The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Review: The American Revolution and The Politics of Liberty

It’s interesting that Barack Obama’s newest press
secretary, Josh Earnest, characterized the conflict between ISIS and Obama’s
friendly treatment of ISIS (aka ISIL), a brutal, mass murdering terrorist
organization, as a “war of narratives.” In short, he denigrated any
opposition to ISIS, or any criticism of Obama’s overall pro-Islam policies, as
arbitrary say-so. Doubtless Earnest would also characterize the arguments between
Britain and the colonies in the 18th century as a “war of narratives.”
Pamela Engel, writing for Business
Insider
, wrote on September 19th:
Josh Earnest, the White House press
secretary, told CNN on Monday morning that the US was in a “narrative
fight” with ISIS.
Earnest appeared on the network as
authorities in New York and New Jersey investigated bombs found throughout the
area over the weekend, including one that injured 29 people when it exploded on
Saturday night in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Authorities on Monday morning seemed to be
changing their initial assessment that the bombs weren’t connected to one
another and did not appear to be related to international terrorism.
“What I can tell you is that we are,
when it comes to ISIL, we are in a fight, a narrative fight with them, a
narrative battle,” Earnest said, using an alternate name for the terrorist
group, which is also known as the Islamic State or Daesh. “And what ISIL
wants to do is they want to project that they are an organization that is
representing Islam in a fight, in a war against the West and a war against the
United States.”
Earnest continued:
“That is a bankrupt, false narrative. It is a mythology. And we have made
progress in debunking that mythology.”
It is a “bankrupt, false narrative” only in the
minds of Earnest and the rest of the Obama administration. Islam is without a
doubt at war with the West, but the West refuses to acknowledge that
declaration of war. It can’t bring itself to concede that Islam is more a
political ideology than it is a “religion.” The Obama meme is that Islam is
basically a “religion of peace” (continuing the George W. Bush line) that was “hijacked”
by murderous renegades. This is the actual “mythology” that should be
debunked.
But the Obama administration and the MSM and all
their minions will not be persuaded otherwise. It would scuttle their whole
approach to combating Islamic terrorism. They have a vested interest in the
Progressive/Left ideology that defines their world view. They are ideologues
trapped in a locked room in which they go round and round, chasing their own
tails.
Robert H. Webking, author of The
American Revolution and the Politics of Liberty
, contradicts the received wisdom
that the revolutionaries were little more than ideologues who had no
philosophical or moral foundation on which to base their opposition to the
growing expansion of British power over the lives of the American colonists,
and so they declared their independence from Britain more from roiling emotion
than from principle. Webking is a professor of
political science
at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Webking offers illuminating insights into the
writings and thinking of several prominent revolutionaries, all of them “intellectuals”:
James Otis, Patrick Henry, John Dickinson, Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Thomas
Jefferson. Their efforts contributed mightily to the arguments of colonial
churchmen and “activists and to the moral certitude of the “common man.”  
Webking, in his Preface, lays down his plan:
The subject of this book
is the political thought of the intellectual leaders of the American Revolution.
I seek to clarify the arguments about human beings and their governments made
by the most thoughtful and influential of the American revolutionaries to
explain their opposition to the policies of the British government during the
period immediately preceding the American war for independence….The Americans
explained their resistance to the British in principled terms….They claimed
that British actions were not merely unwise or impolitic but fundamentally
wrong and unjust….” (p. ix)
In his Introduction, Webking elaborates on his purpose:
For much of this century
[the 20th] it was the accepted opinion that an examination of the arguments
made by the American revolutionaries would yield no important knowledge. Scholarship
during the first half of this century was dominated by historians who
minimized, if not denigrated, the place of ideas in the genesis of the American
Revolution. Known collectively as the Progressives, these historians turned to
material interests, class structure, property holdings – in general, to
socioeconomic factors – to explain the revolutionaries’ behavior. They believed
that the revolutionaries to have been moved by what was in their pockets, not
by what was in their heads; or rather…they believed that what is in human
beings’ pockets controls what is in their heads.” (p. 1)
 Which is
more than just a Progressive state of mind; it is a Marxist state of mind, pure
and simple. Men’s minds are governed and fashioned by their “class structure”
and “economic circumstances,” not by their independent thoughts, says Marxism. They
cannot “think” or behave otherwise, or think outside the sealed Marxist
envelope. Among other chalk marks against Marxism, is its denial of human
volition. Marxism is a philosophy of determinism.
Webking exposes the Progressive determinist
premises of such prominent historians as Bernard Bailyn, author of one seminal
work, The
Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, 1967):
Insofar as Bailyn is
unclear as to what he means by the ideology of the Americans, he has left
unanswered a serious question about the causes and rationality, of the American
Revolution. There is, however, much evidence in his work to suggest the
question. And the evidence suggests that Bailyn’s contention is precisely this:
the revolutionary Americans were acting in irrational ways because they were
determined to do so by an ideological paranoia that gripped them and left them
incapable of both of perceiving political reality and of acting politically
like rational human beings.” (p. 7)
Webking notes:
Of course it would be
possible for men driven by ideology to attempt to appear rational and prudent
by using language they didn’t mean or by uttering prescriptions they never
genuinely followed. Still, the Declaration [of Independence] does suggest that
the leaders of the Revolution were moved more by rational calculation and less
by irrational ideology than Bailyn concludes. (p. 11)

