Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The land of pharaohs: The more Egypt changes ...

No doubt many an Egyptian misses Hosni Mubarak and the familiar tyranny they had grown accustomed to, the way some Russians still pine for Stalin's oppressive rule. At least there was no question of who was in charge back then -- even if the next knock on the door might mean a government-paid vacation in Siberia, or worse.
Slavery does have its enchantments, its stability however deadly, its fleshpots if you're a house servant rather than a field hand. Witness the faux nostalgia for old times down on the plantation with Old Massa presiding over a happy scene from "Gone With the Wind," however false the image.
Evil can be romanticized in the imagination, and certainly in official histories. See the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, where faces of old leaders had a way of being air-brushed out in every new edition as today's Hero of The Revolution became tomorrow's unperson.
Even now the revolution that overthrew Egypt's last pharaoh is being reversed by its new one. Across the Middle East, the bright Arab spring turns to the usual winter of stunted hopes.
This familiar process isn't confined to our own time, or just the Middle East. It may be the natural course of modern revolutions, which still follow the pattern set by the French one, and make the American Revolution the great exception to a dismal rule -- a revolution that somehow brought liberty and order, thanks to a founding generation unmatched by revolutionaries elsewhere.

Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison ... where else do you find their counterparts? And our ever with-it intellectuals say America isn't exceptional. Tell it to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the tempest-tossed to whom the word for hope is still America.
Recommended reading: "The Anatomy of Revolution" by Crane Brinton, the classic that charts the progress, or rather regress, of modern revolutions as a series of shock waves from left to right till the pendulum reaches its Reign of Terror, then pauses as it reaches the end of its arc (Thermidor) and begins to swing back -- till a new tyrant succeeds the old, and it isn't always easy to tell the difference. Except that the new commissars and reichsministers may be crueler than the old czars and nobles.

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