Skip to comments.Different Gods, Different Revolutions
Posted on 11/08/2004 3:17:05 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
Many modern historians have spent great energy trying to demonstrate that the architects of the American Republic were attempting to recreate Rome and the classical world on the American continent. To prove this, they select quotations from the founding fathers citing Cicero, Tacitus, and the Greek philosophers, most notably Plato and Aristotle. The point these historians are trying to make is that America became a free nation as it moved away from Christian "superstition," and that the American Revolution embodied the ideal of secular humanism.
It is worth looking for a moment at Greece, because Greece was the most advanced and enlightened of pagan cultures. Secular humanism, as it relates to the world today, had its origins with the Greeks. It is often asserted that ancient Greece laid the foundation for democracy, which is in part true. But the lesson to be learned from the Greek example is not that democracy is the secret to protecting liberty, but that democracy, not anchored in a "Higher Law," can be just as tyrannical as other forms of government. Both Socrates and Jesus, after all, were victims of the vote.
An even casual examination of Athenian life reveals a society run by an elite. Slaves made up one-third of the population of the city. A census taken in Athens in the fourth century B.C. showed that only 21,000 Athenians were considered to be citizens, even though the total population numbered 431,000. Aristotle believed that "the slave is a piece of property which is animate," and that "slavery is natural. In every department of the natural universe," observed Aristotle, "we find the relation of ruler and subject. These are human beings who, without possessing reason, understand it. These are natural slaves." Aristotle concluded this discussion on "natural slaves" by saying: "Slavery is condemned by some; but they are wrong. The natural slave benefits by subjection to his master" (Politics, Book I, Ch. 3-7).
Now, it is true that America tolerated slavery on its soil. But Americans, unlike the pagans, understood slavery to be counter to Christian principles. Indeed, it was the Puritan churches of New England and the revivalist ministers of the 18th and 19th centuries who became the most ardent opponents of this abominable institution of pagan origin. The subject of slavery was an explosive issue in the colonies throughout the Revolutionary War. Under the Articles of Confederation, slavery was abolished north of the Ohio River.
Christians have often behaved with cruelty toward their fellow man. The history of Christianity can be summed up as the story of men continuously and consistently disobeying God. But whereas the Christian knows when he is doing evil, Aristotle believed slavery both natural and just, and here lies the difference between the plantation owner and Nero. Southerners, such as Charles Pickney and John Rutledge of South Carolina, may have seen slavery as a "necessary evil," but it was an evil; indeed, the South was continuously on the moral defensive until slavery was eliminated from American life. But Aristotle saw slavery, not as necessary, but as wholesome and good. His moral standards were different precisely because his god was different. The contrast between America and ancient Greece is as stark as the contrast between the God of Scripture and the god of Reason.
Plato, another pillar of pagan thinking, is also a good illustration of where the human intellect, left to its own devices, will take us. Oblivious to man's fallen state, Plato laid the philosophical basis for the totalitarian slave state. He believed, as the secular humanists of today believe, that education will produce the perfect ruler: "Unless either philosophers become kings in their countries and rulers come to be inspired with a genuine desire for wisdom; unless, that is to say, political power and philosophy meet together. . . this commonwealth which we have imagined will never see the light of day and grow to its full stature."
What Plato is saying here is frightening. He believed the ideal society - which Christians know can never exist in the material world - would be built by "philosopher kings" directing the industry of others: "The philosopher, who is in constant contact with the ideal order of the world, will reproduce that order in his soul and, so far as any may, become Godlike." Such a man, thought Plato, "will take society and human character as his canvas, and begin by scraping it clean." This was Pol Pot's idea for Cambodia (to create the "New Man"), which resulted in the extermination of one-quarter of that country's population.
Aristotle and Plato were the best thinkers the pagan world produced. Indeed, they made an enormous contribution to human knowledge in that they asked crucial questions about who man is, and tried to discover the meaning of existence through logic and systematic thought. But they found few answers. Reason, unaided, could not take them far, as can be proven by examining the kinds of societies their minds produced.
That the founders often cited writers from pagan antiquity is, of course, true. But the framers considered these citations to be little more than window dressing, necessary to make their points on independence and self-government more convincing to the European elite who were heavily influenced by En lightenment skepticism. As Alexander Hamilton put it: "No friend to order or to rational liberty can read without pain and disgust the history of the Commonwealths of Greece." "Generally speaking," said Hamilton, Greece was "a constant scene of the alternate tyranny of one part of the people over the other, or of a few usurping demagogues over the whole." Thomas Jefferson said of Plato's Dialogues that they were full of "sophisms, futilities, and incomprehensibilities." The Americans often gave an obligatory nod to the classical world, but they certainly did not embrace it. Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn says that "the classics of the ancient world are everywhere in the literature of the Revolution, but they are everywhere illustrative, not determinative of thought."
