The true irony of the Arab Spring is that, whilst the Arabs openly declare their allegiance to the universal of political democracy, the Europeans move toward the particularity of their right-wing nationalist parties. The logic of Eurocentrism posits “the West” as the progressive democratic universal, and “the East” as the backward theological particular. In a sense, the events of 2011 have flipped this logic on its head: The “particularistic” Arabs embrace the universal, whilst the “universalist” Europeans embrace the particular. In the second installment of this series of three “Owl of Minerva” articles, we will explore this fundamental irony of our year 2011 in more detail.
Last month, elections in Finland brought about the dramatic rise of the right-wing “True Finn” party, which went from approximately 4% to 20% of the vote in the last four years. What does it mean to be a True Finn? Let us set aside, for the moment, the details of the party’s reactionary policies. To answer our question at the most basic level, we can say that to be a true Finn means to be not, for example, a Somali. The category of “Somali” is separate from the category of “Finn.” The logic of nationalism, especially in its most right-wing variants, is the logic of mutually-exclusive categories, i.e., of particulars. The term “Finn” — just like the term “Somali” — refers to a defined and bounded group of people, and it is this notion of boundaries which makes national designations so fundamentally different from, for example, the term “democratic,” which is necessarily unbounded, i.e. a universal.
In the first article of this series, I argued that we should see the Arab Spring as the fallout of the world recession of the past three years. I should have added that it is only part of this recession’s undertow, because it is my contention that we can see the sudden rise of European Far Right parties in exactly the same light. Because the Owl of Minerva is still in flight, we cannot yet know the full implications of this year’s developments, but we can see that there is a movement. This movement of backlash against the recession has expressed itself in different ways, depending on specific contexts. In the Arab countries, we see revolts calling for democratic government. In Europe, we see an upswing of fanatical nationalism. If only parties like the French Front National could see what they are doing! In the name of some deified thing called “France,” they take on precisely the same backward chauvinism that they project onto “the Arabs.” Meanwhile, the Arabs themselves call out for those basic universal liberties that Le Pen et al. would want to make into the particular reserve of glorious France.
In Europe, the recession came as a blow to the sanctity of the welfare state. In the Arab countries, there is no welfare state to defend, but instead, nothing but a corrupt autocracy to attack. It was never preordained that the Europeans, in formulating their knee-jerk reaction to the troubles of the times, would blame it all on immigrants and make a sharp shift to the right. In Greece, for example, left-wing parties have been at the forefront of recent years’ protests. However, it unfortunately seems that an increasing number of Europeans are choosing the easy way out of “blaming it on someone else.” Let us just hope that “universalist” Europe’s fall into nationalist particularism ends before it goes too far.