Lieven on neo-cons

by Henry on November 20, 2006

There’s lots that I don’t agree with in Anatol Lieven’s reformulation of realism, but this quote from his LRB review of books on the Cold War (behind the subscriber wall) really has the number of the more rubble less trouble mob.

One important aspect of Westad’s book is the complex connection he makes between the US and Soviet modernising projects and racism. While both regimes insisted on their right to dictate values and solutions to the benighted peoples of the Third World, both also claimed that those peoples were capable of adopting them, doing so rapidly, and thereby joining the ‘socialist community’ or the ‘free world’. But because, in classic missionary style, both sides saw their truths as self-evident, their programmes as beneficial, and their own benevolence as beyond question, they often had no rational explanation to offer when their projects failed and their clients turned against them. In these cases, there was often an astonishingly rapid swing towards racist explanations. Currently, the neo-cons in America alternate between arguing that all Arab societies are capable of making rapid progress towards democracy (and that anyone who denies this is racist) and asserting that ‘Arabs understand only force.’

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1

eugene 11.20.06 at 3:17 am

Or as in Heart of Darkness’s narrative, a mission with the best of intentions to civilize and uplift the natives eventually ends with a madman scrawling the words “exterminate the brutes!”

2

Brendan 11.20.06 at 3:28 am

I think you pointed this very thing in an earlier post on Glenn Reynolds: the way he zooms between ‘Oh oh oh ….so you’re saying that Iraqis aren’t ready for democracy, is that what you’re saying? You’re a racist, is what you are!!!’ to ‘well it seems that the Iraqis weren’t ready for democracy after all. Perhaps Arabs just aren’t capable of democracy at the moment’. The two statements within a few months of each other, as I recall.

3

abb1 11.20.06 at 3:44 am

Does he give an example of the Soviet ideology swinging towards racist explanations – is this about Stalin’s population transfers? I suppose this could be interpreted as racist, but I can’t think of any post-Stalin example. A typical explanation had to do, of course, with vicious class-struggle and imperialist subversion.

4

Ginger Yellow 11.20.06 at 6:39 am

Currently, the neo-cons in America alternate between arguing that all Arab societies are capable of making rapid progress towards democracy (and that anyone who denies this is racist) and asserting that ‘Arabs understand only force.

I have to say I think this tendency is much more pronounced among the erstwhile neocon cheerleaders, whether it’s Glenn Reynolds or Donald Rumsfeld, than the neocons proper. Basically if a person is now likely to denounce neocons as insufficiently conservative or too idealistic, they are also likely to revert to “Arabs can’t handle democracy” or “Let them kill each other and God will sort it out” rhetoric. I haven’t heard that from many people who still keep the neocon faith.

5

otto 11.20.06 at 8:15 am

It’s not just Arabs who only understand force. It’s also Muslims in general. The Iranians seem likely to offered some force to understand relatively soon, given Bush’s green light for an Israeli attack.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=789940&contrassID=1&subContrassID=1

6

Matt 11.20.06 at 8:37 am

Abb1, my guess would be that Afghanistan is what they are most clearly thinking about in the Soviet case. The general mindset is still widely common in the ruling class in Russia, most of whome were the lower level of the ruling class in the Soviet union. The darkies down in the caucusas, for example, I was regularly told, only understand force and can’t be dealt with in any other way since, despite the best efforts of the soviet union, they just refused to be civilized.

7

Glorious Godfrey 11.20.06 at 8:47 am

#4:

But then again, the neocons have always been the main proponents of the notion that Cold-war style determent no longer works, because those terrorists are bugfuck crazies who don’t care about self-preservation. That rhetoric is a centrepiece of the doctrine of pre-emption formulated in 2002, and the writings of the neocons have always cultivated a studied ambiguity about how deep the roots of the insanity are deemed to be in the Arab world. Of course, these ideas hark back at least to the musings of Wohlstetter (Wolfowitz’s mentor) in the early nineties, when he argued that the collapsing USSR/the young Russia was an unpredictable, wounded beast.
Heck, throughout the Cold War there were warriors who argued that determent wouldn’t work with those loony commies. But having to deal with Arabs has allowed to ratchet up the fear mongering quite a bit.

The idea that you can democratize and defang the little brown Arabs by allowing them to bask in the glorious example of America is only slightly less racist than the whole “rubble vs. rabble” thing, and just as oblivious or dismissive of uncomfortable Arab voices. References to the white man’s burden are no less true for being unoriginal.

It’s inevitable to see some amount of flip-flopping between both forms of racism in some folks.

Islamophobia is a complex phenomenon, anyway. This guy could do without the Marxist parlance, but he has a point.

At any rate, this is not going to matter much in the next two years. The neocons’ project to strengthen America’s moral fibre by bombing in the name of freedom abroad is dead. The old guard is back and will do “what it takes” to salvage whatever it can of America’s pre-eminence in the Middle East. Realpolitische nostalgia is all the rage this season, and whether the punditry and the wignuttosphere get the memo or not does not matter shit.

So fuck ‘em all with a barbed-wire dildo, basically.

8

vadim 11.20.06 at 8:52 am

I understand this is out of context, but the premise of the paragraph is obviously false. When did the Soviet Union believe their values to be self-evident and their programs beneficial? They proclaimed that, but very few actual people believed it, and certainly nobody at the top. On the other hand, people, as opposed to governments, in the third world quite obviously accepted the superiority and benefits of the American values and programs, as witnessed by the rates of migration to the US and to the USSR.

As for the people in the Soviet Union and what is left of it needing a reason to “swing to racism” – well, that’s just ridiculous.

9

Steve LaBonne 11.20.06 at 9:32 am

The old guard is back and will do “what it takes” to salvage whatever it can of America’s pre-eminence in the Middle East. Realpolitische nostalgia is all the rage this season, and whether the punditry and the wignuttosphere get the memo or not does not matter shit.

God I hope you’re right. But it rarely pays to misunderestimate the stupidity and bloodthirstiness of BushCo.

10

ed 11.20.06 at 9:41 am

While I agree with Lieven, what strikes me about the neocon project in the Middle East is the lack of ruthlessness. As Matt Taibi put it, if Stalin were running the Iraq invasion, the US would have cut the population of Baghdad from five million to four million, put a NFL team in the city, and relocated most of the Sunni triangle. But Stalin didn’t have any illusions about being greeted with rose petels.

11

airth10 11.20.06 at 10:01 am

What is the opposite of racism in this case? Is it delusion and misplaced hope that the Arab world will pick up democracy just like that? No, the opposite is realism. a realism that the Islamic world is not ready for democracy. Nevertheless, we should keep plugging away at it.

It took the West centuries to develop and understand democracy and here it is believed by some that the Islamic world can pick it up just like that. Democracy is no in their blood. Is it racist to say that?

