The View From 1776
Monday, September 22, 2014
Today’s Secularity vs. Constitutional Liberties
In his latest book, Professor Ellis Sandoz explores the origins and nature of personal freedoms in the Western world, especially as those freedoms came to be embodied in the Constitution of the United States.
Professor Sandoz is director of the Eric Voegelin Institute at Louisiana State University. The first portion of his book (Give Me Liberty: Studies in Constitutionalism and Philosophy, St. Augustine Press, 2013) , is devoted to exploring the grounding of Western civilization in individuals striving toward religious and political rectitude, exemplified in the American founding experience. In the later portion of his book, Professor Sandoz relates these matters to the philosophy of Eric Voegelin, who is generally regarded as one the 20th century’s greatest philosophers of history.
As Professor Sandoz writes in the preface to his work, “The drift of [the book] is to show the connection of the individual consciousness with Liberty in persons and in politics as this has emerged in Western and endured in Anglo-American civilization…In the teeth of our witheringly secularist times, the argument raises the banner of human nobility through participation in the infinite Good as the foundation of all we hold dear and worthy of devotion…”
The book’s back-cover copy tells us, “The Liberty for which Patriot Patrick Henry was willing to die was more than a rhetorical flourish. The American Patriots and Founders based their ideas about Liberty upon almost 200 years of experience on their own as well as the heritage of English Common Law and even back to the natural order of Thomas Aquinas, not to mention the philosophy of Aristotle and the Biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.”
Of particular importance was John Adams’s claim for the origin of political liberty: “Rights antecedent to all earthly government - Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws - Rights derived from the great Legislator of the universe…” Needless to say this conception stands in diametric contrast to the secular and materialistic position advocated by liberal-progressive-socialistic government. Think of President Obama’s assertion that “You did not do that yourself,” with the clear meaning that what individuals possess is given to them by collectivized government, things which liberal-progressive-socialistic government is therefore entitled to take from individuals to satisfy government’s vision of social justice. Think also of President Obama’s abrogation, through ObamaCare, of individuals’ religious liberties that, in the past, were guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
This decadent, liberal-progressive-socialistic conception of human nature and of mankind’s place in the order of being grew to crisis proportions in 19th century Europe and was imported into the United States after the Civil War by newly secularist major universities. Darwinian evolutionary theory and the philosophical doctrine of materialistic determinism led, on the one hand, to a view of humans left adrift, without spiritual sustenance, and, on the other hand, to the proclaimed necessity of heavy-handed, collectivized government as the only source of people’s well-being. Hence Nietzsche’s observation in the late 1800s that God was dead. As Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s champion of the evolutionary hypothesis, earlier had asserted, evolution “proves” that there is no good or evil, just the struggle for survival. Powerfully collectivized, arbitrary government thus is both obliged and entitled to regulate the populace into conformity to preconceptions of the self-anointed elite.
In contrast, as Professor Sandoz notes, the historic American tradition was a politics of aspiration, in Jefferson’s phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “the pursuit of happiness.” This aspiration, in the Declaration, was enumerated under God-given, inalienable rights. But under the now regnant paradigm instilled by our education establishment, individual pursuit of happiness is merely an excuse for selfishness and, worst of all, the pursuit of business profit. Our callow youth are schooled to believe the Marxian doctrine that profit is money stolen from the workers and that government’s job is to confiscate profits and redistribute them to the working masses. Unfortunately, as we know too well, membership in the employed, working masses has sharply dwindled under the tender mercies of liberal-progressive-socialistic government.
Professor Sandoz explores in considerable detail the philosophical understandings of Eric Voegelin, one aspect of which was, Professor Sandoz writes, “For while the physical safety of a society may be the cardinal political priority, the spiritual health nurtured by truth and justice in the public order and civic consciousness is essential to the happiness of individuals and to the thriving of the societies they compose.” He quotes Voegelin, “…the divine reality lets the light of its perfection fall into the soul; the illumination of the soul arouses the awareness of man’s existence as a state of imperfection; and this awareness provokes the human movement in response to the divine appeal.”
In contrast, liberal-progressive-socialists, in some quarters, deny the existence of the human soul, and in all quarters dismiss the spiritual realm and human relationship to Divinity as ignorant superstition that impedes the progress of materialistic socialism, which is explicitly an atheistic ideology.
Professor Voegelin was among the first philosophers of history in modern times to understand that liberal-progressivism in all its forms - American liberalism, Marxian socialism, Mussolini’s Fascist state capitalism, and Hitler’s National Socialism - is a gnostic, secular religion. The unbridgeable difference between liberal-progressivism and the Constitutional ethos of our founding generations is liberal-progressivism’s conviction that it is the sole possessor of ultimate knowledge. Professor Sandoz notes that, “…Voegelin insists, the philosopher is a lover of wisdom, never its possessor, for only God is wise and can have knowledge of the Whole.”
