Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Display:
Given Burke's earlier support of the American Revolution, even in practice as it developed, I don't think he was staunchly opposed to violence per se. What changed in the intervening 15-20 years? Well, obviously he got older, perhaps more conservative and he died during The Directory, but, IMO, national, political and cultural identity played a bigger part. He was a Whig while the Tory Party was controlling England's response, and saw the American Colonies as being populated with people who showed the best of the English character. He hated the popular  authoritarian turn of the English towards the American Revolution, didn't like the fact that German mercenaries were employed by an English king of German descent to suppress the revolution and had proposed a different, more conciliatory approach before hostilities broke out, only to be ignored. He identified with the American revolutionaries as much as he did with the English who had carried off the 'Glorious Revolution'. And then there was the perception and the fact that the Terror executed far more French, proportionately, than Cromwell and the Roundheads ever executed in England. Deputies on Mission purging opponents of the Revolution with the Guillotine and even stuffing barges with opponents and sinking them in the rivers.

My own view is that such excesses are to be expected in any violent revolution, which is why it is preferable to avoid violence. But the right has always been comfortable with violence when it serves their purpose. And change must come and it needs to be profound. It is now less a question of how we save the world for future generations but if we can do so. And my answer to means vs. ends controversies is that means can only be justified by both the intent and the result.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu May 26th, 2016 at 10:33:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
was more to his liking for a number of reasons, first of which would be that it was, at root, a bourgeois "revolution," in that it was, as Robespierre might say, a revolt against a king so as to put into its place a new king (or, as would finally evolve, a new president) drawn from the same overarching elite. Zinn's People's History is a good place to see just how the American "Revolution" was very much a revolt of the elite, and as is usual in American history, the elite's interests are served with the blood of the poor and paid for by the lesser gentry, middle classes or whatever the historical equivalent is in context. And, Burke was not the only Conservative to have such sympathies, certainly Louis XVI, in deed, shared them, of course prior to being subject to Robespierre's divine Justice.

1789 Paris was a completely different matter, Robespierre himself distinguishes this revolt not as one to replace a tyrant with another, but to replace it with Virtue. And here, what is meant by Virtue to Robespierre (and others) is the starting point, though it is of no interest to an Edmund Burke or other Conservative commentators of the time (and there were many).

Speaking, of course, as a mere enthusiast of history, of course.

 

by John Redmond on Thu May 26th, 2016 at 10:55:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At that time the American Revolution could hardly have been other than a rebellion of the elites. While the American Colonies may have been among the most widely literate places of its time a systematic education was still the almost sole province of the elite. If even half of the total population was minimally literate, it was mostly due to parents, usually wives, teaching the children to read and the most common, usually the only book in the house was the Bible.

The French Revolution was, initially, led by elites, including some from the 1st and 2nd Estates. And the vast majority of delegates to the National Assembly of the Estates General were business and professional people such as Robspierre and Danton, while Mirabeau was a count and Sant Just was descended from a noble family. Even Les Enragés were well educated. I don't know the circumstances from which Jacques Roux came, but he was a priest. Probably the closest to a lower class origin was the actress Claire Lacombe, as actresses then were often considered to be little better than prostitutes.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu May 26th, 2016 at 12:10:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As regards 1789-1794, I would agree that most of the leaders were from higher social strata; underneath, there was insurrection though, bubbling through, and the sans culottes made their voices heard, to simplify, ultimately via Robespierre and his early allies Danton Marat and Saint Just among a few others.

But the power base of the Revolution at that time was from below, especially from 1792 forward. The Girondins, the initial power base of lower local gentry and city bourgeoisie, were defeated and then arrested with this popular support, and the Revolution really got interesting, speaking again of course as an enthusiast of history.

by John Redmond on Thu May 26th, 2016 at 12:22:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...speaking again of course as an enthusiast of history.

