Long Live the Revolution?

Bloggers and journalists often see people standing up to repressive governments in Iran and Egypt and feel euphoria. Responsible leaders and activists must temper their enthusiasm with the realization that, however sincere the sentiments of people in the street, the future of any revolution is determined by the people that end up ruling the country and the principles they follow.

Those who seek freedom and opportunity should learn the lessons of history. Every successful revolution draws ambitious and dangerous people whose interests run counter to that of their fellow citizens. Their support for the revolution may be grounded in the idea they can’t become dictator as long as someone else is holding the position. It matters a great deal whether the leaders of a revolution are like Washington, who refused a crown, or Napoleon, who sought an empire.

Today, Marxist and Islamist ideologues take advantage of the legitimate grievances of the people to put forward their own radical agendas. If revolutionaries are unaware of the dangers, they will find that their sacrifices made their country worse rather than better.

Bastille Day teaches us a revolution can be founded on high-sounding rhetoric and good intentions and go horribly wrong. If we can learn that lesson and become more prudent, perhaps the 21st century will be a little less bloody than the two that preceded it.

Also read Just in time for Bastille Day, a new character emerges in the DSK drama, at the Tatler.