The Enlightenment and Economic Development

Baobab dawn
The Enlightenment and Economic Development - Matthew Scharf


Sustained economic growth is a uniquely modern concept. World per capita incomes, after millennia of stagnation, only rose significantly at the end of the eighteenth century. This development first took off in Western Europe, and it has largely not taken place in sub-Saharan Africa. This divergence is due, in part, to an interconnected series of Enlightenment-era cultural trends in Europe epitomized by the rise of the developmental state based on a social contract, the increasing influence of rationality and applied science within the economy, and the encouragement of economic development by religion. These trends represented a cultural shift toward individualism in the political, economic, and religious spheres of the Western world during the Enlightenment and stand in stark contrast to Sub-Saharan Africa’s postcolonial culture of collectivism and ineffective development strategies based on Pan-Africanism and statism. As such, the prospect of future economic development in Africa along a Western path would require a cultural transformation.


The call for Africa’s renewal, for an African Renaissance, is a call to rebellion. We must rebel against the tyrants and the dictators, those who seek to corrupt our societies and steal the wealth that belongs to the people.
       ~Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President of South Africa, 1994-1999, President, 1999-present[1]

On the whole, the school which owed its origin to Locke, and which preached enlightened self-interest, did more to increase human happiness, and less to increase human misery, than was done by the schools which despised it in the name of heroism and self-sacrifice. I do not forget the horrors of early industrialism, but these, after all, were mitigated within the system. And I set against them Russian serfdom, the evils of war and its aftermath of fear and hatred, and the inevitable obscurantism of those who attempt to preserve ancient systems when they have lost their vitality.
       ~Bertrand Russell[2]

The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.
       ~Karl Marx[3]


On April 27, 1994, Nelson Mandela’s presidential election crowned the birth of multi-racial democracy in South Africa and the death of apartheid, a remnant of Africa’s long history of violent racial oppression. Earlier that same month, the assassination of Rwanda’s president, Juvenal Habyarimana, sparked ethnic conflict and the massacre of 800,000 people. This pattern of simultaneous gains and losses may appear unique to Africa, but in fact, it has been the world’s pattern for almost the entire history of humanity. Maddison’s research data shows that growth in per capita income in every region of the world was static until the end of the eighteenth century, slowly accelerated in the nineteenth, and exploded in the twentieth.[4] Yet this growth in per capita income largely did not occur in sub-Saharan Africa.[5] In 1820, Western Europe’s per capita income was four times that of sub-Saharan Africa; currently, the gap is more than twenty to one.[6]

Politicians and theorists have proposed numerous panaceas to rectify this disparity since the end of the Second World War: investment, independence, education, socialism, capitalism, property rights, microfinance, etc. Some strategies have been abandoned, others have been modified, still others have yet to be tried. In large part, Africa’s schizophrenic development strategies can be traced to three essential questions without definitive answers: First, What causes economic growth? Second, Why did it begin in Western Europe? And third, Why hasn’t it occurred in Africa?[7] A brief survey of attempts to answer these questions would take many volumes, but one prominent obstacle can be summarized succinctly: the role of culture in development is poorly understood. As much as increased technology or a change in economic strategy, the cultural shift Europe underwent from 1688 to 1789 known as the Enlightenment made the first period of sustained economic growth possible.

In speeches and conferences, Thabo Mbeki has said that reform and the pursuit of economic development are part of an African Renaissance, a renewal of African culture and civilization similar to Europe’s resurrection from the depths of the Middle Ages.[8] The historical parallels, however, do not fit. In order to achieve economic growth along a path similar to Western Europe, Africa must draw more from Europe’s Enlightenment period than from its Renaissance. In order to examine this notion, this paper includes five sections, analyzing: 1) the mechanisms of economic development; 2) the importance and definition of culture; 3) the way in which the Enlightenment in Europe fostered processes leading to a path of economic growth; 4) the cultural roots of postcolonial Africa’s divergent economic path; and 5) a conclusion outlining the challenges Africa faces in seeking economic growth in lieu of its cultural variation with the West.[9]