12

Brendan 11.20.06 at 10:06 am

‘Democracy is no in their blood. Is it racist to say that?’

Well it’s certainly ungrammatical.

13

bi 11.20.06 at 10:12 am

airth10 completely misses the point: the very same people who argued that “the Arab world” will immediately accept democracy with open arms, are now also arguing that “democracy is not in their blood”.

14

Ginger Yellow 11.20.06 at 10:46 am

What really galls is that the same people who are now “more in sadness than in anger” despairing of the Iraqi people making a success of democracy are for the most part exactly the same people who think the “flypaper strategy” is the greatest thing since Sun Tzu. I’ve never seen any prominent exponent of the idea asked by a journalist how they reconcile encouraging democracy abroad with turning abroad into a bloodbath so that it doesn’t happen on American soil.

15

Richard 11.20.06 at 10:51 am

“Democracy is no[t] in their blood. Is it racist to say that?”

In a strictly narrow sense, where ‘blood’ is understood as shorthand for biological inheritance, and the implication is thus that the Islamic world is incapable of developing democracy because it doesn’t contain the right elements in its genetic makeup?

Yes.

16

Glorious Godfrey 11.20.06 at 11:00 am

#4 has now become #5.

It took the West centuries to develop and understand democracy and here it is believed by some that the Islamic world can pick it up just like that. Democracy is no in their blood. Is it racist to say that?

Yes very much indeed, for a plethora of reasons, including:

a) democracy is not in any group of people’s “blood”;

b) there is no such thing as a monolithic “Islamic world”;

c) one could argue that starting with Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt the weight of Western influence has been a bigger common denominator for the countries of the “Islamic world” than…well, their “islamicness”. Hence the ludicrousness of the idea that all those amazing centuries of heroic western struggle towards democracy have somehow gone unnoticed in the “Islamic world”;

d) the implicit assumption I guess you’re making that the politization of Islam — that leapt to the front pages of the newspapers with the toppling of the Shah in Iran — has always existed, will go on forever and is a uniform phenomenon all across that “Islamic world”;

The neocons and the Derbyshire mini-mes speak the same language, after all. Both have a grotesquely exaggerated view of American power in the region and in the world. Whether that power is seen as transformative or punitive is not that important, as we’re seeing.

The success of democracy depends on a series of factors, like e.g. the moderating influence of a middle class, the catch-all notion of “institution-building”, or in the case of countries as diverse as Iraq, whether the logic of the ballot box empowers those truly willing to attain consensus between communities. In some countries of the Middle East the conditions for democracy are better than in others. In some countries the influence of what could be called “political Islam” is or will be stronger than in others. Point is, it’s none of our business or shouldn’t be. This is not a moral statement, it’s simply an acknowledgement of the limits of American and western power. After the debacle in Iraq runs its course and Iran acquires nukes or in all likelihood “just” the means to make them, this will become starkly clear.

“The West” should develop a sensible, realistic working relationship with the countries of the region. Something along the lines of what is done (or used to be done before Bush) in such unimportant, forgotten backwaters as the “Far East” would be imperfect, but would still represent a remarkable progress.

By the way, shit and fuck. Just because.

17

roger 11.20.06 at 11:01 am

The third element in the neo-con dialectic is a robust attempt to destroy democracies in those nations where they function. For instance, the U.S. The amazing non-chalance with which neo-cons argue for the extension of executive power, so that it would seem to Louis XIV himself as a severe case of mania, is par for the Hitchens-Wolfowitz-Weekly Standard line. Democracy, here, is a hollowed out shell. And if they are hollowing it out in the U.S. and the UK, they are obviously going to be applying a gross distortion of democracy in their crusades elsewhere.

18

greensmile 11.20.06 at 11:04 am

Thank you for the filtering. I’ll leave the rest behind the paywall. That paragraph is a gem and applies with little stretching to the arrogant evangelizing of any number of formal political groups.

19

abb1 11.20.06 at 11:09 am

they are obviously going to be applying a gross distortion of democracy in their crusades elsewhere

Well, no, not really, because ‘democracy’ is nothing more than newspeak for ‘pro-American’. Hugo Chavez is a dictator, ’nuff said.

20

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.20.06 at 11:46 am

“The idea that you can democratize and defang the little brown Arabs by allowing them to bask in the glorious example of America is only slightly less racist than the whole “rubble vs. rabble” thing, and just as oblivious or dismissive of uncomfortable Arab voices.”

What do you mean by “uncomfortable Arab voices” in this context?

21

Glorious Godfrey 11.20.06 at 12:04 pm

Why, it’s obvious. All voices that aren’t pro-American and pro-occupation, wherever they come from. They all get filed away in the “Baathist”, “Wahabbi” or any such drawer.

22

Ginger Yellow 11.20.06 at 12:34 pm

To be fair to Hitchens, he shouldn’t be classed with the likes of the Weekly Standard when it comes to the domestic side of the war on terror. He has consistently argued against the warrantless wiretapping programme and torture. In fact he is a plaintiff in one of the anti-illegal-wiretapping lawsuits.

23

Watson Aname 11.20.06 at 12:35 pm

8,10: Isn’t the attempt for `American pre-eminence’ in the region at the expensive of pretty much anything resembling stability a big part of the problem? I understand not wanting to abandon the field for other pikers to abuse; but what about the idea of actually building things up in the region to the point they can tell us *all* to get stuffed. Yeah, cheap oil and all that but you can’t say we don’t deserve it.

24

luci 11.20.06 at 12:46 pm

Democracy is not in their blood. Is it racist to say that?

I don’t know about racist (since I believe we’re probably all racist by most definitions) but it certainly is stupid (ignorant, ahistorical?) to say that.

25

Glorious Godfrey 11.20.06 at 1:14 pm

watson:

I’m not a fan of Kissinger-style Realpolitik. If
this bit is to be believed, the change of course that Gates and his gang are likely to implement is tantamount to a doomed attempt to delay the inevitable. That will only prolong the agony, as Nixon’s “push” for so-called honourable peace did in Vietnam.

American and western policy towards the countries of the “Far East” is full of contradictions and not entirely free of interventionist tendencies. But at least there is a basic understanding of the fact that the fate of the bigger players cannot be dictated from Washington. And direct military crackdowns, after Korea and Vietnam, are pretty much out of the fucking question.

26

airth10 11.20.06 at 1:25 pm

Democracy is no[t] in their blood. The Islamic world has not been cultured in democracy like the West has.

Islamic culture is not conducive to modernity like Western culture is, a prerequisite for democracy. It will take more time for the Islamic world to modernize in thought and expression so as to except the premiss of democracy.

27

Steve LaBonne 11.20.06 at 1:28 pm

Exactly. It’s not that a doomed attempt at US-hegemony-preserving “realism” is such a great thing, it’s just that it would at least be a major improvement over the sicko “more rubble” stuff which is the only possible alternative while BushCo is around.

