Advice from a sage about America and its future. Listen to this man.

Summary: This morning’s post looked at the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an example of the Republic’s decay. To more clearly see this process, this post consults an expert who knows America, has personal familiarity with such things, and writes with the perspective of time and distance. We should listen to his words.  {Part 2 of the 2 posts today.}

“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
— Attributed to Otto von Bismarck.

Ancien Regime and the Revolution
Available at Amazon.


Part one (this morning)

  1. Partners at the creation
  2. The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Part two

  1. The fall of the old regime
  2. Conclusions
  3. For More Information

(3) The fall of the old regime

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.

The slow-mo Bush-Obama reformation of America’s political structure exploited the twin shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession. But their successful rapid and massive changes required our apathy and passivity, plus the low vitality of our institutions (especially Congress and the press).

Such decay is commonly seen in history. In Caesar: A Biography Christian Meier describes something similar during late Republican Rome, as its people no longer wished to carry the burden of self-government. This post turns to Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). He describes a similar period in The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution (1856) — writing about the transformation of his own nation, the final acts of which he saw. These paragraphs could be written today (that’s bad news).

The character of the people

This passage describes the hard times preceding the French revolution, but in a different way also fits our times, as increasing inequality and slow economic growth erode away the middle class. The Boomers begin a retirement for which they’re largely unprepared, while many Millennials face downward mobility — lives less prosperous than those of their parents.

In such communities, where men are no longer tied to each other by race, class, guilds, or family, they are too ready to think merely of their own interests, ever too predisposed to consider no one but themselves — to withdraw into a narrow individualism where all public good is snuffed out.

Despotism, far from fighting against this tendency, makes it irresistible since it deprives all citizens of shared enthusiasms, all mutual needs, all necessity for understanding, all opportunities to act in concert. It confines them to private life. They were cooling in their feelings for each other; now despotism freezes them solid.

… every man feels endlessly goaded on by his fear of sinking or by his passion to rise … Almost no individual is free from the desperate and sustained effort to keep what he has or to acquire more.

Alexis de Tocqueville

The decay of institutions

The ancien regime was a monarchy, we have a republic — but all polities have similar life cycles as their legitimacy and vitality waxes and wanes.

… {the political institutions} still existed but offered nothing more than an empty show. Their legal conditions appeared to be as vigorous as ever — the magistrates they appointed had the same names and appeared to perform the same functions — but the activity, energy, shared patriotic feeling, virile and productive virtues which they inspired had vanished. The ancient institutions had inwardly collapsed without losing their original shape.

… The people who were not taken in by a vain pretense of freedom stopped taking an interest in government and lived within their own walls like strangers. Occasionally magistrates attempted, without success, to revive the patriotism which had led to so many wonderful achievements in the past, but they closed their ears. The most important concerns {of the nation} no longer affected them.

{The leaders} wished that {the people} would vote whatever they believe necessary to maintain the empty charade of a free election; they stubbornly kept away. History has no more common spectacle than this. Almost every ruler who has destroyed freedom sought to keep its outward form, from Augustus through today. Thus rulers flattered themselves that they would be able to add to the moral authority which comes from public consent those advantages which absolute power can alone bestow.

We make it sunset or sunrise.
We decide if this is a sunset or a sunrise.

(4) Conclusions

“Nothing is written.”
— Lawrence of Arabia in the 1962 film.

The decay of the Republic’s political institutions doesn’t mean that America will become a despotism like Rome; it could become a de facto plutocracy. It does not mean we will have a revolution like France’s; such incompetent elites are rare. It will not prevent America from growing richer; just that this wealth will continue to flow mostly to the 1%. It will not prevent America from remaining the world’s hegemon, bringing no benefit to most Americans (just as the British Empire did little for the British people).

The technology revolution now under way will create fortunes for some, or prosperity for all. It’s our choice, for good or ill, because the Republic’s political machinery remains powerful — although unused. It needs only our energy to make it work.

Our burning constitution

(5) For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See the other posts with insights about America from Alexis de Tocquiville. Here are all posts about Obama, his administration & policies, and about Reforming America: steps to new politics. Also see these posts about New America…

  1. Obama repeals Magna Carta, asserting powers our forefathers denied to Kings.
  2. Let’s honor our generation’s greatest leader, one of the chief builders of a New America.
  3. We live in the America Bush Jr created, a break with our past.
  4. The 1% build a New America on the ruins of the old.
  5. A Tale of New America: a judge burns the Constitution.
  6. On Memorial Day let’s admit what we’ve done to America & begin its reform.



18 thoughts on “Advice from a sage about America and its future. Listen to this man.”

  1. GUERILLA WARFARE by Che Guevara — Chapter I: General Principles of Guerrilla Warfare

    “Naturally, it is not to be thought that all conditions for revolution are going to be created through the impulse given to them by guerrilla activity. It must always be kept in mind that there is a necessary minimum without which the establishment and consolidation of the first center is not practicable. People must see clearly the futility of maintaining the fight for social goals within the framework of civil debate. When the forces of oppression come to maintain themselves in power against established law, peace is considered already broken.”

    1. Ernesto,

      Thanks for posting this, one of the few detailed works of theory by a leader of a successful revolution. Most revolutions fail. Che had one success of the 3 revolutions he was involved in, which is an excellent record.

      Martin van Creveld reminds us that the literature about COIN by foreign armies is almost entirely written by losers. No surprise that the armies that use these theories usually lose also.

