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Vicarious Revolutions for the West

Since January this year, the world has been watching the Middle East with anticipation and hope.  A cascading series of uprisings in the Arab world began in Tunisia with the overthrow of President Ben Ali.  In one country after another, populist insurgents were pitted against autocratic dictators.  Some – like Mubarak of Egypt, Gaddafi of Libya, and Assad of Syria – were military officers whose power originated in coup d’état by the armed forces.  Others, like Saleh of Yemen, came to power by electoral means, and then used a corrupted political system to establish a de facto dictatorship.

In Eastern Europe, the revolutions of 1989 began in Poland and spread like wildfire from the Baltic to the Balkans.  The anti-Communist revolts then spread further to the east, culminating two decades ago in the overthrow of the Soviet Union itself.

In Western Europe and in North America, the aforesaid revolutions generated intense media attention and avid public interest.  The fascination stemmed not just from the entertainment value – in the sense that H.L. Menken once described revolution as “the sex of politics.”

In addition to political exhilaration and excitement, the hyper-attentiveness of people in the West derived in part from dissatisfaction with their own declining societies.  As Western democracy suffocated under political oligarchy, corporate plutocracy, and impious public policy; the revolutions abroad touched a chord with European and American peoples.  We felt a natural or even subconscious satisfaction in experiencing, albeit vicariously, the victories of the rebels.

Another populist instinct is the desire for progress.  In varying degrees, it exists everywhere.  But in the so called advanced nations, or “first world,” genuine progress encounters opposing forces and foes which are difficult to identify.  The bewildering complexity of bureaucratized society, as well as the separation of powers, make it challenging for the people to discern the nature of their bonds.  It is as if we and our fellow citizens are confined by a wireless fence – the high tech transceivers well hidden, and our dog collars painless and benign as long as we keep within our boundary.

[L]ust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience (Aldous Huxley to George Orwell, June 21, 1949).

In cases of more overt repression, the oppressors are easier to identify.  The enemy is apparent when the regime arrests citizens for carrying banners, or when dictators use machine guns and tanks to fire on crowds of resistors.  But in the complex and abstruse politics of the West, the progressive instinct gets finessed by urbane politicians.  Sophisticated spin doctoring portrays any deep-cutting reform proposals as extremist.

Lately too the people of the West are fed a twisted version of progress, resulting in the clamour for distorted “rights” like abortion; and in culturally demeaning changes like the demand to redefine marriage.  To the extent that immoral paradigms have been subsumed into the ideal of progress, they have demoralized the populace generally and barbarized many. 

During the early 21st century, for example, Americans backslid toward approving the torture of helpless captives.  By 2009 public opinion had become evenly divided on this barbarous practice.  (Reed College Symposium, 2010:  U.S. Public Opinion on Torture, 2001-2009).

Moreover, the rule of law is breaking down.  To advance allegedly progressive agendas – too often rooted more in hedonism than real liberty – oligarchs have reduced the U.S. Constitution to wrapping paper.  It is no longer a republic of laws not men, but of black robed commissars interpreting a “living, breathing Constitution.”

And in the early 1990s when a populist term-limits movement challenged the much corrupted regime, the Federal Judiciary quashed the insurgency (U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, 1995).  No wonder, then, at the extensive sympathy, if not envy, as we watched insurgents overseas assail their tyrants.

(This article is excerpted from the introduction to Struble’s latest book, Rekindling the Spirit of 1776: To Liberate America from the Postmodern Pall.  He is seeking a publisher.)


