By Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog
(This is the second chapter in a new book, France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's Best Values. Please click here for the article which announces this book and explains its goals.)
Modern conservatism was hugely inspired by Edmund Burke's constant assertion that one is not permitted to remake society into something new because to wipe out the historical context which shaped that society would be immoral. It's the crux of his anti-revolution thesis.
This is the precise logic of modern reformism - i.e., slow reform and improvement of English-style parliamentarianism, which is the political backbone of Western Liberal Democracy.
But it's a cardinal error of the ardent and overdramatic conservative - to give entirely too sweeping a brush to any revolution. Nobody could totally wipe away a nation's historical and cultural context - what's done is done and won't be forgotten, but it can be looked at differently. The past often should be left behind in order to implement a new, more humane legal foundation, which is always the basic goal of any revolution - anything else is a mere "coup", after all.
Modern conservatives and Burke, the acknowledged philosophical founder of Western conservatism, ultimately want to continue to be the elite arbiters of what legal, economic and cultural changes get made, whereas Socialist Democracies insist that the mass of the people - the Third Estate, the proletariat & peasantry, the 99%, etc. - should be the arbiters.
Burke had the opportunities and status he did because he was an aristocrat (the House of Burke was a centuries-old noble dynasty), an imperialist (of Ireland - Burke was born there) and, ironically, because of revolution. The previous chapter summarised Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and it is equally a defense of England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 - both of its methods and its results - as it is an assault on the new ideas of 1789 France. It's truly a book which covers two revolutions, and it distinctly marks the political-cultural schism between both Anglophone and Francophone cultures and between revolutionary and conservative cultures.
The methods: A royal coup in England which installed a foreign royal (William of Orange, from the Netherlands). What the English like to focus on is not this anti-patriotic, "monarchy-as-the-original-globalist-1%ers" class aspect, but the fact that it was done without bloodshed, and that it ended a four decade era of civil war and political changes.
The results: The coup was effectuated by the Whigs, the new social class which had been created off the new profits from Western Hemisphere imperialism and its explosion in commercial trading. I mentioned this in the Introduction: 1492 created a slow but certain economic revolution by making war/imperialism and trade newly hyper-profitable for Europe. By 1688 the Whigs were able to use these profits to force in a foreign king, pass the English Bill of Rights and establish the prominence of parliament for the first time in English history.
Burke was a Whig and, sycophantic Whig that he was, wrote that all revolutions to the post-Glorious Revolution status quo should be denounced as awful - this explains how Reflections marks the birth of Western anti-revolutionism. Burke is writing about France but also saying, expressly, that the 1688 intra-elite coup which encoded rights to the noble class is the only revolution which should ever be glorified, and long live the reign of the Whigs.
Thus it's total self-interest; it's total class war long before Marx; it's an alliance of the allegedly-noble rich, whether landed, royal and theocratic rich or nouveau imperialist-trader rich; and it's totally reactionary (which is defined as: opposing progressive political or social reforms). It is this eventual unification of all types of wealth - land-based, commercial/imperial, then 19th century financial/industrial - and then their united struggle against the 99% which is what made the Marxist analysis of 19th century European history so provokingly revolutionary. Marx drained the nobility of their Burkean pretensions to a deserved grandeur by pointing out: all you care about is money.
The Glorious Revolution has gone global, partially, like every successful revolution inevitably does - it has become inseparable from Western Liberal Democracy.
While I do apologise for the way this book on the Yellow Vests ballooned, LOL, I am just trying to get back to the root of the matter. Ultimately, the Yellow Vests are rebelling against the latest failure of Western Liberal Democracy. 1688 is the feudal-era basis of this ideology, which hasn't been "modern" since 1789.
Yellow Vest "It's clear that the government is selling us a democracy which is actually a total illusion. When we see how much violence there has been to the peaceful Yellow Vests, it's clear that French democracy is a dream and not reality."
(Note: this book intersperses over 100 quotations taken from actual, marching Yellow Vests which were originally published in news reports on PressTV.)
Why England's and America's revolutions are not the start of modern politics
Crucially, because the 1688 revolution is based not on the empowerment of the average person and democracy but is instead based on protecting elite privilege, it cannot be considered as the revolution which births modern politics.
