Paul Berman // #Baathism: An Obituary

Baathism: An Obituary / The end of an ideology | The New Republic – The chief theoretician was a philosopher from Damascus named Michel Aflaq, who, during his Sorbonne years, sympathized with communism, mostly because communism appeared to be Western imperialism’s antithesis. In 1936, after his return to Damascus, it dawned on Aflaq, however, that Syria’s Communist Party was subservient to France’s Communist Party, which meant the Soviet Union, whose interests were not those of the Arab world. Also he read André Gide on the Soviet reality. He never did abandon entirely his left-wing instincts, which helps to explain why, in later years, he and his followers, having merged their organization with a left-wing party, ended up calling themselves the Arab Baath Socialist Party. But meanwhile he found new and more fecund inspirations in an alternative set of equally up-to-date ideas, which were those of German nationalism.

German nationalism in the ’30s mooned over an imaginary long-ago when Teutonic Aryans roamed the ancient pan-Germanic forests. The German nationalists dreamed of reuniting the scattered Germanic tribes, and dreamed of reviving, through purification of the blood, the heroic Teutonic virtues. They inebriated themselves with mystic hoodoo about their own spiritual loftiness. They knew how to loathe. And all of these impulses proved to be transplantable to the Arab East. The post-communist Aflaq took to mooning over the Arab seventh century. He imagined a return to yore through a revived appreciation of blood ties. He attached to those ideas the modern-sounding concept of socialism, thus arriving at a national-socialism. He identified the spiritual loftiness of the Arabs. He located ethnic enemies, some of whom, by odd coincidence, turned out to be the very enemies that German nationalism likewise loathed. And he began to picture the pan-Arab resurrection.

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