One of our great modern minds is Cornel West. He is a great writer, philosopher, and theologian and he has taught at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. In his retirement, he teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York. I love to read his books and articles and I sometimes assign his creative work to my students. One of the things that we vehemently disagree about is Marx and Marxism. He feels that authentic Marxism has not been tried correctly and hopes that Marxism will have a chance in the near future. On the other hand, I believe that authentic Marxism has been tested in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, parts of Latin and Central American and various parts of Africa; it has failed miserably in each.
A European journal that I read recently published an article about a number of European intellectuals who have been writing glowing reports about the 100th celebration of the Bolshevik Revolution. As many people know, the Bolshevik Revolution was greatly assisted by Western powers who made sure that Lenin enjoyed his stay in Switzerland and was given safe passage as he landed in Russia. Western intellectuals like Cornel West are enamored with the history of communism and feel that it should have another chance (but preferably not in their country).
The world knows about many revolts and revolutions. There were many global revolts during the time of the Roman Empire. It seems that every major power crushes revolts in the cruelest fashion possible to instill fear in any future generations who may think of revolting. As a child, I memorized stories and poems about heroes in our culture who were cruelly punished by being drawn in four different directions by horses so that their limbs came apart. We also learned about 1846-1848, which was known as the period when Europe burned.
There were revolutions in the 20th century on almost every continent. Many countries gained their independence between 1945 and 1970, some of them by revolution. The Hungarian Revolution was crushed while they waited for the West to send them help. The Polish Workers Revolution was helped in great part by the USA and Pope John Paul. There was the Velvet Revolution in Prague and there was the Tiananmen Square Revolution, crushed by the Chinese government.
With the passing of time, the ways that we report about a revolution sometimes change. Revisionist history is as dangerous as writing a hagiography in which our hero or country does nothing wrong. I recently talked with a colleague who remarked that the American Revolution was the revolution of rich people who wanted to become richer. I was surprised by his statement, so I did some research and found out that many of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence died very poor. The American Revolution took everything they had and some of them ended up with nothing to their names.
As we gathered for our Fourth of July celebrations, I hope that you took time to enjoy the things that you have in this country. It has been a great revolution, which gave us a fantastic constitution, and enabled all of us who are here—by birth or through citizenship--to enjoy the privilege of being in this country.