There’s No Such Thing As A Good Coup

My interest in the legitimacy and stability of regimes foreign and domestic, a possibly fatal interest of mine, was probably established from a very young age. In fact, it may be dated to the first ever trip I took outside of the United States, to go to the Feast of Tabernacles in Port of Spain, Trinidad as a child. Less than two months before our arrival, there was a coup attempt from some Libyans that attempted to overthrow what was seen as a weak state in a key location just north of South America. Despite the paucity of the size of the agent provacateurs, the government of Trinidad & Tobago was sufficiently alarmed by the coup attempt to put the whole nation under martial law, and sufficiently glad that not all tourists were scared away that they sent a cabinet-level official to speak to our religious assembly in gratitude for our intestinal fortitude at sticking it out. I suppose even as a child I was the sort of stubborn person who was not deterred easily, even by the threat of personal danger. Some habits die hard.

Like many people, I have watched the situation in Egypt with a great deal of alarm, as the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt was considered the crowning jewel of the supposed Arab Spring of last year. The sight of tanks and live ammunition being expended on those who have protested the overthrow of a free and fair election that happened to put a moderate (?) Islamist (!) government in power over Egypt is an unsettling one for those who believe in the triumph of democracy over tyranny. This is not to say that the electorate of Egypt or many other countries has the republican virtue necessary to develop institutions of rule of law that protect minority rights and personal freedoms while preserving majority rule and consent of the governed (a difficult balance to maintain). Those who fear the excesses of mob rule that democracies easily fall into (the threat of anarchy) may be easily led to believe that a coup that overthrows such a troublesome democracy may be a ‘good coup’ in their eyes, despite bloodshed as well as the demonstration of a lack of faith in the electoral process, since a great many people fear anarchy but have no fear or concern about tyranny. (It should be noted, in fairness, that there are many people who fear tyranny but who have no corresponding fear of lawlessness and anarchy either, and this is an equal evil.)

Far too often, I find that those who are extremists tend not to be able to distinguish between moderates and extremists on the other side. To those who are fans of totalitarian and authoritarian leadership styles, my passionate and vehement disdain for such abusive and tyrannical approaches to authority tend to mark me in their eyes as some sort of rebellious dissident unable to respect authority or the boundaries of civil discourse. On the other hand, to those who are raving libertarians, my support of a moderate but active government in defense of the well-being and safety of the innocent and vulnerable is often considered with terms ranging from squishy to socialist, even though none of those labels are just either. I suppose that being more than a little passionate against both extremes tends to make it hard for those who have little balance in their own worldviews to be able to properly distinguish between a salutary balance between competing concerns and one’s mirror image, especially if there is little ability to be able to engage in civil discourse and nuanced reasoning.

As a graduate student in military history, I chose as my capstone paper [1] topic the Prussianization of the Chilean army. One of the more nefarious consequences of the (possibly misguided) self-esteem of the Chilean army was its tendency to intervene in Chilean politics to overthrow politicians who proved too leftist for it to accept. This happened twice in the 20th century, the first time leading to the rise of a military leader named Ibañez and the second time (and more famously) to the despotic rule of Augusto Pinochet, whose rule led to the disappearance and death of many thousands of Chileans and to the lengthy discrediting of conservative elements within Chilean politics after the restoration of democratic rule. (In fact, as far as my own political worldview is concerned, I would consider Pinochet’s political philosophy to be the worst of all possible worlds, an authoritarian and tyrannical government along with a radically libertarian economic model.) Whenever military leaders forget that their job is to serve the political order and when they assume that they are more competent and government than a heavily divided political elite that threatens their own well-being and self-image, then a republic is in grave danger.

