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From: IRASTRAUS@aol.com (Ira Straus)
Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2001
Subject: happy day of national reconciliation

Day of National Reconciliation: A Russian Example for the World

How does a country put a revolution behind itself? Turning Revolution Day into a Day of National Reconciliation is one way. It is hardly enough all by itself -- undoubtedly the passage of a number of years will be needed to achieve the work of mental and societal recomposition -- but it is a good beginning, one that eases the path. It doesn't commit the shock of depriving people of their traditional holiday, but it takes out of the holiday the evil sting: the celebration of schism and the demonization of the defeated half of society. Russia's transformation of its November 7 holiday is in this respect a model that the world could learn from.

Revolutions divide society, they tear apart its fabric, morally and intellectually as well as institutionally. Reconciliation is a necessity for the mental hygiene of countries, it is not merely a sentimental need of society.

For France, it took 200 years to overcome the schism of society that 1789 engendered. July 14 remains Bastille Day, and reconciliation has had to be built, painfully and belatedly, around that fact.

Other countries with revolutionary regimes could learn from the Russian example:

-- Iran might want to emulate it, if the Islamist powers ever give up the ghost and the government elected by the people is ever allowed truly to govern. Its revolution, too, created a vast range of victims, exiles, and marginalized groups. There will be a tremendous labor of national reconciliation to be done, once the unanimous chanting of slogans is finally put aside.

-- China would benefit from a similar transmutation of holidays, if the Party regime should come to an end. It too must reconcile with the families of millions of victims, and with its estranged communities in Taiwan and overseas.

-- other countries with Islamist, secular revolutionary, and Communist regimes that could benefit tremendously from converting their revolutionary holidays into days of national reconciliation:

North Korea

and the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, probably none of these countries will have the wisdom to do it until their respective revolutionary regimes give up the ghost. There is too much hate in most of their revolutionary ideologies to allow for such a reconciliation.

-- America is the most ambiguous case, but also the most important one for the world. Does it have a revolutionary regime? In a sense, it believes that it does, although in legal and institutional reality it does not. In a sense it has enjoyed a partial reconciliation through the Constitution, but it has never understood it as such, and its mental hygiene will remain vulnerable as long as reconciliation is incomplete.

The American regime, viewed legally and institutionally, is not a revolutionary regime based on the Declaration of Independence and the War of 1776-83, but a constitutional regime based on the processes of 1783-9. Those processes included some measures of national reconciliation, particularly restoration of civic rights of voting to the remaining loyalists and moderates who constituted a huge part of the population in NY, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. They also included joint constitution-drafting and -ratification processes for the recomposition of effective central government.

However, tens of thousands of loyalists had fled before the chance of reconciliation was belated offered -- far more fled, proportionate to the population, than the number of aristocrats who fled the terrors of the French Revolution. There was only a partial reconciliation in the 1780s. The Constitution was "sold" with rhetorical compromises with the ideology of schism.

Even today, Americans continue to talk and think as if the legitimacy of their regime were based on the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence, i.e. on the schism in society, rather than on the processes of reconciliation and recomposition. The two national-patriotic holidays, Thanksgiving and July 4, are both conducted as celebrations of separation from European "tyranny" and "corruption". The Thanksgiving celebration also serves as an annual falsification of history, implying that the first colony in America was made by the schismatic "Pilgrim Fathers", as if to forget the mainstream Jamestown settlers in Virginia who arrived a dozen years earlier and created the first colonial assembly. July 4 continues the falsification of the historical narrative, in which separation from Europe is made the main source of American freedom -- as if to forget the long historical development of freedom from the Magna Carta to the growth of the British Parliament.

In this sense, American discourse remains substantially based upon revolutionary schism, with all the consequences that ensue in any revolutionary regime: sacred slogans, political correctness, ideological blinders, narrowing of the range of deliberation, fanaticism, and suppression or relegation to the sphere of "incorrectness" and "treason" of a large portion of the national heritage of thought, culture, history, and institutions.

