Revolution as we are considering it is not merely political, moral, cultural or legal, they are at heart spiritual. The end of revolutionary fervor has, in modern times, aimed on the overturning of traditional moral orders and the beliefs of common men and women. The makers of revolution are daily upheld for us to admire and fawn over as being noble warriors, fighting against the terrible oppressiveness of whatever powers are supposed to be in control.
The spirit of revolution is that of innovation, the innovating spirit which Burke saw as coming from “confined views” and a complete lack of respect for the ‘unlettered wisdom of common men.’ Why is this so? Revolutionaries frequently will paint themselves in the image of a leader of the Revolution (Robespierre), the gauzy hero of the masses (Che), and the instrument of inevitable History (Lenin). Their attempts to justify their horrifying means to worse ends is a part of what conservatives fear from such men, but it is the moral element of their stance which we ought to look at.
Men of this sort hold to what has been called the “vision of the anointed,” that is, a vision of society and mankind which places those who hold it in a unique place to issue moral judgement over and to exert leadership upon, the lesser, benighted masses beneath them. In order to justify their place of judgement and benevolent power, revolutionary elite must first replace Christianity, for it is the greatest bulwark against their faith. This was among the first goals of Jacobins, Bolsheviks and Chinese Reds.
English conservative Roger Scruton explains that “Christianity had to be replaced with a creed for suited to the new obedience, a creed which did not rest so embarrassingly on the fact that the individual is answerable for his soul to God alone, and is the property of no earthly master – not even of the State.” In this observation, the de-humanizing influence of Revolution is clear throughout history. The French were the first to claim that men belonged to the State, the Nation, first and foremost, beyond any claims upon them by family or Divinity. Going so far as to claim that the State, a new being in the image of Hobbes dread Leviathan, had the first claim upon the human soul, before God, family or community. This ideological claim on men is not identical with the justified claims of faith, family and nation on our loyalties.
This is the first and greatest danger of Revolution, it seeks to destroy traditional religion and replace it with a ‘new creed’ which will allow revolutionary elites to justify their greed for power and control. The denial of the Transcendent, the slaying of God in the public, and even private, square allows the Gnostic (in Voegelin’s phrase) to place religion and the Kingdom of Heaven in the world of men. As Lord Acton has written An epoch begins not with a new man, but a new idea or a new force The new idea was not simply a re-casting of society but, as I have argued, a new and heretical doctrine on the relation of the citizen and the government.
Part of the replacement of religion by state ideology is the destruction of the person, the individual, so that he may re-made in the image of the ideology. The French writer Rousseau contributed to the creation of ‘civil religions’ meant to bind the new democratic state of the General Will, into a single unity. His ideas were played out during the dark days of the Revolution. The English historian Michael Burleigh has written of revolutionary worldview: Openness versus Hypocrisy, Virtue versus Vice, Good versus Evil, Light versus Darkness: this was a Manichaean view of the world, heavily indebted to monotheistic religion. The Revolutionaries were to pass a “Law of Suspects” in 1793, enshrining the suspicion of everyone for everyone, all fearing to violate the revolutionary ethos.
Besides its pretensions to replacing religious doctrine with a political one, the French Revolution was predicated upon a vast overestimation of the powers of men. This is part of the ‘unconstrained vision’ on humanity. Men are limited, in their powers, goodness, knowledge and ability to accomplish anything good. This is assumed by the Classical and Christian traditions. The worlds of order created by each shared a common, albeit different, acknowledgement of the peculiar limits upon men. Men are not Gods, whatever our pretensions may be. It was with deification of the Roman Emperors that Roman heralded its own demise, mortal rulers cannot be worshiped if good government is to persist.
This supreme self-worship is a hallmark of Revolutionaries. In America the Beats and the 60s radicals managed to inject into our cultural bloodstream what may prove to be a fatal dose of self-worship combined with a contempt for the very bourgeois society that allows us to live. From Jacobins to Action Squads, Brownshirts and Bolsheviks, all possessed immense amounts of rage, self-loathing and an arrogant self-regard for their own place in history and society. They disdain to be servants, seeking to be kings, but without the obligations of aristocracy, anything which stands in the way of their arbitrary wills is regarded as automatically illegitimate. This leads to my next point.
Scruton points out that the revolutionary destroys the standing order of society, government, law and religion by applying a standard of legitimacy to it that cannot be met. America has experienced this since the 1960s. Young radicals applied a standard of liberty, equality and fraternity that our society could not meet. Today, a similar de-legitimizing is going on when racial and feminist radicals devote themselves to shredding the old coat of society by saying it doesn’t match their own impossible patterns. This is a common key to revolutionary radicalism, by wishing to unhindered by traditions, customs or Gods, they will apply an unmet standard of perfection that is newly introduced into the society by a priori thinkers and dread levellers.
The Revolutionary fervor is exemplary of the greatest weakness of modern society. We have forgotten the God of our fathers, and so we lose our way in a world of ego, unlimited will and the gaping maw of our material appetites. As the Prophet Hosea said “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” we have abandoned the way of God, which is our greatest error. The second thing we left behind is the ways, wisdom and customs of our fathers, this must be regarded as a great loss. These traditions of behaviour, manners and education are what have restrained our most base impulses and our most vile desires over a course of centuries. What has taken centuries to build, we destroy in a matter of decades; in the false hope that we may then satisfy our Luciferian hearts. The same hideous pride that drove Milton’s Satan to oppose the Most High, drives us to rebel against the ways of old. The canker of revolution must not be seen as noble, idealistic or youthful. . Let us therefore avail ourselves of Burke’s wisdom when he writes:
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 increasing public strength and national prosperity. They despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men; and as for the rest, they have wrought under-ground 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 of not temperament, and no compromise: anything withheld from their full demand is so much fraud and injustice. Against these their rights of men let no government look for security in the length of its continuance and lenity of its administrations.
Your Humble Servant, C. McDonald