Sunday, April 8, 2018

Yoram Hazony: The Dark Side of Enlightenment

Yoram Hazony writes an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that takes on recent paeans to the Enlightenment by David Brooks and Steven Pinker. A taste:
... And now there’s Steven Pinker’s impressive new book, “Enlightenment Now,” which may be the definitive statement of the neo-Enlightenment movement that is fighting the tide of nationalist thinking in America, Britain and beyond. 
Do we all crave enlightenment? I don’t. I like and respect Mr. Pinker, Mr. Brooks and others in their camp. But Enlightenment philosophy didn’t achieve a fraction of the good they claim, and it has done much harm.
That's Dr. Hazony's thesis. He is a very learned man who makes many apt points. But there is also a great deal of contention in what he asserts and how he categorizes and understands things. I would argue he is, if anything, just as mistaken as what he tries to refute. 

The way Hazony operates is that the good things for which the Enlightenment tries to take credit for is not "Enlightenment," but something else. The bad things ... well that's "Enlightenment," indeed "dark Enlightenment." The problem is much of what he tries to say isn't Enlightenment actually is Enlightenment, just a different kind of Enlightenment. And much of what he sees as "dark Enlightenment" is actually responsible for "good" things that we'd like to claim.

For instance, Hazony writes:
... When I was a graduate student at Rutgers in the 1980s, the introductory course in modern political theory had a section called “Critics of the Enlightenment.” These figures included more conservative thinkers such as David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. They emphasized the unreliability of “abstract reasoning,” which they believed could end up justifying virtually any idea, no matter how disconnected from reality, as long as it sounded self-evidently true to someone.
But Hume, Smith, certainly and even Burke, arguably were part of the "Enlightenment," just a different wing of it.  Google "Scottish Enlightenment" and you will see what I mean. 

Hazony's treatment of Isaac Newton is equally problematic:
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, founded in 1660, was led by such men as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, decisive figures in physics and chemistry. Again, these were politically and religiously conservative figures. They knew the arguments, later associated with the Enlightenment, for overthrowing political, moral and religious tradition, but mostly they rejected them.
While I can't speak to the Royal Society or Boyle, I think it's wrong to categorize Newton as a "politically and religiously conservative figure[]." He was actually some kind of heterodox unitarian Christian of the Arian variety and like his friend John Locke had to be careful with the way in which he publicly articulated his views. Indeed, Newton, even more so than Locke leaves us with a record of private heterodox sentiments that could have gotten him in serious trouble with the then "politically and religiously conservative" figures in Great Britain who could enforce their orthodoxy with teeth provided by the state. 

But John Locke gets categorized by Hazony as one of the "dark" Enlighteners.  For instance:
One such myth was Locke’s claim that the state was founded on a contract among free and equal individuals—a theory the Enlightenment’s critics understood to be both historically false and dangerous. While the theory did relatively little harm in tradition-bound Britain, it led to catastrophe in Europe. Imported into France by Rousseau, it quickly pulled down the monarchy and the state, producing a series of failed constitutions, the Reign of Terror and finally the Napoleonic Wars—all in the name of infallible and universal reason. Millions died as Napoleon’s armies sought to destroy and rebuild every government in Europe in accordance with the one correct political theory allowed by Enlightenment philosophy. ...
The vast majority of scholars who have studied the religious and political positions of both Locke and Newton would agree it makes no sense to categorize them so differently. Either both were "Enlightenment" during the same time and place in Great Britain or neither were. Both were self proclaimed "Christians"; both privately and secretly held heterodox positions; both cautiously articulated novel ideas in politics, science and theology attempting to give a veneer of respectability to the ideas they publicly posited; both were suspected of secret heterodoxy by the orthodox forces of "religious correctness" then in power. 

 America was very influenced by more moderate strains of Enlightenment, those Scottish "common sense" figures that Hazony doesn't want to categorize as Enlightenment. But America was also influenced by what Hazony categorizes as bad or "dark" Enlightenment. 

Just look at what Hazony above wrote about Locke and his "myth was Locke’s claim that the state was founded on a contract among free and equal individuals." Yet this is central to the thought of America's revolution and its Declaration of Independence. 

