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The Collective
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I must confess, the following (from one of Thomas Sowell’s columns made up of short thoughts) to be utterly stunning:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

There is no further explanation of this remarkable statement-it is just there between an observation about how watching Suze Orman makes him feel tired and an observation about the usage of statistics to form opinions.

A military coup?!?

One wonders if Sowell has ever actually studied countries where the assumption was that the military could sweep in and “fix” things.

Clearly there are people out there, who ought to know better, who prefer democracy only when it produces the outcomes that they like.

A military coup as a throw-away suggested cure for what ails us? Quite frankly, that is an obscene suggestion.

And as a side note, as a professor, columnist and fellow at the Hoover Institution, isn’t Sowell himself an educator and part of the intelligentsia? Perhaps he can get a grad student to do some research on what often happens to that class of individuals when the military has taken power in other places.

As Kevin Drum observed in response: “I wonder what Buckley thinks of NRO publishing stuff like this?”

Indeed.

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Filed under: US Politics, Academia | |

27 Comments

  1. Perhaps he is just a fan of Babylon 5. It could be argued that a military coup was how Sheridan fixes the problems that are happening back on earth.

    But I doubt it.

    Comment by Avonelle Lovhaug — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 11:39 am

  2. OK: if the government is ever taken over behind the scenes by a race of ancient, chaos-creating aliens who seek to manipulate the galaxy into endless, bloody war, I might re-think my views on coups. However, until then…

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 11:46 am

  3. Fair enough!

    Comment by Avonelle Lovhaug — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  4. Thomas Sowell Pines for A Military Coup

    A “random thought” from Thomas Sowell:
    When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this countr…

    Trackback by Outside The Beltway | OTB — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  5. I don’t think Sowell has taught a class in years. From what I know he lives and works at home writing books and columns. He might have grad students as research assistants.

    I’m chalking this riff off on old age. He’s studied plenty of other cultures and their histories (in his affirmative action studies) to know better.

    What would be the the reaction had he called for an American-style revolution? It seems better than a military coup, but one could argue that George Washington et al engaged in a form of a coup.

    Comment by Sean Hackbarth — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  6. Sowell’s “random thoughts” essays are just that, random, so there will be no contaxt in terms of what preceded or followed, just the statement itself.

    Obscene? Not hardly. Many agree there is a worsening degenerency of those institutions, just because he is a member doesn’t mean he can’t self criticize. Another way to look at it is how quickly a society can collapse into something where a coup would be plausible. Germany, the Soviet Union and others have fallen apart virtually overnight.

    I see much more incindiery tripe being thrown about by the left on a daily basis. Undermining our institutions such as fair elections will do much more damage.

    Comment by Steven Plunk — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 1:41 pm

  7. “…but one could argue that George Washington et al engaged in a form of a coup. ”

    Yes, one could, but it’d be an uphill struggle. Washington has given command of an existing army from an existing (revolutionary) government.

    Comment by Barry — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

  8. A Military Coup? Could it Work?

    Thomas Sowell has said something rather silly:When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this

    Trackback by ProfessorBainbridge.com ® — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  9. Barry, to the British Washington et al were traitors. And I’m sure loyalists thought what they were doing was illegal and immoral.

    Comment by Sean Hackbarth — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  10. Thomas Sowell Gets Old and Crotchety

    Riffing pessimistically Thomas Sowell wrote,
    When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country i…

    Trackback by The American Mind — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  11. Steve,

    You are going to have to do better than that. That other people have said bad things is not an argument-indeed it is irrelevant. You have expressed frustration in the past that your statements are often dismissed as partisan reflexivity, but in this case crying that the left has said worse things sound exactly like a reflexive defense of Sowell because he is conservative (although to suggest a coup is either radical or revolutionary, depending on the type of coup he is advocating-it certainly isn’t conservative).

    BTW: neither East Germany (to which I assume you are referring) nor the USSR experienced a military coup-rather the prior regimes largely collapsed. Germany’s last coup had to go with a fellow named Hitler.

    A military coup is an extremely serious thing and I find it disturbing that anyone would think otherwise. To suggest that a military could, under the current circumstances be even close to desirable is to utterly reject the notion that democracy has any value.

    And when were fair election undermined of late? if you refer to 2000, last I saw, the Reps won. Indeed, many Democrats would argue that 2000 was the subversion of the election process (I don’t agree with that assessment, btw, but it is worth nothing).

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  12. Sean,

    True. However, Barry is correct: Washington did not lead a military coup. Further, we never had military government in the US.

    Indeed, Washington rejected the chance to be King or to be some sort of military dictator.

    S

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  13. The people who are scariest to me are the people who don’t even know enough to realize how little they know about questions of political design.

    Our education system, our media, and our intelligentsia have all been unrelentingly undermining the values, the traditions, and the unity of this country for generations and, at the same time, portraying as “understandable” all kinds of deviance, from prostitution to drugs to riots to militarism.

    I am so old that I can remember a Democrat, at one of his inaugurations as president, say of ourselves: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

    Comment by Brett — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  14. I certainly would call what happened in the USSR in August, 1989, a military-bureaucratic coup. And I would call what happened in the USA in December, 2000, a judicial coup. I never thought the latter could happen, and so I am not complacent about those who would argue for other kinds of coups in the USA. I wish I could say I was shocked that this has entered our discourse. But I can’t say that I am.

    Comment by MSS — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  15. USSR, August, 1991, that is.

    Comment by MSS — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  16. Matthew,

    I am not sure that I would classify the USSR in 1991 as a military coup-certainly it didn’t lead to military government (although I suppose that Sowell isn’t claiming that miliary government, per se, equals salvation). There was an attempted coup by the Politburo against Gorbachev, to be sure. I might could live with bureaucratic coup. I suppose it is ultimately an academic argument about classification.

