“A vengeful mob is a fearsome thing but the true monsters are its teachers.”
Author, “Critics, Monsters, Fanatics and Other Literary Essays”
For those old enough to remember the riots of the 1960s following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and the 1992 riots after the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial, the riots following the killing of George Floyd by police brought back painful memories. There were differences, however. The earlier riots occurred mostly in cities with large black minorities and targeted mostly black neighborhoods. The recent ones took place over a larger swath of America and included affluent, white neighborhoods and this time the rioters included large numbers of young whites.
Another notable difference was the apparent support for and rationalization of much of the violence from a large cross-section of the population including white academics and other white elites as well as the mainstream media. Some have described the civic unrest as a movement or a revolution. The description seems apt, with mobs taking over sections of cities like Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C., erecting barricades to keep police from entering and, in Seattle’s CHOP, declaring sovereignty. A unifying objective, on the surface at least, was defunding the police and drastically restructuring law enforcement.
To Northwestern University’s Gary Saul Morson, a professor of Russian literature, there are striking similarities between what is going on now in America and what occurred in Russia just prior to the Communist revolution that overthrew the Czarist government. In that revolution, the Marxists openly endorsed terrorism as a necessary means to an end. The opposition liberal party, known as the Constitutional Democrats, did not condone terrorism but steadfastly refused to condemn it, believing it would be political suicide to do so, according to Prof. Morson. In fact, he says, they actually called for the release of imprisoned terrorists.
In an interview published recently in the Wall Street Journal, Morson said that the lessons from this are highly relevant today. People may know that acts of violence and destruction of property are wrong but feel that it might be political suicide or subject them to criticism (or worse) to say so and so they go along supporting or remaining silent about things they know are wrong. And unless some moral force emerges to stop it, the slide toward chaos accelerates. That moral force seems lacking in America today as it was in Russia then. Morson notes another analogy, saying that “many of today’s revolutionaries are wildly successful and privileged,” citing, as examples, Colinford Mattis and Uroog Rahman, charged with attempting to firebomb a police vehicle. Both are New York attorneys, educated at, respectively, Princeton and New York University.
If we are, in fact, witnessing a revolution today, it seems important to understand what it’s about and where it began. Many believe that It’s about much more than just black lives matter, defunding the police and restructuring law enforcement. It’s about redistributing wealth and power. It’s significant in this regard that many of the demonstrations now are targeting the homes of those with power and wealth. Intimidation is a powerful weapon. It’s also about re-defining free speech. Revolutions cannot tolerate insightful criticism and require both a sympathetic news media and a passive policing policy that will monitor, but not prevent, violence incident to their demonstrations. Dissent must be crushed if it threatens to impede the revolution. Therefore, if you dare to criticize the actions of the demonstrators or rioters, you are “not listening” or “you don’t get it.” You are “on the wrong side of history” and “just part of the problem” or “not qualified to criticize because you are privileged”. Revolutionaries insist that they support free speech of course, but, in practice, they do only if it supports their narrative. Otherwise, it’s branded a lie and needs to be suppressed.
How did this all begin? For starters, consider the widespread embrace of political correctness. And where did all that begin? It was born and nurtured on college campuses all over America where leftist ideology prevails almost unchallenged, supported by overwhelmingly liberal faculties. The rare conservative voices are often suppressed and shamed or banished from campus. Our universities have produced a generation of young socialists taught to see only the flaws and not the greatness of our nation. Most of them supported Bernie Sanders and are not enamored with the choices we have for president in November. (In the latter matter at least, I share their distress.)
If this is a revolution, will it ultimately succeed? That, of course, is squarely up to the American people. But if they are too fearful to speak their minds, it really doesn’t matter what they think or want. Silence is surrender. As Benjamin Franklin reportedly said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” We’ve kept it for nearly two and a half centuries but could we be on the brink of losing it?
Dr. Kelly is a freelance writer and a retired Navy Captain who commanded three San Diego-based ships and a personnel research and development center and taught ship handling, seamanship and navigation at Naval Base San Diego. He earned his doctorate in education at USD, taught graduate students and was a senior vice-president and director of training and development at Great American Bank. He has written over 1500 newspaper and journal articles and has been a regular contributor to the Eagle&Journal since 2001.