Skip to comments.Two Revolutions, Two Views of Man
Posted on 07/25/2010 1:37:12 PM PDT by betty boop
TWO REVOLUTIONS, TWO VIEWS OF MAN
By Jean F. Drew
As every American schoolchild has been taught, in Western history there were two great sociopolitical revolutions that took place near the end of the eighteenth century: The American Revolution of 1775; and the French, of 1789. Children are taught that both revolutions were fought because of human rights in some way; thus bloody warfare possibly could be justified, condoned so long as the blood and treasure were shed to protect the rights of man. The American schoolchild is assured that the American and French revolutions were both devoted to the expansion of human rights and thus were equally noble revolutions. Moreover, it is widely believed that the French Revolution was an evolution from the American one.
Rather than simply accept these ideas uncritically, comparison and contrast of the two revolutions can shed some light on what turns out to be their stark differences as to inceptions, ostensible goals, foundational ideology, and respective outcomes.
There is a famous Pythagorean maxim (c. sixth century B.C.): The beginning is the half of the whole. That is to say, inception events have a way of profoundly influencing the course of events that follow from them; and so their analysis can give insight into the character of their development in time, and even of the motivations they configure. Less obviously, an inception event is itself the culmination of a train of social, political, and cultural development that finally erupts, or takes evident shape, as a concrete beginning, or precipitating event of what follows. At that point, a situation of no return has been reached: The fat is in the fire. There is no turning back .
And so, let us take a look at the beginnings of two revolutions:
In London George III and his cabinet, their confidence bolstered by their huge majority in Parliament, moved toward a confrontation with the Americans. On February 2, 1775, [Prime Minister Frederick, Lord] North introduced a motion to declare the province of Massachusetts in a state of rebellion and asked the King to take steps to support the sovereignty of England. The opposition, led by Edmund Burke, decried this move as a declaration of war. But the measure passed by a majority of three to one. George III was immensely pleased .
The King decided to send some 1,000 reinforcements to Boston, far short of the number that Governor General Thomas Gage had wanted.
The King and his ministers still refused to believe Gages assessment of the odds he faced . Colonel James Grant who had served in America, at one point in the same army with George Washington [in the French and Indian Wars] declared he was certain the Americans would never dare to face an English army. In this spirit the King ordered Lord Dartmouth to draft a letter telling Gage that it was time to act.
Gage promptly acted. Thanks to his spies, he knew that the Colonials were accumulating military stores at Concord, including large quantities of gunpowder. So Gage decided that a swift march on Concord to seize the powder as well as the fourteen cannon said to be in the town would have a crippling, even demoralizing impact on the Provincial Congresss plans to form an Army of Observation to pen the British inside Boston.
From this decision ensued, on April 19, 1775, the opening shot the shot heard round the world of the American Revolutionary War, at North Bridge, Concord, Massachusetts at about 8 oclock in the morning.
Although the Colonials already knew the British were coming to Concord and Lexington sooner or later, and for what purpose, and that the incursion would come by a night march (rare in that day) the Americans proved early to be remarkably effective spies what they did not know was the specific date, or whether the British forces would be moving by land over Boston Neck or by sea in longboats across the Back Bay. Hence the famous signal of one if by land, two if by sea posted at the Old North Church, wherein observers were keeping an eye on British troop movements.
It turned out to be two: The British forces, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were subsequently debarked at Cambridge across the Charles River, from longboats attached to H.M.S. Somerset then standing guard over the Boston Harbor ferryway. This was a force of some 700 men composed of light infantrymen and fearsome grenadiers. From thence the body proceeded overland, on a much shorter march than would have been the case had they approached Concord via Boston Neck. The route from Cambridge to Concord led straight through the heart of the neighboring town of Lexington.
As soon as the news came that the British were moving, Paul Revere set upon his famous midnight ride on a fast mare, traveling west at high speed to warn the people of Concord and the surrounding towns that the British were coming. Samuel Prescott and William Dawes likewise fanned out on horseback, spreading the alert to all within earshot.
The folks at Concord, having thus been warned, working feverishly overnight, managed to remove all the military stores to safe locations. The locals felt confident they could handle the threat: After all, the town had 600 drilled and trained Minutemen on spot, and there were some 6,000 other Minutemen and Militia a body composed of all able-bodied men between the ages of 15 and 60 within fairly easy reach of Concord town who were already pledged to come to her aid in the event of the outbreak of actual hostilities.
The people of Concord evidently figured a show of force would suffice to deter the British officers from doing anything rash. But really what they were relying on was their expectation based on their understanding of the so-far prevailing rules of engagement, frequently tested that British troops would never open fire on their fellow citizens i.e., the Colonials themselves, who were British subjects also unless they were fired upon first. And the Americans did not intend to fire first.
In this assessment of the situation on the ground, they were sadly mistaken. In the approach to Concord, the Brits had provoked a bloody engagement at Lexington Green in which the British light infantry unquestionably fired the first volleys, killing eight men and wounding ten. Then the British forces continued their march into Concord, to secure the bridges of the town: The British commander Smith had detached four squadrons to visit a prominent local farm to see whether contraband might be stashed there; and feared his troops could not safely return if the North Bridge were under the control of the Colonials. In defense of the bridge, the Brits again fired first. For a moment, the Americans could not believe this was happening. Goddamn it, one man shouted, They are firing ball! Then their commander, Major Buttrick, whirled and shouted, Fire fellow soldiers, for Gods sake fire. The Americans sustained six casualties at North Bridge, all fatal. On the British side, Two privates were killed and a sergeant, four privates and four officers were wounded.
Then the Brits cut their losses and in disorderly retreat high-tailed it back to the security of their barracks in Boston empty-handed. Their mission was a failure: They had not found, let alone confiscated, any military stores.
But the American Revolutionary War was officially ON .
* * * * * * *
History will record, that on the morning of the 6th of October 1789, the king and queen of France, after a day of confusion, alarm, dismay, and slaughter, lay down, under the pledged security of public faith, to indulge nature in a few hours of respite, and troubled melancholy repose. From this sleep the queen was first startled by the voice of the sentinel at her door, who cried out to her, to save herself by flight that this was the last proof of fidelity he could give that they were upon him, and he was dead. Instantly he was cut down. A band of cruel ruffians and assassins, reeking with his blood, rushed into the chamber of the queen, and pierced with an hundred strokes of bayonets and poniards the bed, from whence this persecuted woman had just time to fly almost half naked, and through ways unknown to the murderers had escaped to seek refuge at the feet of a king and husband, not secure of his own life for a moment.
This king and this queen, and their infant children (who once would have been the pride and hope of a great and generous people) were then forced to abandon the sanctuary of the most splendid palace in the world, which they left swimming in blood, polluted by massacre, and strewed with scattered limbs and mutilated carcasses. Thence they were conducted into the capital of their kingdom. Two had been selected from the unprovoked, unresisted, promiscuous slaughter which was made of the gentlemen of birth and family who composed the kings bodyguard. These two gentlemen, with all the parade of an execution of justice, were cruelly and publicly dragged to the block, and beheaded . Their heads were stuck upon spears, and led the procession; whilst the royal captives who followed in the train were slowly moved along, amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations of the furies of hell . After they had been made to taste, drop by drop, more than the bitterness of death, in the slow torture of a journey of twelve miles protracted to six hours, they were, under a guard composed of those very soldiers who had thus conducted them through this famous triumph, lodged in one of the old palaces of Paris, now converted into a Bastile for kings .
And thus, the French Revolutionary War was officially ON .
On the question of origins beginnings, inceptions, precipitating events it would appear that the American and French Revolutions do not seem to resemble one another very much. Its difficult to draw a common understanding of what human rights might be on the basis of such disparate evidence.
On the one hand, its possible to see that perhaps human rights had something to do with the defense of Concord: People coming together to protect and defend their lives, liberty, and property against the tyranny of George III, who then was most corruptly usurping the ancient rights of Englishmen not only in America, but also back in the home isles as the Colonials were very well aware.
People today do not appreciate how close was the tie with the mother country at the time, through the printed word: In that day, the London presses were offloading their publications directly onto American ships bound for Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, as soon as the ink was dry. It was from the London press that the Colonials learned of the usurpations of individual liberty that good King George was perpetrating at home, not to mention in their own backyard. They wanted no part of it.
On the other hand, its difficult to see what human right is implicated in the inception event of the French Revolution unless it be the right to commit regicide. Or maybe the right to agitate and deploy mobs as instruments of social and political change .
In the end, Citizen Louis Capet, formerly known as King Louis XVI of France, was tried and convicted of treason by the National Convention and was guillotined on 21 January 1793 the only French king in history to fall victim to regicide. His queen, Marie Antoinette, was also tried and convicted of treason: She was executed by guillotine on 16 October 1793, nine months after her husband.
It seems clear that the Americans were not seeking to kill the king, or to overthrow the traditions of the British constitutional monarchy. Rather, they were seeking a complete, formal separation from it because they were motivated by the conviction that their historic liberties were being systematically violated by George III.
By 1775, the Americans already had a tradition of local or self-government going back some 150 years. When the king sent in his governors, who ruled autocratically as directed by himself and his council, the Americans were outraged. The maxim no taxation without representation was but one expression of their revulsion for what they perceived as the wholesale destruction of the historic liberties of British subjects in America. The Sons of Liberty at Boston, notably including Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock, eloquently argued for total separation from the British Crown not the most popular idea at first. But the events at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge caused many to reappraise their position on this matter. In the end, complete separation was the idea that prevailed, and which was finally achieved .
So what was this notion of liberty that had the Americans so exercised? John Trenchard and Robert Gordon, writing in Catos Letters serially published in The London Journal in 1721 and after, which was avidly read in America at the time describe human liberty as follows:
All men are born free; Liberty is a Gift which they receive from God; nor can they alienate the same by Consent, though possibly they may forfeit it by crimes....
Liberty is the power which every man has over his own Actions, and the Right to enjoy the Fruit of his Labor, Art, and Industry, as far as by it he hurts not the Society, or any Member of it, by taking from any Member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys.
The fruits of a Mans honest Industry are the just rewards of it, ascertained to him by natural and eternal Equity, as is his Title to use them in the Manner which he thinks fit: And thus, with the above Limitations, every Man is sole Lord and Arbiter of his own private Actions and Property....
