The Collected Thoughts and Musings of an Aspiring Political Philosopher

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why some cry joy, and others weep, about the revolution in Egypt

So while most of the world's common people rise up and applaud the success of the revolt in Egypt, why are so many American conservatives appearing on Fox News and other friendly media outlets decrying this as anything but a reason to celebrate? Why are they warning that "the Middle East has no history of democracy" and thus this will lead to chaos and terrible, terrible things (as if the burgeoning democracies within what was formerly the Iron Curtain had any history of democracy)? Why is Glenn Beck warning of "chaos" and "community organizers" and a return of the Caliphate? Why are these conservatives... who will take any opportunity to wrap themselves in the flag, call themselves Patriots, and claim to represent the "true values" of America, especially "freedom"... so appalled by the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and soon presumably to a dictatorship near you?

I could get into the various psychologies of conservatives, or point to political or ideological shifts that have occurred over the years, or perhaps even try to pull the race card and say that European democracies arising from tyranny are OK but those in the Middle East are not simply due to the fact that one has predominantly White populations and the other has mostly "brown people". But none of those are satisfactory, and ultimately lead to unresolvable arguments and (as in the case of the race card) may be largely untrue. But one thing stands out to me here. While claiming to be "freedom-loving Patriots", conservatives are at their philosophical roots anything but.

A little nutshell history lesson which we have as a nation conveniently forgotten: When our own country was but a colony in thrall to the whims of Mother England, a few brave souls put their lives and livelihoods on the line to stand up against tyranny. Some had been calling for change for years, and were ready to rise up; others, unsure, were tentative at first but eventually joined the cause. Still others did not join until British soldiers ravaged their homes and farms. Those who fought for fair treatment by the mother country did so at first as loyal citizens of England... until finally, they realized there was no path open to them but full independence. These revolutionaries then began calling themselves Patriots.

There were a number of colonists, however, who wanted nothing to do with the fighting, and wished only to remain loyal to England. There were various reasons for this: sentimentality, vested business interests with England, a natural pacifism, and many others. But in some cases, rather than simply remaining loyal to the Crown, they actively fought against the Patriots with the written word, public speech, and often with musket and sword. These people who sided with England against their fellow colonists were branded Tories; not traitors, per se, but still enemies to those who sought freedom and liberty.

Many Tories escaped to Canada and other British colonies once fighting broke out, and throughout the long Revolutionary War. Many others emigrated once the Patriots had won their battle and were finally independent of English rule. But many had stayed, and during the long healing process following the British defeat these fellow colonists... family, friends, and neighbors of those who had either remained neutral or joined the Patriots in the fight... rejoined society and began actively working to integrate themselves into the new political system that was taking shape.

Today's conservatives are the intellectual and philosophical offspring of the original Tories, whether they had actual ancestral ties to anyone in our war of independence. To understand this, one has only to look at the motivations of most of the Tories (as expressed in their own writings and speeches of the day): sanctity of hearth and home; limits to freedom and expression; loyalty to the authority of the Crown and its appointed governors; and a fear of "chaos" and "mob rule". These are exactly the tropes modern conservatives use, in modified form: family values and culture issues; using government to limit free speech and privacy if it offends their notion of what is and isn't allowable (re: censorship, '20's Prohibition); undying loyalty to icons of conservatism (Reagan, Bush, Norquist... not so much Buckley anymore) and any sitting President that happens to belong to their own party; and of course, an absolute dread of democracy erupting in the Middle East or any other place that is deemed "scary".

So while you marvel at the audacity of conservatives who claim the mantle of patriotism and freedom as their own, who denounce liberals or anyone else as "anti-American" because they aren't sufficiently conservative, remember that these flag-waving so-called "real Americans" are espousing the exact same principles that their intellectual and philosophical ancestors did 230 years ago: as Tories. The true Patriots in America are those who stand on the side of rule by, for and of the PEOPLE, always and without reservation. Democracy is messy, and revolutions don't always come out the way the revolutionaries wish, but never forget that if you are a Real American, a Patriot, you will remember who the enemies of freedom and self-rule were in our past, and recognize them in our present.