Another major enterprise of liberal historians has been to recast the American Revolution in the image of the French Revolution. The tendency of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin toward deism is often cited as evidence of America's trend toward "enlightened rational humanism" during the period of America's founding. Whatever still remained of the Christian faith in America was merely a fading remnant - or so we are told.
It is very instructive, therefore, to turn for a moment to the revolution in France, whose announced aim was to duplicate the American Revolution, which had been such an obvious success. In fact, Thomas Jefferson traveled to Paris in order to assist Lafayette and his associates to draft their own Declaration of Rights. "Everyone here is trying their hands at forming a declaration of rights," Jefferson wrote in a letter to Madison, and included in his correspondence several drafts. "As you will see," Jefferson observed, "it contains the essential principles of ours accommodated as much as could be to the actual state of things here." Article Four of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, drafted in August of 1789, for example, states that "liberty consists in the ability to do whatever does not harm another." France's Declaration abolished slavery, titles of nobility, and the remnants of feudalism and serfdom. In many respects, the French Declaration appeared superior to Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. But whereas the American Revolution ended in the establishment of a constitutional democracy, a government under law, the French Revolution ended in tyranny and government by the guillotine, followed by the rise of Napoleon. The obvious question is: What went wrong in France?
The French Declaration did not acknowledge that the source of man's rights is man's "Creator," as Jefferson had affirmed in America's Declaration of Independence. The French Declaration did not even state that rights are inherent, in-alienable, or derived from any transcendent authority. Rights for the Frenchman were granted by an "enlightened" government. Tocqueville noted the striking contrast when he explained to his countiymen a half century later that America's experiment in liberty was firmly rooted in the fact that "in the United States the sovereign authority is religious." The French Revolution was explicitly anti-religious, and could not replicate the American example on a secular humanist foundation. Moreover, the prevailing sentiment in the American colonies was to preserve liberties they already enjoyed, to prevent the British monarchy from taking over their churches and subverting their colonial ways of life. But the driving force behind the French Revolution was a fanatical determination to tear down established ways and institutions, which the disciples of Rousseau saw as responsible for corrupting human nature.
Rousseau did not believe in original sin or private property. He hated European civilization precisely because he saw it as a product of Christianity. Rousseau stated flatly that "our souls are corrupted in proportion to the advance of arts and sciences. His society rejected all forms of Christianity, and put in its place the gospel of the "General Will." Against it no individual rights would stand, because, in Rousseau's view, the protection of individual rights stood in opposition to the sovereignty of the people. Following Rousseau's doctrines, the French executed their king, even after he had accepted their constitution.1 From here, conditions rapidly degenerated into anarchy, with the outbreak of internal ideological war and, in the words of historian Henry May, the subsequent "executions of deviants, the lukewarm and the suspect," culminating in the Reign of Terror presided over by Robespierre. In just two years 20,000 people-considered allies of the Old Regime-were executed. France's complete break with the past and with Christianity was symbolized by the introduction of a new calendar that took 1792 as the year One, the first year of the Republic.
The revolution finally turned against itself and began to devour its own. Robespierre denounced the Encyclopedists, even though they were a symbol of Enlightenment thinking, for their compromises with the monarchy. Robespierre was himself guillotined in the summer of 1794. The French Revolution was a grim example of how people behave when they are unchecked by a sense of religious obligation.
The British statesman Edmund Burke, a Whig, saw this point clearly. After making a trip to Paris and talking with the French philosophes, he told Parliament as early as 1773 that their political theories could only produce tyranny. "The most horrid and cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is through atheism," Burke predicted. After the fall of the Bastille in 1789, he wrote his most famous work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke placed the blame for France's miseries on a philosophy that denied God. Remarking on the beheading of the beautiful Marie Antoinette in 1793, Burke wrote: "The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever."
Burke, by contrast, called the American Revolution a "glorious revolution." In his speech on conciliation with the American colonies, delivered on the floor of the House of Commons on March 22, 1775, he made the case for Britain leaving America alone: "England, Sir, is a nation which I hope respects, and, formerly adored, her freedom. The colonists emigrated from you when this part of your character was most predominant; and they took this bias and direction the moment they parted from your hands. They are therefore not only devoted to liberty, but to liberty according to English ideals, and on English principles." Moreover, said Burke, "the people are Protestants; and of that kind which is most adverse to all implicit subjection of mind and opinion. This is a persuasion not only favorable to liberty, but built upon it." William Penn agreed: "If man is not governed by God," he wrote, "then he must be governed by tyrants."