Notice, I didn't say this is central to the thought of America's Constitution. One could argue, after the East Coast Straussians, that whereas the Declaration is very Lockean, the US Constitution is not. 

Below is what Hazony wants to credit with creating the Constitution:
... The widely circulated 15th-century treatise “In Praise of the Laws of England,” written by the jurist John Fortescue, clearly explains due process and the theory now called “checks and balances.” The English constitution, Fortescue wrote, establishes personal liberty and economic prosperity by shielding the individual and his property from the government. The protections that appear in the U.S. Bill of Rights were mostly set down in the 1600s by those drafting England’s constitutional documents—men such as John Selden, Edward Hyde and Matthew Hale.  
These statesmen and philosophers articulated the principles of modern Anglo-American constitutionalism centuries before the U.S. was created. Yet they were not Enlightenment men. They were religious, English nationalists and political conservatives. They were familiar with the claim that unfettered reason should remake society, but they rejected it in favor of developing a traditional constitution that had proved itself. When Washington, Jay, Hamilton and Madison initiated a national government for the U.S., they primarily turned to this conservative tradition, adapting it to local conditions.
As noted above, we could argue that US Constitution was not "Lockean," therefore, didn't represent Locke's Enlightenment. I would also concede that 17th Century English constitutionalism was a notable source for the US Constitution ("the Laws of England" or "Common Law" was one of Bernard Bailyn's five principle ideological sources for the American Founding).

But what's interesting is that since Washington, Jay, Hamilton and Madison are named -- three of whom authored the Federalist Papers explicitly telling us what they thought of the US Constitution -- we might look to their writings and see who they sourced. And I don't think it matches what Hazony attempts to argue.

Indeed Donald Lutz et al. authored a notable study, very often used by Christian Nationalists to show abundant biblical citations in the founding record. But what is often overlooked is that the biblical citations abounded during the revolutionary period, not during the framing of the US Constitution.

This was Lutz's conclusion on the framing of the US Constitution:
The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalist's inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.
So Lutz et al. credit "Enlightenment rationalism" for the Constitution. Also interesting is that when "biblical" citations were abounding during America's revolutionary period they tended to be in sermons, many of which also cited Locke and his "dark Enlightenment" ideas in the form of a synthesized political theology.

This presents a problem for Dr. Hazony when he attempts to connect the "Enlightenment" of the French Revolution to Marx.
... Mr. Pinker’s 450-page book doesn’t mention the French Revolution. Mr. Pinker cites Napoleon as an “exponent of martial glory” but says nothing about his launching a universal war in the name of reason. These writers also tend to pass over Karl Marx’s debt to the Enlightenment. Marx saw himself as promoting universal reason, extending the work of the French Revolution by insisting that the workers of the world stop (again in Mr. Brooks’s words) “deferring blindly to authority.” The “science” Marx developed “from the ground up” killed tens of millions in the 20th century.
But we've seen Hazony connect Locke to the French Revolution and I noted Locke's centrality to the American Revolution. Look. These are all distinct events. We can connect and distinguish among all of them. If if we can connect, which I think you can, the French Revolution to Marxists revolutions, and likewise connect the American Revolution (through Locke) to the French Revolution, it follows we can connect the American Revolution to Marxists revolutions.

And indeed, many Americans at the time (according to John Adams 1/3 of the population) supported the French Revolution. When political parties emerged much to the consternation of Washington, the Democratic-Republicans as a group, led by Jefferson and Madison supported the French Revolution with Madison in 1792 connecting the two as follows:
In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example and France has followed it, of charters of power granted by liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world, may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant epoch of its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness. We look back, already, with astonishment, at the daring outrages committed by despotism, on the reason and the rights of man; We look forward with joy, to the period, when it shall be despoiled of all its usurpations, and bound for ever in the chains, with which it had loaded its miserable victims.
This sounds to me like Madison is crediting "Enlightenment" for the American Revolution and its connected successor in France.


Tom Van Dyke said...

If if we can connect, which I think you can, the French Revolution to Marxists revolutions, and likewise connect the American Revolution (through Locke) to the French Revolution, it follows we can connect the American Revolution to Marxists revolutions.

Um, no. This is the mistake of the Enlightenment praisers such as Pinker, a lumping of two coeval but essentially different philosophies. The continental Enlightenment of the philosophes was in the end at odds with the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment that fueled the American experiment.

