“I feel a very unusual sensation – if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.” – Benjamin Disraeli
The very wise Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, describes the differing dispositions of liberals and conservatives this way: Liberals are moved by outrage at what is wrong with their society; conservatives feel gratitude for what is right.
“You need both,” Levin allows and generously reminded a conservative audience. “We should never forget that the people who oppose our various endeavors and argue for another way are well-intentioned, too, even when they’re wrong, and that they’re not always wrong.”
Well, OK, just 99 percent of the time (kidding). As we prepare to observe the 237th birthday of the greatest republic in world history, this conservative, true to form, is moved to gratitude. Thank God I was born here, and thus had the great good fortune to inherit a country designed by a providential collection of political geniuses.
Glancing around this roiling world with its desperate millions filling the streets of Egypt, Turkey and Brazil, you reflect on just how complex a successful society is. Popular sovereignty is not remotely enough to provide stability, prosperity and justice. Suffering Egypt managed to oust a dictator in 2011 and then hold an election. But with the advent of Mohammed Morsi as president, Egypt’s predicament has only worsened. The police do not provide basic security. Tourism, the largest source of foreign cash, has all but dried up. Sectarian violence has increased. A recent video, available on YouTube, showed a group of young men shouting “Christians! Get them!” and then sexually assaulting several defenseless women. Food prices are soaring. Poverty – the truly hungry kind, not the relative deprivation of the First World – is endemic. The poor eat little more than bread. Egypt’s economy is in the worst depression since the 1930s, and its leadership is utterly clueless about how to improve matters.
The Muslim Brotherhood may have provided food and blankets to the poor as an outlawed party under Hosni Mubarak, but as Egyptians are learning, Islam doesn’t provide a roadmap for governing a 21st-century state.
The people, unaccustomed to democracy or civic participation, are doing the only thing they can: taking to the streets. They have no tradition of a free press, an independent judiciary or federalism to check and diffuse the power of the state. There are no town meetings, so they howl and march and shoot. Yet even if the desperate protesters now thronging the streets are successful in removing Morsi, such a victory is bound to be pyrrhic. The ejection, after just one year in office, of the first elected president will not improve Egypt’s reputation for stability and will perhaps even further depress tourism and foreign investment.
Turkey and Brazil, too, are reminders of how easy it is, in most nations, for the people’s rights to be trampled and for the state to censor information.
Is the Third World too remote? Consider then, in our gratitude tour, the nations of Western Europe. Portugal, deeply in debt and coping with unemployment of 18 percent, was paralyzed by a general strike last week. Trash piled up, buses and trains stopped running, and even journalists at the state news agency stopped reporting. Friends just back from Italy report that the discontent, which had until now been evident only in the provinces, has reached the capital. Italy’s economy has been contracting for seven straight quarters.
Or consider this headline from The Atlantic magazine: “Spain is Beyond Doomed.” Spanish unemployment is now 27.2 percent. How could such a thing happen? Bad government. Spain, like other socialist countries in Western Europe, has overregulated business to such a degree that it has made it impossible to fire workers. This has had the altogether foreseeable consequence of making Spanish employers highly reluctant to hire. France has a similar problem, along with a huge national debt – the result of spending money it was not collecting.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yet we may not be going down the same rat hole. We have the layers of protection our founders designed to thwart the foolishness and cupidity of our leaders, and we have one thing more: the example of flailing Europe to remind us this July Fourth to stay faithful to the principles of our founding.
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