It's an intriguing choice. Tocqueville, reflecting on the Revolution that killed his fellow aristocrats and family members, argued that the revolution came only when the old regime began reform and conditions improved -- the revolution of rising expectations.
And he argued that the Revolution was largely destructive, increasing the centralization of the royalist regime. "The old order provided the Revolution with many of its methods; all the Revolution added to these was a savagery peculiar to itself."
The relevance to China seems obvious. Regime members, such as French aristocrats, no longer believe in their own ideology, but cling to power. The Chinese people have come to expect rapidly rising living standards, and may abandon the regime if it doesn't produce.
But rising living standards may also undermine the regime. Regime elites must be careful, like Deng in 1989, or the rulers will lose everything and chaos will be unleashed on China.
China's rulers have also been circulating a six-part TV documentary blaming the collapse of the Soviet Union on Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms and softness. Message: avoid democracy or political freedom.
All this, writes the Wall Street Journal's Jeremy Page, is "part of an ideological campaign launched by China's new leader, Xi Jinping, to reenergize the party and enforce discipline among its members."
Another part of that campaign was the prosecution of Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai and his wife for corruption and murder. China's party leaders and crony capitalists have become ostentatiously and unpopularly rich. The prosecution was a warning to lie low.
If China's leaders seem determined to block democracy internally, they have also been moving to rally nationalist feeling by aggressive moves against China's neighbors.
The latest, last month, was a declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone covering islands claimed by China but held by Japan and South Korea.
China's assertive stance has got its neighbors seeking closer ties and protection from the United States. Armed clashes -- even war -- seem possible.
China continues to grow. But democracy and peaceful coexistence may be farther away than ever.
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