These were the ideas that had earlier inspired the Glorious Revolution of 1688, of which the great British philosopher and political activist, John Locke (16321704) a thinker enormously respected in America was the intellectual father. Above all, Lockes ideas constitute a theory of the individual human being. This is the same theory that inspired the American Revolution of 1775: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . Indeed, it appears the author of the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) was strongly resonating to Lockes essential political ideas in these passages.
Edmund Burke (17291797) the great Anglo-Irish statesman, political theorist, and philosopher (who as already noted was sympathetic to the American cause) also articulated the historic rights of Englishmen, and of all free peoples universally, as follows:
If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficence; the law itself is only beneficence acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to justice; as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in political function or in ordinary occupation. They have a right to the fruits of their industry; and to the means of making their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring; to instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing on others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favor. But as to the share of power, authority and direction which each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil society; for I have in my contemplation the civil social man, and no other. It is a thing to be settled by convention.
If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law. That convention must limit and modify all the descriptions of constitution which are formed under it. Every sort of legislative, judicial, or executory power are its creatures. They can have no being in any other state of things; and how can a man claim, under the conventions of civil society, rights which do not so much as suppose its existence?
This last point draws attention to Burkes understanding that the foundational rights of man declared by the French philosophes Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité are purely abstract rights indicating no sign of understanding of, or connection with, the actual development and maintenance of a just civil society. In other words, the philosophes envisioned man abstractly, or to put it another way, as abstracted from both nature and society as if this abstract man stands as a total end in himself, as sacrosanct, beyond any demand of society which nature assigns to him as inescapable part and participant of it. It seems the philosophes first reduce the human being to an abstraction by taking him entirely out of the context of historical experience and traditional understandings of natural law going back millennia. Then, with man having been so abstracted, from there it is easy to dissolve him into an abstract mass: The individual is no longer the natural or even legal bearer of rights; rather, the legal bearer of rights is now the mass, the group mankind at large or however else defined.
There is a further consideration regarding the original American founding that we should remember today: The British colony at Massachusetts was not established by means of military power which is the usual way that states of whatever description acquire new territories. Instead, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by religious refugees: They were dissenters from the Church of England, the established church of which the reigning king was titular head.
Beginning with Henry VIII and extending to all his successors, the king of England entirely combined in his own person both the fundamental secular and spiritual authority of British society. But, when religious pilgrims on November 11, 1620, at Provincetown, Massachusetts, ratified what has been described as the first written constitution in human history, the Mayflower Compact, they were acting in resonance to a spiritual authority superior to that of the then-reigning king, James I or of kings in general.
Just by making the voyage to America, the religious refugees were repudiating the authority of the king over their spiritual lives. Once there, the secular authority of the king was of absolutely no help to them. They had to shift for themselves, and basic survival was the highest priority: Almost the majority of the original colony perished during their first New England winter. They were forced to place their reliance entirely on themselves, on each other, and on God. The Mayflower Compact, moreover, made the pilgrims primary reliance on God perfectly explicit. Its first five words are: In the name of God, Amen.
Hold that thought while we turn to the French experience.
For centuries, the foundation of French society, culture, and politics had been the idea of the Etats General, of which there were three estates: the aristocracy, whose head was the King; the Church, whose head was the Pope; and everybody else; i.e., your average, everyday, common, small people .
What is known is that when King Louis XVI was decapitated, the social force of the French aristocracy was effectively decapitated with him. Also it is known that in the four-year period between the invasion of the queens bedchamber and the execution of the king, some 16,000 French men and women were guillotined at Paris mainly aristocrats and other well-off people as enemies of the State. Also all Church lands (probably accounting for some twenty percent of the total French real estate) and property were forcibly confiscated by the State, now reposed in a body called the National Assembly, composed by the Third Estate, the people of France. Thousands of clergy bishops, priests, monks, and nuns were murdered.
In effect the Third Estate utterly destroyed the other two: Thats the French Revolution in a nutshell.
The French Revolution managed to kill off the first two Estates and with that, evidently hoped to extinguish forever all aristocratic and theological ideas, pretensions, and powers regarding questions of the human condition. Indeed, the general expectation then seemed to be the Third Estate, the people, unchained from past superstitions and repressions, had at last come into its own sphere, where it could finally define and exercise true human liberty.
But the people were not some sort of homogeneous mass. Rather, there is a natural hierarchical order within the Third Estate similar to that found in both the aristocratic and theological estates.
In France at the time, at the top of this natural hierarchy were the people with expertise in manufacturing, commerce, banking, and law. They were the beneficiaries of the rising tide of the Enlightenment, as plentifully nourished from the side of Newtonian science.
In the rank immediately below them were the skilled craftsmen. Below this, relatively unskilled laborers. Then, the least of the people, the peasants/serfs who mainly were the impoverished suffering victims of the feudal order then embraced by both the aristocracy and the Church.
Thus within the Third Estate there were marked disparities of wealth, opportunity, education, talent, and ability. Yet the doctrine of Egalité erases all such distinctions: An Einstein and the most ignorant day laborer were considered equal. All were equal in the National Assembly too. On this basis, the doctrine of Fraternité, of the universal brotherhood of mankind, is blind and silent regarding the problem of: how the victims of the revolution become non-brothers in the first place, such that they could be destroyed with impunity by the mob, or condemned as enemies of the state by the National Convention and sent to the guillotine. On this basis, the doctrine of Liberté seems little more than a defense of gratuitous, passionate license that is immensely destructive to society.
