I’ll admit I’ve now watched Glenn Beck’s infamous rant about “the coming insurrection” at least half a dozen times. If you haven’t seen it, on Monday, January 31, Beck stood before two blackboards with chalk drawings of maps of Europe and the Middle East and proceeded to slap little fire icons haphazardly on any and all countries within view—Italy! France! Algeria! All On Fire!—while weaving a disturbed vision of a New World Order in which the Weather Underground and the Muslim Brotherhood conspire to usher in a caliphate while China… well, you get the picture.
“You don’t know the truth!” Beck told his audience. “America, you’re not getting any useful information at all from the media…. They’re not giving you anything! They’re showing you pictures of people who are rioting. You feel bad for them, as you should because they’re being played. You look at the angry dictator and say that guy’s gotta go, as you should. But why was he our friend?”
This tour de force of paranoid ignorance earned Beck some criticism from Bill Kristol and others on the right who seem to have finally awakened to the fact that Beck is a clownish embarrassment. But I think there was more than a little method to the madness: anyone watching the spontaneous, exuberant assertion of democratic rights by Egypt’s protesters, and the thuggish violence the state directed toward them in response, can’t help hoping that the anti-Mubarak forces prevail. Gallup reports that 82 percent of Americans are “sympathetic” to the protesters. But Beck doesn’t share that outlook, and it was his job to explain to his viewers why they shouldn’t be rooting for democracy.
It’s no small task. For years and years conservatives and much of the centrist establishment have been telling Americans that the US mission is to bring democracy to the world, to liberate people from tyranny, to upset the established order of despotism. That was the great gift we gave the Iraqi people! Yet here’s democracy arising organically with no need for our bombs, and suddenly members of the political class don’t seem so sure it’s a good idea. Charles Krauthammer says the closest thing the protest movement has to a spokesman, Mohamed ElBaradei, “would be a disaster,” and that “only a child can believe that a democratic outcome is inevitable. And only a blinkered optimist can believe that it is even the most likely outcome.” Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg and Mike Huckabee fret about the Muslim Brotherhood and Israel’s security, and Dick Cheney calls Hosni Mubarak “a good man.”
Conservative opinion on Egypt is by no means uniform, but it’s not surprising to find right-wingers attacking the pro-democracy protesters and ElBaradei. After all, the foundational thinker of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, was terrified by the anarchic forces that popular revolt can unleash. After the storming of the Bastille in the summer of 1789, Burke wrote in a letter that the French “are not fit for Liberty, and must have a Strong hand like that of their former masters to coerce them.” In 1790 he took to Parliament to denounce the French revolutionaries for having “pulled down to the ground their monarchy; their church; their nobility; their law; their revenue; their army; their navy; their commerce; their arts; and their manufactures” and warned that the door was open to “an irrational, unprincipled, proscribing, confiscating, plundering, ferocious, bloody and tyrannical democracy.”