Ferguson and the “Arab Spring” misnomer

posted at 9:25 am on June 22, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

So far at the Israeli Presidential Conference, speakers have treated the so-called Arab Spring with guarded optimism.  At last night’s plenary session, Bernard-Henri Levy insisted that the uprisings across the Arab world as a reaction to tyranny represented an opportunity for Israel to champion the cause of oppressed Arabs.  In the morning session, however, historian Niall Ferguson took a much more pessimistic tone.  Westerners who view the Arab uprisings as on par with the popular and peaceful revolutions that overthrew Soviet domination in eastern Europe are making a mistake, Ferguson warns, and the phrase “Arab Spring” is a misnomer.

Watching an oppressed people rise up against tyranny is easy to cheer, but the West and particularly Americans have underestimated the consequences of revolution.  “Americans were euphoric in 1789 in Paris,” Ferguson reminded the audience.  “They were euphoric in 1917 in Petrograd.  They were euphoric in 1949 in China.”  Those moments of popular revolt quickly turned sour and led to even greater oppression — and worse.

What happens in countries undergoing revolution, such as in the current Arab nations and in those historical examples?  Capital flight almost always follows, which creates economic collapse, higher prices, and unemployment.  The misery and anger that results plays into the hands of radicals who usually take the opportunity to find scapegoats for the collapse, from within as well as without.  They seize power and begin to prosecute their hatreds in order to bolster their popularity — and if that dynamic follows in the Arab nations, that’s not going to be good news for Israel.

Therefore, Ferguson warns, the window for Israel to resolve its conflicts is closing faster than people imagine.  As radicals take advantage of political and economic chaos, they will attempt to legitimize themselves with the masses by attacking Israel.  The masses themselves are not necessarily progressive and Western-leaning anyway, Ferguson said, regardless of whether they Facebook and Twitter, a mistake that Ferguson says too many people are making in their optimism. “Annihilationist philosophies didn’t die with national socialism,” he warned.  “It was resurrected in what we now call radical Islamism.”  The so-called Arab Spring may be unleashing the forces behind that philosophy, and is at least as likely as a sudden wave of Western-style democratization.

Note: The Israeli Presidential Conference is covering my travel expenses.

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History typically repeats itself,, as most fail to study history.

jake-the-goose on June 22, 2011 at 9:28 AM

Oh.

Niall.

Not Craig.

Never mind.

Shy Guy on June 22, 2011 at 9:29 AM

The so-called Arab Spring may be unleashing the forces behind that philosophy, and is at least as likely as a sudden wave of Western-style democratization.

At least one person is paying attention. A proper education in History can help immensely. The milquetoast history educations of today will lead to servitude.

chemman on June 22, 2011 at 9:31 AM

If Arab societies are so inherently vulnerable to strife, there’s no window for Israel to resolve anything with them.

Seth Halpern on June 22, 2011 at 9:32 AM

The misery and anger that results plays into the hands of radicals who usually take the opportunity to find scapegoats for the collapse

yep. George W. Bush. Exhibit A. Poor guy has been beaten to a pulp by the demagogic left over this.

ted c on June 22, 2011 at 9:34 AM

“Americans were euphoric in 1789 in Paris,” Ferguson reminded the audience. “They were euphoric in 1917 in Petrograd. They were euphoric in 1949 in China.” Those moments of popular revolt quickly turned sour and led to even greater oppression — and worse.

Apparently, American euphoria is highly overrated.

Fallon on June 22, 2011 at 9:36 AM

The window will either close or reopen in November 2012.

Akzed on June 22, 2011 at 9:38 AM

Capital flight almost always follows, which creates economic collapse, higher prices, and unemployment.

We’re talking about other countries right now, right?

Fallon on June 22, 2011 at 9:38 AM

Revolution almost always results in something less desirable then what existed prior to the revolt. Look for the root causes of the revolution (hunger) and study those poised to fill the void left by the revolution (Muslim Brotherhood). Is it really that difficult to see where this disaster is headed?

Revolutions started because of a desire for true liberty and lead by those who will actually die for liberty are the exception to the rule.

NotCoach on June 22, 2011 at 9:39 AM

Remember, Bernard defended Dominique SK’s alleged rape of that maid. I have to discount everything he says.

The French, Russian and Chinese revolutions all went from a long term oppressive system to a brief moment of the potential for a free, democratic system, but they all went essentially from a dictator to a dictator.

America had a 500 year lead up (arbitrarily taking the Magna Carta as a starting point) plus the Enlightenment and real philosophers such as Adam Smith. Eastern Europe at least had an educated population, I don’t see that in the Arab population. Sadly.

rbj on June 22, 2011 at 9:43 AM

We’re talking about other countries right now, right?

