Why Societies Don’t Rebel against Tyranny
The Spirit of the People Has Been Crushed
Memes is the neologism coined by British scientist Richard Dawkins to explain the way in which ideas and behaviors are transmitted in society by non-genetic means in contrast with transmission by genes. For instance, a child constantly exposed to home violence may come to accept violence as natural.
For the social media generation, memes take the form of images, videos, hashtags, etc., that spread person to person in the social networks.
In political science, I think of memes as sociocultural genes that help explain how, in totalitarian societies, the presumption of power deposes the presumption of liberty. Why do peoples not instinctively rebel against tyranny? The answer transcends repression.
Usually, the exercise of power alone is not sufficient to preserve an oppressive regime. At some level, there has to be a tacit acceptance, by both the ruled and the rulers that the ruling class possesses some legitimacy to the right to rule. In China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba, the revolutionary mysticism attached to Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il-sung, and Fidel Castro have served to confer legitimacy.
Over time, this legitimacy replaces the presumption of liberty with the acceptance of tyrannical powers as lawful. Contrary to the belief of some, this legitimacy is not undermined by economic or diplomatic engagements with democratic societies. If it did, we would have seen by now, in that totalitarian universe, political reforms favoring individual freedoms and limiting the coercive powers of government.
China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba are regimes with an enormous concentration of coercive power in the hands of the ruling class. This coercive power has engendered the generalized presumption that the rulers are born with the right to command and the people are born with the obligation to obey. In these societies, a long history of physical and intellectual coercion has fostered memes of acquiescence.
Governments are predatory institutions that sustain themselves with coercive power. In a democracy, we grant our consent, and we oblige ourselves to do whatever the government tells us to do or not to do. But, we appreciate that government officials are not deities, nor more enlightened than the electorate. Thus, we embrace a lifetime presumption for liberty. In free societies, our memes inform us that without limited government, democracy is not workable.
Even in democracies there is a danger, as political scientist Tom G. Parker points out, that our consent can be perverted to be infinitely elastic in support of unlimited government. If we vote for a policy or a politician repressing liberty, we have agreed to be bound by the repressing policy espoused by the politician.
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