Monday, January 31, 2011

How Truly Revolutionary Is The Revolution In Egypt?

Gary North is out with a new piece today on the implications of the situation in Egypt. I liked his comments on "legitimacy" the most:
What is at stake is government legitimacy. When it becomes obvious to a growing minority of intellectuals that the government is corrupt, it is only a matter of time before these people begin to spread the word: the government is illegitimate. The only way that a government can keep control is to elicit voluntary compliance with its laws, rules, and official pronouncements. This can cease to work very fast.

A corrupt government is perceived as legitimate only because it is so expensive to get the word out to large numbers of people, especially people with educations and money, that the government is both corrupt and vulnerable. So, the only way for a despot to survive the kinds of things that have taken place in the North African autocracies is to extend political power, educational opportunity, and employment opportunities to the broad majority of the population. Western capitalist governments have been able to do this over the past century, but the autocracies have not been able to. They are the ones that are most at risk by the spread of the Internet and social networking. In other words, the best way to avoid revolution today is to have already created a system of political power in which large numbers of people believe that they have a stake in the system and a voice in the system.
The whole thing is worth reading and considering.

I am certainly not wedded to my comments in my earlier post. But I also am concerned by the idea of this kind of "New Era" thinking, where technology will heroically arrest the ability of governments worldwide to constrain their people, for good. I certainly see the decentralizing effects of technology like the internet, I appreciate North's point that these developments blend seamlessly with existing libertarian political and economic theory and that there is much reason to be optimistic.

At the same time, I am not certain why we can so easily trust the current news coverage and "narrative" that is being developed about these revolts. The concept of the "popular revolution" seems to be nothing more than a modern day Marxist pipe dream. Libertarian revisionist historians especially have done an outstanding job of demonstrating that even much heralded examples like the American Revolution were more likely events engineered by competing elites that eventually dragged the common man in, kicking and screaming, and ultimately made him responsible for paying the heavy burden of change in blood and treasure. How many political leaders of the American Revolution, or any other, ultimately gave their lives or their fortunes for their causes? Yet today, because of the internet, the revolution of "the people" is finally a reality?

Color me incredulous, for the time being.

I think it's also mistaken to view the institution of government as totally helpless in its ability to successfully react and adapt to this new technology. It would be the ultimate irony if, rather than providing the decentralized means of freedom and independence in a libertarian utopian outcome the internet proved to be the most binding, centralizing means of control and oppression in a throughly interventionist, authoritarian dystopian outcome.

The more we come to rely upon it, the more dependence we have upon a tool like the internet and the greater is the incentive for governments to find a way to use that dependence to pressure us into doing what they want us to do.

Either way, one thing is for certain-- listening to the clueless, arrogant and intellectually stultifying rhetoric coming out of Washington in reaction to events occurring in Northern Africa, politicians have yet again proven themselves to be the least visionary, least original and least inspiring thinkers on the planet.

I mean honestly, I'd rather play in traffic than listen to Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton ramble on and on. Career politicians and freedom are completely incompatible. Where is the "Off" button on these boring, old-fashioned quacks? And who in this country really, deep down in their heart, feels like these losers represent them and their ambitions?


  1. Not sure I would ever trust the received narrative, and I agree with your view on populist revolts. They always seem to be initiated or co-opted very early by entrenched powers. Look at the Tea Party.

    Interesting juxtaposition of words in "libertarian utopian", as I see the basic tenets of libertarianism as acknowledging that utopia is impossible.

    It would take an amazing confluence of events to achieve the dystopian scenario, and I don't think it could last very long. Not that I expect an ideal outcome for liberty either. I see the internet as just another tool that makes it easier for interested persons to educate themselves and makes it harder for the state to write its own histories.

    The masses may never climb on board. They usually settle for what causes the least headache. In another decade, they'll be exhausted from 20 years of the war and terror. Any viable alternative will be embraced and they'll tune out for a few more decades. At some point, technology will allow like-minded people to organize themselves. The internet preserves this opportunity.


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