In Voegelin’s analysis, a gnostic, secular religion such as liberal-progressivism hubristically claims exclusive, secret knowledge of the proper ordering of political society. Since only the elite have such knowledge, they are entitled to regiment the rest of us, compelling conformity to their vision of society. The views of traditionalists and conservatives, and most of all believers in Judeo-Christian morality, are properly subjects of ridicule and suppression.
Liberal-progressivism’s gnosticism leads to the view the world is a fallen version of the Garden of Eden’s perfection and to interpret society’s fall as resulting from the advent of private property. Property rights, of course, were among the rights that formerly prevailed under the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, hence the continuing attacks on the Fifth Amendment.
The Judeo-Christian tradition postulates that only God has knowledge of perfection and that perfection cannot be created by man here on earth. Salvation is a matter for transcendent reality. Voegelin noted that however much liberal-progressives and other gnostics yearn to create an earthly society of perfect social justice, reality remains unchanged. Liberal-progressivism cannot change reality, but it can dangerously derange political and social order.
Professor Sandoz remind us that, “Now as always before, resistance and conviction form the sine qua non of any Liberty worthy of the name.”
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Friday, September 05, 2014
Only The Socialist Government Knows What’s Good For You
What you want is not worth consideration. Let Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid tell you what you should want and what they intend to make you swallow.
Robert Curry brought this article to my attention:
My book, The Liberal Jihad: The Hundred Year War Against The Constitution, explains what corrupted the original ethos that was the foundation of the Constitution.
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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Spiritual Representation In The Modern World
Liberal-progressives assert that God definitely is dead and that liberal-progressivism is the earthly embodiment of truth and power.
Under the ultimately all-encompassing power of liberal-progressive rule, Judeo-Christian morality is to have no role in public life, other than as an object of ridicule by intellectuals, who hubristically claim to have dethroned God and, on their own, conquered the material world. Since the latter days of the 19th century, secularists in education, science, and politics have worked hard to rid society of religious belief, which they see as ignorance and, above all, a road block to political and social progress.
That aim has gained increasingly widespread acceptance since student radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s. By now, we have a couple of generations of Americans who have been inculcated by our educational system to dismiss the idea of God and to worship the political state as the only source of beneficence and benevolence.
Political leaders increasingly have ignored the restraints imposed by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Instead, the tyranny of the majority (Rousseau’s general will), as interpreted by mainstream media and liberal-progressive politicians, is to prevail, no matter what the Constitution ordains (see Nancy Pelosi’s incredulous reaction that anyone should question Congress’s unlimited power to impose the massive, socialistic income-redistribution program known as Obamacare). Obamacare and other government regulations forbid exercising the right to personal morality in the public square. Liberal-progressives have no qualms about forcing religious Jews and Christians to act against their personal moral convictions. Failure to kow-tow to the political state becomes anti-social, possibly criminal, behavior.
Today in the United States, public opinion is heavily steered by the media toward the secularity and amorality of socialism, expressed in the welfare state. More than seventy percent of media reporters, writers, editors and producers are self-identified liberal-progressives.
Liberal-progressives make much of the Darwinian “evolving” Constitution. Since the 1920s, Federal courts increasingly have adopted the view that interpretation of the law and constitutional principles ought to reflect what the judges believe to be the correct sociological viewpoint, as articulated in the pages of the New York Times and in the sociology departments of Ivy League universities.
Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman is widely cited by the liberal-progressive media as an authority on Constitutional law. He teaches the doctrine that the writers of the Constitution “must” have intended that changing public opinion alone effectively amends the Constitution. The writers of the Constitution, Professor Ackerman asserts, surely didn’t really mean to restrict amending the Constitution to the procedures set forth in Article V of the Constitution, because those procedures are, in the words of Princeton’s Edward S. Corwin, “well nigh impossible” to implement.
Power backed by public opinion of the moment was the only standard recognized by liberal-progressive icon, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. If the people decide that they prefer Communist Bolshevism to our Constitution, he said, then the Supreme Court should not stand in their way. Apparently, in his view, upholding the law of the land and the Constitution itself is not part of a Supreme Court Justice’s duty.
Abandonment of our original Constitutional ethos can be seen clearly in the person of Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo. In 1932 President Herbert Hoover nominated Cardozo, then chief justice of the New York State Court of Appeals, to succeed the retiring Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Cardozo was an appropriate choice to carry on the socialist principles and moral relativism espoused by Justice Holmes.
