‘He Who Serves a Revolution Plows the Sea’
The President and his liberal compatriots were excited to see the Arab Spring bring democracy to a nation like Egypt. There is no doubt that the presidency of Hosni Mubarak was corrupt and needed to be changed. Riots in the streets don’t breed confidence. It would be like putting the worst elements of the Occupy movement in control of America. Not a good idea.
There is an old saying that is mostly true: Be careful what you wish for because you may actually get it. Here’s another one:
“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”
Democracy does not always get you the results you want. Here is one of the news reports that came out after the Egyptian election:
“Judges overseeing the vote count in Egypt’s parliamentary elections say Islamist parties have won a majority of the contested seats in the first round. The judges spoke on condition of anonymity because official results are expected to be released later Thursday.
“They say the Muslim Brotherhood could take 45 percent of the seats up for grabs. The liberal Egyptian bloc coalition and the ultra-fundamentalist Nour party are competing for second place.”
“Together, Islamist parties are expected to control a majority of parliamentary seats by March. This week’s vote was the first of six stages of parliamentary elections that will last until then.
“Continued success by Islamists will allow them to give Cairo’s government and constitution a decidedly Islamist character. It could also lead Cairo to shift away from the West towards the Iranian axis.”
There’s a lot of history to show that revolutions do not bring about good government. The war we had with Great Britain was a war for independence not a revolution. Thirteen governments defended themselves against a foreign aggressor. The colonies were already self-governing. The character of the people made all the difference.
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Simon Bolívar was called the “George Washington of South America.” He was a student and admirer of the principles that led to America’s War for Independence as well as a critic of the French Revolution. Bolívar would be described today as a classical “liberal” in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson who defended limited government and a free market economic system.
In his construction of the Bolivian Constitution, he studied the U.S. Constitution and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Bolívar’s many speeches and writings show that he was an advocate of limited government, the separation of powers, freedom of religion, property rights, and the rule of law.
At first, Bolívar believed that South America could be governed as well as the United States if the people would adopt the principles of the U.S. Constitution. His attempts failed because the people were the problem. Our Constitution says nothing about personal character. It is not a document that carries a moral code. Bolívar’s attempts at governing left him an “exhausted and disillusioned idealist” because the character of the people would not change. He considered them to be ungovernable. He understood that ideas and character matter more than governmental forms and money.
Good self-government is necessary for good civil government.
Bolivar died an “exhausted and disillusioned idealist” at the age of forty-seven. Shortly before he died, he declared that Latin America was ungovernable. Revolutions were not enough. When the bloodshed is over, then what? “He who serves a revolution,” he said, “plows the sea.”1
He was discouraged with how the people expressed their new freedoms. Some months before his death Bolivar wrote: “There is no good faith in [Latin] America, nor among the nations of [Latin] America. Treaties are scraps of paper; constitutions, printed matter; elections, battles; freedom, anarchy; and life a torment.”2
It seems that the revolutions in Egypt and Libya may end up plowing the sea.
- Edward Coleson, “The American Revolution: Typical or Unique?,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Symposium on Christianity and the American Revolution, ed. Gary North, 3:1 (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon, 1976), 176–177. [↩]
- Quoted in Edward Coleson, “The American Revolution: Typical or Unique?,” 177. [↩]