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Jewish World Review July 1, 1999 /17 Tamuz 5759

Don Feder

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Econophone

What made our revolution different?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
After 223 years -- and William J. Clinton notwithstanding -- America is still the most successful experiment going.

Among other things, the American revolution demonstrated that majorities are frequently wrong, a fact worth recalling in an age of focus-group worship.

Historians tell us that the colonists were evenly divided in favor of, against and ambivalent toward independence. If Gallup had been around in 1776, we'd be driving on the wrong side of the road and obsessing about the royal family.

Unlike all men, all revolutions are not created equal. What makes ours unique?

There were three revolutions that profoundly influenced the course of human events: the American, French and Russian. The first transformed the world; the latter deformed it.

The best revolutions are made by elites -- men of property and learning with a sense of service. The French and Russian revolutions soon fell into the hands of bloody-minded fanatics. Jacobins and Bolsheviks -- these are not names that inspire confidence.

America's was a revolution of words (albeit defended by the sword), epitomized by the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and lesser works like "The Federalist Papers" and "Common Sense."

It wasn't ink that flowed in the streets of Paris and St. Petersburg. If our revolutionary era was symbolized by a quill pen, theirs would best be represented by Madame la Guillotine and a Cheka firing squad.

Those who make revolution reluctantly do so most wisely.

With a few exceptions, the Founding Fathers came to accept the necessity of a break with the mother country late in the game. Even after the Intolerable Acts, Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, it took months of debate to get a resolution of independence through the Second Continental Congress.

Revolutions with narrow goals -- those that eschew grand utopian visions and settle for modest improvement of the human condition -- work best. Madison, Adams and their associates didn't aim to overhaul society or remake human nature. They were wise enough to understand that, like inalienable rights, our nature is endowed by the Creator.

Mere mortals, and the Founders never pretended to be more, understand they are incapable of giving people new hearts.

The most Founding Fathers aspired to was an orderly society, governed justly (where state interference in human affairs is minimum), where property rights are respected and individuals can work, play and pray pretty much as they choose.

Marat and Robespierre, Lenin and Trotsky saw humanity as clay on the potter's wheel. The Paris commune, the Terror, collective farms, purge trials and gulags all were ghastly attempts to fashion a new Eden.

If that weren't enough, French and Russian radicals felt compelled to export their glorious revolutions, on the point of a bayonet, to those who fiercely resisted the favor.

By contrast, the generation of 1776 said to the world: "Well, here it is. We wish you well. Look to us for inspiration, not liberation." The most-quoted line from Washington's farewell address is his warning about entangling alliances.

Finally, the American revolution had a spiritual foundation. The Declaration of Independence appealed to "the Supreme Judge of the World" and affirmed the colonists "firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."

The French and Russian revolutions were unalterably opposed not just to religious expression but to the very idea of a power above the party or state.

Jacobins attacked the Catholic Church, murdered clerics and erected a Goddess of Reason. The communists made atheism an official state dogma. Heaven distributed its blessings -- and maledictions -- accordingly.

Consider the aftermath of the three revolutions.

Both communism and fascism were forged in the fires of revolutionary France. The revolution of 1789 led directly to Napoleon, a resurrection of the monarchy, a second empire and a series of unstable republics, culminating in a nation known principally for its cuisine.

Russia suffered 70 years under Bolshevism, with untold millions dead, and spread its blight to half of Europe.

America shaped the 20th century, created the greatest industrial engine in history and saved humanity from the twin totalitarian

And the future? That depends on how well we recall the lessons of our revolution and what distinguishes it from those that failed.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate