Things We Want To Believe

by Patrick Appel

Responding to my confusions, Larison clarifies his position on Egypt:

It’s true that I am very skeptical of mass democracy as a form of government, but that is because I worry about its potential for degenerating into an equally oppressive despotism, creating majoritarian tyranny, and smothering liberty. I have concerns about the prospects of Egyptian democracy, but what really moves me to keep making contrarian arguments is the need to counter the enthusiasm and wishful thinking that characterize most of the Western responses to these events. What I am most interested in here is that everyone paying attention to these events give some serious thought to how representative of the Egyptian people the protesters are, how Egyptians perceive these protests, and the possible consequences of rapid political change.

If the protesters are actually unrepresentative, that makes a significant difference not only for how we understand what to expect in a democratic Egypt, but it also tells us how successful democratic reformers are liable to be. Austrian liberals made great strides in forcing their government to become a constitutional monarchy with a representative parliamentary system, but they represented a small minority of the population and their politics and their agenda were profoundly unpopular in rural areas and among the working class. As the franchise expanded, they were swamped by mass movements that were more representative of the population and were also strongly illiberal and anti-liberal. Should democracy ever come to Egypt, that process will happen all at once. The Ghad and Wafd parties will be buried under tidal waves of populist, Islamist, nationalist, and socialist sentiment. Perhaps Egypt will still be better off in the end as a result, but it does no one any good to overlook the potential pitfalls.