It's amazing that in July of 2013, the New York Times would allow these words to appear on its public editorial column, courtesy one David Brooks:
Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern.Mental equipment? Now, most people would agree that Islamists lack the temperament to govern, and that their ideology is incompatible with constitutional liberalism. But then, Islamism is simply another form of conservative religious rule, one that Republicans hope to practice in the United States in their own way. David Brooks may want to take a look in the mirror. It's a known fact that constitutional liberalism is at odds with democracy in a society of religious bigots. That's why the national guard had to be sent in to desegregate the schools in the Old Confederacy.
But beyond that, did Brooks really mean "mental equipment"? As in, their brains don't have the capacity for democracy? Is Brooks a phrenologist? Perhaps it was just an unfortunate turn of phrase his editor failed to catch.
Oh. No it wasn't.
In reality, the U.S. has no ability to influence political events in Egypt in any important way. The only real leverage point is at the level of ideas. Right now, as Walter Russell Mead of Bard College put it, there are large populations across the Middle East who feel intense rage and comprehensive dissatisfaction with the status quo but who have no practical idea how to make things better. The modern thinkers who might be able to tell them have been put in jail or forced into exile. The most important thing outsiders can do is promote those people and defend those people, decade after decade.In her tremendous book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein writes of how neoliberal villains destroy nation-states' ability to protect themselves from the predations of multinational corporations and open markets, "liberalizing" their economies while rapidly impoverishing societies, shrinking middle classes and generally immiserating their people.
It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.
When the great experiment in shocking nations into radical free-market economics erupts in failure, conservatives fall back on the argument that something in the minds and cultures of the people whose markets have been freed even as their persons have been impoverished, somehow lack the mental and cultural components required for freedom. That was the argument made when the plutocrats ensured Russia's transition into kleptocracy rather than social democracy. It was also the argument made by conservatives about Iraqis after the bombing of their country and the imposition of radical economic Objectivism on their people.
David Brooks is a racist. Brooks sees a middle east ravaged by oil imperialism from without and conservative religion from within, and declares its inhabitants mentally unfit for democracy by virtue of his singularly ineffable expertise on the subject.
If David Brooks and his ideological kin were ever allowed to fully take control of this nation, he might find us, too, mentally unfit for democracy. Fear, religious conservatism, jingoism, Objectivism and economic imperialism tend to be anathema to democracy wherever they go.
Cross-posted from Digby's Hullabaloo