“That’s insane!” These days, how often do we say those words? The litany could go on and on.
Dr. Seuss is suddenly persona non grata, with six of his books removed from publication because they are “racist” and “hateful.” That’s insane!
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has become a widely reviled personality because she claims that boys are born male, and girls, female? That’s insane!
Statues of Abraham Lincoln are being torn down and schools named after the Great Emancipator renamed in the cause of fighting racism. That’s insane!
Woke educators decry mathematics education focused on getting “the right answer” as an expression of white privilege and patriarchy. Suddenly, math is about social justice. That’s insane!
No. Actually, it’s not. “Canceling,” as it is called, is a coldly calculated strategy implemented with malice aforethought. The goal isn’t to persuade. Social excommunication, media deplatforming, and the trashing of venerable traditions don’t seek to reform institutions or promote societal improvement. Rather, the point is to destroy every traditional religious, social, and political institution judged guilty of constructing Western civilization, toward the end of rebuilding society in the image of Woke.
The French Revolution? Am I nuts?
I don’t think so. Sure, circumstances are different. Antifa and their allied corporate wokesters aren’t attacking a king living in splendor as the common people starve. And to be sure, no guillotines have been installed in public squares to chop off heads. Well, at least not literally.
But I believe we are in the midst of a social upheaval every bit as radical and potentially destructive as the one that tore France apart in the late 18th century, a revolution that aims at demolishing traditional Americanism as thoroughly as the original version did the French monarchy.
The French Revolution isn’t just a historical event. It can also be thought of as a metaphor that describes a particularly destructive utopian zealotry. Similarly, the American Revolution can refer to more than the events culminating in the founding of the United States, but also, as the embodiment of a value system of ordered liberty and individual freedom. The values of the two upheavals—both historically and as metaphors—couldn’t be more antithetical.
Realizing that the neo-French and American Revolutions aren’t all one thing but in the real world can share attributes, we can make the following general observations:
- The French Revolution is utopian and believes in the perfectibility of society that requires a strong centralized power structure. The American Revolution is, paradoxically, conservative. Its locus of power is the free individual.
- The French Revolution focuses on self-indulgence; the American, on self-restraint.
- The French Revolution is authoritarian. It deploys institutional power to coerce adherence to the revolution’s values. In today’s parlance, that goal is equity, meaning equality of outcomes. The American Revolution stands for equality of opportunity, by creating a system in which people are enabled to go as far as their talent and character allow without regard to the color of their skin, their sex, or any other categorization.
- The French Revolution tolerates only approved speech. It dictates acceptable lexicon. The American Revolution understands that reasonable people may differ. The answer to bad speech isn’t to punish but refute it with better speech.
- The French Revolution detests traditional religion—particularly orthodox Christianity—and seeks to establish a mandatory secularity in the public sphere to which all must give obeisance. (For example, the Equality Act would impose transgendered ideology throughout society, including forcing women’s sports to let biological males compete.) The American Revolution upholds the free exercise of religion—that is, the right to live according to the precepts of one’s faith—as a fundamental human right. (Thus, religious pacifists may legally escape conscription into the military, even in times of war.)
- The French Revolution feels—that is, its arguments are based mostly in hyperemotionalism. Its great potent tools are moral panic and the aroused mob sweeping all before it. No disagreement allowed. The American Revolution thinks. Its most effective strategy is free and open discourse as applied to established moral and legal principles, from which people are allowed to dissent.
- The French Revolution believes in “positive rights” secured by an all-powerful government—even if that means citizens are coerced into their provision. The American Revolution perceives rights as emanating from God or as integral to human nature. Thus, government isn’t established to guarantee happiness but to maintain an open and free society for its pursuit.
The Bible says we will be known by our fruits. I think that is also true of philosophical systems.
The historic fruits of the French Revolution have been despotism, death, and destruction—in the Reign of Terror in France, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and the catastrophic Cultural Revolution of China, all of which were pursued with French Revolutionary values and zealotry.
The fruits of the American Revolution have been rising levels of personal freedom in the West unheard of in human history and the creation of the most prosperous society on earth. It is why downtrodden people from the world risk life and limb to get to the United States. They believe in the American Dream.
It will take time for the passions fueling our American French Revolution to bank. But if we stay resolute and defiant, if we resist succumbing to the Jacobins’ bullying, that day will come. As the old saying goes, the Revolution always eats its own.
But I fear our situation is going to get worse before it gets better. Today, Dr. Seuss was canceled. Tomorrow, it could be Mr. Rogers—he was, after all, a white, male, Christian pastor who was depicted as living in a privileged suburban neighborhood and spoke to his audience of children in the oppressive binary terms, “boys and girls.” Off with his head!
Wesley J. Smith is the chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.