Cartierism: A Doctrine of Decolonization and Pragmatism


Cartierism, named after the French journalist Raymond Cartier, is a doctrine that emerged in the mid-20th century amidst the winds of decolonization sweeping across the globe. It stands as a unique and somewhat controversial perspective, advocating for the abandonment of colonial ventures not based on moral objections, but on practical considerations.

At its core, Cartierism argues that colonialism, even veiled under the guise of economic assistance, has become a losing proposition for the colonizing power. The economic benefits, once a key driver of colonial expansion, are no longer substantial enough to justify the political, military, and reputational costs associated with maintaining colonies.

From Exploitation to Burden:

Cartierism emerged as a counterpoint to traditional justifications for colonialism. While some argued for the civilizing mission of the West, and others for the economic advantages of resource extraction and cheap labor, Cartierism shifted the focus. It instead highlighted the growing burdens of colonial rule:

  • Financial drain: Maintaining colonial militaries, administrations, and infrastructure proved increasingly expensive, especially in the face of rising nationalist movements.
  • Political instability: Colonial conflicts and insurgencies became costly and damaging to the colonizer’s international standing.
  • Moral quagmire: The brutality and exploitation inherent in colonialism faced growing public scrutiny and ethical condemnation.

Cartier, a keen observer of the Algerian War, saw firsthand the economic and political unsustainability of France’s colonial endeavors. He argued that Algeria, once seen as a jewel of the French empire, had become a “bottomless pit” devouring French resources and manpower.

Beyond Morality, a Realpolitik Approach:

Cartierism, however, was not merely an anti-colonial screed. It was a pragmatic doctrine, acknowledging the realities of power politics. It did not necessarily advocate for immediate and complete withdrawal from all colonies. Instead, it proposed a nuanced approach:

  • Negotiated independence: Granting independence to colonies where the will for self-determination was strong and the costs of maintaining control were high.
  • Gradual disengagement: Transforming colonies into autonomous partners or loose economic confederations, minimizing the burdens of direct rule.
  • Focus on national interests: Prioritizing France’s own economic and strategic interests over the perceived prestige of a vast empire.

Impact and Legacy:

Cartierism’s influence on French decolonization policies is debated. Some argue it reflected a growing public disillusionment with colonial wars, while others see it as a convenient justification for inevitable retreat. Nevertheless, it served as a powerful counterpoint to the dominant colonial narratives and resonated with a segment of the French public seeking a more realistic and cost-effective approach.

Beyond France, Cartierism’s ideas found broader resonance in the context of decolonization movements across Africa and Asia. It offered a rationale for newly independent nations to reject continued economic dependence on their former colonizers and chart their own course.

Criticisms and Limitations:

Cartierism has also faced criticism. Some argue that it is too narrowly focused on economic interests, neglecting the moral imperative of anti-colonial struggle and the human rights abuses inherent in colonial systems. Additionally, its emphasis on realpolitik can be seen as cynical and potentially overlooking the legitimate aspirations of colonized peoples for self-determination and cultural autonomy.

Cartierism’s enduring relevance lies in its challenge to simplistic narratives. It forces us to confront the complex interplay of economic realities, political pragmatism, and ethical considerations in the process of decolonization. While it may not offer a universal solution, it remains a valuable lens through which to examine the motivations and consequences of colonial power, and the ongoing struggles for freedom and justice around the world.

In conclusion,

 Cartierism is a multifaceted concept that deserves a place in the broader conversation about colonialism and its legacies. It reminds us that the decisions surrounding empires and their dissolution are rarely driven by singular motives, but rather by a complex web of factors where economics, politics, and morality are intricately intertwined. Understanding these nuances is crucial as we grapple with the unfinished project of decolonization and its reverberations in the 21st century.