Pursuing Liberty

 

 

The United States of America is the most revolutionary land based on the most revolutionary idea in the history of mankind.

A year before I married my husband, my best friend from childhood married a Frenchman. She became a French citizen the year before I became an American citizen, and for her that meant that – in her little town – she got to open the Bastille-day ball by dancing with the mayor.

I remember being happy for her but, at the same time, both feeling the vast superiority of my journey to becoming an American citizen (even if I never danced with a mayor) and the vague uneasiness of celebrating bastille day.

Because America was founded in a revolution and because most people writing our entertainment are historically illiterate in that way that only Americans (prosperous and secure [still. Relatively] within a vast country can afford to be) movies and many books tend to resonate with sympathy for other revolutions: the French and the Russian revolution foremost.

They should not. They should not even if the temptation is understandable and even if some of the founding fathers were at first sympathetic before turning away in horror at the results.

Oh, I’ll grant you both revolutions looked similar up front. They were both the work of the educated middle class (the sans culottes were a blunt weapon, not the real revolutionaries) and they both originated on the ideas of the Enlightenment.

The similarity ends there. The French revolution, the Russian revolution and the endless revolutions throughout most of the twentieth century are of a kind and kin with much, much older uprisings. Regardless of the clothes they wear and the names they partake, they have more in common with what the iksos did to Egypt or what the Germanic underclass did to Rome. (An invasion? Well, kind of… only we’ve found that this is not necessarily true. Actually, in Rome’s case at least, it had been trickling over the border for centuries.) It was an uprising of the “formerly powerless” and what they wanted was to seize the place of the upper classes and rule as the upper classes had ruled. This always ends with the new upper class devouring each other and rivers of blood drowning all vestiges of civilization until a dictatorship takes over to impose order.

This is because the revolutions are fights over power – not fights over liberty. As with most human trouble, it starts with the words. The words at the beginning.

The French – and most other revolutionaries – fought for ideals of an abstract and high nature “Liberte, fraternite, egalite.” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to any of them – Lafayette included – that by mandating fraternite and egalite they were denying the liberte. And the fraternity and equality one being a lofty feeling, and the other an absolute measurement always prone to more and finer adjustment, both could be used as levers for the new upper classes to get more and more tyrannical power, until you could be executed as an “aristo” because you knew how to read or you wore glasses. Or you had one plate more than your destitute neighbor.

Americans, on the other hand, based their revolution on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You are free to pursue happiness. You have equality under the law on your right to pursue it.

No one guarantees you will catch it or that you’ll be happy when you do it. Well, at least we didn’t use to. In the twentieth century the statist excesses have infected even the US, and we’ve regulated more and more how equal you have to be and how much happiness you can attain and how much is “good for you.” This is a wrong path.

It’s impossible to look at this and not think of a quote from Heinlein, in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It should surprise no one I can’t find my copy, because that book moves all over the house, though I own something like five copies of it, I swear the kids are playing smuggler (from Canticle for Leibowitz) and burying them in the background against the hard times. However, I read it recently.

After discussing the Luna declaration of independence, Prof Bernardo de la Paz admits he stole the words from Thomas Jefferson and asks Manny if he remembers who that was: “Yes,” Manny says (I’m not quoting exactly) “He freed the slaves.” Prof responds, “Could be argued he tried to, but they caught him at it.*”

The difference between life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and liberte, equality and fraternity is the difference between being a wild-eyed revolutionary or simply playing one (or being manipulated into becoming one) to get a new class into power.

Because once you mandate equality, you fall into the trap of another Heinlein quote. You see, men weren’t created equal, and as I’ve pointed out at length there is only a creative minority and of that minority there is only a minority actually willing to work hard. But it is those minorities that advance civilization. The genius of America has always been to let those minorities do the work. This revolutionary arrangement has led to the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of mankind, a nation that has lifted the whole world out of poverty.

Good job. Now don’t get cocky. Remember:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as “bad luck.” (Robert A. Heinlein.)

Happy Fourth Of July. Keep on Revolting.