It's far more accurate to say that 1688 was the last organised resistance by European elite aimed at containing modern politics. 1688 erected the most vigorous bulwark against modern politics, sadly. The religious emphasis of the English Civil Wars also make the 1688 Revolution far less suitable than 1789 to mark the start of the modern political era, which is defined by class politics - religious wars belong to the earlier era. Nor should the culmination of the colonisation of Ireland during this era permit 1688 to serve as the start of the neo-imperial project of the European Union (that date is 1871, as I explain later) - for one thing, England is not even in the EU. The proof is also right there in the pudding: from 1688 until today the British Isles are the seat or co-seat of seemingly every effort worldwide to fight against the ideals of 1789 and socialist democracy.
But history is a slow process, and we should acknowledge the merits in the Glorious Revolution lest we lose the key thread of political history - the move of away from autocracy. Is that not what the average person has been fighting for since 1789? A major effort of this book is to show how monarchical concepts - such as autocracy and rule by a small elite - didn't stop with 1979 Iran but still drastically shape Western Liberal Democracy today.
1688 was important, and not just for its shortcomings:
Firstly, it produced the Bill of Rights of 1688, which should be considered far more important than the Magna Carta of 1215, though the latter is better remembered. The Magna Carta is only a big deal within England - it wasn't even the biggest expansion away from absolute monarchy in its own era. In 13th century Hungary their aristocracy was far more inclusive and egalitarian: 5% of the country was nobility and the "Golden Bull" decree of 1222 made them all equal, even giving them the right to vote in the most weighty matters of state. (Indeed, the parallels and legacies between this longstanding Hungarian elite class and the modern "Austrian School" of political economics are too numerous to list here.)
Secondly, 1688 effectively ended the world's worst - and most historically prevalent - type of theocracy: the divine right of kings. The Puritan Revolution and Oliver Cromwell had done its work and could not be reversed: "Christ, not man, is King" is the epitaph on his tomb. I think a better epithet would be "God, not man, is King", but I'm Muslim. I certainly appreciate Cromwell's point. The awful lovers of monarchy, such as Burke, who opposed Cromwell and his Protectorate republic (1653-59) exhumed his corpse in 1660, the year monarchy was restored - they stuck Cromwell's skull on a pike and placed it on the roof of Westminster Hall for 30 years.
Thirdly and lastly, the Bill of Right can be best described as a "Rights of Man and of the Citizen... but only Aristocrats are Men or Citizens". It took 100 years for the idea to take root that all humans - and not just nobles - have rights. I noted in the Introduction that this egalitarian concept did not derive from England but from the indigenous in the New World. Regardless of provenance, spread it did, and the aristocrat Burke opposed 1789's attempts to spread it just as much as kings, prior to 1688, opposed the idea that nobles have rights.
But the Glorious Revolution was indeed a true advance, and it's with some justification that England thought itself the most progressive nation in Europe. However, 1789 changed this self-perception, and the allegedly post-feudal United Kingdom was now behind the times. It remains there, sadly.
England's Bill of Rights has 13 key articles, and it is nearly identical to the 10 articles of the United States Bill of Rights. Indeed, it is a part of US domestic propaganda to portray the US Bill of Rights as some sort of spectacular advance when it was clearly modelled on something a century old. The American Bill of Rights was written in 1789, the same year as the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Absolutely crucially, the 27 articles of France's declaration goes so very, very much further than the American declaration.
It's entirely accurate to say that the Americans did not join with the French conception of human rights but with England's: The Glorious and American Revolutions did not remake their social orders but merely established a limited view of human rights. This explains why modern Western Liberal Democracy easily embraces both the constitutional monarchies of Europe (Spain, Sweden, etc.) as well as the constitutional republics of the US (and France, Italy, etc.). The UK is one of the handful of countries which still doesn't have a constitution, along with Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The US merely codified an oligarchy - American oligarchs were now in charge on the Eastern seaboard, not English oligarchs - and this allows us to explain why modern politics doesn't begin with the American Revolution of 1776 either.
For the common man the Glorious English and American Revolutions are truly "internal coups" more than "revolutions". In neither was there an attempt to fundamentally reshape society - an autocracy expanded slightly to oligarchy is hardly a revolution. 1688 and 1776 are important, no doubt, but it is a complete misunderstanding of modern politics to believe that they are as important as 1789.
It's incredibly telling that Burke barely commented on the revolutionary experience of the United States - it's not that he didn't know what to make of it, which is one reading of his reticence, it's that he both found it entirely good sense but also threatening to the English empire to which he was such a toady.
Yellow Vest: "Macron is a puppet. He has a program which aims to ruin the French people in order to benefit a few billionaires. Look at how he refuses to allow a referendum on the proposed privatisations of the airports of Paris. He wants everyone to shut their face and accept whatever he wants, but that's not the way France should be."
But, history is a slow process, and we should acknowledge the merits in the American Revolution lest we lose the thread.
The American Revolution was an undeniable advance as well because it represented the start of the end of 284 years of European domination of the Western Hemisphere - now the locals (some locals) had some rights and sovereignty. Of course, the aboriginals were not included in the new system of rights in the United States - more proof of how elitist, and not progressive, Western Liberal Democracy has been from its very foundations.
Yes, the French Revolution was overturned, and The Declarations of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen wouldn't be firmly embedded in a French constitution until 1945, but that's only due to the anti-1789 machinations of its enemies. The French Revolution, while overturned in 1815 via a restored monarchy, was a true advance in Europe's very low level of political consciousness and away from monarchical despotism.
The Russian Revolution would be an even greater advance because it finally extended human rights to all - even the poorest landless peasant - inaugurating an entirely new era of political history. All revolutions after 1917 (China, Cuba, Iran, etc.) are socialist-inspired and their main obstacle is the same as France's was from 1792-1815: all these other nations, led by the United Kingdom, which seek to pull them back to the old era of political history, one of rights limited to monarchs, sheiks and the affluent. This is the clear, simple pattern of Western politics and global history.
This analysis can only be considered invalid or temporary if one believes that Western Liberal Democracy is truly the apex of political thought. The longstanding demand of many French leftists, and not just the Yellow Vests, to found a new republic undermines that claim, as does the incredible repression of the Yellow Vests.
Burke himself was emphatic: 1688 was actually NOT a revolution
It's not just me who argued that 1688 wasn't a major revolution - it's a key thesis of Burke's book!
The glory of England's Glorious Revolution is that change had come without civil war, without any absence of government and without any rule by revolutionaries - thus we see how today's conservatism has absolutely carried this Whiggish banner which demands that change only come through peaceful reformism.
However, the great unsaid of English parliamentarianism and then Western Liberal Democracy is that this peaceful reformism must be entirely guided by the ruling oligarchical elite. Class analysis, and an objective accounting of modern history, tells us that this oligarchy will always fear losing their power and privileges to the people - thus, Western Liberal Democracy is aristocratic to its marrow.
Part of the conservative retort to revolution has always included that even a temporary absence of government is a fearful Rousseauian "state of nature", which can only result in either an alleged anarchy of socialism or a civil war that features pure hysteria and zero ideology. Order must be kept... because the oligarchy must not lose power, of course. "Keep calm and carry on" - the English phrase which swept the Anglophone world during the economic collapse of 2008 - perfectly incarnates this view of a slave which loves the order provided by his master.
The analysis that England's 1688 Revolution is the true foundation of modern democracy is something which Anglophones will persist in, mainly because they have not actually read Burke.
Specifically what shocked Burke in Reflections was the presumption: "that we have acquired a right:
- to choose our own governors
- to cashier them for misconduct
- to frame a government for ourselves"
Burke does not only reject these basic democratic rights for the French in 1789 but he asserts that the Glorious Revolution did not employ these rights either!
Therefore don't believe my opinion that 1789 is the true start of modern politics - Burke himself says that 1789 cannot claim to be following any democratic precedent allegedly set by 1688. Burke himself says that the Anglophone system rejects anything but an unaccountable autocracy.
1789 was thus rejected by English conservatism, just as they obviously also reject 1917, 1949, 1959, 1979, etc. We all expect English and modern conservatives to reject everything from 1917 on, but what's rarely admitted is how modern conservatives fully reject 1789. This rejection persists in the 21st century even though by the 1970s the ideals of 1789 had become commonplace across the West.
Burke continues after his 3-part list:
"This new and hitherto unheard-of bill of rights, though made in the name of the whole people, belongs to those gentlemen and their faction only. The body of the people of England have no share in it. They utter disclaim it. They will resist the practical assertion of it with their lives and fortunes. They are bound to do so by the laws of their country made at the time (1688) of that very Revolution which is appealed to in favor of the fictitious rights claimed by the Society which abuses its name."
Both "their faction" and "Society" refers to the Revolution Society of England, a group which supported the French revolution. Burke correctly notes that none of these three principles are found in the Bill of Rights, which is the practical and legal embodiment of the principles of the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
French revolutionaries, Napoleon Bonaparte included, had initially been inspired by England as a model. They soon realised that they were seriously mistaken. This is expressed by Burke in the above phrase, "of that very Revolution which is appealed to in favor". Burke repeats this French disenchantment with English oligarchy in greater, necessary detail:
"Your leaders in France began by affecting to admire, almost to adore, the British constitution; but as they advanced they came to look upon it with a sovereign contempt. The friends of your National Assembly amongst us have full as mean an opinion of what was formerly thought the glory of their country. The Revolution Society has discovered that the English nation is not free. They are convinced that the inequality in our representation is a 'defect in our constitution so gross and palpable as to make it excellent chiefly in form and theory'."
