If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Sunday 5 August 2012
Read gnomica 1-50 here!
“Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.”
Barbara Tuchman (30 Jan 1912 – 6 Feb 1989)
This ‘popularizing’ historian who lectured at both Harvard and UC Berkeley, and twice won a Pulitzer Prize, is in my view largely but not entirely correct in the above citation.
Yes, one can go back to the ‘Roman Revolution’ in the first century BCE that put an end to the imploding Republic and replaced it with the Empire (the beginning of which under Augustus [63 BCE -14 CE] is usually dated to 27 BCE), and one may well ask if Augustus – and in particular his successors (the Julio-Claudian emperors and subsequent loons, some of whom were, I believe, clinically insane) – made for a better political arrangement than what had existed under his great-uncle Julius Caesar (d. 44 BCE). I opine that this development some 2,000 years ago probably validates Tuchman’s observation.
Closer to home in time we have the 1917 revolution in Russia: did Lenin and in particular Stalin do a better job of it than the preceding despotic Czarist regime that was overthrown?
How about the 1949 takeover of China from the nominal leadership of Chiang Kai–shek by the anything but nominal leader Mao Tse-tung? Were the Chinese people better off replacing the former monster with the latter monster, whatever the original intentions of either may have been?
And the 1959 Cuban Revolution? Batista was certainly no saint … but was Fidel?
Then there is today’s Middle East and the Arab Spring … where not enough time has in my view elapsed to see with any clarity what exactly has replaced former tyrannies. To judge by contemporary events in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan, however, any celebratory prognostications based on the daily news from that part of the world seem perhaps rather premature. And the now seemingly inevitable and imminent de-robing as it were of Bashar Hafez al-Assad & Co. in Syria will undoubtedly result in yet one more post-revolutionary investiture – about the transactional results of which one can at this point only speculate. So, it would seem, is the U.S. government, according to today’s Sunday (5 August 2012 p. 10) print edition of the New York Times: “U.S. Discreetly Plans for Post-Assad Syria” [= online “State Department and Pentagon Plan for Post-Assad Syria”].
There is, however, no such ambiguity in my mind about one famous revolution – the 1775-1783 American Revolution. In that connection I think Tuchman’s comment is without merit. Over 200 years on now after our successful revolution, we never reverted to the kind of regal form of oppressive government that sparked the original revolt and consequent transformation. Yet, some cynics claim — irresponsibly in my view — that if we just give enough time to current unhappily illiberal trends now clearly on display in the operation of our government in the United States, soon enough they too will eventuate in one more putting on of the robes of the tyrant deposed.
But that is just nasty hyperbole – at least, I suspect, as far as my lifetime is concerned.