The battle for sound social structures is a battle of ideas. Without a social consensus rooted in a common core philosophy there is nothing to hold a culture on a given course. Not that all, or even a majority, have to embrace a common core philosophy. There is never a monolithic thought structure within a society. Even the most doctrinaire cultures have schisms, most notable today, the Shia and Sunni factions within Islam. They argue between themselves, battle theologically and politically, and even in the most extreme quarters kill one another, but there are causes that can bring them together.
At the founding of our nation, the historians tell us, it was not a majority that was intent on revolution to free the colonies from the tyranny of Britain. Still there was sufficient cohesion in the philosophy of the colonists that, when the revolution broke out, they were able to band together to overthrow what had become the unbearably oppressive government of the British crown. It is clear that the cohesion wasn’t yet sufficient to enable the creation of an alternative federation government but through the battle against a common enemy and the debate for a common governmental philosophy, a sufficient corporate vision emerged to the point where the world witnessed the birth of the first of the world’s great democracies.
(There is a danger here of my appearing to think of myself as an historian. Please believe me, I know that is not the case, but I do believe I can make some valid observations and I hope to stay within the bounds of my qualifications. As the apostle Paul said, “Please examine this for yourself and keep the good parts,” or words to that effect.)
The battle for the minds of men was as crucial to the military victory as the physical conflict on the battlefield. In terms of sustainability and the construction of a new government, the battle of ideas was even more crucial. It was, at least in part, the existence of a common philosophy and common value system, and commitment to principles founded in reality and truth, that gave the colonies the opportunity to become the United States of America. Across the Atlantic, it was the lack, or insufficiency of, these elements that allowed the French Revolution, birthed in anarchy, to emerge into another strong state with an emperor, at the expense of personal liberty.
Alexis de Toqueville observed these divergent results from what in the beginning appeared to have a common goal. Though the distinctions between the two movements that brought about the revolutions seemed small in the beginning, the end result was worlds apart. This is why we must exercise caution and not be overly anxious about rushing into broad scale systematic renovation. If errors are made, and they will be made, the more complete the transformation, the more lasting the negative consequences. This reinforces the idea that where it is possible, small changes in a given direction are preferred until the stage is set for successful transformation.
We don’t have to go back to our revolution to see these principles at work. Look to the Far East where a ping-pong ball (under Richard Nixon) began a process which has brought China to virtually abandon its Marxist economic ideology. Look to the Middle East where the presence of a common irritation, the tools of informational unification, Facebook and Twitter, and a modicum of directional momentum have resulted in Egypt in a revolution with minimal bloodshed, though presently the outcome is very much in doubt. There are signs that there is not yet a sufficient consensus to bring the degree of order needed to produce a genuine full blown democracy as we experience it in the west, and recent developments seem to indicate the emergence of a military government.
Back to Toqueville for a moment: Wikipedia contains this observation of his thoughts on the contrast between democracy as it developed in America, and the reversion to imperial rule that resulted in France.
“… seeing Tocqueville’s work in context to Democracy in America, it can be argued that he saw France as being the opposite of the US. Whereas in France before (and after) the revolution, people relied on the central power instead of becoming economically or politically active themselves, in the US political action took place on a “grassroots” level. There, private individuals formed the basis of economic and political life, but, in France, this center of gravity was taken up by the bureaucratic machine. “ (Wikipedia – The Old Regime and the Revolution by Alexis de Toqueville).
In other words, what caused the divergent results was the original divergent social philosophy.
And, “Given the social state that was emerging, Tocqueville believed that a “new political science” would be needed. According to him, it would: ‘. . . instruct democracy, if possible to reanimate its beliefs, to purify its mores, to regulate its movements, to substitute little by little the science of affairs for its inexperience, and knowledge of its true instincts for its blind instincts; to adapt its government to time and place; to modify it according to circumstances and men: such is the first duty imposed on those who direct society in our day.’” (Wikipedia – Democracy in America)
Did you catch the phrase “little by little”? The same phrase Moses used in preparing Israel to inhabit the Promised Land. Alexis de Toqueville and Moses both saw the validity and reality of incrementalism in the advancement and transformation of societies. Toqueville postulated that if the French Revolution were to develop into a vibrant democracy, incremental means would be the primary process by which that development would occur.
(Next time we will examine the dialectical nature of the transformation mechanisms and how that relates to a thought system rooted in absolutes.)
To read the entire series on Incrementalism click on titles below:
- Article 1 – Incrementalism as an Effective Instrument of Social and Political Change
- Article 2 – Incrementalism as a Tactic – Was Moses an Incrementalist?
- Article 3 – Core Social Consensus Essential for Sustainable Systemic Transformation
- Article 4 – Incremental Dialectical Process as Progress
- Article 5 – Maintaining Vision – A Necessity for Successful Transformation