28

Steve LaBonne 11.20.06 at 1:30 pm

That comment, as I hope is clear, was a follow-on to Godfrey’s.

29

Watson Aname 11.20.06 at 2:24 pm

28,26: Ok, I think we basically agree. I was responding to the implication that maintaining US dominance in the region is the proper goal, is all. Certainly any step in the right direction is welcome at this point.

30

dearieme 11.20.06 at 2:45 pm

When was it decided that being rude about someone’s culture was “racist”? And by whom?

31

abb1 11.20.06 at 3:05 pm

When was it decided that being rude about someone’s culture was “racist”? And by whom?

The Anti-Defamation League.

And not only being rude about someone’s culture is racism, but also saying bad things about any country (Iran, for example) is racism.

32

Tracy W 11.20.06 at 3:13 pm

It took the West centuries to develop and understand democracy and here it is believed by some that the Islamic world can pick it up just like that. Democracy is no in their blood. Is it racist to say that?

Well some Asian countries have picked up on democracy – Taiwan, India spring to mind. Japan – though perhaps you could argue about how democratic it is. And then there’s lots of countries that seem to be moving in a more democratic direction over time, eg Thailand, Indonesia, though I will not venture a definite prediction for those countries and instead am crossing my fingers.

And friends who have travelled through South America tell me that all the politicans boast of how they stood up to dictatorship, which if the friends have got the right take on it (and a couple of them speak fluent South-American Spanish) indicates a fair chunk of local support for democracy.

So there is some reason for hoping that, if Arab leaders are willing to make some brave choices and sacrifices (such as stepping down from power if they lose an election), then democracy could take place in Arab countries.

33

Steve LaBonne 11.20.06 at 3:31 pm

I think a country that allows Nixon protege Dick Cheney to run its affairs autocratically (through his puppet president) has no business lecturing others about their readiness for democracy. How about we save ours first before we shoot off our mouths?

34

rea 11.20.06 at 4:18 pm

“before we shoot off our mouths”

Unfortunate choice of words in a post complaining about Dick “Deadeye” Cheney’s influence . . .

35

Doctor Slack 11.20.06 at 4:19 pm

Democracy is no in their blood. Is it racist to say that?

Depends on how literally you mean “in their blood,” I guess. In any reasonable sense of that phrase it’s probably inaccurate, if not racist per se.

The Arab world has trouble with democracy not because of any innate problems that Islam has with “modernity,” but because it’s a patchwork of unstable post-colonial states operating under tremendous pressures from both within and outside their borders.

36

roger 11.20.06 at 5:31 pm

One notices that whenever democracy does happen in the Middle East – say, the election of Hamas – the elected government immediately goes from democratic to terrorist in the American media, which pretty accurately reflects the real definition of Middle Eastern democracy by the D.C. elite: a freely elected government of an Islamic majority country that cheerfully carries out the will of the American people. That is how Pakistan, for instance, gets to be democratic, and Iran doesn’t. All other applicants for “democracy” will be put in the reject pile.

37

novakant 11.20.06 at 6:25 pm

Good god, it’s pretty simple: if religion and/or tribal/ethnic affiliations are seriously challenging the secular authority of the state then you’ll have a serious problem setting up a democracy. This problem is obviously not unique to Arabs or to Islam, but it doesn’t follow that many current forms of Islam don’t pose a big problem and are indeed incompatible with democracy. I’ve got no clue how this is going to play out and am currently keeping a close eye on Turkey as a test case.

38

Shane Taylor 11.20.06 at 6:39 pm

“There’s lots that I don’t agree with in Anatol Lieven’s reformulation of realism[…]” Any chance of a post elaborating on your differences?

39

Ian 11.20.06 at 6:57 pm

#36: The Arab world has trouble with democracy not because of any innate problems that Islam has with “modernity”…

Islam, as a personal faith of individuals, may have no problem with “modernity”. But Islam is also a series of social constructs in particular times and places, and some of those constructs – like some versions of Christianity – support the self-interest of anti-democratic power elites. They can also support the self-interest of aspirants to power, which is problematic when those aspirants can monopolize the field of perceived alternatives. It’s not an issue of ethnicity, it’s an issue of power traditions and challenges to those traditions. “Democracy is not in their blood” is wrong, but may also be pretty irrelevant – what’s relevant is that, in certain societies, there’s a critical mass of power holders and power aspirants who see their immediate group and personal interests threatened by unfettered pluralism. The fact that, in certain other societies, power elites have learnt to exploit unfettered pluralism offers some (but not all) Arab power elites a route for getting from Point A to Point B if they so choose. Was I talking about Arab power elites? – oh yeah, I was.

40

Glorious Godfrey 11.20.06 at 8:11 pm

Political scientists specializing in the study of democracies are bound to act as historians, examining the circumstances that have led to the establishment of successful democracies and providing useful general guidelines for the reproduction of these conditions.

But it’s all history, and it’s predictive power is limited. A certain culture, region or country will be regarded as averse to democracy for this reason or the other, until democracy actually comes about.

Take Spain, for instance. Although home to the third modern democratic constitution of the West (1812), throughout the 19th century and up until the Civil War it was racked by military uprisings or “alzamientos” and only achieved a measure of long-term stability under the strictly-regimented system instituted by Antonio Cánovas . And under Franco, of course. Well after his death shit was still being written about how divisive Spain, with its repressive Catholic legacy etc. was intrinsically undemocratic. Fast forward. Today a left-wing government is giving the Church the stinky one on a number of sensitive “moral” issues and the Iberian Peninsula has to be swallowed by the sea yet.

airth10’s hit-and-run posts have spawned all these responses. I’m consumed by searing envy. He only needs to slop on the trollish charm a bit (something about “PC drama whores”, say) and I’ll ask him to impregnate me.

41

Glorious Godfrey 11.20.06 at 8:18 pm

“Its predictive power”. Christ.

42

Richard 11.21.06 at 12:29 am

so, to add kerosene to glorious godfrey’s drama pyre, I have to add…

re: 27 (airth10)
please define the following terms in your argument:

The Islamic world
democracy
modernity (as a prerequisite for democracy).

being a charitable soul, I’m guessing that you’re not arguing that half of Asia and a significant proportion of the populations of Western countries are incapable of holding elections because they somehow don’t get the motor car, or the internet or what have you… I’m sure you must have a good, applicable definition of democracy that isn’t in fact a pseudo-religious ecstatic vision of men in powdered wigs liberating the struggling puritans of America, and a well thought out thesis for modernity that isn’t reduced to simply pointing at a cartoon image of muck-splattered, pustulent medievals straight out of a Terry Gilliam movie and describing itself as “not that.”

43

bad Jim 11.21.06 at 4:15 am

The fact that the country we invaded and occupied is predominantly Arab and Muslim may be beside the point.

