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French vs American Revolutions — Vive La Différence!

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 4
Publish Date: 
Thu, 07/19/2012

 

The French celebrated Bastille Day last week, 219 years after beheading Marie-Antoinette in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. To this day, she’s the poster-child for upper-class excess, entitlement and insensitivity -- the ultimate “1 Percenter.”


However, Think Again before believing every demonization you hear, especially without factcheck.org. In truth, though a privileged aristocrat, Marie-Antoinette was not only a faithful Good Samaritan, she actually never uttered the notorious catchphrase “Let them eat cake.” Never mind those silly details -- social justice was at stake!


By portraying Marie-Anoinette as selfish and out-of-touch, the revolutionaries justified their bloodthirsty mob rule and indiscriminate savagery. Declaring “liberty, equality and fraternity,” they ushered in an anti-democratic period of unlimited governmental power, civil strife, and economic despair, though eventually Enlightenment principles transformed France into a vibrant democracy.


Today, France has Europe’s most state-directed economy, and among its most stagnant and indebted. Prioritizing “the collective interest,” the French prefer government to free market solutions spending more on social welfare than any other developed country. Recently, the anti-wealth rhetoric of newly elected President Hollande -- and his plans to hike taxes – made London the sixth largest French city, to its mayor’s delight.


Similarly Enlightenment-inspired, though resentful of strong government, American revolutionaries devised a system to protect individual liberties. James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men… controls on government would (not) be necessary.  In framing a government… you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”


While the French were sticking dissenters’ heads on bayonets, Americans enacted a Constitution designed to disperse authority in order to protect the moral promise in our Declaration of Independence: that every individual is born with equal and inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, the American Revolution facilitated the creation of the freest and most prosperous society on earth.


Over the last century, while America’s free economy boomed attracting immigrants to our opportunity society, politicians were busy encumbering it, à la française. They instituted the income tax, asserted extra-constitutional powers to regulate, dabbled in cronyism and created entitlement programs that now consume 65 percent of the federal budget. Once 3 percent of gross domestic product, government spending is now 25 percent, crowding out the private economy and producing daily deficits of $4 billion.

 

Consequently, we suffer French-size economic stagnation, unemployment, and debt (up 50 percent since January 2009). Poverty rates are the highest since tracking began in 1959; food stamp dependency is exploding; and the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans say we’re on the wrong track and that there’s too much government power and too little individual freedom.


Meanwhile, clueless that government policies influence economic decisions, politicians now propose increasing taxes. “Taxmageddon” -- the toxic mix of year-end tax increases – is causing businesses to defer hiring and investment. Even if limited to the top two-percent with incomes over $250,000 (which includes small businesses responsible for half of private sector jobs and $720 billion in earnings), tax increases would create serious recessionary headwinds while funding only 8.5 days of federal spending, per the Congressional Budget Office. This is a blueprint to cripple job creation, and 23 million job-seeking Americans.


Though they agreed it was economically injurious to hike taxes in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate, tax-hikers argue it’s now about fairness while referencing the “roaring 90’s” when rates were higher but before explosions in spending, debt, and stagnation.  What's fair about increasing taxes knowing the vulnerable will suffer disproportionately?


What is fair considering 2009 IRS data shows the top one-percent and top five-percent paid 37 percent and 64 percent respectively of federal income taxes, while the bottom half paid two percent? If the richest aren’t yet paying their fair share, doesn’t that suggest they don’t merit their earned success?  By denying some Americans their earned success, doesn’t that undermine our opportunity society and social cohesion?


Having migrated toward French values, practices and even their anti-wealth rhetoric, its hard to recall our Founders' belief that government’s role is to protect – not grant -- individual rights and property.  To reinvigorate our free society and market economy, we need a true “fairness agenda”: a simpler tax code with fewer special interest loopholes, no more corporate welfare, and reforms that preserve entitlement programs for future generations.


Most importantly, we must recover the private initiative that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville found exceptional in 1830s America: ““In every case at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government ... in America you’re sure to find an association.” 


By renewing our commitment to individual liberties and the ethic that each of us – not government -- is our brother’s keeper, Americans “have it in our power to begin the world all over again,” as American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote.


Wouldn’t our Founders want us to Think Again?

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To be perfectly fair to the

To be perfectly fair to the French revolutionaries, something I’m not particularly fond of being, America had it easy.

The French had to put their Revolution through in the teeth of massive foreign invasion and armed domestic resistance. We were at peace when we worked up our Constitution.

That said, I basically agree with the author. Every bad political notion of the last 200 years was given a road show tryout in the French Revolution.

I would also object to the author’s contention that the eventual triumph of democracy in France was due to Enlightenment principles. The problem here is that every single one of the French revolutionaries thought he was implementing the Enlightenment, and ready to kill anyone who had a different opinion on how to go about it. This was the French Enlightenment. Voltaire, Rousseau and that bunch.

The American Revolution, OTOH, was largely based on English and Scottish Enlightenment principles. Two very different kettles of fish.

Great article. Our woes

Great article.
Our woes started with LBJ and it's imploding under it's own weight. The welfare state was created now it's consuming the nation. Obama promotes it through class warfare. The choice is now up to this election but the welfare state needs to be crushed too.

The French Revoultion was

The French Revoultion was more like the Bolshevik revolution than the American Revolution.

Wow! Nominate for must read.

Wow! Nominate for must read. Very compact discussion of the fallacies of tax the rich out of fairness.

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