Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt, Freedom, and America

Regular reader, commenter and friend-of-the-blog Ben Abbott forwards a particularly egregious hijacking of American history, comparing the recent events in Egypt to the American Revolution.

Well, it warms the hippie heart to see hundreds of thousands of "the people" in the street chanting and Raging against the Machine. Surely they are on the side of the angels! [Unless it's a pro-life rally, which can be safely ignored but that's another story, int it...]

I'll hold off on the warm & fuzzy for the moment. We don't even know yet what sort of "freedom" the "Egyptian street" is demanding. Perhaps it's to live like Americans in a bourgeois neo-liberal democracy [or let's say Swedes, whose society is so much warmer & fuzzier than ours, eh?]. Or perhaps it's to start up again with the Jews and to live in a less secular state. Or perhaps it's just that grain prices have gone through the roof. Riots over the price of bread are as old as civilization itself.

In 2011, after the incompetence of Yeltsin-era freedom, the Russkis are back with some relief to KGB veteran Vladimir Putin, because liberty is useless without order.

And despite the rather expansive claims and comparisons to our Founding Fathers' own fight for their and our liberty, Egyptian youths Twittering or standing in a park screaming at an army that won't shoot back is no analogue to actually fighting for one's freedom---dying---actually getting shot at, or suffering through a deadly winter at Valley Forge.

There were no Storming of the Bastille moments, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or Yeltsin-on-a-tank. [Not even toppling Saddam's statue, albeit quite clumsily, as we recall.]

From 1000s of miles away, we certainly can't pretend to know what the Egyptian people want, where they want to go from here. What I suspect is that they don't know either.

"Soldiers, officers, generals," [Yeltsin] boomed. "The clouds of terror and dictatorship are gathering over the whole country. They must not be allowed to bring eternal night."

Yeah, yeah. Mankind has been there, done that, over and over and over again. That's not how the American Revolution went down. Unlike America, Russia suffocated on its newfound freedom and brought back a Putin. The Storming of the Bastille resulted in Emperor Napoleon.

This American wishes Egypt and the Egyptians the best. All men chafe against tyranny. But opposing tyranny is not the same as fighting---and dying---for freedom. One fights for freedom not just for himself, but for his fellow man and woman, and for his children and their children.

"THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."
---T. Paine, The Crisis, distributed to Washington's troops at Valley Forge, Winter, 1776


Jason Pappas said...

Good points. Our revolution didn't result in a Cromwell or Napoleon or Lenin.

Of course, we were already self-ruling to a large extent under the British when we became alarmed that a corrupted Parliament, taking away our liberties, would ultimately deny us of our immemorial rights under the English constitution.

The Egyptians already had their revolt against the British ... in 1952. It brought the current regime. Let’s wish them well on try two!

Too few revolutions result in freedom. Most just replace the “old boss” with the “new boss.” The Founders were weary of “leveling spirit” of democracy (in the original meaning of mob rule) as they were of corrupt monarchy. They studied history and reviewed the failed attempts at establishing a republic. They may have not been scholars in the current sense, but they took their civic duty seriously; they studied, debated, and become informed. ... like we do here at AC!

Always On Watch said...

We don't even know yet what sort of "freedom" the "Egyptian street" is demanding.

Perhaps the "freedom" of shari'a, which gives one the "freedom" from having to think for oneself.

More than half of Egyptians polled do favor shari'a law.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Freedom without order is useless"...discipline is necessary for self-rule, isn't it.

Our military is a voluntary one, and I think that most people still would volunteer, as they did after 9/11. Voluteering one's service to one's country is a choice of value.

America is not like other countries that make military service a mandantory service. Whenever there is co-cercion in "service", it ceases to be service and become enslavement. Most people naturally resis such enslavement, because it dishonors the individual's right to choose to serve.

As to Egypt, no, we don't know what they want, but we do know what we want. And that is a precarious predicament for us and the free world. The question is: how much should we be involved...when we have obviously propitiated many dictators to oppose their religious identity!! But, how can we tolerate a religious identity that is not liberalized? I think what we face today is a war between views of what civilization should "look like" civilizations....and this war is mirrored in our own "culture wars".

Tom Van Dyke said...

Too few revolutions result in freedom.

Astute. Apt on the Cromwell, too.

bpabbott said...

Coincidently, another article turns the table. Rather than suggesting Egypt is following the example of the American Revolution, the author suggests that America should follow the example of Egypt.

Personally, I'm fascinated and excited by the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, and Nigeria (others?). I am hopeful we are witnessing the beginning of an economic renewal for the lost continent.

However, I'm not a fan of comparing the African struggles to that of America ... past or present.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't believe in economic justice, but in economic opportunity. Those that are usually empowered to "do the good for the poor" through social programs for the poor use their position just as the corporate lobbyists.

As far as "communitarian service", one cannot mandate what must be understood to benefit a person at the local level. If it it of benefit, there will be no co-ercing needed, and the community will also be benefited. So social programs though good always fall short of intended ends.

So, I am not of the mind-set that "local" necessarily means better, nor do I believe governmently implemented programs, either.

The Founders didn't believe in democracy either, did they? They were an elite and they used thier education to empower their positions and defend their "vision".

Tom Van Dyke said...

Bob Herbert quoting Howard Zinn? Yeah, that about covers it, Ben.

bpabbott said...

I agree Tom. I'm not a fan of activists distorting history to serve their purposes.

jimmiraybob said...

Bob Herbert quoting Howard Zinn? Yeah, that about covers it, Ben.

OK. But what is wrong with the quote?

Zinn - “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.”

What can be more fundamentally American? This practically defines the American revolution. What's the beef?

And, what can be more American that worrying about where the locus of power is relative to the people? The colonists leading up to the AR worried about the tyranny resulting from the relationship between England and the East India Company - enslavement was the buzzword.

If Hebert feels that we have lost the voice of the people to the voice of the monied interests, what could be a more American and apple pie concern?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

1. We need to understand our government and the reasons for our Revolution, as a people!

2. We need to reform campaign finance laws.

3. We need to address the deficit, and recognize what got us into such a state.

4. We need allowing government to be in bed with corporations that create "good ole boy systems" that corrupt and make for conflict of interest in government.

5. We need to think through why there are no term limits on/for Congressional representatives!

6. We need to re-think our foreign policy and corporate interest.

There are probably more, but I'm still in the early stages of educating myself and becoming a concerned citizen.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JRB, in context, Herbert is citing Zinn per class warfare. Out of context, I suppose it can be taken as support for "democracy," but has not anything to do with the American variety, which is "republicanism."

That the US should become more like Egypt in any fashion is patent nonsense, as is customary from Mr. Herbert.