Economic Development

The mechanisms for achieving growth in world per capita income fit into four broad and often overlapping categories, each based on increasing aggregate supply per unit of labor.[10] The first economic mechanism for achieving growth is the exploitation of economies of scale based on the size of the firm or the market. This process lowers the average cost of producing a good. Growing cities such as Florence during the thirteenth century and London during the nineteenth century created economies of scale by providing a larger local market for a wide variety of professionals and tradesmen as well as generating larger businesses by which more workers were hired.[11]

The second mechanism, increased productivity per worker, results from increased resources per worker, or the more efficient use of current resources. The logic behind this growth in productivity (combined with economies of scale) explains the trajectory from village foundries in the middle ages to multi-national steel corporations today. Smith’s famous “division of labor” framework, however, is not the only means of increasing productivity. Gains from “learning by doing” as well as increased amounts and efficiency of capital each make individuals more productive.

The third mechanism, increased gains due to non-zero sum economic interactions—sometimes called cooperation or synergy—produces the overall gains that arise when any two people, villages, countries, or continents conduct mutually agreed upon transactions rather than remaining isolated or sending a raiding party the other’s way. The possibility of non-zero sum gains, which have risen inversely to the decreasing cost of information, inherently incentivizes the growth of trust-creating institutions from political unions to property rights.[12]

Increased incorporation of production factors into the economy, the final mechanism of development, is partially a statistical phenomenon. For example, it includes counting “traditional” labor such as child-rearing in the formal economy. Nevertheless, it also refers to growth that results from incentivizing laborers to work longer by paying them according to product or time spent. The incorporation of production factors such as gold from Africa or North America by colonial powers resulted in a mix of statistical and real economic gains.

Each of these endogenous mechanisms for growth must be considered in the context of two exogenous factors: technology and culture. The exogeneity of technology is imperfect but based on the inability of most people in the world, as well as most nations, to advance the level of world technology. Whereas most countries have a leader or government that can change trade policy, labor restrictions, or even entire national economic system, few countries have the means, nor is the path clear, to plan and achieve a technological breakthrough. Additionally, it is difficult to keep new technology from spreading beyond state boundaries over a medium time horizon. This means that the potential supply of technological products and knowledge is roughly level among countries, and that this relationship cannot be easily modified. Nonetheless, the level of technology is directly relevant to each of the four mechanisms, as economic history shows.[13]

Culture Matters

While the importance of technology is almost universally recognized, the vital role of culture in the process of development has received less support and has frequently resulted in confusion rather than feasible growth strategies. It is difficult to disentangle culture from economic growth because of the difficulty in measuring it using reductionist variables. Oftentimes, culture is used as a deux ex machina to explain problems which otherwise exhaustive works cannot clarify. At the end of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes writes, “If we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference.”[14] He then notes that both the effects of culture and the magnitude of its effects vary across time and space, and that cultures are dynamic, thus leaving development theorists in the unenviable position of knowing that culture is important but not knowing exactly why or how important, or what can be done about it. Lawrence Harrison sums up the situation: “Most economists are uncomfortable dealing with culture, particularly since it presents definitional problems, is difficult to quantify, and operates in a highly complex context with psychological, institutional, political, geographic, and other factors.”[15]

The difficulty of defining culture has not stopped many from trying. Modern political scientists have defined culture as durable, “relatively coherent clusters of attitudes” shared to a certain degree by individuals within a society and driving other outcomes.[16] When culture is used generically in this paper, it will refer to the attitudes, rules, and mores which influence interpersonal and social interactions as well as the institutionalization of these attitudes, rules, and mores in governmental and societal constructs. This definition is meant to capture elements that exist independent of technology and geography yet differ among societies either across space or time.

The European Enlightenment

The European Renaissance, which began in Italy during the fourteenth century and subsequently spread throughout Europe, was most notable for the revitalization of art as epitomized by Michelangelo’s David and for the re-discovery of works by scholars such as Plato, Cicero, and numerous Muslim natural philosophers. Roughly speaking, the Renaissance ended with the descent of the Catholic-Protestant conflict into full-fledged European war in 1618. The Peace of Westphalia resolved the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, reaffirming each ruler’s right to choose an official religion yet mandating tolerance for individual religious choice. In this way, the religious wars of the seventeenth century fatally wounded the premise of compulsory religious belief in Europe by leading to the general insulation of religion from politics.[17]

The Enlightenment era in Europe began with William III’s ousting of James II as King of England in 1688 and consequent acceptance of the throne subject to increased parliamentary power and lasted until the French revolution in 1789. Demarcating the temporal boundaries of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment is important for grounding the political and cultural acceptance, though not always the origin, of certain ideas.

