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140-egypt“Democracy … arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects,” said Aristotle.

But if the Philosopher disliked the form of government that arose out of the fallacy of human equality, the Founding Fathers detested it.

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule,” said Thomas Jefferson, “where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.” James Madison agreed, “Democracy is the most vile form of government.” Their Federalist rivals concurred.

“Democracy,” said John Adams, “never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

“Your people, sir, is a great beast,” Alexander Hamilton is said to have remarked. If he did not, it was not far from his view.

Said John Winthrop, the Pilgrim father whose vision of a “city on a hall” so inspired Ronald Reagan, “A democracy is … accounted the meanest and worst form of government.”

But did not the fathers create modernity’s first democracy?

No. They created “a republic, if you can keep it,” as Ben Franklin said, when asked in Philadelphia what kind of government they had given us. A constitutional republic, to protect and defend God-given rights that antedated the establishment of that government.

We used to know that. Growing up, we daily pledged allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands,” not some democracy. As Walter Williams writes, Julia Ward Howe did not write the “Battle Hymn of the Democracy.”

Today, we are taught to worship what our fathers abhorred to such an extent that politicians and ideologues believe America was put on Earth to advance a worldwide revolution to ensure that all nations are democratic.

Only then, said George W. Bush, can America be secure.

The National Endowment for Democracy was established for this quintessentially neoconservative end and meddles endlessly in the internal affairs of nations in a fashion Americans would never tolerate.

The democratists are now celebrating the revolutions across the Islamic world in the same spirit, if in less exalted language, as William Wordsworth celebrated the French Revolution, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven!”

After 1789 ushered in Robespierre and Saint-Just, the Terror, the dictatorship and the Napoleonic wars, enthusiasm cooled. But with the Lenin-Trotsky revolution of 1917, Mao’s revolution of 1949, and Castro’s revolution of 1959, the exhilaration returned, only to see the bright hopes dashed again in blood and terror.

The Egyptian revolution enraptured us, with “pro-democracy” demonstrators effecting, through the agency of the Egyptian army, the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, a friend and ally for three decades.

In the exhilaration of their democratic triumph, some of the boys in Tahrir Square celebrated with serial sexual assaults on American journalist Lara Logan. A week after the triumph, returned Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi addressed a crowd estimated at 1 million in Tahrir Square.

In January 2009, Qaradawi had declared that “throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the (Jews) people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. … Allah willing, the next time will be in the hand of the believers.”

“Qaradawi is very much in the mainstream of Egyptian society,” wrote the Christian Science Monitor.

In 2004, this centrist was apparently offered the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Today, we read that, liberated from Mubarak, Muslims set fire to a Christian church in Sol, south of Cairo, then attacked it with hammers.

When enraged Christians set up roadblocks in Cairo demanding the government rebuild the church, they were set upon by Muslims as soldiers stood by. Thirteen people, most of them Coptic Christians, were shot to death on Tuesday, and more than a hundred were wounded in the worst religious violence in years.

Revolutions liberate people from tyranny, but also free them up to indulge old hates, settle old scores and give vent to their passions.

What are the passions that will be unleashed by the revolution that has the Arab nation of 300 million aflame?

Surely, one is for greater freedom, good jobs and prosperity, such as the West and East Asia have been able to produce for their people.

Yet if even European nations like Greece, Ireland and Spain, which used to deliver this, no longer seem able to do so, how will these Arab nations, which have never produced freedom, prosperity or progress on a large scale, succeed in the short time they will have?

Answer: They will not. The great Arab revolution will likely fail.

And when it does, those other passions coursing through the region will rise to dominance. And what are they but ethnonationalism, tribalism and Islamic fundamentalism?

What will eventually unite this turbulent region–when its peoples fail to achieve what they are yearning for–is who and what they are all against.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

Books related to the topic of this article may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstorePublished with gracious permission of the author. Copyright 2012,

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5 replies to this post
  1. I'm told that prior to the American "liberation" of Iraq, 3 million Christians lived there. The number is now 300,000 and falling. We can expect them to be cleared out of Syria by any new populist regime. Within two decades there could be very few left anywhere in the region except Turkey, and Iran curiously enough (where they are somewhat protected like Jews and some other faiths).

  2. I agree with everything said here. I would also say that when most people praise "democracy" they have a much vaguer notion of it than is represented here. They tend not to think of it in absolutist majoritarian terms, but to associate it to one degree or another with constitutionalism and republicanism.

    In countries and cultures dominated by autocracy, it is almost inevitable that the idea of democracy will acquire a heroic and idealized aura.

    As Buchanan points out, there is more to freedom than voting. But, in the particular situations, I wonder what alternatives there are. Living outside of Egypt, say, it is easy to be either a passionate democrat or a skeptical realist.

    But, most of these societies have no tradition of liberty or law. Does an anti-democratic point of view have anything to offer the individual Egyptian? There should be no mistake. In those systems, one is not given the option to stand aside. You must either become an accomplice or revolt. And, the pressure from family, friends, teachers, religious figures, etc, is to at least pay lip service and go through the motions.

    It is absolutely true that people around the world have unrealistic hopes for these democratic revolutions, but what then?

    And, let's not kid ourselves, these autocracies prime these societies for these revolutions. They are themselves extremely demagogic. As well as haughty and corrupt. They will inevitably implode when the dictator ages or economic conditions turn sour.

    The question is, how can one forge a liberal order from this kind of chaos?

  3. Pat has said before what Steve Masty says above: The dirtiest secret about our policy in the middle east for the past 64 years is that it has resulted in the systematic destruction of Christianity in the cradle of Christianity. It will also happen in Iran as soon as the neocons get their way there. Like most important things, liberals and neocons won't discuss it. Europe could care less about this phenomenon, having largely abandoned voluntarily the faith that gave it whatever greatness it once had, and the USA seems to be hell bent to speed up along the same road.

  4. This essay sparked a thought…I always (or only) hear the term "democracy" hailed by those of the statist persuasion. In this context, who is free (the individual or the collective)? "Democracy" completely eliminates the rule of law and voids natural (human) truths. The individual only survives at the whim of the present majority.

  5. It occurs to me what the deeper similarities between conservatives and libertarians are. They are in a constant state of despair, yet dream of a utopia when Christianity or absolute freedom, respectively, will magically sprout from a sudden realization by everybody else that they were wrong all along.

    This waiting for a far off divine event is the tell-tale symptom of an imagination corrupting in its own fertility. Draping one's fantasies in morality and religion is no substitute for the imagination born of genuine leadership and action.

    Can nothing more be said than "back to the Church" and "back to the Constitution"?

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