Discover more from The Palladium Letter
Palladium Archive: The Taliban Were Afghanistan's Real Modernizers
Only a powerful modernizing force could overcome the tribal loyalties that divided Afghanistan’s fragile state. That force was the Taliban.
The Palladium Letter is now offering new articles early to paid subscribers of our Substack and Palladium members who receive the print magazine. We’ve given all print members who subscribe to the newsletter free access.
The first of these free articles, “Why I Built Zuzalu” by Vitalik Buterin, is now live. Free subscribers can read a preview of the piece for now, but it will be published on our website at a later date.
We’d also like to thank everyone who has signed up so far. Palladium is a non-profit that depends on the support of readers like you to continue publishing navigation-grade theory and journalism.
The Taliban Were Afghanistan’s Real Modernizers
Last year, Palladium correspondent Tanner Greer published an article on the nature of the Taliban and the role they play in Afghanistan’s history. They are conventionally depicted as medieval reactionaries, and fighting this tendency was the basis of U.S. intervention. But as it turns out, the Taliban represented something of a modernizing force in the country—old Afghan identity was based on tribal affiliation and honor. But the Taliban built their power base among the mullahs, the religious teachers who arrived to villages as strangers. Their ideology was based in religion rather than kinship, and their Afghan nationalism reflected that:
This distinctive Taliban trait extended down the ranks. At the level of the common soldier, Taliban unity was less a matter of organization than ideology. Mullah Omar motivated the movement with declarations that freely mixed faith with nationalist fervor. In a typical 2009 proclamation, he declared that “The enemy upon our soil will not be content as long as we do not completely accept being their slaves. Freedom from slavery is the only path that the Quran has shown.” No matter what tribe they hailed from or what part of the country they served in, the Taliban insurgents knew they were engaged in the same project as their fellow Taliban: national liberation and jihad.
During the periods of Taliban control in Afghanistan, the policy was the same: bans were imposed on traditional beliefs that promoted tribal factionalism. It was this same factionalism that made the Afghan government unable to fight effectively against the Taliban.
This is an old story. The conquest of weak kingdoms and tribal orders by unitary state builders, fielding armies full of nationalist fervor and religious passion, was central to the West’s own journey to modernity. In the twenty-first century, the U.S. saw the same process repeat itself in Afghanistan—and fought it every step of the way. But American money and manpower could never have saved the old Afghanistan. In 2021, disciplined and united Taliban forces swept through the country. It was the end of the U.S. experiment in bringing the liberal order to Afghanistan. As Taliban fighters entered city after city, they arrived as the forces of a new and very different modernity.
Even though the Taliban represent a modernizing force, it is actually peace that has brought the Westernization that the U.S. fought hard to impose. In February, returning writer David Oks wrote about the creeping westernization he noticed among the Taliban during his time in Kabul.
Here’s what’s been on the front page lately:
The Wagnerization of Political Order by Alexander Gelland. Wagner Group arose out of Russia’s landscape of corruption, factionalism, and political fiefdoms. If similar conditions intensify in the West, powerful individuals will exploit the same opportunities.
PALLADIUM 11: Social Apocalypse. PALLADIUM 11: Social Apocalypse is now available to all Palladium members. Subscribe today to receive your copy of our fall 2023 print edition.
It’s Time For Greater San Francisco by Evan Zimmerman. The Bay Area is a regional economy hindered by fragmented local governments. The answer is consolidation into Greater San Francisco.
A New Cosmist Moment by Alexander Gelland. The Cosmists pursued visions of resurrection and immortality but ended up recuperated into Soviet ideology. Modern tech utopians are following in their footsteps.
The Only Reason to Explore Space by Marko Jukic. There is only one durable justification for space exploration. If we fail to understand it, our civilization will end on Earth, not among the stars.
That’s all for now.