This is Hazony's core argument against Pinker.

You can, however, link the continental Enlightenment to Hegel and then Marx. But that is an argument irrelevant to the American context.

All in all, it's a mess [Rousseau particularly]. I prefer to treat America as sui generis. As is our custom, we took the best from all, and ignored the rest--even from the same author.

The flour is what matters, and not the mill, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote in his notebook in 1799. ‘When we ask what time it is, we don’t want to know how watches are constructed.’

A telling assertion, considering Lichtenberg’s place and time. For nearly two centuries, the ‘mechanical philosophy’ had ground down tradition and metaphysics into reason and material processes. Enlightenment metaphors were mechanical: God as the divine watchmaker; or, in Leibniz’s image, the Cartesian mind and body as two clocks, synchronised but separate. As an experimental physicist, Lichtenberg practised the Enlightenment method, experiment and induction. But his frustration with matter and reason was Romantic. He was ready, in Anthony Gottlieb’s formulation, for the rest of modern philosophy, beginning with the deep-diving, muddy Germans.

As are we, after reading The Dream of Enlightenment. Gottlieb’s survey of
philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance, The Dream of Reason (2000), has been acclaimed as a modern classic. Its sequel, an expert account of mechanical scepticism and political theory from Descartes to Voltaire, is the lucid central panel of a triptych. If Gottlieb can pull off his final volume, he will surely supplant Bertrand Russell as the undergraduate’s guide.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Gottlieb frames each thinker in his historical context. Hobbes hedges his bets after the English Civil War, Spinoza reacts against the newly observant Sephardim of Amsterdam, and Rousseau cannot stand anyone else. Their potted biographies are limned in sharp lines, but the primary colours of personal eccentricity are balanced with the secondary and tertiary complexities of intellectual life. Descartes solicits Hobbes’s comments on Meditations, then ridicules his correspondent. Hobbes and Spinoza share cryptic similarities on the possibility of miracles and the nature of God. Hume hides his contempt for priestly doctrine beneath a veil of Georgian manners, and covets the afterlife, not of the soul but of intellectual immortality. Leibniz the polymath pokes holes in Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, plans the reunification of the churches, and designs a calculating machine — only to suffer posthumous deflation in Candide by Voltaire, who is more of a polemicist than a philosopher.

Kant, one of the few Enlightenment philosophers to teach in a university, simplified the history of philosophy into a team sport: the empiricists (Aristotle and Locke) versus the rationalists (Plato and Liebniz). The lines are not so clear in life, and Gottlieb, a former editor of the Economist, is tough on his students. Stephen Pinker is marked down for unfounded generalisation about Hobbes, Rousseau, and the ‘state of nature’. Prince Charles wears the dunce’s hat for attributing environmental degradation to Descartes’s mind-body split. Bertrand Russell and Isaiah Berlin are reprimanded for linking Rousseau’s defence of coercion to 20th-century totalitarianism.

Truth, Leibniz wrote, ‘is more widespread than people think’; but we, Gottlieb shows, remember what we can use. Descartes was less possessed by problems of mind and knowledge than mathematics. Hobbes’s horror stories of war and anarchy were warnings, evidence for his argument that people need peace, ‘whether they realise it or not’. The philosophes shared a trust in new thinking, but could not agree on a political programme; Voltaire,
Gottlieb writes, ‘could not agree on such a programme even with himself’.

We remember Thomas Jefferson’s praise of Locke, the philosophical precursor to the American constitution. But in his lifetime, Locke was a philosopher of knowledge, not tolerance or revolution. He also had been ‘something of a political Hobbist in his youth’. Gottlieb detects a nasty, brutish and long streak of Hobbesian solutions in Locke’s thought. In 1661, Locke wrote that ‘a general freedom is but a general bondage’; in 1669, he wrote a feudal constitution for colonial Carolina; in 1697, seven years after the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, he proposed cruel controls and punishments for unemployed workers in England.

Gottlieb also shuns the other team sport of the period: the game of the Enlightenment versus the Counter-Enlightenment, with rules codified by Isaiah Berlin, and Rousseau playing for both sides. As for whether mechanical philosophy and universal rationalism sowed the seeds of totalitarianism, Gottlieb cites the philosophers of the Judean People’s Front: ‘What has the Enlightenment done for us?’

