By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Incite 5/12/18]
In 1776 the American Revolution fought and overthrew the governance imposed by the British monarchy, inspiring the French Revolution on the other side of the Atlantic to throw off its own monarchy just 13 years later.
Yet the French Revolution was an epic failure which brought about the unprecedented butchery of many, including France’s greatest Enlightenment thinkers and scientists, such as Antoine Lavoisier. The end result was a military dictatorship and a new monarchy: an autocracy under France’s greatest general, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. That led to a war which England and its allies won in the climactic battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Why was the American Revolution such a monumental success in comparison to the French Revolution? Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had strong opinions about the French Revolution. Jefferson was for it because he thought it was an extension of American democracy for Europe; Adams was against it because he was horrified at the brutal regicide of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by the common rabble.
The American Revolution’s rallying cry was, “Give me Freedom or Give me Death!” This stands in striking superiority to the French Revolution’s slightly flaky and somewhat gay cry of, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!”
Everybody who knows about rhetoric and propaganda knows that a piercing and single-minded slogan is better than a watered-down, 3-pronged formulation.
However, aside from this important detail of declared impetus, the American Revolution chose just one noble goal – liberty – with its corollary of ‘self-governance’. The French Revolution failed partly because it tried to marry at its inception two very incompatible ideas, liberty for the people and the sovereign authority of a people’s State. Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, an early elected deputy of the French National Convention who spearheaded the movement to execute King Louis, expressed this dictum:
"The Republic consists in the extermination of everything that opposes it."
That was the epitome of a totalitarian formulation for a revolution.
Compare that sentiment to the words of Thomas Jefferson at his first inaugural address in front of the citizens of America:
"If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it."
Liberty cannot stand as a noble ideal when it’s forced to hold hands with prescribed equality and brotherhood. In fact, true brotherhood, if we take that concept to mean brotherly love or camaraderie, cannot exist at all when force is its forefather.
More than two centuries after both revolutions were fought, one won and one lost, we are looking today at two very different types of leaders in President Trump and President Macron. Yet I cannot help but surmise that they are two archetypal offshoots of their respective countries’ different revolutions. President Trump is still fighting hard for the national sovereignty and personal independence for the citizens of his beloved America, while President Macron is still fighting hard for the forced egalitarian, socialist state power he wields over the citizens of his beloved France.
Getting ideas right is worth everything.
The American Revolution was the equivalent of a romantic epic for all revolutions to follow, though none have managed to do so – it was just too rare both intellectually and historically. The French Revolution was a slice of ugly, kitchen-sink realism – without strong character development and devoid of a great plot.
If you enjoyed this article, please buy my book "Western Values Defended: A Primer"
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