Absolute Beginners

The Politics of Modernization

by David E. Apter
Chicago, 481 pp., $7.50

The Stages of Political Development

by A.F.K. Organski
Knopf, 229 pp., $5.75

The Third World

by Peter Worsley
Chicago, 317 pp., $5.50

The Economics of Developing Countries

by Hla Myint
Praeger, 192 pp., $1.95 (paper)

Any reviewer foolhardy enough to tackle the four books here under consideration must at the outset resolve not to be deflected into competitive theorizing about their subject matter. He may have his own notions as to the probable course of events in what is known as the “third world” of backward, pre-industrial, or “underdeveloped” countries. But if he values his peace of mind (not to mention his professional standing) he will be wise to keep these thoughts to himself. Yet however earnestly he may strive to restrict himself to the proper business of criticism, he cannot hope to eliminate his preconceptions as to the manner in which the subject ought to be tackled. If he has been brought up to believe that the proper approach is one that fuses political, social, and economic considerations, he is likely to be skeptical of ambitious syntheses which eliminate one or the other of these aspects. If his confidence is vested in specialist studies, he may yet feel the need for something more comprehensive. Lastly, if his background is European, he may suspect American scholars of being unduly concerned with the short-run implications of the East-West conflict. He may wonder, for example, why they find it embarrassing to have to admit the reality of class conflict, or the fact that over most of the inhabited globe, “free enterprise” fails to evoke a round of applause. He may even suspect them of having fashioned their conceptual tools for the purpose of demonstrating the existence of a specifically American way of studying the modernization process.

SKEPTICAL REFLECTIONS of this kind are less likely to obtrude themselves if the author is a specialist, and if his background is non-Western. Of the four books here under review, only Dr. Hla Myint’s concise little volume on the economics of industrialization meets these requirements. Complete detachment is not indeed to be expected even from an economist, nor is it particularly desirable. In Dr. Myint’s case there is the obvious consideration that, as an Indian holding a senior teaching post at Oxford, he is bound to reflect the intellectual temper prevalent among those Indian scholars who, being themselves fully Anglicized, tend to express themselves in the idiom of British neo-classical economic doctrine. It is not for nothing that the Economist described his work as “a model of dispassionate inquiry into the relevance of some of the main theories about economic development current in the last fifteen years.” Dispassionate it certainly is. It is also admirably concise, lucidly argued, and altogether an excellent introduction to the subject. Yet how much does it tell one about the real prospects of successful economic development in India, or for that matter elsewhere? Of necessity very little. The economist can only specify the general conditions which must be present for economic growth to get under way. He cannot tell whether the human “material” is adequate for the task, or whether the irrationality of the socio-cultural environment may not permanently block the chance of successful adaptation…

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