Cardozo wrote that, whenever possible, legal cases should be decided on the basis of what the social-justice principles of socialism envisioned as the appropriate outcome. What the law or legal precedent directed was less important than using the judicial power to reshape society. This necessarily implied antagonism towards both Judeo-Christian moral principles and English constitutionalism upon which the Constitution was founded.
In the analysis of Eric Voegelin (as I understand it), we have experienced a re-divinization of political, temporal rule: a reversion to the divinization of Roman emperors prior to the gradual roll-back of that power grasp after Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the unifying religion for the empire.
From the time of Caesar Augustus, more or less contemporaneous with the birth of Jesus Christ, the Roman Emperor laid claim to being the representative of God on earth. As such, the Emperor claimed arbitrary power to impose Roman rule, as he wished it, upon the entire Mediterranean world, suppressing many local customs, religions, and systems of morality.
The early Christian church over time countered that conflation of imperial political and religious power, establishing the church as the representation of God’s will on earth, understood in the life, teaching, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As initially proclaimed by the Apostle Paul, the role of Christianity was to make access to Divine guidance and earthly help available to every individual believer on earth through the intercession of Jesus Christ. The Jews remain the chosen people of God, but their understanding of God as the source of moral righteousness guiding the actions of every ruler and every individual subject was henceforth to become available to anyone in the world who accepted Christ as Savior.
The critically important aspect of the rise of the Christian church was the responsibility thereby imposed upon every person as an individual. Every individual was expected to study the Gospels (Old and New Testaments) and to open his soul to the two most fundamental commandments of Judaism and Christianity: have no god other than God, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That understanding, since the mid-18th century with the advent of French socialistic philosophers, has been turned upside down, resulting in re-divinization of the political state and its earthly rulers as the sole source of guidance for personal conduct and the sole source of economic and social well-being. Note, for example, claims by Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren that no individual can claim to have been successful in business or otherwise; all of it comes from the socialistic political state.
Almost every sentence in an Obama speech features “I will” or “I have done.” More than any president in recent decades, Obama apparently envisions himself as an imperial ruler ordained to transform American society, to calm the world’s oceans, restore tranquility to nature, and to instill political and social harmony domestically and in the wider world. A particularly damaging thrust for America’s economic survival is Obama’s crusade to impose the fiction of man-made global warming in order to gain control of the world’s sources and uses of energy and thereby to regulate every action, 24/7/365, of every individual in the world.
The bottom line is that abandoning God and re-divinizing the political state, under Obama, Lenin, Stalin, or Hitler, leads inexorably towards political tyranny. That is the essence of liberal-progressivism.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Read Robert Stapler’s analysis of American presidents succeeding or failing to meet the challenges of their times (it’s presented as a comment on another recent post).
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Friday, August 08, 2014
Obama’s Quest To Transform Our Constitutional Federal Republic
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Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Yes, But What Do You Really Think Of Him?
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Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Liberal-Progressivism Is Inherently Tyrannical
As Madison and Hamilton wrote extensively in the Federalist papers, individual rights of all varieties, especially property rights, would be too vulnerable to mob sentiment, to the tyranny of the majority, without the Constitution’s multiple checks and balances to prevent concentration of too much political power in one person or group.
City Journal’s Myron Magnet reviews four books that describe the near fatal torture inflicted upon the Constitution by liberal-progressive collectivization of power since the beginning of the 20th century.
Read It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More.
Presidents, Congresses, and courts are creating an elective despotism.
Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous Democracy in America, warned us against the tyranny of the majority that would, if unchecked, override and obliterate the rights of individuals under the Bill of Rights. He warned us against the stifling effects of an all-pervading bureaucracy like the centralized administration in socialist France.
Religious morality having been replaced in 1789 Revolutionary France by worship of the Goddess of Reason, Tocqueville wrote, the French people were prepared to tolerate any degree of political tyranny, so long as they received their welfare-state benefits. This same pattern was repeated in 1930s Germany, and now is fully formed in the United States.
“Fairness” and “caring” mean expropriating the property and income of people who are out of favor and giving it to people in favored classes. Social justice is nothing more than the tyranny of the majority, a mob looting in slow motion. Liberal-progressive social justice is a reversion to pre-civilization barbarism in which there is no rule of law, and might makes right. Once having embarked on liberal-progressive socialism, what Freiderich Hayek called The Road to Serfdom, the average citizen finds it easier to ignore tomorrow, to eat, drink, be merry, and let the government take care of him. It is this which led to tyranny, in ancient Athens and now in the modern world.
See also Death Of The American Idea,
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Revolutionary Aspects Of Our War Of Independence
Robert Stapler presents a thorough review of his differences of viewpoint with my earlier post.