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Um, no. This is the mistake of the Enlightenment praisers such as Pinker, a lumping of two coeval but essentially different philosophies. The continental Enlightenment of the philosophes was in the end at odds with the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment that fueled the American experiment.

"This is Hazony's core argument against Pinker.

"You can, however, link the continental Enlightenment to Hegel and then Marx. But that is an argument irrelevant to the American context."

But we have NO LESS THAN James Madison linking the American Revolution with the French Revolution.

As I noted in my original piece, ALL THREE EVENTS WERE DISTINCT. Whatever their differences, the philosophies of the American and French Revolutions have more in common than either do with Marxist revolutions.

You can either link all three or distinguish all three. It's pure "law office" to say, it's "A," but not "B & C." We could just as easily argue, "it's A & B," but not "C," etc., etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The point is that it's "lumping" and conceals more than it reveals. The French Revolution at first may have looked like ours but proved not to be. Hamilton went there and was appalled. Edmund Burke, who was just across the English Channel from it, smelled a rat right away.

This is sloppy history and even worse philosophy. There is a component of getting away from [religious] "dogma," but that is better understood in terms of Catholicism, which Protestant America had already escaped, and which France would only escape via a hostility to the Church, indeed even a murderous hostility.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Whatever "sloppiness" in whatever "disciplines" that occurs when we "lump" two different events applies to "lumping" the French Revolution with whatever came after it as well. That applies to "lumping" the FR with Marx.

The AR and FR are are WAY more connected to one another than the FR is to Marx. This is simply an unanswerable factual claim.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Fair enough; it's outside my wheelhouse and certainly not a hill I want to die on. I think Hegel's in the middle of it somewhere.

The question of modernity is also in there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And further complicating the "What is the Enlightenment" or "Which Enlightenment?" questions, this piece argues that Hume and even Locke were suspect as philosophers in "our" Anglo-American Enlightenment.

The Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense originated as a protest against the philosophy of the greatest Scottish philosopher. Hume’s sceptical conclusions did not excite as much opposition as might have been expected. But in Scotland especially there was a good deal of spoken criticism which was never written; and some who would have liked to denounce Hume’s doctrines in print were restrained by the salutary reflection that if they were challenged to give reasons for their criticism they would find it uncommonly difficult to do so. Hume’s scepticism was disliked, but it was difficult to see how it could be adequately met.

At this point Thomas Reid stepped into the field. He was the only man of his time who really understood the genesis of Hume’s scepticism and succeeded in locating its sources. At first sight it would seem that this discovery required no peculiar perspicuity. It would seem that nobody could help seeing that Hume’s sceptical conclusions were based on Locke’s premises, and that Hume could never be successfully opposed by any critic who accepted Locke’s assumptions. But this is precisely one of those obvious things that is noticed by nobody. And in fact Reid was the first man to see it clearly. It thus became his duty to question the assumptions on which all his own early thought had been based. The result of this reflection was the conclusion that, since the “ideal theory” of Locke and Berkeley logically led to Hume’s scepticism, and since scepticism was intolerable, that theory would have to be amended, or, if necessary, abandoned.


This is not to say that Locke's political ideas on life and liberty were not routinely embraced. Our Founders were not genuine philosophers, only "gentlemen." But the weeds get much taller when you get to the actual philosophy part.

This is where the question of modernity comes in. Modernity [French revolution, Hegel, Marx] believe in human progress and a perfectibility of man through social politics. Our Founders believed they were part of some palpable progress, but I think it was not in building a better system, but merely in shedding the old--a different matter entirely. They saw republicanism and constitutionalism as part of a natural order, whereas modernity seeks to conquer nature with human ideas and the human will.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The Liberty Fund is a great resource on the Scottish Enlightenment, something which has a lot which we have yet to review in detail here.

My online friend the late Ron Hamowy, if I am not mistaken, was responsible for most of the original content; but he passed away and it has since been updated.

There will always be a problem with categorization. For instance, John Locke textually appeared to be closer to conventional religion than Hume (even though the orthodox tended not to trust Locke and he didn't affirm orthodoxy).

