When journalists were going nuts a few years ago about the wonders of the wave of ‘revolutions’ that they decided to refer to as an ‘Arab Spring’, I was reminded how few modern academics, let alone journalists, have any understanding of history. None of the political analysts or professional pundits seemed to have much more of a clue about how things would INEVITABLY turn out, than babes in a wood.
Which is ridiculous, because you would imagine that anyone with a pretense of being worth consulting might have at least a clue that there might be historical parallels worth considering.
Frankly it is terrifying that our modern ‘chattering classes’ honestly seem to imagine that they are above being able to learn anything from history.
1848 of course saw a wave of ‘revolutions’ all across Europe, which many people at the time hailed as the inevitable downfall of the ancient regimes, and the prelude of the rise of true modern democracy. How sweet.
In fact, of course, the revolutions led to a re-imposition of the ancient regimes, or much worse dictatorships: often with harder edges to prevent such things happening again. In fact it can be credibly argued that the results of this wave of revolutions was to slow down the democratization of Europe by at least 50 years.
I suspect the same thing will result from the Arab Spring.
‘Revolutions’ tend to kick off way before the society as a whole is really ready for them. Usually as pre-emptive takeover attempts by the newly educated middle class ‘intelligentsia’, (or chattering class as we would call them, or ‘twitteratti’ as I have recently heard the political ‘pundits’ ruthlessly described).
Unsurprisingly these newly graduated minor functionaries, petty civil servants, and junior lawyers, want more say in the power structure of the state than the traditional ruling class has previously allowed them. Unsurprisingly – I suppose – they want it immediately… Or as Billy Connelly said in a skit, “We want it now, we want it yesterday, we want to control half of that, most of that, f….ing ALL of that, and stay awake, because tomorrow the demands will change!”
The problem with the proto middle classes jumping the gun and trying to impose their idealized version of democracy before the working class (read average voter) is even half way down the trail to a similar level of literacy and political interest and philosophical conceptualization: is that the resulting mad theories are far too complex for the voters, and NO imagined safe-guard can stand up to the combined ignorance and misunderstanding of the newly enfranchised. The result is, absolutely inevitably, a dictatorship.
Either one of the theoretical loony models is seized by a corrupt power seeker ‘for the good of the people’, and away we go to a Mussolini, or a Stalin, or a Franko, or a Goddafi, or a Castro, or a… well the list would go to a couple of hundred in the last century. Or worse, it is seized by the much more restricted number of ‘genuine believer’ nutters: like the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, who (like Hitler, Petain and Mao) honestly believed that the only way to give the people the government they deserved was “to rule myself!”
Please note that it IS possible to have a Res Publica – by the people – government, but only as long as it is by the ‘deserving’ few. The worst excesses of these proto-democracies can be undercut by an extreme limiting of the franchise – preferably to an effective oligarchy of voters narrow enough to be more self-interested in keeping control against the uneducated and undisciplines rule of the genuine majority, but this is hard to achieve. The Serene Republic of Venice achieved it for almost a thousand years by limiting the franchise to the great and the good families, and the early United States managed to hold it together for about 90 years by limiting it by racial profiling as well as property franchise… but note that both were, like all the Greek and Roman republics, slave based societies: so their claims to be genuine democracies are hopelessly confused to anyone with a consistent or comprehensible ideological viewpoint. In their case ‘the people’ simply meant, the deserving few that we will allow to vote.
This limiting of the franchise to the deserving actually continues in very successful – one could even say the ONLY successful – republics o the modern world. The ancient Greek and Roman franchises were honestly based on ‘those who contribute get a say’. Contribution a that time being buying the expensive armour yourself, putting in the training time, and taking the risk in the front lines of battle: to prove you put the good of the state and your fellow citizens above your own interests. (Though it is notable that their Republics almost instantly graduated to imperialistic and aggressive expansion, which pretty quickly made republican government unworkable, and inevitably led to such champions of democracy as Alexander the Great and Julius Ceasar.)