*anyone bringing up nonsense about Jefferson and Sally Hemmings is subjected to the penalty of having Lin Wicklund explain the facts of life to them. If you don’t know who Lin Wicklund is, you’ll find out. Also, judging great men by the standards of a much later time is a device of midgets on stilts, trying to piss on the heads of giants. You only make yourself small.

 

*Crossposted at Classical Values*

21 responses to “Pursuing Liberty

  1. Lin… facts of life? do say more…

  2. Someone posted a blog about DNA having “proved” that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemmings children. I posted a comment to set the matter straight. Sarah happened to read the blog, *and* figured out I’d written the dissenting comment :-)

    • And here is the place where I quote C.S. Lewis’ “The Professor” from Lion, Witch & Wardrobe: Don’t they teach Logic in the schools anymore?

      That DNA “proof” proved only that its proponents are ignorant of logic, DNA, genetics, and humanity. Aside from that, case closed.

  3. PavePusher

    Oooo, link? Sounds like a “good read”. B.E.G.

  4. Kate Paulk

    I second the link request :) I’m sure there’ll be interesting reading there…

    • I don’t know of Lin’s comment, but one of the best written pieces on the “controversy” in my mind is http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1015/article_detail.asp

      • Hadn’t read that one, (thansk for the link) but I’ve read quite a bit of the evidence from the household books and ledgers, etc (long before the DNA test) which make a pretty convincing case for her children to have been fathered by Thomas Jefferson’s brother’s son (note: they would all have shared in the same paternal markers from their common, male ancestor). The sensationalists looked no further than “male of Jefferson’s lineage” and jumped to conclusions.

  5. Neil Frandsen

    Actually, the persons on stilts will, most likely, forget to check the wind, and try Upwind leaking, or Downwind leaking. Either, in strong winds, leads to very damp cullottes and even, in very high winds, dampened decolettages….
    in “Fate is the Hunter”, there is also the wry note, about the Genie that humbles the Science of Aeronautics, by opening his pants, and {following is PC-13 corrected}= wetting down the area.

  6. I would *love* to supply the link, but, honestly, neither of us can remember. Possibly it was a link from Instapundit (yeah, tha’ll narrow it down! ;-) )

  7. As I said at CV: I would argue that ours is the only revolution that has ever occurred. The rest of them have been usurpations.

    A usurper doesn’t aim to eliminate the king, only to replace him. The French and Russian “revolutions” were all about eliminating the ruling class and elevating a new one. Their slogans, boiled down to the essentials, were the same: “Things will be all better when we’re in charge instead of them.” Meet the new boss…

    The idea that nobody should be “in charge” was and remains what was revolutionary. Too bad so few of our modern bien piensants are willing to buy in on it.

    As an aside: email me about my experience with self-publishing. Most extraordinarily gratifying.

    Regards,
    Ric

    • Ric,

      Send me a message on facebook and I’ll send you my email.

    • Arguably the previous English Revolution – the glorious one where we kicked out James II – was a true revolution. The gentry as a whole essentially chose William of Orange and in the process made it very clear that there was no divine right of kings – parliament was the king maker and purse holder. Kings just did the nasty bit of running things

  8. “… judging great men by the standards of a much later time is a device of midgets on stilts, trying to piss on the heads of giants”

    This one is going in my quotes file :)

  9. Snorri Godhi

    “You see, men weren’t created equal”

    Sorry to be sarcastic, but have you actually read the Declaration of Independence?

    As for the exceptionalism of the American Revolution: it looks quite exceptional if you compare it to Animal-Farm revolutions, such as the English (1640–1660), French (both 1789 and 1848), Russian, Chinese, and Iranian. It looks less exceptional when compared to the Barons’ Revolt, the Dutch Revolution, the English Revolution (1688), and the revolutions of 1989 and 1991, to mention just a few.
    That’s not to say that the American Revolution was not exceptional: it was exceptional, but not in the way described in this post; and it was based on the foundations of the 1688 revolution.

