Why Are We Surprised When Nationalists Turn Out to be Nationalists?

This article in the New Republic provides another example of how deluded Westerners who think “democracy” equals Western values are.

Aung San Suu Kyi is, whether one likes it or not, a Myanmarese/Burmese nationalist above and beyond all else.  She doubtlessly shares the proclivities, both positive and negative, of her people, and this includes, as shown repeatedly throughout history, a certain streak of ultranationalism and xenophobia (i.e. how many Indians are left in post-independence Myanmar/Burma where there were more than a million of them?  Answer is not many, because they were driven out by the locals who considered them, not without reason, as associates of British Imperialism.)  That she is showing that, she is, after all a Myanmarese/Burmese should surprise the Westerners is the real shocker, not that she is acting like one.

What is more is that Aung San’s own changing political status reinforces her Myanmarese/Burmese-ness.  In the past, she was under house arrest, without any formal power or influence other than goodwill of the Westerners.  Naturally, she was willing to say the things that flattered the Westerners and appeased their sensibilities.  That is no longer the case now that she is part of the government, indeed, an integral part of the government.  Her opponents have, not entirely without justification, that she is not a real Myanmarese/Burmese, but a pawn of the Western imperialist powers–which, in a sense, is not entirely untrue.  She has every reason to dispel such perceptions in order to secure and expand her influence in present day politics of Myanmar/Burma.  Parrotting Western do-gooders is the last thing she’d want to do.

This is, like it or not, the new face of democracy, the Fourth Wave, one might call it.  The leaders of this wave increasingly represent majorities/pluralities among the locals, the actual denizens of the countries that they seek to govern, and these majorities/pluralities are increasingly insular and inward looking in their confrontation with an increasingly unfamiliar and foreign landscape of the internationalized world.  These local faces belong to far right nationalists in Hungary and Lithuania, Euro-skeptics in UK, the Ikhwan in Egypt and Syria, the ultra-nationalists on both sides in Ukraine, FN in France, and Donald Trump in United States–in other words, the West is not exactly immune to this wave of “democracy.” These people are not friends of the cosmopolitan elites, not in Egypt, not in Ukraine, not in UK or US of A, or, indeed, in Burma either.  As I had written about illiberal democrats and liberal authoritarians before, in fact, several times.

I don’t think this means that we need to choose between “liberalism” (in the old fashioned sense) and “democracy.”  I do think that it does mean that we need to choose between liberalism ™ and “democracy.”  A lot of what passes as liberalism today is indeed foreign, alien, and most importantly, utterly irrelevant to the lives of the average person.  As I saw on Twitter earlier today (which I unfortunately cannot find again), for many “liberalism” has come to mean oohing and ahing over “bespoke insects prepared by a multicultural Nigerian-Swedish chef  touted by New York Times.”  What does this have to do with the regular people, whether in Kentucky or Yangon?  Aung San and Trump are both clever people, with an eye for spotting what it is that their respective people–the real people who actually make up the majorities or large pluralities of their countries’ populations–and are acting accordingly.  If anything, given that most of the cosmopolitans reside in New York or London and not Yangon, Cairo, or even Kiev or Donetsk, one might expect the leaders of the Fourth Wave in the developing world should be far more illiberal than their Western counterparts.

Perhaps one should add a third act to Marx’s 18th of Brumaire:  what was once a tragedy turns to farce, then becomes an even bigger tragedy.  Bad things are unfolding across the world.



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