In a recent BBC interview, the famed author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens stated that despite his past disillusionment with some within the British left, he still closely identified with left-wing humanist values. In particular a belief or advocacy of the Marxian “dialectic” and the universal notions of freedom and autonomy upon which it is predicated. Hitchens said that witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 served to further bolster this conviction.
Although I would not position myself on the left side of politics (nor on the right either) while observing the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt I have been pondering this question myself. Is human nature ultimately incompatible with tyranny?
This is a Marxian notion, someone, who along with Che Guevara, is not only overly represented, but is all too often grossly misrepresented. I’ve never had so much of a problem with Marx as I do with the bien-pensant legion of “Marxists” — usually as terribly misguided as they are meticulously disheveled. Hagiographic representation is usually a precursor to some form of totalitarianism.
Strangely enough direct parallels can be drawn between Marx and Aristotle. In fact Marx found in Aristotle a similar conception of human potential: the necessity of cooperation and involvement within the political, without which one cannot be said to be living a truly human life. Revolution can be looked at both from an Aristotelian perspective and a Marxian perspective: an unequal distribution of power will lead to a sense of disempowerment and political impotency, as man is essentially a political animal. Revolution therefore is an historical inevitability.
There are of course fundamental differences between the two philosophers, which I will not go into here.
In this scenario, however, the similarities are hugely relevant. I do not condone violent protest. I do view it, however, as a symptom of feelings of alienation and exclusion from the political debate. Although, there are, of course, amongst those genuinely fighting for freedom, opportunists simply taking advantage of the situation. Residents in Cairo have formed vigilante groups to protect themselves from marauding looters. The forces of revolution, unfortunately, cannot be directed with the precision of a laser beam.
An immediate comparison can be drawn between the events unfolding in North Africa and the fall of communism in the later part of the 20th century. The domino effect that the US so feared in the 1960s in South-East Asia, in the end, operated in reverse, bringing about the demise of communism in Europe and not its triumph. Were the totalitarian communist regimes of Eastern Europe a total perversion of Marx’s thought? It would seem so. Although, one could quite plausibly argue that any idealistic philosophy is by nature corruptible. What is constant, however, is the natural human resistance to such overwhelming systems of control and dominance.
Similarly the freedom that so many desire in Tunisia and Egypt is open to exploitation. In Egypt the biggest concern among secularists is that in the event of Mubarak’s departure and the ensuing power vacuum, Islamic extremists will move in to fill the gap. Or even if Mubarak does conduct free and fair democratic elections, the Muslim Brotherhood could be popularly elected. I know of more than one Egyptian who comes from a mixed religious background. It is in their interest to preserve Egypt’s secular tradition. Too easily does democracy descend into populism and the tyranny of the majority.
The revolution will also be stillborn without the support of the armed forces — no revolution in history has ever been successful without their complicity. We know why Mugabe kept his security forces well-fed and watered while the rest of the population were left to scrabble in the dirt.
The outcome of all this is still unclear. By the time this blog is published Mubarak may have stood down. Even so, this still does not provide any more certainty than if he has not. What is certain, however, is that if you silence the power that is my voice, all that remains is the strength of my fist.