The world’s preeminent scholar on the American Revolution is visiting Chautauqua Institution to offer context for the current political climate in Egypt.
Gordon S. Wood, professor of history emeritus at Brown University and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution, will be delivering a lecture titled, “Advice to the Egyptians from the Founding Fathers,” at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.
Wood first delivered this lecture in the spring of last year when he was invited by the Center for Strategic and International Studies to attend a conference in Colonial Williamsburg and offer his advice to 30 Egyptian journalists, academics, military representatives and members of President Mohamed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, which was still in power at the time.
“My two main points were that democracy is not simply about majority rule,” Wood said. “You have to protect the interests of the minority as well. And that religious liberty is crucial when you have differing points of view in your country. Obviously, they paid no attention to anything I said.”
Spurred by protests from civilian minority groups, a military coalition forcibly removed Morsi from power and suspended the Egyptian Constitution just a few months after Wood lectured in Williamsburg. Today, the political situation in Egypt remains tense as the military has assumed control of the power vacuum created by Morsi’s ousting last year.
This situation is not as foreign to Americans as it might seem.
Grade school history classes may make it seem like all was well in the United States after rebel forces sent the redcoats back across the pond, but post-revolution America had its fair share of power struggles and difficult decisions.
“We had a crisis of excessive democracy on our hands,” Wood said. “Democracy was really running amok. Sure, we didn’t end up with a military dictatorship like Egypt because Washington refused, but there were plenty of people who wanted him to do it.”
Wood said that America could have easily become a military-controlled state, much like Egypt is presently, and it wasn’t until a decade after the war that democracy succeeded with the adoption of a federal constitution. Before that point, America did suffer from an excess of democracy as individual states drafted their own constitutions unheeding to the concerns of their minorities.
During his talk, Wood will touch upon James Madison’s efforts to curtail the excessive multiplicity of laws that existed before the federal constitution. Madison realized that the democracy was beginning to resemble the despotic rule America had fought to free itself from and began to theorize a solution.
A Republican remedy for Republican ills was what he came up with. That remedy is still in place today.
The result of Madison’s plan and many years of hard-fought implementation brought about a powerful new form of government unified by federal law and governed by majority and minority alike.
“I’m going to tell the audience on Tuesday essentially the same thing I told the group at Williamsburg,” Wood said. “I’m going to ask them, what can be learned from the American Revolution?”
Wood’s lecture will not actually draw any specific conclusions to the current crisis in Egypt, but he said attendees are more than welcome to draw their own.