Every old ideological conflict eventually becomes new again. So it is with today’s battle between the forces of socialism, called “fairness” by its advocates, and the forces of capitalism, labeled “liberty” by its supporters. What we are witnessing is an ancient struggle between those who believe in the rights of the individual and those who believe in a sort of “general will.” Those of conservative bent ardently hope for a second American Revolution; those of the left wish desperately for a second French Revolution.
This is not mere rhetoric. Look at the history of the first American Revolution, and you will see the fundamental principles that animate Rush Limbaugh; look at the history of the first French Revolution, and you will see the spirit that animates President Barack Obama.
John Adams’ Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ratified in 1780, provides the basic framework for American governing philosophy: “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.” The purpose of the government is to secure these rights.
By contrast, France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man is an ode to the collective. “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation,” it states. “Law is the expression of the general will.” The purpose of the government is to make laws benefiting society, not to restrict itself from encroachment upon the rights of the individual.
This philosophical distinction has dramatically different ramifications. The American Revolution was followed by peaceful governance because it granted power -- and responsibility -- to the individual. It did not excoriate the upper class for its wealth, nor the poorer class for its plight; wealth and poverty were not seen as the result of societal shortcomings. Dramatic social leveling would have been superfluous, in this view.
The French Revolution, by contrast, was bloody and tyrannical. The lead advocate for the rights of man was Robespierre, to whom the individual meant little. He pushed for King Louis XVI’s execution on the basis that the collective good required his death; he hunted the nobles with the explanation, “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty.” This revolution stated that man’s equality trumped his liberty.
The same arguments echo through the ages. And so today we have Obama excoriating those on Wall Street with the fervor of a Danton, slandering those in the financial industry as “shameful,” “outrageous,” and “greedy.” It is no wonder AIG executives are relegated to their homes, intimidated by liberal thugs who send death threats reading: “Get the bonus, we will get your children,” “All you mother----ers should be shot,” “We will hunt you down … We will hunt your children and we will hunt your conscience,” “All the executives and their families should be executed with piano wire around their necks.” It is no wonder that in France, 45 percent of the population approve of kidnapping business executives and threatening them to prevent layoffs.
Obama’s recent trip to London highlighted the capitulation of American ideals to French ones -- only the leading expositors of French Revolution ideals are now British. Not once were individual rights mentioned. But British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Obama spoke repeatedly of the need for fairness. The current economic crisis, said Brown days before Obama arrived, “should be used as an opportunity to move towards a fairer and more equal world order.”
The constant emphasis on fairness and dearth of discussion about individual liberty bodes ill not only for the pitiable fellows over at AIG (and their children), but for our society more broadly. When America is lathered into tarring-and-feathering mode not because our individual rights have been violated, but because our politicians have told us that “things just aren’t fair,” we’re entering French Revolution territory.
While the French Revolution was partially justified by monarchy and aristocracy, a Second French Revolution is wholly unjustified: it tears down those who succeed through work rather than by dint of birth. A Second French Revolution replaces a purported aristocracy -- the achievers -- with a true aristocracy of government administrators.
The American Founding Fathers would have been ashamed and appalled. Most of all, they would have been frightened for the future of our country. The supremacy of the “general will” over individual rights, Adams stated, would bring “horrible ravages.” He was right. He is still right. If we are to have a second revolution, let it be American, not French.