But Hazony categorizes Hume as a skeptic of Enlightenment, in particular Locke's Enlightenment. Hume certainly was a skeptic of Locke's "state of nature"/social contract and rights notion that Hobbes originally posited and Rousseau later did (in three different forms).

jimmiraybob said...

”The point is that it's "lumping" and conceals more than it reveals.”

Exactly right. Lumping smooths over irregularities and inconvenient complexities and make for digestible narratives that can be further honed to smooth out any apparent contradictions.

”The French Revolution at first may have looked like ours but proved not to be.”

Unfortunately, this statement falls right into the lumping category in presenting the FR as a singular and cohesive event rather than the complex power struggle that it was once there was a vacuum in national leadership. As has been pointed out by historians, including Jonathan Israel, the reason that the FR “at first may have looked like ours” is because it started out much like ours in overall ideology, rhetoric and goals. But, according to Israel et. al., the Jacobin faction won out and, like countless times since Athens lamented the loss of their Democracy and Cicero lamented the fall of the Republic, the once promising revolution turned into a bloodfest that ate half of the original leadership and then ended up with Robespierre. As Israel writes:

”Jacobin ideology and culture under Robespierre was an obsessive Rousseauiste moral puritanism steeped in authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, and xenophobia. Repudiating free expression and basic human rights and democracy, Robespierrists replaced core revolutionary values with an unrelenting emphasis on the need to purify and equalize the people’s moeurs (morals and customs). Everyone remaining in public life had to bend to this. Lanthenas, a publicist earlier prominent in the campaign for unrestricted press freedom, democracy and equality in education, having narrowly escaped imprisonment in June, publically reversed his own former plea for unrestricted liberty of expression of 1791 in his “Bases fondementales de l’instruction publique” (1793).”*

It wasn’t Enlightenment ideals or “mission” that failed it was human failing and bad management. Lumping the start of the FR with the middle and end (Reign of Terror) conceals more than it reveals.

*Jonathan Israel (2014). Revolutionary Ideas; An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre. Princeton University Press, p. 521.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No. If you read the Rights of Man, the "general will" is paramount whereas in America, the Bill of Rights protects the individual from the "general will."

"Law is the expression of the general will," said the French. This sort of democracy is frightening, and we see where it led.

As for leftist scholar Jonathan Israel, even he admits that the so-called Moderate Enlightenment dominated the American mind whereas the "Radical" Enlightenment was primary in France and the continent.

You are confusing his excuse-making for Radicalism and the Reign of Terror with the actual discussion taking place here.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One of Israel's boldest claims is that the French Revolution cannot be explained without detailed attention to the ideas of Radical Enlightenment developed in the twenty to thirty years before 1789. He castigates a generation of historians for their neglect of this crucial intellectual ferment, led by French thinkers and carried on by Dutch publishing houses, but bubbling up everywhere. "The prevailing view about the French Revolution not being caused by books and ideas in the first place may be very widely influential but it is also, on the basis of the detailed evidence, totally indefensible. Indeed, without referring to Radical Enlightenment nothing about the French Revolution makes the slightest sense or can even begin to be provisionally explained."

Taking the story up to the Revolution leads inexorably to the key question of the responsibility of the French revolutionaries for the conflagration that subsequently enveloped Europe from 1792 to 1815. Israel castigates the spokesmen of the moderate Enlightenment for lacking "any political strategy that could conceivably produce the kind of structural changes capable of transforming the existing order so as to diminish the likelihood of war." (129) On questions of domestic order, the moderate Enlightenment mainstream--including such figures as David Hume, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Frederick the Great, Benjamin Franklin, Montesquieu, Turgot, and Voltaire--is seen by Israel as "inherently antidemocratic, anti-egalitarian, and reluctant to concede a full toleration." (236) On the conduct of international relations, he believes, the moderate Enlightenment posed no direct challenge to the dubious ways of the ancien regime, with its fixation on reason of state.


