31/01/2022

Parallel Worlds of Political Thoughts

Jean Paulhan wrote in 1932 that "whoever wishes to engage in politics has no real choice but between Karl Marx and Charles Maurras". In 2021 in Lebanon, the choice is between the federalists and the others.

By Iyad Boustany @Iyadboustany


The Lebanese political scene can be simply described as the adjunction of two universes of political thinking, more like siloes of political thought. On the one hand, the Federalists and on the other all the rest. Those who defend a project, an idea, an ideal and those who defend their dogma, their positions, and/or their interests.

The Anti-Federalists camp comprising of a wide spectrum of eclectic groups that have nothing in common but one trait: being Anti-Federalists. The social groups that make up this Anti-Federalist front are very diverse and include the globalized bourgeoisie, the media, the clergy, the leftists, revolutionaries, and even the leaders of traditional political parties. All of them have the same diagnosis for the problem of Lebanon and all propose the same solution. They all claim that the problem of Lebanon is a problem of corrupt elite – identified under the term of “manzouma” (clique, warlords), and that the solution is the replacement of these individuals. The Anti-Federalists shyly recognize the need for some system reforms, but they limit the scope thereof to the surface of the system, a pure administrative re-organization. For the Federalists, Lebanon’s problem revolves around the mismanagement of its ethno-cultural diversity, a reality denied by the Anti-Federalists. For them, “the failure of the current system is the result of an incompetent and dishonest ruling elite”. The system, the constitution, have little or nothing to do with our demise.

Below are a few major flaws in the methodological and analytical narrative of Anti-Federalists.

What is the problem of Lebanon?

The Anti-Federalists avoid formulating a “problem of Lebanon”, they engage in rather complex analytical reasoning without prior definition of the axioms. Look at any Anti-Federalists publication; it systematically excludes any statement as to what the problem of Lebanon is. Their publications usually amount to a litany of clichés, sentences, often on a moralizing and declamatory tone. All Lebanese know quite well the reasons why such crucial element is missing. To articulate a problem of Lebanon is to automatically frame the thought process into a much-dreaded analytical rigor as much as it threatens to unveil the flaws in the reasoning and could lead to undesired conclusions. As to those few Anti-Federalists who venture into spelling out a problem of Lebanon, they tend to limit it to “corruption and sectarianism”. They sketch out banalities about a “necessary political deconfessionalization accompanied by an administrative decentralization”. On the other hand, for the Federalists, Lebanon’s problem is twofold; (i) the mismanagement of ethnocultural diversity, (ii) the poor governance.

Subsidiarity and verticality

A second grave methodological error originates from the tragic combination of a) a misunderstanding of subsidiarity and b) the unshakeable faith in the verticality of power. As noted above, socio-economic elites constitute the most visible and outspoken backbone of the dominant Anti-Federalism camp. These globalized elites are notoriously famous for their distrust of all popular (populist they call it) power. Their total ignorance of the principle of subsidiarity and, subsequently, total misunderstanding of the way federalism systems work, leads them to incoherent political thinking, convoluted reasoning, inapplicable constitutional ideas, and dubious intellectual constructions. Anti-Federalists publications illustrate quite well their inability to understand how the federal system manages conflicts. How power devolution is disseminated in-between the different layers of governance – federal, cantonal, and municipal. Blinded by off-soil dogmatic views, suspicious of any guiding principles, unable and unwilling to comprehend subsidiarity, afraid to confront social realities, the anti-federalists are “lost in translation”. “For whom does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is ever favorable”, the Stoic philosopher Seneca once wrote. Anti-Federalists have no set destination. They cannot produce, nor agree on, neither individually nor collectively, any coherent political project.

The federal sphere

In the same vein are the platitudes that flourish here and there about the impossibility, under a federal system, to formulate and voice a unified foreign policy. This is brandished by the Anti-Federalist camp as the ultimate argument against federalism. The anti-Federalists do not even realize that they are the victims of an illusion, a trick played by their own minds. There are two major intellectual and methodological flaws in such a childish reasoning. Such reasoning confuses the “causes and consequences”, a total misunderstanding of the causation theory; and secondly, the misunderstanding of the “decoupling” in power devolution. Misunderstanding causation and misunderstanding decoupling.

With respect to the confusion between the causes and consequences: The cause of Lebanon’s problem is to be found in the mismanagement of its diversity. A consequence of such diversity is expressed in the diverging worldviews (i.e., conflict over foreign policy). Each ethno-cultural group has its own specific worldview. This is what is referred to as “national/tribal/sectarian narrative”. Hence the disagreements about foreign policy. It is only common sense to claim that a problem is never solved by solving its consequence, but rather its cause. Whether the views around foreign policy are unified or not, does not solve the problem of Lebanon. The problem of diversity management remains unresolved. Fortunately, the architecture of the federal system ensures the good management of this eternal divide. But to understand how, our “Anti-Federalist elites” still need to learn how to think “in context”, that is, within a specific constitutional framework and outside the comfort of dogmatic and abstract reasoning. In the federal project (see constitution proposed on www.fedleb.org) all federal decisions require the unanimous consent of all four cantons. Therefore, disagreement over foreign policy, results in the federal government inability to decide forcing it into de facto neutrality.

