Friday, June 3, 2011

Revolution: 1848 to 2011

In February I compared the uprisings going on in Arab countries with the 1848 revolutions which shook much of Europe. In 1848 the revolutions had brief success but the mixtures of contradictory ideologies - ethnic nationalism, socialism, liberal capitalism - quickly divided and weakened them. Emperors and kings soon seized back most of the power ceded to the short-lived rebellion.

Since 1848 had largely failed, I wondered if the Arab uprisings, likewise drawn from loose alliances of contradictory ideologies - liberalism, nationalism, Islamism, sectarianism - might also collapse. After months of public optimism, events seem recently to have stagnated.

Paul Pillar writes in The National Interest:

One aspect of the 1848 events worth noting is that they resulted in inconsistent, and from the revolutionaries' viewpoint mostly disappointing, political change. A monarchy in France was overthrown in favor of the short-lived Second Republic , and peasant serfs in the Austrian Empire found some new freedoms, but other than that the yield was meager. Another aspect to note is that the uprisings, although significant enough in intensity and scope to warrant a major place in the history books, had pretty much run their course in the space of a year. And this was before the event-accelerating effects of social networks and other modern electronic media. Map the timeline of 2011 on that of 1848 and it is reasonable to ask whether we are getting close to halfway through this thing.

It would be foolhardy to declare that we are and that we have seen the peak of the Arab Spring, but it would be foolish not to admit the possibility that might be the case.

So have we reached the end? Or just the end of the beginning?

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