The Counterrevolution and its Perils

The Counterrevolution and its Perils

Over the weekend, the inimitable Victor Davis Hanson penned a long piece for American Greatness that covers issues that we ourselves have covered many times, using analogies that we too have used.  He wrote:

The decade-long French Revolution that broke out in 1789 soon devolved into far more than removing the monarchy, as it became antithetical to the earlier American precedent. American notions of liberty and freedom were seen as far too narrow, given the state, if only all-powerful and all-wise, could mandate “equality” and force “fraternity” among its subjects.

Each cycle of French revolutionary fervor soon became more radicalized and cannibalistic—until it reached its logical ends of violent absurdity….

We are swept up in similarly scary revolutionary times, after the perfect storm of the 2020 rioting, the COVID destructive lockdowns, and a radical socialist takeover of the old Democratic Party.

Decades of successful and legitimate efforts to ensure equality of opportunity, a safety net for the poor, and increased civil liberties have transmogrified into an “equity” agenda, or state-mandated equality of result—or else!

We have not descended to the guillotine yet, but we are getting there with online cancel culture, doxxing, deplatforming, boycotts, mandatory diversity statements, indoctrination training, ostracism for an incorrect word, and violence redefined as activism.

All of this, Hanson warns, will result, inevitably, in a backlash:

At peak woke, our reign of terror is beginning to lose momentum because its continuation would erode all the work of 247 years of American progress and sacrifice….

A counterrevolution is building, not just because people are angry at what has become of their country, but because they now are learning that if they do nothing, they will have no country—and soon.

To start, we agree with Hanson – on almost all of this.  We have used the French Revolution analogy ourselves because it’s extremely apt.  And we have warned of the coming counterrevolution as well because it is, indeed, coming.

All of that notwithstanding, it’s worth pondering what the counterrevolution portends, which Hanson does not do.  As luck would have it, we have done this as well – starting almost a decade ago, when we wrote the following:

In 1789, the French people, inspired by the Enlightenment and certain of their own righteousness, embarked on a decade-long adventure, previously unparalleled in human history.  They overturned the existing order, destroyed existing institutions and remade the world anew.  And when all was said and done, they wound up not with the freest and liberty-lovingest society in human history, but with someone who promised nothing more than to restore order.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica in 1769. He attended the École Militaire in Paris and graduated as a second lieutenant in the artillery corps. When the revolution began in 1789, he went back to Corsica to join the resistance against the French occupation. He was run out of Corsica and returned to France in June 1793, where he rejoined the French army.

On October 5, 1795, he distinguished himself in a battle in the streets of Paris against twenty-five thousand royalist forces by killing three hundred of them with what Carlyle would famously describe as a “whiff of grapeshot.” At that time, as Carlyle put it, “the thing we specifically call the French Revolution is blown into space by it, and becomes a thing that was.”  Elevated to the status of a national hero, Napoleon went on to lead the French forces in their continuing war with Austria, England, Russia, et al.

On November 9, 1799, he staged a coup, thus fulfilling Burke’s remarkably prescient forecast of the outcome of the French Revolution made nine years earlier:

In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account.

For sixteen years, Napoleon ruled France and did his very best to destroy the entire continent.  And even after he was gone, the scars he left were deep and abiding.

Now, if this sounds a lot like the Schmitt-ian argument we have been making lately, in these pages and elsewhere, that “total war in the total state” will lead, in time, to the rise of an authoritarian who will promise to end societal chaos and restore order, that’s only because it is.  Revolutionary France, like Weimar Germany and like the present-day United States, was thoroughly politicized.  Enemies were everywhere and were, at all times, in desperate need of defeat and, by extension, elimination.  Chaos reigned.

That’s not to say that the Revolution and the revolutionaries should be accommodated or that we would all be better off resisting the counterrevolution.  The counterrevolution is necessary and, in any case, it’s inevitable.  Our responsibility is to ensure, to the best of our abilities, that we do not allow the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction, that we do not trade politicization by one “side” for politicization by the other.  Indeed, our responsibility is to minimize the existence of “sides” in the first place.

Earlier this year, President Trump promised that, if re-elected, he will even the score, saying “I am your warrior.  I am your justice, and…I am your retribution.”  Justice is fine, obviously.  But warrior and retribution are not.  They are, in fact, promises of chaos and polarization.  They are an invitation to a counterrevolution that sets the stage for authoritarianism.

In the end, all of this reminds us of the warning issued by our old friend, the late, great Angelo Codevilla seven years ago:

We have stepped over the threshold of a revolution. It is difficult to imagine how we might step back, and futile to speculate where it will end. Our ruling class’s malfeasance, combined with insult, brought it about. Donald Trump did not cause it and is by no means its ultimate manifestation. Regardless of who wins in 2016, this revolution’s sentiments will grow in volume and intensity, and are sure to empower politicians likely to make Americans nostalgic for Donald Trump’s moderation.

The revolution may be nearing its end, but our problems, as a society, are only just beginning.  Napoleon may be remembered as a less vile and repulsive dictator than Hitler, but that’s not to say that he was particularly tolerable.  Moreover, it’s not to say that the next manifestation of this “restorer of order” won’t be even worse than both.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.