Paul Greenberg

It's happening again. The revolution that overthrew Egypt's long-time dictator is now being overthrown itself. One revolution leads to another, one dictatorship to another. The game never ends; the revolving door just keeps spinning.

Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign gave way at last -- to an Islamist regime dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood that soon enough began to overreach, sparking mass protests that led to its overthrow, then a military coup and now...

Now this country's prosecutors are going after those who prosecuted Gen. Mubarak and his circle. It's a pattern as dismal as it is familiar, dating back to the French Revolution, that model of modern revolutions. Revolution devours its children. And just where the cycle of revolution and counter-revolution will end, if it does, no one can know.

In his classic study "Anatomy of Revolution," Crane Brinton summed up the swings of the pendulum that characterize revolutions in the modern age. He spoke of a series of successive shock waves that go from hopeful beginning (see the Arab Spring) to the usual Reign of Terror until it reaches the end of its arc (Thermidor), and then begins to swing back. New tyrants succeed the old, and it isn't always easy to tell the difference. Except that the new commissars may be crueler than the old czars, or the new generals more beneficent than the old tyrants. For the moment, all hangs in the balance in Cairo.

Talk about American exceptionalism: Our revolution was different. Instead of continual revolution-and-reaction, the Founders sought an ordered liberty, one that would confirm liberty in law. The result was a system that, with the exception of the Late Unpleasantness of 1860-65, has proven both flexible and stable despite a succession of challenges, changes, and crises.

Our guiding principles have been the opposite of the fierce ideologies that divided and dominated other societies in the modern age, and were not entirely unknown here. In Europe, those fanaticisms produced one totalitarian regime after another. Each may have had its own equal but opposite slogans and class appeals, but no matter how opposed in ideas, all shared a common, defining characteristic: lust for power. As in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and their contemporary epigones.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.