Is America headed for a French-style revolution along the lines of the one in 1789?
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. , said as much in a tweet comparing Democrats to French revolutionaries.
But some of the answers to him were odd, to say the least.
Dan Saltzstein, an editor at The New York Times, responded in a now-deleted tweet:
“The French Revolution, you say? In which economic and social inequality resulted in the constitution of a republic and a democratic overthrow of a monarchy? That French Revolution?”
Katelyn Burns, a writer for Vox, in a tweet that likewise has since been deleted, composed :”Ah yes, the French Revolution, which threw an out of touch royalty and aristocracy from power to put in an American-style democracy. Really an evil forebear for… *checks notesAmerican democracy.”
The French Revolution wasn’t a forebear of American authorities, that need to be clear to any sober student of history.
The French Revolution–compared to the American Revolution–turned from the limited aim of ending random authorities to a maximalist goal of overturning all society and culture in the name of liberte, egalite, fraternite–independence, equality, and fraternity.
It finished with none of those things–just years of violence along with the birth of a more complete tyranny.
Unfortunatelyit looks like odes into the French Revolution are not exclusive to Twitter. A few protesters have picked up on the idea that they will bring a French-style revolution into the U.S.
In Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone–since renamed the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP–protesters chanted a Couple of weeks before:
“Does anybody know what happened to the people who did not get on board with the French Revolution?”
“Chopped” was the answer, an oblique reference to the guillotine.
That is true. However, what happened together with the revolution to people who have been on board? They got chopped.
Surely, the French people had innumerable reasons for discontent with the Ancien Regime, the French monarchy, which had become profoundly corrupt and uncontrollable in its rule.
Many fantastic minds of the era, among them Thomas Jefferson, who had been an ambassador to France, bought into the idea that the French Revolution could simply be a continuation of what had happened in America only a few short years before, and that it was a essential counter to a dysfunctional and violent method that originated in France.
“[Jefferson’s] years in France revealed the palpable moral decay of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, the autocratic and hierarchical arrangement of the Bourbon monarchy, along with the diffident disinterest in responsibility of the aristocracy,” historian Miles Smith IV wrote for The Washington Examiner. “This convinced Jefferson the French people suffered a government entirely unresponsive to the basic functions and demands of society.”
On that, Jefferson was right.
But quite soon after the famed storming of the Bastille in 1789, the French Revolution turned into wanton violence, destruction, and mass killings, eventually consuming most of its leading adherents.
As revolutionaries reasoned that their maximalist goals at leveling society couldn’t be achieved through the slow process of deliberation, compromise, and genuine tolerance, they started destroying artwork, figurines, and property–both private and public –at the iconoclastic urge to repudiate the social mores of the nation’s past.
The radicals did so as they turned to outright killing of their enemies of the present. Mass purges of artwork and symbols turned into mass executions of the enemies of the revolution.
Tens of thousands were murdered and executed throughout France since the revolution swallowed itself.
Even Maximilien Robespierre, dubbed”the incorruptible,” who led the Reign of Terror, saw its judgment when he and a bunch of his Jacobin supporters went to the guillotine.
Jefferson and several other American observers who originally supported the revolution finally turned off in disgust.
As with the majority of history’s revolutions, the French version simply went full circle. \1 regime was replaced by another one, one in many ways absolutist compared to past and more callous.
In the maelstrom of the anarchy and ruthless self-destruction came forth a dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte. Order was restored by bonaparte in France, but brought the revolution after tearing a violent swath across Europe\.
Then, to cap it off, the hated monarchy was restored, just a generation after the fateful storming of the Bastille.
It is noteworthy that the Constitution of the United States went into effect in 1789the same year as the storming of the Bastille and launching of the French Revolution.
Since that time, the system created by our Founding Fathers delivered as well as prolonged liberty to posterity because we forged a”more perfect union,” from the words of the preamble to the Constitution and of Abraham Lincoln.
At a republic founded mostly by slaveholders, slavery was abolished”four score and seven years” afterwards, in big part due to our longstanding adherence to the timeless principles of this Declaration of Independence that”all men are created equal.”
Also, notably, because Americans have an attachment to the rule of law and also self-government, we have an attachment to ordered liberty.
The vengeful frenzy of the French Revolution produced neither liberty, nor equality, and certainly not fraternity.
Americans have normally believed in building upon the Constitution rather than burning it, even when society has seemed unjust, and it has certainly been far, far more unjust previously than anything else we see today.
On the other hand, since 1789, France has had four republics and its share of monarchs and emperors.
Which path was the sober–if controversial –path of the American Revolution or the bloody, lawless, and unrestrained French Revolution?
It is not a challenging choice.