  2. Its not that they use coin theory written by losers, they know how to defeat an insurgency,
    they just dont know how to do it without going against the strategic goals of the
    hawks in DC, that makes sense.

    1. Ernesto,

      “Its not that they use coin theory written by losers, they know how to defeat an insurgency, they just dont know how to do it without going against the strategic goals of the hawks in DC”

      That’s very false. There are few or no wins by foreign armies against local insurgencies since Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WWII. Not by armies of developed nations, not by armies of less developed nations. Not by armies using torture and genocide.

  3. And guess why they dont how? because there is no way, its a catch 22,
    the tactical solutions that work in COIN are contraproductive to the the usual strategic goals of coins. Its a paradox, the only way to strategically win being tactics not conducive to strategic victory, the only winning tactics being diametrically opposed to strategic victory.

  4. And guess why they dont know the way,? because there is no way, its a catch 22,
    the tactical solutions that work in COIN are contraproductive the the usual strategic goals of coins. Its a paradox, the only way to tactically win being tactics not conducive to strategic victory, being the only winning tactics diametrically opposed to strategic victory. Rock and a hard place

  5. Like the uncertainty principle, you can tell where XOR when the electron is

    You can either win Tactically xor Strategically, it subverts Western logic effectively.

  6. “… the Republic’s political machinery remains powerful — although unused.”

    This phraseology gives the impression that nobody is using the machinery of this republic. The wealthy have very high rates of political participation at all levels and in all areas; voting, massive financial contributions, and time. What I think you mean to say is that the machinery is mainly unused by the non-rich.

  7. Since the framers did not forbid those things in our constitution, then they are a part of our Republic’s political machinery. The Supreme Court has not declared those things unconstitutional.

    1. Gloucon,

      Agreed. My point was a narrower one. By the Republic’s political machinery I mean the formal mechanisms that govern us. The core machinery of elections, representatives, magistrates — and the processes by which they work as defined in the Constitution. Not the full social processes, which as you note, the 1% now dominate. The latter is ephemeral compared to the former.

      Neither is eternal, of course.

  8. I believe what FM is referring to here wrt the underuse of “the Republic’s political machinery” is the continually dropping turnout rate in elections, particularly in off-year midterm elections, the dramatic decline of grassroots activism, the collapse in union organizing and concomitant involvement in politics by the ever-shrinking unions, and so forth.
    At one time, 60 years or so ago, unions represented a major political force in America. Today they have no meaningful political power. Once upon a time, 60 years or so ago, it was still possible for an unexpected candidate to emerge at a major Democratic or Republican political convention. Today, the candidates arrive at such conventions pre-anointed by the elites and the conventions themselves are merely window dressing designed to present the preselected candidate to the general public.
    FM’s point here is part of the more general point made by Robert D. Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone. Putnam pointed out that civic involvement in America has plunged since 1950 in all areas of American life, from politics to bowling leagues.

    Putnam discusses ways in which Americans have disengaged from political involvement including decreased voter turnout, public meeting attendance, serving on committees and working with political parties. Putnam also cites Americans’ growing distrust in their government. Putnam accepts the possibility that this lack of trust could be attributed to “the long litany of political tragedies and scandals since the 1960s”, but believes that this explanation is limited when viewing it alongside other “trends in civic engagement of a wider sort”.

    Putnam notes the aggregate loss in membership and number of volunteers in many existing civic organizations such as religious groups, labor unions, Parent-Teacher Association, Federation of Women’s Clubs, League of Women Voters, volunteers with Boy Scouts and the Red Cross, and fraternity organizations (Lions Clubs, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, United States Junior Chamber, Freemasonry, etc.). To illustrate why the decline in Americans’ membership in social organizations is problematic to democracy, Putnam uses bowling as an example. Although the number of people who bowl has increased in the last 20 years, the number of people who bowl in leagues has decreased. If people bowl alone, they do not participate in social interaction and civic discussions that might occur in a league environment.

    Source: Wikipedia article for “Bowling Alone.”

  9. “Not by armies using torture and genocide.”

    Most foreign wars post WW2 were under too much public scrutiny to resort to open, systematic genocidal warfare, especially by the major powers, while during WW2 the nazis simply could not spare the resources to, say, wipe out all the poles/russians etc. However genocide, by draining the sea guerillas swim in is the most straightforward solution.
    As both people and government increasingly and openly embrace torture and assassination there is no way to predict how far the attitudes will shift and what will become permissible.
    Perhaps someday the people will cheer robotic Einsatzgruppen carrying out “cleanup” operations in 3D vision. I still remember when they started to mount the first missiles on Predator drones and people said how it would be cool blowing up camel jockeys like in a videogame from an air conditioned office.

    1. Marcello,

      “Most foreign wars post WW2 were under too much public scrutiny to resort to open, systematic genocidal warfare”

      I don’t know what you mean by genocide, or the basis for your odd belief that is a way to effectively defeat insurgencies — let alone your belief that public opinion restrains armies.

      The level of force used by foreign armies against post-WWII insurgencies is extreme. See The Battle of Algiers to see the French use of torture. Read Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (American Empire Project), describing the systematic US use of mass killing.

      What limits did public opinion place on Portugal’s colonial wars in Africa (ended 1975) and South Africa’s in Namibia, Ethiopia’s in Ertrea, and India’s in Sri Lanka?

  10. “Read Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (American Empire Project), describing the systematic US use of mass killing.”

    Had the US resorted to genocidal warfare in Vietnam Hanoi would have been completely burned to the ground the first night of the war and that would have been just the start. No doubts, the war was brutal but it was not a war of annihilation.

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