The Fourth Revolution – Review and Commentary

The book by former Economist Editor in Chief John Micklethwait and Management Editor Adrian Wooldridge: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State contends that states in the West must complete the revolution started by Reagan and Thatcher and become smaller, more efficient systems that provide greater individual liberty.

In 1814, during the first revolutionary period, John Adams said: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He also said: “It is vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than autocracy or monarchy…” The authors of The Fourth Revolution contend that the secret of good governance lies in checking human desires, not letting them run free.

America’s founding fathers also worried that democracy would crush individual liberty. The majority would use pressure and regulation to press the minority into conformity. The authors say few examine these issues now. In the vacuum, voters regard the practice of democracy as corrupt and inefficient. And yet they won’t question the theory. Their contempt delegitimizes government and turns setbacks into crises.

Democracy is overloaded with obligations, overburdened with unfulfillable expectations, and distorted by special interests. The population’s dependency forces government to continuously expand. During the second revolution, nineteenth century liberals in Great Britain reformed both the state’s machinery and its form of representation. The authors suggest today’s politicians should trim the state and renew democracy.

The rise of the Beijing consensus’s top down modernization and meritocratic governmental institutions makes the west’s democratic alternative seem regressive. America demonstrates too many of democracy’s vices and Europe too few of its virtues.

America’s checks and balances, though successful in the past in preventing the tyranny of the majority, has been subverted to become a political tool that decreases efficiency, compromise, and justice. America’s gerrymandering voting districts entrench special interests, extremism, and mediocre representation for a lifetime. America’s lobbying by special interests awash in money begs the question of graft and favoritism.

Europe, in an effort to stifle popular passions that caused two world wars, has sacrificed national sovereignty to technocratic governmental, financial, and trade bodies and, in the process, are vivifying national populist movements.

Economic inequality is putting western democracy to the test. Quoting Louis Brandeis, “we can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.” In the era of financial crisis with less to go around and a bloated but inefficient welfare state, the West must stop democracy’s decay or risk their people’s ire.

The authors call for limited government that constrains itself through self-denying ordinances. In the process, three government dangers must be overcome: liberty encroaching expansion, surrender to special interests, and making unfulfillable promises.

As remedies, the authors propose balanced budgets over the economic cycle, fully funded and means tested entitlements tied to life expectancy, and sunset clauses for laws and regulations. Handing some economic power to technocrats and independent commissions and pushing decisions to the states and cities are ways to limit centralized power.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge say that the cost of inaction is high—unreformed, the welfare state will collapse under oppressive debt. The opportunity is great—the rewards to states that revive democracy and reduce the burden of the state will sprint ahead of its peers economically and in life satisfaction. History will be on the side of the nations that promote individual liberty.

We in the West are polarized politically. Our leaders pander to special interests instead of providing for the common good. How much longer can we mortgage our children’s future to pay for our pensions and health care? We are getting less benefit from and paying more for our educational system. We’re transferring tax revenues to the middle classes and crony capitalists in agriculture, defense, finance, etc. at the expense of caring for the truly poor.

The world is looking to the East as the model for economic advances and a better life at the expense of individual liberties. We in the West must become serious about reforming our systems or be left behind in the rubbish heap of history. Some western states, provinces, and cities are becoming more efficient through experimentation. There are lots of ideas to try, if only we were willing to start.

In the coming weeks we’ll cover how Beatrice and Sidney Webb laid the foundations for the welfare state in the third revolution, how Lee Kuan Yew created the Asian Consensus, and how the Nordic states point the way to the future.

The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State


Scripture is clear: Idols are nothing. However, the scriptures point out that it is not the physical manifestation of the idol nor the demonic forces it represents but the disaffection of peoples’ hearts from their Lord and Creator that is deadly.

In one of the more amusing Old Testament passages, the Prophet Isaiah shows the futility of idols by describing a man using half of a wooden log to warm himself and cook a meal and then worshipping the other half:

He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god! Isaiah 44:14-17 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Prophet Jeremiah says physical idols are mere inanimate articles of superstition:

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,

   and they cannot speak;

they have to be carried,

   for they cannot walk.

Do not be afraid of them,

   for they cannot do evil,

   neither is it in them to do good.”

Jeremiah 10:5 (ESV)

The Prophet Ezekiel emphasizes what was true all along; idol worship is a question of a person’s heart disaffection from the Lord:

For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. Ezekiel 14:7 (ESV)

John Calvin comments on this passage:

He who caused his idols to ascend unto his heart, he who placed the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, that is, was drowned in his own superstitions, so that his idols bore sway in his heart.

