Saturday, July 9, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 4"

From Dr. John Fea, here. A taste:
As my students of colonial America are well aware, the so-called “13 Colonies” were very British at the time of the American Revolution.  In fact, much of what the colonists had learned about liberty and freedom stemmed from the fact that they were British subjects. Ironically, it was the British who taught the colonists how to rebel.  The British were the most liberty-loving people in the eighteenth-century world and they were proud of it. Their monarch was held in check by the people through Parliament, making them unlike nearly all other nation-states.  From the perspective of many of the founding fathers, the American Revolution was the correct and consistent application of British liberty to the imperial crisis over taxation.

But in order for Metaxas’s argument about American exceptionalism to work (we will discuss this in a later post), he must make a clear contrast between England and their rebellious colonies. For example, on p.19-20 Metaxas claims, in reference to the United States, that “back in 1776 and in the decades after, this nation was all alone” in embodying the idea of liberty and its “uniqueness at that time can hardly be overstated.”

On p. 9 Metaxas suggests that the role of “the people” in monarchical government would be “nonexistent.”  This may have been the case for France, Russia, or some other eighteenth-century European country, but it was definitely not true for England. Though the colonists portrayed the English government as tyrannical, it is way over-the-top to compare the eighteenth-century English monarchy to a “strongman dictator” like Saddam Hussein (p.18).

1 comment:

Art Deco said...

If you want to explore how British North America differed from Europe (including Britain), you might begin with the following data:

1. It was a society of migrants

2. Yeoman farming was the order of the day (in New England and the middle colonies) and yeoman farming juxtaposed to plantations run with slave labor (in the South). Plantations were pretty much unknown in Europe and yeoman farming tended to be a feature of upland districts like Vorarlberg (where village geography also differed). Consolidated rustical landholdings and stand-alone farmsteads were also not features of the landscape in Europe.

You might also add that:

3. The Established Church of the mother country was displaced (in New England); or quite lax (Newfoundland and Nova Scotia); or contained by a balanace of forces (New York, New Jersey).