The De Tocqueville Paradox Part Deux

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.


(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)


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!”

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Comments (8)

  • Paul Luchtenstein Reply

    Great article as always. So what is the logical conclusion? Revolution or totalitarian government??

    01/27/2021 at 07:57
  • Jim Riggs Reply

    I don’t see people in present day America craving freedom because they don’t want the responsibility true freedom entails. Today’s culture craves comfort and security and will trade Constitutional freedom to get it. The majority of our population has marinated in socialism for fifty years in the public education indoctrination centers of “higher education”. The die is cast: America as founded and intended is gone. What remains stands at the edge of the abyss called Chaos unrecognized by a population divided, indifferent, ignorant and intimidated.

    01/27/2021 at 09:44
  • Bill Farone Reply

    From observations in traveling in the UK and Europe during “football” playoffs, I suggest an added observation in human behavior. Riots are simple fun for many. You get to smash things, party, make the headlines and might get some “free stuff” also. It is a form of a slightly more adult version of “trick or treat”. In the 60s these parties were known as “trick and treat” culminating in the riots that burned large parts of a few cities. To feed into your points of “paradox”, however, many forms of “social injustice” in the 60s had been removed by a fundamental change in our governing laws before the more serious riots occurred. Political anti-war and racially based protests melded into a single “anti” prefix statement with no real suffix. This turned previously acceptable protests into violent riots. One of our greatest philosophers, Yogi Berra, said it quite well, “It is deja vu all over again”.

    01/27/2021 at 10:47
  • Robert Hagler Reply

    Thanks for letting the readers know your point of view. I agree with the quote: “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”.
    For me, that quote keeps it simple, and in nutshell captures, one powerful point of view of who we are as Americans.
    I recently was a first hand observer to a interesting discussion; When talking about the recent Capitol mess of Trump supporters, a man, who is retired and a veteran said the rioters who went into the Capitol uninvited were “A–holes”, and added…… just like Antifa are also “A–holes”.
    Then, a woman (appeared to be in her 60’s) spoke up and said “I am Antifa, and apparently you do not understand history……… as Antifa rescued hundreds of thousands of Jews during WWII”.
    The man responded that todays Antifa actually is not the good samaritan in society that she believes they are. At that point another Antifa supporter suggested that the man suffers from “Cognitive Dissonance”.
    My point is that so many traditionally held beliefs are being challenged today. I don’t think we could or, would have had this conversation in public, until after the passing of the so appropriately named “Greatest Generation” (those of WWII era). The sacrifices they made for this country is nothing short of incredible.
    (I encourage all who read this to view the documentary “The War in the Pacific” [about 20 short episodes] with actual war footage).
    Anyway, I know I love this great country, and I feel exactly as that man above did in his point of view. There are so many major social shifts occurring now in a short span of time. And all the while, we are all moving along with the flow and confluence of the “Unique American” river of discourse. I am looking for some great responsible leaders to help navigate our future from here. We have to find the common ground and, use that to move forward, I believe. Would it be a good idea to randomly pair legislators of different political parties to work on common good legislation for the people, with a mandate to find the common ground? It seems our leaders are missing the opportunity to work for the people of America by not finding that common ground. This I know: These are challenging times! Thanks again.

    01/27/2021 at 11:25
  • Louis Boffardi Reply

    Wow, Steven. I (and many others) truly appreciate this. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones thinking along these lines. So thanks, and please keep it up; you’re a stabilizing factor in this often-wobbly world!

    01/27/2021 at 14:36
  • Alan Butcher Reply

    Steve, I hardly think that a bunch of wack-a-doodles in Portland and Seattle constitute a nationwide rebellion. I think 99.9% of the country is just fine sitting in their Barcalounger shaking their fist at the TV from the comfort of their home. If the turmoil of the 60s didn’t bring us down I doubt BLM, Antifa or Proud Boys will.

    Although I do like saying the De Tocqueville Paradox.

    01/27/2021 at 16:21
  • Al Vega Reply

    Excellent Post!! I believe DeToq’s Paradox ‘well’ in play; considering, the obvious ‘stolen’ USA election & a chilling televised Biden timeline!! Status quo will soon change; by an incoming–prime, temporal ‘nexus’ that will soon vanquish ‘chimerica’ narrative! God Bless–US Military!!

    01/28/2021 at 11:02
  • Ben Townsend Reply

    Not sure where many of your followers are from but here and yes Steve they do exist where I am in the bible belt of Virginia/Tennessee the masses ask
    what is going to be the next Ft Sumter event. It’s very much freedom of God, Country and guns out here. We are not restricted as many of the liberal left masses in the larger cities/states, guns and ammo is the number one commodity even before toilet paper here and take that away and they are ready to defend their freedom at all cost. We are also fortunate to have a sheriffs coalition with all sheriffs in the region who have declared that, we’ll deputize all citizens before we allow confiscation of guns and freedom. Kevin Costner said it best in “Open Range” “you’re men aren’t you there are things worth dying for.” Our forefathers lost their fortunes and lives defending their construction of the USA and there are literally thousands, 10’s of thousands and more out here, who will take a stand. Ronald Reagan said it best “Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by way if inheritance, it must be FOUGHT for and DEFENDED constantly……God Bless

    01/30/2021 at 06:56

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