The Anti-Revolutionary Party was an Orthodox Protestant political party founded in Holland in 1879 by Abraham Kuyper, a Protestant pastor and theologian. The Anti-Revolutionary Party was solidly opposed to the “liberté, égalité and fraternité” ideals of the French Revolution. Instead of freedom, equality and fraternity, the Anti-Revolutionary Party favored divine providence, hierarchy and “pillarization” (vertical segregation of society into “pillars” or columns). As I do not like revolutions, I mention the Anti-Revolutionary Party in this article only so that the reader will know that I did not invent the name.
In political science, a revolution is defined as a fundamental and abrupt change in political power, which typically occurs when a population rebels against the government because of perceived political, social or economic oppression. But in mechanical revolution means practically the opposite. It is defined as returning to the starting point, rotation in a central axis that returns to where the movement began. Or, as Cubans and Venezuelans have discovered, revolution often means circling to nowhere.
So a fundamental question for a new generation of opposition leaders is how to point out a route of change in their countries that does not return to the starting point of revolutions. That is, how to constitute and install a representative government based on popular sovereignty and the will of the majority. This is a challenge, given that the recent history of Cuba and Venezuela does not provide much vision and direction for the future. It is a history of a muted and static political culture that only teaches what systems of government do not work.
Consider the implications for Cuba and Venezuela of an example cited by historian Susan Dunn in her excellent book “Sister Revolutions. At the end of the French Revolution, the term “republic” became a discredited idea in France. “In a plebiscite in 1799 the people of France voted for the constitution guaranteeing Napoleon’s autocracy. The result was 3,011,007 times 1,562.” In other words, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of a dictatorship.
The French wanted then the stability that Napoleon offered. France wouldn’t know a republican government for the next 72 years. The vote for a “strong man” took place after only ten years of the French Revolution. When I write, the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions are twenty and sixty years old respectively. Who remembers today in Cuba what a representative government implies?
In totalitarian and authoritarian states such as Cuba and Venezuela the absence of a vigorous, competitive and inclusive political culture means that society lacks political vision. Any existing political conception will be of the wrong kind.
Alexis de Tocqueville, commenting on the French Revolution, pointed out that the absence of political freedoms had made the world of political affairs not only strange, but invisible to the French. His recipe for successful change demanded intense political vision and practical experience in representative political institutions. But in 18th century France there was no practical experience in representative governments, as there is currently no such experience in Cuba or Venezuela. For Tocqueville, it was impossible for the France of his time to produce leaders capable of establishing a virtuous democracy. Is this the current situation of Cuba and Venezuela?
Thomas Jefferson was also not impressed by France’s aptitude for serious political culture. In a letter to Abigail Adams, he wrote that “all one can do for the French is pray that heaven will send them good kings” (Dunn). Somehow, Cuba and Venezuela, overwhelmed with institutions that do not correspond to a free future and plagued with a political class alien to representative politics, must find an anti-revolutionary path of transformation. I refuse to accept that the best we can hope for is heaven sending us good dictators.
Hopefully, the future of Cuba and Venezuela will not be determined by history but by solid political thought. At one point in his life, Jefferson updated his intense revolutionary thinking: “We must be content with traveling to perfection, step by step. Perhaps, but Cuba and Venezuela have to use their imagination to define, in freedom, an anti-revolutionary political future.