September 5, 2009
By the Book: How Democracies Perish
Exaggerated self-criticism would be a harmless luxury of civilization if there were no enemy at the gate condemning democracy's very existence. But it becomes dangerous when it portrays its mortal enemy as always being in the right. Extravagant criticism is a good propaganda device in internal politics. But if it is repeated often enough, it is finally believed. And where will the citizens of democratic societies find reasons to resist the enemy outside if they are persuaded from childhood that their civilization is merely an accumulation of failures and a monstrous imposture?
- Jean Francois Revel, How Democracies Perish
"Extravagant criticism" and "Exaggerated self-criticism" are perhaps the best descriptions for one of the fundamental strategies used by America's radical left to gain and keep power. This ever-present ploy is used at every level, from the White House to town hall meetings, to deceive, manipulate and control our restive citizens. It has permeated academia and the press. Even the Republican Party consistently and discouragingly falls for its deceits, repeating obvious propaganda inserted into the national debate by a Democratic Party that is unabashedly socialist.
I discovered Jean Francois Revel quite by accident. While researching anti-American organizations that support terrorist groups, I came across a thin volume entitled simply, Anti-Americanism. Written by a respected French intellectual, it is the rarest of works, examining and condemning the reflexive and unjustified anti-Americanism found in the European and particularly the French press. It is a clear and biting indictment of the unreason of the popular press and of the totalitarian left. Revel's regard for the US was unclouded by naive romanticism. He judged us fairly, took stock of our strengths and weaknesses and found us admirable.
While visiting a used bookstore a few weeks later, I found another Revel book, How Democracies Perish. In its pages, I found a chilling examination of the methodologies used to undermine and destroy free market democracies. Written within the context of the cold war, Revel dissected democracies external and internal conflicts, those arising from the totalitarian impulses of socialism. He identified democracies fifth column, the political insurgents that fight against prosperity and success, deluded by utopian ideologies and filled with the monumental arrogance that defines the left.
"But democracy can defend itself only very feebly; its internal enemy has an easy time of it because he exploits the right to disagree that is inherent in democracy. His aim of destroying democracy itself, of actively seeking an absolute monopoly of power, is shrewdly hidden behind the citizen's right to oppose and criticize the system. Paradoxically, democracy offers those seeking to abolish it a unique opportunity to work against it legally. They can even receive almost open support from the external enemy without its being seen as a truly serious violation of the social contract. The frontier is vague, the transition easy between the status of a loyal opponent wielding a privilege built into democratic institutions and that of an adversary subverting those institutions. To totalitarianism, an opponent is by definition subversive; democracy treats subversives as mere opponents for fear of betraying it principles."
Revel's description was prescient. Today, the "internal enemy" chips away with manic energy, promising idyllic outcomes, using populist messages built of falsehood, creating expectations of the impossible. Spreading confusion that diminishes our national self-confidence and encourages inaction, they have infected our democracy with a guilt that has no basis in fact. Their agenda is one of deconstructive contrarianism, which they cleverly call progressivism that blames all the world's ills on our success.
In the short time Obama and the radical left have been in power, they have worked hard to bleed our spirit and our energy with massive tax increases, corruption, cronyism, special interest entitlements, new regulations and the politicization of our institutions. They appease tyrants, siding against democracies, giving unredeemable despots status and legitimacy and prolonging the suffering of millions. They mouth the words of our founders to hide their true nature. They work to dismantle freedom after freedom, destroying what we have proudly fought for and so lovingly built. They do not revere what has made us great; they embrace all that will bring us down. They take success and call it failure, and demand we bow our heads and accept ridicule from those who cannot equal us.
Revel writes, "Perhaps in history democracy will have been an accident, a brief parenthesis which comes to a close before our very eyes." We now know that tyranny can grow from the fertile ground of national success just as surely as it does from poverty. From whatever direction it comes at us, from economic desperation or elitist ideology, the consequences will be the same, eventual disaster and ruin, our greatness but a memory. Our external enemies cannot defeat us, yet we face deconstruction by homegrown socialists and admitted communists. How Democracies Perish has a new relevance born of old insights. In its final line, Revel quotes the words of Achim d'Arnim, "The history of the world begins anew with every man, and ends with him." Ultimately, the America we love lives or dies because of the action or inaction of its citizens. Revel reminds us of the terrible responsibility of that citizenship, as we face a battle for survival, against ourselves.