What a great set-up for reading F Fukuyama’s End of History or A Kojeve’s response to L Strauss, you might say. Man, flush with thymos, sets off revolution—just as GFW Hegel predicted it should (or was that Fukuyama, or Kojeve, or . . .).
What I find remarkable is that Fukuyama (and evidently the NYT’s Kareem Fahim) find Mohamed Bouazizi’s thymos more noteworthy than the social and economic conditions that led Bouazizi to self-immolate. In Fukuyama’s narrative, this would illustrate how the green grocer, literally, displays more thymos than the contented bourgeois businessman who counts the cost before determining that resistance would entail a net loss to his bank account. Thymos then is made the hero in a universal narrative staring the march of liberal democracy through history.
Lost in the fray is Mr Bouazizi himself, though Fahim does call attention to the economic and social plight of Mr Bouazizi and the thousands of young men who share his lot. Instead we are made to focus on what poses as an ontologically fundamental quality, the real actor in the story, thymos, whose absence in homo economicus accounts for his unwillingness to fight and die for the cause of freedom.
But let us play the tape forward. A dictator is toppled, but the social and economic conditions remain. What is more, attention to developed world’s depredations of Tunisia is successfully deferred. Wage and price protections whose removal has been a leading demand of the developed world, not to mention a global economy that has ruined the Tunisian textile industry, have helped produce an entire nation of Bouazizis. Will this latest revolt, however, lead to a true social and economic revolution? Or will it simply create the conditions under which free markets, under the cover of the hint of an appearance of democracy, is allowed to ravage the Tunisian countryside, until that moment when democracy also entails the creation of a conservative Islamic republic?
An alternative scenario might involve genuine economic and social change, raising up and protecting the standards of living of men like Mohamed Bouazizi. But surely to do so would damage Tunisia’s free market cred and so its relationship with the developed world, thymos or no thymos.