The only long term successful modern Republic – Switzerland – still has compulsory military service; as does Israel, the only successful democracy ever established in the Middle East.
The other ways to limit the franchise – Like the first (1770’s), second (1860’s) and third (1880’s) American attempts of a franchise limited by race/property; or the first (1790’s), second (1820’s) or third (1860’s) French attempts at a property based franchise (which often saw as few as 20% of people with a vote): were actually much less successful than the equivalent slow Westminster style expansions of the franchise under a developing constitutional monarchy. (No Western Westminster system state has ever had a coup, let alone a civil war.) France has had 5 republics, 3 monarchies and 2 emperors in less than 200 years; and the United States has similarly run through several major reformations of their race/property franchise system since their – 600,000 dead – little debate about their system.
(The American comparison with France is amusing. The first American republic was smashed by the Confederate Defection; the second was an anti-democratic imposition on the South – with no voting rights for Confederate ‘activists’ – after the Confederacy War of Independence was crushed; the third ‘republic’ was when the white southerners were re-enfranchised and promptly disenfranchised the blacks who had been the only voters in the south for the previous 20 years – and whose elected black representatives had not been allowed in the front door or the dining rooms of Congress; the fourth republic… well you get the idea. The US system, with all its defectioins, jumps and retreats, simply can’t be called a continuously expanding development the way Westminster systems are.)
Which is all a round about way of pointing out that the ‘republics’ in the Middle East, and particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, simply cannot work.
The absolutely vital elements of a successful democratic component of government (note – component of a system, not the entire system): is that there be a literate population; a free and enquiring press; a well developed and just rule of law; and a tradition of give and take being acceptable to the society.
Tribal societies have none of these things. That is why democracies have consistently failed in African countries where tribalism is still the most important element. (In fact politics in some of these places is still largely a competition between which tribal groups served in the imperial militaries, versus which served in the imperial civil services. With very bloody competition between the two.) The fact that illiteracy is rampant; free presses almost non-existent; and the rule of law where judges are not beholden to tribal interests, or simply threats, doesn’t exist: makes democracy impossible to sustain.
Muslim culture has none of these things. A system where a woman’s evidence in court is one third of a man’s – and dhimmitude is recognized even if slavery officially isn’t – is unlikely to have these things. And for literacy, free press, or rule of law, see Africa, but doubled.
It is also possible to suggest that without a clear understanding of the logic of natural laws, you can’t have a democracy. The fact that Muslim scholarship specifically rejects natural law on the basis that Allah can cause anything, so there are no ‘natural laws’, means you cannot have these things. The reason the Muslim world lost its scientific supremacy of the 11th and 12th centuries relates specifically to their decision to turn their back on empirical evidence. Without that basic understanding, I do not believe democracy is possible. (In fact that basic approach helps explain why democracy is actually anathema to good Muslims, and why Boko Haram literally means ‘Western education is evil’!)
So the concept that an ‘Arab Spring’ could work in the Middle East is a sad indictment on the Western media and ‘intelligentsia’s’ failed understanding about how democracy works.
In fact the entire deluded Western project of attempting to impose ‘republics’ on tribal societies as part of post-colonialism ,is an indictment on the western fantasy that republics are workable, let alone good things.
Let’s face it, no western republic, even in the most educated, literate, and rule of law abiding parts of the Anglosphere, has survived a first century without a collapse and or bloody civil war. The most ‘successful’ Western republics have included the American (see above), French (see above), Weimar (heard of the popularly elected Adolf Hitler?), Italian (50 governments in 50 years), Greek (how’s that brilliant financial planning going?) and Polish (are they on their 3rd, 4th, or 5th?). Those are the good ones. 90% of all republics ever founded in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, have collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, mass murder, or ethnic cleansing, within 20 years of being set up.
And that’s what we thought would work in the Middle East?
