Originally published at Sultan Knish.
One of the biggest differences between conservatives and liberals is that while conservatives believe that history is an expression of human nature, liberals don’t believe in history, they believe in historical processes.
The shortage of conservatives explains why so many politicians and pundits glowingly endorsed the Arab Spring as the “end of history” because the historical processes had been achieved, the check boxes were ticked and Egypt, Tunisia and the rest of the Arab Spring countries would shortly reach the same historical terminus that Sweden, France and the United Kingdom had achieved.It also explains why so many politicians are frantically trying to “fix” Egypt by putting it on the right historical track.
The liberal understanding of history is so hopelessly dominant that it never occurs to most of them that countries can’t be fixed. They aren’t leaky sinks, but systems emerging from a national culture. Egypt can’t be fixed by calling the plumbers of democracy to tighten a few valves and bully the natives into holding another election.
The last election didn’t fix Egypt. There’s no reason to believe that another one will. Elections did not fix a single Arab Spring country. They didn’t fix Russia. They won’t fix China.
The men and women studiously examining their map of historical processes and urging Egypt to go left and then right and then left again don’t understand Egypt or history.
They don’t understand much of anything else either.
To the liberal misreading of history, a failed state is like an overweight fellow. Map out a diet and exercise regimen for him based on historical processes, things that he must do and mustn’t do and he’ll get better. If he isn’t following orders, make him run through the right historical processes. If the whole thing backfires, refuse to admit it, because progressive policies never fail.
Push that logic forward and there is no reason to think that the past is relevant to a nation at all. Not when historical processes break away the present from the past and the future from the present.
There is no real need to understand Egypt or the Muslim Brotherhood in any great depth. Not when they are about to be transformed by the magic of democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood may have been a terrorist organization in the past, its branches may still engage in terrorism, but that stops mattering once the Brotherhood bows to the historical process of democracy. Egypt’s history also vanishes once it is transmuted through the magic of elections.
Democracy didn’t actually change Egypt. Egypt is still the same country it was before Obama’s Cairo speech. It’s poorer, more unstable and more dangerous. But it hasn’t really changed.
Historical processes are progressive. They are a sort of school for nations. You pass one class and then another. Sometimes you might flunk a class, but then you retake it and move forward. Follow the historical processes and you continue moving forward.
The assumption that historical processes align with a forward motion, that the liberalization of a society moves it forward, are so innate that it goes unquestioned. It is why democracy is held to be a good, entirely apart from its outcome. Even if democratic elections lead to a takeover by a junta of fanatical cannibals, the very act of holding an election moves a society forward through one hoop in the great circus of historical processes. The immediate result may be cannibalism, but in the long run, as Arab Spring advocates remind us from the editorial pages, the society moves forward.
The liberal understanding of history made it impossible to see the Muslim Brotherhood for what it was because its victory did not fit the march of progress. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in a democratic election meant that it was progressive. Because that is how the forward motion of history is meant to work. And its overthrow had to be considered reactionary, regardless of the issues.
This blinkered view discarded the issues and nature of the participants. It traded the contents of the system, for the addiction of process. It made the same mistakes as in Iraq and Afghanistan, drifting on a democracy high without paying attention to who was actually winning the elections and what their plans for the future were. The conviction that Afghanistan or Iraq or Egypt were moving forward was not borne out by anything except the spectacle of process and the conviction that everything was bound to keep moving forward, especially if we gave it a push or two.