“The people want to bring down the regime” is the cry of the people of Libya. But what will they create? Well, that’s always the question with democracies. Guess who said
Democracy leads to anarchy, which is mob rule.
No surprise, it was Plato. Even “the best people,” perhaps especially them, those high-minded patricians who want an ethical, moral government, tend to fear that the people will become a mob. There are plenty of examples from history to back them up, but plenty more that show how popular government muddles its way towards more just government. I don’t know of any country that made that transition fast or that isn’t still struggling with its oligarchies.
Kristoff has a good column today on the Western racism involved imagining that Arabs, Africans and Chinese are somehow unfit for democracy.
But the piece to read is by Mark LeVine (Tikkun‘s longest serving contributing editor): “History’s Shifting Sands, The revolutions sweeping the Arab world indicate a tectonic shift in the global balance of people power.”
In Kristoff’s piece you still feel a little bit of the self congratulation Americans feel about their own democracy, along with the magnanimity to believe others are capable of it too. In LeVine’s, you get the sense that many of us have watching these Arab uprisings, that their democratic energy is by far eclipsing ours at present. He doesn’t downplay the value of the example of Western democracy, but he is also clear-headed about what it has always lacked, not least in Western attitudes to the Arab world:
Ever since Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, the great Egyptian chronicler of the French invasion of Egypt, brilliantly dissected Napoleon’s epistle to Egyptians, the peoples of the Middle East have seen through the Western protestations of benevolence and altruism to the naked self-interest that has always laid at the heart of great power politics. But the hypocrisy behind Western policies never stopped millions of people across the region from admiring and fighting for the ideals of freedom, progress and democracy they promised.
Even with the rise of a swaggeringly belligerent American foreign policy after September 11 on the one hand, and of China as a viable economic alternative to US global dominance on the other, the US’ melting pot democracy and seemingly endless potential for renewal and growth offered a model for the future.
But something has changed. An epochal shift of historical momentum has occurred whose implications have yet to be imagined, never mind assessed. In the space of a month, the intellectual, political and ideological centre of gravity in the world has shifted from the far West (America) and far East (China, whose unchecked growth and continued political oppression are clearly not a model for the region) back to the Middle – to Egypt, the mother of all civilization, and other young societies across the Middle East and North Africa.