To be fair, the British set up monarchies, in the hope that they would become constitutional monarchies (which were their experience of something that might actually get somewhere). Jordan seems to be succeeding; the Gulf states are so successful few want to change; and Egypt was derailed by the Soviets and Americans playing Cold War games. The French tried to set up republics (god knows why, their's and never worked) in Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, and other places. In the words of Dr Phil, ‘How’s that working out for you?’. The Americans successfully undermined the Egyptian and Iranian attempts to get constitutional monarchies off the ground, and celebrated the resulting republics... very briefly. The second in particular no longer looks a very clever move.
The latest American attempts to force republics on Afghanistan and Iraq have been absolute disasters.
Afghanistan might, might… have worked if the Americans had understood that such a tribalised society required a House of Lords of all the powerful tribal leaders and major clerics, to balance and elected representatives. (But of course it would still need some sort of monarch to make it work, because, as Machiavelli pointed out, you need 3 powers in balance, so any two can stop the third from dominating!).) Or they could just have a system where the two major components completely ignore each other while they compete for control , and leave an easy opening for the return of the Taliban.
Iraq might, might… have worked with a federal system of at least a dozen ethnically based states that each had two representatives to a senate that had the right to block the excesses of an elected house where a 50% majority could get revenge on everyone else for every slight since the death of the prophet. Or they could go for a more simplistic version of a republic, and get what they inevitably got.
Why couldn’t the Americans have kept their big fat ideologies out of it, as they largely did after the first Gulf War. Kuwait is no great shining beacon, but it doesn’t suffer from the American idealism that lead to Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Iran!
Which brings us to the fundamental problem. The Western media and intelligentsia don’t seem to have a clue that the issues in the Middle East are not related to competing political ideologies, but to competing religious tribalism.
The ongoing conflicts throughout the region, and in other parts of the world, are not about democracy versus monarchy; or fascism versus communism; or imperialism versus freedom. Or indeed any of the other childish ideologies Western journalists fell in love with during their undergraduate post modernist deconstructionalist courses by failed ex-Trotsky’s, who simply can’t accept that the last century has proven how appalling and basically evil their over-simplistic ideologies are. (Yes Comrade Corbyn, that’s you and your gushing twitteratti I am slamming!)
In fact the problem in the Muslim world is that they are entering the third decade of the Muslim Civil War.
The Sunni’s and Shia’s are at about the point that the Roman Catholic’s and the Protestants were at in Europe in the 1620’s to 30’s, and it is only going to get worse. That war was ideaological, and paid very little attention to national boundaries. This one is the same. The Christian 30 Years War is about to be repeated in a Muslim civil war, and 30 years might be an optimistic number.
Interestingly the Christian’s split over 3 or four centuries, into Orthodox and Roman, then split again into Albigensian and Protestant etc. Eventually it got to the point, after 14 or 15 centuries of slow development, that major conflict broke out. Is it co-incidence that the Muslims have followed a similar path? Is it inevitable that after 14 or 15 centuries of existence, they too are having a major internal conflict? Or is it just that a century of renewed prosperity and development (largely brought on by Western intrusion into their secular affairs) has given them the semi-educated proto middle class who traditionally stir up revolutionary stuff they don’t understand?
Whatever the reasons, stupid Westerner’s are eventually going to have to admit to a few of realities.
1. No matter how much you fantisise about the functionality of republics and democracy, you can’t impose systems that don’t work in places that don’t have the necessary pre-requisites.
2. No matter how much literacy or free press you do manage to push in, you can’t impose rule of law and understanding of natural law on societies that have very specifically rejected such concepts for 8 or 9 centuries.
3. No matter how much your secularist ideologies (developed from safely behind 2 millennium of Christian teaching that accepts rule of law and natural law) is offended, you cannot expect a similar acceptance from people whose cultural development of such beliefs is several centuries behind the West.
4. No matter what you want to believe, the Muslim civil war is happening.
Let’s hope we really are at least half way through the 30 years…