A recent post about Thomas Hobbes
set my mind in motion about the 16th and 17th century philosopher. His philosophies are interesting in that they rally a secular defense for the existence of the State as a large and centralized entity. His ideas saw the benefit of such an arrangement for a number of reasons, many of those ideas stemmed from a nearly sociological analysis of human behavior in groups or as individuals. What I considered was the current state of the Middle East
and the affect that the US has had on it. While no one wants to say Saddam should have stayed in power, many now point to the violence that has consumed Iraq as a reason why the intervention of the United States
was a mistake in the first place. But this violence brought my mind back to Hobbes for more biographical reasons and made me wonder about the future of Middle Eastern politics.
Saddam Hussein was a bad man. Very bad. But a bad man is not like a bad car chassis or a bad hard drive; a bad man can still work effectively, some can even change their stripes or mitigate the things they've done. Saddam lead a regime of terror and corruption over the people of Iraq and should have been stopped a long time ago. But Saddam Hussein did not come into power by purely his own devices. He came to power by having friends and allies, his regime rose to power in large part because a significant segment of Iraq's population came forward and supported him. Much of his support continued up to the end of his regime, a small amount continued well past it. He received his power from the blatant self interest of his supporters, most were Sunni Muslims who knew that having him in power would give them first class status in Iraq. Despite this minority, he still had power by way of the consent of enough of the people to take and hold control of the country. There are many ways in which Hussein's power paralleled that of Hobbes's Sovereign. It is evident now that even if he did destabilize the region to some degree, he did so in a manner that was not as randomly violent.
Dictatorship is a funny thing. Tyrants come and go in world politics. Neoconservatives have it in their heads that there is some Liberal-Democratic/Capitalist teleology at work in politics, but I feel that the current situation is simply another nail in the coffin for that argument. It would be nice if, when given a choice, everyone chose to make their government a flexible, scalable and humane structure that will exist to keep everyone secure and healthy and at least give them the right to happiness. But everyone will either vote for or follow in a bloody coup the one who can bring them together or the cause that they hold in their heart of hearts. They don't vote for world peace or good government, they vote for their values. Iraq politics currently reflect this idea; Shi'ite and Sunni and Kurdish self interest, after decades under a boot or wearing it, have been given the chance to take power for themselves. And much to the surprise of the US, they took the opportunity. The fundamentalists began rallying for various forms of theocracy, the Sunni politicians are either semi-corrupt throwbacks to the old regime or afraid that the Sharia will imposed are reacting as such. And the Kurds want to have autonomy so they can focus on committing acts of terrorism on or secession from Turkey to form their own country. The Leviathan was hunted down for blubber and oil, and now the beast's pod is trying to kill itself or the whalers. I do not mean to be glib, I am simply pointing out the motivations; in the end the government that will likely be born from this turmoil will be not a democracy but another totalitarian regime, probably Shi'ite. It would occur in this manner because a totalitarian regime would have the fastest method of pacifying the region. There are a number of ways to achieve peace: the most noble is through negotiation, the most glorifying is to win and the easiest/hardest is to surrender. As negotiation and surrender are unacceptable for most of the parties involved a decisive winner would bring peace, but it would likely be authoritarian.
What strikes me is the similarity of Iraq's loss of sovereign power and consequent fall into chaos, self-destruction and sectarian violence that England took during Hobbes's own lifetime. Indeed it is because of this slice of history in which the philosopher resides peppered his opinion of humans in a state of zero governance. But this opinion is just that, an opinion. It biased his belief that humans were, in general, anti-social and motivated by greed and the need for self-preservation. The reason it is possible to take issue with this is the fact that in both England and Iraq the people did not choose to remove their government, others were responsible for that decision. Hobbes concluded that if not in a state of Nature where life is spent fighting against other individuals, a government is a state of War between the leader and the people or between leaders themselves to unite the people under them. I like Hobbes, he reached some interesting and well reasoned conclusions, but this cynicism is born of the time in which he lived. In much the same way Locke managed to argue for some very similar ideas while maintaining that it was the right of a people to depose a tyrant.
Hobbes would feel that the Middle East today was a case that fell in favor of his ideas, and he would be right to an extent. The loss of Sovereign power in Iraq led quite quickly to a general loss of control and internal security. Many factions are at war there because the United States decided to make Iraq a beach-head for Democracy in the region. But such circumstances are trying on a young nation that was born when it wasn't ready for a change of leadership. Had secular leaders of popular movements had been consulted and cultivated instead in Iraq and brought about a populist movement against Saddam, Iraqis would have seen the US as a liberator and more popular people would have been ready to pick up the pieces. Instead the pieces got picked up by the first people to notice they were on the ground, who happened to be Al Qaeda and the Sadr paramilitary group. The bloody conflict that we are currently embroiled in is a civil war fueled by Shi'ite and Sunni factions trying to benefit from a power vacuum. This situation is the sort of mess that inspired Hobbes to urge future generations to entrust the keys to the chicken coop to the fox rather than shoot each other over the ownership of the chickens.
The information age has lead to something interesting. People are smarter these days; a lot more people, including Iraqis go to college and get degrees in various professions, including politics. The current situation may be one of the vital points in Middle Eastern politics because it may produce another Hobbes. Some Iraqi dentist who reaches similar conclusions and begins fighting to bring stability to the region by any means necessary. We may see the rise of radical pragmatism or something approaching to ancient Chinese Legalism. This may in the end have the affect of producing a government that is capable of reforming or a people who can unite against their oppressors. The horrible times that Hobbes lived in gave way to the Glorious Revolution, which inspired people like Locke toward more generous convictions about human nature. And the Chin Dynasty was eventually defeated by the Han, which gave us the populist Mencius. Given the way history has played out, we shouldn't give up hope for the near future in the Middle East, bleak as things look. Perhaps in the end Iraq will be turned over to Jordan or Kuwait to administer.(No I don't think so either)