Lastly, he who is so forward in audacity that he did not conceal his wish to oppose the Almighty: if anyone, says he, came to a prophet to inquire of him in me, or my name, I will answer him. He [the Lord speaking through the prophet]…could no longer bear the hypocrites who deluded themselves so proudly. And certainly when they openly worshipped idols, and were [filled] with many superstitions, what audacity and pride it was to consult true prophets?

It is much the same as if a person should want only insult and rail at a physician, and not only load him with reproaches, but even spit in his face: and should afterwards go and ask his advice, saying, “What do you advise me to do? How must I be cured of this disease?” Such pride could not be borne between man and man…How then will God permit such reproaches to go unpunished?

The Apostle Paul addresses the question of idols directly:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (ESV)

Calvin disagrees with the translation no…existence:

…As to the words, Erasmus reads thus — “An idol has no existence.” I prefer the rendering of the old translation — an idol is nothing. For the argument is this — that an idol is nothing, inasmuch as there is but one God; for it follows admirably — “If there is no other God besides our God, then an idol is an empty dream, and mere vanity.” When he says — and there is none other God but one, I understand the conjunction [as giving this explanation].

For the reason why an idol is nothing is, that it must be estimated according to the thing that it represents. Now it is appointed for the purpose of representing God: nay more, for the purpose of representing false gods, inasmuch as there is but one God, who is invisible and incomprehensible.

The reason, too, must be carefully observed — An idol is nothing because there is no God but one; for he is the invisible God, and cannot be represented by a visible sign, so as to be worshipped through means of it. Whether, therefore, idols are erected to represent the true God, or false gods, it is in all cases a perverse contrivance.

Hence Habakkuk calls idols teachers of lies, (Habakkuk 2:18) because they deal falsely in pretending to give a figure or image of God, and deceive men under a false title. Hence οὐδεν (nothing) refers not to essence, but to quality — for an idol is made of some substance — either silver, or wood, or stone; but as God does not choose to be represented in this way, it is vanity and nothing as to meaning and use.

Paul takes it further and calls covetousness, which is a specific heart attitude, idolatry:

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:5 (ESV)

Calvin points out this identification is representative of a greater issue:

Nor covetous man, who is an idolater. “Covetousness,” as he says in another place, “is idolatry,” (Colossians 3:5) — not the idolatry which is so frequently condemned in Scripture, but one of a different description. All covetous men must deny God, and put wealth in his place; such is their blind greediness of wretched gain.

But why does Paul attribute to covetousness alone what belongs equally to other carnal passions? In what respect is covetousness better entitled to this disgraceful name than ambition, or than a vain confidence in ourselves?

I answer, that this disease is widely spread, and not a few minds have caught the infection. Nay, it is not reckoned a disease, but receives, on the contrary, very general commendation. This accounts for the harshness of Paul’s language, which arose from a desire to tear from our hearts the false view.

Calvin says that all heart passions that disobey God deserve being labelled idolatry. But, he says, Paul is emphasizing covetousness because of its effect in man. As his Lord had said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [or possessions].” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

The same also recorded in Luke 16:13. Calvin draws an important distinction concerning this passage in Matthew:

…Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh…where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost his authority. True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil.

…What is here said with a special reference to riches, may be properly extended to every other description of vice. As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2) all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart.

All, indeed, confess in words, that, where the affection is not entire, there is no true worship of God: but they deny it in fact, when they attempt to reconcile contradictions. “I shall not cease,” says an ambitious man, “to serve God, though I devote a great part of my mind to hunting after honors.”

It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh. But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters.

For their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience. But this passage reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

Scarecrows out standing in a field

Scarecrow, Japan Paddy Field, By FG2, released into the Public Domain by its author

The State and End State by Bernhardt Writer

A while back we reviewed Kenneth Minogue’s book: Alien Powers – The Pure Theory of Ideology. In it, he contends that Western civilization is in the throes of a conflict over a right understanding of the human condition. So, how does it all turn out in the end were ideology to win?

Politics and Democracy

Ideology masquerades as a political movement, but it is determined to destroy the circumstances underpinning politics. It draws out our moral instincts while it denies the possibility of morality. It affirms freedom while striving for a community in which only one right act will be possible for each circumstance. Ideology attacks inequality but seeks to destroy the individual human capable of achieving equality in a meaningful sense. It champions real democracy but advocates unanimity that makes democracy superfluous. Ideology’s practitioners use criticism to attack opponents while claiming their own truths are incontrovertible.

