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  • Originally published 06/18/2013

    Niall Ferguson: Paris could burn this summer

    High youth unemployment in Europe and disappointing growth expectations in the emerging world could mean more mass protests like the ones seen in Brazil, Niall Ferguson told CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Tuesday."There are two kinds of city that we could see burn this summer," Ferguson said. "The big European cities with Paris at the top of the list look extremely vulnerable. Paris has a greater tradition of urban rioting than almost any city in the world."Ferguson, a Harvard University professor, said the French economy is bad and "the youth unemployment problem right across Latin Europe is really an explosion waiting to go off."...

  • Originally published 05/07/2013

    Michael Lind: Is Revolution Coming to the U.S.?

    Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation. Will the third revolutionary wave hit the U.S. next? The revolutions in today’s world are getting ever closer to America.Revolutions tend to occur in waves, triggered by the aftermath of wars, like the world wars, or by revolutions in leading countries, like the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848. In the last generation, there have been four regional waves of revolution. With the end of the Cold War, communist regimes were swept from power from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, surviving only in a few countries including China, North Korea and Cuba. Unable to justify themselves with the pretense of fighting communism, military dictatorships were swept away in Latin America. Then the Arab Spring triggered a wave of populist if not necessarily democratic revolutions against autocracies in North Africa and the Middle East.

  • Originally published 10/25/2013

    Unpacking the Arab Uprisings (Part 2)

    Figuring out the cause of the uprising is different from why it's perpetuated. I return to this blog after a break, with delight. I would like to continue the unpacking I started in the first post (here) by addressing a methodological point about the question causality. We need to separate the question of causality into two parts, in the Syrian and other cases: 1) What caused the uprising? And 2) What perpetuates the uprising? The answers are different. The first deals primarily with local factors and the second with a combination of factors tilting towards external ones. Even in dealing with the first question of causes, we must separate the structural from the circumstantial, by separating between the large structural reservoir of causes that built over time and the immediate causes that instigated social mobilization on a large scale. Syria, is a good case here. Herein, I will address the question of structural causes. The question of what instigated the uprising is less complex, and merits a detailed treatment once more information is available, though the facts are not too controversial. Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian experiences just one to two months prior, the narrative of the young kids who called for the regime’s fall on the walls of their school in Der`a constituted the first flame that ignited the heap of hay accumulating for decades. Surely, the local strongmen’s brutal response guaranteed the wider mobilization there at first, but it was bound to happen after a few such dissenting attempts. The same incident, if it had occurred one year prior, would have fizzled out within days, if not less. However, the regional domino effect and the continuing collective focus on the broader context gave that incident prominence while changing the calculus of individuals vis-à-vis the risk and potential success of taking to the streets en mass, especially in the more rural areas and small towns. The rest is bloody history. The set of structural causes that I would like to highlight, beyond the constant factor of repression, relate to political-economic factors that have engulfed Syria since 1986, when the regime effectively began shifting its social and political alliances from labor to business. Namely, I am referring to the growing relationship in the past few decades between the political and economic elite in Syria, and its continued policy implications for nearly twenty-five years. This new nexus of power pervades most global political economies but produces deleterious effects to the extent that the context allows. In many developing countries, including Syria, it is associated with the protracted process related to the unraveling of the state-centered economy, which also constitutes the rolling back of redistributive policies on which the masses increasingly relied in the absence of economic growth. I must caution in the same breath against the emphasis on such factors as singular causes for the uprisings, in Syria or elsewhere. Instead, I address this factor as a central one, not the only, one. Thus, this cannot be a comprehensive account of structural causes. Politically, the new nexus of power between the political and economic elite in Syria seems to have buttressed authoritarian rule in Syria over the past two decades, whether or not other factors contributed to this outcome. This is not simply a function of “support” for the status quo by beneficiary elites, for this is the norm nearly everywhere. It is also a form of legitimation of a changing status quo because the corollary of this particular nexus of power involves various forms of “liberalization” or state retreat: this includes a “budding,” “growing,” or seemingly “vibrant” civil society that may be considered a sign of political “opening;” a “freer” economic environment in which the state gives up its monopoly over some sectors of the economy; and a large “private” sector that purportedly grows at the expense of the state-run “public” sector, giving way to a broader dispersion of resources with economically democratizing effects. Though these outcomes are pleasing to some external actors (including that amorphous conception, “the international community”), they are not felt in any positive manner by the overwhelming majority of the population, who must fend for themselves as public provisions, jobs, and welfare dwindle. Quite the contrary, the majority of the Syrian people have seen their fortunes decline with the deepening of this alliance between state and big business since the mid 1980s.