Thursday, August 9, 2012

Was the American Revolution a Real Revolution?

The American Conservative raises that question by re-publishing this essay by the late Robert Nisbet, a sociologist and one of the leading conservative thinkers of the post World-War II period: Was There An American Revolution? Nisbet covers a lot of ground in this essay, touching on everything from class &  property to religious liberty.  Nisbet's conclusion, contra other conservatives like Russell Kirk and M.E. Bradford, is that the American Revolution was indeed a real revolution, impacting social, cultural and religious aspects of American life, leading to a profound change not only in the formal political institutions of the country but also the underlying spirit of the nation.  As Nisbet concludes:
I would argue, then, that there was indeed an American Revolution in the full sense of the word–a social, moral, and institutional revolution that effected major changes in the character of American society–as well as a war of liberation from England that was political in nature. 
The line from the social revolution of the 1770s to the civil rights revolution of the 1960s is a direct one. It is a line that passes through the Civil War–itself certainly not without revolutionary implication–and through a host of changes in the status of Americans of all races, beliefs, and classes. The United States has indeed undergone a process of almost permanent revolution. I can think of no greater injustice to ourselves, as well as to the makers of revolution in Philadelphia, than to deny that fact and to allow the honored word revolution to be preempted today by spokesmen for societies which, through their congealed despotisms, have made real revolution all but impossible.
The linkage between the revolutionary work of the American founding generation and the civil rights movement of the 1960s is one that was made repeatedly by many in the civil rights movement at the time, perhaps most notably by Martin Luther King, Jr. in The Letter From a Birmingham City Jail

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