Israel is intent on blaming Robespierre and the "Rousseauist tendency" he represented for the plunge of the Revolution into terror and darkness from early 1793 to mid-1794, when Robespierre's vicious rule was terminated by the guillotine. The Jacobins denounced the spokesmen of the Radical Enlightenment and went after their heads--Condorcet and Paine among the victims, the latter barely escaping with his life--but Robespierre had opposed the call to universal war and revolution in Europe launched by the Girondists, with Brissot de Warville as their spokesman. Whereas Brissot had claimed that "We cannot be calm until Europe, all Europe, is in flames," Robespierre sensibly observed that "Liberty cannot be founded by the use of foreign force." The importance of those decrees can scarcely be overstated; James Madison would later recall, in 1823, that "the British Government thought a war of more than 20 years called for against France by an edict, subsequently disavowed, which assumed the policy of propagating changes of Government in other Countries." [5] Israel does not pay these consequences the heed that they deserve. Having, as it were, set Europe aflame (by his endorsement of the radical diagnosis), he just closes up the historical shop.

Yes, yes. They just didn't do it right. The same old leftist apology for the heinous fruits of radicalism.

What a bore.

jimmiraybob said...

”Law is the expression of the general will (of the people).
These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

- Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789)

The DRM (1789) was drafted by General Lafayette (of American Revolution fame with some input by Thomas Jefferson) and the Count of Mirabeau (later noted as the voice of the people). It preceded the development of the new Constitution and incorporated radical Enlightenment ideas.

Yes. This was a radical expression when and where law was the expression of the King, Noblemen and Church (ancien régime). By placing the foundation of law in the general will of the people it took a step toward protection of the people – “we the people” – and the rest of the document outlines defenses and protections of the individual citizen. Included among those proclaimed rights were; individual opinion and expression, a free press, representative government, accountability in the administration of government, rule of non-arbitrary law for the individual (“All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law…”), separation of governing powers, and the sanctity of private property.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Rhetorically, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man cribbed heavily from the American Founding but perverted it with Radical Enlightenment principles.

And Lafayette ended up fleeing the revolution he helped start,_Marquis_de_Lafayette#Conflict_and_exile

and was only able to re-enter France after Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew it!

jimmiraybob said...

At the heart of the Radical Enlightenment ideology was an emphasis on reason, rights of the individual, egalitarianism, and democratic governance. These core principles were the “radical” in Radical Enlightenment. The right to individual conscience as well as a right to free expression and a government based on input of the people flew directly in the face of the traditional power structures in Europe. Spinoza, his Dutch political influences and his remonstrant friends were advocating for these ideas in the mid to late 18th century. At the core of the Radical Enlightenment was a disdain for monarchy, hereditary aristocracy and ecclesiastical authority in governance. It was the original fight for the 99%.

While the American Revolution incorporated many of the radical ideas it also made many compromises with the existing colonial power structure. The AR could more easily resist a king located across the ocean. In the American colonies the ecclesiastical authority was already more fractured than anywhere in Europe and less entrenched in the political power structure. And the AR didn’t have an entrenched and powerful hereditary aristocracy to overcome. The colonies had, in large part, already achieved the basic structural changes that Europe, and let’s say the French in particular, had not, so there was not such a shocking and abrupt moment of jarring change and resistance.

Still, even though the colonial and the state and then national leadership held onto much of its pre-revolutionary prerogatives and privileges, by producing a representative democratic Republic that was separate from direct ecclesiastical authority and one in which the ideal of egalitarianism and individual autonomy, it had set in place much of the radical agenda. The colonies had stood against monarchy, hereditary aristocracy, and entrenched and direct ecclesiastic authority, institutions anchored in God’s authority – they had stood against tradition and produced something new. And, given the tools and ideals set down in the early years of the Republic, we have steadily expanded the radical franchise closer to those ideals.

So yes, something went wrong with the French revolution that didn’t go wrong with ours. At least not right away. Here, there was the deferred blot of slavery and the violence of the Civil War. There were ensuing decades and centuries of individuals fighting for recognition and expansion of their rights and the franchise. There has always been a struggle against moneyed interests and those who would bow to a supreme authority and work to unravel democratic institutions and egalitarian ideas. But, if you believe in the merits of the radical ideals, so far so good.

We just took a slower road than the French and that may be the key – not that the radical ideals were wrong or perverted but on this side of the ocean we were given and took the time to take voluntary ownership and continue the revolution.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Radical Enlightenment got no soul. That's what went wrong in France, and later, Germany.