Today's post (the first one as Ex-Prof!) is all about revolutions and how they're usually democratic, except when they aren't. But first, let's define our terms: a revolution in this sense is an overthrow of the existing political power structure in favor of a different power structure. This means that I don't mean "revolution" in the same sense as "Industrial Revolution" or that giant of professional sports, the New England Revolution soccer team (sorry if I offend both of their fans). The reason I'm interested in revolutions today is because I was listening to a couple of talking-heads on NPR Radio (NPR: No People-listening-to-this Radio-show), complaining about the ongoing revolution in Egypt. Specifically, there was much hand-wringing over the fact that the Egyptian military and 97.33% of the Egyptian people were sick of the Muslim Brotherhood D-baggers they had elected (just after they had thrown out their last dictator), so sick of them that the Egyptian people had told the army to arrest the president, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and some guy named Hakim who was just hanging around Tahrir Square trying to sell t-shirts that said, "Come See the New Egypt: No More Pharaohs Around Here!"
|"Don't worry, Hakim -Egypt has democracy now!"|
|I am so totally for whichever rebels she's with|
In the beginning (shortly after Pangea broke apart), rebels and rebellions didn't usually fare too well. They were generally ordinary farmers who were sick and tired of putting up with whatever brand of authoritarian rule was being dished-out, armed with a few tricked-out farm tools, and going up against some ancient king's armed and trained soldiers. And the results were predictable: defeated, enslaved peoples, flayed human skins, piles of skulls --the whole horrible scene.
The first successful revolt recorded by history was in about 2380 BCE (Before Calcium Emulsified) when the Sumerians of Lagash got rid of King Lugalanda and installed King Urukagina in his place. Turns out that the big U was quite the reformer. However, the Lagashians were still stuck with a king at the end of the day (democracy, communism and buggerocracy hadn't been invented yet), so how much of a revolution was it?
However, it's important that the people of Lagash --and not a rival city-state --were at the heart of the regime change, thus making the first successful revolution a popular one, if not a democratic one. Between 2380 and 508 BCE (Because Cats are Excellent!), there were a few coups and military takeovers, but not a whole lot of popular involvement until the people of Athens, Greece took up arms against tyranny --and won!
|I am so effing-smart --and aristocratic.|
What Mr. C. managed was a complete restructuring of Athenian society. You see, before Cleisthenes there was another reformer named Solon (reputably smarter than Cleisthenes) who prevented a revolution by organizing society around the lines of a military unit. At the top were the chiefs. Anybody could be a chief, as long as their annual income was worth 500 bushels of wheat or more (Athenians liked wheat so much that they often used it as a currency. Poly want a cracker?) Next came the equestrian class, anyone whose annual income was 250-499 bushels of wheat. This was supposedly enough bread --err, cash to keep a cavalry horse and rider in the field. Next came the thetes, which is Greek for everybody else. When not at war, this society actually got together and voted on civil questions, such as how much should we pay the Athenian dung-haulers (this was way before septic systems) or what to do with the colonies of feral cats infesting the local temples (the Ancient Greeks were not acquainted with Chinese cuisine). Great system, right?
|What's wrong with rule by Mafia?|
It works for me...
The problem was that the people voted in tribes --that is, they all voted in political units dominated by a powerful extended family and its allies. This meant that the most powerful families --there were 6 of them --could control the government of Athens and ride roughshod over everyone else. Think of living in a state controlled by 6 Mafia families and you'll get the picture.
Enter Cleisthenes. The thetes of Athens were on a total rampage, destroying shops, homes and killing aristocrats. If he couldn't stop the civil unrest, Athens would become a wrecked slaughterhouse. What he did was simple on the one hand, yet brilliant on the other: he changed the system of voting from tribes to locations (Acropolis, Agora, Harbor, Plains, Outskirts, etc.) This broke the power of the ruling families and allowed Solon's reforms to function as a true direct democracy. Add to it a popular assembly of all citizens (adult, male, non-slave, bisexual) and a jury of 501 citizens, and you've got the world's very first democracy. Hooray for Athens!
|Vive l'Revolution! uhmm, coup d'etat!|
Whatever, vive me!
With me so far? Good; now let's turn our attention to a revolution we all know and love, the American Revolution. My favorite Bay Stater from history, John Adams, was quoted as saying that "[the] American Revolution was accomplished long before the first drop of blood was spilled at Lexington and Concord --and that was the revolution in the hearts and minds of the American people." By this, Adams meant that before any shooting started, the King's subjects in the part of British North America that wouldn't later go on to dominate the sport of ice hockey had gotten it into their heads that they were somehow different from your average run-of-the-mill Englishman from England. They were, in fact, thinking of themselves as American Englishmen (to distinguish themselves from native Americans [called Indians then], African Americans [called slaves or Negros then], or Franco Americans [called miserable dirty rotten French bastards then]).
|There's no friggin' way we can lose this one!|
-oops, we did. My bad.
|"And we're all just going to stand at attention in the snow until whomever|
threw that flaming bag of poop at Congress steps forward!"
Just for a moment, let's imagine what might have happened if ol' George took his officers' offer up and became king of America. No doubt Congress would have had something to say about that, not to mention all the pissed-off current and former soldiers who fought to rid America of kings. So, what probably would have happened next is the American Civil War, four score and seven years earlier than it really happened. This would have put America at a severe disadvantage vis a vis the rest of the world, prompting Britain to grab Maine, France to grab everything east of the Mississippi and west of the Appalachians, and Spain to grab Georgia. As bad as that might be, it could have happened; only the strong character of George Washington prevented it.
Revolutions are not tidy things --those are coup d'etats --so don't give up on Egypt's revolution just yet. They just might end up with a better, more democratic government than they used to have. Heck, we managed it somehow. After all, the pyramids weren't built over the weekend; nor will democracy appear over night. And out of protests and arrests and general unrest could result in a genuine democracy for Egypt. But whatever we in the United States must do, we must NOT interfere. After all, the Egyptians left us to work out our differences in 1776. They deserve the same respect.