Saturday, April 14, 2012

Russell Kirk on the differences between the American and French Revolutions

That's the topic of this post by Darrin Moore over at The Imaginative Conservative.  As Moore explains, Kirk understood that the Americans had a much stronger sense of continuity at the heart of our revolution, rather than the violent and frankly barbarous discontinuity that lay at the heart of the French Revolution.  Well worth a read.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The differences between the American and French Revolutions are debatable, aren't they?

Reason was of foremost importance to the French Revolution, but not more so than the American Revolution, except for one fact, we had no class that was "above the law". Government was to be limited, and in the French Revolution this was not the case. Extravagance expenditures and high taxes led to resentment of the French middle and lower classes. And an all our resistance to authority led to dictatorship because there was an established order.

Early America had no established order, but sought one after the conflict of taxation without Representation (similar to the French, I would think). Government was to be limited, so that class warfare would never be the case in our society, as long as we could keep the Republic through Constitutional guidelines!

secularsquare said...

Your point on class is an important one. The existence of aristocratic classes in France gave that revolution a different character.
The American Revolution did not seek to overthrow the existng social order in Britain or North America. No formal aristocracy had established itself. And those loyalists who could have served as a reactionary element fled to Canada by the tens of thousands. In France, however, an entrenched aristocracy existed as a counterrevolution force, aided by enemies of the revolution abroad.

secularsquare said...

This relates to one weakness in the article at IC. The writer contrasts the colonial appeal to "chartered rights of Englishmen" with the French appeal to "abstract theories of government." The first claim is true. But once we decided to "disolve those political bands, etc. etc." we turned to abstract theory to explain the origins and purposes of government and why it can be altered or abolished. I can't think of any "chartered rights of Frenchmen" to which French revolutionaries could appeal. Perhaps their only option was to abolish the monarchy and the aristocracy, along with the religious props that supported them, and start anew.