Burkes analysis of the situation in France, the condition of the National Assembly, and their combined implications, retains its extraordinary political noteworthiness to defenders of Liberty in our own day:
It is no wonder therefore, that it is with these ideas of everything in their constitution and government at home, either in church or state, as illegitimate and usurped, or, at best as a vain mockery, they look abroad with an eager and passionate enthusiasm. Whilst they are possessed by these notions, it is vain to talk to them of the practice of their ancestors, the fundamental laws of their country, the fixed form of a constitution, whose merits are confirmed by the solid test of long experience, and an increasing public strength and national prosperity.
They despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men; and as for the rest, they have wrought underground a mine that will blow up at one grand explosion all examples of antiquity, all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament. They have the rights of men. Against these there can be no prescription; against these no agreement is binding; these admit no temperament [modification], and no compromise: anything withheld from their full demand is so much of fraud and injustice. Against these their rights of men let no government look for security in the length of its continuance, or in the justice and lenity of its administration .
Burke again reminds us a few pages later on that there is deep danger in relying on abstract rights when it comes to the organization of a just that is liberal, in the sense of liberty, the root idea of classical liberalism political society:
The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience. This it is which makes the constitution of a state, and the due distribution of its powers, a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions. The state is to have recruits to its strength, and remedies to its distempers. What is the use of discussing a mans abstract right to food or medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor of metaphysics.
In Burkes view and I daresay in the view of his contemporary American readers the French Revolution was a
usurpation which, in order to subvert ancient institutions, has destroyed ancient principles, will hold power by arts similar to those by which it has acquired it. When the old feudal and chivalrous spirit of Fealty, which by freeing kings from fear, freed both kings and subjects from the precautions of tyranny, shall be extinct in the minds of men, plots and assassinations will be anticipated by preventive murder and preventive confiscation, and that long roll of grim and bloody maxims which form the political code of all power not standing on its own honor and the honor of those who are to obey it. Kings will be tyrants from policy when subjects are rebels from principle.
Excuse me if I have dwelt too long on this atrocious spectacle of the sixth of October 1789, or have given too much scope to the reflections which have arisen in my mind on occasion of the most important of all revolutions, which may be dated from that day, I mean a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions. As things now stand, with everything respectable destroyed without us, and an attempt to destroy within us every principle of respect, one is almost forced to apologize for harboring the common feelings of men .
Clearly, Burke understands the French Revolution first and foremost as a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions that is, it was preeminently a social, not a political revolution. Certainly that was not the case with the American Revolution. Indeed, Bernard Bailyn, eminent professor of Early American History at Harvard, has asked a tantalizing question: Was the American Revolution a revolution, or was it an evolution?
The prevailing American view at the time did not reject the ancient British tradition of natural liberty under natural law; it was rejecting King George as the traducer and usurper of this tradition. They didnt want a king or a pope; they wanted a system of self-government that had already been in long usage in America. Ultimately they wanted a Constitution exclusively devoted to the defense of human liberty under just and equal laws. Which if history was of any guide meant that the action of the State had to be kept minimal in its scope by well-defined authority.
Most colonial Americans, being heirs of the same ancient, natural-law cultural tradition as Edmund Burke, likely would have agreed with him about this:
We are not the converts of Rousseau; we are not the disciples of Voltaire; Helvetius has made no progress amongst us. Atheists are not our preachers; madmen are not our lawgivers. We know that we have made no discoveries; and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould on our presumption .
The allusion to Rousseau here is particularly instructive. Rousseau held that man is born perfectly good: He is born the noble savage. But as soon as he is in the world long enough, he becomes subject to a relentless process of corruption that makes him bad because of the bad institutions of society, including churches and states, educational systems, economic organizations, and so forth. Man is victimized by society and powerless against it. Bad institutions are entirely to blame for human misery.
In short, Rousseaus doctrine is directly opposed to the natural law doctrine that human beings are responsible (within limits) for whatever happens to them. Natural law theory holds that individual human beings alone have the ability to choose, decide, act; and that they are responsible for the decisions they make. And this implies the objective existence of good and evil. It also requires a universal (divine) spiritual authority to underwrite the foundational truths of the natural and moral worlds, thus to bring them into correspondence in human reason and experience.
In short, the Americans were not disciples of Rousseau . He stands their theory of man on its very head.
Two Views of Man Then and Now
The two revolutions have theories of man that are diametrically opposed, based on the idea of what constitutes human liberty, of the source of human rights. What Locke and Burke and the Americans held in common was the belief that human rights are the gifts of God, and are therefore inseparable from human nature itself. In other words, these rights inalienably inhere in concrete individual persons, each and every one, equally.
In contrast, on the French revolutionary view, human rights are the province of an abstraction known as mankind. Its doctrine is the Rights of Man not the equal, inalienable rights of actual men. It sets up scope for the idea of group rights, as opposed to the idea of rights divinely vested in the individual person in such a way as to constitute his or her very own human nature. Under the French Revolution, the metaphysicians Burkes term for intellectual elites would guide the rest of us in our understanding of such matters. In short, our rights as human beings ineluctably would be what politically powerful elites tell us they are. There is to be no higher standard of truth than that.