More importantly, in a federal system, disagreements over “federal” matters, however divisive may they be, do not spill over into the cantonal sphere and thus do not adversely impact the daily lives of citizens. Effectively decoupling federal matters from the cantonal and municipal. Arguing about Iranian nuclear power, Saudi oil, Qatari gas, Armenia, Israel, the USA or Europe, does not affect the supply of electricity, solar energy concessions, internet quality, wastewater management, waste collection… Unlike in centralized systems, it is this “decoupling” of the three levels of governance – municipal, cantonal and federal – that makes the federal solution optimal. In conclusion, the claim that “federalism does not resolve conflicts related to foreign policy and other federal matters” is therefore both an intellectual nonsense and an insult to the intelligence of both the Germans and the Swiss.

Dictatorship of the majority

Critics of the federal project -like most Lebanese- have a shallow political culture. Their understanding of federalism is usually drawn from Hollywood movies, mainly jurisdictional conflicts between local and federal police or judiciary system hierarchy. The hollywoodian model of federalism, the only one they know, is the American model of “geographic” federalism. Such model is totally alien to, and unsuited for, Lebanon. Geographical federalism is just as bad for Lebanon as the widely publicized “administrative decentralization” project, and both are worse than the current centralized Taef system. The primary defect of geographic federalism (and administrative decentralization) is that it applies an undifferentiated democratic rule on a local/regional level. Two words are important here and their combination is a disaster: “undifferentiated” and “democratic”. The word undifferentiated means an application of the law without differentiating between regional groups, this and that minority “identity group” in a given region. The democratic nature is disastrous in this context because as Tocqueville explained: democracy is the dictatorship of the 51% (the majority). The dictatorship of local or regional majority over the minority, along sectarian lines, will result is mass exodus. Applying democracy over a heterogeneous population in an indiscriminate way is an offsoil, global elitist wet-dream which will yield disastrous consequences. Lebanese federalism can only be built in a differentiated manner, “The Swiss way”.

Lebanon’s ethno-geographical federalism, which Lebanon experienced with remarkable success between 1864 and 1915 at a time when Lebanon’s constitution was titled the “reglement organique”. Back then, social engineering and other farfetched experiments (with no skin in the game) were not “a la mode” yet. Social constructs had their roots in social realities of the people, in the common sense of the rulers and in the famous Augsburg principle of 1555: cuius regio eius religio. To get out of confessional and religious conflicts, to establish secularism, and to promote development, it is necessary that governors and governed be of the same religion! This shocks the dominant narrative as it contravenes the moral high ground which it controls. But intellectual coherence comes at a price.

Civil, laity, and secular

Critics of the federal project have a shallow political culture. Their understanding of federalism is usually drawn from Hollywood movies the most popular expressions revolve around jurisdictional conflicts between local and federal police or judiciary system hierarchy. The federal model vulgarized by Hollywood is specific to American’s “geographic” federalism. Such model is totally alien to, and unsuited for, Lebanon. Geographic federalism is just as bad for Lebanon as the widely publicized “administrative decentralization” project, and both are worse than the current centralized, client-based crony capitalistic Taef system. The primary defect of geographic federalism (and administrative decentralization) is that it applies and undifferentiated democratic rule a local/regional level. Two words are important here to highlight and their combination is a social/demographic atomic bond: “undifferentiated” and “democratic”. The word undifferentiated means an application of the law without differentiating between regional sectarian groups. The democratic nature is disastrous in this context because as Tocqueville explained: “democracy is the dictatorship of the 51% (the majority)”. The dictatorship of local or regional majority over the minority, along sectarian lines, will result is slow but certain mass exodus. Applying democracy over a heterogeneous population in an indiscriminate way is dystopian propaganda carried by disconnected, global elitists with no skin in the game. A wet dream which will yield disastrous consequences. Lebanese federalism can only be built in a differentiated manner, “The Swiss way”.

Lebanon’s ethno-geographical federalism, which Lebanon experienced with remarkable success between 1864 and 1915 at a time Lebanon’s constitution was titled the “reglement organique” is a more realistic way forward. Back then, social engineering and other farfetched experiments (with no skin in the game) were not “a la mode” yet. Instead, social constructs had their roots in social realities of the people, the common sense of the rulers and in the famous Augsburg principle of 1555: cuius regio eius religio. To get out of confessional and religious conflicts, to establish secularism, and to promote development, the governors and governed had be of the same religion! This shocks the new breed of social justice warriors and its dominant doxa as much as it contravenes the moral posture. But intellectual coherence comes at that price.

