Just a week after the military ouster of Mohamed Morsi from the Egyptian presidency, I listened to Senator Carl Levin talk about Syria over at the Carnegie Endowment here in Washington. In the course of the Q&A session that followed, Egypt inevitably came up. Senator Levin was asked whether he would call what had happened in Egypt a coup. He immediately answered “yes”, and said that the U.S. government should suspend aid to Egypt in consequence, as the law requires. He has been joined in this view by Senator Dianne Feinstein and others, but not, so far, by most other Senators, and not, most significantly, by the President. Indeed, the White House cooked up a legal decision in late July claiming that the Executive Branch is not obligated in any given case to produce a judgment as to whether a change of government abroad is or is not a coup.
And thus does nearly all the oxygen in the American political system expend itself debating whether the Egyptian Army overthrew a democratically elected government and, if so, whether and how a law pertaining to such circumstances should be applied or not applied, as the case may be. Levin’s answers to these questions are “yes” and “yes.” President Obama’s are, as best anyone can tell, “maybe” and “no.” My answer is “probably”, and “this is the wrong question to be focused on.”
The right question is how best to serve U.S. interests in Egypt and the broader region right now. Of course that presupposes a firm idea of what those interests are. Arguing over whether the events in Cairo on July 3 were a coup, a “people’s coup”, a corrective movement for the famed January 25 Revolution, or whatever, is an example of magical political thinking: It doesn’t relate to relevant context, otherwise known as reality. Arguing about what a law (one that in my view should not exist in the first place) says we must do now is a glass-bead game compared to the significant stakes at hand at other tables. This should not come as a surprise, since we have vastly more lawyers in Washington than we have competent strategic thinkers; this is just what lawyers do. It was not for nothing that George Kennan often warned against “moralistic and legalistic” approaches to the conduct of diplomacy.
So what are our interests? They are, in this order, first making sure Egypt does not descend into a Hobbesean nightmare, defined as a combined ideological, sectarian and class-based civil war with no frontlines, no food or medicine, and no mercy. With so much of the region aflame already, we cannot abide the distraction of a collapsing Egypt, not least since it would pull us back toward a region we are trying for good reasons to do less in.
Second, we need a stable Egypt to maintain the regional geopolitical status quo through its peace treaty with Israel and through the role it plays within the loose Sunni coalition against Iran’s hegemonic pretensions. Egypt is not as important as it once was, either as an engaged leader in regional diplomacy or as a cultural pacesetter, but at 84 million people it is still by far the largest Arab country, and still very important. That it has been at peace with Israel since March 1979, and that it retains the capacity to be a model of pious and modern Islam, as opposed to fanatical, politicized and atavistic Islam, are facts of enormous significance.
Third, we need Egypt’s cooperation to fight terrorism. Terrorism of the 9/11 variety has failed to rise to the level of an existential threat to the United States. That’s good. But the threat has hardly disappeared, and it’s partly because we have been diligently working, often with others, to keep track of or kill bad guys that we have not suffered more from this scourge than we otherwise might have. Egypt is important in this fight for many reasons. It’s a seedbed of the problem; it’s where the muscle and brains for al-Qaeda came from, in the form of exiled al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya cadres and the Egyptian chapter of al-Jihad al-Islamiya, led by the still breathing and at large Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Egyptian intelligence has lots of information on people of interest, and its officers grasp the modi operandi of these characters much better than we do. Beyond that, Egypt is responsible for policing Sinai and the tunnels under the border to Hamasistan in Gaza.1 These are two of the most combustible and dangerous staging areas for terrorism today. And of course Egypt could be a source of future problems in this regard if the army overreacts and needlessly drives Islamists to violence.
