Jewish World Review July 29, 2013/ 22 Menachem-Av, 5773
Their revolution and ours
By Paul Greenberg
It's happening again. The revolution that overthrew
Now that country's prosecutors are going after those who prosecuted Gen. Mubarak and his circle. It's a pattern as dismal as it is familiar, dating back to the French Revolution, that model of modern revolutions. Revolution devours its children. And just where the cycle of revolution and counter-revolution will end, if it does, no one can know.
In his classic study "Anatomy of Revolution," Crane Brinton summed up the swings of the pendulum that characterize revolutions in the modern age. He spoke of a series of successive shock waves that go from hopeful beginning (see the Arab Spring) to the usual Reign of Terror till it reaches the end of its arc (Thermidor) and then begins to swing back. New tyrants then succeed the old, and it isn't always easy to tell the difference. Except that the new commissars may be crueler than the old czars, or the new generals more beneficent than the old tyrants. For the moment, all hangs in the balance in
Talk about American exceptionalism: Our revolution was different. Instead of continual revolution-and-reaction, the Founders sought an ordered liberty, one that would confirm liberty in law. The result was a system that, with the exception of the Late Unpleasantness of 1860-65, has proven both flexible and stable despite a succession of challenges, changes and crises.
Our guiding principles have been the opposite of the fierce ideologies that divided and dominated other societies in the modern age, and were not entirely unknown here. In
What explains the American difference? Many explanations have been offered over the years. In a little book called "The Genius of American Politics," historian
A Frenchman named de Tocqueville suggested another, maybe the key, difference between our political history and that of other modern nations: the pervasive influence of religion here.
Unlike his native
Morgan had studied and admired the elaborate Calvinist theology of Puritanism -- predestination, original sin, human depravity, divine perfection, salvation by grace, the goodness of God despite the presence of Evil in the world (theodicy), and so on -- but he was no believer. It was all abstraction to him, however elegant. "At twenty-two," as he would explain later, "most people did not look all that bad to me." And then he found himself in
"Puritan theology began to make sense, in a way that shook me. I could not believe in the salvation of a few held out by
It is this constant awareness of evil, of the danger of ideas and ambitions unrestrained by the humility and reverence the fear of God induces, that is the great legacy of our Puritan inheritance, much as it may go unnoticed today. And that awareness may explain the difference between our history and that of less blessed lands.
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