In fact, the links between Syria and Hezbollah are mostly a marriage of convenience, and Syria has restricted the number of seats — now at nine — that Hezbollah holds in Lebanon’s parliament, said Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

It also is wrong to say that Hezbollah opposes democracy in Lebanon, she said: “On the contrary, they are all for it, as they are the majority.”

Under Lebanon’s political system, the 1.2 million Shiite Muslims — the country’s largest single sect from which Hezbollah draws its support — form only a fraction of the half-Christian, half-Muslim parliament. So even if Hezbollah improves its standing, it will not be able to dominate the country under the current system. Shiites, Sunni Muslims and Druse, also Muslims, make up a majority of the country, however.

Nevertheless, Hezbollah retains the strongest armed militia in Lebanon — something the United Nations has called for disarming — and its strength comes in large part from its willingness to attack Israel.

Before he died, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose assassination touched off the anti-Syrian rallies, had said such attacks only hurt Lebanon. So far, the opposition has muted anti-Israeli views but also has tried to pull Hezbollah either into neutrality or into its fold altogether. Such complexities — and the sharply differing views on display in Beirut’s streets in recent days — have raised fears that Lebanon is headed not toward democracy, but chaos. “This won’t be Ukraine of 2004, but maybe Lebanon of 1975,” said As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese political science professor at California State University. At that time, the country was wracked by constitutional crises and political disputes that eventually dragged it into a volatile 1975-90 civil war.

n Lebanon’s president reappointed pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami on Thursday, 10 days after he resigned amid a storm of anti-Syrian protests in Beirut, Reuters reported. President Emile Lahoud asked the Sunni Muslim politician to form a national unity government after parliament, where Syria’s allies have a majority, nominated him for the post on Wednesday. ~The Moscow Times

There will be an extensive review of John Lukacs’ Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred when I return from a short vacation, but some of the general observations of his book are immediately applicable to the sorry state of Lebanon.

I should say, however, that it was not within the scope of Prof. Lukacs’ book to address the question of democratisation or problems of democracy outside the Western, that is Euro-American, world. To the extent that democratisation is a global phenomenon, and to the extent that combinations of nationalism and socialism do prevail in the politics of every country (including, and perhaps especially, our own), as he argues, Prof. Lukacs’ observations are readily applicable to the problem of democracy and populism throughout the world. That is not, as Prof. Lukacs is fond of saying in this book, the aim of his book (which is, in short, to analyse important aspects of the history of Western democracy and recognise the ongoing degeneracy of democracy in its populist and nationalist forms together with the methods that have aided in the corrosive process). However, the applicability of Prof. Lukacs’ ideas to non-Western countries is one of the reasons why the book is so important and will be, I suspect, one of the most-read books and probably the most controversial book of the year (no prizes for predicting controversy about this one, of course). Because he admirably limits the scope of his analysis to the West, it can be all the more penetrating and reliable.

Very simply, what Hizbullah represents in the Lebanese situation is the mobilisation of a nationalist populism, and the provocation of this nationalist populism is, according to Prof. Lukacs, very dangerous to the integrity and stability of states and the functioning of institutions. In the cauldron of nationalism, as patriots in this country have discovered in the past three years, insufficient nationalism is a political death sentence or it is as good as being mute for those who do not or cannot embrace wholly the contempt for others necessary for nationalism to flourish. If the opposition in Lebanon remains in its difficult position of being against the Syrian occupation (what one might assume to be the ‘nationalist’ position) while the major Western powers are also closing in on Syria, it may find itself suffering from an ugly backlash of populist hatred directed against it, as Hizbullah has the greater symbolic and historical claim to representing Lebanese nationalism while some parties of the opposition, or members of their communities, distinguished themselves by aiding the Israeli invasion.

Nothing so clearly stoked the pro-Yanukovych forces in Ukraine than the appearance and reality of Western interference in Ukrainian elections, but because eastern Ukraine was deemed pro-Russian it could be, and was, demonised effectively by the pro-Yushchenko press in and out of the Ukraine as being insufficiently nationalist. That all pro-Yushchenko media was willing to lie blatantly about his supposed poisoning didn’t hurt, either. But nationalism was the real issue in the Ukraine–not democracy, which is secondary or unimportant to most people in itself. It was the struggle over who had the right to claim the mantle of nationalist. That is the struggle today in Lebanon as well. If Americans and Frenchmen were actually interested in the welfare of the minority opposition communities, the Maronites, Druze and others, they would cease their meddling and their harrassment of Syria forthwith. Our government is pushing together two nationalist alignments in a country perfectly capable of collapsing into civil war. The state in Lebanon is plainly very weak and could not survive a real political crisis.

Prof. Lukacs makes the key distinction, often blurred in the popular press, between patriotism and nationalism not simply for precision but to illustrate that patriotism is premised on love of another (i.e., the country, something outside of oneself), which is genuine love, and nationalism is self-love, the love of identity, which is to say loving something only because it is like oneself. This affinity towards those like us is natural, but nature is not charitable, as he says.

In truth, Prof. Lukacs is not saying anything here that some thoughtful genuine conservatives here and some learned Continental men have not been saying for some decades (Dr. Francis, among others, insisted upon the distinction between patriotism and nationalism frequently, and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn was enunciating a very similar opposition between the spirit of charity and what he called ‘identitarianism’ as the common, vicious characteristic of all democratic or mass movements). But it is vital that he is explaining it and explaining it so simply and clearly.

Incidentally, Prof. Lukacs’ correct observation that states are in many ways weakening (and he is far from alone in observing this) will be one of the troubling claims in his book for the “conservatives” in this country (he almost always refers to the American variety in quotation marks, as he generally should), including in some ways even paleoconservatives, even though they will probably find themselves one of the few groups on earth in frequent agreement with Prof. Lukacs.

Indeed, almost no Americans past or present (and few Europeans) escape without taking their lumps in this excellent book. It is written for a popular audience (the lack of footnotes personally drove me crazy), but it is the summary of a lifetime of scholarship and should be considered a serious, scholarly work in some ways. It will infuriate the neoconservatives, who clearly represent the degenerate nationalist socialism of the contemporary world in all its ugliest hues (but the book also makes clear that Americans are all much more like them than we want to admit), it will horrify many liberals (to whom Prof. Lukacs shows no mercy whatever) and it will bother almost any American who reads it.

No party’s heroes escape unscathed, because Prof. Lukacs’ interest is in understanding and truth, not in the worthless parlour game of partisan advantage or some preoccupation to vindicate a given group throughout history. As Prof. Lukacs writes, he writes essentially as the excellent historian that he is, and the importance of history in grasping the problems of democracy and populism is a constant theme. There will be more about the rest of the book, including some of the problems that I have found with it in the review itself, but I hoped to provide a glimpse of what was forthcoming and provide an example of how this book will be extremely useful and valuable in understanding political developments in America and throughout the world.