Now, if these are the main American interests in Egypt (stability, geopolitical ballast and a positive cultural model, anti-terrorism cooperation), what does the coup and the law concerning U.S. aid have to do with all this? The short answer is that the Egyptian Army is the best available, if far short of ideal, vehicle for protecting these interests. Only the army (and police) can stop a civil war from getting started, assuming they are not stupid enough to instead be the catalysts for one— an assumption admittedly not as easy to make at the end of July as it was nearer to the beginning. The army built the centralized state apparatus, and only the army can administer it. That, unfortunately, is what Egypt is stuck with for the time being. Only the Army can truly assure the Israelis and others on geopolitical and anti-terrorism issues. (Morsi didn’t do badly on these portfolios, true, but, lacking control of the Army and its intelligence services, he thankfully had little choice.) Only the Army could stop the march toward a Salafist state that, had it congealed before the next scheduled election three years hence, would have destroyed for a long time Egypt’s ability to be the right kind of Sunni Islamic model to the region and the world.
Since at the present parlous moment only the Army, standing behind a very thin civilian façade, can do what needs to be done, no one should be rushing Egypt to new elections. The Army needs to act as a Praetorian Guard for the construction of a more pluralist polity during this period, as several armies have done before in other places. This is not a vain hope; social change in Egypt in recent generations is real, and the Army, as a proud national institution, is bound to be supportive of those changes even despite its vast parochial interests. But this is a task that will take time. If the U.S. government suspends aid until democracy is restored, it will err twice at once: It will forfeit critical leverage now, and it will rush the transition period, likely to everyone’s regret.
To say all of this is not to justify the coup, which indeed raises several downstream problems. The Obama Administration, in my view, did the right thing by trying to broker a solution to the crisis short of an outright coup. But when faced with a President who would not see reason and an Egyptian Army it could not stop—and one it knew it would have to work with just a day or two hence—Administration crisis managers wisely accommodated the reality on the ground. We don’t have to like the coup to recognize its utility; we don’t have to justify it to make use of it, particularly since every other imaginable approach is even less promising. I regret that Senators Levin, Feinstein and others don’t see it that way.
o much for near-term policy considerations; there is a much deeper issue at play here. Stated rather abruptly, it is this: the Manichean pro- and anti-democracy polarity with which most Americans think about the situation in Egypt is dangerously misguided. It is an expression of a secularized evangelism anchored in the Western/Christian salvationist myth of progress, and its unselfconscious use says a great deal more about what’s wrong with us than about what’s wrong with Egyptians.
Having stated the conclusion, let us back up now and unpack this point, beginning, as we should, with a simple question: Why do Americans care that Egypt, or any other foreign country, is a democracy? If we are exceptional because we Americans have a country that is better and more wondrous than any other, then why do we want or expect others who are not exceptional to be like us?
Now, before you strain yourself to smithereens trying to come up with an answer, let us briefly review the pragmatic reasons often adduced for exporting democracy to other nations. As the advocates have preached it over the years (and I use that verb advisedly) in a mountainous if unevenly fertile academic and polemical literature, two basic and interlocking arguments stand out: prosperity and peace.
One school of thought argues that democracy conduces to market economics, which in turn is the key to prosperity. Freedom and capitalism are twins in this conception, and the causal arrows point both ways. Democracy augurs a small and limited state that allows the market to work its magic, and that magic creates the storied middle class that is the irreplaceable ballast for democratic politics, at least of the modern egalitarian kind.
There is much to be said for this theory. There is even some social science evidence for it, at least in certain societies, at certain times, under certain conditions. But the ideological fixation that markets left unregulated are invariably self-innoculated against corruption, the pernicious logic of collective action and Robert Michels’s famous “iron law” of oligarchy has no social science justification. Such markets in societies that lack broad social trust, pre-existent egalitarian attitudes and some semblance of the rule of law will not necessarily produce a democratically inclined middle class. And middle classes do not in turn always covet the openness of democratic politics. Indeed, once they get their mitts on the means of production and distribution, they have been known to seek rentier arrangements and barriers to entry to protect their status from aspiring others. The utopianesque belief that capitalism and democracy are automatically mutually reinforcing is simply bunk. Keeping the two in balance takes never-ending, clear-eyed political struggle, with no guarantee, ever, of success.
