Jonathan’s Lebanon: Part 5

Ace comparative-constitutions scholar and all-round excellent person Jonathan Edelstein has just put up onto his Head Heeb blog Part 5 of his series on Lebanon’s political system.
It’s definitely good work, worth a close read.
If you missed Parts 1 thru 4, you’ll find links to them at the bottom of his Part 5.

6 thoughts on “Jonathan’s Lebanon: Part 5”

  1. Following the recent Lebanese developments the UN has just discredited Lebanon’s investigation of Hariri’s murder and is calling for an international investigation. These confirms the widespead belief that the puppet Lebanese government has something to hide.
    E. Bilpe

  2. Jonathan Edelstein has shored up his argument against what he knows people like me have to say. His method is the opposite of polemic. Instead of taking the opposing arguments and dismembering them, he rules them out of consideration altogether.
    There is no such thing as class struggle in Jonathan’s imaginary world. Imperialism is not a recognisable presence, either. In its place there is a bogey of foreign interference which is only a development of Jonathan’s consociational world view – its external counterpart. Jonathan is constructing a hermetic world-view which refuses contact with any other, because it does not want to be challenged.
    Jonathan rules out people like me in particular very early in his fifth, summarising section thus: “There are exceptions such as South Africa and Tanzania, but these prove the rule…” I don’t know if this is the result of our exchanges here at Helena’s. It certainly looks like it.
    South Africa’s “shared struggle” was a civil war, as much as Lebanon’s has been. Jonathan rules out the subjective factor. He cannot accept that any country would have created unity deliberately and because it wanted to do so. In South Africa, unity (in action!) was our slogan. In Kenya where I grew up, it was the same: Umoja! Unity! The colonial power tried to impose what it called “Regionalism”, swahili-ized as “Majimbo”, but they failed miserably. I’m talking about the 1950s and early 1960s. There are plenty of other examples.
    I have an essay of the great Issa Shivji of Dar-es-Salaam University, in Tanzania, where the late Walter Rodney and many other famous people taught and studied. The essay is called “The Struggle for Democracy” and it basically says that the struggle is ours and it has been continuous, for independence, through independence, and against all the CIA coups, then the structural adjustments, and now to the “second independence struggles”. The struggle for democracy is ours and the idea that the West or the USA is intervening to give us democracy is a vicious lie.
    Jonathan may not be a conscious accomplice to this fraudulent inversion of the struggle for independence and democracy, but in effect he assists our enemies. I have to assume that he would have supported the assault made in the name of Inkatha on South Africa’s liberation, grotesquely violent as it was, if it had produced a so-called “consociational” outcome.
    I can only hope that now he has got it out of his system and down in words, he will be able to see this work for what it is, and rise above it. It is only special pleading and that’s not good enough.

  3. The biggest “big picture” that here applies is the independence struggles especially since 1945 which have increased the number of discrete nation-states by a factor of four.
    This big picture reduces ideas like “Project for a New American Century”, “The Washington Consensus”, and “globalisation” to their proper proportion and historical nature. These things are manifestations of the declining relative power of the USA, which in 1945 was enormously greater than the rest of the world put together, both militarily and economically.
    What we have now by comparison with 1945 is the Wizard of Oz compared with what was then a real giant. For people who lived through the decline of the British Empire the paradox is not surprising: Real decline plus delusions of greater grandeur. “Two world wars and one world cup, doo-da, doo-da”, and the vicious aggression that goes with it. A peace in which the armed forces never cease to be engaged in war.
    Jonathan Edelstein’s essays on Lebanon, for all their attention to detail, are ahistorical in the sense that they ignore this world-scale picture. He uses the detail of history to deny the history that we all share, and so “prove” his own concept of universal local exceptionalism.