The importance of the Enlightenment, defined by Dorinda Outram as “a capsule containing sets of debates, stresses and concerns,”[18] for the economic development of Europe rests on the trend affirmed by society regarding the popular roots of political legitimacy, the developmental purpose of government, and the sympathetic attitude of religion to wealth. Though these answers remain in flux, the fundamental premises underpinning each changed during the Enlightenment. In each case, these changes fostered economic growth. On the whole, both religion and the compulsion of religious groups to act in concert, discredited during the religious wars of the seventeenth century, were replaced by a cultural shift toward rationality, progress, and the agency of individuals in an era of increasing technology and scientific knowledge. By the end of the eighteenth century, the role of the individual had been fundamentally strengthened in the political, religious, and economic spheres.

Prior to the Enlightenment, the legitimacy of Western governments rested on the patriarchal role of the ruler to his subjects: like a father, the ruler defends his children from danger and requires obedience in return. St. Augustine (354-430), writing The City of God after the sack of Rome in 410 A.D., reconciled the co-existence of a pre-eminent Church and secular states run by earthly princes provided they were submissive to the Church.[19] This premise, held throughout the Middle Ages, was still dominant in the 1640s when Robert Filmer (1588-1653) wrote Patriarch: or The Natural Power of Kings in response to nascent claims that subjects had the right to resist tyrannical kings.[20]

The works of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704), together with the failure of governments during the seventeenth century to provide peace by reconciling the schism among Lutheranism, Calvinism and Catholicism, tore down the model of government built on paternalistic religion and replaced it with a model built on a “social contract” through which the governed bestowed legitimacy on the government. Locke advocated a “liberal” parliamentary system through which the will of the majority would be transmitted.[21] Because he finished his important writings “just at the moment when the government of his country fell into the hands of men who shared his political opinions,” his influence on the cultural shift toward liberalism is evidenced by William III’s acceptance of increased parliamentary power in England.[22] Locke’s writings were also a direct inspiration for the American constitution in 1783 and the French Revolution of 1789.

If the purpose of government was no longer to reflect the will of God or to demand unquestioned obedience to laws, a new role for the state was necessary. Locke believed that this role was the protection of property; this view, largely adopted in England, fostered economic growth among the land-owning class.[23] The illiberal nature of this role was mitigated by increasing property ownership and made consistent with modern liberalism through the redefinition of an individual’s labor as property to be bought and sold.[24] Perceiving the need for an even broader goal, government officials such as Seckendorff (1673-1763) in Prussia and theorists such as Voltaire (1694-1778) in France claimed that progress and social reform were the function of the state.[25] Justi (1717-1771), a German political economist, wrote, “A properly constituted state must be exactly analogous to a machine…and the ruler must be the foreman.”[26] The idea that the state exists not just to maintain peace, but to promote progress, became a cultural premise adopted by state leaders in addition to political theorists. Joseph II (1741-1790) of Austria compared himself to a bureaucrat compiling information, and Frederick the Great (1712-1786) of Prussia described himself as the “First Servant of the State.”[27] During this time, the state intervened in the lives of citizens to provide programs of public hygiene and elementary education.[28] The dual legitimating strands of state protection for an increasingly large group of property owners and a state responsibility for progress resulted in the modern developmental state.

The changing role of the State during the Enlightenment corresponded to a similarly sweeping cultural shift in the position of Christianity toward the accumulation of wealth. Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians such as St. Jerome and St. Augustine held that holding wealth was unjust[29]; Benedictine and Franciscan monks took vows of poverty based on Biblical passages such as, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”[30] Calvin, the Puritans, and the Reformed Protestants of America’s Great Awakening in the 1730s explicitly rejected this doctrine. Calvin wrote, “It is even a great blasphemy against God to disapprove of riches…For where do riches come from, if not from God?”[31] By the eighteenth century, Protestant men were free, almost compelled, to make money.[32] This shift, according to Weber, transformed Western civilization. He writes, “The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic sector.”[33]

The ‘cosmos’ of the modern economic sector, in which a vital feature is growth, was built on the premise of increasing knowledge and the authority of rationality and science over religion. This represented a reverse of the Augustinian bargain, with a re-separation of the Church and State, this time based on the submission of the Church to the secularization of science and the economy. One result, the acceleration of technological innovation which occurred between 1760 and 1770—applied rather than theoretical science—truly upended society.

This period of rapid technological change, coming on the heels of massive political, societal, and religious change, led to three intersecting revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century: the American Revolution, beginning in 1776 and culminating with the ratification of the American Constitution in 1788 and Bill of Rights in 1791; the Industrial Revolution whose shape was both described and prescribed by Adam Smith in 1776; and the French Revolution, which began in 1789 and ultimately plunged Europe into war. These revolutions took different forms and followed different paths, but they shared common cultural premises and lack of historical antecedents. They were caused by societal shifts unique to the beginning of the first sustained period of economic growth in history.

Africa’s Postcolonial Economy and Culture

Many politicians and academics have attributed the differences between Western and African development to colonialism and slavery, but this assertion oversimplifies distinct ends and outcomes. European growth was not dependent on colonialism. First, it was almost entirely self-sufficient in foodstuffs, raw materials, and capital in the nineteenth century; second, non-colonial countries developed more rapidly than colonizers; and finally, the slave trade from East Africa to Arabia was just as devastating, if not moreso, than the West African trade, yet no similar development occurred.[34] Slavery and colonialism did, however, undermine African culture and constrain its economic development. It was not a development strategy for colonizers, but rather a strategy to prevent the colonies from developing. Sandra Halpern states, “Colonialism was, first and foremost, a form of protection for dominant groups seeking…to preserve their monopoly position at home.”[35] Erik Reinert adds, “Colonies were regions where…synergetic interaction was not intended to take place…The prohibition of manufacturing industries—whether explicit or de facto—is the key element in any colonial and neo-colonial policy.”[36] These limits to the growth of Africa were successfully enforced during the colonial era. Like the rest of the world, Africa experienced negligible growth during the Middle Ages; the processes of colonialism and slavery helped ensure that this continued even as sustained Western growth began.

Europe’s domination of the African continent, epitomized by the Berlin Conference’s (1884-1885) formal decision to partition Africa into rigid colonies, stunted potential developments in indigenous political, religious, and technological change like those that emerged in Europe during the Enlightenment. However, since the wave of successful African struggles for independence in the 1950s and 60s, Africa’s leaders and its people share responsibility with neo-colonial[37] factions in the Western world for the continent’s economic mismanagement and political stasis. The result is a culture conscious that its governments are often illegitimate and that the modernization of its economic system is failing. African states face large gaps in overall development and the availability of domestic finance; they have been largely unable to diversify and remain primary product exporters; and they continue to suffer from dehabilitating ethnic conflict.

Many Western countries faced similar structural problems on their development path. Some—including Germany, Italy, and Poland—were late developers and long-suffering subjects of economic and cultural colonialism; development in Europe was most often financed by foreign banks; current members of the capitalist core, including Denmark, Sweden, the U.S., Canada, and Australia, began as primary product exporters; and finally, European states were also the product of great power domination and partition rather than ethnic or linguistic uniformity.[38]These similarities suggest that optimism in Africa is not misplaced. It should not, however, be overstated. As Samuel Huntington warns, “It is not the absence of modernity but the efforts to achieve it which produce political disorder.”[39] The process of development in Japan, the lone high-population, non-Western state to reach the highest stratum of per capita income, involved a revolution, decades of wages and work conditions rivaling the worst of England’s Industrial Revolution, and major wars with Russia, China, and the U.S.[40]