I must say that I don’t disagree with any of Mr. Stapler’s points. The impetus behind my assertion that the 1776 struggle was conservative rather than revolutionary was to combat the present-day education propaganda aimed at discrediting the predominating ethos in the colonies at that time.
The intention of such educational propaganda is to legitimize the liberal-progressive doctrine that the Constitution has no permanent meaning, that it is a instead a Darwinian, evolving document that is subject to changes in public opinion, that Judeo-Christian morality must be banished from the public square and replaced with Marxian-Darwinian materialism.
A Commentary on the July 21, 2014 article ‘The War of Independence’
By Robert Stapler
While I agree in substance with my good friend Thomas Brewton on his main point the American Revolution (or ‘War of Independence’) was overwhelmingly ‘conservative’, I find myself for once at odds with him and forced to side with our longtime adversary Mr. Jay that it was also in some degree ‘revolutionary’. Having said this, I must also protest my reasons for agreeing with Jay are, with but one exception, not the ones he cites. The one semi-valid point Jay makes was “what made the war ‘revolutionary’ is that it did not involve regime change, but rather the creation of an entirely new … system of governance.” Of course, it did involve ‘regime change’, for what is any change of government as an outcome of conflict but regime change; this one just happened to be for the better. Moreover, the change was far from being ‘entire’, and retained far more than what was altered. Yet, it did result in a ‘new system of governance’ different enough from its original to be classed ‘revolutionary’. While I agree (with Thomas) both the system first adopted (a loose confederation of fully sovereign states) and the later one (a federation of states with a central authority established for coordinating efforts and interests) were highly conservative structurally, they were also clear breaks with our colonial past in that neither of those bodies had as features any provision for ‘inheritable power’ (aka, a nobility possessing an inheritable ‘right to rule’). Whatever else we may say about that war, the resulting system was a paradigm shift away from certain key elements under which we’d been previously governed and took for granted, and which made our new system significantly different from any we’d directly experienced before; among them:
a) no longer part of a global empire (large commercial impacts for us)
b) repudiation of Britain’s monopolistic ‘mercantile’ policies (Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776 had a profound effect on our more intellectual Founders, including Franklin, Jefferson and Madison. Hamilton, too, though he argued against Smith’s ideas, was nonetheless influenced by them)
c) specifically written v. a constitution built largely on tradition and precedents
d) no longer subject to a monarchical system and hereditary privileges
e) no longer subject to ‘state sponsored’ religion, at least not nationally
f) brought slavery, indenture and bound-apprenticeship into question
g) ‘voting rights’ restrictions hotly disputed
h) brought into question who could stand for office
i) agitation to make legislative deliberations more public
j) right of government to tax other than on fixed, well-defined, and commonly agreed upon objectives disputed
k) politically ‘free’ speech (while the British already had substantial arguments in its favor, it was not yet a well-respected ‘right’)
l) personal-responsibility and self-sufficiency an underlying principle supporting notion government should butt out of purely personal affairs
m) frontier opened up, and prevailing idea government ought not to impede settlement
n) spirit of reform, & denunciations of remaining ‘arbitrary’ aspects of British system (aka, ‘rule of law’ had special meaning to rebels somewhat different than that prevailing in Britain)
o) spawned (briefly) early feminist movement (Abigail Adams, Lucy Knox, & Judith Sargent Murray)
p) advocacy for a more educated constituency
The above list illustrates the colonies were, at least from the British standpoint, already quite ‘radicalized’ even before the hostilities began. Among war objectives most Americans felt keenly was a sense they were breaking with a past with which they were no longer or entirely comfortable. Our merchants (e.g., Robert Morris) wanted greater freedom to trade with whomever he wished, free of Britain’s monopolistic meddling. The more political among us were no longer trusting of a system that wasn’t written down in clear, concise and unequivocal form, and wanted greater assurance political rights would be respected. America’s yeomanry were mostly fed up with kings and nobles, and wanted no further part of that breed. Religious freedom, even beyond that assured by Britain’s ‘Toleration Act of 1689’ and an end to tithes was demanded. Freedom of speech, while already a British assumption, was limited to a specific ‘right to petition’ the king and a specific right protecting Parliaments members only, and was not yet broadly interpreted to cover all public (or even private) speech. Moreover, Parliament was left free to curtail speech among ordinary citizens as it saw fit. While true the British (multiply sourced) constitution did eliminate the king’s taxing authority, it in no way limited Parliament’s power of taxation. So, while all the grievances listed in the Declaration had some precedent (making them ‘conservative’ gripes), their interpretation was somewhat open to dispute or still in flux.
