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Applying the Hegelian Dialectic in Iraq

At this time, the United States is the only superpower.  With this dominance comes an ability to disseminate principles and ideas.  For decades, the United States has taken advantage of this ability, spreading its agenda throughout the globe.  According to some, dissemination is necessary because true democracies never war with each other, e.g., the U.S. would be in a more stable and secure position if there were more democracies. With the ongoing threat of terrorism, it is not surprising that the U.S has shifted its democratic aspirations to the Middle East. Unfortunately, while democracy as a whole is a positive thing, the United States’ belief that one size fits all is reckless and ignorant.  There are numerous forms of democracy: conservative, liberal, and electoral. Had the United States approached Iraq through the Hegelian dialectic, it would have realized that democracy is not a uniformed paradigm. In this article, I will discuss why Iraq should have been approached through the Hegelian dialectic, rather than the liberal/pluralist  paradigm, and what Iraq would have looked like under the Hegelian dialectic.


According to liberal/pluralists, Middle Eastern rulers are contending with populaces’ tasting enlightenment for the first time through their contact with TV, music, and western educational opportunities. Individuals in these nations are serfs; they are unable to leave their country, are designated at birth to a strict social hierarchy, and are vulnerable to the whims of the state.  According to this dialectic, with continued exposure to western life and values, the populace will begin to desire some of the same western luxuries such as a free press, freedom of speech, and/or the freedom to watch MTV.

  Feudalism ← Enlightenment = Liberal Democracy

However, this analysis is incorrect because Iraq’s populace neither follows a liberal ideology nor is the government structured pluralistically.  Instead, Iraq follows a conservative/corporatism structure.  Unlike the liberal/pluralist model, the conservative paradigm places the community over the individual.  In particular, stability and morality are placed over individual rights, thus the state, not citizens, is delegated the role of being arbiter.  Under the Hegelian dialectic, Iraq is,

(Spirit 1) contradicts (Idea) and creates (Spirit 2)
Arabism ← Islamism = Islamic Nationalism, which leads to
Islamic Nationalism ← Democracy = Islamic and/or Conservative Based Democracy

As the formula indicates, Saddam Hussein rose through power on the notion of Pan-Arabism.  In the 1970’s, the notion of a united Arab state was very popular across the Middle East.  Saddam’s Ba’th Party stressed this, and secularism.  He stayed in power during the rise of the Ayatollah and other Islamists by fusing his Arabism with Islamism. For instance, he commissioned portraits of himself praying, giving to the poor, and riding on a white stallion like the Muslim defender, Saladin. This created Islamic Nationalism, the paradigm found in current day Iraq.  It’s a paradigm that instills pride in one’s nation and faith.  However, unlike Islamism, this paradigm allows for the killing of other Muslims if it benefits the state, i.e., the Iran-Iraq War.
The United States hopes that the introduction of democracy will create a liberal democracy that resembles its own.  However, under the Hegelian dialectic, Islamic nationalism and democracy would fuse to create a conservative based democracy.  This form of democracy would resemble the conservative democracy found in Turkey.  In this scenario, religious leaders would hold greater power in both social and political arenas, possibly possessing several cabinet and parliamentary positions, but still be susceptible to the secular government and its laws.  Basic freedoms such as freedom of religion would be protected, however, Islam would remain the national religion.  As a result, Islamic organizations and mosques would receive federal funding, while other faiths would not.  Although it’s not liberal democracy, it does protect the basic rights of all citizens, and most importantly, respects the differences in each culture.
With Americans forcing liberal/pluralism on the Iraqi political class, an important aspect necessary in the Middle East, because of its religious and ethnic diversity, is removed, the corporatist trait of collaboration. In a corporatist state, the government incorporates different groups and gives them monopolies over their respective issues. For example, Iraq’s army, like that of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, was largely supplied by Shi’i tribes loyal to Saddam and Arab Sunni tribes from the heavily Sunni triangle area of Baghdad, Anah, and Mosul. In doing so, Saddam incorporated all factions of his nation, and used the State as a mediator between the different groups.  However, by removing this collaboration, as pluralism does, because of its emphasis on groups competing for control of the government, these groups are forced to butt heads and the only visible result is armed conflict.
While Americans view liberal/pluralism as a universal trait, Hegel says otherwise.  There is a great diversity of cultures in this world.  Thus it stands to reason that there is a great diversity of democracies.  While liberal democracy functions well in the United States, it will not do so in a society that stresses the community over the individual. The United States’ biggest failure in Iraq was its belief that democracy was one size fit all. Had it approached Iraq through the Hegelian dialectic it would have respected Iraq’s corporatist structure: maintained the army (mostly Shi’i), and allowed for the autonomy of the three distinct regions.  Unfortunately, it failed to do so, and as a result there are three competing factions in Iraqi society.

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