Consider: Did a year of supposed democracy make Egypt richer? Did it enlarge Egypt’s middle class? Unfair questions, perhaps, since these dynamics take time to work out, if work out they ever do. But the obvious answers are “no” and “no.” There is no evidence that a democratically legitimated Muslim Brotherhood-shaped political economy would ever have solved Egypt’s advanced and advancing material distress—not that the corrupt, dirigiste patronage monstrosity of the military bureaucracy has or can either.
So what about the peace argument? This comes in two classic forms: the Kantian and the Tocquevillian. It was Emmanuel Kant who first argued that democracies would not make war on other democracies. Kant argued this from the abstract deontological heights, as he was prone to argue everything. Of course, he had little choice since at the time there were too few democracies to test his hypothesis. Tocqueville, on the other hand, argued the point from sociological observation. He thought, to simplify only a bit, that democratic publics would be too mercantilist to risk profits fighting stupid wars against useful trading partners, and so they would restrain their bloody-minded and starry-eyed leaders as empires never could.
Like democratic prosperity theory, democratic peace theory is not entirely ridiculous. But again, it all depends on context. Mature democracies are less likely to go to war against other democracies, all else equal, and arguably that makes democracies more prosperous by eliminating a whole class of opportunities to squander treasure. But young populist democracies tend to be especially bellicose, and they do not always aim their energies at autocracies or dictatorships. Greece’s original proto-democratic city-states made war on each other with alacrity. The United States under President Madison attacked Canada in 1812 and burnt York (now Toronto) to the ground. Some say that the United States and Britain were not “really” democracies at the time and thus try to dodge the negative evidence, but that is bunk, too.
And Egypt? According to press reports, what sent General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his associates over the top were two incidents in June, one in which senior Muslim Brotherhood officials urged President Morsi to attack Ethiopia to prevent them from damming the Nile. The second concerned a speech given by Morsi, apparently under the influence of a sermon by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, that the Egyptian Army be sent to fight a jihad against the heretical and beseiged Alawi-ruled state in Syria. Just as Egypt failed to grow more prosperous under the Morsi government, it failed decidedly to grow more peaceful in its foreign policy inclinations.
There is also a third pragmatic argument for democracy: anti-terrorism. This is the gist of the Bush 43 Administration’s “forward strategy for freedom”, which was underpinned by the conviction that political repression is what caused Islamist terrorism. Fix the “democracy deficit”, and you would pull terrorist violence out by its roots. Again, this idea is not entirely crazy, though the timetables for exporting democracy to more than two dozen countries and protecting ourselves against another 9/11 never came close to matching up. But problems of practicality aside, the idea is at base superficial and mostly wrong. Political repression, poverty and other factors have been enablers of terrorism, but they are not the causes of chiliastic religious violence, either now or in the past—and chiliastic religious violence is what al-Qaeda is all about, much as were the Peasants’ Rebellion, the Taiping Rebellion and the Ghost Dances of American Indians.2
h, but these pragmatic reasons for wanting to spread democracy hither and yon are not the real reasons for the American obsession with it. And they cannot explain why that obsession animates and distorts current discussions of Egypt policy. So what are those reasons?
Americans think they live in a secular society, one in which faith is privatized and in which church and state are separate. In many ways this is true, but in just as many ways it isn’t. The stark distinction between the secular and the religious masks the fact that in the history of social and political ideas, suffused with emotion and moral reasoning as it inevitably is, nothing is ever lost. The best way to understand U.S. foreign policy is, as the late Michael Kelly once put it, as “secular evangelism, armed.” American foreign policy is a product of “the Protestant Deformation”, as James Kurth has termed it, a declension of a religious worldview, complete with logical train and eschatological design, but rendered more or less systematically if unselfconsciously into secular language that masks its real source.3 It is as G.K. Chesterton said: “America is a nation with the soul of a church”, and not just any church, but a multi-sectarian Protestant one.