Perhaps the most repulsive idea (to British sensibilities) put forward soon after the Declaration of Independence was a determination among rebels that, whatever system should eventually be adopted, there would be no further tolerance of hereditary power and/or of a nobility. This was, to Britain’s political class, the worst possible form of Jacobinism, and had to be put down however great the cost in coin and blood.
A Revolution in Thinking, If Not One of Form
Thomas is, off course, perfectly correct the war was not, itself, ‘revolutionary’ nor fought to overthrow a colonial system with which the rebels (prior to hostilities) were perfectly comfortable and frequently defended as the best of all possible systems. The real revolution in thinking and system took place during the war and in the generations immediately following. For example, abolitionism began gathering steam in the northern states even before hostilities ended with Britain. What this illustrates is the war and separation from the old world order (and its perceived ‘evils’) represented in American minds a revolution in thinking with a huge emphasis placed on casting off all things ‘unenlightened’. If Founders from Adams to Monroe were somewhat old-fashioned in their desire for preserving what was best of the old ways, radicals like Thomas Paine were not; and Paine’s ideas enjoyed a broad following among the American yeomanry and army ranks. In fact, Paine’s polemics energized patriotic passion far beyond the limited reach of even our most influential statesmen and military leaders. Paine quickly became our primary propagandist, and any reading of Paine can only be viewed as an appeal to ‘homegrown radicalism’. As later events show, Paine was dissatisfied with our Constitution, and his dismissal by Congress and his ‘Age of Reason’ treatise show just how radical he really was (or became). Washington and many of the leading Founders began distancing themselves from Paine and his extreme notions in the latter half of the war; which shows that whereas the Founders were certainly enlightened or even a bit ‘progressive’, most of them drew a line at the kind of sweeping social changes Paine advocated. However, if Paine’s views were too radical for Congress and Washington, he long remained a darling among ordinary patriots.
Thomas cites Madison’s arguments for adopting the Constitution (Federalist Papers) as proof of foundational ‘conservatism’. However, I’d be less than forthcoming by not admitting the Federalist Papers were also propaganda used to persuade New York State’s most influential men (who were mostly politically conservative) that the proposed system was in no wise ‘radical’ the way many feared. That Madison was addressing primarily ‘conservative’ gentlemen (i.e., those most likely to attend New York’s adopting convention) is beyond doubt as he proved himself many times a persuasive propagandists for changes he favored. This is not to say Madison was in any sense disingenuous, only that he was sublimely skillful in his presentations, and took great pains to calm any and all fears voiced against adoption. It should be further noted Madison’s own opinions regarding objectives changed with time, and shifted from outspoken advocate of federalism to unflinching opponent of federalist overreach, and from a conservative to a liberal in his choice of faction.
It should be noted that while Adam Smith is today regarded a cornerstone of fiscally conservative thought, he was in the context of his own day what we would regard a ‘progressive’. Smith’s lengthy epistle on national wealth was, in fact, a call for sweeping social changes, and his particular concern was the counterproductive exploitation of labor and disregard for England’s ‘poor’ as embalmed in the ‘mercantile system’. As such, he would have had a good deal in common with today’s unions and Britain’s Labor Party. However, I would not class him a radical as his great interest was also for Britain’s economic well-being and improvement of its global system of trade. Also, his mode of outreach to the poor was to put them to work and engage them in his nation’s political dialogue, not to create entitlements that effectively keep them poor and shut them out. As our Founders were conversant with Smith’s ideas (far more than we are today) and at least some of them endorsed those ideas, it cannot be they were entirely conservative.
However conservative the Founders (i.e., political leadership) may have been at the outset, the nation’s yeomanry had some ideas of their own how any new government placed over them should operate, and were generally more open to sweeping change. Having fought and suffered through a long war of independence, they were understandably apprehensive any new system must have safeguards against oppression. More than that, as the middling to lower-class economically, they were open to ideas that levelled their playing field and provided them new opportunities for improving their situation. Though there is little in the way of literature describing yeoman expectations, it does exist and can be discovered in journals, broadsheets, and letters of the time. Moreover, the Founder’s recognized from the outset they must appeal to yeoman sentiments to inspire them to fight for ‘The Cause’, that their case for war must be compelling to simple farmers and artisans; and that the losses suffered by both officers and privates in such a contest must form an effectual bond or ‘covenant’ between them as would not end in independence alone or in advantage to a few which political leaders might later disregard. War shapes objectives and our ideas of them even more than do initial grievances; and, the Framers were nothing if not shaped by debates over yeomen expectations of this shared ‘cause’. Thus, when it came time to constitute a new government (1787), the Framers were intensely mindful of this ‘unwritten’ covenant they’d earlier formed with America’s yeomanry; of promises sworn to and of which they, as ‘honorable men’ had every intention of honoring.