Bob Struble is a retired history teacher, and a writer of books, articles and poems. He is Lecturer for the Knights of Columbus in Bremerton WA, and is an associate editor at Catholic Lane.
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  • When I originally saw the article’s title, I thought of “vicarious” in terms of “proxy.” I looked for an analysis of how the revolutions may or may not make the particular countries involved dis-inclined to support Islamist ideologies. Imagine my disappointment when I read that which is tantamount to a call for revolution in our own country. I have a lot of disagreements with the way some things are administrated by our government,
    with judicial decisions, or with Executive Orders – but so do those disagreeing with my own political leanings. Despite Mr. Strubel’s unproved assertion to the contrary, however, I contend that we remain a nation of laws. Black-robed commissars? Where do our judges have co-equal powers with the military? Where do we consider them “commissioners” of our police? This loaded term deserves no place in rational discussion about the state of either American politics or judiciary. I understand that the article is excerpted from a book’s introduction, and as such will likely receive further treatment as part of the book’s analysis, but the author is poisoning the well by making assertions like these up front, and I have to wonder at the analytical rigor which may develop.

    First, I’ll agree that there is a “twisted version of progress” that we find in America and that we “backslid” with respect to torture. Secondly, I’ll agree that there are sometimes members of the judiciary who are active in
    their support of certain policies – but doesn’t this occur on either side of the political spectrum? These are men, after all, not gods of great wisdom. Judges have been making wrong-headed decisions base on their
    interpretation of the constitution since the constitution was ratified – else the author might agree with New York v. Connecticut, et al, (1799) or Dred Scott, (1856).

    But while I disagree with the majority of justices reasoning in U.S. Term Limits (514 U.S. 77) (and some of the arguments for the Dissenting), I can’t find that I disagree with the result. To have the state of Arkansas establish additional criteria for her federal representation would have put her, or any other state so hobbled, at a disadvantage to those states not inclined to set limits. Even the Arkansas Supreme Court found against the provision (872 S.W.2d 349) on other grounds. Additionally, such action could have the unintended consequence of allowing states the option of adding criteria for office which may have the effect of creating and even protecting a political class within a state – something I’m sure that neither the author, myself, or the majority of Americans would like to see happen. I’m sure that there are any number of cases over which “judicial activism” (a term, by the way, coined by a member of the Left, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.) may be argued including Kelo, Brown v. Board of Education, Bush v. Gore, or Citizens United.

    There is a mistake (or at least the need for clarification), in paragraph one, indicating that Mubarak and the present Assad came to power through coups d’etat. While both have been the beneficiaries of such (Egypt in 1952 and Syria in 1963( and a 1970 Ba’athist inter-party “coup“)), neither was responsible for, nor party to, the original coups d’etat.

    I don’t believe that “we” in the West watched the various insurgencies with “envy” or “excessive sympathy.” Some watched simply because it was “what was on,” others because they like to watch “train wrecks,” still others because they choose to try to determine what it means for the US with respect to these governments or becoming or remaining allies or falling into a developing Islamist sphere of influence. But I can think of no one, perhaps even the author, who might have watched, with envious eyes, the dissolution of various countries into unrest.

    At bottom, Catholics must participate in the political process by bringing our well-formed ideas about the nature and role of government onto the larger national stage. We are also called to pray for those elected and for the judges who must often make difficult decisions – that they may decide rightly. I worry much less about “judicial activism” than about politicians using the cloak of Catholicism and spouting error about Catholic thought and teaching.

    However, I do want the thank Mr. Struble for taking the time to express his thoughts. In some things we may disagree, even strenuously, but I trust that we may express these disagreements and still recognize the common goal of heaven for one another, a better world, and a strong and prosperous nation.

    In Christ,

    Michael

  • Thanks, Michael, for your lengthy and thoughtful reply. In using the term “commissars” I was thinking of the people’s commissars, a term employed by the Bolsheviks for civilian heads of departments, not of military officials. Actually, I think the term is not quite harsh enough for judicial usurpers, in the sense that the Declaration of Independence mentions usurpation three times as justification for the American Revolution. It is the usurpers who have “poisoned the well” of democracy, to use your term.

    Moreover, aren’t we straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel (Matthew 23:24) by fretting that Arkansas might weaken its delegation in Congress, when in fact the entire legislative function of Congress was undermined by the Warren Court’s revolution of judicial activism?

