Egypt's preferable tyranny
Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy knows neither Thomas Jefferson's advice that “great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities” nor the description of Martin Van Buren as a politician who “rowed to his object with muffled oars.” Having won just 52 percent of the vote, Morsy pursued his objective — putting Egypt irrevocably on a path away from secular politics and social modernity — noisily and imprudently.
It is difficult to welcome a military overthrow of democratic results. It is, however, more difficult to regret a prophylactic coup against the exploitation of democratic success to adopt measures inimical to the development of a democratic culture.
Tyranny comes in many flavors. The tyranny portended by Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood promised no separation of politics and religion, hence the impossibility of pluralism, and hostility to modernity that guaranteed economic incompetence. Egypt's military tyranny is preferable to Morsy's because it is more mundane.
Egyptian military tyranny has been tempered by corruption because the military is thoroughly entangled with Egypt's economy. Greed might concentrate Egyptian military minds on the advantages of economic dynamism, which depends on liberalization.
What was optimistically and prematurely called the “Arab Spring” was centered in Tahrir Square in the capital of the most populous Arab nation. Western media, and hence Western publics, were mesmerized by young protesters wielding smartphones and coordinating through social media their uprising against the military dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Smartphones are luxury goods in a nation in which about 40 percent of the population lives on no more than $2 a day. In the short term, meaning for the foreseeable future, Egypt's best hope is for an authoritarianism amenable to amelioration.
An Islamist regime wielded by the Muslim Brotherhood would be revolutionary, aiming for the total subordination of society to administered doctrine. A democratic origin of such a regime will not mitigate its nature.
The U.S. Constitution bristles with the language of proscription: Congress, although the expression of popular sovereignty, “shall make no law” doing this and that. The purpose of such provisions, the Supreme Court has said, is to place certain things “beyond the reach of majorities.” Furthermore, the noblest career in the annals of democracy involved a principled recoil against democracy improperly elevated over all other values.
Abraham Lincoln rejected the argument of his rival Stephen Douglas, who favored “popular sovereignty in the territories.” Douglas thought slavery should expand wherever a majority favored it. Lincoln understood that unless majority rule is circumscribed by the superior claims of natural rights, majority rule is merely the doctrine of “might makes right” adapted to the age of mass participation in politics.
The idea that the strong have a right to unfettered rule if their strength is numerical is just the barbarism of “might makes right” prettified by initial adherence to democratic forms. Egypt's military despotism may be less dangerous than Morsy's because it lacks what Morsy's had, a democratic coloration, however superficial and evanescent.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Rutherford falling apart, too
- Brentwood Borough School Board approves major cutbacks
- Rangers clip Penguins, take 2-1 series lead
- Cubs’ rookie third baseman Bryant helps send Pirates to defeat
- Steelers receiver Brown skipping voluntary offseason workouts
- Scoring struggles linger for Penguins 2nd line
- Pew Research Center poll shows most Americans take gun rights over control
- Pittsburgh man taken for wild ride on Route 28
- Trade Institute of Pittsburgh helps rebuild lives of ex-convicts
- LaBar: WWE bans finishing move of top star
- Feud escalates between Westmoreland commissioner, controller