Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Knowledge, Nationalism and development in the economics of Michel Chiha: An historiographic approach

Hachem Hicham, CRIISEA

Although classical and universal liberalism can be consistent with nationalistic interests, the distinction in the aftermath of Worldwar II elicited sharp antagonisms. Michel Chiha's solution was a liberal economic model to promote the struggle for the right to national self-determination against Pan-Arab attempts to annex Lebanon. Rather than emphasizing industrialization and protectionism, an original aspect in his reasoning is the role of knowledge and human capital as key drivers of economic development and national prosperity. As the intellectual ideas of Chiha shaped economic and political liberalism in modern day Lebanon, his work is widely quoted, in studies on political science, economic systems, history and Lebanese studies. Some scholars build their case on his lectures in the Cenacle Libanais which aim to promote a national identity constructed on a cultural and historical foundations dating back to Phoenician antiquity. Others draw the links with classical liberalism, with Rousseau and French enlightenment or may refer to the natural order of the Physiocrats. Despite the significance of this literature, little historiographic studies exist on the subject. A particularly unexplored research area is the link with economic nationalism. This paper seeks to show how Chiha reconciled liberalism and economic nationalism. How investment policies in knowledge and human capital are proposed as means to national prosperity and development are subsequent questions. In search of answers, a historiographic approach is proposed. A systematic textual analysis aims to draw the links between knowledge, human capital, liberalism and national interest. On the role of human capital, results of this approach show some original aspects and shed some new light on the interpretation of Chiha’s thought in relation to economic nationalism, and on our understanding of the dichotomy between liberal and national policies in a variety of capitalist societies in general.


Keywords: Michel Chiha, Human Capital, Political Economy, Liberalism, Economic Nationalism.