October 27, 2005
Jeff Weintraub Has a Weblog!
A not-unrepresentative sample:
Jeff Weintraub: To: Members of PoliSci. 181-601 (Modern Political Thought) From: Jeff Weintraub Re: Montesquieu in Damascus: In case you're interested, this recent New York Times op-ed piece about Syrian politics happens to have a bearing on Montesquieu's comparative analysis of regimes and on some of the practical implications of his approach, so you might find it useful to consider in connection with reading and thinking about Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. (If not, fine. This is optional.)
The author of this piece, Joshua Landis, is an intelligent and well informed analyst of Syrian society & politics. I don't always agree with his arguments, but what he has to say is always worth taking seriously.... I want to draw attention to the theoretical logic underlying Landis's analysis of Syrian politics--which should be familiar to you from your reading of Montesquieu...
Landis believes that undermining the Syrian regime or pressuring it very hard to change would be a bad idea.... [I]f it breaks down, the result will not be a more "democratic" regime, but instead chaos and civil war. And, in the end, if this regime is overthrown it will almost certainly be replaced by another despotic regime that will be even worse.... Why? Fundamentally, Landis argues that the character of Syrian... political culture renders these outcomes inevitable.... Here's the heart of his analysis.
Mr. Assad's regime... even its most hard-bitten enemies here do not want to see it collapse. Why? Because authoritarian culture extends into the deepest corners of Syrian life, into families, classrooms and mosques. Damascus's small liberal opposition groups readily confess that they are not prepared to govern... they fear the deep religious animosities and ethnic hatreds that could so easily tear the country apart if the government falls.... The religious tolerance enforced by the government has made Syria one of the safest countries in the region. Washington is asking Mr. Assad to jeopardize this domestic peace. Worse, if Mr. Assad's government collapsed, chances are the ethnic turmoil that would result would bring to power militant Sunnis who would actively aid the jihadists in Iraq.
What is Landis arguing here? In Montesquieu's terms, his argument is that the structure and, above all, the mores of Syrian society make a stable despotic regime, like that of the Ba'ath Party, the best alternative that is realistically available. In particular, according to Landis, what are missing from Syrian society are precisely the kinds of mores that would be required to make a regime of democratic republicanism work--that is, the mores of genuine citizenship. The dominant mores diffused through Syrian society, Landis argues, are not republican but "authoritarian." Furthermore, Syrian society as a whole does not have the fundamental sense of solidarity... for republican self-government to be workable. And so on....
Posted by DeLong at October 27, 2005 07:03 PM