Obama and Ho – a marriage made by Jefferson
From Mr Alexander Boot:
It’s unkind but true to say that President Obama is as long on ideology as he’s short on intellectual rigour, unless it’s of the mortis variety.
Had he been a student in the 1960s he would have been singing, “Ho, ho, ho, Ho Chi Minh, NFL are gonna win!” or else “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
As a big boy in 2013 Barack Hussein has just pronounced that Ho, a mass murderer and a lifelong Soviet agent, was 'inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson'. Considering Obama’s ideology he probably meant that Ho was a romantic idealist. Murderous international socialists always are, as opposed to murderous national socialists.
Yet delving deeper than Obama’s level, one may agree that all modern revolutions, including the American one, were Enlightenment offshoots. As such they were inspired by a similar animus: hostility to the political manifestations of Christendom.
Mutatis mutandis, Jefferson and Franklin were philosophes in exactly the same sense in which Diderot and Helvétius were. The qualifying clause reflects the temperamental differences between the French and the Anglo-Americans, and also the tactical adjustments they had to make in order to realise their vision. But the vision was the same.
At the positive end the philosophes on either side of the Atlantic set their sights on empowering the common man or, to be exact, the radical intellectual elite acting in his name.
At the negative end their vision was focused on emasculating Christendom and marginalising the faith that had begotten it. (Jefferson’s views on religion were informed by Locke’s Essay on Toleration, preaching equanimity towards all creeds, except Trinitarian Christianity. Jefferson was at best a deist, who detested every Christian dogma and sacrament.)
It was irrelevant whether destruction involved, as a first step, the cull of aristocrats sporting the powdered wigs of French nobility or of soldiers wearing the red coats of British infantry – along, in both instances, with those who sympathised with the hated group.
Americans, taking their cue from Burke, like to portray their revolution as somehow being ‘conservative’, unlike the radical French one. They don’t seem to realise that a ‘conservative revolution’ is an oxymoron.
In fact, the American revolution, the first in Western history to create a purely secular state, overturned the traditional order as radically as any other such event ever did. Presumably to merit emulation by all subsequent revolutionaries, it also laid out the groundwork for criminalising not just deed but also word.
Those expressing the mildest sympathy for British rule, or even merely suspected of harbouring such feelings, were routinely attacked by both the new-fangled law and the extra-judicial mob.
The law hit suspected infidels with confiscation, fines, imprisonment, deportation from any area threatened by a British advance, confinement to internment camps. The mob would torture suspected Tories by tarring and feathering. The infidels would be made to recant and forced, often at gun point, to take an oath of allegiance to the new republic.
Burke was sage on most political matters, specifically when he tore the French Revolution to shreds in his Reflections. But he was sorely misguided when describing the earlier similar event in America as 'a revolution not made but prevented'.
Dr Johnson, who unlike Burke was a Tory and therefore less susceptible to serpentine liberal seduction, begged to differ in his typical epigrammatic fashion: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”
Commenting on the opposite polarity of Burke’s passionate reaction to the two revolutions, Coleridge insisted that in both cases the great Whig proceeded from the same principles. That may be, but he certainly did not display the same prescience.
While the French revolution proved every bit as hideous as Burke’s prophetic vision of it, the American one was far from being as benign as he believed.
Not only was it as unlawful and radical as the French version, but it caused comparable damage by wreaking destruction on the political dispensation of Christendom. And even the death toll of the two upheavals was similar if we legitimately regard the Civil War as the second act of the American Revolution.
One can argue that the perennial effect of the self-evidently inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness has been as harmful as that of liberté and fraternité, underpinned by egalité. The very term ‘pursuit of happiness’ appropriately comes from Locke who, armed with Hobbesian agnosticism, was the principal prophet of the new order.
With the benefit of hindsight, Jefferson’s friend John Adams rued in 1811, “Did not the American Revolution produce the French Revolution? And did not the French Revolution produce all the calamities and desolation of the human race and the whole globe ever since?”
In his letter of reply Jefferson reassured the doubting Thomas that it was perfectly acceptable to spill 'rivers of blood' as long as it was in the cause of advancing whatever it was that the revolutionaries wished to advance.
This sentiment has been shared by quite a few other politicians in history, with Lenin, Hitler, Mao and Ho immediately springing to mind. Unlike Jefferson, however, none of them is regarded as the distillation of political virtue.
Except on those occasions when President Obama pontificates on his fellow socialists of the past.
Alexander Boot is a writer on political, cultural and religious themes.