If the French Revolution represented anything, it was a break with the past. The revolutionaries rejected the monarchy, Christianity, and historical antecedents. They wanted a tabula rasa on which a new view of history would be printed. Change was in the air.
The calendar was refashioned, clothes were redesigned, and even historic reliquary was demoted in importance. For example, the Bayeux tapestries depicting the tale of William the Conqueror and the battle of Hastings in 1066 were used as tarpaulin to conceal weapons.
Although history never reproduces itself exactly, one gets the impression, reinforced each day, that the Obama administration is intent on revolution of its own.
If one were to boil down the essentials of American nationalism, they would be individual liberty, a respect for private property, the rule of constitutional law, and the customs, traditions, and history that make the United States unique. It is instructive that there are signs President Obama views himself as a 21st-century Robespierre seemingly eager to overturn the conditions of American uniqueness.
First, his Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, has deemed “right-wing extremists” a threat to the nation without defining either “right wing” or “extremist.” Is the liberty to express oneself to be monitored carefully by Napolitano, who seemingly has arrogated to herself the judge of threats to America? Is this so different from St. Just, who decided through the Committee for Public Safety the enemies in the French Republic?
Second, the president's calling for the ouster of the president of General Motors and reneging on contractual obligations with AIG officials violated constitutional provisions against ex post facto decisions.
Third, the president has made it clear along with his Democrat-led House Finance Committee that he has the power to determine the salaries of all employees in companies receiving TARP financing. Moreover, the president has indicated the system of taxation will be employed for the redistribution of wealth, a notion antithetical to the founding of the nation.
Fourth, by apologizing for American actions in the past and agreeing to a vision of the Kyoto Accord, the Treaty of The Seas and other multilateral pacts, the president is engaged in challenging national sovereignty and erasing U.S. accomplishments from the collective memory bank.
The era of the guillotine has not arrived, but there appears to be a hint that this administration is more intent in stifling internal dissent than fighting against America’s declared enemies.
America’s original revolution was modest in nature. The founders wanted “to cut the umbilical cord” with England, but they did not envision an existential change in the character of government. Although it is obviously too early to assess the full magnitude of the Obama changes, there is little doubt the change that has already occurred and the change that is anticipated are truly revolutionary in scale and scope.
Should this continue, the American people — both Republicans and Democrats — will demand a Brumaire, a restoration of constitutional principles and national traditions.
The French Revolution also revealed that revolutions “devour their own” by tossing them on the ash heap of history. Will President Obama be remembered as the president who tried to renounce his national history and in so doing, almost lost what Americans most value?
Surely there are blemishes in our historical past and present and these should be recognized and addressed. But we should do so by recognizing as well national achievements and, yes, our exceptional character.
By tearing this nation down, we tear it apart. The United States will not be one nation indivisible, but many nations, balkanized and divided.
During the 2000 campaign, former Vice President Al Gore mistakenly said “e pluribus unum” is “from one, many” instead of “from many, one.” It was a slip. In the Obama era, it may be a direction.
The nation is in unchartered waters facing a sea of turbulence. Our president is firm in his conviction that he knows where the nation is going. But many are concerned that we are headed for a Second American Revolution that might resemble the French Revolution more than the American Revolution that gave birth to this great nation.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books).
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