I have myself seen some of these dangers first-hand, in my travels to Thailand. Perhaps it was overdetermined, but my critical eye towards the behavior of military leaders towards elected governments and the tendency to see coups as a sign of failure rather than a sign of success led me to be daringly (and perhaps foolishly) critical of the military of the nation where I resided as an alien and sojourner [2]. Perhaps it was unwise, but my own personal anxieties about the abusive behaviors of authorities and my academic interests in parsing the circumstances that lead to militaries that forget that they are the servants of the people and of the political order and not the lords of it (circumstances that include large amounts of American aid often explicitly tied to politics that are hostile to what is labeled as Communism, to such an extent that any support of gradual or partial or mild reform of unacceptable social conditions is often viewed as Communist and therefore illegitimate). Having witnessed the tension between populist political leadership that seeks to pander to the legitimate desires for respect and advancement of marginalized groups within Thai society and an unaccountable and illegitimate and unelected business and military and royal elite based on corrupt enmeshed network politics, and having seen little to approve on both sides of the political leadership but way more sympathy for the common person than for the insecure elites who are threatened by their well-being and improvement, it was impossible that someone like myself could keep silent about such matters, even for the sake of my own comfort and well-being.

Nor is this concern and this inability to keep silent about such matters given my own life experiences limited to matters of high politics. Given that many authority figures have little interest in encouraging the development of the capacity of free will among those under their jurisdiction, and given that the sole legitimate purposes of any godly authorities are to punish evildoers [3], protect the innocent, and serve the well-being of the common folk, I have seen the same sort of abusive and tyrannical governments that have greatly harmed the well-being of nations do the same in families, communities, businesses, and churches, among other institutions. In low politics as well as high politics, the tension between anarchy and a lack of concern for decorum and standards of propriety and tyranny and a lack of respect for the freedom and well-being of people is a false dilemma that rages over and over and over again without seeming hope of resolution so long as opposition to authority combines with a lack of respect for proper standards of behavior and so long as opposition to freedom is occasioned by the insecurities and fears of those in authority who do not trust those in their charge to make wise decisions and often rely on institutional and civil authorities (whether that be the police, or the ministry or other such figures) to bolster their own insecure and tyrannical rule. The same sort of tragedies we see on a large scale we also see on the small scale and the medium scale as well, suggesting that the problems are intricately related to our own character and behavior and are not dependent on particular political systems.

Yet the means of remedying such situations are not easy. At times we must endure, however unwillingly, the sort of intolerable situations we are a part of because doing anything would only make matters worse for ourselves and others. (At times, we might decide to make a principled stand against evil, even at cost to ourselves, but even this may not reward us in the short term, and developing too strong of a bent towards resistance to and rebellion towards authority is an ungodly habit that does not properly train us to respect God and His rule over the universe. If we must be revolutionaries, we must be reluctant and very unwilling ones.) Too easy an acceptance of evil leads us to either assume that God is not powerful enough to stop evil, or that He is somehow in support of those who rule, who are quick to claim some sort of divine or semi-divine status for themselves as ruling by divine right without ruling according to God’s ways as He commands (see, for example, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and Romans 13:1-7). Yet we must respect authorities even who are corrupt, if for the sake of the offices alone, however unworthy of honor and respect those who hold such offices are, because it is by respecting human authorities that we develop the proper habits of respect and honor towards others. If we feel constrained by such matters, imagine how difficult it must be for a being who is a lawful and orderly being incapable of sin whose attempts to see His ways modeled in families, churches, businesses, and civil governments is constantly thwarted either by chaotic disobedience or by tyrannical oppression as a result of the perversion of free will on behalf of the many or the one. Oh, that we hard a heart to obey, that we might neither rebel against God’s ways and seek our own autonomy nor oppress others and therefore bring dishonor upon those institutions and offices that we hold for ourselves. Oh, that God may grant us the wisdom not to bring troubles upon our head because we were unwilling and unable to remain silent about such matters even when they threatened out own well-being. Sadly, we are neither virtuous nor wise, and for that reason there is no such thing as a good coup, because every rebellion is a sign of failure rather than a mark of success.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/what-it-takes-to-write-a-norwhich-capstone-paper/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/today-in-history-on-june-24-1932-the-thai-military-developed-an-unfortunate-coup-addiction/

[3] It is not always an easy thing for authorities who seek to punish evildoers to determine properly who is, in fact, an evildoer. Those authorities which are the most corrupt and insecure are likely to have the broadest definition of evildoers and to be the most proactive in seeking to punish, harass, and attack those they view as threats to their authority over their children (whether that is meant in a literal or a figurative way), as I have found out in the course of my own life.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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