Saturday, June 6, 2020

A Reminder From Jonathan Turley: Today’s Revolutionaries Are Tomorrow’s Reactionaries

Actually, there's a bit more to that reminder:

As proven by the French Revolution, today’s revolutionaries are tomorrow’s reactionaries — or victims.

Everyone seems busy these days looking for historical parallels for our current events. Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washing School of Law, has an article at The Hill that seeks--successfully, I think--to find lessons from the French Revolution--Can this American version of the French Revolution bring change? The obvious answer is, Yes, but the next question is, What kind of change?

The lesson from the French Revolution, one we're relearning already, is simply: The center cannot hold. A "moderate" revolution will quickly be overtaken by radicals seeking a vehicle for their own purposes--and woe to those left behind by the radical shift to new extremes!  The interesting thing is that the Dems appear eager to own all this. They're riding a tiger but don't seem to realize it.

A few excerpts:

Welcome to the modern French Revolution. The tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis resulted in an important focus on race relations and justice in this country. However, it is being lost to an emerging radicalism that challenges people to prove their faith by endorsing farce. Across the country, political leaders and commentators are outdoing each other to demonstrate fealty to this new order, attacking core institutions and values. A growing radical element is fighting to out-shout each other as leaders of a careening movement, with politicians joining calls to “defund the police” and commentators calling for censorship. Moderate voices seem to be fading with the escalating demands that leaders denounce the values that define them. 
Take those calls to “defund the police.” Once the mantra of only the most extreme elements in society, it has been picked up by elected leaders. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) has said that defunding all police should not “be brushed aside.” Brian Fallon, former public affairs director at the Justice Department and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign press secretary, has declared support for the movement. 
Many politicians seem eager not to be left alone in the ideological center amid this rapid shift to the far left. Democratic socialist and New York state senator Julia Salazar expressed her delight: “To see legislators who aren’t even necessarily on the left supporting [defunding or decreasing the police budget] ... feels a little bit surreal.” 
That surreal feeling is likely even more pronounced among looting victims whose stores are left unprotected while politicians and experts excuse such crimes entirely. Socialist Seattle council member Tammy Morales dismissed concerns about looting, insisting that “what I don’t want to hear is for our constituents to be told to be civil, not to be reactionary, to be told looting doesn’t solve anything.” ... 
History suggests, however, that such demonstrations may not be enough. As proven by the French Revolution, today’s revolutionaries are tomorrow’s reactionaries — or victims. Pierre Robespierre led that revolution’s “Reign of Terror” until he was guillotined as one of its last victims, and Marat’s farcical scenes ended with his own stabbing in a bathtub in retaliation for his bloody excesses. It is a cycle repeated in revolutions throughout history: When the music stops, fewer and fewer chairs can be found by those who readily embraced extreme measures. 
That is why many of our leaders should consider the words of Abbe Sieyes, a Catholic clergyman and author of the French Revolution’s manifesto, “What Is The Third Estate?” When asked what he had done during the revolution, he simply responded, “I survived.”


  1. Sorry if this seems pedantic, but where Turley has "Pierre Robespierre", it should be "Maximilian Robespierre".

    Likewise, "Marat’s farcical scenes ended with his own stabbing in a bathtub in retaliation for his bloody excesses" is rather misleading, in that whatever excesses he committed were trivial, compared to those which followed his murder.
    Only weeks after this murder, did Robespierre became part of the Committee of Public Safety, and push the Terror into overdrive.

    Of course, Turley's larger points still quite stand.

  2. "Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it."

    Aphorisms exist for a reason.

    May God have mercy on us all.

  3. For an explanation of all that is going on, pls read "The True Believer" by Eric Hoffer.

    1. Funny you should mention that. I was thinking yesterday that maybe I should give the book a try.

    2. Highly recommend it. Hoffer was a died in the wool communist, but honest in his observations. As informative about "movements" as McLuhan's "Media is the Message" was prescient about the advent of video on the manipulation of the masses.
      Tom S.

    3. Sorry, should be dyed in the wool.

      I try to avoid commenting from my cell phone (it thinks it knows more about what I want to say than I do) but sometimes can't help myself.
      Tom S.

    4. Eric Hoffer loved America and admired the American spirit of indivudualism and free enterprise. Hoffer absolutely despised socialism and its close political relation, communism. In addition, he admired the Jewish people and was a strong supporter of Israel. Hoffer can be viewed on Youtube as it has some video of his interview with Eric Severeid.