Africa’s postcolonial culture has been based on a number of fundamental concepts repeatedly stated by theorists and politicians, including two which have played a vital role in its development strategies: first, that it is correct to speak broadly of an “African” culture rather than a collection of national cultures; and second, that this culture places the community before the individual. When, in his 1996 “I am an African” speech, Mbeki claimed, “My mind and my knowledge is formed by the…victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert,” he was following in the philosophical tradition of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, who called for the “revival and development of the African Personality.”[41] Etounga-Manguelle, in response to claims that there are “50 Africas” or “as many cultures in Africa as there are tribes,” says, “There is a foundation of shared values, attitudes, and institutions that binds together the nations south of the Sahara.”[42]

Whereas the foundation of Western liberal culture is the individual, the foundation of African culture is the collective. Touré claimed, “Society and social organizations, with their spatial advantage, stand a better chance than individuals of uncovering truth.”[43] This principle was consistent with Nkrumah’s cardinal ethical principle of “collectivism” and Julius Nyerere’s political philosophy. Nyerere, the president of Tanzania from 1964 to 1985, believed that the “traditional African family” is the principle unit through which Africans understood life and could achieve development.[44] Etounga-Manguelle posits a nine-part systematization of African culture, but concludes, “If we had to cite a single characteristic of the African culture, the subordination of the individual by the community would surely be the reference point to remember.”[45]

These cultural touchstones—a sense of African unity and the primacy of the collective—manifested themselves in a three-part African post colonial development agenda incorporating a mixture of Pan-Africanism, socialism, and statism. As early as 1958, Nkrumah was convinced that the struggle for African independence and the struggle for African unity should not be separated. He predicted that without unity, African countries would be “too small to affect massive development programs…too poor and landlocked,” and would fall prey to a new colonialism by international organizations and the implicit interests of foreign governments.[46]Though many leaders agreed, they were unwilling to cede recently-won independence. In 1963, Nkrumah was forced to compromise; in order to secure the foundation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), he signed an agreement to freeze colonial borders in place.[47] This organization, however, was unable to either effectively maintain peace or promote development. In 2002, Mbeki presided over the launch of the African Union, another attempt at broader government, but fruitless, incoherent attempts to resolve crises in Zimbabwe and Sudan suggest that Nkrumah’s Pan-African goal remains far from realization. This continued division has encouraged ethnic conflict throughout the continent and dependence for Africa’s numerous landlocked countries.[48]

Africa’s historical underdevelopment during European colonization and its collective culture made socialism a natural development strategy after independence. For Nkrumah, capitalism denied the “African Personality” and was contrary to African society and its conscience.[49] Even African versions of capitalism, however, were often statist public enterprises. Ayittey notes, for example, the prevalence of price controls, state-owned industries, and state-organized collective farms throughout post colonial Africa.[50] This strategy was condoned—often encouraged—by Western governments, development institutions, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the belief that only strong governments, even military governments, could accelerate development and maintain security in Africa.[51] Faith in African governments dissipated after most of these strategies, having produced little or negative growth throughout Africa, were discarded during the debt crisis of the 1980s. In one representative case, the failure of Nyerere’s development strategy based on settlement villages led him to resign in 1985; his successor adopted the IMF’s structural adjustment policies calling for a “meaner, leaner” state shorn of many traditional welfare provisions.[52]

The coherence and durability of African culture, and its progress toward economic development, fell apart in the 1980s and remains fragmented. Foreign governments, international financial institutions, and NGOs make key policy decisions; socialism and the state have been discredited but capitalist reforms have been inadequately and unsuccessfully adopted; the state has become something citizens often try to avoid. According to Ayittey, the very existence of a government that “cares about its people, represents their interests, and is responsive to their needs…is delusion on a grand scale. In many African countries, the institution of government has been corrupted and transformed into a criminal enterprise.”[53] Ethnic conflict within Africa, often encouraged by Africa’s leaders and sometimes promoted by foreign governments, has been both a cause and result of economic failure.[54] It is possible that tolerance will follow Africa’s ethnic conflicts of the past half century in a manner analogous to Europe’s response to religious conflict of the sixteenth and seventeenth century.[55] The European process, however, was protracted, violent, and unpredictable. In Africa, Francis Fukuyama and others have cautioned that international efforts to impose peace settlements may have unintended consequences for long-term development by freezing unresolved conflicts in place.[56]

