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“It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” — Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790
The burning streets, the rioters, the divisions stoked by fear, and a deep, underlying force of destruction points to anarchists and Marxists fomenting violence modeled after a Maoist-style revolution. But America had its Revolution. We are teetering on the very precipice of a Counterrevolution of 1790s France. Sparked by an uprising of an underclass against an oppressive monarchy and demands for a new form of government, a utopian, egalitarian dream was overtaken by political turmoil and social unrest. And we, like the French almost 230 years earlier, are headed straight to the Reign of Terror.
There are people foolish enough to cheer the comparison between the violent, civil uprisings in major cities across America to the French Revolution. “They were overthrowing a monarchy!” “The people demanded rights!” “It was inspired by the American fight for Independence!” But what is left out is the reality of a revolution based on the destruction of tradition and history, contempt for accumulated wisdom, and a disregard for the value of prudence in a civil society. For the Revolutionaries in France, a new political theory was the ideal; a new structure based on the deism of Man was the foundation; and a willful ignorance of man’s corruptible nature was its end. The idea that there is a point in society where there is no longer use for debate is a dangerous place to be. It might be the most dangerous.
America’s Founding Fathers and the authors of the Constitution were visionaries. It was a revolutionary idea of the nation people to whom government was subservient. But the foundations were laid in the ideas of hundreds of years of wisdom, debate, and histories, all constrained by the acknowledgment that man’s rights are bestowed to him by a higher power. Montesquieu, Hobbes, the Magna Carta – all ideas that lent themselves to the birth of the American Experiment. It was not a casting-off of history as shackles, but seeing the importance of history as a foundation to be built upon and from which to learn. It is a signal of humbleness, not arrogance; unpretentiousness, not aristocratic; modesty, not exaltedness. Like the Revolutionaries of France, America’s counterrevolutionaries see America’s history as so deeply flawed that it cannot coexist with a just society. They want to construct a new society from scratch, in a construct as a mirror image of their own ideas, their own woke faith, their own self-serving caste. So we see the toppling of monuments, the burning of buildings, and the defacement of public art and statues. People who see America as inherently evil and a nation so deeply, irredeemably flawed, every symbol of its past and present must be destroyed. This is a great tragedy of our time- not just as an obtuse display of a raging mob, but because those monuments are a symbol of the beauty of which man is capable of creating. When the statue of Frederick Douglass was torn down in Rochester, New York last month, it wasn’t just a gross display of a mob of wreckers, it was a blatant contempt for the enduring nature of the American people to correct injustice where it is found.
But the American left, like the Jacobins before them, see nothing beyond the absolutist philosophy of their own creation. There is no reverence for history, nor tradition, nor any utility in the institutions that bind communities together. In 1792 France, as Edmund Burke saw it, a new order was created that started with the ideal and descended into the practical. It is an inherently flawed position. It ignores the raw material of man: that although we are capable of reason, goodwill, and compassion, we also have an endless capacity for narcissism, jealousy, and destruction. Our weakness lies in ceding responsibility for our failings to a tyranny – whether it is that of a majority or vocal minority – that promises to assuage our guilt in the name of justice. During the Terrors, the impure of thought or the disloyal were marched to the guillotine to meet their fate. Now, the mob cries out for public shaming and cancellation for any hints at dissent or refusing to surrender to the thought police.
As the purity tests get more precise, as the list of acceptable opinions gets shorter, the consequences for disobeying woke-think get more dramatic. It is not enough to want justice for George Floyd, one must want the abolition of the police. It’s not enough to take a stand against racism, one must be anti-racist. It’s not enough to support equal opportunities, one must demand race, sex, and gender quotas. But what the fair-minded do will never be enough. The demands will never end because there is no end. The goal is not to be always moving towards creating a free and equal America, the goal is to destroy America. The Hydra of the radical left has been successful at creating new rules for the culture faster than we have at creating protections against the intimidation tactics used to enforce those rules. The ridicule of the traditional family structure, caricatures in popular culture about Orthodox Christians and Jews- or even those who believe in conservative values – are represented as prudes and bigots. The media uses children as walking billboards for transgenderism, gun control, and sexual exploitation. If anyone has seen the breathless applause for Desmond is Amazing, there can be no question the liberal agenda at work. Even now, as parents fight for their children’s education, government officials and media scare-mongers are casting doubts about homeschooling efforts, private school, and religious education options.
Most importantly, the reason this Counterrevolution against the ideals of the American Revolution have carried on this far is the successful silencing of political debate. There is little time for intellectual ideas and a quest for compromise when leaders purposefully confuse argumentative platitudes for independent thought and honest attempts at accommodation. The radical left has taken advantage of the average American’s virtuous compassion, and forced compliance in its stead. Why? Because to the Counterrevolutionaries, just as with the French, they believe they have all answers. Theirs are the only viable solution. Any debate is a personal attack and must be shut down. But imagine if Americans never debated slavery, or civil rights. What if people assumed they knew all there was to know about the earth in 1491? The thirst for knowledge must never be quenched. The desire for a better future must never be put out. The yearning for a more virtuous America must never be a closed debate just as man’s capacity for power over one another must never be underestimated. The chaos and violence and turmoil that grew out of the French Revolution gave rise to a notorious dictator. Let us make sure we don’t give rise to one of our own.Published in