To the editor:
As we approach this anniversary of American independence, it is interesting to speculate that our own American Revolution almost certainly fanned the smoldering tinder of resentments that set off four monumental conflagrations, incinerating the rule of kings and purifying three continents of rule by privilege. They were: The American, The French, The South American and The Russian, with a possible Fifth revolution in the works, as we see in our daily headlines.
Sparked by 17th and 18th century intellectuals in Europe and America, the tinder was provided, we believe, by classical educations predominant in those times that idealized the birth of democracy in the cities of Ancient Greece, and later was set aflame by the philosophical movements of the 18th century. Known as The Enlightenment, these ideals encouraged the use of reason to scrutinize abusive cultural, political, commercial and religious doctrines and practices previously accepted in the Western World.
While the full reasons for revolution are complex and not to be oversimplified, the premise can be set forth that our North American Revolution was the one that really worked almost from the beginning for all the reasons we know. One can speculate that this achievement, unparalleled in human history, by its example inspired the downtrodden and much abused French people to dispose of their kings. But we have read of the bloody and dismembering mess this entailed and the failed governments that followed, terminating in attempted domination of Europe by dictator/emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
It was Napoleon’s ambitions to add Spain and Portugal to his empire, combined with dissensions and weaknesses within the Spanish royal house, that distracted Spain and took its attentions off its restive colonies in South and Central America, where the flames eventually spread under the leadership of enlightened and visionary Simon Bolivar and his concept of a United States of South America. Taking his inspiration from our success in the northern hemisphere of the Americas — through documented but unsuccessful pleas of cooperation made to United States President James Madison — Bolivar launched a bloody and painful attempt at unification of the continent,which ultimately ended in internecine conflict and division.
But Napoleon wasn’t finished playing with fire. One can only conclude that it was the inglorious defeat of his ill-conceived attempt to invade Russia that gave victorious Russian people the empowerment, coupled with inspiration from the shining examples of Western revolutionary achievements, sufficient strength and inspiration to overthrow their own privileged and powerful overlords. Of course, what followed was communism, its eventual dissolution and the advent of a form of Russian democracy yet to be set in concrete but patterned on our new Western doctrines and practices.
Now, the front pages of our newspapers point toward a Fifth conflagration, its embers already glowing in the Middle East, disturbingly threatening to burst into a theocratic five alarm fire. We can only hope it will be quenched by the example of successful popular and secular rule by Western democracies and, in part as well, by the attractions of Western standards of living.