I apologize for my remissness in my duty to this blog. While I have read often in the writings of Irving Babbit of the need for the discipline brought by the study of humane letters, I am, sadly, still lacking in its virtue. I suffer, instead, from the vice of shallowness so common to my age, quick to begin but too lazy to finish. Such is my own fault. However, to make up for this I will blog twice this week, and then resume weekly postings next week.
The French Revolution was an insurrectiion of mules and horses against men, conducted by apes with throats of parrots. ~ Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine.
The French Revolution, far from being the matter of patriotic pride and national strength, is a keystone in the arch of modern Gnostic politics, to borrow from Voegelin, and is the bloody root of all ideological politics in the modern West. It is still the example of the triumph of radical political ideologies, and what awfulness they may bring on men.
There were many forces at play in the coming of the Revolution, but perhaps one of the largest was a misguided, albeit honest, admiration for England and America. Historically, the success of a new constitution, government or system of laws is dependent upon the the historical experience of the nation upon whom the change is being enacted. Attempts to put into position democratic governments in nations lacking the Western experience of Christianity, capitalism and our centuries of moral discourse have usually proven a huge failure. The few successes in places like Japan is due to that nation’s willingness to fundamentally change to suit a new form of governance.
In 18th Century France, the French philosophes and Encyclopaedists attempted to do something not attempted before, to reform society, ideas and beliefs on nothing but the power of their own ideas. Denis Diderot served to provide cutting criticism of the old order, especially of the Catholic faith, historically of great strength in France. Voltaire, during exile in England, provided French thinkers with a basis for their innovations, the English constitution.
The constitution of England was so admired by Montesqueiu and Voltaire that they both upheld it as an example for good government in their own country. While a this might be seen as simple admiration for a nation that enjoyed what they themselves wished to enjoy, the ideas, especially of Voltaire, were carried farther than that. Of the example of Montesquieu Lord Acton has written, Montesquieu looked about him, and abroad, but not far ahead…He thinks that aristocracy alone can preserve monarchies, and makes England more free than any commonwealth. So while the English provided a model of government, nascent America provided Frenchmen with a model of Revolution. It was the confusion of such Frenchmen as Lafayette that the supposed ideas of the American Revolution were carried over to the France, to terrible and bloody effect. Again to quote Acton “What the French took from the Americans was their theory of revolution, not their theory of government – their cutting, not their sewing.
The American Revolution, better called a War for Independence, ended in a stable government, rule of law, freedom of markets and the retention of ancestral faith and custom. The French and Russian Revolutions both sought, and succeeded, in tearing apart the ‘old orders’ and remaking law, economy and society in their own image. As the scholar Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn has put it, ‘there was a tremendous and catastrophic misunderstanding as far as ideas and content were concerned.” Upon their return home, young men like Lafeyette sought to bring to France the virtue, nobility and goodness that they claimed to have seen in America. The delusions of French admirers of America is illustrated by Gouverneur Morris,
At dinner I sit next to M. de Lafayette who tells me I injure the cause, for that my sentiments are continually quoted against the good party. I seize this opportunity to tell him that I am opposed to democracy from regard to liberty.
In his further writings, Morris indicated that Lafayette was seemingly unable to see that what had been good for the Colonies could not be safely transplanted to France. While Lafayette was by no means a radical ideologue like Robespierre, his naivete in looking at the America cannot be overlooked. I will close this brief look at the two events with a quote from Russell Kirk, In this, the American Revolution differed vastly from the French Revolution. The Americans, in essence, meant to keep their old order and defend it against external interference; but the French rising was what Edmund Burke called “a revolution of theoretic dogma,” intended to bring down the Old Regime and substitute something quite new.
Your Humble Servant, C. McDonald