Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Andre Glucksmann and the "end of fatalism"


The above is an article by the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann on the “revolutions” that seem to be sweeping the Middle East. It was translated by Alexis Cornel. I’ll quote a bit from it and comment below.

“. . . Consider two old prejudices, both dating to the end of the Cold War: the idea that the polarity between East and West had been replaced by a conflict among “civilizations”; and the conviction that the Cold War would be followed by the peace of economic rationalism. . . The Arab implosions—which expose the incoherence of such categories as “Arab world” and “Islamic civilization”—make clear the inadequacies of these prejudices. How many times have we heard that freedom and democracy mean nothing to the “Arab street” as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved? To refuse to defer the question [has] until now been enough, in universities and right-thinking circles, to brand a person as indecently Eurocentric, simplistically hung up on human rights, or even . . . Zionist. This fatalism no longer applies to the Maghreb or to the Middle East.

“Whatever may come, let us greet the Arab upheaval with “sympathetic aspiration that comes close to enthusiasm,” as Kant spoke of the French Revolution, though he disapproved of its many excesses. There is no reason to bemoan the fall of a tyrant. I enjoyed seeing the end of Communist satraps in Europe and in the East, as well as the falls of Salazar and Franco and Saddam Hussein; why would I mourn the departures of Ben Ali and Mubarak?

“But what happens next is anybody’s guess. Freedom contains the power of opposites; it embraces, as Friedrich Schelling observed, “the deepest abyss and the highest heaven.” Europe’s historical itinerary shows us that revolution can lead anywhere: to a republic’s common good or to terror, conquest, and war. At the same moment that Mubarak was stepping down in Cairo, Tehran celebrated the 32nd anniversary of its Islamic Revolution with a festival featuring hangings and savagely tortured bodies. Egypt is not—God forbid—Khomenei’s Iran, nor is it Lenin’s Russia, nor Germany under National Socialism. It will become whatever it is made to be—by its youth eager to breathe free, by its Muslim Brotherhood, by its hesitant and disassembled army, and by its rich and poor, still separated by light-years.

“Forty percent of Egyptians live in poverty, and over 30 percent are illiterate. According to Pew polls from 2010, 82 percent of Muslim Egyptians desire the enforcement of sharia and the stoning of adulterers, 77 percent have no problem with cutting off thieves’ hands, and 84 percent favor the death penalty for apostates. That’s enough to temper any rosy forecasts.

. . .

“Revolution” and “freedom” don’t always mean democracy, respect for minorities, sexual equality, and good relations with neighbors. Such goods are gained as part of an ongoing struggle. Let us welcome the Arab revolutions, for they shatter the fatalists’ illusions. But let us not flatter them or delude ourselves: great risks and even worse dangers lie ahead. We know from our own history that the future holds no guarantees.”

COMMENT: For the most part Glucksmann’s article makes sensible observations about the implications of the current “Arab upheavals,” but his warnings that we should not assume that they will result in Liberal-Democracies or at least not Liberal Democracies any time soon, goesagainst one of his main theses that the ‘conflict among ‘civilizations’ thesis of Samuel P. Huntington (at least that is what I assume him to be saying) has been disproved.

I agree with him that Arab aspirations for ‘freedom and democracy’ can be separated from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I do not believe that “Arab upheavals” disprove Huntington’s thesis about the Clash of Civilizations. Note that Huntington didn’t argue that these clashes would go on forever, merely that they would go on for the foreseeable future; so will these upheavals end Arab conflicts with other civilizations as Glucksmann implies? I hope that they will, but I don’t believe they have disproved Huntington.

Russia has moved a long way toward Liberal Democracy, much further than any presently-convulsing Arab state can be said to have moved, and yet I doubt that the portion of Western Civilization bordering the Orthodox Civilization believes that “clashes” or “conflicts” as Glucksmann seems to prefer, have been ended. It is a modern “prejudice” that Liberal Democracies will not war against each other and I go along with that prejudice when it is applied to Western nations and a few others such as Japan, and while I hope that it also applies to the resulting Arab Liberal-Democracies, should they come to exist, I am not willing to go as far as Glucksmann in assuming that Huntington’s “fatalism,” if we can describe his thesis with this word, has been disproved.

The remaining Glucksmann thesis is that something has disproved the “prejudice” that “the Cold War would be followed by economic rationalism.” He is referring to Fukuyama’s The End of History thesis, is assuming that this “fatalistic” thesis has been disproved as well. I do not see how the Arab upheavals help disprove Fukuyama. In fact if they result in the Liberal Democracies Glucksmann seems to anticipate, sort of, they will tend to prove rather than disprove Fukuyama.

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