Non-Western Intelligentsias as Political Elites
Harry J. Benda
In the course of the past century, the non-western world has experienced a series of revolutionary changes, most, if not all, of them caused by the impact of western civilization on the traditional societies of Asia, Africa and the Middle East (and to some lesser extent also of Latin America). Since 1914, political evolution has proceeded at an accelerated rate, leading in recent times to the creation of new political, national entities, either by internal revolution or by the voluntary or forced withdrawal of western political control. In these states new political élites have come to power in many parts of the non-western world, and a pattern is emerging which allows some preliminary classifications of the new ruling groups.
Non-western societies can broadly be divided into two categories, those that have so far remained outside the orbit of westernization or have, at best, barely or only superficially embarked upon it; and those that have travelled along the road of westernization to a more or less marked and significant degree. The first group is fairly rapidly dwindling; its hallmarks are a continuation of the old socio‐ political moulds and mores, with political authority continuing to be vested in traditional élite groups. Some Arab sheikdoms, including (for the time being at least) Saudi Arabia, and the tribal societies in many parts of Negro Africa are the prototypes of this group.
Within the other category, that of westernizing non-western countries, two main types can be discerned. There are, first, those countries in which westernization—to whatever degree it has been or is being achieved—has actually been accomplished by traditional ruling classes, so that the revolutionary changes that have taken place in the process of
adaptation have left the pre-revolutionary power pattern more or less intact. One of the outstanding examples of this type was, of course, nineteenth century Japan, which achieved the fullest degree of westernization attained anywhere in the non-western world through the guidance of the samurai, a military-feudal class that adapted itself, and directed the adaptation of the rest of the country, to a modern economic and political order without abdicating its intrinsic control, even though in time it came to share power with other classes, notably a new economic middle class. 1
Other examples of this type can be found in more and more isolated instances in the Middle East, as e.g. Iran and (until recently) also Iraq. But the most numerous instances occur in the areas of the erstwhile Spanish and Portuguese empires in Latin America and Asia (mainly the Philippines). Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, an overseas extension of a feudal, pre-industrial west, through Christianization and cultural assimilation, called into existence a distinct social pattern whose main beneficiary was a class of either Spanish or mestizo landowners. It was they who either won independence from the mother countries (as in Latin America), or who at any rate gained social and economic prominence (as the cacique in the Philippines), where they only assumed political control under American aegis, after Spain had forfeited political control. By origin and education westernized, they naturally proceeded to lead in the further—but, compared to Japan, very slow—process of modernization while retaining political power in most parts of the former Spanish and Portuguese realms. The Mexican revolution of 1910 marked the first successful challenge to this socio-political status quo, to be followed by incidental upheavals in other parts of the area, notably Uruguay, Peru, and quite recently, in Cuba. As yet, however, the old pattern predominates. The fact that military dictatorships are such a common political institution in Latin America should not obscure the fact that in most cases (including Juan Perón until 1945) these military juntas are an offshoot of, and____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Political Sociology:A Reader. Contributors: S. N. Eisenstadt - Editor. Publisher: Basic Books. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1971. Page number: 437.
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