    5. OK, so which was it? Dyed in the wool Commie or hater of it? I avoided reading the book precisely because I had heard he was a Commie.

    6. I think today we'd call Hoffer an old fashioned liberal. He was a man of the left. Pretty much the same as one would describe George Orwell. If he espoused a political principle it would individual ingenuity and initiative. He was NOT a fan of collectivism.

      True Believer, and his other works are highly recommended.

    7. If I remember correctly he wrote close to fifty books. All very short and to the point, like "True Believer". The only bio I ever read was on the back of the paperback copy of "The True Believer" that I read long ago. All I remember about it was that he was a west coast longshoreman, a lifelong bachelor who, for female companionship, only sought out prostitutes exclusively, and spent all of his otherwise free time at the public library. Also that he was a card carrying member of the CPUSA until his death. Can't swear to the facts. Never looked into it further.
      Tom S.

  4. No knowledge on whether or not he was a communist, but I do recommend that you read the book. It will help you understand what others are thinking and how they’ll act/react. You fail if you expect them to act/react like you would.
    It is informative, as is Rules for Radicals (read it in 2009.) A normal life example is learning about sales techniques before buying a car, you’ll know what is coming up before the salesman does it.

  5. He doesn’t sound like a communist. And I know my late Mother read The True Believer and she was definitely a Conservative, long before we were divided into Red and Blue. I think she used to listen to him occasionally on radio, but that is a dim memory at best. She was our window to the world, reader of two newspapers a day, and fascinated with politics. I remember listening to Republican presidential nominating conventions on radio with her explaining what was going on, all the ballots. She had a great influence on our lives.

    I found this re Hoffer. Judge for yourselves:

    Hoffer believed that rapid change is not necessarily a positive thing for a society and that too rapid change can cause a regression in maturity for those who were brought up in a different society. He noted that in America in the 1960s, many young adults were still living in extended adolescence. Seeking to explain the attraction of the New Left protest movements, he characterized them as the result of widespread affluence, which "is robbing a modern society of whatever it has left of puberty rites to routinize the attainment of manhood." He saw the puberty rites as essential for self-esteem and noted that mass movements and juvenile mindsets tend to go together, to the point that anyone, no matter what age, who joins a mass movement immediately begins to exhibit juvenile behavior.

    Hoffer further noted that working-class Americans rarely joined protest movements and subcultures since they had entry into meaningful labor as an effective rite of passage out of adolescence while both the very poor who lived on welfare and the affluent were, in his words, "prevented from having a share in the world's work, and of proving their manhood by doing a man's work and getting a man's pay" and thus remained in a state of extended adolescence. Lacking in necessary self-esteem, they were prone to joining mass movements as a form of compensation. Hoffer suggested that the need for meaningful work as a rite of passage into adulthood could be fulfilled with a two-year civilian national service program (like programs during the Great Depression such as the Civilian Conservation Corps): "The routinization of the passage from boyhood to manhood would contribute to the solution of many of our pressing problems. I cannot think of any other undertaking that would dovetail so many of our present difficulties into opportunities for growth.”

    We are seeing them on the streets.

  6. He appears to have been anything but a “dyed in the wool communist”…

    He was a frequent guest on network television, often praising conservative politicians like then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. In his first and most influential book, The True Believer, Hoffer criticized mass movements of all stripes, especially communism, and lauded the government’s containment policy.

    Yet Hoffer was a walking contradiction. Despite his rightist politics, Hoffer belonged not just to the country’s most powerful leftist union, the International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), but its most militant local, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Local 10.

    Whoever wrote this didn’t know that a man did not work as a longshoreman unless he belonged to the union. Union membership for a longshoreman would not be an accurate litmus test for his politics.

  7. Did some more reading. Hoffer wrote The True Believer because he saw similarities between mass movements - regardless of their philosophy - and believed that those who joined them did so because of frustration. From his preface:

    The assumption that mass movements have many traits in common does not imply that all movements are equally beneficent or poisonous. The book passes no judgments, and expresses no preferences. It merely tries to explain; and the explanations,--all of them theories--are in the nature of suggestions and arguments even when they are stated in what seems a categorical tone. I can do no better than quote Montaigne: "All I say is by way of advice. I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.”

    This is from a site that offers a download: