelve billion dollars, rather than four billion dollars. But the political reality is that we’re going to be lucky if even four billion dollars is appropriated for the aid bill this year. While it is pleasant to dream how much better it would be if we could make larger capital contributions to the developing countries, the existing political realities just make it unlikely. Nor do I think that this is a matter that can be altered by a fireside chat or by symposia in New York.

Another of the problems of the aid program is its relative inflexibility, and this again brings us back to the congressional situation. The Congress, out of an honorable and natural desire to protect the funds of the American taxpayer, has tried to make sure that the money would be spent as effectively and honestly and intelligently as possible. To do that, they’ve set up a series of standards, of feasibility criteria, of procedures—which is excellent from that viewpoint. From another viewpoint—that is, of having the requisite flexibility and speed in the disbursement of assistance—it causes many problems. But these are further realities of the situation with which we have to deal.

We have to recognize, therefore, that our aid is going to count as it supplies one missing component and not as the whole works. When a country has everything else—the political will, the institutional flexibility, and a certain amount of economic capital of its own—then our aid can be effective. It cannot be a substitute for things which that country does not have.

Still, it seems to me that with all the complexity of the situation, we have no choice but to do the best we can. We cannot, I believe, retire from this contest. I think injunctions both of statesmanship and of humanity argue against it, and though Mr. Gass is quite correct in pointing out the ridiculous inadequacy of our efforts compared to the magnitude of the needs, it would be equally wrong to regard our efforts as a lot of waste and nonsense. I was in Caracas recently and took occasion to tour some of the barrios—the slums—where the people who come in from the countryside live in tarpaper shacks under conditions of extreme squalor. I visited some Peace Corps projects in these slums. I met there a Negro boy from Denver, Colorado, named Jerry Green who has formed a kind of alliance with the local Catholic priest to try to improve educational possibilities and recreational possibilities for the boys. Now this, of course, is a drop in the ocean, and there are only a few thousand Peace Corps boys and girls throughout the world. But the American ambassador in Venezuela said to me that the “image”—to use Mr. Coser’s odious word—of the United States has been transformed more by what the Peace Corps has been doing than by anything that has happened there for a long time.

I have no great optimism about the ease with which these problems can be solved. I certainly do not think that the United States can effectively go around and instigate revolutions all over the world. If a country has the will to achieve its own revolution, the United States should be prepared to work with that revolution as long as it doesn’t install Soviet nuclear missiles within striking distance of our shores. And we have done so. We did it, for example, in Bolivia—even, as I said before, with a Republican administration in power. But this glib, 30’s-ish notion that making revolutions is easy, or that making national economic plans is easy, or that in a country which doesn’t have the capacity to make a revolution itself we can make it for them, seems to me exceedingly remote from reality. I think we have to keep on trying; I think the limitations have to be understood; I think even minor gains within these limitations are worthwhile in human terms; and I think in due course and with an increase in knowledge and collaboration among the various developed nations, we may help quite a number of countries into the 20th century within a roughly democratic framework.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

In other words, as you once put it, Mr. Schlesinger, “Revolution si, Communist penetration no.” Mr. Coser, what about these political realities that Mr. Schlesinger’s been talking about? How immovable do they look to you?

_____________

 

Coser:

I was a little perturbed by Mr. Schlesinger’s continued reference to realities because it seems to me that he here defines reality as something that happens to you. Now, this may quite often be so, for individuals. We confront a world that imposes a pattern on us, and we can’t do anything about it. But isn’t the situation slightly different when you have the most powerful office in the world? Doesn’t this precisely give you tremendous power to influence and make reality? And here—even though it may be an “odious” word, I’ll use it again—the “image” is an important thing. I think that despite what Mr. Gass has said, if the President of the United States had gone down to the University of Alabama when Governor Wallace said he would bar the door personally against the Negro students—if the President had gone there himself to escort the students, that would have been making reality. And to my mind, at least, that reality would have been more important than almost any number of dollars shipped into all the various Vietnams, Koreas, and Taiwans.

Now let me come back for just a moment to this question of rising expectations. I think there was at the beginning, in what Mr. Morgenthau said, a certain misunderstanding. When we talk about these rising expectations, we do not mean the peasant masses who have not yet made contact with the modern world. We do not mean people who live in terms of the eternal yesterday, we don’t mean people still governed completely by traditionalistic norms. We mean those people who’ve had a chance to institute some comparison between the way they live and the way people in the West live, and who feel that their way—their traditional way—is not the way in which they want to continue. Now here, it seems to me, we again have to stress the role of the intelligentsia, those people in the underdeveloped world who have been exposed in one form or another to Western modes of thought. They are the ones who express the rising expectations. And they, as Mr. Gass has already said, are invariably the ones who push for development, industrialization, and all the rest.

