How is it that Dave Perkins has the ability to so perfectly articulate that which I know to be true, yet am damned in my inability to be able to describe it so eloquently? With his permission to reprint, here’s Dave…
“DEMOCRACY swept Europe with the sabre when it was founded on the Rights of Man. It has done literally nothing at all since it has been founded only upon the wrongs of man, or, more strictly speaking, its recent failure has been due to its not admitting the existence of any rights or wrongs, or indeed of any humanity.” — GKC: ‘Charles Dickens.’
In the description of a sabre sweeping Europe, he is primarily speaking of the French Revolution, “The Terror” as it was known, in which the collectivist “rights of man” were lifted up and set atop society so that it slaughtered its rich and destroyed its religion and traditions and generally turned itself inside out and upside down. Starvation and poverty, disorder and chaos, fear and suffering and death were the result. The suffering under the last kings simply did not compare to this.
They rechristened Notre Dame “the temple of reason” but were conducting prostitution inside, and using it for a public toilet, in no time. They changed the number of days in a month, the number of months in a year, the name of each month, street names, historical places, everything was wrecked and ruined in a free-for-all of anti-traditional and anti-historical violence, literal and figurative. They pulled the rich from their mansions and put them to the guillotine. Then, of course, “rich” was defined down, so that seizing and collectivizing of “resources” could continue after they ran out of rich people.
And it was the very same instinct to erase traditions that motivates the modern left today. The same one that impels Michelle Obama to say we have to change OUR traditions and history. The same one that makes the president say we are going to FUNDAMENTALLY TRANSFORM this country. It is “democracy” and it is lethal; when it pretends tradition and history mean nothing, it loses all contact with what human beings ARE, all restraint, all decorum, all morality itself.
Abandoning old morality does NOT lead you to new morality; it leads to IMMORALITY and to amorality, both of which are devastating to society. Nobody’s perfect, but when you deliberately destroy your touchstones of perfection, you abandon the restraint that comes with the visibility of those touchstones. In rejecting the old idea of perfection, you are not reaching higher than that idea; you are opening Pandora’s Box, inviting the corrupt spirit of human nature to run wild. And every such effort has had this result. Depravity, the slippery slope, the slow embrace of lower and lower standards of man’s inhumanity to man, is inevitable, whether in the USSR or Mao’s China or Romania under Ceaucescu, or North Korea, or any state with established Islamic government. Islam does not meet the standards of the “great traditions” which the French were so destructively rejecting. It is itself a response to those traditions, a rejection of them, albeit historically an early one.
Any hope that our modern iteration of society is immune to these self-destructive instincts was always a vain hope. Human beings don’t change.
what happened in France is all the more significant when we consider that they werewatching the American Revolution, had diplomatic and military relations with America, and had personal relationships with the founders– Jefferson, Franklin, Governeur Morris and others were known in French society and politics. The French were watching us, and still got it catastrophically wrong.
And when you consider Chesterton’s comments on modern democracy ignoring known human nature (“natural law” as the philosophers called it), ignoring the idea of right and wrong, you have to remember he is writing 100 years ago; he could see it coming, of course. What has happened since would not surprise him.