    • Yes, I did — but the point of it is to make them equal before the law. I don’t think the founding fathers were saying that humans were identical clones. Sorry if I forgot to specify that. They meant humans were equal before G-d and therefore should be equal before the law, not that the final result SHOULD be mandated. Also, while on that, yeah, those revolutions… didn’t hold al too well, did they? As for the revolutions of 1989/91, those are barely old news and lack the historical perspective. I have already told Francis the 1688 revolution is one of my blank spots (we all have them) in history learning — I am getting to it as I can — however, my understanding (and it could be completely wrong) was that it had a strong religious/puritan element. If so, that alone makes it quite different from the American revolution. No, I don’t care if the founding fathers were religious (I believe they were) but they did not mandate religion in the constitution.

  10. Snorri Godhi

    “Yes, I did [read the Declaration of Independence] — but the point of it is to make them equal before the law.”

    Yes, it was easy to see you meant that. What you did NOT explain is: what makes you think that the French did NOT mean egalite’ before the Law?
    The way I see it, the American and French Rev. were based on very similar PRINCIPLES (as you implied). The difference in outcome is mostly due to the fact that the US Founding Fathers were realists, not fantasists; and understood that abstract principles must be embodied in constitutional checks+balances.

    “Also, while on that, yeah, those revolutions… didn’t hold al too well, did they? As for the revolutions of 1989/91, those are barely old news and lack the historical perspective.”

    The American Revolution also lacks historical perspective by your own standards: the USA has survived for barely a couple of centuries.
    The Dutch Republic lasted almost as long as a republic, but The Netherlands is still independent.

    You want a stable constitutional government, look at the Venetian Republic: that lasted a thousand years, or more; and in far more difficult circumstances than the USA.

    “I have already told Francis the 1688 revolution is one of my blank spots (we all have them) in history learning”

    May I recommend The English Revolution by GM Trevelyan: I don’t know if it’s the best book on the subject, but it’s a very good book.
    And btw, I am reading Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Regime et la Revolution, and I cannot recommend it too strongly.

    “however, my understanding (and it could be completely wrong) was that it had a strong religious/puritan element.”

    “a strong religious element” is ambiguous: there was an anti-Catholic motivation, but it was based on strategic considerations about national independence.
    After the Revolution, Anglicans and Puritans had to reach a compromise, which means they had to leave a degree of religious freedom.
    I did say that the American Revolution is exceptional — but it is not easy to define the way in which it is exceptional.

    A few more revolutions which should not be forgotten (this is not an exhaustive list):
    * the overthrow of the monarchies in Athens and Rome: that worked pretty well for them, didn’t it?
    * the wars of independence of the Lombard League, the Swiss Confederation, and Flanders.

    The latter happened at about the same time as the Barons’ Revolt: a good time for European freedom, especially since German and French cities gained partial self-government at about the same time (without revolutions afaik).

    Sorry about the long reply.

    • Snorri Ghodi: 1) Please denote *whom* you are quoting, and where that quote ends and your remarks begin.

      2) Snorri said: “What you did NOT explain is: what makes you think that the French did NOT mean egalite’ before the Law?”

      Lin W remarks: Perhaps the rivers of blood of anyone considered “better” or “higher class” would have been a pretty good first clue?

      3) I can NOT believe that you equated the Clusterf*ck that happened in the former Soviet Union with the American Revolution. That, in and of itself, means that you are not qualified to have a serious discussion on this subject.

      Your later comments on the French Revolution have cemented that first impression into an absolute certainty.

      You are doing the equivalent of reading a discussion of a Bach masterpiece and attempting to say it’s on par with a two-fingered rendition of “Happy Birthday To You”. The equivalence exists only in your mind, and no where else.

  11. Actually the Revolutions of 1989/91 were announced officially when the US and the Soviet Union exchanged defense ministers (Caspar Weinberger in our case). That would have been the summer of 1988 IIRC. Exchange of Defense Ministers is the usual way of signaling the end of a war without a formal declaration.

    • OK, let’s play this game. The United States of America — revolted against a world super power, did not overturn said super power, so had to slug it out and win. Came up with a Constitution of checks and balances designed to keep power out of the hands of a centralized government.

      Soviet Union — clusterf*cked itself into non-existence, and then the Daughter Of Cluster*ck (TM) sort of kind of moved in to make sure somebody kept the tax money coming to Moscow. Centralized government is everything.

      I, honestly, can see *no* similarity between the two. None. Nada. Zip. Nyet ne mnogo.

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