On balance, this has been a good thing for America. That church’s social-cultural gatekeepers, for all their flaws, kept both moral and professional standards high in our institutions and guilds. That church, because of its diversity within, guaranteed religious freedom and genuine toleration, not just mere forbearance. It thus created the predicates for our liberal society as a whole. And therefore, as Mark Lilla teaches in The Stillborn God, this church, here and in Britain especially, is what has enabled us to vanquish the monadic temptations of political theology, allowing us to build a procedural, rule-of-law polity in a socially diverse, egalitarian-minded nation. That is also, of course, where the specific accoutrements of American democracy come from: Both the toleration and humility inherent in the Anglo-American Protestant tradition are key ingredients of since-secularized political attitudes. If America is exceptional, and if the depth of its devotion to democracy is singular, its Protestant origins go far in explaining why.
Again, nothing is ever lost in the dialectic between social history and the history of ideas. The old is supplanted by the new—or even transcended occasionally through trauma or revolutionary leadership. But the links back through time remain despite all self-interested efforts to draw sharp divisions between eras and schools of thought. In the case of America’s devotion to democracy, the links connect to a much older and profoundly influential construct: the Western idea of progress.
While the idea of progress as we recognize it today is a quintessentially modern, Enlightenment-era idea, its two foundational predicates, both religious in character, go back many centuries earlier.4 One of these predicates is the Socratic idea of reason, which for the Greeks of antiquity was a form of mystical religion that supposedly enabled human beings to transcend the natural world. The second is the Christian doctrine of salvation, based on the premise that the human animal is the only one in creation that is fundamentally flawed and in need of fixing, healing, or, in the theological vocabulary of the church, salvation.
Combined and shorn of their religious origins in favor of science and material meliorism, these are the components of the eventual Western secular idea of progress. It has been called the Whig view when the premise of linked moral and material progress is made explicit. When the formulation is explicitly delinked from any traditional deistic faith, it is known as secular humanism. Here, progress depends on reason cum science as the deliverer of earthly salvation, and when this notion is propelled aloft into grand social theory, as it has been for well more than a century now, a particular science has taken pride of place in the humanist pantheon: evolution. Here is how John Gray describes the matter in The Silence of Animals:
The myth that human beings can use their minds to lift themselves out of the natural world . . . has been renewed in a garbled version of the language of evolution. . . . Believing that human history was itself a kind of evolutionary process, Spencer asserted that the end-point of the process was laissez-faire capitalism. His disciples Sidney and Beatrice Webb . . . believed it culminated in communism. . . . The destinations that successive generations of theorists have assigned to evolution have no basis in science. Invariably, they are the prevailing idea of progress recycled in Darwinian terms. . . . Reviving long-exploded errors, twenty-first century believers in progress unwittingly demonstrate the unreality of progress in the history of ideas. . . . Modern myths are myths of salvation stated in secular terms. . . . Pursued consistently, scientific inquiry acts to undermine myth. But life without myth is impossible, so science has become a channel for myths—chief among them, a myth of salvation through science.5
John C. Greene made the same basic point succinctly in Debating Darwin back in 1999:
Every great scientific synthesis stimulates efforts to view the whole of reality in its terms, and Darwin’s theory of natural selection was no exception. But the views of reality that originate in this way are not themselves scientific, nor are they subject to scientific verification.
Hence, it now becomes clear that Western and especially American arguments—arguments that are usually asserted as being (social) scientific in nature—that democracy is the preeminent necessary precondition to world prosperity and peace are really lesser-included myths linked to the grander, long-since-secularized Greco-Christian, rationalist/salvationist belief in progress. We Americans believe in global democracy promotion, including in Egypt, ultimately for religious reasons tied to a key antecedent premise of the aforementioned Protestant Deformation. So when both Islamist and even merely Islamic critics characterized the Bush “forward strategy for freedom” as a Christianity-based attack on Dar al-Islam and most Americans were embarrassed for them on account of the supposed primitive level of their understanding, the fact of the matter is that they were not far from the truth. Their advantage was never having gone through the centuries-long processes of secularization that have clouded our own views of the connections between things present and past.
