Friday, December 06, 2013
The tributes to Nelson Mandela are, appropriately, ubiquitous. True heroes -- especially those who move from the "easy" life of the revolutionary to the hard task of governing -- are rare. It's even rarer for the collectivist revolutionary to make peace with a more democratic capitalist reality. Commentary's Max Boot's moving obituary explains to those on the right why Mandela is worthy of their adulation and applause too. I'm not going to devote thousands of words that can be, and have been, articulated by many others.
However, there are two observations to make:
1) After his 1990 release, Mandela was blessed with 23 years of not just freedom, but worldwide reverence. I wonder how many people -- if visited by a divine presence early in their life -- would take this bargain if offered: "You will serve 27 years in virtual solitary confinement, separated from friends and family. You won't see your children grow up. But after release, not only will you be free, you will lead your country from apartheid to racial reconciliation and a diverse society. And, one more thing, you'll become a worldwide icon." In the end, you'll get 95 years on the earth and influence generations. On the back end, that sounds pretty amazing. But on the front? How many of us would take that "deal" in our 20s, 30s or 40s?
2) Mandela offers a lesson to all those frustrated and angry with their lot in life: Nothing, not even the most arduous of circumstances, is static in life. One may be lost in the darkest of holes, but perseverance, faith and vision can change any person's life.
Thank you, Madiba, for showing a world that peaceful and gracious change is possible. And, now the song that introduced many a high school and college student in the 1980s to Nelson Mandela. At long last, he is truly free:
ADDENDUM: One other thought -- and this is rather important. Mandela is different from Martin Luther King, Jr. in an essentially important way. King is rightly revered for his commitment to non-violence, which was essential for the "success of the possible" in the civil rights movement. Mandela never gave up on the armed option -- until his release and negotiations on a smooth transfer to majority rule began. As powerful as the anti-apartheid movement in the West was during the '80s, that stance cost Mandela some allies. I remember a former roommate in the late '80s who was firmly encamped in the left human rights camp, but whose organization refused to endorse the ANC and Mandela because it and he refused to champion non-violence.
Mandela literally stuck to his guns -- and still managed to lead both a peaceful transition and a functioning government. That's arguably an even harder, more complex, task than merely being a "movement" protester on the outside as King was. Considering America's beginnings -- and how the Second Amendment remains an important aspect of this nation's culture -- Mandela's insistence on the right to armed rebellion, if necessary, while embracing peaceful transition and maintaining an enduring democracy remains admirable.
UPDATE: Another perspective on Mandela from a younger conservative.