End of Dictatorship?

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 30, 1999 | Go to article overview
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End of Dictatorship?


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


What happened to the Soviet empire in the seven-year Gorbachev era and what is happening now in Communist China and in theocratic Iran - and what will continue to happen - is explained by what I call Tocqueville's law.

"[I]t is not always when things are going from bad to worse that revolutions break out," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, the French chronicler, a century-and-a-half ago. "On the contrary, it oftener happens that when a people which has just put up with an oppressive rule over a long period of time without protest suddenly finds the government relaxing its pressure, it takes up arms against it. . . Patiently endured so long as it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men's minds. For the mere fact that certain abuses have been remedied draws attention to the others and they now appear more galling."

Over and over again, it has been shown that people of whatever culture, whatever tradition, whatever status do not want to be ordered about like beef cattle in a stockyard. What they want and their overlords do not is, as philosophers call it, a civil society. John Gray, the British political theorist, defined civil society as "that sphere of autonomous institutions, [trade unions, PTAs, churches] protected by the rule of law, within which individuals and communities possessing divergent values and beliefs may coexist in peace." In China, the party dictatorship is the "law." In Iran, the mullah dictatorship is the "law."

What we are seeing now in China and in Iran are civil societies in a genesis which, if successful, means the end of dictatorship. Kenneth Minogue, another political theorist, has written that "we may talk of `creating a civil society' in the old communist world, but civil society is not the sort of thing any single power can create - and certainly not from without.

It bubbles up from below, from the vitality, the sense of independence and mutual trust among people themselves, or it does not happen at all.

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