    Another camel indicated by U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) is that a panel of unelected, practically irremovable, life-tenured officials have quashed a populist insurgency accomplished by lawfully established means. In 100% of the states where the initiative & referendum process exists, the people approved congressional term limits – and by an average margin of 2/3, which is a landslide by American political standards. This was an historic movement comparable to the progressive era prior to WW I, or the Civil Rights movement.

    The people’s will was expressed peacefully and yet was crushed by judicial fiat. And you’re justifying this because of the implications of particular court rulings? What about the overriding consideration that the whole republican system of government has been assaulted?

  • Mr. Struble:

    I appreciate your reply. Thank you.

    The Declaration also states:

    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. [my emphasis]

    I don’t think we yet know whether a court as actually “activist” as that of Warren’s can again emerge. “Judicial activism” is a term now regularly bandied about when one disagrees with a court’s ruling. Is the problem “transient” and “self-righting”? Perhaps. State legislatures, the federal government and later judicial rulings have already circumscribed many of that court’s decisions. Admittedly the worst and most pernicious is Griswold, an aberration allowing both Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas and, to my mind, the case which will be responsible for tearing the country apart. Let’s find a court case to challenge that, with justices who will act on the laws and not on feelings with respect to ruling on the case.

    Now, I don’t disagree in whole with the concept of term limits. Within state borders, the states have the right, within the limits of their own constitutions, to set such. But at the federal level, the states must have an even playing field – especially at the level of the Senate. There is a means for setting those limits which applies to the federal level, and that is by constitutional amendment. I certainly wouldn’t refer to the call for term limits an “insurgency” which was “crushed by judicial fiat.” I view it more as a lesson for those seeking term limits – use the proper forum.

    I will suggest that the individual states setting the rules for their federal representation represents an equally dangerous assault on our republican system of government, by sanctioning an inequality among the various states, as a judge who decides to throw out the law and rule from “empathy.”

    The Peoples Commissar was a ministerial position (“minister” being too bourgeoisie) and doesn’t really equate judges, even activist ones. If the Warren court usurped power (and I don’t argue that they didn’t), there remain remedies in law to address the action summoning the specter of civil war.
    In Christ,
    Michael

    • Oops. The last sentence should read

      “If the Warren court usurped power (and I don’t argue that they didn’t), there remain remedies in law to address the action without summoning the specter of civil war.

  • Like what? Impeachment (unworkable)? Article III, sec. 2 — withdrawing jurisdiction from the Courts (also unworkable given the polarization in an unreformed Congress).

    Tunisia, Egypt, and all the revolutions of 1989-91 in E. Europe demonstrate quite well that revolutions do not have to degenerate into civil war. Here in the USA we have the lawful option of an Article V convention whereby to accomplish fundamental reforms peacefully.

  • I’m afraid that one would have to be quite the political optimist to put any stock in the possibility of term limiting Congress by securing 2/3 of both Houses of Congress for a Constitutional Amendment. Yes, said Pollyanna, let’s petition our Senators and our Congressmen to terminate their own much coveted careers. Surely a supermajority of the incumbents will agree.

    Realistically, the only legal way to accomplish this crucial reform is via the Article V “convention for proposing amendments,” whereby “we the people” can circumvent the corrupt and self-serving Congress.

    Michael, do you oppose the election of such an assembly?

  • More evidence for the barbarization of America: A Rasmussen Poll dated May 16, 2011 found that 50% of Americans favored “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the Orwellian term for torture) against “suspected terrorists.” Just 29% disagreed and 35% were unsure.

    Republicans favored the practice by 75%, whereas unaffiliated voters were evenly divided. Democrats opposed torture by a 41% to 32% margin.

    • Sorry, for the USA as a whole the Rasmussen results were: 50% support torture, 30% oppose, and 21% are unsure.

  • The 15-M movement in Spain suggests that the desire to participate in revolution could become more than merely vicarious on the part of the West.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20110523/wl_time/08599207352400