"At the root of everything lay the passionate desire of thinking people to find a simple, unifying norm for society like the law of gravity that Newton had found for nature."
I rather think it the case that modern day revolutionaries still strive for simplicity. This has not only to do with the size of the average revolutionary's brain but also with the desire for dominion, the need to control others – and especially their thinking.
The trend towards simplification has always been marked by the habit of substituting labels for arguments, as evidenced today by dross such as "moral equivalence", "cognitive dissonance", "stability and prosperity", "gradual and orderly change", and so on.
For a labellist, the main problem is that people whose views differ for yours (but who are actually pretty similar in the way that matters most, as they want to have the power you've currently got) can come along and co-opt your labels.
Thus, words like "liberal" and "radical" (and even "nation") had already acquired new, or additional, meanings by the end of the nineteenth century, and today "liberal" has declined into being nothing much more than an insult in many parts of the world –wherever I happen to be living, for one.
Nowhere is the decline of words (or death of words – verbicide, as C.S. Lewis calls it) more apparent than in China, where the function of "People" in People's Republic of China reminds me of a story told by
Together with her family, this Dutch watchmaker harboured Jews and members of the Dutch resistance from the Nazis before she was sent to Ravensbrück, from which she was one of the few to be released. Being asked by a child how people who betrayed their neighbours to the Nazis could call themselves Christians, she replied "Just because a mouse gets into the biscuit tin doesn't make it a biscuit".
Billington researched and wrote his book in the 1970s, when world domination by the Soviet Union was still seen as a real threat. Nonetheless, his warning is just as appropriate today, as it seems the "contemporary world" doesn't change much from one generation to the next. "The origins of revolutionary words and symbols is of more than antiquarian interest; for, in the contemporary world where constitutions and free elections are vanishing almost as rapidly a monarchs, revolutionary rhetoric provides the formal legitimation of most political authority."
"Patriotism" is a word that long ago lost any real, living meaning in this part of the world, and is now used merely for its irrational – occult – ability to bamboozle the gullible.
Most of the "elected" Hong Kong deputies will play follow my leader and accept the "radically simplified" prosperity-and-stability line. Self-interest will see to that. Thinking people tend to complicate political calculation – hence the special contempt that is always reserved for them by true believers.