Sunday, November 11, 2007

Iraq War & The French Revolution:

As I've been researching how the American Founding viewed the French Revolution, I've noticed some parallels between the French Revolution and the war in Iraq. The consensus in America supported the French Revolution in the beginning, and largely viewed it as an extension of America's Founding principles. Both revolutions appealed to the same abstract Enlightenment principles of the rights of man, liberty and equality.

It was only after things started to go so wrong that many notable American figures began to jump ship, just like in Iraq. And after the fact, in hindsight, historians began to realize the subtle but profound differences between America's and France's Revolutions (i.e., Rousseau's notion of the "general will" much more evident in France's than America's Revolution).

The backlash against the French Revolution probably contributed to the second Great Awakening in the early 19th Century. Noah Webster, for instance, when "founding" America was a much more Enlightenment influenced, rationalistic, and secular thinker. Sometime in the 19th Century he became a more traditionally minded Calvinistic Christian.

Here is Webster in 1794 in the middle of the French Revolution. His essay begins:

In the progress of the French Revolution, candid men find much to praise, and much to censure. It is a novel event in the history of nations, and furnishes new subjects of reflection. The end in view is noble; but whether the spirit of party and faction, which divided the National Assembly, sacrificed one part, and gave to the other the sovereign power over the nation, will not deprive the present generation of the blessings of freedom and good government, the objects contended for, is a very interesting question. Equally interesting is it to enquire what will be the effects of the revolution on the agriculture, commerce, and moral character of the French nation. The field of speculation is new, and the subject curious.

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