  4. Dominic: As I’ve said elsewhere, I suspect the heart of our differences is that you’re a Marxist while I’m basically a bourgeois social democrat. You believe that I ignore or underestimate class struggle and imperialism as factors in world conflicts; I believe you overstate these factors and underestimate ethnicity, religion, language, nationality, regionalism and the other things that divide us. I doubt that our worldviews are reconcilable in that respect, although you’re more than welcome to state your case on my site for the education of my readers.
    To answer a few of your points in a haphazard fashion (for which I apologize):
    “Universal local exceptionalism” – I think you make that case better than I do, pointing out as you do that the number of sovereign states has increased fourfold since WW2. There are no shortage of independence movements seeking to make that a fivefold or sixfold increase, and even more to the point, there are many other movements seeking regional rights within states. The number of states may have increased fourfold in the last half-century, but the number of states with some form of federalism has increased at an even faster rate, and the trend is toward more local autonomy rather than less. Moreover, the proliferation of local nationalisms and regionalisms has taken place in conjunction with the struggle against imperialism and colonialism, both of which sought to repress local self-determination. I would argue that the overwhelming political development since WW2 has been the trend toward self-determination of nations.
    Note that I said “nations,” not “nation-states.” Many states are not nation-states and contain nations as subgroups within them. There are really only six courses for such segmented states: breakup, anarchy, single-group dominance, federalism, consociationalism or consensual nation-building. We have noted two countries, South Africa and Tanzania, that took the latter course consensually during the twentieth century. The Netherlands might be three. Turkey is four, but the nation-building process was not consensual and involved a great deal of ethnic cleansing. Compare that to the number of countries where segmentation has remained or sharpened, and I’d say there’s a pretty good case for “local exceptionalism” as the norm.
    I don’t believe in political stasis, and I don’t argue that Lebanon will be consociational forever: in fact, I point out a few ways that it might evolve away from consociationalism as the Netherlands has done. The formation of cross-sectarian political alliances is one such way; the growth of a secularized urban middle class is another. Both have been in progress for some time, and might eventually result in a unitary Lebanon, but in light of current conditions, I think that will be a generational process at least.
    Keep in mind that all the major factions in Lebanon, including Hizbullah, are on record as supporting Taif as the blueprint for the nation’s future. The only ones really arguing for a unitary state are the Communists, the National Liberals and the Aounists, none of which really register on the electoral map. If Lebanon is to become a non-consociational, secular state in the immediate future, where is the mass movement calling for such a state? Where is the leadership to bring it into being? I certainly don’t rule that out over the long term, but it will take time to overcome that degree of consensus.
    It will also take time to overcome history. Lebanon was consociational under the Shihabis, when Maronite emirs had to concede many rights to the Druze and Muslims so the latter would tolerate their rule. It was consociational under the Ottoman millet system, under the Mandate, under the National Pact and under Taif. At this point it is very rooted in the Lebanese political system, dating back well before the colonial era, and building a consensus around a different way of doing things will be generational.
    Re the anti-apartheid struggle as a civil war: You are absolutely right about this – but on the other hand, there are civil wars and civil wars. In ZA, the ANC managed to synthesize much of the nation behind an overriding struggle. In Lebanon, the civil war was a conflict of all against all – not a shared struggle in any respect. If you want to imagine what ZA might be like with a history like Lebanon’s, imagine a ZA in which the Xhosa, Sotho, Swazis, Pedi and every other ethnic group had its own resistance army that fought the other resistance groups as much as the apartheid government, and in which the Sotho got help from Lesotho etc. I doubt that ZA would be able to form a unitary state very easily at the end of such a struggle. That’s part of what I mean when I say that the political conditions in ZA were favorable to nation-building. There was an overriding enemy, there was an umbrella group to coordinate the struggle, and that group actively sought to build a unitary state. If you can find such a group in Lebanon, today or at any time since the outbreak of the civil war, you’re doing better than I am.
    And no, I wouldn’t have supported Inkatha. During the 1980s, I supported the ANC in demonstrations, and if I were in ZA, I’d vote ANC. I don’t support anti-democratic groups, and more to the point, the ANC was leading the anti-apartheid struggle while Inkatha was getting in its way. The greatest priority in ZA before 1994 was to overthrow apartheid, and as such I would not have supported any group that collaborated with the apartheid regime. In Lebanon, there is not such an overwhelming national priority.
    Re imperialism and foreign interference: Of course both exist, and have taken place in Lebanon. At the same time, all the nations of the world are interdependent, and I doubt that any local movement in Lebanon or elsewhere is completely without foreign allies and supporters. Where support crosses the line into interference is in the eye of the beholder. What does seem to exist is a situation where, under the current rules of the game, foreign forces have to work mainly through local allies, and the balance of local forces is even enough so that the would-be imperialists have each other in check. This actually may be a good time for Lebanon to break free of foreign interference – but if it does so, internal changes in policy will continue to provide incidental benefits and harms to outside powers. No nation is, in your words, hermetic, nor should any be.
    Re my “consociational world view” – I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. I don’t advocate consociationalism everywhere or support it as a universal norm. In countries that are not segmented or are overcoming their segmentation consensually, unitary democracy is possible. In other states, sectorial differences can be mediated through federalism or regional autonomy. But where segmentation is strong and sectorial groups are geographically interspersed, a consociational system (preferably one that allows unitary political currents to develop naturally) seems the least bad way of mediating internal conflicts.
    At any rate, when I say that Lebanon will remain consociational for the foreseeable future, I am not engaging in advocacy – I’m simply making a prediction based on the history of the country, the current political consensus and the lack of any serious internal challenge to that consensus. If you believe I’m misreading the history of Lebanon or the world, please do not hesitate to say so here or on my site; I will answer you there as here, and maybe some of my left-wing readers (there are many) will have something to add.

