In 1848 popular revolution broke out in one European land after another, from the Netherlands to Serbia, Poland to Prussia. Monarchies tottered and the old social order appeared destined to the dustbin of history with the advent of new movements for an old continent; democracy and socialism.
Yet the “Spring of the Peoples” that dawned in Europe in 1848 was slowly reversed through a rolling counterrevolution that capitalized on the inability of revolutionary forces to quickly coalesce into governing majorities. The passing of months and years without stability and clear direction allowed the former interests aligned with the status quo to counter attack against the revolutionaries of 1848. The masses that had supported democratic change in the revolution of 1848 became generally disillusioned fairly quickly and were not there to resist the counter attack of the old order.
Historical determinism is only for the foolish brave, and Marxists. However the past can be a positive guide in reminding us that indeed the forces of change now unleashed in the Middle East are not automatically destined to neatly deliver democracy for all. As events continue to unfold, the United States should mobilize our democratic allies across the globe, and in particular in Europe, to be prepared to provide substantial and sustained long-term engagement and support to the positive forces of change now emerging in the Middle East.
While the forces of democratic change unleashed in 1848 ultimately prevailed over absolutism in Europe, many decades of turmoil were to follow in getting to that place. The world can ill afford that kind of decades long conflict and chaos in the Middle East.