When an army is occupying a country in which the soldiers can’t communicate with the civilians, the occupier and the occupied are both likely to conclude that force is the only thing the other side understands.

44

Brendan 11.21.06 at 5:32 am

“I am currently keeping a close eye on Turkey as a test case”.

Well I’m sure the Turks will be relieved to hear it.

Incidentally has no one seen fit to respond that the major reason there is no democracy (with the exception of Lebanon…so far) in the Middle East is because the US does not want there to be any, and has always moved (hard) to prevent any indigenous democratic movements from being successful?

45

novakant 11.21.06 at 7:01 am

Well don’t mind me Brendan, but believe me, both the EU and the laicist minded parts of the Turkish population are closely and anxiously watching the recent and somewhat understandable resurgence of the Islamic faith there. Turkey has to walk a tight line between having its secular foundations undermined by religious movements and falling back into the suppression of religious freedom as formerly practised by the military. The expat Turks I’ve spoken to certainly don’t want to go back to the repressive but secular regime of the old days, but they are just as worried about the increasing influence of Islam on the society as you and I would be, if religious movements managed to become a dominant political force in our societies.

46

Down and Out in Sài Gòn 11.21.06 at 12:13 pm

What is the opposite of racism in this case? Is it delusion and misplaced hope that the Arab world will pick up democracy just like that? No, the opposite is realism. a realism that the Islamic world is not ready for democracy. Nevertheless, we should keep plugging away at it.

It took the West centuries to develop and understand democracy and here it is believed by some that the Islamic world can pick it up just like that. Democracy is no in their blood. Is it racist to say that?

Probably, because it sounds like you’re replying on the common myth that “Islamic” = “Arab”. Which is false if you look at Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Man Formerly Known As Cassius Clay.

47

Anna in Portland (was Cairo) 11.21.06 at 12:41 pm

Pro-democracy activists in Egypt – many of whom are demonstrating weekly in spite of regularly being arrested and beaten – and many other Arab and Muslim countries would be really interested to hear all these first worlders opining that their “blood” is incompatible with democracy. Or, maybe they would not. It would be fascinating if someone here actually asked one of them what they think (they all have blogs).

48

Jim S. 11.21.06 at 12:55 pm

“America will always act to prevent democracy.”
Isn’t that a little bit racist in of itself?

49

airth10 11.21.06 at 1:33 pm

There is too much religion in the Middle East for democracy. Democracy requires a sophistication and that calls for secularism, which is sorrily lacking in the Middle East.

I do think, though, that the notion that “Arabs respond only to force” is a racist one, one made by American neo-cons. It’s as bad as that remark, “Bring ‘em on”.

Whatever the outcome in Iraq I do think there is a reformation going on in Islam because of it and 9/11.

50

abb1 11.21.06 at 1:37 pm

I know the Russians can’t have a democracy, it’s not in their blood. All they ever do is stealing and getting drunk.
Also the Germans: all they are good at is following orders.
And don’t even mention guilt-ridden Catholics blindly obeying their priests in funny hats. Or sheepish Asians with nonexistent personality. Or the blacks who only sing, dance and fuck around.

Come to think of it, democracy is strictly for the Jews and Anglos. Really.

51

Brendan 11.21.06 at 2:41 pm

Actually I don’t think the Jews are ready for democracy either. I mean look at Israel: it’s not exactly flourishing is it? Come to think about it, the Americans had slavery, civil war, and have been constantly at war more or less since the Revolution, and don’t get me started on the ‘hanging chads’. And the British have had more foreign wars than you can shake a stick at, about four civil wars, various coup d’etats, some violent insurrections, and the county now seems to be slowly splitting apart. So the Anglos aren’t ready for democracy either.

That leaves the Martians.

And the lovely newts, who dance around and are happy.

I have worked this all out with science, and the rational power of my thinking brain.

52

r4d20 11.21.06 at 2:53 pm

I know the Russians can’t have a democracy, it’s not in their blood. All they ever do is stealing and getting drunk.

Actually, the thing Russians are BEST at is …….. killing other Russians.

53

r4d20 11.21.06 at 2:59 pm

one could argue that starting with Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt the weight of Western influence has been a bigger common denominator for the countries of the “Islamic world” than…well, their “islamicness”.

RTalk about racism. Or maybe just navel gazing?

1300 years of tradition don’t go away just because some white people show up. Not everything revolves around what WP do.

54

Glorious Godfrey 11.21.06 at 3:57 pm

e could argue that starting with Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt the weight of Western influence has been a bigger common denominator for the countries of the “Islamic world” than…well, their “islamicness”.
RTalk about racism. Or maybe just navel gazing?
1300 years of tradition don’t go away just because some white people show up. Not everything revolves around what WP do.

Nice try (namely, to use racism as an all-purpose escutcheon), but no cigar.

“White people”, from Boney onwards, didn’t just “show up”. In different stages, they assumed political control of the Middle East. As in, you know, conquer it. Manu militari. The word “colonialism” might ring a bell here. I think that qualifies as a pretty heavy political influence, heavy with consequences.

You’ll notice that I’m talking about “the countries”, not about the daily lives of every Bedouin and every single marsh Arab*.

On the other hand, the politization of Islam in the Middle East, with its many complexities, can be deemed to be a later phenomenon (the Muslim Brotherhood, say, was founded in 1928). It certainly couldn’t really have attracted the attention of the democracy-ain’t-in-their-blood crew until 1979. Before it was all about Nasser, the commies gaining a foothold in the region, etc.

But really, the point of that “racist” sentence is very simple: the world has already got an earful from “the West” in general and America in particular. This should prompt “us” to put in proper perspective the transformative power of “our” ideas. Or, more properly, “our” blather.

The democracy-ain’t-in-their-blood crew will say that the fact that the earful hasn’t proved too effective is an indication that, well, it ain’t in their blood. I think that the more parsimonious thought is that the success of democracy depends less on earfuls than on a host of other things.

*: BTW, who the fuck has implied that Western influence erased “1300 years of tradition”? I know that straw men are supposed to be all straw and no brains, but still…

55

Jack 11.21.06 at 3:58 pm

When we speak of “democracy” we are actually speaking of modernity, and just use democracy as a standard-bearer. Modernity is great, but modernization sucks. You need to enclose the commons, chop off heads, what have you. It’s dirty business, but you have to do it if you want to survive, and the returns more than pay for the investment.

(And I will now preempt the Ireland-Finland-Costa Rica “doughnut hole” crowd. Everyone can’t skip industrialization, and the relative political sophistication of the fringe Moderns is spillover from countries such as Britain and France. The USA is of course the biggest exception. But don’t expect to find any undiscovered continents anytime soon.)

