Friday, December 6, 2013

The Character of Nelson Mandela

Max makes a very important observation here regarding revolutions and the transition to governance. I don't not want to take away from his important comments on Nelson Mandela but I would like to add some additional observations.

I was recently comparing the Declaration of Independence and the Communist Manifesto as revolutionary documents.  It is interesting that the Communist Manifesto has been the basis for many more revolutions than the Declaration of Independence.  But in most cases those who used the Communist Manifesto for political mobilization of the working class (or the peasant class) were successful in the revolution but usually failures in governance and in fact the irony is that the working (or peasant) class went on to be just as oppressed or exploited by the new regime (and sometimes worse) as they were by the old one.

Not so in the United States.  What is really "exceptional" about the United States is that the period of 1776 to 1789 had a confluence of three major conditions – first there was the Declaration of Independence, second there were enlightened leaders (the founding fathers) with deep understanding of human nature and a real vision for the future and who did not seek to usurp power for themselves.  Third was the writing of the US Constitution which put into place a governing structure that allowed the nation to develop and thrive following the revolution (and of course the Articles of Confederation were necessary to drive the founding fathers toward a more effective Constitution). What is lacking with the Communist Manifesto and those who adhered to its revolutionary principles was that there was no effective method of governance that developed from it – Marx only described that the communism would eventually result after the workers revolted but he never described how to make it happen and the leaders who used the Manifesto developed their own methods for governance (some proclaiming that they were the vanguard that would lead the people to communism when the conditions were right) but in reality were focused only on maintaining power for themselves.  

What makes Mandela great (among many other characteristics) is exactly what Max notes.  Like Washington and the founding fathers he was more interested in doing what was right for his country and putting into a place a structure that would transcend himself and continuity of government beyond his time as the head of the nation.  This makes Mandela exceptional as it makes the US founding fathers, the US Declaration of Independence,  and Constitution together exceptional. 

12.05.2013 - 5:55 PM

While traveling around the country promoting my last book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, I was often asked which insurgents I admired the most. The answer is those insurgents who have fought relatively humanely and, most important of all, once they have seized power have governed wisely and democratically and shown a willingness to give up power when the time came to do so.

This is not, needless to say, the norm. Much more common are insurgents like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Kim Il Sung, and (fill in the blank) who, while posturing as freedom fighters battling an evil dictatorship, swiftly become dictators in turn as soon as they seize power. The exceptions to that rule are some of the greatest figures of modern history–the likes of George Washington, Michael Collins, David Ben-Gurion, and, most recently, Nelson Mandela.

I can remember growing up in the 1980s when there was widespread suspicion among conservatives in the U.S.–including many in the Reagan administration–that if the African National Congress were to take over, South Africa would be transformed into another dysfunctional dictatorship like the rest of the continent. That this did not come to pass was due to many reasons including F.W. de Klerk’s wisdom in giving up power without a fight.

But the largest part of the explanation for why South Africa is light years ahead of most African nations–why, for all its struggles with high unemployment, crime, corruption, and other woes, it is freer and more prosperous than most of its neighbors–is the character of Nelson Mandela. Had he turned out to be another Mugabe, there is every likelihood that South Africa would now be on the same road to ruin as Zimbabwe. But that did not happen because Mandela turned out to be, quite simply, a great man–someone who could spend 27 years in jail and emerge with no evident bitterness to make a deal with his jailers that allowed them to give up power peacefully and to avoid persecution.
(Continued at the link below)

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