The Study of Man: Democracy and Revolution
THE traditional counterrevolutionary assessment of the aims and methods of the French Revolution is dominated by two thoughts: the Revolution came about through allegiance to abstract ideas; the Revolution was due to the willful acts of evil men. The root is one. Lucifer, said Edmund Burke, was the first father of Jacobins: the Revolution was a free election of evil. The lie in the heart of the revolutionary is arrogance, overweening pride. The creature confuses himself with the Creator. This is the sin against the Spirit that cannot be forgiven. Inordinate pride corrupts the revolutionary generally, but the blindness of pride shows itself especially in excessive esteem for man’s intellect. The revolutionary over-rates human ability to create institutions through deliberate choice and reasoned action. Creation is the work of God and History.
In wayward unconcern, the revolutionary puts the ax to the roots of man’s social and cultural being. He is scornful of emotion and habit, impatient of genuine variety and individuality, unrecognizing of the moral obligations discharged by traditional institutions. He lacks the wisdom to comprehend the logic of history- the slow, never-repeated development of societies and cultures through experience. Rashly, the revolutionary formulates abstract principles and then presumes, by the standard of these abstractions, to pass judgment on historic faith, custom, and law. Deluded by “political messianism” (to adopt the language of Professor J. L. Talmon), the revolutionary formulates a program with the aim of (again following Talmon) “. . . total renovation . . . the idea of a society reconstructed deliberately with a view to a logical and final pattern.” Whatever does not suit his abstract principles, he consigns to the rubbish heap. And these principles range wide -Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Justice, Popular Sovereignty. As the ideas are abstract, so their application must be uncompromising. Interests and desires may be compromised but never principles! Whoever violates a principle is to be denounced, harried, guillotined. The apostles of abstract ideas are the men of blood.
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