Thomas Paine failed to make a distinction between the revolution in America and the one in France. He was a political agitator and ideologue, pure and simple, and was not disposed to looking closely at the facts. Paine traveled to France to help topple the monarchy there, and published The Rights of Man. Paine's behavior in France was rebuked by John Quincy Adams, who challenged Paine's latest political tract designed to throw fuel on the flames of the French Revolution. Adams objected principally to Paine's main premise that "whatever a whole nation chooses to do, it has the right to do," echoing Rousseau. Adams replied: "Nations, no less than individuals, are subject to the eternal and immutable laws ofjustice and morality." Paine's "doctrine," said Adams, "annihilated the security of every man for his inalienable rights, and would lead in practice to a hideous despotism, concealed under the party-colored garments of democracy."
Paine, Adams pointed out, had missed the entire point of the American Revolution, which was the assertion of rights that cannot be deprived from an individual even by a majority. Adams rejected Paine's contention that the people of Great Britain should follow the example of France and "topple down headlong" their present government on the grounds that the Anglican Church did not allow religious freedom: "Happy, thrice happy the people of America!" said Adams, "whose principles of religious liberty did not result from an indiscriminate contempt of all religion whatever, and whose equal representation in their legislative councils was founded upon equality really existing among them, and not among the metaphysical speculations of fanciful politicians, vainly contending against the unalterable course of events, and the established order of nature [emphasis added]."
Thomas Paine eventually learned through personal experience that the revolution in France was radically different from the one in America. He was jailed by Robespierre for protesting the execution of the King and having qualms about the direction of events. It took the intervention of Thomas Jefferson to rescue Paine from the guillotine. Prior to this, Paine had spent much of his political life crusading against Christianity, again failing to make distinctions between the true Christianity of Scripture and the often corrupt version taught by religious establishments. His relentless attacks against the hypocrisy of clergymen and religious institutions could be fully endorsed by the most fervent Separatist Puritans and Great Awakeners who lambasted the "dead faith" of the standing order churches. But Paine's attacks were of a different order, often denouncing the substance of the faith itself. "What is it the Testament teaches us? - to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married, and the belief of this debauchery is called faith."
It is easy to see how a demagogue such as Paine could be attracted to the cause of an extremist like Robespierre. But his experience in France seems to have altered his thinking. He began to see how the philosophy of atheism plays itself out in actual politics. His final work, The Age of Reason (1794-96), although very critical of Christian institutions, indicates something of a change of heart. He had become a defender of religious faith against atheism: "Lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lost sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true." On his deathbed he went still another step, embraced faith, and retracted any and all attacks against Christianity in The Age of Reason: "I would give worlds, if I had them, if The Age of Reason had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! Stay with me! It is hell to be left alone." Paine, as vocal a debunker of Christianity as there was in the colonies, died believing passionately in God and hoping for a future life. He had learned the hard way the lessons of the French Revolution.
(excerpted) read more at leaderu.com ...
Aristotle and Plato were the best thinkers the pagan world produced.No. They just had the best publicists.
Thanks! Good one.
Note that this was much before the founding of Islam. Atheism is a breath of fresh air compared to the worship of Satan.
Pagan beliefs are a quantum leap above the pain introduce by Allah...women treated like property of men, young boys treated like the property of sexually predatory mullahs, Jihad, religion spread by the sword, and death to anyone that wants to leave or seek the truth.
That's why America is Jesusland/New Israel...then secular/atheistic...then muslim.
You're saying Edmund Burke lived before the founding of Islam? Heh.
Anyway, I guess I agree with the thrust of the article, but not much else... Seems to be awfully anecdotal evidence, and the few obvious counter-points it acknowledges are dismissed unsatisfactorily.
For example, the article asserts that slaveowners knew what they were doing was evil, and that distinguishes them from Pagan slaveowners (in Ancient Greece).
I don't really buy that, since many who defended slavery argued that free-market capitalism was a greater evil... They called the Northern system "wage-slavery," and considered their slaves to live much better lives than the "wage-slaves" of the industrialized North.
There are other things I have problems with, but I'll leave it at that I think
You know what I am saying.
I seek Virtue. Any who follow Virtue are granted Elesium, with out respect to worship of any Diety.
See you yon broad broad road, so fair and straight and even?
That is the path to hell, though some call it the road to heaven.
And see you yon narrow road, so thick beset with thorns and briars?
That is the path of righteousness, though after it but few inquires.
And see you yon bonny road, that goes through the woodland so?
That is the road to fair Elfland, where you and I maun go.
I'm not willing to risk eternity on it though.
I can't say that I know why...but I think I'll chase after righteousness (even know I know I'll fail).
Thanks for this wonderful post.
Only a "new" evangelical with his eternal security, sinner's prayer and "accepting" Christ could view this as a sincere statement of faith and a true conversion. It is obvious from the language employed and from the eyewitnesses who reported this that this was a cry of despair rather than a profession of faith. Unfortunately, modern "Churchianity" has no room for the doctrines of reprobation, worldy sorrow versus godly sorrow, true and false conversions, etc. but the Scriptures still have plenty to say about them.
wow. Great post.