Thursday, June 18, 2020

Is America Heading for Violent Revolution?

"Intelligentsia" is a nice-sounding word with a sinister undertone. Gary Saul Morson, a professor of Russian literature at Northwestern University, explains in a Wall Street Journal interview that in the classic period in Russia (approximately 1860-1905) "the word did not mean everybody who was educated. It meant educated people who identified with one or another of the radical movements. 'Intelligents' believed in atheism, revolution and either socialism or anarchism."

Professor Morson is concerned about the extent and nature of the riots that took place in America after George Floyd's brutal death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Professor Morson declares, "To me it's astonishingly like late 19th-, early 20th-century Russia, when basically the entire educated class felt you simply had to be against the regime or some sort of revolutionary." He adds that we have reached a dangerous point in which, as writer Barton Swaim paraphrases Morson's analysis, "well-intentioned liberal people often can't bring themselves to say that lawless violence is wrong." The intelligentsia sparked a revolution that led to decades of socialist oppression not just in the Soviet Union but also in every country that had the misfortune of being behind the Iron Curtain. Professor Morson is concerned that America is heading toward a similarly violent revolution.

How often have we heard public figures say that mass violence/rioting is understandable, and that it does not matter because insurance will pay for the damage? Such reckless statements are the recipe for the unraveling of societal order. At least as worrisome as the casual condoning of violence is the current climate in which it has become unacceptable--if not impossible--to have an intelligent and meaningful dialogue about complex issues; all we have now are competing, angry monologues. Morson states, "You get into a revolutionary situation because people can't hear. Can there be a dialogue on important questions, or is there only one thing to say about every question? Are people afraid to say, 'Well, yes, but it's not quite as simple as that'?...When you can't do that, you're heading to a one-party state or a dictatorship of some sort. If one party is always wrong and another always right, why not just have the right one?" (emphasis added).

We appear to be at a crucial and historic juncture. Will America's two party system collapse? Will either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party wipe out the other? Will America have just one "right" party, with no dissent permitted? There used to be a sense that the two main U.S. political parties agreed in a large sense about the goals for America, but disagreed about how to best obtain those goals. Now, the parties barely speak to each other in any meaningful or productive way. Partisans for each side don't just disagree with their opponents; they demonize them.

Professor Morson calls this "ideological segregation." He explains, "It was very easy for white people to believe evil things about black people when they never met any. But when you live with somebody, you realize that they're no worse than you are...We've increasingly had ideological segregation on both sides. Each side has caricature views of the other."

Meanwhile--perhaps due at least in part to understandable frustration with both parties--it has become fashionable for many young people to play around with socialism or anarchism, much like a small child who does not know better (and is not properly supervised) might play around with matches until he or she starts a big fire. If you are young and/or misinformed then you have neither the life experience nor the educational background to know about how Stalin murdered tens of millions of people in the name of socialism, or about the killing fields of Southeast Asia, or about how anarchism has proven capable only of destroying but not of building anything of lasting value.

Professor Morson somberly concludes, "we have a major depression, we have terrible fear from the illness, and now we have mass riots in the street, which our leaders do not seem to know how to handle. That's a very rapid slide from only a year ago. And there's no reason to think it will slow down. The slide could well continue."

I share Professor Morson's concern about America's future. Perhaps the one saving grace for America is that this country, however flawed and divided, was founded as a liberal democracy, while Russia has a history of authoritarianism and totalitarianism that dates back many centuries; socialism and tyranny found fertile soil in Russia, while here the soil may not be as well-suited for socialism and tyranny--but anyone who cares about this country's future cannot be satisfied with the hope/expectation that socialism and tyranny could never take hold here: we must fight to preserve what is great about America, while also striving to improve our country where improvements are needed.

There is no doubt that America needs to improve in some areas, but those who assert that America is somehow founded in sin and/or is irredeemably evil should well consider the lessons of world history. A country based on liberal democracy with a capitalist economic system is far from perfect--but it is infinitely better than a country built on the illusions of socialism or the disarray of anarchy. We must work together to save what deserves saving, fix what is broken, and develop creative solutions to both old and new challenges.

In the words of Winston Churchill, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must work together not to destroy America but rather to build America up to the point that this country fully lives up to the ideals upon which she was founded.

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