Important Reading for Everyone Affected by the Arab Spring

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 118 (July/August 2013)

There is at least one very important book for you to read, by historian and philosopher Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution. Brinton compares a number of major historical revolutions and identifies a series of stages which nearly all of them go through en route to their ultimate success or defeat or irrelevance.

The probability is high in each country where the Arab Spring is currently a factor that each of these phases serves as a pretty good predictor of the near future in each such country, and a pretty good way to make sense out of current happenings.

It makes sense, for example, that the people who take over in a revolution are nearly all amateurs in the offices they have taken on or the roles they are playing. The resulting confusion and comedy of errors makes the revolution highly vulnerable to being hijacked and betrayed, its objectives brought to naught despite the tragic costs the movement has undergone.

Revolutions more firmly gotten in hand, nearly all experience a phase known from the French episode as the “Reign of Terror”— leaders in a power struggle in which they purge each other off, leaving the country vulnerable to invasion from outside by countries allied to the Old Order.

Revolutions which survive this phase see people generally recoil from the horrors of the terror, and a turn toward moderation known after the month it happened, in the French Revolution, as the Thermidorian Reaction.

And, something neighboring countries have to be wary of:   When revolutions succeed, their proponents set about trying to export their revolution to other countries, leading to some of the worst wars in human history. And— usually, when revolutions break out, they come sooner and happen faster than even the advocates of revolution ever dreamed, so that countries which have resisted popular movements so far are not out of the woods yet.

Crane Brinton’s work I’ve found to be generally sound. His monumental history of western philosophy and thinking, Ideas and Men, is an unusually good read for such weighty topics. I like his mapping out and comparison of revolutions in much the same way as I admire Arnold Toynbee’s mapping out and comparison of civilizations, grouping his detailed cataloguing to where one begins to sense the reasons for the strange and bizarre dynamics that happen in the field he is mapping.

I am certain that if people on both sides of the Arab Spring would read Brinton’s Anatomy, a lot of agony could be foregone and millions of lives saved, as both sides would develop a clearer idea of their own objectives and of how to achieve them.

Whatever your position in what is going on now, I strongly commend The Anatomy of Revolution to your attention.