Regarding modernization: is it apparent to me alone that capitalist dictatorships do this better than anyone else? Preprewar Germany, prewar Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, post-Deng PRC, Chile, South Africa, Singapore, British Hong Kong, and for those PLO fans out there, Israel?

Face it, some people have to suffer to modernize. And the more you are willing to kill or imprison, the faster you can modernize. So who must suffer: those with spectacles and diplomas, or those with pitchforks and torches? Hint: there is a right answer to this question.

Democracy without a middle class is at best an albatross (India) and at worst a catastrophe (fill in the blank).

56

Glorious Godfrey 11.21.06 at 4:10 pm

Crap. Replace “escutcheon” with “bludgeon”.

57

Steve LaBonne 11.21.06 at 4:14 pm

There is too much religion in the Middle East for democracy. Democracy requires a sophistication and that calls for secularism, which is sorrily lacking in the Middle East.

Let’s do a minor word replacement here and see how it turns out. “There is too much religion in the United States for democracy. Democracy requires a sophistication and that calls for secularism, which is sorrily lacking in the United States.”

Hmm.

58

novakant 11.21.06 at 5:21 pm

To a certain extent I would agree with you Steve, since the rise of the religious right and the evangelical movement in the US are indeed worrisome developments, that have a negative influence on the democracy there. But most people would also agree that currently the problems created by religion in middle eastern and other countries struggling with modernization are of a much larger scale. Its not that they are insurmountable, but it’ll certainly take a good while until these battles have been fought to the end and, hopefully if everything turns out well, some sort of laicist model can be adopted there.

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Steve LaBonne 11.21.06 at 5:51 pm

My point is simply that broad, historically naive generalizations about “religion” and “democracy” are not worth the electrons they’re written with and don’t advance the discussion. (And I say that as one who is no friend of either Christianity or Islam.)

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Glorious Godfrey 11.21.06 at 5:52 pm

Just to be perfectly clear, I’m not assuming that everybody in the Middle East used to be a Bedouin (let alone a marsh Arab). And actually their nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life has changed quite a great deal (often after decolonization).

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MQ 11.21.06 at 6:24 pm

Jack’s comment #56 is most excellent. He does a good job of acknowledging the realities of history. The U.S. had the “nicest” modernization of anybody, but we were coasting off the whole empty continent thing. We still wiped out all the aboriginals.

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airth10 11.21.06 at 11:07 pm

There is a difference between the religious ways in the United States and most Islamic countries. There is freedom of religion in the U.S. Even Muslims. of all strips, are free to worship as they wish in the U.S. That freedom is what many Muslims find attractive about America, including economic freedom, which they don’t have where they come from. Those rights are what makes the U.S. a more sophisticated place even though it has its measure of fundamentalists.

The United States also has the judicial system that keeps religion at bay. Keeping religion and government separate in the Arab/Islamic world is generally done by force.

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r4d20 11.22.06 at 1:35 am

On the other hand, the politization of Islam in the Middle East, with its many complexities, can be deemed to be a later phenomenon

The politization of Islam, like the politization of most every religion, is a PERIODIC phenomena that has happened MANY TIMES in MANY PLACES during periods of rapid social, political, and economic change. It is neither new nor modern and most of it’s occurances have been a response to events unrelated to the “West”, which explains why you, like most people, apparently don’t know about them.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928?

The first puritan muslim movement, the Kharijites, were formed in 661 before killing Muhammeds cousin, best-friend, and the rightful Caliph, Ali because they felt he had strayed from “True Islam”.

Did colonialism contribute to this? Obviously.

But colonialism was itself a reaction to the instability casued by social, political, economic, and technical developments in Europe. So if we are looking for causes, lets actually do it right and not arbitrarily stop with “colonialism” as though it came from nowhere.

Even if there had been no colonialism, the radical changes in science, engineering, and political philosphy that the West has seen in the last 100 years would STILL have spilled over into the middle east and destabalized their societies (just like the destabalized European societies at first). The “conservatives” in their midst (like they did in Europe) would STILL have looked to “the source” and, just like American relationship with Cocaine and Colombia, found it easier to blame outsiders for the corruption of the people than to accept that it’s their own people who really want the stuff.

50 years ago, most people in the middle east lived lives little different than those lived 500 years ago. Since then, they have experienced the kind of rapid change that cannot help but destabalize a society and give rise to a “conservative” backlash. It happend in Europe and we are seeing it happen in the ME now. The “Cause” was the explosion of development and change that started in the late 1700s and continues to this day. Colonialism was a much a symptom as this is.

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Jack 11.22.06 at 2:19 am

This is something of an aside, but please read as I think it is quite clever!

The neoconservatives strike me as just another iteration of “Utopia NOW!” baby boomers. Faced with the awful guilt of living up to their parents, they have been trolling about the world for 60+ years now looking for sundry crusades and causes to justify their existence. It isn’t enough for them to just live out their lives; they need to live out their dreams. And reality be damned, full theory ahead!

Iraq is of course the apotheosis of this behavior. Why can’t we have our own Good War? Hell, why not? And meanwhile, the professional activists are salivating and furiously printing placards…

And if Theda Skocpol is to be believed, they are also stealing our idealism.

When will these losers just fade away?

* Notice that James Baker is a member of the Silent Generation. The boomers have fucked up again; send in the adults!

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abb1 11.22.06 at 3:32 am

Re: #56, modernization.

It’s a good point, but the fact is that European colonialism and American imperialism have been consistently preventing their colonies/clients from modernizing (with a couple exceptions in the cold-war period, thanks to the Soviets).

Take Iraq for example. They had secular government, equality for women, emphasis on literacy, science, engineering, industrialization. They banned barbaric religious rites. They built a nuclear reactor in the early 80s. They took over backward medieval Kuwait – and they would’ve modernized it, no doubt. They were even massacring those “pitchforks and torches” savages in a modern civilized European manner – with poison gas.

What happened? Their nuclear reactor was bombed. They were attacked, rolled back, medieval regime in Kuwait restored. They were starved, banned from buying modern technology and materials for 13 years. And finally – a coalition of American barbaric fundy Christians and AlQeada hardcore fundy Muslims invaded and tore the place into shreds. Every achievement of Iraqi modernization has been rolled back. The US fundy leader has recently praised “freedom to worship as you see fit” as the greatest success. Talk about reactionaries.

Or watch Clooney’s Syriana – recent movie about imperialism and modernization.

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lurker 11.22.06 at 3:35 am

@jack, post 56,
never heard of the donut hole crowd, but in the real world, the creation of a modern nation called Finland c. 1895-1944 involved the following crises and responses to them: Czarist Russification policies, the Russian revolution of 1905, the WWI, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik revolution, the Finnish civil war 1918, the Russian Civil war and Allied intervention, the Great Depression and the WWII. With the possible exception of our civil war, these were all unavoidable (by us). I don’t know what were supposed to be an example of, really.
Modernization is always painful, but I do object to the idea that killing lots of people is the best way to modernize rapidly. Controlled terror has its uses, but easy resort to mass violence is more often the tool of a weak and ineffective government. Or a delusional one.

