Sunday, April 3, 2011

More Dialog on Egypt

As I said yesterday, in Egypt we see a revolution in real time. What will happen, we cannot guess, but if there is an overthrow of the political system, it will echo across the Middle East.

Let us tamp down our idealism for a moment and look at the way people view government. As Americans, we think we have the best political system and that other countries should emulate what we have. That can’t happen for many reasons and we have to accept the fact that our political system may not be suited to other cultures.

I’ve come to believe that the overarching theme between people and their government has to do with freedom and the ability to control one’s life no matter what the political system.

Let’s examine Russia for a moment. Russia routinely polls their people and asks, “What Russian leader do you have the most respect for and what person you would like to lead the country?” The winner is almost always Stalin – the man who murdered 40 million of his own countrymen and runs neck and neck with Hitler for the title of worst human being of the twentieth century.

So what’s the lesson here? The Russian people have suffered under an autocratic regime for most of the county’s existence so that’s what they’re used to They feel uncomfortable with something different even if it is more democratic. People would rather ignore their government as long as it doesn’t interfere with their lives. If they perceive that the government is unfair and limits their opportunity to obtain what others have, they become dissatisfied.

Democracy can be an illusion if it is not successful. After all, people do not know how to govern themselves. They need leaders to take care of that for them. Those leaders, in turn, must govern in a way that produces stability and opportunity, regardless of the model.

Back to Athens we go quoting from Zimmern in The Greek Commonwealth, “It takes generations of teaching, not by argument but by suffering, before a people, however politically gifted, can be induced to take the trouble to govern itself. The Athenians took to politics as easily, and were as politically gifted, as any community in history. Yet their acceptance of self-government was tentative and hesitating. It came late, and almost as an afterthought, in the development of their polity.”

Aristocracy, early Polis, Draco, Solon’s reforms and their rejection, tyrants, and then the good work of Clisthenes before the Athenians had a stable system. It’s always a stew of timing -- the wealthy, and the commons getting to a mutually acceptable place at the same time.

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