On America's impending revolution

On America's impending revolution
© Getty Images

When something “revolves”, it comes back to the same place from which it started. A “six-shooter” is a gun. Its cartridge chamber revolves back to where it started. Aristotle’s six-fold classification of political regimes from monarchy to aristocracy to polity to democracy to oligarchy to tyranny is in effect a theory of revolution, of regime changes from good to bad and back again.

Most modern revolutions also have not a little secularized apocalypse in them. They claim to identify evil and its causes. Their "revolution” is to restore or reestablish the perfect life which is being prevented by what the revolutionaries designate as evil. While Aristotle anticipated that regimes would change, the modern political revolutionaries look for a final solution of mankind’s problems, if only their ideology is implemented by destroying its perceived enemies.

ADVERTISEMENT
Victor Davis Hanson’s insightful recent column, “Revolution and Worse to Come,” quite soberly discussed the probability of a classic leftist-type revolution occurring in the United States in the near future. Hanson’s insights always show his familiarity with the spirit and course of revolutions as described in particular by Thucydides up through the French and Russian Revolutions. To see our country through the lenses of such major classical events is not comforting.

We were conceived a nation founded in liberty and justice. We have escaped the tragic, bloody cyclic sequence of societies that have torn themselves asunder in civil wars. Our own civil war, we had assumed, resolved this issue of revolution for good. Today, however, Hanson is not so sure. With the tearing down of everything Southern, the systematic destruction of its monuments, we have turned honorable men like Lee into fascists.

Many no longer accept Lincoln’s efforts to reconcile ourselves in honor and forgiveness. Hannah Arendt once remarked that the only way to stop the thirst for vengeance is through forgiveness. The alternative to civic forgiveness seems to be perpetual victimhood and wrath.

Most people are aware of a coarsening of public discourse and manners. Scatological and sickening sexist taunts are heard most everywhere. On college campuses unwelcome speakers are shouted down. Debate in the witty style of the old Oxford Union seems obsolete.

The last election did not end in a spirit of “the better man won, let us work together for a greater good.” It ended in a bitterness and, among many, a persistent effort to end, as soon as possible, the new presidency even by calling for his assassination, as Hanson notes. These are admittedly “extremists” but they are no longer uncommon and are being heard on every side.

In much of public life, the president is pictured in the worst way possible. He is, surprisingly to many, a clever man and well aware of the stakes. His favorite slogan — “Make America Great Again” — is based on a clear insight that our greatness has been sacrificed and thrown away by the government, the media, and the universities.

These institutions have been almost non-stop efforts to picture something wrong in whatever the president does. Hanson lists them step by step. Many people watch in dismay and vote for the president. This reaction is taken as a sign that most of the country is as “deplorable” as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE indicated during the campaign.

Hanson’s thesis then is that it cannot go on like this. The danger will arise from a left desperate to stop any gradual success of the current presidency. Though he has not been perfect, the many good things that the president has done draw little attention. The more he succeeds, the more likely the revolution.

During the Obama years, America was said to be the cause of the problems of the world. American had to become small again.  In the meantime, America remained a place to which people in crisis situations fled. However small we saw ourselves to be, anyone who could get into the country did so. Historically, America is filled with immigrants who arrived here because of some revolution in their native lands.

The more people who entered the country, the more the country changed. The older immigrants intended to assimilate; the newer ones intend to keep their own culture and reproduce it in America. National politics now becomes a question “identity.” Our political activities revolve around establishing our identity as grounds for receiving rights and benefits. If the goal can be accomplished by voting, fine. If more forceful means are required, this is fine also.

Thomas Jefferson said that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Whether this famous passage is meant as a piece of advice, a mere historical fact, or both, can be let stand. The fact is that there is this unsettling sense of blood in the air. This is what Hanson records and calls our attention to.

Every effort is made to identify the president with right wing extremists. But the problem seems closer to the statist aggrandizement that comes when state government becomes the definer and enforcer of morality and not the servant of what normal citizens believe.

I recently saw a TV clip on China. The Chinese government has sophisticated surveillance tools that keep records of and watch on everything an individual citizen does. Nothing is left uncontrolled or unknown. Freedom means not doing anything to question or challenge this system. It is a world in which, literally, the government conceives its duty to provide for what the citizens need. This is its justification for existence.

What concerns Hansen most about possible revolution in this country is a system that allows citizens to do whatever they want, except what the government does not want them to want. Why this president must be eliminated is the fear that his regime may succeed in making America America again. ‘Tis a thesis that bears much reflection. All revolutions are preceded by ideas telling us what would probably come about. It often does. This is Hanson’s thesis.

The Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., author of “A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning & Being Forgiven,” is professor emeritus at Georgetown University. His latest book is “The Universe We Think In,” published by The Catholic University of America Press.