In the so-called post-modern world, the revolution that works overtime to kill truth wants to destroy it at its root at the Logos. Rather than engage in fully free and fair debate, the entire project of the French Revolution seems have been the delegitimation of the idea that there is an objective standard by which Reality can be ascertained and judged, the root criterion for the discernment of good and evil in the actual world, by which human beings, acting according to reason and experience, can guide their lives in fruitful ways or do the opposite. In short, once the concept of good and evil is destroyed, the human being has no firm guide by which to navigate his own personal existence.
Instead of the perennial question of good v. evil, in the post-modern world some metaphysicians tell us there is no objective truth at all which logically follows from the presupposition of the death of God which they have, like Rousseau, already achieved in their own minds. The description of human reality thus boils down to a competition of amoral human narratives, or skilled opinions; but in the end still opinions. And under the principle of Egalité, one mans opinion is just like any other mans, neither good nor bad.
It appears we have among us today metaphysicians who desire, in the words of the great Anglo-American poet T. S. Eliot, to contrive and execute systems so perfect that no one will need to be good. And then to impose them on humanity. To succeed in this project, first they have to discredit the foundational motivating ideas of the American Revolution .
To speak of the Now: The currently sitting American president seems to be an activist of the French model. He is distinctly a post-modernist thinker, as an analysis of his words vis-à-vis his actions will show. Evidently he has no sympathy for the values, principles, and goals of the American Revolution, and has disparaged the Constitution to which he freely swore an Oath of fidelity on grounds that it is a system of negative liberties that has outlived its usefulness.
Indeed, it appears that he is doing everything in his power finally to drive a silver stake through the very heart of American liberty the historic liberty of We the People of the United States of America, and that of our Posterity for which the Constitution originally was ordained and established.
©2010 Jean F. Drew
1 Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, David Fideler, ed., Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1988, p. 97.
2 Thomas Fleming, Liberty!: The American Revolution, New York: Viking, 1997, p. 104f.
3 Fleming, p. 105.
5 Fleming, p. 112.
6 Fleming, p. 118.
9 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, New York: The Classics of Liberty Library, 1982, p. 105f. Note: Because this edition is a facsimile of the original publication of 1790, Ive taken the liberty of modernizing the spelling and punctuation.
10 John Trenchard and Robert Gordon, Catos Letters, Vol. 1, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1995, p. 406ff.
11 Burke, p. 8788.
12 Burke, p. 8586.
13 Burke, p. 8990.
14 Burke, p. 116.
15 Burke, p. 119; emphasis added.
16 Burke, p. 127128; emphasis added.
America doesn't have an established church. But she clearly does have a Christian heritage! Indeed, that heritage lies back of the American concept of unalienable individual rights.... This is what makes the American Revolution so utterly unlike the French....
Thanks for the excellent analysis and the historical details. Seems to be right on target.
I’ll have to print and spend a lot more time with it.
Actually there are quite a few factors that made the French Revolution different. For one, the colonists were separating from the mother country, while the revolutionaries were overthrowing their government.
Very interesting and insightful - thanks for posting. I’m currently in the middle of a book that explores the 1790’s from the perspective of France, America and Russia. From my perspective this is “spot on”.
Thank you so much for the insight. Of course you're right about this, wideawake!
It should also be noted that the supremacy of the Pope over the French Church was very controversial in France - the Gallicanist movement was still raging. This is why the revolutionaries demanded that the clergy swear an oath repudiating the Pope and giving their complete allegiance to the state - and why they targeted and martyred the anti-Gallican clergy first. There was no freedom of religion for orthodox Catholics either in revolutionary France or royal England.
I'm so sorry!
Overall, this is a pretty tight article - the quotations are particularly well-chosen.
I’ve gotten to the point where see the French Revolution as kind of an abomination.
Thanks for the beep! Glad you thought of me.
Thanks so much, wideawake, for giving us this wider perspective on the situation in France!
There is no comparison between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. It angers me that children are taught the American and French Revolutions were ideologically parallell.
Me too, Yardstick; me too.
Thanks so much for writing!
Thank you for your kind words, reasonisfaith!
Thank you so much for your kind words, NittanyLion!
I love Burke. I just read through his "French Revolution" just this past month.
The currently sitting American president seems to be an activist of the French model. He is distinctly a post-modernist thinker, as an analysis of his words vis-à-vis his actions will show. Evidently he has no sympathy for the values, principles, and goals of the American Revolution, and has disparaged the Constitution to which he freely swore an Oath of fidelity on grounds that it is a system of negative liberties that has outlived its usefulness.
Negative liberties are the very key to liberty. The fact that Obama rejects them reveals him as a jacobin, who sees your liberty as something to be overcome as he accumulates the power to implement his vision. Protecting your right to build your vision is for him not the purpose of government, as it was for Locke, it is an impediment to Obama implementing Obama's vision.
You have captured the essence of the current mob of vandals who have captured the congress and the White House. They create nothing, they know only how to overturn. Americans do not know the difference between Locke and Rousseau and it is all the difference in the world. It is the difference between a system based on liberty and a system based on the accumulation of power. The jacobins and obamists know only the accumulation of power. They do not love liberty, they smother it in its crib where ever they find it.
Excellent writing, as usual.
I couldn't agree with you more, FrdmLvr! Thanks so much for writing!