Africa’s development failure resulted in economies that, with a few exceptions, have grown slowly if at all. In 18 countries, per capita incomes were lower in 1999 than they were in 1975.[57]This trend, however, is reversing. Annual per capita income growth has averaged 3 percent since 2000 and the World Bank expects this figure to rise modestly in subsequent decades.[58]These growth expectations, however, are based in part on continuing high commodity prices and also on the tenuous expectation of relative peace. The first assumption is a function of global economic trends, but the second requires an African culture capable of encouraging and sustaining growth.

Prospects for an African Enlightenment

While the return of independence to Africa after centuries of brutal domination does represent a sort of renaissance, there has been, to date, no African parallel to the European Enlightenment. In the Western world, this period established a liberal framework for states consisting of governments legitimated by the governed through security and development, religious tolerance, and the primacy of rationality and individualism in the economy. These fundamental cultural changes led to societies capable of history’s first era of massive increases in per capita income. However, neither economic growth nor Enlightenment-era cultural principles are universally sought in modern Africa. As Zizwe Poe states clearly: “The ultimate philosophy for Africa in the twenty-first century…has to bolster the collective agency of the African People. This collective agency, performing optimally, is the only guarantor of cultural renaissance and stability… ‘Growth and development’ is not meant to indicate a mere vulgar accumulation or global economic integration but insinuates a higher valued human self-consciousness, a more humane social order, and socially responsible individual.”[59]

Despite, and sometimes because of, decades of recent advice from Western politicians and economists, African leaders and societies often chose development strategies after independence that did not seek to emulate Europe’s path. This was due to confusion (in both the West and Africa) about which processes lead to economic growth, to fundamental differences between African and Western culture and circumstances, and to the need for Africa to break from its colonial past. Africa’s strategies, however, have not produced growth in per capita income. The rest of the world developed rapidly over the past two centuries while Africa’s growth mostly remained stagnant, and this trend has continued since its independence.

An economic assessment of postcolonial Africa with respect to the cultural preconditions and accelerators for the mechanisms of growth provides insight regarding Africa’s economic past and future. Africa’s population has grown exponentially in the past century, but its statist policies have not led to the exploitation of potential economies of scale. Industrial policies insistent on the oversupply of national monopolies and the collectivization of farms exemplify this failure. Similarly, productivity growth in Africa has been hampered by low levels of education and ineffective governments characterized by the discouragement of investment and entrepreneurship due to institutional corruption and weak rule of law.

These problems and policies, manifested by the constant threat of state failure and conflict among competing ethnic groups and other factions, have kept societal trust in Africa relatively low, the cost of information high, and the economic gains from non-zero sum interactions low. In addition, the incorporation of underutilized factors of production has been discouraged by underinvestment and poor public health, and even reversed in some cases due to HIV/AIDS. Faced with this tragic disease, African governments have often been unwilling to adopt strategies that violate religious and cultural norms. With respect to each of the four growth mechanisms, Africa’s collective culture has failed to provide the necessary incentives for economic development.

Looking forward, development strategies that consciously seek to emulate Enlightenment-era cultural transformations would likely lead to social disruptions, instability, and even violence. Substantial cultural changes can be catalyzed by current strategies such as democratization, microfinance, increased education, new technologies, and female empowerment. However, such strategies, as they become more successful, will stimulate effective resistance by current elites or lead to a revolution. Huntington states: “A revolution is a rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its political institutions, social structure, leadership, and government activity and policies.”[60]

The Enlightenment in Europe engendered the American, Industrial, and the French Revolutions. These paroxysms of change reflected the emergence of deep-seated cultural shifts and reorganized societies along an individual, rational, and liberal framework that fostered sustained economic growth in Europe. These changes however, have not spread throughout the world. Such a dispersion has been limited by culture, geopolitics, and circumstances unique to states, regions, and continents. Indeed, the prospects for an African Enlightenment along a European path seem dim. The development strategies and policies chosen by African governments since independence appear to confirm this verdict. Nevertheless, though significant parts of Africa are mired in conflict and underdevelopment much like Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, cultural changes and, ultimately, even revolutions are possible. The changes wrought during the eighteenth century in Europe provide one map for modernization, and many countries and leaders aspire to the wealth and relative peace Western societies have achieved. The roots of the Enlightenment may yet take hold in Africa.

