Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Developing a Human Resistance to Autocracy

It is not absolutely necessary that engineers know a lot about human nature to fulfill their professional duties. The basic law of resistance is much more important for them.

Then there is the field of "social engineering," which tries to design the "perfect" system of government. In this discipline, a basic understanding of human nature is crucial.

Human nature itself undermines the foundation of bureaucratic redistribution and allocation of resources. Russia has a long history of tinkering with a social system by excluding both market forces and the right to choose political leaders. In a Levada Center survey published Monday, 47 percent of those polled said they supported an economic system with "elements of central planning," and 60 percent said they detested privatization. It appears as if we are going down the same Soviet path.

As the brave new world of Bolshevik Russia was being built, many disputes centered on perfecting state planning and the allocation of resources. Who would be in charge of this social engineering? "The people who understand their field and who are honest and moral," answered one prominent economist of that era. It soon became evident during the time of war communism that there were very few honest and moral leaders to rule the country.

The materialistic Bolsheviks learned a hard lesson: Even the best of government plans to build a perfect society fail due to the original sin of human nature.

Since the "iron system" of resource allocation failed miserably, the country experienced huge deficits. The problem is that in order for nonmarket, nondemocratic models of government to work, a society needs ideal -- if not holy -- citizens, bureaucrats and leaders.

The other requirement for an nondemocratic system to work is a docile, submissive population. But this is very difficult to achieve because in most cases people develop an automatic resistance to autocracy.

In the West, this is referred to as "protest," such as street demonstrations or labor strikes, and it is a natural part of civil society. In Russia, however, it has always been difficult to organize public protests. In its place, quiet, nonpublic protests have been for centuries the enduring form of resistance. This type of protest has most often taken the form of silent protest, antigovernment jokes "in the kitchen" and a general quiet, passive show of disloyalty to government.

The people, as Pushkin wrote, remain silent. This silence has largely become the symbol for the inherently Russian form of resistance and protest. And the nation's rulers make a huge mistake when they interpret the people's silence as consent.



Maxim Trudolyubov is the opinion page editor of Vedomosti.