    And, as I have noted before, I disagree with the assessment of 2000 as a coup of any kind.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

  17. It’s important to distinguish between a coup and a revolution. A coup — at least, a military coup (is there really any other kind?) — is the overthrow of the existing government by the military. A revolution is the overthrow of the existing government by the “people” — the governed.

    Some argue, credibly, that “a little revolution now and then is a good thing.” Very few argue that a little coup now and then can be good.

    Comment by echo-1 — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

  18. Dr. Taylor,

    I will try to do better in my explanation.

    First and foremost we must take Dr. Sowell’s comments in the context of his “random thoughts”. These musings are thinking aloud not policy papers or as some suggest a call to action. He said clearly “I can’t help wondering…” reasonable people can conclude this is a legitimate fear not a desire like many assume. Sowell would know, we can only guess. There is no doubt in my mind, he is not advocating a coup.

    My point about Germany and the Soviet Union is that governments can devolve rather quickly into something unforeseen. Germany spiraled downward with the ascencion of Hitler. At some point a coup against him was a possibility. In hindsight a coup against Hitler could have been a good thing. If our government were to suddenly go out of control (many say it already is) because of outside threats it is a real possibility that a coup could occur. The USSR did not have a coup but the state failed in a very short period of time. Governments seem to be fragile in many ways so a collapse of order could lead to military action.

    Undermining faith in our electoral system can certainly lead to civil disorder and perhaps military intervention. Terms like “not my President” and “stolen election” still float around with no consequences for such irresponsible statements. College campuses are filled with people who believe these things and teach people to believe it. If we decide not to honor our elections what sort of anarchy will result? Will that lead to the military stepping in? In 2004 Ohio was the battleground for election fraud that could overturn the results. So it still happens.

    My mention of the other side doing it is not a defense of Sowell (his is statement already defended) but an indictment of those who are making such a big deal out this while ignoring those who undermine our democracy. People like Rosie O’Donnell have a larger audience and she gets away with 9/11 was an inside job? Where’s the outrage? My understanding is she’s getting offers from the other networks as we speak.

    All of this is silly and I’ll repeat it one more time, Sowell did not call for a coup or say it would be desirable. He simply wonders if it could happen some day.

    Comment by Steven Plunk — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

  19. A coup is an extra-legal removal and replacement of a sitting government-it need not be perpetrated by the military.

    Revolution is a rapid, violent overthrow of an existing state that results in a radical restructuring of state a society.

    We actually never had a revolution in the US, despite what we often call it-we fought a war of independence against a colonial power.

    And while Jefferson mused about a little revolution (or did he say rebellion?) now and again, one must recall that he was quite the romantic on the subject-indeed, a starry-eyed idealist and on this issue I wouldn’t actually follow the dictum in question.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  20. No, Steve, he wasn’t just musing that a coup might happen some day, he states that it might be needed to “save” the country.

    Further, one does not get a pass for random musings when those musings are written down for publication and syndication. It isn’t like I happened to read his notebook here-this a column written expressly for national publication.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

  21. I yield to your definition of coup, though I still maintain that the common definition and usage implies or explicitly states “violent” overthrow, and that violence is usually perpetrated by the military. My definition of revolution comes from Websters.

    The quote states “A little revolution . . . “, and is unattributed, which may mean he never said it. However, he did say this:

    “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

    I’m certainly not advocating revolution (or rebellion). There is, however, a ring of truth to Jefferson’s romantic sentiments — witness the raison d’etre for the Second Amendment.

    Comment by echo-1 — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

  22. Can A Military Coup Ever Be Justified ?

    Several bloggers have written today about this quote from Thomas Sowell:
    When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing tha…

    Trackback by The Liberty Papers — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 6:51 pm

  23. Echo-1,

    Websters is good for basic definitions of words, but just like you wouldn’t want your doctor using it to define “appendix” before he removed yours, or your attorney using it to look up key legal terms, it isn’t too useful for fleshed-out definition of social science/political science terms.

    In regards to coups, some are violent and others are “bloodless”.

    Jefferson was a radical idealist on the topic of revolutionary change. He was romanticized initially, for example, the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution (violence that he initially predicted would not happen).

    And to be honest, that quote has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. Indeed, the degree to which it can be argued that the primary reason for the right to bear arms was forestalling tyranny is questionable-but that is another debate.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, May 2, 2007 @ 7:15 pm

  24. Appendix — isn’t that the boring part at the end of a book? Why would my doctor want to take that out?

    Lawyers make up their own definitions for words — such as the meaning of “is.”

    Gotta’ go mow my lawn.

    Comment by echo-1 — Thursday, May 3, 2007 @ 6:30 am

  25. I dunno, I thought that the appendix of the Lord of the Rings was pretty cool…

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, May 3, 2007 @ 6:53 am

  26. Ah — foiled at every turn. . . .

    Comment by echo-1 — Thursday, May 3, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

  27. […] The latest polls appear to indicate that we are, in fact, beginning to stir from our long national slumbers, except for the stubborn wingnut brigade, who know nothing except hate and fear and long for another dreadful day like 9/11. Or they argue (seriously!), that the President has the right and duty to make himself a dictator or emperor, or that we need a military coup to save us from our democratic selves! See also this interesting repudiation of Sowell’s un-American and frightening notion at a conservative site. These are dark days, indeed, when such rationales for the destruction of our nation and everything for which it stands, are printed in Serious and Important publications for our ruling classes. […]

    Pingback by lies and the lying liars. . . . « A Tableau of Crimes & Misfortunes — Monday, May 7, 2007 @ 3:21 pm

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