Ideology portrays deficiencies of the human condition (i.e., personal sin) as structural flaws of an oppressive system. It must methodically destroy the political ideas and values that the system represents. These ideas and values merely hide the system’s ulterior interests. Ideology can only be satisfied by a perfect democracy which is, by definition, unattainable. It is ideologically absurd to let those deluded by the system’s structural faults to select leaders when the people (i.e., the vanguard) leading the way to the perfect community, alone, have the necessary knowledge.

Ideology and the State

States provide liberty by instituting legal rights. Individuals within the state exercise these rights as responsible agents of choice. The result is a world both unpredictable and uncontrollable because what people will do with their rights is unknowable until they decide and act.

Karl Marx, however, said that rights separated person from person (i.e., alienated them one from another). His ideal society would possess liberty without rights. Those in his transformed society would no longer mistrust or have disagreements of right and wrong. There would be complete harmony in which no one would need to exercise rights. In fact, there would no longer be individuals capable of exercising rights in such a perfect harmonious community.

Ideology says states foster citizens’ independent actions, the soil in which oppression thrives. Oppression can only be prevented by destroying the state itself. Ideologies use “one party states” to destroy any remaining independence in a society enthralled to the ideology.

A capitalistic society provides laws under which the citizenry orders their life choices and actions. Under an ideology’s social order, everyone is occupied with transforming society. Nothing prevents citizens in a modern state from creating communes, collective farms, or cooperatives. However, it is both criminal and regressive for those in an ideological state to set up a business or practice unsanctioned religion.

States provide rules according to which citizens choose how to satisfy their interests. The mistake ideological governments make is to decide between interests. By determining interests, ideologies show that their social criticism is aimed, not at the centralized state, but the private interests of citizens and associations that compose the state.

Impediment to Revolution

What stands in the way of ideology’s revolutionary conquest is transcendent religion. Minogue says that someone is not fit for revolution who, like Adam Smith, believes:

“A wise man never complains of the destiny of Providence, nor thinks the universe in confusion when he is out-of-order.”

Marx observed that engaging the wretched to carry out insurrection will never happen if they are lost in religious fantasies.

Perfect Community and the Individual

In an integrated community of individuals, each one is the proprietor of their own desires and the adjudicator of their own thoughts. Ideology sees this as the cause for aggression, greed, selfishness, and violence because some desire more than they have or want what others possess. Ideology rejects the possibility of personal responsibility and self-control as the foundation of relationships within a functioning society.

Should humans live as free agents making individual choices or as a collective species with no individuation in so-called perfection? Ideology says perfect community is not only desirable, but the only form possible (all other forms being ones of oppression).

Would these humans in perfect community have self-awareness and the ability to choose to cooperate? Ideology says that as long as they have real choice then their actions no longer depend on correct human consciousness but on contingent human will. In short: no. A community that freely chooses to cooperate could choose not to do so at some point in the future. If that were to happen, then the ideological terminus (perfect community) could itself be overthrown.

To give a sense of the import of such a transformation, Marx says:

When the laborer co-operates systematically with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species…The present generation resembles the Jews whom Moses led through the wilderness. It must not only conquer a new world, it must also perish in order to make room for people who will be equal to a new world.

Further, Minogue says that in true community:

Each of us will be drops of water in a clear pond. We shall live at the level of the universal, sloughing off that involvement in particular passions and particular points of view which is the very definition of our present entrapment. There will be no self to be denied or subjected. Particular character and situation would have no reality in themselves.

Ideology’s Results

Ideology’s direct contribution to society is to set worker against capitalist, Black against White, men against women, etc. No one can doubt ideology has gotten results by calling out grave instances of oppression; but, in the process, it has multiplied pointless, diffuse antagonisms that have weakened the fabric of Western society and culture.

True community may be a thing of wonder. However, the resolution of strife between essences and existence leaves no one to contemplate that beauty since they both must be “resolved.” The so-called alienated human being is abolished.

This means that ideology, carried to its terminus (and there is no other purpose), poses an existential threat to the West. Declaring Western civilization rotten to the core, ideology does away with the possibility of the individual human life in exchange for a myth of pure species. This is the equivalent of a suicide pact.

May Day Poster

Russian 1st of May poster, Soviet, Public Domain in the US

Minogue’s book is available (in part) on Google Books. As an example of the pervasive influence of ideology, the National Association of Scholars has recently addressed the sustainability movement as an ideology encroaching on academic freedom.