The Genêt Affair & the French Revolution
American sentiment during the French Revolution and just after teaches us, that at least by 1790 (and likely much sooner), a ‘spirit of revolution’ was clearly in the air in America. Much of this spirit was a direct result of shared excitement and suffering, of the large number of Frenchmen who had flocked to our shores in support of our cause. A ‘bond of brotherhood’ was thus formed between their and our ‘patriots’. It was not until the ‘Terror’ (September 1793 - July 1794) that many Americans began having doubts regarding the revolution taking place in France. Yet, even this revulsion was not universal among us, and a great many Americans (including some of our leading lights) continued supporting the French in the conviction some bloodshed was acceptable (see https://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/592/ ) so long as it resulted in an end to monarchy along republican lines. The French Revolution was a severe test of what our American experiment stood for, and divided Americans for the first time regarding its ideals.
In 1793, the Genêt Affair (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmond-Charles_Gen%C3%AAt ) challenged those principles and our government more directly and severely. Citizen Genêt was sent by the new radical regime as an ambassador to our shores with the flagrant goal of recruiting us to fight against and harass the British with whom we maintained a fragile peace, and against whom our continued separation was less than assured. Genêt’s incitements were, thus, an existential threat to American peace and independence. Even so, hundreds of Americans, including some who were both influential and perfectly aware of the risks, flocked to Genêt and/or openly supported his cause. Nor were most Americans entirely ignorant of the differences between their and our revolutions (see https://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/593/ ). Indeed, some of our own hot-heads embraced French radicalism as a kind of ‘continuation’ of changes taking place here they regarded incomplete; and, for a time, seemed ripe to boil over into partisan violence. It is important to understand, the ‘Reign of Terror’ that began in September of that same year, would not become well known to us nor its implications understood until the following summer. So, at least from our war of independence through 1794, a spirit of ‘real’ revolution was very much alive this side of the pond, and was only damped as the revelations from France piled up.
When we speak of the ‘Founders’, we must be careful not to exclude these ‘yeoman founders’ who risked their all as much or even more than did their more affluent and educated leaders.
American Revolution as a continuation of the British Civil Wars of 1641-1688
At least one notable historian has made the point our War of Independence was, in many respects, an extension of the English Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution. While Thomas is perfectly correct our new system substantially mirrors and preserves major features of the British system of their time, we need to understand that that system was, itself, still in flux as a result of convulsions their side of the pond a mere 88 years earlier. Prior to the English Civil Wars (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Civil_War ), Britain was ruled primarily by its monarchs with its Parliament subject to arbitrary kingly dissolution. One result of those wars was King George III could no longer dissolve nor prorogue a British Parliament, and was subject to certain other important restrictions that would become points of contention with us. But, he could and did still prorogue and dissolve colonial parliaments with impunity, and with or without Parliamentary consent. [side note: British Parliamentarians (almost as much as we) contested King George retained such a power over our parliaments, but, as this was the first time (since the Civil Wars) any king had interpreted the new rules in this way, it would not be resolved as an issue their side of the pond until well after our separation.]
Those wars plus the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glorious_Revolution ) established Parliamentary independence of the King and placed certain objects beyond his reach; including taxing-authority and ultimate control of the army (its size and uses). As such, it was an early foray into ‘limited government’. Recall one of the more prominent complaints made against King George was his arbitrary dissolution of colonial parliaments. The list of grievances in the second half of our own Declaration of Independence could easily have been a laundry list of British Parliamentarian complaints from a century earlier. Our own revolutionary leaders were certainly ‘preserving’ the constitutionally-based parliamentary system then extant in Britain, but, just as importantly preserved its ‘revolutionary’ spirit instilled in them by grandparents, parents and teachers; many of whom had lived through and supported England’s political struggles.
Many of our colonists were near descendants of those same political dissidents (both against and for the crown) many of whom arrived here in successive waves following the ups and downs of that power struggle; some of my own ancestors among them (both sides). This is something our high school history books (even those of my schoolboy days) entirely fail to mention. Those same schoolbooks emphasize religious dissidents who fled here, but little about such political dissidents, many of whom brought with them a sense of unfinished business and factional feuds. Those of the Parliamentarian faction were known as ‘Whigs’ (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiggism ) whereas those fighting to preserve the old order (fewer in number this side of the pond) were known as ‘royalists’, ‘Cavaliers’ or ‘Tories’. The Whigs came first, which gave them the advantage both politically and economically, and a good many of our leading Founders came from this class; especially in the Northern colonies. Regardless what motivated these progenitors to emigrate, most of their children grew up in the New World ethos of self-sufficiency and self-rule, thereby pitting them against a distant and arbitrary rule which was no longer the standard in their perceived ‘country of origin’. Thus, it was not by accident opposing factions in our own war self-identified as ‘Whigs’ and ‘Tories’, with the former favoring separation and the latter opposing it. That made the Tories (most of whom were evicted as a result of our contest) the true conservatives and the Whigs (aka, rebels) a sort of ‘progressive’ or ‘revolutionary’ faction; at least in relative terms. As things worked out, the Southern (more conservative) faction wound up politically dominant, mainly due to Washington’s overawing influence and the North’s need to keep the Deep South in the Confederacy after the war. Thus, when we speak of Founder ‘conservatism’, we need to differentiate a little which Founders we mean and their relative contributions to the outcome.
