Monday, September 7, 2009

Sophistry and Demagogy

Sa’ad Hariri, the designate premier, deserves credit for having finally, after 11 weeks, submitted a proposed Lebanese cabinet along the lines of 15-10-5. Fifteen members from the majority coalition of March14, 10 members from the opposition coalition led by Hezbollah and 5 cabinet portfolios for the president of the republic. The credit is however to be tempered by some criticism for not having taken this decisive step earlier and for encouraging the opposition to proceed in its meaningless and destructive obstructionism. They have allowed and encouraged to make one impossible and illogical demand after the next for years.
There is only one word to explain clearly and objectively the tactics of the opposition, it is simply demagoguery. That is best explained as a political argument that is constructed on half truths, straw men and logical fallacies. Actually H. L. Mencken, the American author might have said it best when he explained that “a demagogue is one who preaches doctrines that he knows to be untrue to (men) he knows to be idiots”. Their whole argument for presenting formidable nonsensical barriers to prevent the formation of a cabinet rests on such flimsy arguments that a government of one colour would be disastrous to the country. What they conveniently neglect to point to is that practically all governments all over the world are cabinets of one colour and furthermore that the ruling coalitions in many cases does not have much more than a 51-52%% majority. Could it be that in this case Lebanon is different since they (the opposition) are motivated only by a personal power grab? The man who would be king has no clue what democracy is and what is the meaning of checks and balances. Another example of pure demagogy is the claim that if the opposition is not given the right to dictate the terms for their invitation to join the cabinet then the Christians will be misrepresented. Sectarianism is the refuge of scoundrels, to borrow a phrase. It is as if one is arguing that say a British Labour Cabinet is an act of discrimination against the Conservatives and what is even worse it is a hidden argument to perpetuate sectarianism, the bane of all what is wrong in the Lebanese political system. To put the demands of the opposition in a simple straight forward analogy, their insupportable obstacles are not any different than when you invite a person to dinner and give that person a say about the menu and the time of service but you are told in no uncertain terms that you will not be allowed to hold your planned dinner without their attendance and that they will agree to accept the invitation only if you fire your staff and hire theirs. What logic, what chutzpah what demagoguery!!
As this column has argued often, the Lebanese experiment is practically at the point of no return, a point of disintegration. It is the duty and the obligation of all those of good will to attempt to save the Lebanese entity and that starts with good governance that will not seek short term solutions by papering over seminal and major fault lines. Mr. Hariri has taken the first minor step in that direction. He must become more forceful in speaking directly to the Lebanese people and in asking the opposition to live up to their historical responsibility. Mr. Hariri has to take a stand for what is right, a stand for the integrity of the republic. He must form a cabinet that will govern effectively, take decisions that are purely in the Lebanese national interest, eliminate political sectarianism and promote a Lebanese identity that measures the worth of a person not by the method of prayer but by their knowledge of a particular area and the strength of their allegiance to law and order Everything else is demagoguery and will hasten going over the abyss.


Leila said...

Someone should remind Hasan Nasrallah of what he said two tears ago. Whoever wins the elections should form the government. As for General Aoun he makes his own rules as he goes along. He has just declared that naming members of another party is undemocratic. Yes sure all his demands have been democratic.

The opposition is free not to participate and then naming a cabinet only from March 14 should be the next step.

Anonymous said...

I honestly fail to understand how an academic can turn his every day approach upside down when he shifts from his academic field to another.
Shouldn't political analysis follow the same method as economical analysis?
- control over passion (hate, love, preferences)
- neutral observation (or at least a little effort toward axiological neutrality).
- testing of analytical tools to see if they are adequate.

I'm seriously puzzled

ghassan karam said...

So you are puzzled that the Lebanese electorate is described as sheeple and irresponsible, that the political leaders are referred to as feudal lords, that the whole Lebanese political structure is called rotten to the core and that a call is being made to promote secularism, democracy and modernity? If that is the case then I have no choice but to call such an attitude sophomoric.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely GK,
and you can obviously call me and my attitude whatever you please.

I do find it shocking for the following reasons.
1- The words you use are simply disparaging. They are only meant to be derogatory.

2- The terminology does not help us understand the electoral dynamics.

3- It obscure the socio-economical dimension of local politics. If you're into name calling, that's another issue, but calling the electorate sheeple is uninformative and deceiving. When a person in the Chouf votes for Walid Bek, (s)he isn't doing it because he is Kamal's son or because he is the Druze tribal chief. This person is actually casting the most useful vote (s)he can because the candidate (s)he is backing is its only hope in the crippled economy our politicians are maintaining. Walid Bek is not only one of the country's wealthiest men, but he is the only person who can place a Druze in the public administration, he controls all the local public administrations in the mountainous regions of the Chouf, Aley, Baabda, and he has ties with all the big private companies that are likely to hire anyone. By any rational standard, voting for another candidate in the Chouf would be individually irresponsible (it would threaten their livelihoods) .
The same could be said about most of our Zu'ama.

4- Your terminology presents the political ties as "traditional", "feudal".... This is sociologically and historically unfounded and completely misleading. To go back to the Druze community, the dual leadership was actually abandoned in the 18th century (which led to the expulsion of the Yeminis). The Jumblatt family lost its dominant position in the beginning of the 19th century (to the Shehabs).
In the first half of the 20th century, the Druze lived under similare socio-political conditions as the rest of the people in Mount Lebanon, with a great number of "notables" with hardly any hierarchy amongst them. Kamal Jumblatt changed that in the 1950s.
The same thing could be said about the Gemayel family or the Salam family or the Frangieh family...
They started rising to power in the 1940s and crushed their rivals in the 1950s. There's nothing feudal or traditional about them. It's just a guise they use to legitimise their authority. They owe their power to modern means, modern techniques of mobilisation, modern ressource (and distribution)... And interestingly enough, this class is deeply secular (even if parts of it controls the religious establishment).

Yes, I agree with you, the system is rotten to the core. But you believe it is rotten because of ideological presuppositions. I believe it is rotten in the way it functions, which is quite remote from the principles the country was established on (jacobine and communal).

ghassan karam said...

I hope that you were not personally offended by my use of the term "sophomoric". I used that term because in a sense you do remind me of some of my best graduate students who are an excellent understanding of their field but who cannot let their hair down so to speak.
I enjoy your blog although I do not agree with your line of reasoning. But that is fine. You appear to be interested in what is and maybe even in justifying it while I am much more normative. At times that sounds utopian, and it is, but had it not been for those that are willing to push the envelope then things will be much more stagnant than they should be.
Anyway keep on doing what you are doing but also have fun while you are doing it. Ex, A few days ago a blogger tried to tell QN that a post was not epistemologically correct. QN answered by saying that he does not believe that pistachio had anything to do with the argument. QN dismissed in a very nice way what appeared to be a pretentious critic. Ask yourself this: Would you have done the same?
You have a very nice and thoughtful blog and I enjoy reading what you have to say but I do not lose sleep over the fact that I might disagree with you. In a sense I want you to disagree with me:-)

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