Notes & References

  1., 01 March 2008.
  2. Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, Rutledge Classics: London, 1946, 588.
  3. From the preface to Das Kapital as quoted in Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Penguin Books: London, 1992, p. 68.
  4. World population followed a similar trajectory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the acceleration of world population growth was already notable in the sixteenth century. See charts from Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty, Penguin Books: New York, 2005, pp. 27-28, and data from See Brian Snowdon, “The Enduring Elixir of Economic Growth,” World Economics, Vol. 7, No. 1, (Jan-March, 2006), pp. 73-130, p. 76 for more detail.
  5. “Africa” will often be used throughout this paper for sub-Saharan Africa. The utility of this traditional distinction is discussed in Stephen Chan, Grasping Africa, I.B. Tauris: London, 2007, p. 1.
  6. Sachs, 2005, p. 28.
  7. This final question can be asked about other regions as well, but by and large, these regions have made significantly greater progress than sub-Saharan Africa toward convergence with Europe per capita incomes in the twentieth century.
  8., 01 March 2008.
  9. The use of “Western” and the “West” throughout this paper refers to the cultural tradition that spread from Western Europe to colonies such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia, among others. The primary difference between these colonies and colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Indian subcontinent is the degree to which indigenous people either did not exist or were wiped out through disease and warfare.
  10. This focus on supply rather than demand is both intuitive and bolstered by highly technical arguments. Intuitively, demanding more may be related to, but cannot substitute for, the actual capacity to produce more. See works by Jean Baptiste Say (1767-1832), John Maynard Keynes, and Milton Friedman among others for a far more comprehensive treatment.
  11. Erik S. Reinert, How Rich Countries Got Rich…And Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, Constable: London, 2007, p. 73, and Benjamin M. Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, Vintage Books: New York, 2005, p. 54.
  12. Robert Wright, Nonzero, Vintage Books: New York, 2000, p. 6 provides a brief summary of this process in a book dedicated to the concept as a whole. On pp. 337- 343, he explains why using “non-zero sum gains,” the language of game theory, is preferable to “cooperation” or “synergy.”
  13. An interesting three-part typology of the inventions that mattered for the Industrial Revolution can be found in David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Abacus: London, 1998, p. 186 and a three-part explanation for the technological breakthrough in Europe can be found in the same place on p. 201.
  14. Landes, 1998, p. 516.
  15. Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington , (eds.), Culture Matters, Basic Books: New York, 2000, p. xxv.
  16. Robert W. Jackman, and Ross A. Miller, “A Renaissance of Political Culture,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 40, No. 3 (August 1996), pp. 634-635.
  17. Stephen Krasner, (Goldstein, Judith and Keohane, Robert O., eds.), Ideas and Foreign Policy, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1993.), p. 242. See also Outram, Dorinda, The Enlightenment, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1995, p. 36-39. Growing tolerance was not a simple process, as demonstrated by England’s Toleration Act (1689) and France’s Edict of Fontainebleau (1685, a revocation of the Edict of Nantes from 1598), two laws that had nearly opposite effects.
  18. Outram, 1995, p. 13.
  19. Russell, 1946, p. 337.
  20. Russell, 1946, p. 563.
  21. Fukuyama, 1992, pp. 156-158. See also Russell, 1946, pp. 502, 573-574. Locke is referring here to a majority of property owners.
  22. Russell, 1946, p. 552.
  23. Russell, 1946, p. 571. See also Landes, 1998, p. 214 and further information regarding the Enclosure Acts passed between 1750 and 1860.
