The Character of Egypt’s Military Rule and the Wisdom of Crowds

The op-ed: “‘Its Name Is Fascism’ The supporters of Egypt’s military aren’t liberals” is a terrific example of how the conflation of democracy and liberalism confuses a complex issue. But for the equation mob = majority, this sentence is true (although the author and I do not share the same idea of the politics necessary for this transformation): “Democracy is not whatever a mob, or a majority, wants. Indeed, democracy was designed to thwart the mob, and set limits to the tyranny of the majority, by reconfiguring it, by means of politics, into a free and self-governing people.”

Egypt coup d’état

But the next sentence confuses the issue by conflating democracy (people rule) with liberalism (rule of a minority of the opulent): “It is time to stop calling these people [supporters of the ‘coup’] liberals. A military dictator supported by the masses in the streets: there is another name for such a phenomenon, which is not unfamiliar in the annals of modern politics. Its name is fascism.” And then this utterly false and reckless characterization: “Which is another name for the wisdom of crowds.” Did you get that? Fascism is the wisdom of crowds.

Fascism is neither liberalism nor the expression of crowd wisdom. However, fascism has historically been the result of the erosion of liberalism through the working out of the inherent contradictions of capitalism and the concentration of wealth and power in monopolies. If the Egyptian people had a robust tradition of democracy, then fascism wouldn’t be a possibility (or at least it would be a remote one), since the working people would run the productive machinery—not the other way around, as it is under liberalism (or fascism). Economic liberalism without adequate democracy prepares the ground for fascist power because economic liberalism systematically disempowers the people. Liberalism is, from the point of view of the ruling (i.e. capitalist) class, a safe substitute for democracy.

Democracy was not the result of the revolution that removed Mubarak from power. It was business as usual with respect to the fundamental economic relations that direct Egyptian life. Instead, religious authoritarians hijacked the popular political energy and, in a counterrevolutionary moment, seized the government and began implementing Islamist rule, albeit not strictly fascism but, in many ways, an analog to fascism (counterrevolutionary and reactionary). This analog to fascism was overthrown by the military which, at least in the early phase, appears to represent the interests of the majority—at least as the majority understands those interests.

Leon Wieseltier, author of the linked op-ed (recall that Wieseltier served with Gingrich, Kristol, Lieberman, Perle, and other neoconservatives on Committee for the Liberation of Iraq), recognizes the majority support for the Egyptian military’s actions, but he dismisses majority opinion as an expression of fascism. Was it true of Germany under Hitler or Italy under Mussolini that national socialist and fascist rule were expressions of the majority? The degree to which fascism is happening in Egypt depends on the degree to which the military is doing the bidding of corporate power over against the wisdom of the crowds. 

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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