I know we are not going to agree on this, betty boop, but there seems to be evidence to the contrary. How else can we interpret the letter signed by John Adams which begins:
? Or shall we split hairs and claim that christian "heritage" is not the same as Christian "religion"? :)
Oh so beautifully (and truthfully) said, dear marron!
And they are vandals. They don't know how to build. But surely they know how to destroy.
Thank you oh so very much for writing!
I wouldn't call it "hair-splitting." The fact is the United States of America does not have an established religion. But that it has a Christian heritage is obvious to anyone who can read the Declaration of Independence and understand what it says.
Do you have some difficulty with the DoI that I might perchance be able to help you with?
Yeah, I can't find any refreence to Christ. All I see is a deist document.
Did you happen to read David McCullough's magisterial, Pulitzer prize-winning biography of John Adams? If not, maybe you should.
In the middle of readlng -- or writing?
In either case, it sounds like something I would greatly like to read...
(FReepMail if you'd care to discuss it privately...)
The DoI makes no specific reference to Christ. It makes reference to the Creator God of Genesis. The Christian Framers would instantly know that the Creator is the Father, Who has a Son, and a Holy Spirit, too. TJ didn't have to explain to the people what they already knew.
Was Jefferson a deist? He has been called "The American Sphinx." Meaning (among other things) it's difficult to pin him down, theologically speaking.
But you seem pretty sure about his "credentials." It must be nice to have such certainly so cheaply....
Make that “certainty,” not “certainly”.... [last line]
I am thinking of you, dear YHAOS. I thought you might find this post interesting. I haven’t heard from you in a while, and am missing you.
THX FOR THE PINGS.
I am a "seeker after root causes".
IIUC, the author is identifying the basing of our successful American Republic on the rights -- and right behavior of -- moral individuals as the key element that fostered its success and superiority over that of the "amoral libertine mob" foundation of the French Republique.
And, for America, both the essential, individual rights and the absolutely requisite individual moral absolutes proceed directly to the individual from our Creator (as opposed to being force-fed through the "intellectual" filter of any human-staffed organization or hierarchy).
Once the "bedrock" of our success to date is established and defined as Divinely moral independence, the terribly destructive danger of the amoral (or, more precisely, anti-moral collectivism promulgated by the current usurping regime is repugnanly evident!!
An awful question faces us: will national restoration and revival be possible via the ballot box -- or, (heaven forbid!) must it be through recourse to the bullet box?
IMHO, we face death as a nation. If survival requires "swallowing" one of the two remedies above, then, let us proceed forthwith to "take our medicine"!
EXTREMELY SOBERING ISSUES.
One was child of the Reformation, the other was child of the Enlightment.
“”John Adams recognized that America is not founded on any particular religion. But that it was founded in a system of ideas that finds its root in God, as Christians understand Him, was perfectly obvious to him, and to the people of his time.””
Adams and the founders compromised Christianity in lieu of a system of pluralism and did not really understand what TRUE liberty really meant,thus the US is failing in a mere 234 years.
Pope Leo XIII understood true and false liberty
Excerpt from Libertas
5. Liberty, then, as We have said, belongs only to those who have the gift of reason or intelligence. Considered as to its nature, it is the faculty of choosing means fitted for the end proposed, for he is master of his actions who can choose one thing out of many. Now, since everything chosen as a means is viewed as good or useful, and since good, as such, is the proper object of our desire, it follows that freedom of choice is a property of the will, or, rather, is identical with the will in so far as it has in its action the faculty of choice. But the will cannot proceed to act until it is enlightened by the knowledge possessed by the intellect. In other words, the good wished by the will is necessarily good in so far as it is known by the intellect; and this the more, because in all voluntary acts choice is subsequent to a judgment upon the truth of the good presented, declaring to which good preference should be given. No sensible man can doubt that judgment is an act of reason, not of the will. The end, or object, both of the rational will and of its liberty is that good only which is in conformity with reason.