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Jay 11.22.06 at 5:17 am

Glorious Godfrey, to speak of ‘the politicization of Islam’ as a recent phenomenon is very strange. No doubt there is a twentieth-century form of politicized Islam which takes it shape from and reacts to the modern nation-state. However, you surely don’t mean that an individual Muslim, living during the golden age of Islam while Europe was stuck in the Middle Ages, saw their faith as separate from the organization of their community. Are you implying that before Islam became ‘politicized’ a Muslim held their faith as a liberal individual and delegated political decisions to some extra-religious power? Islam prides itself on being simple and pure in focusing on how to organize a community. Isn’t that political?

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novakant 11.22.06 at 5:22 am

abb1, I remember you describing the Soviet Union under Kruschev as some sort of liberal wonderland on this blog and now you’re praising Saddam Hussein as the great modernizer – do you actually ever think about what life was like for the ordinary people living under the rule of such enlightened leaders?

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abb1 11.22.06 at 6:26 am

Novakant, along the lines of Jack’s argument – yes, Saddam certainly was a modernizer, but of course it’s not the only possible angle. And I’m not even of the opinion that modernization is necessarily a noble and desirable goal.

But that’s just what the topic of this thread is: Arab societies and their progress towards democracy (aka modernity, according to Jack). Iraq under Saddam was definitely one of the most advanced Arab countries in this respect. It now has been rolled back for maybe 100 years or so, with religious nuts in charge, killing scientists and university students (not to mention barbers and liquor store owners). But hey – they are now free to worship as they see fit, so there you go, that’s the trade-off. And if you think that “those with spectacles and diplomas” should suffer more than “those with pitchforks and torches” – I don’t really have a strong opinion on that, take it up with Jack.

Nothing I said a while back about Khrushchev was controversial, all well-known and well documented. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

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Glorious Godfrey 11.22.06 at 7:40 am

r4d20: Dude, you’re OK. Infodumping and trolling are two great tastes that taste great together.

First of all, your condescension is just delicious: yes, thanks for telling me that organized religion often has an overt political dimension. Ali and his assassination; how could I have ignored that all along?

Thanks to you, I’ve done some research and I’ve realized that my prior assumptions about the strict separation between the public and the religious sphere according to Islamic tradition were just wrong! Before, I used to think that Shari’a was some Pakistani dish.

At any rate, you appear to assume that I’m some embodiment of the mythic figure of the “self-loathing liberal”, who blames all the woes of the “good savages” on the evil (but formidable) imperialistic white man, and who therefore is in his way a narcissistic, condescending racist. If that’s what you assume, I assume that you are full of shit.

I happen to be in favour of a somewhat detached, “analytic” approach to history. You however appear to make the common mistake of turning that detachment into a frankly laughable form of determinism/automatism after the fact.

” Even if there had been no colonialism, the radical changes in science, engineering, and political philosphy that the West has seen in the last 100 years would STILL have spilled over into the middle east and destabalized their societies (just like the destabalized European societies at first).”

Yeah, yeah, sure, but do you think that there were no choices involved in the actual process that took place in the real world? That, say, the French expedition against Algiers in 1830 was just “spill-over”? Or that the “conservative backlash” would have looked exactly the same irrespective of how the West had exercised its influence? Muslim rulers (like, say, the famous Shah Abbas) were often keen to establish commercial links with the West and to hire European engineers. The fact that the cannons built by those engineers’ colleagues ended up being aimed at those rulers possibly made a difference.

But I’m just following you along that awesome tangent which you and your army of straw men are going off on. This is a thread about neocons and those like John Derbyshire who say that the Mahometan rabble only understands the use of force. My point, a pretty pedestrian one, addresses a (mis)conception that is popular in both camps (which shows in turn that the ideas of those camps are not at all that dissimilar).

The neocons and the Derbyshire mini-mes are saying: the backward peoples of the Middle East haven’t been exposed to the ways of the West to a sufficient degree. According to the neocons, they are just longing for said exposure, purple fingers and everything, which justifies America’s regime-changing antics. According to the Derbyshire mini-mes, the Mahometan rabble is just impervious to the influence of “our” superior western civilization, so “we” should just bomb ‘em when “they” get out of line.

I say: the peoples of the Middle East have been exposed to plenty of western influence (you say just that yourself) and, frankly, it’s quite implausible that “they” are intrinsically any more “backward” than “we” are. At any rate, America and the West have not the moral authority to interfere in the affairs of the region, certainly not to the egregious extent that is still the norm. More importantly, America and the West lack the power to achieve the goals of said interference. “We” should take a more hands-off approach.

Pretty straightforward, ain’t it?

And, just to be perfectly unambiguous: I DON’T THINK THAT “THE WEST” HAS ANY MONOPOLY ON MODERNITY. The 21st century will in all likelihood be dominated by China and India, and I’m not getting my panties in a bunch over that.

Now, will you answer to this, and not to the musings of some crash-test dummies you have in your living room? Will you drop what is shaping up to become a tiresome exchange? Or will you proceed to enlighten me about the fact that Hulagu Khan’s sacking of Baghdad was a bigger blow to the Arab self-consciousness than the Crusaders could have ever hoped to deliver?

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novakant 11.22.06 at 3:11 pm

well abb1, by failing to mention the “other possible angles”, you’re putting yourself in the wonderful company of die-hard nazi apologists, who one can still hear sometimes claim that at least Hitler built the Autobahn (which isn’t even quite correct historically) and achieved full employment and neo-Thatcherites who will counter any claim about human rights abuses in Chile by praising the wonderful free-market reforms he had put in place

as for Khrushchev, since you wanted to know what I’m talking about, allow me to quote:

“de-stalinization, liberaization in every way possible, mass-amnesty, mass-’rehabilitation’ (exoneration) of political prisoners, attempts to defuse and end the cold war and so on”

again, it is a matter of emphasis, but “liberalization in every way possible” is certainly laughable (freedom of speech? – no; freedom of movement? – no; an independent judiciary? – no) or just meaningless (you’ll just say these things were impossible)

further, Khrushchev releasing political prisoners didn’t mean at all that one couldn’t still be locked up for years at a moment’s notice for saying the wrong thing in the wrong place if some snitch happened to be around – how wonderful

also, while there were some attempts to defuse the cold war, Khrushchev giving Ulbricht the green light to build the wall was certainly one of the factors cementing the cold war and causing untold grief to millions; but feel free to argue that this was a necessity to counteract imperialist aggression as the wonderful name “antifaschistischer Schutzwall” implied

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Jack 11.22.06 at 3:58 pm

Do not impute that I supported the Iraq invasion in any way. We have set back Iraq many decades.

