I was speaking with a European friend recently, and we were
lamenting the world’s numerous political crises, and the
seeming inability of the various global democratic leaders to
resolve these crises.
It occurred to me in the midst of this conversation that part of
the dilemma in such a discussion is our natural inclination
to assume that the events of history can be turned from their
course in a matter of a few days, months, or even years — or
that elected political leaders can easily, except in relatively rare
instances, alter or resist history’s most malign conflicts.
In the past, I have illustrated history’s negative longwindedness
with the example of the protracted consequences of World
War i. This war technically began in 1914, and formally ended
in 1918, but the upheavals and disruptions it caused or
provoked have endured over more than the past century in
new wars, violent conflicts and other aggressions.
(I have always marveled that this enduring event in history
had its immediate cause in a chauffeur’s wrong turn in a
crowded Sarajevo street. Perhaps if he had made the correct
turn, and thus no assassin would have shot the archduke,
history would have found another event to begin that
calamitous war. or perhaps then the kaiser and his fellow
warmongers would have simply found another excuse to go
Democracy, as Ben Franklin and others have pointed out, is
seemingly a fragile form of government — although our U.S.
version of it has survived and flourished through a variety of
crises and challenges from the War of 1812, the Civil War and
its aftermath, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold
War, and 9/11.
But as Japanese Admiral Yamamoto so presciently
observed after he launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor
1n 1941, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant.”
Democracies, including our own, live passively until they
Malign totalitarian regimes, on the other hand, are inherently
aggressive, and seek to intrude on political vacuums
democracies allow to fester.
Neo-Marxists, certain religious fundamentalists, and others
today seek to challenge and replace democratic governments
with totalitarian authoritarian regimes. Where democratic
states are new, they are especially vulnerable to these efforts.
The 1930’s saw a similar phenomenon, and it took decades
to put down antidemocratic regimes — only to have new ones
For over 300 years, this political wrestling match has been
There is no guarantee, of course, that the sleeping democratic
giant will awaken in time to renew and refresh itself in time to
meet the internal and global challenges it now faces.
These challenges and threats have contemporary issues and
a new cast of characters, but it should not be forgotten that
the national entities, in most cases, have had historical
experiences going back centuries which also instruct us about
Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.