#Egypt, #OWC and the End of the End of History

Everyone is commenting on how eventful 2011 has turned out to be, with Charlie Brooker comparing it to an untoppable season finale. Given that the past week witnessed the deaths of both Vaclav Havel and Kim Il Jong (seems like the childlike empress of the universe is trying to keep the scores even), it’s anyone’s guess what surprise twist will be sprung in the last two weeks of the year. Alien contact via microwave signals beamed to Nintendo 3DS consoles? Ahmadinejad turns out to be a Saudi sleeper agent? Dolphins petition to join the UN?

'Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child.' Heraclitus and NeverEnding Story references in a single post, only here on Chaos and Governance

The ‘Arab Spring’ and the Occupy protests have, of course, been identified as the crucially important events of the year by many. The link between the two was at first seen as spurious by many. But in an article for the Guardian last Friday, Malik, Shenker and Gabbat make a decent case for seeing events of the year as part of an interlinked youth revolt against economic and political hierarchies, taking inspiration from one another and employing the same social media-enabled tactics.

It may have seemed churlish at first to compare the sacrifices of the Egyptian protesters to those of the Occupy movement but, without losing a sense of perspective, the parallels seemed much more relevant once security forces responding to Occupations by pepper-spraying unarmed, unresisting students in the face at point blank range.

In addition, commentators such as Malik, Shenker and Gabbat (as well as Mason) have seen in the various struggles signs of the decentralised ‘multitude’ prophesied by social theorists Negeri and Hardt back in 2000 as the new vanguard of global protest. On this I’m not so sure. Is the Egyptian uprising really all that different in terms of its social composition or organisational strategy from past pro-democracy movements, such as those which brought down the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe?

Malik, Shenkar and Gabbat seem like they are on to something when they suggest that there is an important generational aspect to current protests. There is an undeniable groundswell of frustration from what they describe as ‘most well-educated generation in human history’, a generation which is probably the most under-employed generation in history to boot. High education and dashed expectations are a volatile mixture. As Mason quips in what was probably the most important and perceptive blog post of the year, the French revolution was ‘not the product of poor people but of poor lawyers’.

The Malik et al piece, however, ends with the rather strange suggestion that

the great revenge is this: the generation that grew up being told they were the heirs to Francis Fukuyama’s end of history and victory of a liberal capitalist society, is now working its damnedest to prove how untrue this is

Maybe I just have Fukuyama on the brain this month. But the comment seems strange because it seems to describe the opposite of what is going on in the Middle East, where pro-democracy movements (or at least important elements of them) are trying their damnedest to prove that Fukuyama was right, to prove that that the Arab-Islamic world is not eternally destined to be subject to tyranny and that democracy is a universal aspiration. Even in the advanced industrialised world, where I agree that many making up the Occupy movements seem to yearn for something more than representative liberal democracy, it seems strange to call the protests ‘revenge’. Rather, they seem more like self-defence in the face of the shredding of the social contract and all-out assault by the 1%. Indeed, a return to the model of social market democracy extant before the crisis would no doubt be an appealing proposition for many in Western Europe and the US right now.

In other words, I think many of us in the North wish that history really had ended in 1989.


Posted on December 20, 2011, in crisis, democratisation, development, inequality, political economy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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