“Sustainability” is a key idea on college campuses in the United States and the rest of the Western world. To the unsuspecting, sustainability is just a new name for environmentalism. But the word really marks out a new and larger ideological territory in which curtailing economic, political, and intellectual liberty is the price that must be paid now to ensure the welfare of future generations. [Emphasis mine]

The movement is just another example of special interests seeking to “throw off oppression” using coercion and, if that fails, barbarity in a quest for supremacy.

As I’ve said before, I agree with Orwell’s assessment of his novel Nineteen Eighty Four: “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.

Ideology’s Characteristics by Bernhardt Writer

A few weeks ago, we reviewed Kenneth Minogue’s book: Alien Powers – The Pure Theory of Ideology. He writes that Western civilization is in the throes of a conflict over a right understanding of the human condition. Minogue suggests that the ideological approach is ascendant in our society while the transcendent is declining. He claims that there is a generally applicable pure theory of ideology best realized to date in Marxist ideology and its offspring. Let us touch on some of the general points from his book.


The common person on the street condemns the results of bad human actions. They attempt to rectify those results when possible through small corrective steps. These citizens view politics as the method to work together toward agreed-to ends within the context of the rule of law.

The ideologist takes bad actions as evidence of systemic structural oppression that can be remedied only through complete overhaul of the entire system (i.e., revolution). The ideologist sees incremental moral reform as the mystification (i.e., obscuration or concealment) by which an oppressive system strings its victims along. Politics is a question of power. Only the power of a unified oppressed group can wring concessions from the oppressors who have more power.

Ideologies disclose truths that the prevailing system has an interest in hiding. Ideologies claim all interactions within the system are power relationships. This truth is masked by societal constraints (i.e., moral and civil rules of conduct) and nefarious concealments perpetrated by the oppressive system. Denial of unmasked truths is proof of the system’s betrayal and oppression at work.

Societal constraints serve the oppressors’ interests. That these rules promote goodness and justice masks their real import which is the exercise of power over the oppressed. If the oppressed demand their right to overthrow these constraints they are rebuffed for not obeying a law, moral principle, or divine ordinance. But the real reason they are denied is because it conflicts with the oppressors interests in a zero-sum transaction.

Ideology reveals masked favoritism and domination throughout the corrupt system. The oppressed have rightful grievances (e.g., ones of class, gender, race, or ethnicity) against the system. Each oppressed person is imprisoned by the system’s conditioning which divides the oppressed from each other and from their real source of being in the species. Their struggle for liberation will result in true community.

Science, philosophy, law, and the state are instruments of special interests according to ideology. Although the intellectual elite might root out interests in favor of inclusiveness, those ideologically driven look to those deprived by the system for remedy. These persons, excluded by the system, unqualified to represent themselves, are appointed to lead humankind to liberation. This oppressed group is qualified because it is least tainted by the system’s corrupting influences. Of course, ideologists are ready and willing to indoctrinate the oppressed group in the ways of liberation and speak for them.

Ideology unveils for us the hidden truth otherwise mystified by the system’s apologists. Cleansed of the system’s mystifications we will see the truth of our essence and our consciences will rise to state of things as they actually exist. We will realize that the human species is defined by social (e.g., production) and material (e.g., eating) processes. We will arrive at this non-western reality through the struggle for liberation rather than through fruitless and pernicious contemplation.

Ideology is to revolution the way politics is to reform. Ideology does not debate whether theft, for instance, should be treated severely or mercifully but rather abolishes private property altogether making theft fictitious. Each resolution of this type typifies the true community. Any particular problem is solved only by solving all problems via revolution.

Ideology pledges a comprehensive and ultimate explanation of this material world (since it claims that the transcendent world to come does not exist). The explanation (i.e., ideological revelation) is not merely knowledge but leads to societal transformation which improves the earthly human condition. The difficulty of overcoming opposition and bringing about the transformation is evidence for the truth of the explanation.

The ideological model of human history is triadic: the primitive community in harmony gives way to a succession of societies characterized by domination. By overthrowing this progression man arrives at a higher form of his initial communal harmony.


Minogue credits Karl Marx as the sole individual responsible, not only for clear insights into capitalism, but for the creation of pure ideology. He claims Marx developed the theory further and more deeply than all others. It is this pure theory that Minogue describes in his book. We will cover the end result of the ideological project in a later post.

Karl Marx

A Portrait of Karl Marx, John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813–1901), Public Domain in the US