How Do Americans Understand Revolution?

Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian recently appeared on Bill Maher’s show to discuss U.S. foreign policy and our current situation in the Middle East. I don’t watch Bill Maher, but I found this discussion fascinating for several different reasons. For one, Greenwald takes exception to Maher’s generalizations about Islam, specifically that it is a uniquely violent and destructive religion. Greenwald contends that Maher’s premise is mistaken, and attempts to explain why. You can watch the video below and make your own conclusions about it.

Beyond the Middle East discussion, I was really intrigued by Charles Cooke’s suggestion that Americans have a problem thinking about revolution as bloody, violent, and chaotic. He believes the American Revolution was “great” and that the American Revolution was an exceptional revolution in the sense that the postwar years were relatively stable compared to other revolutions. Joy Reid responds by saying that the American Revolution was not exceptional and that it was not “great,” especially if you were slave (and, I would add, a slave that pledged allegiance to the British after they promised freedom to slaves who agreed to fight for the loyalists). Oh, and that nasty Civil War in the 1860s was a result of the flaws of the Constitution, wasn’t it?

The revolution discussion starts with a bit of context setting by Maher around 5:27.

I’m not sure I agree with Cooke when he suggests that American and British people have a problem understanding the violent nature of revolution, and I think his argument highlights the tensions surrounding the ongoing debate regarding whether or not America is an exceptional nation. But wasn’t the American Revolution a “massive step forward”? If so, does the American government have an obligation to support revolution abroad, so that other countries are able to have their “massive step forward” too?

Just some food for thought. Happy Mothers Day!