John, I am much more an enthusiast of history than a professional historian. As a beginning grad student I was concerned about my lack of breadth and I was fortunate enough to have been chosen as the graduate reader for the new French History Professor's series of courses in French History, which consisted of six courses of three semester hours each. For those I read an average of six books each, took the course myself and graded the undergraduates according to the professor's key. I probably retained as much from the lectures as I got from the readings.

Similarly with English history and Russian history. It was the National Schools period of American college curriculum, with all of the attendant problems. For Russian History I had already had an excellent series by a much better Yale educated professor while an undergrad in physics, as accompaniment to two years of Russian language. The Russian history professor was a Stanford educated neo-con who also graded the athletes' papers himself. He was a cold warrior and I was advised that declining to grade his courses would be bad for my career. It turned out that the history department as a whole was bad for my career.

I don't regret any of it, but wish I had had the sense to transfer to a better university, one more open to alternative views. The attitudes of the Russian and English History professors at the U. of Arizona were that the only thing worse than the total incomprehension most students displayed for ideas from the left was that I not only understood them immediately but actually embraced them. They considered themselves guardians at the gate of academe.

So I hardly consider myself a professional historian and I made my way in the world based on my Physics B.S. and attitude. For the next twenty years of so I spent more effort on anthropology and psychology than on history, but resumed my reading in the early '80s.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu May 26th, 2016 at 01:11:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I only insist on the "enthusiast of history" line in order to dispel (whatever for?) any doubts one might have regarding political sympathies, partisanship and the like...
by John Redmond on Fri May 27th, 2016 at 09:45:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There were quite a few "commoners" involved in the US Revolution from the start, whether in the Sons of Liberty, the Green Mountain Boys, or the militias (especially in the Carolinas and the western parts of Pennsylvania and New York), and word of what the Revolution was about spread pretty readily, but when these folks tried to make the Revolution actually apply to themselves, the elites smacked them down hard.
by rifek on Fri May 27th, 2016 at 02:24:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But all the leaders were and had to be literate. Basic literacy was adequate to be the leader of a platoon, but it was important to be able to read written dispatches. The higher we go up the ranks the more important a good education became. That is why the leaders came from families that could afford to send them to school - for the most part. That could include a prosperous farmer, but, unless they had moved further onto the frontier after growing up in a more settled area and took their education with them, the frontiersmen were less likely to be 'well educated'. That said, they may will have valuable skills and knowledge that cannot be gained in school. And there were a number of self educated who had read widely in available books, but they had to be able to get the books somehow.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri May 27th, 2016 at 03:01:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Power disparity in the American colonies grew slowly, because land was cheap and labour dearly expensive. Hence the outright slavery and sensitivity to tea or stamp taxes. So the colonial societies were rather egalitarian, ignoring slavery. The founding religious and social projects were hard to manage, hardly anything went according to intentions.
by das monde on Tue May 31st, 2016 at 02:02:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Violence is a symptom, not a cause.

Revolutions remove the usual social checks and balances. This creates a breeding ground for ambitious sociopaths and psychopaths, who can now use violence of all kinds for entertainment and self-advancement.

The same thing happens if the usual social checks and balances break down for any other reason. Sometimes the sociopaths are already in the Establishment; this is happening now in the UK, where a vicious regime is trying to undermine the usual contract of decency and law in order to attack the poor and disabled.

If you can create regime change without allowing the sociopaths to breed, a reign of terror becomes unlikely.

This can happen by luck rather than judgement, but a response to Burke is that it's absolutely fine to break the established order, especially if it glories in violence of its own. The problem is creating a civil revolution which excludes careerists, chancers, and crazies.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon May 30th, 2016 at 10:45:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unconscious violence is a symptom. A conscious decision not to live by present conditions must be better viewed as a causal force.

Checks and balances are a luxury of prosperous times. The historical norm is more Hobbesian: whoever gets the Mandate of Heaven sets the ethics and a comfortable Burkean convention.

by das monde on Tue May 31st, 2016 at 01:45:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Display:

Occasional Series