Friday Open Thread — Why America ?by Doug Mataconis
In a comment to tarran’s post about the morality of armed rebellion, co-contributor Stephen Littau makes this point:
I would caution anyone who would want to begin or support an armed revolution against the government to study the French Revolution. There is always a chance that such actions can make matters worse, even if the revolution is successful. The French Revolution did not have the same success as the American Revolution. I would say that the outcome of the American Revolution is the exception, not the rule.
Which leads to the question — why is the American Revolution the historical exception rather than the rule ? Why didn’t we devolve into tyranny the way France did, or Russia, or most of the third-world, or, for that matter, post-Communist Russia ? Why didn’t France and Russia become like us ?
In response to Stephen’s comment, I said the following:
I’ve often wondered what it was that made the American Revolution different from the French Revolution, the Revolutions of 1848, the Russian Revolution, or any of the countless number of third-world revolts against colonialism after World War II.
It’s more, I think than just the fact that the American Colonies in the 18th Century were blessed with some incredibly wise men, though they clearly were. I think it comes down to the philosophical basis that they were working from.
The American revolutionaries had Smith and Locke and the writers that followed them. The French had who ? Voltaire ? In 1848 it was Marx. In Russia it was Marx and Lenin. And, in the third-world it was Marx, Lenin, and Ho Chi Minh.
When you build your revolution on a foundation of sand, it’s bound to fail in the end.
But that just leads to the question of why the ideas of the American Revolution stopped at the Atlantic. After all, the French Revolution occurred only 13 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed and the same year that George Washington took office as President of the United States under a new Constitution. There were some founders, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who thought that the French Revolution was the beginning of the flowering of liberty on the European Continent. It wasn’t until the Reign of Terror and then the reign of Napoleon that they came to realize that their hopes had been dashed.
After that came the Revolutions of 1848, inspired mostly by various forms of socialism and ending in little more than yet another cycle of European wars. The Russian Revolution, inspired by Marx and lead by Lenin, was never a prospect for true freedom and that was confirmed by the terror of Josef Stalin. And, finally, the colonial revolutions that followed World War II were perhaps doomed to fail when they turned for inspiration to the same ideas that had led to the Gulag Archipeligo.
So, was the American Revolution just an historical accident ? Just plain dumb luck ? And, if it was, what does that mean for the future of any fight against statism ?