It will not escape the better educated that this deeper notion, this secular humanist idea of meliorist material progress, is what the Enlightenment, at least in Europe, was all about. In its American incarnation the Enlightenment managed to lay out a generous welcome mat for a tolerant Protestant religious ethos. This arrangement was vastly facilitated by the fact that, unlike in Europe, no church since early New England times had ever tried to smother or contain our national political life. It is this precisely uniquely American form of the Enlightenment that created not only the natural law-based foundation for the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, but that also set the shape of the American civil religion. Whether one is a Protestant or not, every American—even Catholics and, amazingly, Jews—can believe in the rationalist-salvationist myth of progress. But because it works so well for us, and because Protestantism is evangelical by nature, it is easy to make the leap that everyone must, or at any rate should, believe in the progressive, democratic “good news.” Nowhere was this impulse more clearly expressed than in George W. Bush’s Second Inaugural Address, which Thomas Wolfe aptly described as the extension of the Monroe Doctrine to the entire planet.
When I hear democracy-export advocates talk about their aspirations, whether inside government or in the NGO think-tank world, it conjures up something of what meetings in Methodist church basements must have sounded like as missionaries in the mid- to late 19th century were about to head off to save the heathens in China. We sometimes worry about mission creep, and rightly so. But we should also worry more broadly, as Lawrence Husick once shrewdly quipped to me, about missionary creep—a version of which infests the silly off-point “debate” we are now having about democracy in Egypt.
Please understand: If we humans need mythic schema to navigate aspects of life for which science is unavailing, we might as well choose noble ones. I think we Americans have. As long as we keep ourselves from getting too caught up in visions of our own benignity, our linked myths of progress and democracy are better, for us at least, than any others I would care to entertain. The question of the moment, however, is whether they are also necessarily better for others, including Egyptians. And even if they are, can we export or otherwise conjure them into existence? My answers are “no, not necessarily” and “only with the greatest difficulty and with the wholehearted cooperation of the importer.”
I have tried show that ideas about social and political life do not fall from the sky as revelation, but are rather bound up in a long dialectical process of social experience and thought. Westerners, and Americans more specifically, think about these matters the way we do because our history and culture have disposed us to do so. Yet because our attitudes toward these subjects are essentially religious, however well masked this fact may be to us, we impute universal validity to them as a matter not of analysis but of faith. How many presidents and secretaries of state have claimed that freedom and liberty, and every other noble-sounding abstract noun their speechwriters could think of, are really the desire and the right of all people everywhere? They all do this partly because speechwriters turn by default to lowest-common-denominator Enlightenment pablum whenever the occasion calls for transcendent obfuscation. You may rely on my own experience when I tell you that, with most everyone around urging you on and nodding like a bunch of Ivy-League-educated bobble heads, it takes a mighty effort to resist this. Besides, most if not all presidents and secretaries of state actually believe this stuff.
Not only do we confuse what is parochial with what is universal, we stuff into our para-religious concept of democracy every nice thing we can think of and assume it’s all one big happy unity. So with democratic process as a way of electing leaders we stuff accountability, rule of law and toleration for minority views. We conflate all this even though every one of these social phenomena has a separate history, and despite the manifest reality that different societies have some but not all of the set. It is therefore presumptuous, as well as patronizing, for Americans to tell other people, Egyptians certainly included, how they should organize their societies and run their countries. It marks us as failing to appreciate the dignity of difference. This trait is unfortunately true of all evangelical faith communities with universal pretensions, secular or otherwise, including of course Islam. Let’s now try to understand better why this is.
