When asked to imagine the birthplace of our contemporary republican democracy, most educated people point to the democratic traditions of ancient Athens and to the institutions and offices of the Roman Republic. Yet, Athens was destroyed and its democracy destroyed centuries before the birth of Christ, and the Roman Republic succumbed to imperial despotism in 27BC. These shining examples continued to burn as embers of remembrance long after their practical extinction, thanks to a political and intellectual class dedicated to the preservation of ancient documents and knowledge. But while preserving the records, the successor states of both Athens and Rome were neither democratic nor republican in character.
The aggressively statist, socialist government of Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro styles itself as a Bolivarian revolutionary regime for Venezuela. Named for the great 19th century South American independence hero, Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan Bolivarian movement claims to be the fulfillment of that leader’s legacy. Yet virtually everything we know about the man and his political philosophy suggests he would be horrified by “his” revolution.
Russian president Vladimir Putin’s power grab and annexation of the Crimea has filled global news headlines as he attempts to reverse what he has called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” – the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it needs to be remembered that this conflict has its deeper roots in two ideas that have plagued the world for over two centuries: nationalism and government interventionism into economic affairs.
Forgotten or at least certainly downplayed in the international remembrance of Mandela’s nearly three decades of imprisonment and his historical role in becoming the first black president of post-Apartheid South Africa is the fact that through most of the years of his active resistance leading up to his arrest and incarceration he accepted the Marxist interpretation that racism and racial discrimination were part and parcel of the capitalist system.