Fallon on June 22, 2011 at 9:38 AM

Yes sir – for now anyway

jake-the-goose on June 22, 2011 at 9:47 AM

Not so O/T:

“There’s always been a state of Israel. After 1948 we have a modern day state of Israel. So we need to respect that and the people who call themselves Palestinians need to have a right and a respect of that state of Israel. Until then, until there’s a willing peace partner there really can’t be peace“….Allen West via the Right Scoop

West, (in a short video) provides a history lesson that many conveniently ignore.

Rovin on June 22, 2011 at 9:47 AM

Therefore, Ferguson warns, the window for Israel to resolve its conflicts is closing faster than people imagine.

Interesting turn of phrase. I wonder whether Ferguson had any suggestions as to a method of resolution.

ElectricPhase on June 22, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Capital flight almost always follows, which creates economic collapse, higher prices, and unemployment

That would barely be noticed in most Arab countries, dumpholes that they are.

Bishop on June 22, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Given that the dictators in power were already doing that as much as they could, how would it be worse?

Count to 10 on June 22, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Shy Guy

Yeah, but it would have been cool if he’d had Geoff Peterson there anyway, dropping in the occasional “Balls” and “In your pants.”

Gottafang on June 22, 2011 at 9:54 AM

The American Revolution was nothing like the French Revolution for so many reasons – a confluence of remarkable (dare I say “exceptional”?) leaders, firm reliance on Divine Providence, and Lockian rather than Rousseau-ian philosophy…all outlined in A. Coulter’s new book.

4Freedom on June 22, 2011 at 9:57 AM

Ferguson is playing a little fast and loose with the comparison to 1949. He should have stuck to 1789 and 1917 as examples. No need to weaken your point, Ferguson.

AngusMc on June 22, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Yes sir – for now anyway

jake-the-goose on June 22, 2011 at 9:47 AM

“Do me a favor. Could say Ma’am instead of Sir? It’s just a thing, I worked so hard to get that title, so I’d appreciate it, thank you.” :)

Fallon on June 22, 2011 at 10:02 AM

Yeah, I can believe it. Reading about the Terror in France during their revolution right now in Jay Winik’s “The Great Upheaval”. Pretty scary stuff, when the utopian radicals get a hold of your “peaceful” revolution. Happened with the Bolsheviks. Happened with the Maoists. Happened with the Khmer Rouge.

The next few months will be telling.

dissent555 on June 22, 2011 at 10:05 AM

@NotCoach: Revølutions are not generally caused by actual hunger, but by rising expectations stoked by a utopian elite, which the existing rulers are incompetent to manage. Truly downtrodden masses are usually too miserable and depressed to rebel.

Seth Halpern on June 22, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Welcome the Caliphate

faraway on June 22, 2011 at 10:06 AM

The Muslim Brotherhood were an official satellite of the Nazis in the 1930s. And they remain so today. Case closed. Any real change in the mindset of Arabs will come after they’re truly defeated by superior might with the moral clarity to declare victory.

Ed, I hope you’ll be able to post video of these speeches, especially Ferguson.

Western_Civ on June 22, 2011 at 10:08 AM

I agree with Ferguson’s point except I have a stronger view than he. I think he is way off base with his examples.

“Americans were euphoric in 1789 in Paris,” Ferguson reminded the audience. “They were euphoric in 1917 in Petrograd. They were euphoric in 1949 in China.”

People may have been euphoric at Harvard. There were plenty of people who were not. I would remind you that we did not recognise the Soviet Government until the New Deal. I don’t know whether we recognised the very short lived interum government. I did not know anyone who was happy in 1949.

burt on June 22, 2011 at 10:09 AM

We keep trying to pretend that these folks think like us. They love to fight and they apparently love to be dominated. The harsher the better.

Cindy Munford on June 22, 2011 at 10:09 AM

They seize power and begin to prosecute their hatreds in order to bolster their popularity — and if that dynamic follows in the Arab nations, that’s not going to be good news for Israel Israel’s neighbors.

FIFY

Does anyone here actually think that when Israel takes the gloves off, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, or any of them stand a chance ? Give me a break. Back Israel into a corner and she comes out swinging and it won’t be a pretty sight for the ones that put her in the corner in the first place.

deadrody on June 22, 2011 at 10:11 AM

Liberals are the master of symantec infiltration … Changing the words, preserving the meaning.

tarpon on June 22, 2011 at 10:11 AM

Watching an oppressed people rise up against tyranny is easy to cheer

Unless you are the TEA party, I guess…

Bruno Strozek on June 22, 2011 at 10:14 AM

It’s Spring for the Muslim Brotherhood and the prospects for an arab caliphate. We are looking at the worst possible outcome.

slickwillie2001 on June 22, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Watching an oppressed people rise up against tyranny is easy to cheer

Unless you are the TEA party, I guess…

Bruno Strozek on June 22, 2011 at 10:14 AM

+ a zillion!

Gang-of-One on June 22, 2011 at 10:50 AM

I keep repeating this, as I have written since the beginning… this will not end well, revolutions rarely do.