o the extent that a premise is believed as a matter of faith, the believer inclines to assume that others will easily accept the same universal truth once their eyes have been opened to it. Our forebears were much more firmly anchored in the empirical about such matters. Locke, Montesquieu and even Rousseau never believed that all social and economic virtue depended on a particular form of government. They saw things the other way around: A particular form of government was the consequence of a people’s long and refined moral, social and historical experience. Americans have suffrage because American society is democratically minded; we are not democratic because we have suffrage. “Liberty, not being a fruit of all climates”, wrote Rousseau in one of his more lucid moments, “is not within the reach of all peoples.” Democracy, as Jefferson, Madison, Adams and the great lights of the American Founding generation saw it, depended on certain dispositions long in the making, most of which they recognized (John Adams perhaps most insightfully) as either arising out of Protestant religious culture or having been nurtured within it.
Three such dispositions are critical requisites for a democratic political culture, and no amount of faith can substitute for them. The first is that the citizenry believe that the proximate source of political authority is intrinsic rather than extrinsic to society—“of the people, by the people, and for the people”, as opposed to some variety of divine law. The second is that they accept the idea that at least a certain subset of citizens (propertied males, in the late-18th century scheme of things) are equal before the law, and that law both trumps persons and limits the prerogatives of leaders. The third is that they have concepts of majority rule and representation. Without the first disposition, the ideal of pluralism, of a “loyal opposition”, of the utility of honest doubt and hence the value of open debate, cannot exist. Without the second, a polity can be neither free nor just, neither meritocratic nor accountable. Without the third, the idea of elections literally makes no sense.
When elections are held under conditions in which these three dispositions are weak or absent in the hearts and minds of voters, as was the case in Egypt in June 2012, one essentially has a democratic form without democrats to fill it. One will therefore predictably get outcomes in line with what Samuel Huntington once called “the democracy paradox.”6 That is exactly what happened in Egypt.
In most of the Muslim world, and the Arab world in particular, these dispositions are weak on account of historical factors peculiar to the region.7 In brief, first, a belief in extrinsic sources of authority has been ratified and shaped by Islamic principles. There is only one God and only one truth, so there can be only one agent of God on earth in any given time and place, and that person must be obeyed as a regent of the divine unless and until his impiety shows that he is not worthy of obedience. As William Brown, a retired diplomat and Arabist summed it up in his underappreciated 1980 book, The Last Crusade:
According to the liberal democratic norms of the West, political institutions are dedicated to enacting the wishes of a tolerant majority. In the Middle East the purpose of political institutions is to facilitate the constant unfolding or revelation of a popular consensus. . . . The Arab perceives a single community of faith and language that contrasts sharply with our emphasis on competing but mutually adjusting political factions. In the West, politics has a flavor of controlled conflict that the Arab regards as destructive to community.
Brown adds that in the pluralist West elections decide political competitions, whereas for the monadic Arab world an election is (or was when Brown was writing in the late 1970s) usually a collective, communal affirmation of a decision already made.
Second, the legitimacy of social hierarchy makes the idea of impersonal, formal equality before the law difficult for most Arabs and most Egyptians to accept. And indeed, as Lawrence Rosen has shown in Law as Culture: An Invitation (2008), Arab judges do not operate in that way. They match the unique, concrete circumstances of the action and personalities involved in a legal dispute to the law, not the other way around. A typical Egyptian qadi would think of an impersonal legal process in which all plaintiffs are in theory interchangeable with all others before the law as a flatly absurd approach to achieve true justice.
Third, the tribal/clan tradition of consensus decision-making in places like Egypt makes the concept of winner-take-all majority electoral rule almost incomprehensible. It makes the idea of inclusive toleration of minority views equally incomprehensible, as Mohamed Morsi so vividly illustrated for us over the past year. And the very idea of representation, necessary to move from village-scale to national democratic polities, is weak in Arab culture. Arab and Egyptian social relations are concrete and highly personal; this is where the power of a personal oath of loyalty (bay‘a) and of hierarchically structured mediation (wasta) find firm anchor both in interpersonal relations and in Arab conceptions of contemporary high-political and diplomatic interaction. The highly abstract notion that one can for all practical purposes homogenize human beings so that one person can stand in for ten or a hundred or a thousand unique others in a legislative setting doesn’t come naturally to every culture.
