Part of what made Tocqueville so unhopeful about the democratic future was the specter of the modern state, in which he beheld a new type of despotism. Paradoxically, it would seem, this new form of despotism would be more absolute than all erstwhile despotisms while being less despotic. It would be, as Tocqueville designated it, a soft or mild despotism. The state Tocqueville envisioned will not seek to brutalize its people: there will be no labor camps, secret police, show trials, or summary executions. “Chains and executioners are the coarse instruments that tyranny formerly employed.” Rather, through an inordinate number of detailed and complex rules, it will take great pains to regulate the lives of its citizens and will do so, professedly, in their interests. It will provide and care for the people; from harm it will keep them; and it will go to great lengths to render them happy. Indeed, as Tocqueville put it, one could liken it to paternal power, save for this one crucial difference: whereas a father prepares his children for adulthood, the state will seek to keep its citizens irrevocably fixed in childhood. The state wants the people’s unquestioning obedience and the best way to ensure this is not by forcing their allegiance, but by fostering their dependence.
In the early 1960s … Singapore was ethnically fractured, under attack by Indonesia in its bizarre policy of “konfrontasi,” reviled by Beijing as “a running dog of U.S. and British imperialism,” and then in 1965 expelled unceremoniously from an ill-fated union with Malaysia. In announcing this devastating rupture on television, Lee became so distraught by the apparent hopelessness of his country’s situation that he ended up weeping.
Lee came from the diaspora of simple, poor emigrants who had been driven from the South China Coast by penury. Stripped of anything but folk culture and an abiding belief in the importance of their families, education and diligence, they had heaved onto the alien shores of this unlikely colonialized city-state. As Lee ruefully observed in trying to imagine his small country’s future, “City-states do not have good survival records.”
From Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages (2002, p.159):
When reading the accounts of the 1870s and 1880s written by those who lived through them, one is inevitably struck by the similarities between the evolution of compound engines and ships and that of chips and computers, between the process of generation of a world economy through transcontinental transport and telegraph and the present process of globalization through telecommunications and the Internet. By making the relevant distinctions between that context and this one, the power of those technologies and of these, the worldviews of that time and our own, we can learn to distinguish the common and the unique in all such processes. The same happens when reading the glowing accounts of economic success in the 1920s and the similar writings about the ‘new economy’ in the 1990s. If one is willing to accept recurrence as a frame of reference and the uniqueness of each period as the object of study, then the power of this sort of interpretation comes forth very strongly.