Struggle

Imbolc                                                      Full Bridgit Moon

Uprisings for democracy in the Middle East.  I’m still a fan and await with some eagerness the next chapter in the story as these people’s movement try to make the difficult transition from protest to governance.  Apportioning power is never as easy as standing in the way of the powerful.  It requires a different lens, a different attitude, because it entails accountability for policy and follow-through.  Most reforms and revolutions fail at this point, the psychology of wielding power a radical turn away from undermining it.  This is the sense in which conservatives have it right.  Order is easy to upend and difficult at best to restore.

Disorder can damage lives and nations.  Order, even order held in place by authoritarian regimes, can provide stability for day-to-day lives.  Thus, the conservative says, better the dictator you know than the one you don’t.

Their argument has merit, too.  Trade and peace flourishes when a powerful government maintains order and enforces laws.  Genghis Khan, for example, opened up trade over vast parts of the East, including the vast grasslands from which he came.  The Pax Romana encouraged a network of trade, scholarship and immigration that enriched the Mediterranean and European regions.  The Pax Britannica created a global network of trade as its empire waxed across the earth.

There is no need to deny the positive elements of imperial power.  They exist and any one with a sense of history knows something about them.

At the same time, though, there is no possibility of avoiding the negative elements either.  A loss of personal and national autonomy defines the nature of imperial or autocratic rule, so there is a bargain made or enforced, our stability and trade for your freedom as individuals and as a nation.  This bargain may even convince people in regions torn by internecine conflict, ethnic rebellions or war lords.  A chaotic past exchanged for a less free but orderly community may appear fair.  At first.

The problem comes later, when the stability brings commerce, education, time for reflection.  Then.  When matters have calmed, the effect of the state on my children and my grandchildren may become central to my thinking.  I was willing to give up some options in return for having a calm and peaceful state, but my children?  My grandchildren?  They have made no such pact.  They deserve a chance to live as free men and women, in a state they can influence and shape.

When these yearnings receive abrupt dismissal, even entail punishment, perhaps death, the desire, the need for freedom ignites and burns within the heart.  The American revolutionaries felt it when they wanted to throw off the yoke of imperial Britain.  So did India.  So did native America nations here and in Canada.  China’s boxers fought against colonial powers.  The velvet revolution in Hungary.  The French revolution.  The reformation.  The list is a long one and will only grow.

As you can tell from this brief list of examples, these movements do not always end well.  The boxers lost their struggle as did the velvet revolutionaries and most native American nations.  History, though, takes the long view and the boxers rose up in spirit with Mao.  The Hungarians have gained their freedom.  Many of the native American nations have begun to recuperate from the devastations of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The struggles in the mid-east are, in part, responses to ill-formed nations, to places where boundaries were drawn by imperial powers, boundaries, like those in Africa, that did not respect history and ethnic settlements.  They are also responses to US supported autocrats like Mubarak.  But in their essence these struggle are nothing more and nothing less than people’s yearning to breathe free.  And in that we need to give them every advantage.

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