Obviously, cultures are not frozen, and attitudes are not stagnant. Over the past generation plenty of Egyptians and other Arabs have come to understand how Westerners think about these things and, given the lowly state of their own political circumstances, have come to find them attractive. There are Arab democrats—real ones, not just ones who mouth slogans without understanding the implications. There are Egyptian democrats too—also real ones—and there are lots more of them in 2013 than there were in, say, 1983. They are nowhere near a majority or even a social plurality in any Arab country yet. But as the generations roll, one day that might change, and if Egyptians then want to reorder their political life accordingly, that’s their business. If they ask our help, we should give it, if we can.
In the meantime, however, to punish the country—and that’s what it is—by withholding aid because Egyptians have a different history from ours, and consequently differently shaped social attitudes and political institutions, is ever so slightly nuts, not to speak of unfair. Doing so will make the United States seem anti-Egyptian in the eyes of the majority, most of whom believe “people power”, not a coup, brought down the Morsi government. An aid suspension will confirm to many Egyptians and other Arabs that the United States is pro-Islamist, however strange that has to sound to most Americans. An aid suspension would also be, as noted, flatly counterproductive in light of our interests and present purposes with regard to Egypt.
In my mind’s eye I see Carl Levin’s smiling face rise up over my piano next to the window in my study, and I can hear him say, with palms turned upward pleading, “But Adam, it’s the law. You can’t just ignore the law, or where would we all be?” And I would answer: “But Senator, it’s a stupid law and it should be repealed.” He would be incredulous, but I would persist by quoting David J. Danelo’s essay in this issue:
Consider that in a place like West Africa . . . this law leads to complete policy incoherence. We can now fund security assistance programs in Niger, where a 2010 coup eventually led to a democratically elected government, but we can’t fund programs in Mali, where [a] 2002 coup remains not-yet-transcended political fact. But of course the security situations in these two countries are closely linked; so the fact that we couldn’t in Niger but now we can, and we could in Mali but now we can’t, creates a policy flow that undermines the attainment of our objectives.8
The Senator would reply, “Yes, maybe, but the American people do not understand or care about such details. They care deeply, however, about our government protecting and advancing democracy the world over.”
And all I could possibly say in answer would be “Amen.”
1How and why Egyptian intelligence under the guidance of Omar Suleiman during the Mubarak era played a double game over the tunnels with Israel is a very interesting subject, but one well beyond the scope of this note.
2See my “Comte’s Caveat: How We Misunderstand Terrorism”, Orbis (Summer 2008), and Anna Simons’s two-part essay in the Summer and September/October 2006 issues of The American Interest.
3See Kurth, “The Protestant Deformation”, The American Interest (Winter 2005). I have made this general case before, in “Reflections on the 9/11 Decade”, TAI Online, September 1, 2011.
4See the classical exegesis of J.B. Bury, The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry Into Its Growth and Origin (Macmillan, 1932).
5I will not much belabor it here, but Gray’s brilliant unmasking of the arrogant illogic of the secular humanist mythology is not enough to save his basic argument (nor his misreading of Genesis). By relying overly much on the contention that the individual human mind is no more rational today than it ever has been, Gray stumbles on a myth he neglects to mention: primordial individualism. He discounts too much the role of culture and the autogenic character of cultural formation. If, as Erving Goffman said, “social life takes up and freezes into itself the conceptions we have of it”, then a will to progress in social life is capable of actually producing progress. Hence the differentiation of some societies from others in their relative degrees of refinement and civilization can start to make sense.
6See Huntington, “Democracy for the Long Haul”, Journal of Democracy (April 1996).
7I am here rephrasing myself from an essay more than a decade old, “The Impossible Imperative? Conjuring Arab Democracy”, The National Interest (Fall 2002).