Only tragedies count

Ah, Niall Ferguson -- an article reminding us that some revolutions in history have turned out badly. Very good -- but the trend since the mid-1980s has arguably been the reverse. Why? The single anti-pluralist vanguard party has largely been discredited, and pluralism is in. I'm sure that the Philipines and Indonesia had lots of unemployed young men as well involved in their revolutions, but somehow avoided a reign of terror. The Weekly Standard of all places had a very eloquent description of why the 2011 revolutions will not necessarily take a tragic course, because it acknowledges one of the simplest history lessons of all: times change. Other than the obligatory call for American assertiveness and the pseudo-recommendation to airstrike Qaddafi's forces to show up Ahmadinejad, it's very much worth a read.

Libya faces some unique challenges, which in some ways are similar to those which faced Iraq after 2003 -- minus the foreign occupation, of course. But I think that it's one promising sign that the National Council involved with organizing governance in Benghazi are people with some experience in institution-running: an ex-minister, judges, battalion commanders, etc. The professional classes in other words were not tainted by their co-option into the ruling party, as happened in Iraq. They do not seem to be acting like a vanguard party.

Vanguard parties sometimes come to the fore because they led a prolonged struggle (China, Iran) or because they were able to offer something that the more moderates would not (ie, the Bolsheviks offered land reform and a withdrawal from World War I), but it is not a foregone conclusion that an early, pluralist national unity government will always be swept away by the most ruthless and organized force in society, as Ferguson suggests. This is no guarantee for Libya, but it is one positive sign in an otherwise very uncertain situation.