Design a site like this with
Get started

High Speed in Reverse

If you pay any attention to the world beyond U.S. borders, aside from having Ukraine’s agony constantly shoved in our faces, this past week was especially dispiriting, as Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., namesake and scion of the dictator who was driven from power in the Philippines’ popular uprising of February 1986, was elected president of the country in a landslide. I was sixteen at the time, but I paid attention to world affairs, and I remember taking heart that Marcos Sr. and “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the Haitian dictator whose father “Papa Doc” Duvalier was one of the most notorious tyrants ever to rule that unhappy country, had been driven from power within days of each other. If only that could happen in the Communist countries, I remember thinking. (I didn’t get many dates as a teenager.)

We are learning the hard way that every gain for liberty and democracy, at home or abroad, can be reversed. That’s not the same thing as “history” going into reverse, whatever that might mean. History doesn’t have a direction or a side, as in “the right side of history” that so many people active in politics are eager to claim. But advances for freedom are always fragile. A glance at recent world history tells us this. A little over one hundred years ago, the end of the Great War (as it was then known, before its even more terrible younger sibling came along) brought down four European land empires: the Russian, the German, the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Turkish. The successor regimes, and many of the nations that broke free, were full of promise for liberty and democracy. It didn’t last. The Russian provisional government that took power after Czar Nicholas II’s abdication was the first to go, while the Great War was still raging, overthrown in the bloody coup d’etat that Lenin and his co-conspirators successfully rebranded as a “revolution.” Their regime quickly became far more repressive and bloodthirsty than that of the Romanovs. Turkey’s Mustafa Kemal established a “modernizing” regime that never became really democratic, and everybody knows about the eventual fate of the democracies in Germany and Austria. Independent Hungary and the other new nations in east-central Europe, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, soon drifted or lurched away from democracy and mistreated minority ethnic groups, especially but not only their Jewish citizens. For those of who know that history, the recent turn against democracy in Hungary and Poland is saddening but hardly shocking. And in America, those of us who are literate in our own country’s history know very well that “backsliding” on racial equality is hardly a startling or new development, in light of the failure (better say the deliberate scuttling) of post-Civil War Reconstruction.

Instead of despairing at this review, we who are on the side of liberty ought to take courage. We stand on the shoulders of the heroes who came before us, from the theorists of the Enlightenment through Vaclav Havel, the dissident Czech playwright who became the face of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Each fresh crop of dictators imagines they have found the key to making their disgusting regimes last forever, but they are always wrong. Still, the question facing us is how long they will go on thinking they are winning. We have serious work to do, to shorten their misrule and alleviate the needless suffering they have brought back into the world. So let us begin.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: