Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 11. 1965.
The Buchanan Thesis: A Criticism
The Buchanan Thesis: A Criticism
Sirs,—The other night I was invited to be exposed to Professor Buchanan of the Geography Department.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my reaction to that exposure. The professor's position may be summarised as follows:
• The war in Vietnam should be stopped by the immediate withdrawal of foreign, ie American troops. This would bring peace and an immediate boost to a depressed economy.
• To perfect that economy certain "human mobilisation" will be necessary to cope with the vast problems of limited resources and over-population. Although human mobilisation may result in a period of authoritarian control, such control is transient and can be expected to soften as the economy becomes more prosperous. During this period of economic growth, only endemic political processes should be allowed to determine the form and style of government.
• External involvement is to be limited to economic and technical assistance through international organisations so that foreign political influence is eliminated.
My reaction to this position is that it tends to emphasise economic considerations and fails to emphasise the place of politics in any country, even ones with subsistence economies.
Professor Buchanan's approach would subordinate politics for economic gain. It seems to me that one takes a very great risk in this.
There are too many historical examples to overlook. Politics were suppressed in the grant of arbitrary decision power to Hitler in the cause of unity and short-term goals. Likewise, the revolutionary goals of the Soviet Union and Communist China required an abandonment of politics for "temporary" economic and social objectives. This list goes on throughout recorded history.
I have never been able to accept the proposition of the withering away of the state from the position of dictatorship, whether a dictatorship of the proletariat or any other kind. I have not found it convincingly expressed by Engels and I do not find it convincing from Professor Buchanan.
On the other hand, we have seen the "Hundred Flowers" wither quite readily under the present governments in China and North Vietnam. This is surely not the way to restore politics. Looking at the whole of Chinese history, how can we have more than a mere hope that political freedom will become a part of Chinese life?
I would emphasise politics, then, rather than the short-term economic gains. By politics. I mean that activity which conciliates and accommodates differing interests within a given unit of rule, giving them a share in power in proportion to their importance to the welfare and survival of the whole community.
In South Vietnam we have tried to create a unit of rule which could become political. To create such a unit, there frequently must be a myth of the unit prior to its becoming a real and viable thing. For example, the Constitution of the United States created the myth of union before there was a feeling of nationhood.
A referendum in the states would probably have rejected the myth just as a premature vote in Vietnam might reject the myth there, too.
The same kind of myth applies to the United Nations at the present time. It cannot be said to be a government, and yet if it is to succeed, the members will have to act as if it is a government. Both the United Nations and South Vietnam may disappoint point us, but this alone does not justify abandoning them.
The point of the recitation of the three examples is that politics is, or should be prior to economic or social advantage. The politician Abraham Lincoln recognised this when he directed the Civil War, not to free the slaves but to save the union. The political order was important because only through the political order could the other problems be resolved.
Those who say that economic recovery will solve Asia's problems lack an understanding of both politics and totalitarianism. The choice is not fighting the hungry or hunger, but righting the apolitical for the chance of politics.
James C. Decker.