The Muslim Brotherhood =/= The Founding Fathers

mankai on June 22, 2011 at 11:09 AM

I did not know anyone who was happy in 1949.
burt on June 22, 2011 at 10:09 AM

The ultra-liberals of America (i.e., the media) have been happy about EVERY Communist and Socialist dictatorship – even up through Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, etc.

That has to be who he’s talking about. He probably did a scan of newspaper headlines while each of those “Power To The People” revolutions were going on. And that’s probably why he didn’t include the later ones; because he was around than and personally remembers what they were actually like.

But it was the same every time. Everyone with a lick of common sense knew the obvious – that 99% of all violent revolutions in human history just resulted in a new tyrant. But the Communists who write the headlines – and later the history books – see what they want to see.

logis on June 22, 2011 at 11:37 AM

“Arab Spring” is a misnomer. It’s also a rhetorical gimmick that Øbama uses to position himself out ahead of, and take credit for events over which he has no control… Leading from behind.

petefrt on June 22, 2011 at 11:39 AM

The Bible also provides a very good reference and a history of the strife that will face Israel.

j_galt on June 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Oh.

Niall.

Not Craig.

Never mind.

Shy Guy on June 22, 2011 at 9:29 AM

Craig is busy training vikings.

SKYFOX on June 22, 2011 at 12:14 PM

Ferguson is quite right about the external forces that discourage the emergence of a form of liberal democracy from upheaval and revolution.

In the Middle East the people also lack the internal pre-requisites for successful liberal democracy. The people aren’t liberal, and they have no real understanding of democracy. Democracy without individual rights guaranteed, critical to the protection of minorities, leads quickly to tyranny by the majority, and them simple tyranny.

As long as the shadow of Islamism darkens these lands with its institutionalized religious bigotry, racism, misogyny, and brutality, there is no hope for liberty, freedom, and democracy for their people.

novaculus on June 22, 2011 at 12:17 PM

At last night’s plenary session, Bernard-Henri Levy insisted that the uprisings across the Arab world as a reaction to tyranny represented an opportunity for Israel to champion the cause of oppressed Arabs.

Meh – Israel champions Arabs by giving them more freedom and a better life than in any Arab country in the world.

disa on June 22, 2011 at 12:31 PM

“The autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it had stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for justice, and for peace. Here is a fit partner for a league of honour.”

- Woodrow Wilson, April 2, 1917

aengus on June 22, 2011 at 12:47 PM

4Freedom on June 22, 2011 at 9:57 AM

And we won our independence as an alliance of states, our existing state governments were not overthrown, they were instrumental in winning our Independence. The Revolutionary War was not a revolution in the sense that the French Revolution was, nor all the revolutions thereafter.

LarryD on June 22, 2011 at 12:54 PM

People may have been euphoric at Harvard. There were plenty of people who were not. I would remind you that we did not recognise the Soviet Government until the New Deal.

Point is, Americans (and others) were enthusiastic about replacing the Tsar – assuming that the replacement would be much better. If Cairo becomes Jihad City and the new Egyptian regime takes an annihilationist stance towards Israel, the US may not recognise that government either. But by then the Arab Spring will have already worked its magic.

aengus on June 22, 2011 at 12:59 PM

I like the term “Arab Spring” It fits in with the other seasonal sayings.

Arab Spring
will lead to:

Summer of Discontent
which will lead to:

Fall of Civilization
which will lead to:

Nuclear Winter

LegendHasIt on June 22, 2011 at 1:24 PM

Ferguson is playing a little fast and loose with the comparison to 1949. He should have stuck to 1789 and 1917 as examples. No need to weaken your point, Ferguson.

AngusMc on June 22, 2011 at 10:01 AM

China stuck out for me too. Euphoria? Maybe secretly for Laughlin Currie and Alger Hiss.

AshleyTKing on June 22, 2011 at 3:51 PM

- Woodrow Wilson, April 2, 1917

aengus on June 22, 2011 at 12:47 PM

And for course Woodrow was speaking of Kerensky as a partner, not Lenin.

AshleyTKing on June 22, 2011 at 3:52 PM

And for course Woodrow was speaking of Kerensky as a partner, not Lenin.

Yes but he didn’t get Kerensky, did he? Ferguson’s point is that even if you want a Kerensky you may get a Lenin. Nobody’s saying that Wilson was a supporter of the Soviet Union but – like supporters of the “Arab Spring” – he was in favour of revolution in Russia in the confidence that it would lead to a better regime. And it didn’t.

aengus on June 22, 2011 at 5:09 PM

It’s not the Arab Spring, but the Islamic Fall.

Get ready for the Sharia Winter.

profitsbeard on June 22, 2011 at 8:34 PM

aengus on June 22, 2011 at 5:09 PM

You are absolutely correct about that.

AshleyTKing on June 22, 2011 at 11:28 PM