The fact that these consequences were less severe from the American Revolution than from most revolutions is a great blessing to America. The fact that Americans are for the most part completely unaware that they suffer from these consequences at all, and continue down their path blind to the fact of their own blinders, is a curse to America. It is America's Achilles' heel.

The Declaration of Independence is regularly cited by America's enemies, because it is the easiest way to utterly confound Americans, who treat it as an infallible sacred text rather than as the manifesto of factional separation that it actually was. Recently I have seen it cited, in a fairly mainstream American intelligentsia discussion, as a justification cum explanation for the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center. More prominently, RFE/RL runs arguments against cooperation with Russia nowadays -- a cooperation that is indispensable to American national security -- on the ground that Russians are full of "prejudices" about Moslems (i.e. politically incorrect attitudes incompatible with current understanding of the line "all men are created equal"), which supposedly renders Russian intelligence on the Islamic world useless, threatens to lead the innocent Americans into a fight against the entire Islamic world, etc. etc. Other analysts warn that the price of cooperation with Russia might be too high, the "price" consisting primarily of cutting out some of the rhetoric against Russia which flows from simplistic usage of slogans from the Declaration of Independence, secondarily of accommodation for some Russian interests and perspectives in its neighborhood. In this way, cooperation with Russia may yet be undermined again, as it was several times in the 1990s, this time, however, in a more dangerous way, at a moment when there is a prospect for real cooperation and when this is vital to American survival interests.

All this can be understood as a hangover from the Cold War; at the same time, it is a hangover that is fostered by the attitude of continuity in ideological virtue from 1776 onward. The Cold War greatly exacerbated the habit of America presenting itself as a revolutionary ideological regime. The two superpowers competed against each other to be the more revolutionary, the more anti-imperialist, the more ideologically fervent, the more correct. The revolutionary narrowing of thought, which Americans might in other respects have been gradually been putting behind them, was severely worsened by the long decades of cold war. Coming out of the ideological war has not been easy, even in the face of a sharp new threat to survival.

No one seems to bother to ask whether Americans' politically correct prejudices aren't more distorting than the "incorrect" Russian ones. Haven't the American prejudices been preventing Americans from seeing Islamic-related issues accurately? Hasn't American intelligence done even worse than Russian intelligence on these issues? Didn't these prejudices help in letting America slip at this point very near to a fight against the entire Islamic world, something that Russia itself was not facing despite its brutalities in Chechnya? There has been a propensity in the 1990s toward ideological continuity with the Cold War usage of Declaration of Independence rhetoric. This has led America to grave blunders, damaging America's relations with Russia. It has also led to blind promotion of independence of Russia in the name of democracy and human rights, even in Islamic regions which as independent states have invariably become far more undemocratic and repressive than Russia. This result was entirely predictable, as was the result of an increased vulnerability to Islamist penetration; but America failed to make the predictions, or dismissed it as "racism" when Russians made the predictions. A terrible price is now being paid for this.

One might think, in view of the catastrophe of Sept. 11 and the ongoing risk of worse, that there would be more of a self-critical capability in a free society, more of a willingness to pick itself up and re-examine the dangers it is facing without blinders. The continuity of the sense of ideological correctness, from the 4th July 1776 to every 4th of July ever since, stands in the way of this.

Fortunately, a substantial processes of national reconciliation was begun in 1783-1789. Thanks to this, there is a substantial element of wholeness in American society and a substantial if still-insufficient range of thinking. There were two periods in history that might be viewed as attempts to complete the reconciliation with the excised portion of the national heritage of thought and institutions, both of them however unsuccessful: the initial Federalist presidencies, which collapsed ideologically in favor of Jefferson's party; and the progressive era with its "new Hamiltonianism", which collapsed ideologically in favor of a new Jeffersonianism under Wilson and FDR.

Reconciliation will only be completed when the 4th of July is converted from "Independence Day" into a "day of national reconciliation". In this, America too could learn something from the Russians. Unfortunately that seems likely to be a long way away.

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