However, the claims regarding Kuwait are preposterous. If anything, modernity is an absence of ideology and a presence of pragmatism. Hussein has more in common with Stalin than Pinochet, because Hussein was paranoid and conflated military glory with national glory. The invasion of Kuwait was stupid and unnecessary. I imagine you’ll bring up slant-drilling next, and any number of apologies for the insanity of Hussein. Pinochet was brutal, but the military was used to serve the economic project, and the policies were fundamentally rational in spirit if not always in execution.

Regarding Finland: modernity is primarily an economic process. Although this may not sit well with poli sci majors, politics really is the junior partner in world affairs. The economy matters most. And modern Finland as an economic creature is fairly recent and post-industrial.

And to those who question the wisdom of modernity in general: had the romantics had their way, there would not be a computer screen in front of you right now. I don’t know how many times I have heard the “technology and prosperity without dislocation and social decay” argument, but I remain unconvinced. Quite frankly, most people prefer material comfort to social belonging. Sorry.

And is it really so difficult to say anything without laying all of the blame at the feet of inhuman Westerners? The way you ascribe power to us, we might as well be able to do a double-somersault across the Arabian peninsula and chuck Mecca into space. The fact is that if you want to blame colonialism in the Middle East, blame the Turks. The Europeans were only there for like twenty years, and I would not be so daft as to say the current Middle Eastern countries are imperial vassals of the USA. Have some perspective.

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abb1 11.22.06 at 4:35 pm

OK, Novakant, in the case of Iraq modernization I haven’t mentioned other angles simply because they are not relevant to this particular discussion. Just like in a discussion about, say, cars one could talk about the Nazi government creating VW Beetle without going on about concentration camps. Or in a discussion about the Autobahn for that matter.

See, I don’t feel I’m required to comfort you by producing the standard set of words you’ve learned to automatically associate with every name or event or phenomenon. That’s boring.

As far as Khrushchev’s Thaw goes – yeah, I suppose, if you want to be pedantic, something like “liberalization of every aspect of society” would be better than “liberalization in every way possible”.

Yes, more freedom of speech, more freedom of movement and more independent judiciary – all of these and much more. The Soviet Union stopped being totalitarian and became merely authoritarian. Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Ivan Denisovich’ was published, for example.

urther, Khrushchev releasing political prisoners didn’t mean at all that one couldn’t still be locked up for years at a moment’s notice for saying the wrong thing in the wrong place if some snitch happened to be around

See, that’s just not true, that’s what I’m talking about. Post-Stalin – and especially during Khrushchev’s Thaw – they just wouldn’t lock you up for saying wrong things. You would have to be an active dissident, activist to be locked up.

Berlin wall caused untold grief to millions? Isn’t it a bit too strong, another example of a standard doctrinal reflex? Germany was already divided in two since 1945 – why dividing the city of Berlin is such a tremendous tragedy suddenly? I dunno.

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novakant 11.22.06 at 5:23 pm

boy, apart from your moral compass being seriously off kilter, you display an amazing ability for talking out of your hat

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r4d20 11.22.06 at 11:36 pm


At any rate, you appear to assume that I’m some embodiment of the mythic figure of the “self-loathing liberal”, who blames all the woes of the “good savages” on the evil (but formidable) imperialistic white man, and who therefore is in his way a narcissistic, condescending racist.

So, you’re making assumptions about my assumptions?

I dont assume anything, but I’ll take the blame for starting off with the snide remarks.

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abb1 11.23.06 at 2:17 am

amazing ability for talking out of your hat

Novakant, care to elaborate?

Btw, if the Berlin situation was indeed as horrible (“causing untold grief to millions”) as you say, it could’ve been most easily and naturally resolved by Americans and Brits getting out, taking their troops out of West Berlin. Poof – solved, no wall, no problem, no more untold grief to millions. What do you think about this idea, Novakant? Never thought of it this way, huh, doesn’t make sense, right?

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abb1 11.23.06 at 5:10 am

If anything, modernity is an absence of ideology and a presence of pragmatism.

Absence of ideology is not possible in a society; without ideology there would be no society.

Modernity is not absence of ideology, modernity is rationality. Iraqi regime was rational and Stalinism was rational too.

The way I see it, those ideologies based on unsubstantiated faith, on supernatural stuff (gods, space aliens, etc) are irrational; those based on observed natural phenomena are rational. Nationalism is rational, communism is rational and liberalism is rational. All rational ideologies are a part of modernity, whether we like them of not.

I don’t know (and neither do you) whether Hussein was paranoid and conflated military glory with national glory, but it’s only marginally relevant, because one way or the other the Iraqi society was rational and modern. Same assumptions (paranoid, messianic megalomaniac) could be made (and often are) about George Bush (or any other modern leader for that matter) – so what?

Now, the Kuwait society is heavily based on Islamic Law. That’s not rational and therefore not modern. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a fact.

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Glorious Godfrey 11.23.06 at 5:24 am

At any rate, you appear to assume that I’m some embodiment of the mythic figure of the “self-loathing liberal”, who blames all the woes of the “good savages” on the evil (but formidable) imperialistic white man, and who therefore is in his way a narcissistic, condescending racist.

So, you’re making assumptions about my assumptions?

I dont assume anything, but I’ll take the blame for starting off with the snide remarks.

Well, since you were talking about cryptoracism, navel-gazing, utter ignorance of anything about the world that does not revolve around “the West” or “white people”, and so on, I thought that some amount of inferential reasoning was in order, yes.

All in good fun, though.

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ajay 11.23.06 at 7:50 am

The Arab world has trouble with democracy not because of any innate problems that Islam has with “modernity,” but because it’s a patchwork of unstable post-colonial states operating under tremendous pressures from both within and outside their borders.

Almost every country in the world is a post-colonial state. (possible exception: Iceland?)

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Brendan 11.23.06 at 8:05 am

‘Now, the Kuwait society is heavily based on Islamic Law. That’s not rational and therefore not modern. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a fact.’

Actually I would say there is a lot wrong with that, in this day and age. I might also point out that the main reason that it is in that state is that after it was ‘liberated’ by the ‘West’ in ’91, ‘we’ immediately handed power back to the freedom loving Kuwaiti junta…no nonsense about democracy there! Isn’t it funny, incidentally, how according to the Keyboard Kommandos the purpose of the ’91 war was to liberate Iraq I distinctly remember being told at the time it was to liberate Kuwait…this justifies the ‘we should have marched on to Baghdad’ rhetoric, forgetting that, if we had been interested in democracy, democratising Kuwait would have been at the forefront of our agenda, and would (unlike in Iraq) have been relatively easy to do. And yet we didn’t. How strange.

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airth10 11.23.06 at 1:21 pm

Speaking of ideology, there are a few ideas about the end of ideology out there. “The End of Ideology” was the name of a book by Daniel Bell and it ends in socialism.

