The French Revolution and Ours
On July 14, 1789, the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille and from there, events would end up with the reign of terror, plus a democratic fraternity that ended up devouring many of the original revolutionaries before Napoleon took over. From the time of the Revolution to Waterloo, Europe descended into nearly a quarter of a century of warfare that extended throughout the world.
The difference between the French Revolution and the American Revolution is stark, for while both declared themselves the lovers of liberty, the French revolution ended up in a dictatorship, and the American Revolution ended up with a Republic that is still in existence. For the French, they went through four different Republics before ending up where they are today. Along the way, they were also ruled by Napoleon and his nephew, Napoleon III. The difference between the French Revolution and American Revolution is that the French Revolution was based on the rule of men, whereas our founding fathers believed in natural rights that were granted by God.
The French Revolution ended up as a model for tyrannies that followed in the 20th century and early 21st century. While liberty was the catch word for the French Revolution, the results were a revolution with the guillotine as its symbol, and even the leaders of the original revolution became victim of the blade as each group fought for their share of power.
The American Revolution saw the evolution of rights as Americans said good-bye to the King, but in the end, adopted much of what they learned from Great Britain. This brings us to the present as we have another battle on what it means to be a constitutional Republic and whether we can keep what we have produced. The key issue is whether we still believe that rights are natural gifts from a Creator or mere gifts granted by the states.
The Progressive movement of the early 20th century rejected the idea of natural rights and viewed rights as a creation of the state. The problem with this ideology is that if the state is the creator of rights, then they can rescind them as well. Natural rights presume not only those rights that come from a higher authority but that government can’t take those rights away. This also presumes that government must be limited since it is the protector of rights and not the creator of rights.
In the 1990’s, welfare reform showed that there was a prevailing argument that welfare was not truly an entitlement but a temporary assistance program. The right agreed to accept a modest welfare state that would be limited to temporary assistance to help those in need to move a path forward. The left agreed that there is a limit to government assistance and the goal was not to trap people on welfare but to limit the time on welfare to move toward an opportunity state.
Today that consensus is gone, and the one who has broken the consensus is the left, who no longer truly believes in a constitutional government and that rights are God-given. For the left, rights are gifts administered from the government, whether it is free health care, that is not really free, or free housing. And as Obama's recent action concerning the delay of employer mandate shows, free health care is a right that can be rescinded or change to benefit the ruling class.
Which brings us to a new prevailing argument: Most Americans are now saying that increased government spending hurts the economy, and the Party that finds a way to make that their central argument (listening, Republicans?) will win in 2016. From there, maybe we can begin the restoration of constitutional governance.