  5. Dear Jonathan,
    My wife and I have just been out to see the “Motorcycle Diaries”: thin gruel. Thank you for such a flattering and strong response to compensate for a tedious film.
    Concerning Marxism in this context, I must say that reading Stalin’s “On the National Question” as a quite new party member long ago was a bit of an epiphany for me. Let me quickly explain. Older communists had told me that everything else about Stalin was terrible but this book of his was great. I thought the book was dire. I still think so. The reason being that Stalin’s definition of nation is entirely empirical and consists of what you give above (ethnicity, religion, language, nationality &c) give or take a point or two.
    I think you are quite correct that these factors are not malleable. Nor do they create antagonistic contradictions in themselves and therefore they do not propel history forward in the way that class struggle does.
    I’m sure you know that communists look forward to the death of the state altogether. Until that happy day, the state takes a form that corresponds to the needs of the current type of ruling class, we believe. The modern nation-state is a bourgeois construct, and this is what Stalin missed. The extent to which the bourgeois state clothes itself in relics of the past is a fascinating topic but does not alter the bourgeois nature of all the new nation-states, with one or two arguable exceptions.
    At least that is what I have believed since I first closed Stalin’s book on the national question in the firm conviction that I was going to disagree with him forever.
    It’s precisely because those empirical factors are so intransigent that we are forced to conclude that class conflict is the source of change. It is the source of “unitary political currents” that “develop naturally” (quoting your words). All the other factors are practically speaking inert in themselves, and do not catch fire spontaneously.
    Class struggle is the source of all kinds of change in society but particularly of economic development. Lately there has been an outbreak of a disease called “development studies” which holds out the false promise of “win-win” progress that favours all. That is a related question, but not the main one here.
    Having said all that let’s not forget the subjective factor. The assertion of a unitary state in South Africa in the face of the Inkatha outrages and the battles in (Xhosa) Bisho and (Tswana) Mafikeng was an act of collective political will in concrete circumstances where fragmentation of the state would have been an economic disaster.
    In Lebanon you say that there is no such subjective movement, whatever the objective circumstances might be. We shall have to see about that. There are certainly a lot of forces in the field that would want to strangle such a movement at birth, for reactionary reasons. I believe that sectarian battles reflect underlying economic (class) changes in a perverse way. The “natural” unitary currents also have to do with business. In a bourgeois world, business interests make and unmake all state formations.
    These are my own views. I had meant to write in defense of the huge literature (Fanon, Nkrumah, Rodney, Bunting) and the tradition of Nasser, Neru, Sukarno, and others, and the deliberations of the Organisation of African Unity and the Non-Aligned Movement on these questions, because they should not be considered ex novo in my opinion. If you do so you may well come to the conclusion that fragmentation is the trend. I believe a full examination will show that both necessity and political will have typically come down on the opposite side and the movement in a bourgeois world is still more towards than away from “Westphalia”. Strangely, and to finish with Lebanon, even the “anti-Syrian” crowds there were shouting for “national sovereignty” the other day!

  6. This is a smartly written post that is fun to read and more so do disagree with. Here are my thoughts on it which by no means depreciate from the value of Jonathan

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