Another thing for us to consider is, what effect did evicting our most vocally conservative elements (i.e., those stubbornly loyal to Britain) have on our political composition, and, in turn, on our perception the war was conservative in nature? Had the Tories not been evicted, our national conversation justifying separation from England as ‘having preserved British norms’ would have been very different. Those Tories would have had much to say refuting such a contention by pointing out all the many, significant, and sweeping changes wrought by the war; and they would have been right! By evicting them, that particular debate never happened, however, and the narrative passed down to us is unmistakably one-sided as a result. It is said the victors write our histories, and that is noticeably true in this case.
Differences between the American and French Revolutions
The French Revolution began without any clear objective beyond the simple one of avenging poverty compounded by long abuse. There was no long prelude to it (unless you count our own political struggle), no broadsheet campaign, no ‘committees of correspondence’ and no dissenting colonial legislators to give it direction. It was the temper and disagreement of French political-thinkers (in the absence of a strong leadership) that shaped their revolution first one way, then another with each succeeding factional shift becoming more strident and radical. Also, it took us far longer to achieve our goals such that, by the time we did achieve them, our passion for sweeping societal change was effectively spent. The French, in contrast, achieved regime change quickly and almost bloodlessly such that their passion and frustration against their ruling class was still in need of an outlet. Where we were also fortunate is in that our ‘radicals’ were few and our statesmen many, and all of the latter determined and of one mind. Whereas the French were weakly led and without clear (or at least common) objectives, our movement was strongly led and with well-defined objectives most Americans embraced and willingly defended. The French Revolution began nearly as conservatively as our own. Indeed, moderates of the Estates General of 1789 regarded our system their model. Unfortunately for the French, order soon broke down and their radicals took over; forcing their moderates out (and to the guillotine). There are other differences, but these suffice to explain why the French revolution was so much more ‘radical’ than our own.
There are more points I could make in defense of our ‘War of Independence’ as also having been ‘revolutionary’ in nature, but feel these suffice to make the case. I can also produce ample proof and arguments for their fundamental ‘conservatism’, but am unconcerned a strong case needs to be made for that. That the Founders did not intend a true revolution is beyond dispute; but can it really be said the French intended one? Or, as is so often the case, did events and a dearth of leadership shape their outcome for them? That our leaders were fundamentally conservative (i.e., not out to destroy the underlying fabric of an accustomed order, but rather to preserve its essential features) is undeniable. Yet the war they waged, its declared objectives, its motivating spirit, and its outcomes are equally and undeniably ‘revolutionary’. So whether our revolution was, by design or chance, ‘essentially conservative’ is less relevant than were its impacts on our political systems and on mankind as a whole.
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Friday, July 04, 2014
The War Of Independence
Our struggle formally commenced on July 4, 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. Calling the ensuing conflict the Revolutionary War is a misnomer.
Our 1776 struggle with Great Britain should be called the War of Independence, not the Revolutionary War. Liberal educators want you to believe that we Americans share a common heritage with the savageries of the French and Russian socialist revolutionaries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ours was not at all a revolution in the sense of the 1789 French Revolution or the 1917 Russian Revolution. Those were mob uprisings that wiped out the existing systems of government, society, spiritual religion, and private property rights, ending with the subordination of individual rights to the rule of an intellectual elite.
The Americans’ purpose was the exact opposite: to preserve the already well-established colonial systems of self-government without in any way affecting the institutions of religion or the rights of property. Our War of Independence was, in short, a conservative defense of well-established tradition, not a radical upheaval.
American colonists would have happily remained British subjects if their rights as Englishmen had been respected by Parliament and the king. They were in fact very proud to be Englishmen, because England was the most powerful and the freest nation on earth.
