Category Archives: revolutions

Radical idealism and its tragic consequences

Dalrymple summarises the four stages set out by Daniel Chirot in You Say You Want a Revolution?

  1. An outmoded governing power refuses to accept that change is necessary and consequently refuses to make the necessary concessions to save itself. This leads to overthrow by relatively moderate leaders who would once have accepted compromise but see that change can only come about by revolution.
  2. There is a counter-revolutionary reaction by those who do not accept their loss of power and who provoke a civil war or call for foreign intervention, or both. As a result, much more radical revolutionary leaders come to the fore and defend the revolution by increasing repression of enemies or supposed enemies.
  3. The radical leaders, because they hold extreme views and are imbued with unrealistic notions of the redemption of mankind from all its earthly ills, impose experimentation on the population which is economically and socially disastrous.
  4. In the case of its evident failure, the revolutionary régime loses its ideological ardour, and settles down to a kind of routine and less violent authoritarianism accompanied by large-scale corruption and cronyism.

A demagogue and a terminal bore

Chávez bestrode his country like a colossus inflated with gas

Resentment, notes Dalrymple,

is the nourishing broth in which demagogues like Castro and Chávez grow and thrive. The worse they make the situation, the better their explanation for it. We were right all along! See what they are doing to us! Since resentment is self-reinforcing, the demagogues are always sure of at least some support, however obvious the disaster they have wrought.

Dalrymple says that he is not prescient, far from it, but

I knew from the moment that Chávez took power that his rule would end disastrously. Whatever the parlous state of the country at the time he took power, he could only make it worse. (I reviewed a book by one of those fools whose wishful thinking flits like a butterfly from revolution to revolution and from radical to radical, and who took Chávez at his own estimate.)

A disaster from which Venezuela will take generations to recover


was the kind of leader who could produce a shortage of saltwater in the Pacific. It was only appropriate that he should so have admired Bolívar that he named his ‘revolution’ after him, for Bolívar’s life ended miserably and his plans were utterly set at naught. ‘He who serves the revolution,’ said Bolívar at the end of his life, ‘ploughs the sea.’

Dalrymple points out that Chávez was

a charismatic nonentity, a terminal bore whose mind was stuffed with cliché, verbiage, and resentment. He bestrode his country like a colossus inflated with gas. He never said in a minute what he could say in an hour; if he had a fundamental belief, it was ‘I speak to an audience, therefore I am.’

His constant appeal

was to resentment, the most sustainable of all emotions. (It can last a lifetime and, being easily transferred, is heritable).


resentful charlatanry, his patent-medicine-salesmanship of quick political and economic solutions, was a disaster for his country from which it will take generations to recover.