Bust of Patrick Henry in the Virginia State

Capitol, Richmond, by
William F. Sievers
The Declaration of Independence is the culmination
and high point of Western Enlightenment thought about liberty and political
freedom. It is certainly more than mere “rational calculation.”
Webking emphasizes that the first great
intellectual leader of the Americans during the period preceding the Revolution
was James Otis of Massachusetts. Otis, in 1761, argued that the British “writs
of assistance,” which allowed customs officials to search “wherever and
whomever” they chose to search property to enforce British anti-smuggling
efforts. (p. 16). Webking quotes extensively from Otis’s pamphlet, The
Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved
(1764).
Otis closes his
introduction with two long quotations from [John] Locke’s Second Treatise of
Civil Government
confirming the conclusion that the people have “a
supreme power to remove, or alter, the legislative when they find the
legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them.
” (p. 23)  
Webking moves up the hierarchy of intellectual
leadership to Patrick Henry, John Dickinson, Samuel Adams, John Adams, and
Thomas Jefferson, with an explication of each leader’s contribution to the intellectual
and moral foundation of the Revolution. Henry, who was regarded in his time by
many of his contemporaries as a crude country bumpkin, was actually better read
in the classics and in the political science of the time than most would credit
him for. His extensive “self-education” allowed him to author the Virginia Resolves,
which denied Parliament the right to tax the colonists without their consent. In
May of 1765 he rose in the House of Burgesses, Virginia, and stunned the body
with his oratory and rational arguments against the Stamp Tax. Webking writes:

A copy of the Sievers bust of Henry,

at Red Hill, Virginia, Henry’s last home.


It is unfortunate that
Patrick Henry’s speech…to persuade its members to adopt the resolves was not
preserved. However, it was not the speech that actually passed the House of
Burgesses but the resolves as published in the papers [throughout the colonies]
that stirred resistance to the Stamp Act…(pp. 31-32)
In Book Four: Empire, of the Sparrowhawk
series, I dramatize Henry’s speech in the House introducing the resolves. I wrote
speech itself, based on the style of 18th century oratory. Please excuse the
hubris, but I think I captured Henry’s style and character. Here is Henry in
action, towards the end of his introduction of the resolves:
            Henry had removed his hat and handed it again to
Colonel Munford. He took a step away from his seat. “The honorable gentleman
there,” he said, pointing boldly to Peyton Randolph, “spoke now, not of the
rightness or wrongness of the resolve in question, but of ominous consequences,
should this House adopt it. I own that I am perplexed by his attention to what
the Crown can and may do, and by his neglect to speak to the propriety of the
resolve and the impropriety of this Stamp Act. Should he have examined for us
the basis of his fears?  Yes. But, he did
not. Perhaps he concluded that they were too terrible to articulate. So, I
shall examine them, for I believe that he and I share one well-founded
fear:  The power of the Crown to punish
us, to scatter us, to despoil us, for the temerity of asserting in no ambiguous
terms our liberty!  I fear
that power no less than he.  But, I say
that such a fear, of such a power, can move a man to one of two courses. He can
make a compact with that power, one of mutual accommodation, so that he
may live the balance of his years in the shadow of that power, ever-trembling
in soul-dulling funk lest that power rob him once again.
            “Or – he can rise up, and to that power say ‘No!
to that power proclaim: ‘Liberty cannot, and will not, ever accommodate
tyranny!  I am wise to that Faustian
bargain, and will not barter piecemeal or in whole my liberty!’”
            Henry folded his arms and surveyed the rows of
stony-faced members across the floor. “Why are you gentlemen so fearful of that
word?” he demanded. “Why have not one of you dared pronounce it?  Is it because you believe that if it is not
spoken, or its fact or action in any form not acknowledged, it will not be what
it is? Well, I will speak it for you and for all this colony to
hear!”  His arms dropped, but the left
rose again, and he shouted, stabbing the air with a fist, “Tyranny! Tyranny!
Tyranny!
  The arm dropped again.
“There!  The horror is named!”
            Henry wandered back in the direction of his seat,
though his contemptuous glance did not leave the men on the opposition benches.
“You gentlemen, you have amassed vast, stately libraries from which you seem to
be reluctant to cull or retain much wisdom. Know that I, too, have books, and that
they are loose and dog-eared from my having read them, and I have profited from
that habit.”  His voice now rose to a
pitch that seemed to shatter the air. “History is rife with instances of
ambitious, grasping tyranny! Like many of you, I, too, have read that in the
past, the tyrants Tarquin and Julius Caesar each had his Brutus, Catline had
his Cicero and Cato, and, closer to our time, Charles had his Cromwell!  George the Third may – “
            The opposition benches exploded in outrage.
Burgesses shot up at the sound of the king’s name, released now from their dumb
silence, and found their argument. They cried to the Speaker, “Treason!”
“Treason!” “Enough! He speaks treason!” “Expel that man!”  “Silence that traitor!” “Stay his tongue!”
“Treason!”
            Speaker Robinson was also on his feet, shaking his
cane at Henry. “Treason, sir! Treason! I warn you, sir! Treason!”
            Henry, determined to finish his sentence, shouted
above the tumult, “ – may George the Third profit by their example!”
        