They objected to the administration of George III, because it had abruptly decided to change fundamental procedures of self-government that had evolved in the North American colonies during the previous century and a half. American colonists, and their cousins in England, believed that neither the king nor Parliament could arbitrarily impose heavy and unprecedented taxes. Nor could the king enforce collection of those taxes with military troops quartered among the private citizens, at those citizens’ expense. These things they saw as unconstitutional seizure of their property by the crown. The best known slogan from the War of Independence says it all: “No taxation without representation.”
Freedom, in 1776, meant limitations that kept government from arbitrarily encroaching upon individuals’ political and property rights. Today “freedom” means that the Federal courts can arbitrarily legitimize the latest academic fads that attack the centuries-old traditions of morality and natural law upon which the United States was founded.
Freedom has come to mean lack of restraint and the absence of consideration for the rights and sensibilities of others. First and foremost today it means animalistic gratification (sexual promiscuity, marital infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse) without personal responsibility and without regard to the corrosive effect on society.
As Alexander Hamilton noted in the Federalist papers (which were written in 1787 and 1788 to persuade the states to ratify the Constitution), the words of the Constitution, by themselves, are not much protection for the individual liberties claimed in the Declaration of Independence. Lawyers and judges can weasel around words and take them out of context to make them appear to mean almost anything they wish. The only safeguard is a knowledgeable public, steeped in tradition and alive to every threat against those liberties. We no longer have that safeguard.
After more than three generations under the socialist welfare state imposed here in 1933 by the New Deal, we are far advanced along what Nobel-Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek called The Road to Serfdom. In that classic 1944 analysis of the inescapable shortcomings of socialism, Hayek accurately predicted the general malaise and economic decline in post-World War II Great Britain under its socialist government. At about the same time, President Franklin Roosevelt was praising the benefits of the socialistic collectivism of his New Deal in his 1944 State of the Union address. The original Bill of Rights based on Jeffersonian individualism, he said, had proved inadequate. The People had accepted a Second Bill of Rights that promised Security in the sheltering arms of Big Brother’s socialistic welfare state.
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Wednesday, July 02, 2014
The Religious Foundation Of The United States
While the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any official religion at the Federal level, Judeo-Christian moral values and religious faith were inseparably interwoven with all political issues in 1776 and in 1787, when the Constitution was crafted.
Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831, traveling from New England to New Orleans. The year before, in 1830, France had been convulsed by one of its repeated political upheavals after the 1789 Revolution. Tocqueville’s purpose was to discover how the United States had managed to avoid the episodic armed rebellions and bloodshed in the streets of Paris that plagued French political life under socialistic egalitarianism, the societal condition called social justice by liberal-progressives.
His observations were set forth in Democracy in America, often cited as one the best surveys ever written regarding American political, social, and religious life.
Two things struck Tocqueville forcibly as he traveled across the United States. Everywhere there was a strong attachment to the equality conferred by political liberty, and everywhere there was an unwavering devotion to Christianity. The two, he concluded, were inseparably connected.
“On my arrival in the United States,” he wrote, “the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.”
“[Christianity] contributed powerfully to the establishment of a republic and a democracy in public affairs; and from the beginning, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never [as of 1831] been dissolved.”
“The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man…. all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God.”
“In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion; but it directs the customs of the community, and, by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state…. Thus, while the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash and unjust. Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.”
“When [people in France] attack religious opinions, they obey the dictates of their passions and not of their interests. Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.”
A century later Bancroft Prize-winning historian Clinton Rossiter, who described himself as a centrist, somewhere between labor union radicals and the late Senator Barry Goldwater, wrote in The First American Revolution (1956):
“Finally, it must never be forgotten, especially in an age of upheaval and disillusionment, that American democracy rests squarely on the assumption of a pious, honest, self-disciplined, moral people. … Whatever doubts may exist about the sources of this democracy, there can be none about the chief source of the morality that gives it life and substance. From Puritanism, from the way of life that exalted individual responsibility, came those homely rules of everyday conduct – or, if we must, those rationalizations of worldly success – that have molded the American mind into its unique shape. … The men of 1776 believed that the good state would rise on the rock of private and public morality, that morality was in the case of most men and all states the product of religion, and that the earthly mission of religion was to set men free.”
Tocqueville would have said that present-day American liberal-progressives’ advocacy of libertine license in personal life and smothering regulation of economic activity and public expression of religious faith represent all the worst elements of French political life, the very sources of France’s social and political instability. French revolutionaries had destroyed the monarchy and the Catholic Church, making the nation a secular and socialist republic. It was the absence of religious moral restraint that had permitted the slaughter in the Reign of Terror of more than 70,000 people in the name of perfecting humanity. This same secular irreligion in the 20th century was to murder as many as one-hundred-million people in Soviet Russia, National Socialist Germany, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Cambodia, and other liberal-progressive-socialistic countries.