July’s tale of two revolutions highlights America’s superior system of government and, most importantly, its relationship with God.
BY: CARINA BENTON – JULY 15, 2022 – for The Federalist
An intriguing fallout from the Supreme Court’s evisceration of the constitutionally baseless Roe V. Wade decision can be found across the Atlantic, where efforts are now underway to enshrine in the French Constitution the so-called right to kill one’s own pre-born baby. Evidently some plumes have been ruffled. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose own people have such a poor opinion of his performance that his party hemorrhaged 63 seats in the recent legislative elections, went as far as to accuse the U.S. Supreme Court of undermining women’s liberties. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Aurore Bergé, who heads Macron’s party in parliament, and Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo were also quick to put in their two cents, attributing the Court’s decision to populism and a gangrenous conservativism.
Whether or not the French amend their constitution is their own affair. Instead of insulting the U.S. Supreme Court, however, and by extension the U.S. Constitution, their elected officials should show greater respect for a system of government that eclipses their own by almost 200 years.
France’s present constitution is barely 65 years old. It’s the umpteenth re-write after four failed republics dissolved invariably in bloody tyranny, dictatorship, occupation, and war. The first constitution (pre-republic) was cooked up in 1791 by a mishmash of inept, unlearned, opportunistic, and petty delegates, as British economist and philosopher Edmund Burke described them, who composed France’s first unilaterally declared National Assembly. They botched things so wretchedly that the country spent the following 150 years having to reinvent the wheel, with the Napoleonic dictatorship and a temporary restoration of the monarchy thrown in along the way.
Hence for anti-life “progressives” like Macron et al. to be bleating about liberties and solidarity with women, and throwing rocks at America’s highest court, an almost 250-year-old institution, is laughable. It’s also puerile rhetoric given that America’s sons bailed out France with their lives when in 1940 its government folded to the Germans in about 10 seconds (end of Republic Number 3) and spent the remainder of the war collaborating with the Nazi juggernaut.
A Tale of Two Revolutions
Yet there’s a deeper lesson to be observed. July each year tells a tale of two revolutions — the American War of Independence and the French Revolution — fought within decades of each other. The first U.S. government was formed the same year as the storming of the Bastille, an event commemorated by the French on its national holiday, celebrated this week on July 14. King Louis XVI was executed four years later, the same year that George Washington was sworn in as first president.
These events, inspired by the same 18th-century Enlightenment philosophies, are often conflated. But they are different beasts. The contrast goes to the heart of what makes the United States so special and sheds light on how its system of government and, most importantly, its relationship with God, are under siege today.
Burke got it. So did French philosopher and historian Alexis de Tocqueville. They understood that the uprising by thirteen American colonies against the increasingly harsh and exploitative British crown was about casting off the shackles of tyranny and pursuing the blessings of liberty. Meanwhile, they intuited that the French Revolution entailed the overthrow of the existing regime and the yoking of the masses to a power vastly more extensive and absolute than any known under the monarchy. It was the birth of the modern administrative state.
The concepts of life, liberty, property, government, and separation of powers adopted by American revolutionary leaders were shaped by 18th-century thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Montesquieu. Yet the abstractions of these and other Enlightenment writers, particularly outlier Jean-Jacques Rousseau, took on a disturbing form in revolutionary France. The goal was not merely the reform of the French social system, but a total reconstruction of society, the individual, and indeed the whole human race. Unlike the limited objectives of the American founders, the French Revolution was unfettered, boundless, and insatiable in its ideological zeal.
New Administrative State
The primacy of Paris, which had originally been a grievance against the monarchy, was strengthened. The long-reaching arm of the new administrative state reached into all aspects of French life. Property was requisitioned, ancient property rights destroyed, and craft guilds obliterated. The ancient communes and provinces were dissolved, and the country carved into 83 roughly equal departments. The Church was mercilessly pillaged, religious orders banished, and religious vows annulled. A new monetary system was devised along with a bizarre new calendar that sought to erase from memory all sacred holidays and religious observances. “Citizen” as a form of address was introduced, private schooling was banned, and national conscription implemented.
Amid threats of foreign invasion, crippling riots, food shortages, and inflation, the monarchy was overturned, King Louis was beheaded, and a Committee of Public Safety with dictatorial powers was instituted in 1793. Under the notorious Maximilien Robespierre, the new republic embarked on a terrifying journey of religious persecution for the sake of virtue, atheistic fanaticism in the name of reason, the glorification of the nation state while ripping it to shreds and burying its history, the idolization of tolerance while crushing dissent, and an appeal to fraternity while resorting to extremes of bloody fratricide. The Jacobin spirit was perhaps best summed up decades later by Charles Dickens, when he wrote: “Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death — the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!”
The “freedom” of the individual was conditional on total submission to the state. This centralized administrative machine was the only feature of the ancien régime to survive the monarchy and outlive the revolution because it was the life force of the new society created. The American Republic certainly did not envisage this kind of omnipotent administrative behemoth, even if circumstances over the last century have taken an unhappy turn in that direction. The French model was predicated on it from the outset.
Yet the Jacobin political order did graver harm than subordinating the individual to the collective will of the state. They made, à la Rousseau, a “Supreme Being” of the nation, relegating almighty God and his holy church to the outhouse and reimagining Jesus Christ as little more than a righteous revolutionary much like themselves. As distinct from the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, approved by the French National Assembly in 1789, tellingly provides for the open expression of religious views, “provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” Herein the seeds of the faulty doctrine of separation of church and state were sown, the sour milk on which French nationals are still weaned today, a perversion that continues to wreak havoc throughout the West.
Civilized Society Requires Religion
Fortunately, this dead-end road was never trodden by the American Founders. Despite wide variations among the principally Protestant denominations, there was a general understanding, per Tocqueville, that “civilized society, especially if it be free, cannot exist without religion.” Burke went even further, lamenting the crisis of faith unfolding in France. He warned that if “that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization” were to be overthrown, the void would inevitably be filled by “some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition.” Against this religious and intellectual backdrop, both at home and abroad, it makes total sense that the American Republican model was overlayed on a generic Christian tradition and belief system with which government was not to meddle.
So as both countries celebrate their national holidays this month, and French leftists freak out over the workings of this country’s Supreme Court, while working to accommodate Moloch worship in their own constitution, it’s worth reflecting on why the U.S. system of government is superior and unparalleled. The Founders were wise enough to recognize that man finds protection, not fulfillment, in the state, and humble enough to declare that individual rights are safeguarded by the state but endowed by the Creator alone. They placed God at the core, and the sovereign power with the people, on loan to the government — a Creator-instilled, bottom-up dynamic.
The French revolutionaries got this entirely backwards, and barbarously spurned God Himself. They resorted to any extreme of terror and propaganda as a means of reconstructing human nature, rejecting the truth that the individual is a creature of God, not an invention of the state. Hence the American War of Independence heralded the birth of a now 246-year-old republic. The French experiment, on the other hand, was the first in a revolving door of constitutions and republics, with the “head of Liberty” routinely swapped for another, as Tocqueville saw it, but always “on the shoulders of a servile body.”
Carina Benton is a dual citizen of Australia and Italy and a permanent resident of the United States. A recent West Coast émigré, she is now helping to repopulate the country’s interior. She holds a master’s degree in education and has taught languages, literature, and writing for many years in Catholic and Christian, as well as secular institutions. She is a practicing Catholic and a mother of two young children.