Francis Fukuyama, in his book, “The End of History” believed that humankind had reached an end point in its ideological evolution. This ideological end point has to do with human governance. He got the idea when Communism collapsed, with the end of the Cold War and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. At that point there was only one form of legitimate government left standing in the world, Democracy. To Fukuyama’s way of thinking Democracy had triumphed over all other forms of human governance, hence the end of history.

‘The end of history’ in this case means the end of a particular history, the end of the ideological struggle to determine what form of government is best for the people of the world. Otherwise History has not ended, because as long as there are people on earth to make it there will always be History.

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abb1 11.23.06 at 5:32 pm

Fukuyama’s paradise is not just democracy, it’s a combination of liberal economics and liberal democracy. I haven’t read it, but it’s seems weird, because contradictions in this model seem fairly obvious: the demos typically doesn’t like liberal economics too much.

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airth10 11.24.06 at 12:21 am

Fukuyama’s paradise, as you put it, is simply ‘liberal democracy’. What he means by liberal democracy is the combination of capitalism and democracy. He used the word liberal to mean capitalism, free market economics. He said he decided not to use the term capitalism because of the negative connotation it had. The two terms are interchangeable if you consider that classical liberalism of the 17th century gave birth to capitalism.

What Fukuyama tried to say in his formulation is that technologically advanced societies can not live without the combination of capitalism and democracy. For modern societies to survive and continue in the modern world they need the combination of the two. Each doctrine on its own is not sufficient enough to sustain modern society. Fukuyama seemed so emphatic about this combination being necessary for sustaining modern society that one critic wondered if they may be the DNA of the modern world.

Capitalism and democracy appear to contradict each other. But together they address and satisfy the condition of the modern human being. Capitalism satisfies the material needs of modern societies and democracy satisfies the political needs. However, it also appears that neither doctrine can exist without the other.

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Jack 11.24.06 at 1:54 am

Capitalism and democracy do not contradict each other. Both are Darwinian. Both mine natural variability, punish the unfit, and reward the fit.

Unless of course, you believe that democracy is synonymous with equity. Democracy is a process, just like capitalism. The results of this process have nothing to with capitalism and democracy.

I have always thought that socialism smacked of “intelligent design”. And just like the ID salesmen would be quite shocked to learn that the human genome is highly functional yet rife with useless sequences and redundancy, and quite obviously not intelligently designed, so the central planners were shocked to learn that anarchical capitalist economies were more efficient than their own. It was joked in the 80s that the Soviet economy had three industries: defense, oil, and vodka. That makes sense, because three industries is about all a central planning committee can handle.

Liberal states use minimal resources to transform the survival of the fittest from a violent, warlike game to a peaceful, economic game. This does not mean that the unfit are not selected against. It simply means that they are marginalized and left either to reform or die off. Call it “soft culling”. Any goals beyond this transformation – however politically popular – posit a desired result rather than a desired process.

Desired results are exactly ideology. Infusing your life with grand ideas and metaphysical implications is the bane of human history. Infusing the world with metaphysics is intelligent design. Just do what you need to survive, and accept the results as is. Just like a capitalist economy, I believe this will produce better results than conscious attempts to construct utopia.

I agree with you: without ideology, there cannot be society. But why must there be society?

Qualifier: conscious control can be used in reasonable amounts to catch up to leaders, once the way forward is known. Hence my assent to capitalist dictatorships as modernization vehicles.

Qualifier: intelligent design is possible when the problem is highly constrained, such as microprocessor design. The number of design parameters is tightly bounded, and performance can be measured and compared to the theoretical optimum. Even so, current research into design focuses heavily on automatic or evolutionary design tools as problem complexity grows. I have no way of placing a number on this, but at some point complexity is too great for designers and you must simply through a lot of mutants at the market and see what happens.

I’m an engineer if you haven’t guessed so already :)

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abb1 11.24.06 at 3:05 am

However, it also appears that neither doctrine can exist without the other.

No, that’s wrong: capitalism functions best under an authoritarian government. Liberal democracy tilts toward socialism. Liberal democracy undoubtedly erodes capitalism and it seems that it may eventually destroy it altogether.

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abb1 11.24.06 at 9:23 am

Liberal states use minimal resources to transform the survival of the fittest from a violent, warlike game to a peaceful, economic game.

Well, obviously no one ever wants to participate in any “survival of the fittest” game. Everyone wants to have a safe, guaranteed, easy life without any fighting (even the economic kind), without taking chances. And these are people who – in a democracy – control these ‘liberal states’ you’re talking about.

If the people really have the power to design the game – the game they themselves will have to play – how can do you expect them to create anything even close to any sort of “survival of the fittest” game? That’s totally unrealistic.

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airth10 11.24.06 at 10:19 am

“Capitalism functions best under an authoritarian government.”

True, in the short run. But eventually democratic principles are what keep capitalism expanding, legitimate and relevant. If not regulated by such principles capitalism will eventually destroy itself due to its own contradictions. Authoritarian governments handling economic matters eventually become stale and atrophy because they represent a closed society and old ideas. Democracy revitalizes the process through debate, reexamination and the introduction of new policies and individuals. Capitalism and democracy counterbalance each other as well as prod each other to regenerate and do better, like in a ‘double helix’.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Just look around and see how many states have converted or are converting from authoritarian government to more democratic economies, and have achieved better results. (Democracy also establishes and upholds property rights which are essential to the process of capitalism.) South Korea, Chile, Taiwan, Argentina, India, China are a few countries that come to mind. However, it is authoritarian government in those countries that initially got that all important capitalism rolling. But authoritarian capitalism is not sustainable because it lacks accountability and transparency.

add1 -“Liberal states use [r]esources to transform the survival of the fittest from a violent, warlike game to a peaceful, economic game.” That’s good!

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abb1 11.24.06 at 1:51 pm

No, it’s quite the opposite. Like I said, any place where democracy is introduced – capitalism there declines until it doesn’t look like capitalism anymore. In Chile, for example, the current president represents the Socialist party – the same party that was represented by Salvador Allende in the 1970s.

The father of the current Chilean president was a cabinet member of Allende’s government. He and his family were arrested and tortured by Pinochet’s junta, he died in jail and his daughter (the current president) was exiled. She lived and studied in East Germany. Enough said.

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Jack 11.24.06 at 10:23 pm

Games compete with each other, in addition to agents competing within games. The game that best approximates survival of the fittest will gain the advantage over more baroque games. The world is slowly becoming like Wall Street and Las Vegas.

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bi 11.25.06 at 5:45 am

airth10:

What the hell is a “democratic economy”? This term has no meaning whatsoever. You have repeatedly exercised your freedom to be unencumbered by facts. Maybe for once you can exercise the opposite freedom.

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