FOREIGN AFFAIRS JULY 10, 2013
It's been interesting to watch American politicians and commentators respond to the coup in Egypt, largely because the reactions have not conformed to ideological categories. Conservatives, especially, seem split: David Brooks wrote a pro-coup column, and Robert Kagan penned an excellent case against the military's move. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered where George Will—who often has idiosyncratic opinions on foreign affairs—would come down. Would he support the coup? Would he rail against the military? Amidst my uncertainty, however, one thing steadied my anxious soul: I knew that regardless of Will's position, he would express it with his typical pomposity, and with an absurdly blatant show of learning and erudition.
I was not wrong. Here is how Will begins his piece:
Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi knows neither Thomas Jefferson’s advice that “great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities” nor the description of Martin Van Buren as a politician who “rowed to his object with muffled oars.”
If you have never read one of Will's columns, allow me to explain his choice of an opener. Will's point isn't really that Morsi does not know these things. No: Will's point is that he, George Will, knows these things. Jefferson! Van Buren! What an intellectual!
Will's next paragraph is even better:
It is difficult to welcome a military overthrow of democratic results. It is, however, more difficult to regret a prophylactic coup against the exploitation of democratic success to adopt measures inimical to the development of a democratic culture.
I admit that the second sentence here does make grammatical sense. I read it about eight times hoping to find an error, but couldn't. I also read it eight times because it took me that long to digest his point. Will could have gotten his idea across without sounding like a stuck-up English professor, but where's the fun in that? One should make people work.
Tyranny comes in many flavors. Some are much worse than others because they are more comprehensive and potentially durable. The tyranny portended by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood promised no separation of politics and religion, hence the impossibility of pluralism, and a hostility to modernity that guaranteed economic incompetence. Theologized politics, wherein compromise is apostasy, points toward George Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism — “a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
To start a paragraph talking about tyranny's "flavors," and then use the word "totalitarianism," and then quote Orwell is pretty silly when the subject in question is ... Mohamed Morsi. I may know less about Egypt than even George Will does, but I have read 1984 and Animal Farm (see how charming this style is?) and I can fairly say that Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood—however authoritarian and incompetent—was not going to turn into Stalin's Russia. (Will might want to read "Politics and the English Language" and at least pause to consider what Orwell would have made of some of his showier sentences.)
Will continues on in this vein, mentioning Egyptian history, Mussolini, Prussia, Ronald Reagan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Lincoln. I eventually lost track of his argument, but that's not really what's important, is it?
Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.