6. Since, however, both these faculties are imperfect, it is possible, as is often seen, that the reason should propose something which is not really good, but which has the appearance of good, and that the will should choose accordingly. For, as the possibility of error, and actual error, are defects of the mind and attest its imperfection, so the pursuit of what has a false appearance of good, though a proof of our freedom, just as a disease is a proof of our vitality, implies defect in human liberty. The will also, simply because of its dependence on the reason, no sooner desires anything contrary thereto than it abuses its freedom of choice and corrupts its very essence. Thus it is that the infinitely perfect God, although supremely free, because of the supremacy of His intellect and of His essential goodness, nevertheless cannot choose evil; neither can the angels and saints, who enjoy the beatific vision. St. Augustine and others urged most admirably against the Pelagians that, if the possibility of deflection from good belonged to the essence or perfection of liberty, then God, Jesus Christ, and the angels and saints, who have not this power, would have no liberty at all, or would have less liberty than man has in his state of pilgrimage and imperfection. This subject is often discussed by the Angelic Doctor in his demonstration that the possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery. It will suffice to quote his subtle commentary on the words of our Lord: “Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.”(3) “Everything,” he says, “is that which belongs to it a naturally. When, therefore, it acts through a power outside itself, it does not act of itself, but through another, that is, as a slave. But man is by nature rational. When, therefore, he acts according to reason, he acts of himself and according to his free will; and this is liberty. Whereas, when he sins, he acts in opposition to reason, is moved by another, and is the victim of foreign misapprehensions. Therefore, `Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.’ “(4) Even the heathen philosophers clearly recognized this truth, especially they who held that the wise man alone is free; and by the term “wise man” was meant, as is well known, the man trained to live in accordance with his nature, that is, in justice and virtues
What naturalists or rationalists aim at in philosophy, that the supporters of liberalism, carrying out the principles laid down by naturalism, are attempting in the domain of morality and politics. The fundamental doctrine of rationalism is the supremacy of the human reason, which, refusing due submission to the divine and eternal reason, proclaims its own independence, and constitutes itself the supreme principle and source and judge of truth. Hence, these followers of liberalism deny the existence of any divine authority to which obedience is due, and proclaim that every man is the law to himself; from which arises that ethical system which they style independent morality, and which, under the guise of liberty, exonerates man from any obedience to the commands of God, and substitutes a boundless license. The end of all this it is not difficult to foresee, especially when society is in question. For, when once man is firmly persuaded that he is subject to no one, it follows that the efficient cause of the unity of civil society is not to be sought in any principle external to man, or superior to him, but simply in the free will of individuals; that the authority in the State comes from the people only; and that, just as every man’s individual reason is his only rule of life, so the collective reason of the community should be the supreme guide in the management of all public affairs. Hence the doctrine of the supremacy of the greater number, and that all right and all duty reside in the majority. But, from what has been said, it is clear that all this is in contradiction to reason. To refuse any bond of union between man and civil society, on the one hand, and God the Creator and consequently the supreme Law-giver, on the other, is plainly repugnant to the nature, not only of man, but of all created things; for, of necessity, all effects must in some proper way be connected with their cause; and it belongs to the perfection of every nature to contain itself within that sphere and grade which the order of nature has assigned to it, namely, that the lower should be subject and obedient to the higher.
16. Moreover, besides this, a doctrine of such character is most hurtful both to individuals and to the State. For, once ascribe to human reason the only authority to decide what is true and what is good, and the real distinction between good and evil is destroyed; honor and dishonor differ not in their nature, but in the opinion and judgment of each one; pleasure is the measure of what is lawful; and, given a code of morality which can have little or no power to restrain or quiet the unruly propensities of man, a way is naturally opened to universal corruption. With reference also to public affairs: authority is severed from the true and natural principle whence it derives all its efficacy for the common good; and the law determining what it is right to do and avoid doing is at the mercy of a majority. Now, this is simply a road leading straight to tyranny. The empire of God over man and civil society once repudiated, it follows that religion, as a public institution, can have no claim to exist, and that everything that belongs to religion will be treated with complete indifference. Furthermore, with ambitious designs on sovereignty, tumult and sedition will be common amongst the people; and when duty and conscience cease to appeal to them, there will be nothing to hold them back but force, which of itself alone is powerless to keep their covetousness in check. Of this we have almost daily evidence in the conflict with socialists and members of other seditious societies, who labor unceasingly to bring about revolution. It is for those, then, who are capable of forming a just estimate of things to decide whether such doctrines promote that true liberty which alone is worthy of man, or rather, pervert and destroy it.
Whether the founders of the U.S. saw this clearly or not depends on the founder..
Some were probably religious others may not have been..
For sure, Jesus formed a family, some may have been smart assed groupies..
Nope. His letter says otherwise.
Did you happen to read David McCullough's magisterial, Pulitzer prize-winning biography of John Adams? If not, maybe you should
No, but I read his letter form 1797 that says "As the Government of the United States of American is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."
Nope. John Adams' letter of 1797 clearly says "As the Government of the United States of American is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."
Do you have some difficulty with this that I might perchance be able to help you with?
And DoI is a deist document that does not mention Christ, even God, let alone Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. U.S. Constitution doesn't mention Christ, Father, Son, or the Holy Ghost, and iirc not even the Creator.
Then please post the letter so other readers can form their own impression of its meaning.
You rip a phrase possibly out of context, and assert that your understanding of it is the only way it can be understood.
I'm not buying. And talk is cheap. Especially nowadays.
1797 had 365 days in it. On which day did John Adams post this letter? To whom was it written? What was the context?
When you've done your homework, please do feel free to get back to us. You evidently expect your readers to simply accept your "authority" on such matters. But I want to see your evidence.
All the more so when some finger talk
is all over the water front from the opposite of what most people think words mean to every weasel meaning possible to claim for every nuance of every word in the most convoluted ways possible . . .
all the while pretending to be erudite, wise, logical etc.
What a farce.
He is referring to the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, Article 11 of which reads in full: “ Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
Did I mention Jefferson? You are all over the place! But since you mentioned him, wasn't it Jefferson who re-made the Bible by removing the supernatural aspects of it? Does it matter if he was a deist? He sure wasn't a Christian, was he? But based on some of his other writings, I wonder if he was even a deist.
or [my emphasis]
Congratulations! Excellent work.
With due respect, kosta, I think you find what you want to find and see what you want to see.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights . . .
. . . . . Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, as originally written, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ME, Vol 1, pg 29
Check your etymology and you will find that The word was not generally capitalized Creator until the appearance of the King James Bible (1611). . . . The Barnhart Concise Dictionary Of Etymology, 1995 First Edition, Harper Collins. For the Founding Fathers a capitalized Creator meant just one thing; the Judeo-Christian God. I know you will find difficulty in accepting that The Declaration is a Christian document (the product of Christian belief). But, for you, there is worse to come. The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them. . . . Thomas Jefferson, "A summary view of the rights of British America" Autobiography, Appendix [Note G.], The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol 1, pg 256).
Was Jefferson a deist?, betty asks.
If he was betty, he was a most unconventional Deist, and in blatant defiance of all the usual characteristics defining the term.
Jefferson discusses the ancient philosophers as a contrast to his most favored; Jesus of Nazareth, making it difficult to dismiss Jefferson as merely a Deist, in a letter to William Short, October 31, 1819, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson in 19 volumes, Memorial Edition, edited by Albert Ellery Burgh.
In another letter, Jefferson writes to his namesake, addressing to him several things that might have a favorable influence on the course of his life. Jefferson starts by naming the two great commandments of the Judeo-Christian belief, going on to mention some of the Ten Commandments, and closes by quoting the body of a Christian hymn Lord, who's the happy man, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825, Ibid.
Jefferson again confirms his distaste for Presbyterianism and equally his aversion to the teachings of Calvin. He then goes on to shatter the conventional understanding of his view of the separation of church and state, by relating the sharing of a courthouse by various Christian sects, as a common temple of worship. What is surprising is not that different Christian sects proved to be willing to share in common worship, taking turns in leading the services, but that their place of common worship was the very seat of local government itself, the court-house, and that this event was reported, with equanimity, by none other than Thomas Jefferson, himself. He then goes on to confound us further by relating how he and his fellow Visitors (directors) of the University of Virginia provided space on the university grounds and the sharing of certain facilities for formal religious instruction by various Christian sects, all this in a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, November 2, 1822, Ibid.
In yet another letter, Jefferson declares his faith only in Christs teachings of the early church, a letter to John Adams, October, 13 1813, Ibid. And, finally, in yet another letter he declares, To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian (emphasis mine), in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other. (Thomas Jefferson, to Doctor Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803, Ibid.
And, dear boop, the letters and other documents of Jefferson fixes exactly the problem critics face in attempting to deny a Christian influence on the making of America, including The Declaration itself. To tailor the charge of Deism to any of the Founding Fathers, the critics must redefine deist to fit the changing characteristics of the different Founders. Franklin proclaimed God governs in the affairs of men. Not a belief usually attributable to Deists. Jefferson, on the other hand, swore fealty to Jesus Christ (the pure gospel of Jesus Christ). And critics will find no comfort in examining the Christian values of any of the other Founders charged with drafting The Declaration Of Independence.
Thanks for the beep to this interesting thread.
You mentioned the DoI and characterized it a Deist document. Jefferson is the principle author of the document. He and the others of the Congress are responsible for the values expressed by the document. The document didn't write itself.
Those who could read the Declaration of Independence would have known from their youth Who the Creator IS. From the New England Primer 1777 edition:
CHILDREN your great Creator fear,
To him your homage pay,
While vain employments fire your blood,
And lead your thoughts astray.
The due remembrance of his name
Your first regard requires:
Till your breast glows with sacred love,
Indulge no meaner fires.
Secure his favour, and be wise
Before these cheerless days,
When age comes on, when mirth's no more,
And health and strength decays.
A Wise son maketh a glad father, but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.
BEtter is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure & trouble therewith.
COme unto Christ all ye that labor and are heavy laden and he will give you rest.
DO not the abominable thing which I hate saith the Lord.
EXcept a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
FOolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
GODLINESS is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and that which is to come.
HOLINESS becomes GOD's house for ever.
IT is good for me to draw near unto GOD.
KEEP thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.
LIARS shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.
MANY are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivereth them out of them all.
NOW is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.
OUT of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
PRAY to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which sees in secret shall reward thee openly.
QUIT you like men, be strong, stand fast in the faith.
REMEMBER thy Creator in the days of thy youth.
SEest thou a man wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him.
TRUST in God at all times, ye people, pour out your hearts before him.
UPON the wicked, God shall rain an horrible tempest.
WO to the wicked, it shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him.
EXHORT one another daily while it is called to day, lest any of you be hardened thro' the deceitfulness of sin.
YOUNG men ye have overcome the wicked one.
ZEal hath consumed me, because thy enemies have forgotten the word of God.
You sure use that word a lot in a subtly caustic way. Such as (#27) in reference to T. jefferson "But you seem pretty sure about his "credentials." It must be nice to have such certainly so cheaply...."
To remind you, this was in your reply to my #24, and neither in #24, nor in my only other post (#21) did I even mention Thomas Jefferson! But you did!
Do you relaize how silly it is to mock me for being "pretty sure of [jefferson's] crednetials" and that "it must be nice to have such certainy so cheaply" without me even mentioning Jefferson?!? That's pathetic.
Nevertheless they all signed it and therefore gave their consent to the wording, which has no Christ, no triune God or even the word God in it. It's a deist document. It's not a Christian document. Period.
Regardless of what they believed, the country was not founded on any specific God.
Nevertheless all those who gave their consent to the wording understood the capitalized Creator to mean the Judeo-Christian God. It is not a Deist document. It is a document expressing the Christian philosophies of the Founding Fathers. Period.