  24. Paul Hyland, Olga Gomez, and Francesca Greensides, (eds.), The Enlightenment, Routledge: London, 2003, p. 193. The full shift to what the West considers modern liberalism only took place after the labor of slaves could not be bought or sold.
  25. Reinert, 2007, pp. xxi, 97.
  26. Outram, 1995, p. 96.
  27. Outram, 1995, p. 111.
  28. Outram, 1995, p. 112. See also Friedman, p. 58.
  29. Friedman, 2005, p. 43.
  30. Matthew 24:19, King James Version.
  31. Friedman, 2005, pp. 43-45.
  32. This newfound freedom/compulsion mirrored the Reformation’s earlier emphasis on the individual right and necessity to read scripture.
  33. Max Weber, (translated by Parsons, Talcott), The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, George Allen & Unwin: London, 1930, p. 181.
  34. Sandra Halpern, In the Mirror of the Third World, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1997, pp. 13-14 and George B. N. Ayittey, Africa Unchained, Palgrave MacMillan: New York, 2005, p. 105. See also Landes, 1998, p. 119-122, for an attempt to decide if the Industrial Revolution would have occurred without the Atlantic slave trade. His answer, in brief, is yes, but at a slower pace.
  35. Halpern, 1997, p. 13.
  36. Reinert, 2007, p. 77.
  37. It is possible that this word cannot be rescued from the divisive rhetoric in which it has often been employed. Here I am referring to Western business interests and international organizations, including non-governmental organizations, dominated by rich world countries. Both these factions can be proponents of both good and bad strategies and outcomes. The outsized influence of foreign countries on African states however, is rightly labeled neo-colonialism.
  38. Halpern, 1997, pp. 11, 8, 19, and 28-29. The partition of European countries referenced here refers to the Congress of Vienna from 1814-1815 following the defeat of Napoleon.
  39. Samuel P. Huntington, from Political Order in Changing Societies as quoted in Friedman, 2005, p. 297.
  40. For a description of labor conditions in Japan during its rapid industrialization, see Landes, 1998, pp. 381-391. One difference between Japan and England was the relative importance Japan placed on compulsory education.
  41. Daryl Zizwe Poe, Ama Mazama (ed.), In the 21st Century, Routledge: London, 2007, p. 40. A transcript of Mbeki’s speech can be found at, 08 May 1996
  42. Daniel Etounga-Manguelle (Harrison, Huntington, eds.), 2000, pp. 66-67.
  43. Zizwe Poe (Mazama, ed.), 2007, p. 37.
  44. Dani W. Nabudere (David Simon, ed. Fifty Key Thinkers on Development, Routledge: New York, 2006), p. 194.
  45. Etounga-Manguelle (Harrison, Huntington, eds.), 2000, p. 71.
  46. John K. Marah (Mazama, ed.), 2007, p. 22.
  47. Marah (Mazama, ed.), 2007, p. 22.
  48. See Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2007, p. 54 regarding landlocked countries in Africa. Collier, p. 25 presents a more nuanced approach to ethnic conflict.
  49. Babatunde Zack-Williams (Simon, ed.), 2006, p. 193.
  50. Ayittey, 2005, p. 177.
  51. Bill Freund, The Making of Contemporary Africa, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.: Boulder, CO, 1998, p. 266. Any account of development strategy and funding after WWII is incomplete without reference to Western and Soviet goals. American support of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, as just one example, cannot be explained by theories of development.
  52. Freund, 1998, pp. 257-258 and Nabudere (Simon, ed.), 2006, p. 196.
  53. Ayittey, 2005, p. 50.
  54. Collier, 2007, pp. 18-26.
  55. This possibility is discussed, though not asserted, in Fukuyama, 1992, p. 271.
  56. Fukuyama, 2006, pp. xvii, in foreword written for Huntington, Samuel P., Political Order in Changing Societies, Yale University Press: New Haven, 1968.
  57. Ayittey, 2005, p. 3.
  58. The Economist, “Booming Africa,” January 14, 2008.
  59. Zizwe Poe (Mazama, ed.), 2007, p. 45.
  60. Huntington, 1968, p. 264.
MATTHEW SCHARF studies Social Change and Development at the Bologna Center of the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He has field and research experience on development strategies in Argentina, South Africa, and Madagascar through Northwestern University, the School for International Training, and the U.S. Peace Corps.