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American RevolutionWinston Elliott, not atypically, has asked a profound if somewhat inconvenient question (When Is a Change in Government a Duty?) regarding the right to revolution. Inconvenient, that is, given the current disarray of our society and the sloppiness of most political, philosophical, and cultural discourse on such outlets as Fox “News.”

For what it’s worth, I offer two points.

First, I think it’s very important to remember Russell Kirk’s understanding that every right comes with a duty. If we have a “right” to revolution, we must have a corresponding duty.

As I think about the Founders—and I doubt if too many among the readers of The Imaginative Conservative will disagree—I see a group of men without compare in history. I don’t think this is hyperbole. Exclude Jesus and the 12 for a moment in your own thoughts and historical remembrances. Where do we see a collection of men such as those who led the American founding (whether at the Second Continental Congress or at the Constitutional Convention)? These were, as Jefferson said of those at the Constitutional Convention, an Assembly of Demigods. They were literate, intelligent, articulate, liberal (in the best sense), and humane.

In other words, they were that very, very rare thing in history—not only true men, but true men who knew who they were and how they fit into the larger scheme of history and justice.

Could we find a comparable group of men and women in this day and age? We can find those who profess something—usually subjectivism or insane objectivism. We can find those who will do the right thing because it’s the right thing. We can find those who lead. But, can we find someone or some ones who can do all three, properly and combined in some kind of meaningful unity?

The only folks in any large numbers who know who they are seem rather bent on the inhumane and upon the destruction of western, post-Christian civilization. Outside of the Islamic world, we westerners seem to want to avoid serious intellectual and inconvenient discussion, ignore the faith of our fathers, and condemn to Hell any and all who want to state an opinion beyond the tapioca platitudes expressed in sound bites here and there.

The founders were worthy of revolution. I’m not sure that we are.

Second, if there is a failure of constitutional government, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We—the body of Americans, past, present, and future—make up the Constitution. If we have no soul or a poorly ordered soul, we have no right to expect the republic to have a coherent soul.

Books by Dr. Birzer and others on this topic are available from The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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7 replies to this post
  1. Even though we have broadband in my Kabul guesthouse, I only read TIC within my own room because I occasionally cheer aloud or roar with laughter and my housemates already think I am a little odd. good thing, because I roared and laughed over Brad's phrase "subjectivism or insane objectivism." game, set and match as they say at Wimbledon, with oak leaf clusters for concision. I can imagine Dr. Kirk stammering out the same phrase, eyes twinkling. Over a few days in a railway compartment with a randroid objectionablist, I'd prefer to be waterboarded by Dick Cheney.

    I've tried to say the same but not so well as Brad does – if we have a responsive, democratic system and we elect not to use it, who is to blame but us? yet here the torch of responsibility falls to individuals or a minority. I gather (perhaps incorrectly), that few more than a third of American colonists supported independence but they prevailed. maybe now as then a third are against and a third are disinterested. If a system permits full change, and only a minority seek it, how far can or ought they go?

    Stephen Masty

  2. "Reaction is a necessary term in the intellectual context we inhabit in the late twentieth century because merely to conserve is sometimes to perpetuate what is outrageous."–M.E. Bradford

    Has our Constitutional sensibility become so twisted that it is necessary to become a reactionary in the sense that Dr. Bradford implies? Would it be such a radical transformation of our republic's political sensibilities to return to the Founders' understanding of the Constitution that it would constitute "throwing off" our current government and establishing a new one proper to ordered liberty?

    In other words, would the modern "revolution" be to reestablish our government with the intent to truly follow the Constitution? In these times to return to our Republic's first principles would be truly revolutionary (or reactionary in Bradford's term).

  3. The Founders were worthy of Revolution in large part because they rose to the occasion.

    The Revolution, and the events of the remainder of the 18th Century were not brought about by the decisions of the Founders, made in a vacuum…

    Rather, they were men who knew what they believed and were willing to stand up for it; but who only DID so because they lived at a moment of history that insisted they fish or cut bait.

    The "Greatest Generation" wasn't greatest because they were born in a particular range of years, or were in any meaningful way different from the people of any other time. They were greatest because when the moment came, and history forced them to act, they rose to the occasion.

    If it is destiny that we're entering another time in history that will call for the American People to rise to the occasion, then I believe it will happen.

    If I may be forgiven the crudity, we did not rise to become the all time Apex Predator on this planet because we are weak.

  4. In a sense I would have preferred that his essay hadn’t been written. It’s obvious the ‘average’ American has no clue re; liberty, due in large measure to a failed educational system and a profound loss of virtue among the rank and file.

    True and virtuous freeman will die at the barricades,

  5. This seems to confuse the first political generation (those who created the Revolution) with the second, those who shaped the Constitution. The notion that the nation was, even then, of one mind regarding the constitution is belied by the written record. The differences between the federalists and the anti-federalists, or between Hamilton and Jefferson continue to this day, with the anti-federalist themes being especially dominant among the so-called conservative movement.

    Second, if we make up the Constitution, how does this avoid the dynamic constitutional interpretations? Or for that matter, what does it say about appeals to “originalism?” (That is, if we are part of a continuing constitutional community, then our insights today can be used to interpret, to establish continuity with the past.)

  6. Well said, bobcheeks. Sadness and disillusion would best describe my thoughts/feelings when reading the essay. Your three sentences summed it up rather well.

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