Monday, April 04, 2005

Ye dare not stoop to less

Not the best-chosen AP headline: “World Gets First Glimpse of Pope’s Body.”

The WaPo has an op-ed piece on Zimbabwe that is typical of several I’ve seen the last few days in British and American newspapers in placing much of the blame for Mugabe stealing last week’s elections on South Africa in general and Thabo Mbeke in particular. This article says Mbeke “did everything... to signal that mass fraud would be acceptable.” It helpfully suggests, just as a ferinstance, that SA could have “strangle[d] its smaller neighbor’s economy by switching off its electricity.”

Now I yield to no one in my contempt for the corrupt, fascist thug Mugabe and I am appalled and disappointed by Mbeke’s continued support for him, but how exactly the white man’s burden passed to South Africa I’m not sure. Mugabe has been stealing elections for decades, and officially turned Zimbabwe into a one-party state in 1987, when SA was still an apartheid state and most ANC leaders were in prison. Mbeke’s negative opinion would have made no difference at all (and Mugabe is capable of strangling Zimbabwe’s economy all by himself).

There’s an unspoken assumption in all these pieces that there is a hierarchy of civilization and that those higher up, like SA, have a duty to instruct those beneath them, their “new-caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child,” just as we are now in articles like the Post’s instructing the South Africans in their duty. Presumably SA is higher up the ladder because it was run by white people more recently, so it hasn’t fully degenerated or “gone native” yet.

(Update: Matthew Yglesias says something similar here.)

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