The De Tocqueville Paradox Part DeuxSteven Lieberman
President Biden and the De Tocqueville Paradox
A few months back you might remember my discussing the De Tocqueville Paradox. It was, candidly, in relation to China… but the same social effects may be coming into play right here in America.
First a primer: Alexis de Tocqueville in his seminal work, Democracy in America, pontificated on a unique facet of social development that he saw manifest time and again. Essentially, when a despot becomes too much of a menace to the social order, those around him seek to remove him from power to maintain their own skins fearing that a revolution is brewing just around the corner. During the run up to this event, social forces are clearly beginning to coalesce in the public square that would suggest an insurgency is on the rise. When the despot is removed from the theatre, a “reformer” is brought in to relax the more egregious aspects of his predecessor’s behavior.
The prevailing wisdom is that these “reforms” will negate the animating principles of the insurgence, and everyone will go back to living their peaceful lives. The offending ruler has been dispatched, but the Mandarines around him can keep their cushy jobs and still be invited to the best parties.
But this doesn’t happen. Ever. Instead the inevitable result is… paradoxically… an acceleration of the insurgency, usually culminating in a full-scale revolution. De Tocqueville saw this throughout history… from Rome, to varying European Principates, to China. In modern days we have seen this in the former Soviet Union, Spain, Greece, Venezuela, and the list goes on.
Now, perhaps we are seeing it here…
I must admit that I have been somewhat slow to see this manifesting, partly because I view the world through Classical Liberal eyes. As a Marxist sees the world as a competition between those who own the means of production and those who toil away as employees, I see the world as a constant struggle between freedom and those who seek to undermine that freedom. Traditionally, that individual freedom is placed in jeopardy by governments that exert control through the implicit use of violence against its citizens. (This is not to be read as a value proposition on the government itself. A government could be benign seeking to impose a value system over its subjects with the honest belief that the imposition of this system will improve the lives of the collective. Other governments can be despotic, with power being wielded for the singular purpose of ensuring the continuity of that government. And, lastly, a government could use its resources for the purely hedonistic desires of its ruling class.)
The De Tocqueville Paradox, as I have always viewed it, is the natural desire for humanity to be free from despotic rule, in the purest form, to be free from any coercive rule at all. (Although this would, by definition, put us in a Hobbsian State of Nature that would create its own issues… hence the need for some form of limited government.)
So… that has been my paradigm. But maybe I have been wrong all along. Perhaps “freedom” has nothing to do with it at all. Perhaps the second part of the De Tocqueville Paradox has more to do with collective membership in a unit than it does for fundamental systemic change.
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This nuanced little epiphany came about, oddly enough, from watching the news the night of President Biden’s Inauguration and through a film from 2018 that most people didn’t watch.
This last week, Sandy was traveling back East so I was essentially a bachelor. This typically translates to having the opportunity to watch stuff on Netflix that Sandy would have no interest in sitting through. I started off with the brilliant docudrama, The Expendables series. (One of the few trilogies that consistently got better from film to film… culminating with a truly brilliant performance by Antonio Banderas in Expendables III). I then moved on to The Great Wall, an endearing modern classic about giant lizards attacking ancient China. Then I came to Arrival. This movie came out a couple of years ago and got generally negative reviews. Frankly, I kinda liked it. One of the more interesting things to me was the difficulty in actually communicating with aliens who have arrived here on Earth. Amy Adams, the main character and a linguist specialist, explains to the U.S. Army Colonel in charge, played by Forest Whitaker, that it is not enough to ask a simple question of the aliens. Understanding the way they perceive their universe is a fundamental task that needs to be accomplished before even the most rudimentary of questions can be asked.
That got me thinking. Since I believe the story of humanity is a story of rejection of control (and I still believe that ultimately is correct)… what about the microlevels that occur when people revolt demanding more control over their lives?
This is so contrary to my very being, that I have never asked this most obvious of questions. What motivates people to take up arms insisting… no demanding… that the government take away more of their freedoms? Clearly, these people exist. The communist revolutions across the globe are absolute proof of it… and while these ideologies are ultimately rejected, what causes this temporal event to take place in the first place?
This brings us to watching the news over election night.
While President Biden and his forming cabinet were reveling in the “virtual” inaugural balls in Washington… our friends in Portland, Seattle, and Denver started rioting and destroying federal property. Nope… not vicious Trump supporters… Antifa and BLM.
Yep… apparently they did not get the memo that since Trump is no longer in office their “mostly peaceful protests” should come to an end.
This might very well be the De Tocqueville Paradox beginning to play out… in reverse from what I would normally expect. We must posit that the protesters (Antifa, BLM, et al) are demanding strong government control over their lives. (The disconnect that their anger over the police and systemic racism is not supported by the fact that if by fiat they were suddenly at the levers of power, they would need a strong police force to ensure compliance with their edicts.) Yet, they continue their rage against now President Biden… going so far as to not only destroy the windows on a federal courthouse, but to also vandalize a Democratic Party HQ, and write in spray paint the intellectually stimulating slogan “Fuck Biden”… ah yes…Vox Populi baby.
Most had said cynically (including me), that post-election the riots would stop… since they were nothing more than manipulations to rid the empire of Donald Trump. Perhaps that was not the case. Perhaps the De Tocqueville Paradox is playing out predictably. President Joe Biden is the reformer… pleasantly placing more restrictions on the lives of his subjects… but for the insurgents, well, it is not enough! Emboldened, they shriek to the barricades!
As Gunny Stephens says quoting from the brilliant 1990’s opus, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “You’re absolutely right, Mr. Spicoli. It is our time!”