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Illustration: Street-art track on the Revolution in Tunisia by the Algerian-French artist ZOO Project

In our Tunisian post-revolution context, it has become quite the trend to display signs –or symptoms- of being “revolutionary”. The word has grown into an umbrella epithet for those who are “fashionable”, “educated” and “sophisticated”. It has become synonymous with “taste”, “culture”, and the elusive notion of Leftism that has developed in a generally politically-illiterate country; the all-at-once neoliberal-communist-socialist-nationalist-anarchist ideologically elusive Leftism. Manifestations of any anti-post-revolutionary tendencies are frowned upon and perceived as instances of being “reactionary”, and “conservative”. My reserve with regard to the use of “conservative” to qualify the “anti-post-revolutionaries” can be justified once the concepts of “revolution” and “conservatism” are simplistically analyzed.

To the politically-laypeople, that is most Tunisians, revolution entails change spurred by an efficient action. This change can translate itself in (1) the toppling of an oppressive political system; an instance of this would be the Tunisian Revolution, (2) the remolding of an economic system, as is the case with the Industrial Revolution, or (3) the refashioning of a system of beliefs, which is what happened prior to and during most cultural renaissances. Since neither of our “revolutionaries” and “anti-post-revolutionaries” have an ideologically-consistent economic program according to which they can be assessed, I would drop the second meaning of revolution from my analysis. The first one is already obviously barred because if this political system were a dictatorship, then we would not be discussing free “revolutionaries”. Thus, with only the third meaning left to inform this article, revolution is henceforth to be vaguely known as a “considerable change in beliefs”.

What about conservatism? The initial “c” is not capitalized on purpose to disambiguate between the ideology and the value-judgment. It is, in simplistic terms, to conserve what is already established and institutionalized politically, economically and socially. In a monarchy, the conservatives would be the royalists; in a liberal democracy, they would form what we refer to in the “stale” appellation “Right-Wing” parties, defending the already existent economic system, which is Capitalism, and consecrating the socio-economic hierarchy: no class, or rather category- in order not to ideologize the terminology- should go above or below its position. This does not imply socio-economic immobility; however, mobility, upwards or downwards, must not reverse or even trifle with the long-established hierarchy.

Where do our self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” stand? They entertain the idea that they are “against norms”, “against the worn-out traditions”, and “against the reactionary system”. In the light of our definition of revolution as “a considerable change in beliefs”, I might righteously conclude that our revolutionaries are unconscious conservatives. In fact, they tend to preserve a set of morals and beliefs that have been established and even institutionalized for the last fifty-six years. Regardless of the “moral” assessment of these morals as “liberating” or “dissolute”, our “revolutionaries” do not seem to offer an alternative to them. They keep preaching “the preservation of our cultural and social pre-requisites”; how conservative is this phrase!!! How reactionary it is! When the people rise in protest, their discontentment should be all-inclusive in order to earn the grand appellation of “revolution”. Beliefs, culture, and morals are on equal scale with economy; they are in fact inseparable. From a materialist point of view, the economic “infrastructure” defines the ethical and moral “superstructure”; for idealists, the process is reversed. However, irrespective of the difference in views, the inter-connection is undeniable and even irrevocable. This is what our alleged “revolutionaries” fail to perceive; that they need to revise their conception of “revolution” with much scrutiny. They antagonize and deride what they label “conservative” traditions by conserving other equally “anti-revolutionary” conventions. One cannot revolt against the norm, when revolting against the norm is the norm that must be conserved.

This “conservatism for specific purposes” or “revolutionary fallacy” is an instance of how misled our “revolutionaries” are about conservatism and revolution. Such misconceptions pose a substantial threat especially when they are politicized. The mixture of political pragmatism and political sophistry is very dangerous to the politically-dyslexic Tunisian people: you can speak nonsense to a child who does not know the alphabet, and he/she would mistake your seemingly phonologically harmonious sounds for pearls of wisdom. Only in one case are our “revolutionaries” right in their understanding of “revolution”: perhaps they wish to remain faithful to the etymological word origin which comes “from Old French ‘revolution(n-)’, from Late Latin ‘revolvere’”[1] which means to “roll back”.

1- OALD.