Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Man: Born Free and Equal

That sentiment is at the heart of modern politics and it's also what connects the American and French Revolutions. I wrote more about it here in one of my more widely read posts at Positive Liberty.

There I quoted political scientist Francis Fukuyama from a CSPAN interview about a book he wrote on the matter:

Now, by the French Revolution, we don’t mean just the limited historical event; what we mean is the emergence of what we understand as modern liberal democracy because in the French Revolution, ultimately what it was about was a revolution in favor of the principles of liberty and equality. Now you could substitute the American Revolution for that because, I think in that kind of ideological sense, those two revolutions were equivalent. I mean, they were both revolutions to create what I earlier defined as a liberal democracy as a political system based on popular sovereignty with guarantees of individual rights.

These "liberal democratic" notions written of in America's Declaration of Independence and France's Declaration(s) of the Rights of man are at the heart (soul?) of "constitutional republicanism." (Of course, the East Coast Straussians argue we need the FORM of constitutional republicanism without its "rights oriented" HEART; but that's a story for another day.)

The difference between today's insistence on freedom and equality and that of the French and American Revolutions is that back then they attached metaphysical or religious essences to liberal democracy, whereas today we tend not to; Fukuyama recognized this in "The End of History and the Last Man" where he noted it was History, NOT "natural right" OR the Bible that would eventually vindicate the universal acceptance of liberal democracy, i.e., the notion that man is born free and equal with "rights" against governments, and governments, consequently, derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

For the non-historicist reading of the eventual universality of liberal democracy, see Ellis Sandoz's political sermons where we see "patriotic preachers" -- some of them unitarian, some of them trinitarian, all of them "enlightened," meaning they injected excessive use of man's "reasoning" into their sermons -- arguing the American and French Revolutions as sister events. AND they thought liberal democracy would terminate with the success of the French Revolution which would usher in a "millennial republic" of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Of course, not all who supported the American Revolution supported the French from the start. Edmund Burke and John Adams didn't and they were outliers. However, the view that the two revolutions were sister events dominated American thought (and much of British Whig thought) at the beginning of the French Revolution.

See the following past posts of mine for more in depth examination of these sermons here, here, here, here and here.


King of Ireland said...

I would agree with you on this. I also advocate the Philosophy of those that believe the Millenium will be one of Liberal Democracies. God gave us a mind and ability to reason. These tools should be used toward attempting to build the most sound government possible.

That is why I take exception to Fraser's stance on Romans 13. What is the point of all the theory of rights and free government if no one has the balls to stand up to to the Hitlers and Cecil Rhodes types of our era? I am also wary of the what Fukuyama and others consider "Liberal Democracy".

Good post! I am going to respond to Fraser soon with a detailed response about Exodus. He said something about you having his email? What about yours?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mine is rowjonathan@aol.com. Email me your response. I'll post it on all three blogs and alert Dr. Frazer.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But Fukayama was wrong about the end of history and the victory of bourgeois liberal democracy; his reputation is in tatters.

That's because he left Strauss and became an adherent and disciple of Alexandre Kojève, the father of the European Union and other modernist nonsense.

Kojève was a friend of Strauss', but his ideas were effectively rebutted in Strauss' classic "On Tyranny" [see "Restatement on the Hiero," and also the Strauss-Kojève correspondence in the back of the book].

Fukayama, Jon. Really. Mediocrity elevated to the level of the ideal. Ugh.

Tom Van Dyke said...

However, the view that the two revolutions were sister events dominated American thought (and much of British Whig thought) at the beginning of the French Revolution...

Yes, and they were wrong, too.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Strauss didn't think Kojève was "mediocre." Ditto for Bloom and his student Fukuyama.

Kojève-vianism [not sure how to correctly spell that] is itself a species of East Coast Straussianism.

Fukuyama may have been wrong about "History" (as were the vast majority of Americans who supported the French Revolution AND present day Americans who supported Iraq II), but his ideas were taken, by most, with the utmost level of seriousness. And I also note, the verdict is still out on History and liberal democracy. When I saw Harvey Mansfield speak at the James Madison program at Princeton, he said something along the lines of "with 9-11, History is back 'on.'"

Fukuyama may be a mediocre thinker (personally I don't think he is). But IF he is, he sure fooled a lot of folks who gave his thesis the time of day.




Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, Jon, I thought you were familiar with "On Tyranny." [The link, BTW, is to the book preview---the interested reader can read for himself the parts I highlighted, particularly the "Restatement."]

It's not Kojève who is mediocre, mon ami, it's the world he envisions. Neither did Strauss think the moderns would not win---he thought it a distinct possibility. But what a colorless future, where the mediocre becomes the standard of excellence, and excellence is no longer sought, necessary, or desirable. Materialism and utilitarianism rule, and create a cold, gray and excruciating dull world.

Indeed, Fukayama echoes Strauss here in his essay in The National Interest:

"The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its North Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again." ---(From ''The End of History?'' By Francis Fukuyama, The National Interest, No. 16, Summer 1989.)Indeed, one should never underestimate the role of boredom in vitiating history and the making of it...

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay, now I understand what you meant. I thought you were slamming Fukuyama as a mediocre political scientist.

I am also aware of that dynamic and it makes me ponder Dr. Drury's understanding of it. War of course is the opposite of boring mediocrity. It's the contemptibly self-satisfied "last man" who wants to live in this easy world with no real challenges. War is the opposite of that world. There may be some "last men" in the military in desk jobs, but not on the battlefields.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The discussion is here, as you posted


and it's really worth following the links from Fukuyama.

Shadia Drury is the foremost of the brainless leftists who critique Fukayama [and more often, Leo Strauss himself] on political, not philosophical, grounds.


The equate everything with neo-cons and the slander that all they want is war, as some sort of vainglory and political manipulation.

But as Fukuyama replies to her,

Shadia Drury, for example, seems to think it hasn't occurred to me that there is a trade-off between liberty and equality, or that modernity is a "mixed bag" of gains and losses. In fact, there is a long discussion of the liberty-equality trade-off in The End of History and the Last Man, where I argued that America and Europe chose different relative weights that in my view were equally legitimate. Moreover, my 1999 book The Great Disruption is all about the loss of community and values that accompanies the transition to a post-industrial economy...

And as the Straussian Mansfield noted, "with 9-11, History is back 'on,'" although for many, it's still 9-10. But war isn't the only dynamic: the soullessness of meeting only man's material needs makes both art and philosophy superfluous, and indeed so they have both become. Beauty and truth have no place: The Universal Homogeneous State cloaks everything in its grayness.

King of Ireland said...


I will do that soon.