Blogs > Liberty and Power > Stanislav Andreski - Latin America and Africa

Jul 11, 2005

Stanislav Andreski - Latin America and Africa

In our recent post, we discussed Alvaro Vargas Llosa’s important new book on Liberty for Latin America . Vargas Llosa was influenced by Stanislav Andreski, one of the key figures in the long tradition of classical liberal social analysis and for many years head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Reading in England.

Bob Geldof’s Live 8 concerts are generating considerable publicity for the movement to forgive the rapidly escalating debt of governments of developing countries and to commit even more foreign aid to these governments. Andreski wrote deeply insightful works regarding the pathologies that have mired the populations of both Africa and Latin America in poverty and misery. His analysis offers little comfort that the measures favored by the Live 8 promoters would do anything to relieve these tragic conditions. Instead, these measures are certain to strengthen the political elites that, in the words of Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of South Africa’s president, “have squandered [Africa’s] wealth and choked its productivity over the last 40 years.” Vargas Llosa would no doubt echo these sentiments for Latin America.

In 1966, Stanislav Andreski wrote Parasitism and Subversion: The Case for Latin America - to this day one of the best social analyses of the evolution of the State in Latin America. Andreski believes parasitism is key to understanding the limited and uneven economic development of Latin America.

Andreski observes that:

Parasitism exists in all human societies: everywhere there are people who succeed in obtaining a large share of wealth without in any way contributing towards its production. There are, however, differences of degree which are of decisive importance; in some societies it is a residual phenomenon whereas in others it pervades the whole social fabric. Generally speaking, parasitism constitutes the most powerful brake on economical progress by destroying the link between the effort and the reward. It is also the foundation of social conflict, as Andreski drives home with this blunt characterization: “Once a society is pervaded by parasitic exploitation, the choice is only to skin or to be skinned.”

He credits Charles Comte, the great classical liberal social analyst in 19th century France, with first exploring in detail the harmful consequences of parasitism in the magisterial four volume work Traite de la Legislation published in 1826. As Andreski comments: “This great work still remains the most exhaustive survey of parasitism and class oppression.” For those interested in learning more about Comte without plowing through the four volumes in French, we highly recommend David Hart’s excellent discussion of Comte’s work in his “Class Analysis, Slavery and the Industrialist Theory of History” .

Andreski summarizes his core theme:

The pivotal contention of the present interpretation of the predicament of Latin America is that, speaking in broadest terms, it is the consequence of the original sin of conquest, which bequeathed to the republics customs and institutions which constitute an enormous obstacle to political order and economic progress. He discusses many different forms of parasitism and their impact on Latin American society, including kleptocracy (systematic corruption and theft), taxation, militarism and what he describes as the parasitic involution of capitalism. On militarism, Andreski comments that:

Militarism has become introverted in the Latin American republics: with few opportunities to fight for their countries, soldiers remained preoccupied with internal politics and the search for personal and collective advantage. On the parasitic involution of capitalism, Andreski writes:

. . . by parasitic involution of capitalism I mean . . . the tendency to seek profits and to alter market conditions by political means in the widest sense of that word. This tendency is by no means unknown outside Latin America: it is absolutely ubiquitous but its intensity marks off the indigent from the affluent societies. Andreski shifted his focus from Latin America to Africa in The African Predicament: A Study in the Pathology of Modernisation , published two years later. Andreski writes: “. . . the present book is in many ways a companion volume to my Parasitism and Subversion: The Case for Latin America which also deals with the social mechanisms perpetuating misery and strife.”

Andreski argues that sociological analysis is key to understanding the poverty and strife of African societies. He maintains that

Economic theory will remain a steel construction built on foundations of sand until our understanding of non-economic factors is brought to the same level of generality and sophistication as the study of the strictly economic matters, so that economic and sociological theory form a continuum. In this context, Polly Hill’s book, Development Economics on Trial , provides a useful complement to The African Predicament. While Andreski focuses on the political institutions and practices that have impeded development, Polly Hill provides deep insight into the complex and evolving social and economic institutions that stand in conflict with the political class. Hill’s book and Andreski’s book illustrate the power of integrating economic and sociological analysis. This analytic integration will be essential to building the deep insight required to fully understand and ultimately to change the institutions that have held society back.

Contrasting African and Latin American societies, Andreski observes that

Nowhere in Africa do we find well-established and large institutions of parasitic suction like those we can see in Latin America . . . The exploitation of man by man – and even more of woman by man – is done mostly on small scale but it is ruthless, all-pervading, and grafted on the still living traditions of slavery which nowadays often revive under the name of apprenticeship and education. In particular, Andreski zeroes in on kleptocracy, devoting an entire chapter to this concept and asserting that “the newly independent African states provide some of the closest approximations to pure kleptocracy that have been recorded.” Again, contrasting Latin America and Africa, Andreski comments that

. . . graft is rampant throughout Latin America but it constitutes there a relatively less important channel for the flow of wealth than in Africa; although the sums are relatively larger. . . . the proportion of wealth absorbed by bribes and embezzlement is limited by the political power of the old-established property-owning classes whose chief concern is to preserve their possessions rather than to multiply them quickly. In this context, Andreski is skeptical of the value of foreign aid, which suggests feeds the parasitic classes that have consolidated position in Africa:

In societies severely afflicted by parasitism the number of parasites seems to be governed by the amount of surplus . . . An augmentation of the surplus tends to increase the number of parasites and, therefore, their force in relation to the productive elements of society. Indeed, he is deeply critical of the partnership that emerged between former colonial governments and the parasitic classes that exploit African society.

In both his books on Latin America and Africa, Andreski emphasizes the role of the military as a key foundation of the state and obstacle to economic progress. In a future post, we will explore in more depth his analysis of the military and its role in shaping both the state and broader society.

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Roderick T. Long - 7/11/2005

Incidentally, for those interested in Comte (and I hope that someday "Comte" sans prénom will always means Charles and not Auguste!) I have the table of contents for his Treatise on Legislation and its sequel, the Treatise on Property, posted here and here. (I plan to host the works themselves in due course, but for now it's just the tables of contents.)

Brian Radzinsky - 7/11/2005

Andreski (via Vargas Llosa) is an important step in understanding how Latin America as a region could have mimicked the United States' situation so closely and yet failed so miserably. There is more to building a liberal state that just going through the motions.

David Timothy Beito - 7/11/2005

For more on the issues raised by Walter and John, readers might be interested in Victor Azarya and Naomi Chazan's Disengagement from the State in Africa: Reflections on the Experience of Ghana and Guinea.