            Henry stood defiantly, facing his gesturing
accusers, then raised a hand and whipped it through the air in a diagonal swath
that seemed to sweep them all away. “If this be treason, then make the most of
it!” he shouted. He stood for a moment more, then turned and strode back to his
seat. But, he did not sit, for he was not finished.
(pp. 235-238, Book
Four: Empire. Sparrowhawk
)
Webking describes in detail how each of the five
resolves that were passed and promulgated (not by Henry himself) throughout the
colonies was interconnected by unassailable logic to each of the others. (pp.
32-38) Patrick Henry “topped” his speech in the House of Burgesses in his “Give liberty or give
me death
” speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond ten years later.

“Give me liberty, or give me death!”


John Adams, wrote Webking, more or less seconded
Henry’s Richmond speech:
In his attempts to
balance the evil of mob violence with the evil of despotism, Adams ultimately
makes his decision on the basis of the importance of liberty to human beings
and of the seriousness of the threat to liberty presented by the principle of
absolute parliamentary authority. He concludes that to allow a right so
valuable to human beings to be removed without a fight is a greater evil than
the right to fight. He says that in such a fight  the people, even if they lose, cannot be
unsuccessful: “because, even if they live, they can be but slaves, after an
unfortunate effort, and slaves they would have been, if they had not resisted. So
that nothing is lost. If they die, they cannot be said to lose, for death is
better than slavery
. If they succeed, their gains are immense. They preserve
their liberties.” (p. 91, Italics mine.)
Robert Webking’s book is highly recommended to
anyone wanting to grasp how “intellectual” were the founders and the basic
principles on which they argued for liberty. Unlike today’s political
establishment, they did not argue as fatuous ideologues who cannot or refuse to
explain why Americans must become slaves or wards of the state or deferential
lackeys of the political elite (and I include in that condemnation the Left and
the Conservatives and the Neo-Conservatives). This is the tactic of the
enemies of freedom today. Their purpose is to de-legitimatize this country’s
founding principles. They can only snort, smirk, and sneer at those principles.
The American revolutionaries
were not engaged in a pathetic non-intellectual “war of narratives” with
their enemies. Webking ends his book with this observation:
The leaders of the American
Revolution argued, worked, and fought for peace, stability, and, most
important, for liberty. The study of their revolution is the study of the
rational pursuit of human liberty. (175)
The
American Revolution and the Politics of Liberty
, by Robert H. Webking. LSU Press, 1989. 181 pages.

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2 Comments

  1. Unknown

    As Marxists, Obama and his minions are also at war with the west.

  2. Rob McVey

    Ed, Thanks for the review; I'm going to get it!

    Cheers,
    — Rob McVey, T4B

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