The Lebanese “revolution” through liberal eyes
I’ve been bewildered at the joy over Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution”—the latest of these sentimental pop names that keep being coined for the “democratic revolution” of the moment. As we should all remember, the reason Syria initially was able to gain power in Lebanon was that that once peaceful, civilized, and Christian-ruled country had been torn for many years by a horrible civil war following the entry into it of Palestinians in the early 1970s fleeing their catastrophic defeat at the hands of King Hussein of Jordan. After Syria took Lebanon over, the civil war stopped, and the world seemed relieved. It is puzzling why anyone would see a return to the status quo ante, i.e., a return to horrible civil war, to be a wonderful victory for “democracy,” “freedom,” or anything else. Also, as Arnaud de Borchgrave points out, the most powerful political party in Lebanon is none other than Hezbolah.
The reason for the blindness of Americans and liberals on this point is that they cannot conceive of a substantive good that exists independently of liberalism. Here we must distinguish between different types of liberalism. Left-liberals are philosophically opposed to the idea of a substantive good, since the recognition of any substantive good as a good would mean that it is better than some other substantive good, which would violate the left-liberal belief in equality. Right-liberals—that is, today’s mainstream conservatives—believe in a substantive good but have great difficulty in articulating that good independently of such liberal values as individual freedom and democratic elections. Either they conceptualize the good in terms of freedom, as President Bush has done in Iraq; or they assume, as Rush Limbaugh put it recently, that if people become free they will automatically adopt the good—a Rousseauian notion which shows how liberal today’s conservatives really are.
In brief, left-liberals are hostile to the notion of a substantive good because it leads to unequal outcomes. Right-liberals (conservatives) are not hostile to the notion of a substantive good, but nevertheless conflate it with the liberal idea of freedom and equality. The practical upshot is that liberals of both stripes conceive of the good strictly in terms of freedom and democratic elections, i.e., in terms of procedures in which all desires and all notions of the good are seen as of equal value. And they seek to institute such free and equal procedures, even if they lead to substantive evils such as civil war, or rule by Moslem terrorists, or rule by a black racist kleptocracy as in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, a country that has uniquely “benefited” from the Western liberal belief in procedural equality. It is not that liberals positively want such things as civil war or rule by murderous kleptocrats; it is that, in the case of the left-liberals, they are incapable of thinking in a principled way about substantive goods versus substantive evils becaue that would be discriminatory and unequal, or, in the case of the right-liberals, they are incapable of thinking of substantive goods independently of procedural freedom, or of imagining that procedural freedom may lead to substantive evils. Once rule by Moslem extremists or black thugs comes about, often (as in Zimbabwe) as a direct result of the liberals’ own meddling, they simply lose interest in that situation and start looking for opportunities to advance freedom and democracy elsewhere.