Administrative decentralization

The Anti-Federalists usually support “Administrative decentralization”. A project they seem to have misread! A project, in which article 1 insists unequivocally that Lebanon is and remains under a “centralized regime”! The same article 1 stresses that this law is a mainly “de-concentration of administrative services” a concept totally moot in the era of e-government! Ludicrous, isn’t it! Without going into details, this administrative decentralization project exhibits the following flaws:

a) It proposes a “centralized” fund for decentralization! This fund is supposed to be financed by the “rich” in favor of the poor. The intent is lovable. But the “rich” in Lebanon are not the wealthy but rather, simply, those who pay their taxes. Hence the “spoliation” of wealth of the magnitude of 25% of the annual state budget levied from, and shouldered by, only three out of thirty regions: Matn, Kesrouan and Beirut;

b) Democracy at the regional level allows the majority communities in a region to dominate and eventually crowd-out the minority. Demographics along sectarian lines render power alternation chimeric and impossible and;

c) The “Administrative decentralization” plan provides for unequal treatment of municipal residents versus “natives”. In effect, the indigenous residents of a municipality have three to four times more electoral weight than the “non-indigenous residents” of that same locality. A constitutional heresy. Not to mention the problems of population transfer, and the irreversible consequences on thousands of years old locally rooted communities.

Administrative decentralization is thus caught in the crossfire. When limited, it is useless. When expanded, it is fatal to local minorities (40% of the nationals of the various communities are concerned). A project, the only one supported by the Anti-Federalists, that, at best, serves no purpose and, at worst, is fatal for the Lebanese mosaic.

The Ten Commandments

The real solution to Lebanon’s problem lies in the adoption of a new social contract based on the following ten principles.

Principle #1 – National Narratives: Lebanon is a multicultural country formed by various groups or communities that adhere to, and are structured around, various “national narratives”. Cultural diversity is the social reality at the heart of Lebanon. The “community” is the encapsulation of the individual and collective identity. Sect is synonym to identity, neither to religion nor to faith.

Principle #2 – Self-Government: Similar to Europe in the 16th century, the application of “cuius regio eius religio” – governed and governor have to be of the same faith – is a cornerstone to promote secularism, accountability, tolerance, and development. Enabling each “community” to freely choose its own leaders and its governance system within a uniform ensemble (canton) is not only a basic human right, but more importantly the recipe for peace, stability, and prosperity.

Principle #3 – Subsidiarity and Localism: Bottom-up power devolution is the basis for good governance. The smallest political entity is the municipality. Each municipality will be asked to choose its governance model and its cantonal belonging (resulting in cantonal delineation). Furthermore, municipalities shall decide on how and when to combine their resources and “scale up” in order to accomplish “public good”.

Principle #4 – Solidarity: With freedom comes responsibility. With rights come obligations. Therefore, development and wealth creation must be shared. Development of one municipality (or canton), must have a spillover effect to drag along surrounding municipalities as much as possible. This is particularly crucial when the municipalities belong to different cantons.

Principle #5 – Cantonal Sovereignty: Legislative elections are based on cantonal affiliation. No federal elections. Any federal decision that conflicts with cantonal decision is not enforceable on the canton that rejects it. This applies on judicial, legislative, and executive powers.

Principle #6 – Structure: The municipality, canton and federal council are the three pre-set governance levels. Multi-order scaling up entails cooperation among municipalities on a case-by-case basis. The purpose being to achieve scale and optimality (bottom-up) to enable economic and financial viability of various infrastructure project.

Principle #7 – Governance: All federal authorities (including federal government), are modelled based on a governing council in which the representative of each canton has a seat. Presidency rotates, pro rata pari passu, among the seated parties. All decisions require unanimous vote.

Principles #8 – Direct Democracy (Checks and Balances): To keep elected representatives in check, communities (municipal, cantonal, or federal) will periodically express their approvals or rejection of decisions/choices/projects through municipal, cantonal, or federal referendums.

Principle #9 – Roadmap: Being an inclusive project suited for all communities in Lebanon, design a unifying strategy to achieve a federal Lebanon. Communicate, educate and debate to sharpen the project and fine tune the details.

Principle #10 – Implementation: An agreement on the new constitution should be reached by the representatives of the various communities, following which the constitution would be ratified by referendum. Also, a municipal vote will determine to which canton each municipality wants to belong.

The ten principles stated above are the embodiment of apolitical silo, a world of intellectual coherence that is articulated around ten principles which are undisputable in substance, universal in reach and rooted in the sociological reality of Lebanon. From these ten principles stems a coherent constitutional framework that embraces the multi-secular Lebanese experience and its interwoven social fabric.


You can follow Iyad Boustany on his blog and on twitter @Iyadboustany This article was originally published in French on January 22, 2022 on medium.

Updated version of the original. Translated from French as published on January 22, 2022, by Federal Republic of Lebanon. The original can be found here

From the same author: From the Roman legions to federal Lebanon, an essay into the roots of devolution.

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.