The View From Olympus 2: Another 4GW Fracture

Image Credit: James Buck on Flickr via Creative Commons
Image Credit: James Buck on Flickr via Creative Commons

Events in Turkey and Egypt have revealed another Fourth Generation fracture line in states, an important and potentially powerful one: rural vs. urban.

In Western societies, because the rural fraction of the population is small, we do not think much about what is in fact a very old, pre-state tension line; that between city dwellers and those who live on the land. Yet in much of the world, the rural population is still a sizable portion of the whole. Rural areas can offer a better base for warfare than cities, in part because of the dispersion and in part because basics, especially food, are more readily available.

City-country tensions often combine with other 4GW fraction lines, each reinforcing the other. Rural people tend to be more conservative culturally and religiously. Urban dwellers are more likely to be globalists, i.e., secular liberals. We see this on prominent display both in Turkey and in Egypt.

In the past, urban-rural conflicts sometimes took the form of peasant revolts. These usually failed, but often terrified those in power; see Martin Luther’s denunciations of the German peasant revolt of his time. At other times, the countryside and the rural population rallied to a conservative leader who had been ousted by liberal, urban elements. The revolt in the Vendée against the French Revolutionary government of the 1790s is an example. That pattern fits the current developments in Egypt, and it suggest a lot of blood may flow.

The urban-rural fracture line, like other pre-state divisions, now finds itself up against states that have already been seriously weakened, both in their ability to function and in their legitimacy. Again, Egypt is the leading example. The Turkish state is functional, but the basis of its legitimacy since Atatürk, secularism and progress, has been repudiated by the current, Islamist government. In terms of legitimacy, that government now has one foot on the dock and one foot on the boat, not a particularly steady position.

I said in an earlier On War column that I expected the Egyptian state to survive, largely because Egypt has had strong central governments for millenia. I am now less certain about that. The rural-urban split in Egypt, which in part parallels the Islamic-secular split, is wide and deep. It could lead Egypt into the sort of civil war we see in Syria, which can destroy the state itself—as it has in Syria, which has joined Libya in the column of stateless regions (with the kiddies who make American foreign policy cheering for the forces of statelessness in both places). If the Egyptian state does disintegrate, 4GW is likely to spread through the entirety of the Arab world. Should Turkey follow—which I still find unimaginable—the consequences for the international state system would be incalculable.