The current TV and news coverage in America ignores the fact that the Egyptian mind is very unlike our own. I believe that today we should be thinking not of similarities between ourselves and the Egyptians but of the dissimilarities. We must not be like the American who initially sees in an Englishman a glorious and welcome replica, an almost perfect copy, only later to come to quarrel over the differences that emerge. The best course would be the opposite – to see the Englishman first as a foreigner and only later come to appreciate the things that the two of you share in common. Some erk in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, recently said with a gush: “We are all Egyptians now!” That is false and repulsive. It insults the Egyptians.
Perhaps the first insight to recall in gazing at today’s Egypt is the great Le Bon’s remark: “A member of a mob is a person in a very low state of civilization.”
The truth is not the same for everyone in all places. Nothing is suitable for all people everywhere. What pleases a an inhabitant of Paris is hardly going to please an inhabitant of Beijing. You have to ask of a people, what suites them, what inspires them, what animates them, what gives them energy and the ideas that make their existence meaningful and valuable to themselves. The Greeks, proceeded in one direction, the Chinese and the Hebrews in another, the Romans in another. Each group must strive to realize what lies uniquely in its bones, in its essential features, circumstances, and peculiarities that acts to create customs, traditions, and initiates talents. Even the value of religious truths is not in accordance with some objective standard.
What I would like to see in Egypt is a political system that is in accord with the ages-old Egyptian national character. Commentators in America seem to picture a future system there as a day of sunlight and little white flowers, a place as sweet as a sugar cookie. I doubt that this will prove true. It is my fundamental belief that you only have a civilization once a nation’s people manifest a will to live in common. What in a people helps to create that will? In any case, gaining that will is a difficult achievement, and I suspect it’s features are likely to be unfamiliar or even hostile to an American like me. The point is we can still live with it.
What does “meaning” mean?
The word “democracy,” like “liberty,” is a word that has an ideology of its own. It has more sound than sense -- it can mean anything to anyone. What a word like “democracy” calls up are vague, undefined feelings, not facts. It is feelings urge people into the most savage kinds of conflict, facts do not. One of the major and off-putting of political diseases is the vagueness of political ideals. Terms like “democracy” or “liberty” are mere catchwords.
Nothing is ever what it first seems to be. As the great George Kennan observed, there is a bit of democracy in every dictatorship. As he often noted, false pretenses and perverse infatuations have a way of spreading. The urge to set up forms of “self government” has had a broad attraction for many nations of the world, but one has to remember that some of the most brutal tyrannies have been based on the word, ‘democratic.’” Many of our most astute American thinkers, including the Founding Fathers, manifested skeptical reservations about democracy being the “wave of the future,” and many have declared that there is no evidence of its being anything of the kind. Kennan in 1975 had the moral courage to assert that the development of democracy was “by no means be the best course of action for many of the world’s peoples.”
He pointed out, , “Time and time again, authoritarianism regimes have been able to introduce reforms to improve the lot of the masses, where more diffuse forms of political authority have failed.” Kennan cited China under Mao as one example of this. He also asks the question as to whether “the great masses of the people of the world as oppose to its restless intellectuals, prefer democracy to prosperity and economic security?” He thinks not.
American media giants seem far too eager to profess with certainty what so many highly diverse and foreign peoples really want to embrace as their political system. This is reckless, stupid and ignorant. A crisis like the one in Egypt should raise the question as to wether the current U.S. euphoria means only that we are simply imposing our own values, traditions, and habits of thought on people for whom these things do not have the same value.
After all,, Egypt has basically undergone a military coup and at the moment has no law. A bit of caution, I think, is required.