Jean-François Revel: How Democracies Perish


By: Thomas E. Brewton

The late Jean-François Revel, writing 25 years ago, pegged exactly the self-defeating attitude of America’s liberal Republicans and Democrats: we are at fault when our enemies attack us; foreign enemies are simply a distraction from bestowing ever more welfare-state entitlements without heed to their future cost.

Jean-François Revel, who died last week at the age of 82, was that exceedingly rare person: a French intellectual who didn’t despise the United States, an intellectual who understood the cancerous prognosis of liberalism.

Revel’s 1983 “How Democracies Perish” described liberalism’s debilitating effect on confronting the threat of domination by the Soviet Union. His observations apply equally today in our long-term struggle against Islamic jihad.

Revel wrote about democracy, meaning societies unhinged from historical tradition, in which people come to accept the idea that a constitution is nothing more than the latest social-justice fad formulated by intellectuals. That is a 20th century derangement, very different from what the Constitution instituted: a Federal republic with power divided between the states and the national government and split, within the national government, among the three main branches; a constitutional government designed to protect the rights of individuals against PC tyranny of the majority.

Regarding foreign enemies like the Soviet Union or today’s Islamic jihad, Revel observed that democracies are ill suited to deal with them: “Democracy tends to ignore, even deny, threats to its existence because it loathes doing what is necessary to counter them.” Hence the chorus of campus liberals, and a few members of Congress, who declared that we deserved the 9/11 attacks, because of our “imperialism” and our failure to ratify the Kyoto environmental treaty. Hence liberals demand now that we evacuate Iraq and place our fate in the tainted hands of the UN.

“What we end up with,” he wrote, “in what is conventionally called Western society is a topsy-turvy situation in which those seeking to destroy democracy appear to be fighting for legitimate aims, while its defenders are pictured as repressive reactionaries. Identification of democracy’s internal and external adversaries with the forces of progress, legitimacy, even peace, discredits and paralyzes the efforts of people who are only trying to preserve their institutions.”

About the effects of post-Vietnam liberal recrimination, he wrote: “….Civilizations losing confidence in themselves: an old story in history….[when citizens stop believing in themselves] civilization must choose between suicide and servitude.” Liberal suicide, or Islamic sharia.

Revel accurately characterized what has been in process on college campuses for generations, producing a dismaying number of future voters who hate the United States and cheer the death of our military personnel. “….Self-criticism is, of course, one of the vital springs of democratic civilization….But constant self-condemnation, often with little or no foundation, is a source of weakness and inferiority in dealing with…a power that has dispensed with such scruples…. Exaggerated self-criticism would be a harmless luxury of civilization if there were no enemy at the gate condemning democracy’s very existence.”

As Osama Bin Ladin has affirmed repeatedly in his messages, Islamic jihadists see this only as contemptible weakness that invites increased aggression. Our enemies care nothing about liberals’ French Revolutionary “Rights of Man.” They respect only the power that grinds their faces in the dust. President Clinton’s treating bombings of our embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole as criminal matters to be handled by the FBI, instead of acts of war, led directly to 9/11.

Even if we muster sufficient backbone to resist Islamic jihad, liberal Republicans and Democrats will be undermining our future from within by loading more free services onto an economy unable to fulfill even it existing commitments under Social Security and Medicare.

Regarding that, Revel wrote: “..[What the quest for economic equality produces] is the growing role of government, the modern government of which democracy’s children ask everything and from which they consequently accept everything…… Tocqueville the visionary predicted [in his 1833 "Democracy in America"] with stunning precision the coming ascension of the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient state the twentieth-century man knows so well: the state as protector, entrepreneur, educator; the physician-state, impresario-state, bookseller-state, helpful and predatory, tyrant and guardian, banker, father and jailer all at once…..Its power borders on the absolute partly because it is scarcely felt, having increased by imperceptible stages at the wish of its subjects, who turned to it instead of to each other. In those pages by Tocqueville we find the germ both of George Orwell’s “1984″ and David Riesman’s “The Lonely Crowd.”



Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 (www.thomasbrewton.com)

About The Author Thomas E. Brewton:
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
Website:http://www.thomasbrewton.com/

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