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The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
Victor Boutros; Gary A. Haugen
Oxford University Press, 2014
368 pp., 27.95

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Robert Joustra

Gary Haugen Gets His Kuyper On

Why development without public justice is bound to fail.

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Again, nothing strikingly new here, as more than a few development experts have labored to show that "democratic institutions" and "public justice systems" which lack the underlying social architecture fast become empty forms, impositions, rootless institutions.

But I wonder if we don't then also need to hear from another 19th-century voice, one whom Kuyper much revered in his own day, that of Pope Leo XIII and his encyclical Rerum Novarum. Leo's bracing argument in that encyclical was about development too, about the deep and widening divisions between the rich and the poor, about the abuse of laborers, and about building sustainable systems of public justice. Only two years after Kuyper's "On Manual Labor," Leo wrote in Rerum Novarum that "if human society is to be healed now, in no other way can it be healed save by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions."

These two men, Abraham Kuyper and Pope Leo XIII, had much in common (evidenced by the Bavinck Institute hosting a consultation on Rerum Novarum in Rome this fall), but one of the most significant commonalities was their call for a public theology to underwrite a renewed social architecture, a robust public justice.

That is one of the somewhat conspicuous absences in The Locust Effect. Not that the International Justice Mission should somehow transform into church mission—the IJM's missiology of justice is very fine as it is—but in tackling the hugely important and enduringly vital work of state building and justice-making, there is less attention paid to the political cultures that must grow alongside, simultaneously with, the institutions of state and law. This gap is more conspicuous if only because of what Scott Thomas calls the context of the developing world, where strong religion and weak states are often the rule, and many social and political communities are struggling to make—or not to make—the same legal and political transformations that the developed world has undergone. This is not just because of the easy answer of corruption, but because sometimes the models of Westphalian statehood and its attendant sovereignty are repulsive to other political theologies. Hence today's explosively controversial debate over the nature of pluralism, of westernization vs. modernization, of what ideas and norms make possible, or are carried by, certain political forms and institutions.

The locusts of lawless violence, as Haugen and Boutros write, have indeed "been allowed to swarm unabated in the developing world … laying waste to the hope of the poor," but the high-water mark of public justice—the goal, if you will—is not only a state with the institutions to restrain violence, but a political culture which demands, over time, less of that restraint. I do not mean utopia, as though on this side of the eschaton the coercive power of the state (or its deterrence) will ever pass from need. I mean only that simultaneous to the technical institutions of justice must be the growth of political solidarity, of "faith in our common life."

The one sally Haugen and Boutros do make into political culture is the dynamic they call the 15-70-15 Rule, though they admit it has no social scientific basis. With it, they mean to say that 15 percent of the populace wake up intent to game the system in a predatory way, 15 percent wake up earnestly ready to do good, and 70 percent wake up waiting to see who gets the upper hand and follow along. That insight tracks with Hannah Arendt's report on the "banality of evil," though it also underscores how essential cultural formation is. The logical conclusion is otherwise not altogether different from most of the post-apocalyptic blockbusters in today's media marketplace: once the systems and institutions which secure our humanity collapse, a Hobbesian war of all against all will erupt (tellingly, Thomas Hobbes is invoked several times in The Locust Effect).

The metaphor that provides the title of The Locust Effect, then, is not one that I love: locusts are a plague of nature, of God, a sweeping deus ex machina, a devouring force of nature. The sin of the human heart certainly can seem that way, but the cultural formation of desire matters too: it deserves saying that it is not only the deterrence and protection that developed systems of public justice have in their favor, it is their broad public legitimacy. No public justice system, developed or not, can ward off the hordes of locusts Haugen and Boutros describe. The essential challenge is the root of the swarm, not only its deterrence. Law has a moral role, certainly, but it is not the only or even decisive source of such morality. This is precisely why religion being absent from any conversation about structural transformation in what Philpott, Toft, and Shah call "God's Century" seems a bit odd.

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