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On Goethe, Two Revolutions and Rights

“Monday Musings” for March 11, 2013

Volume III.  No. 10/114


Mein Herr, die Zeiten der vergangenheit sind

uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln.  Der Geist, den

Ihr den geist der Xeiten heisst, das ist zumeist

der Herren eigener Geist, in dem die Zeiten sich


                                                              Goethe, Faust

 George-Washington-resigned-his-commission-as-Commander-in-Chief-of-the-Army-to-the-Congres-December-23-1783.                     Goethe_(Stieler_1828)


By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is to German literature what Shakespeare is to English, Voltaire to French, Ferdowsi to Farsi and Eusebius of Pamphili (Josephus) to Arameic.  The magisterial and imposing volume of collected work of Goethe is a good companion to pick up and hold (if you don’t have a bad back!), and read. It does wonders for the soul.  The part I like the most is Goethe’s treatment of history. Right after the American and French revolutions in the late eighteenth century, two Republics were created, one led by George Washington and the other by Napoleon Bonaparte, both military men of substance and valor. Napoleon went on to be defeated and exiled while George Washington went on to be lionized and immortalized in the annals of human history. Goethe’s sage observation of both revolutions and these two men are of historic significance. George Washington’s gift for limiting his appetite for power is considered by Goethe as a “remarkable and rather rare attribute.” After fathering America, serving two terms as President, like the famed Greek General, Cincinnatus, he returned to his farm. He liberated his slaves and worked and lived as an ordinary citizen. However, Napoleon’s expansive ego, maniacal greed and insatiable appetite for power brought him an ignominious ending and demise. As students of history, we can learn that Washington’s character, his self-discipline and altruism, placing the welfare of his country before anything else, poured the foundation of our Republic. Washington and the framers of US Constitution have given us not a perfect system of government, but one that can be purged from time to time to ensure its lasting health.

America’s constitution and its rule of law are the envy of the world. Several years ago, while in Siberia, I learned that in order to create a lasting government, they were translating the US Constitution verbatim. Our system has withstood the Watergate, the 2000 voting debacle, the Clinton-Lewinsky histrionics and many more crises with not a shot fired. With the celebratory gains of civil rights, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, America’s passion for individual right and its reverential devotion to freedom and protection of First Amendment are transcendent. In the annals of the history of Neolithic man, there are no parallel in these collective achievements.

Our nation endured unprecedented tragedy on September 11, 2001. Patriotism was at a fever pitch high. We rallied around our flag.  Unprecedented amounts of money were contributed to assist the victims. Americans love their country. When in trouble, its citizens come to its rescue. However, in my mind, as a citizen by choice and not by birth, one of the most puzzling and astonishing issues is our collective apathy toward voting and electing our representatives. The local election office tells me that, in general, fewer than 20% of registered voters cast their votes. An online survey of the national picture is not any better.  Across the nation, the voting rate was about 22%! There are gazillions of people paying more than as forty to fifty dollars even over one hundred dollars attending rock concerts, but very few go to the polls to vote at no cost in an ultimately beneficial endeavor to them. I believe voting is the most elemental way that citizens could (and should) show their patriotism. We hope to see a better turnout in all US elections.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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