The American and French Revolutions Compared

For the past few weeks, before the shooting by a progressive lunatic at the GOP baseball practice and the subsequent rage on all political sides, we here at the HeartBeat have been talking about how our nation’s problems are not in our politics, but in our country’s soul. There has been more talk about a revolution the past few years, and it seems to be growing among both sides of the aisle more than ever.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article for CFP’s blog about how America’s revolution was proceeded by a revival.  I mentioned that, “The Bible tells us that if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Who or what is behind division? In Mark 3:26 Jesus explains it.  And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end….

…The devilish characteristics of greed, power, deception, Covetousness, selfishness, hate, envy and idolatry are behind what’s dividing our country…. Government officials covet their power, and to keep it, they feed off of fear and ignorance, the selfishness and envy of the people by using deception over those who vote for them- giving voters the choice of the lesser of two evils between what has become the same powers.”

Our Founders knew that the government they left us was for a moral people, and if that government should become degenerate, it was because the people have become degenerate. 

I have believed for a long time that the slide of the Christian faith into the world has had a direct impact on our society and politics, and I still believe that.  Just as I still believe a Revolution would not be successful because without a heart change of individuals, people would still vote for their free stuff, their agendas and their desires without thinking of what’s best for the country.

I remembered an article I read about a few years ago, and thought it would be a good one to re- read in light of the further fracturing of our country on all fronts.  There are some real differences between the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and I think it’s important that people heed the lessons from both- because if they keep pushing for it in our day… we will not survive as a country. No matter which side won.

 

The American and French Revolutions Compared by

One of the many differences between the American and French Revolutions is that, unlike the French, Americans did not fight for an abstraction. Americans initially took up arms against the British to defend and preserve the traditional rights of Englishmen. The slogan “no taxation without representation” aptly summed up one of their chief complaints. The right to not be taxed without the consent of your elected representatives was one of the most prized rights of Englishmen. When this became impossible to achieve within the British Empire, Americans declared their independence and then won it on the battlefield. That is, Americans fought for tangible goals; they fought to preserve their traditional rights rather than to overturn an established social order. Ours was a revolution more about home rule than about who should rule at home.

However, the French Revolution was about who should rule at home. They fought for “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Neither equality nor fraternity can be achieved through force by the state. Perfect equality is elusive and, even if it could be achieved, would be inconsistent with liberty. Whereas Americans struggled for tangible goals, the French took on the Sisyphean task of striving for abstractions.

Yes, the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence deals in abstractions and universal truths. However, it is important to keep in mind the Declaration’s historical context. The signers of the Declaration did not think they were establishing a national government or founding a national Union when they signed it. There is not one shred of evidence in the historical record that they believed they had founded either a national government or a permanent Union upon the Declaration’s self-evident truths. They understood that they were signing their names to a document that simply explained why it had become “necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” and that declared “the causes which impel them to the separation.” The Declaration was a document of dissolution. That is, it de-founded an empire, it did not found a new one. In the Declaration, thirteen constitutional political societies declared why it had become necessary for them to sever the political bands which had connected them to England. 

After winning their independence Americans turned to the concrete lessons of history and experience to guide them in securing their liberty by establishing government on a solid foundation. “Experience must be our only guide,” John Dickinson reminded his colleagues at the Philadelphia Convention. “Reason may mislead us.”[1] They sought not to create something new under the sun. Human reason, they knew, was fallible. Reason alone, unguided by history and experience, was likely to lead one into wild abstractions and the creation of an unstable government. Under such a government, novel and untested, liberty would not be secure. The only safe path forward was to look to history and allow experience to guide their reason.

The French, on the other hand, deified Reason above not only experience, but also above religion and divine revelation. Indeed, they even transformed Notre Dame into a Temple of Reason and held pseudo-religious festivals in honor of this new deity. Reason unrestrained and unguided by history and experience proved unable to establish stable government or to secure liberty in France. Instead, it led them to descend into the Terror, the reign of Napoleon, and, ultimately, to the restoration of the monarchy.

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