Overreaching is always followed by a reactionby Michael Auslin / February 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
It should be a simple lesson. If history teaches us anything, it is that reaction always follows action. A due humility that recognises the impermanence of all political settlements, and many socioeconomic ones, might be the best insurance against the overreaching of politicians and social engineers of all stripes. Ignore this lesson, and instability will almost always be the result.
Conservatives like to think that human nature is unchanging, giving rise to eternal social verities, while progressives assume that once it is forced into an artificial shape, it will stay so forever. We should not need to be reminded, and should take pride in the fact that humans are far more resilient than our politicos and intelligentsia like to think.
In the modern era, of course, change is the great constant, abetted now by the ubiquity of information technology. This unending change results in a competition between the temporary status quo and its discontents, both of which shift sides over time. Such sociopolitical reaction may occur over discrete issues, such as a military conflict or Obamacare, but the more disruptive reaction is over large trends, such as the evolution of a culture or the political ideology of a particular government. This action-reaction dynamic may also occur more quickly in liberal societies, where democratic governing mechanisms allow public preferences to be more quickly absorbed into the political system. These facts are well worth keeping in mind, as the commentariat continue to try to come to grips with recent American and European history.
We see this dynamic acutely with the rise of Donald Trump, whose political success was so entirely confounding to the very people who should, through their being endowed with professional leisure to contemplate the big, important things, have been the first ones to perceive why his seemingly quixotic quest would, in the end, succeed. Those who said Trump’s victory was “against all odds” or similar hackneyed phrases simply showed how little they paid attention to, if not respected human nature.
They could not understand Trump because they had convinced themselves of a particular interpretation of today’s world, and could not envision a credible reaction to it. Transnational global elites assumed that history had ended, not with the triumph of liberal democracy, as predicted back in 1989 by Francis Fukuyama, but with that of the administrative…