We haven’t, in my opinion, talked enough about the intelligentsia here. If one wants a historical analogy, it can be found perhaps in the Russian populists of the last century. Like the populists, the intellectuals in these new countries are deeply attached to certain native traditions—they don’t want to shed those—but on the other hand they’re also passionately attached to the ideal of breaking into the modern world. Therefore they’re often ambivalent, they’re often not quite clear as to the direction in which they want to go. And here, if we provide them with some kind of model—as a total political entity or as individuals—they will respond. For here are people to whom we can talk. If we tell them, for example, that one of the ways to achieve the development they so passionately desire without totally destroying the roots of native culture, is to build a pluralistic society, as against the model of centralization that is presented by the East; if we could show them that what is essential is to have a dispersed elite with roots in trade unions, in independent universities, in independent newspapers, etc., rather than an elite that is totally centralized (as the pattern now begins to emerge, let us say, in a place like Ghana)—then, I think, we would have a chance to prevent these countries, which are not going to go in the direction of liberal free enterprise anyway, from going in the direction of totalitarian centralization either. But we have to find modes of approaching these intellectuals. We have to talk to them. We cannot, I’m convinced, talk to them if we simply say: Well, look, these are the realities, and what the heck can we do?

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

Mr. Morgenthau, how ineluctable do you think these realities are that everyone has been talking about and that Mr. Coser wants us to use our power to affect? Can we make reality, or can we change it quickly and significantly?

_____________

 

Morgenthau:

I think if our ancestors had argued in the same terms of insuperable political realities, we would still be a colony of Great Britain. It is exactly the mark of the statesman that he transforms political realities in order to serve his own purposes. In our time de Gaulle is the great example of a statesman who has not allowed himself to be limited by “political realities,” but who has set about to transform them. Certainly, if there was a political reality in France which seemed to be insuperable in 1958 or 1959, it was that Algeria was just another province of France, like Normandy or the He de France, and de Gaulle set about by devious—and, you may say, brutal—means to disabuse the French people of this conception of political reality. The congressional opposition to an intelligent and sufficient foreign-aid policy is a political reality in this country today in good measure because of the insufficiency of that policy and because of the lack of Presidential leadership. I criticize the present administration for this lack and I also criticized the previous administration on the same point. In 1956 I wrote a letter to the New York Times (which was even printed) in which I said that if I were a member of Congress, I would have great difficulty in voting for the foreign-aid appropriations that successive administrations are always demanding. For they always argue that anything less than the particular sum they are demanding would be a catastrophe for the United States, and yet the appropriation is always much less than they ask for, and no catastrophe occurs. In other words, it is the lack of an intelligent and intelligible American foreign-aid policy which in good measure creates the political reality that impedes sufficient appropriations.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

What would an intelligent and intelligible program look like? Could you give us some indication?

_____________

 

Morgenthau:

I haven’t got the blueprint with me, but I would certainly say that the philosophy which has been at the foundation of foreign aid so far, and more particularly the practice of foreign aid, have simply been unconvincing, unpersuasive. And I think it is somewhat misleading to make a kind of statistical inference from the amount of foreign aid spent for economic development and the number of people involved in certain underdeveloped nations, because our foreign aid has been very unequally distributed. Take the example of Laos, to which we have given a total of about $350 million in foreign aid, of which exactly half a million was earmarked for agricultural development and the rest was squandered in the most abominable fashion. If you want to read a detective story in which all the culprits are identified and yet go free, you ought to read the report of the subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations of June 15, 1959. It is an absolutely fascinating and amazing story.

_____________

 

Gass:

A good deal of money was spent after that—I mean in Laos.

_____________

 

Morgenthau:

All right, but in any case if you were a Congressman and you read this kind of story of incompetence and thievery, you would certainly hesitate to vote for exactly the amount of foreign aid that the administration was requesting. I remember when I was in South Vietnam a couple of years ago, we had established under the auspices of foreign aid a school for radio repairmen, though in all of Vietnam, there probably aren’t enough radios to keep one repairman busy. When I was in East Pakistan, they had just delivered a whole collection of super-modern instruments for a tuberculosis sanitarium, without anybody being able to handle the equipment. Now I’m not citing these instances in order to compete with Congressman Passman, whose specialty is turning up examples of this kind of thing. I only want to point to the aimlessness of our foreign aid, of which this kind of thing is indicative.

_____________

 

Podhoretz:

Mr. Gass, you spoke before of being a moral and political interventionist, and I think this might be a good point at which to develop the idea. The scandal in Laos that Mr. Morgenthau has just been telling us about might be interpreted as an example of what can result from our reluctance to intervene directly in the affairs of the countries to whom we give foreign aid. Anyway, here is a case that doesn’t have all that much to do with cultural receptivity, the amount of capital invested, and the other factors that have been discussed today, but seems to have more to do with our failure to intervene directly. My question, then, is: would it be possible and/or desirable for us to play


Footnotes

1 Mr. Beichman is a free-lance journalist who contributes frequently to the Christian Science Monitor, the Columbia Forum, and other magazines.

2 Mr. van den Haag is on the faculties of New York University and the New School for Social Research.

3 Rabbi Hertzberg of Temple Emanu-el in Englewood, New Jersey, is co-author of the recently published The Outburst That Await Us.

4 Mr. Wyschogrod teaches philosophy at Hunter College in New York.

5 Mr. Friedenberg teaches education at Brooklyn College, and is the author of The Vanishing Adolescent.

6 Mr. Rosenberg teaches sociology at C.C.N.Y. and is an editor of Dissent.

7 Dr. Lifton teaches at Yale and is the author of Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.

8 Mr. Gans is the author of The Urban Villagers.

About the Author




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