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EMMANUEL TODD’S ANALYSIS OF THE USSR FITS THE ARAB SPRING. Brian Micklethwait (thanks for the recent plug for this site!) has been interested in the ideas of Emmanuel Todd, a French anthropologist and sociologist, for about as long as I’ve known him. It looks as if his approach may help explain the scope and limits of the “Arab Spring” as well as how European societies will cope (or not) with the collapse of welfare states..

Todd became famous for predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union on the basis of his analysis of Soviet demographic statistics, notably suicide and infant mortality rates (the former was high and the latter stopped being published in 1974). Despite the efforts of Soviet propaganda, Todd accurately saw that however manipulated the data, the “official” suicide rate suggested massive levels of despair among the Soviet population. The rise in infant mortality in the late 1960s and early 1970s that was admitted by the Communist régime was itself unique among industrialised countries, suggesting the collapse of economic and social welfare infrastructure.

Unlike more famous mavens of Soviet collapse, Todd predicted that it would be the more educated, relatively well-off citizens of the Baltic states that would lead the way to change, not the Asiatic regions (which were noted for high birth rates, the influx of Islamic radicalism and the presence of oil).

The Arab Spring fits this analysis: it isn’t the poorest who overthrew Mubarak in Egypt, but the emerging (in numbers if not wealth) middle class. Radical Islam in Egypt and previously in Iran has been the ideology of opposition to plutocratic governments that were seen as corrupt and failing to deliver prosperity and opportunity. Sounds a lot like the causes of the French Revolution, well put by another Emmanuel (Sieyèes).

In fact once one looks at successful “régime change” throughout history, the bourgeoisie tends to be the social class from which the revolutionaries emerge and which tends to benefit, at least in the short term, from change.

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