Monday, July 14, 2014

David Stokes Contrasts the American and French Revolutions

Columnist David R. Stokes contrasts the American and French Revolutions in an opinion piece for The writer of this excellent article is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, ordained minister, commentator, and broadcaster based in Northern Virginia. He's also a personal friend and my former pastor. Follow the link below to the article...

...and let us know what you think in the comments section.



Bill Fortenberry said...

Very well said! Thanks, Brian.

Lee said...

While I share the pastor's concern about collectivism in modern America (which seems to be the real point of his piece), I cannot say that his article adds much to understanding the French Revolution or our own.

He claims the French Revolution was not about liberty. The kinds of historical evidence actually used by historians suggest otherwise . . .

Lee said...

Stokes is correct about the hostility of the French Revolution to revealed religion, but other factors other than the ideas of the "radical Enlightenment" come into play. In France, the established Catholic Church sided with the aristocracy and its hereditary privileges, making themselves enemies of the middle class efforts to abolish the aristocratic order. France had a weak to non-existent tradition of religious dissent. Meanwhile, the American consisted of a middle class society of Protestant dissenters (or followers of a weak provincial Church of England) fighting a war of independence rather than a war to make a social revolution. That makes all the difference in the world.

JMS said...

Brian - What makes an “excellent article” purportedly comparing the American and French Revolutions, and finding the latter event wanting? Is it “excellent” because it fits in with your preconceived notions? Or does it provide some sort of evidence-based insights into complex world-shaping historical events?

It strikes me as typical right-wing French-bashing, based on virtually no attempt to actually understand the French Revolution. As Napoleon Bonaparte once said: “from the sublime to the absurd, ‘tis but one step.”

I agree with Lee when he states that the author “claims the French Revolution was not about liberty,” but “the historical evidence actually used by historians suggest otherwise” (referring to principal author Lafayette’s Declaration of the Rights of Man – 1789, which celebrates its 225th anniversary this year).

While not as eloquent as the American Declaration of Independence, it posited that, “there exist certain natural rights inherent in every society of which not only one nation but all the nations together could not justly deprive an individual.” Lafayette maintained that these rights were not “subject to the condition of nationality,” and they included “freedom of conscience and opinions, judicial guarantees, the right to come and go.” He promoted free trade, religious toleration and freedom of the press. He also spent a lot of his own money to help free slaves in French colonies, and tried to convince Washington and Jefferson to free theirs.

Despite its ugly, sanguinary and dictatorial episodes, often exacerbated by conservative/right-wing reactionary counter-revolutionary movements, the French Revolution ultimately transformed France for the better. “Virtually all the vestiges of feudalism had been abolished; citizens were equal before the law; the aristocracy was no longer a privileged elite exempt from taxes; the right of all children to share equally in inheritance had replaced primogeniture; illegitimate children had won full legal status; Jews and Protestants had been granted civil rights; married couples could divorce; a meritocracy replaced the hegemony of the aristocracy; and the principles of the “rights of man” were broadly respected.”

AC contributors should be more careful before assigning causes, origins or consequences to the French Revolution.

Heureux la fête du 14-Juillet!

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I'm glad the article at the very least mentioned some of the similarities between the two revolutions.

The French revolution did purport to be about "liberty." Likewise the American Revolution did purport to be about "equality" as in "all men are created equal."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Despite its ugly, sanguinary and dictatorial episodes, often exacerbated by conservative/right-wing reactionary counter-revolutionary movements, the French Revolution ultimately transformed France for the better.

The French Revolution replaced a monarchy with a totalitarian terror state, which was then replaced by a warmaking emperor.

Between Revolutionary France's slaughter of Loyalists in Verdun [100-250,000] and various other terrors

some estimates for the revolutionary period run to over 1 million dead.

Then count all the men Napoleon lost [and killed].

The "progressive" gains lionized above came at an impossible price.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Revolutionary France's slaughter of Loyalists in Verdun

I keep doing that. The Vendée, not Verdun.

"In the city of Nantes, the Revolutionary commander Jean-Baptiste Carrier disposed of Vendéean prisoners-of-war in a horrifically efficient form of mass execution. In the so-called "noyades" –mass drownings – naked men, women, and children were tied together in specially constructed boats, towed out to the middle of the river Loire and then sunk.
Now Vendée, a coastal department in western France, is calling for the incident to be remembered as the first genocide in modern history.
Residents claim the massacre has been downplayed so as not to sully the story of the French Revolution.
Historians believe that around 170,000 Vendéeans were killed in the peasant war and the subsequent massacres – and around 5,000 in the noyades.
When it was over, French General Francois Joseph Westermann penned a letter to the Committee of Public Safety stating: "There is no more Vendée... According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands. I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all.""

Lee said...

Yes, TVD, events turned out a little differently than anticipated. While the National Assembly works on a new Constitution, mobs begin roaming the streets a and peasants burn manors. And then the aristocratic emigres exploit their continental connections to secure foreign intervention on behalf of the monarch.

Things begin to go to hell. Revolution is not as easy as it seems to its advocates.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In this respect the revolutions in Britain 100 years before [Puritan Revolution 1640s, cut off the king's head] and the Glorious Revolution [1688, just exiled the king] are more comparable.

But neither Britain nor America saw such wholesale slaughter as in France.

On the religion tip, remember that both Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris visited France and were appalled, and even deist Tom Paine went there "to save them from atheism"!

Are the two related, that without God all things are possible? I think David Stokes might have some luck with that vein.

Brian Tubbs said...

Neither David Stokes (the author of the original article) nor myself (who posted the article) are disputing that there were some noble and commendable sentiments WITHIN the French Revolution. There were, in fact, some very honorable people involved in that affair. But their voices were ultimately drowned out. The French Revolution literally went off the rails, and it remains to this day one of the greatest tragedies in world history.