Yes, France's revolutionaries took a closer look and realised that they were totally mistaken about England's relationship with democracy. Perhaps someone misinformed them that Cromwellism had prevailed?
The conservatives who knowingly or unknowingly cling to 1688 or 1776 are either rewriting or misunderstanding history, but Burke was well aware that the admiration of the British model quickly changed to contempt in France - all it took was a proper understanding of the limited rights England offers the common man. France's riposte was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a spectacular leap ahead of Britain and the US.
Indisputable: 1789 launches modern politics - the fight against monarchs and Macronian autocrats is the fight of today's politics
Burke's account of the Glorious Revolution in Reflections would eventually dominate English thought on two subjects. He became the explainer of two revolutions - one "preserving" and one "destroying". His flaw is being totally wrong on which one should receive which treatment.
Yellow Vest: "There is no way the Yellow Vests will stop until the government responds to our needs and our democratic demands. As long as the government doesn't change, neither will our insistence on real changes."
The modern Western conservatism which thwarts all progressive revolutions is not interesting, but the enormous flaws, egotisms and the lust to implant illogic in human affairs which abound in Burke's philosophy must be exposed for its fallacies.
And yet, the coming chapters will see me further quoting Burke for his accurate predictions for and criticisms of what will become known as Western Liberal Democracy, which becomes rooted in the disastrous 2nd Republic of 1848-52 France.
Above all, Burke is vital to remind us of what exactly modern conservatism has to "conserve": an anti-patriotic, 1%er, class warfare view of human society. The only name for this used to be "monarchy", the first system which put class loyalty above national loyalty:
"But a more decisive proof cannot be given of the full conviction of the British nation that the principles of the (Glorious) Revolution did not authorise them to elect kings at their pleasure, and without any attention to the ancient fundamental principles of our governed, than their continuing to adopt a plan of hereditary Protestant succession in the old line, with all the dangers and all the inconveniences of its being a foreign line full before their eyes and operating with the utmost force upon their minds."
Burke admits that the principle of hereditary possession, of religious segregation and of democratic repression override any patriotic concern.
Burke also admits that the invasion of a foreign Dutch army was just solely because it ended the threat of Cromwellian republicanism possibly flowering into the ideals of 1789, thus threatening the Whig oligarchy.
"The Revolution of 1688 was obtained by a just war, in the only case in which any war, and much more a civil war, can be just. Justa bella quibus necessaria. (Livy: Wars are just when they are necessary.) The question of dethroning or, if these gentlemen like the phrase better, 'cashiering kings', will always be, as it has always been, an extraordinary question of state, and wholly out of the law - a question (like all other questions of state) of dispositions and of means and of probable consequences rather than of positive rights."
The bold and underline emphasis of mine is added because it is my treat for enduring the galling, elitist, sycophantic, abstruse, conservative claptrap which is Burke, but also because this quite fair restitching makes it clear:
Modern conservatism means that no one has the right to depose a king or president - no matter how repressive or poorly they govern - because it's not about rights but of consequences, the consequences being the end of the oligarchy's dominance. Political leadership is a "question of state" - i.e. a question for the elite to handle among themselves.
Modern conservatives collude, for the absurd reasons enumerated by Burke's book and summarised in the previous chapter, to uphold this undeserved dominance. Modern conservatism has not changed from Burke - they continue to use his same faulty, elitist rationales.
The status quo cannot be dethroned! The French Revolution disagreed, and Napoleon Bonaparte - the focus of our next chapter - would not be enthroned but voted into the throne, something Burke surely would have fainted at.
Upcoming chapter list of the brand-new content in France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's Best Values. The book will also include previous writings from 2018 through the 2022 election in order to provide the most complete historical record of the Yellow Vests anywhere. What value! Publication date: June 1, 2022.
Pre-orders of the paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the Kindle version may be made here.
Pre-orders of the French paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the French Kindle version may be made here.
Chapter List of the new content
- New book announcement - 'France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's best values' - March 15, 2022
- Introduction: A Yellow Vests' history must rewrite both recent & past French history - March 20, 2022
- The UK's endless reaction: 1789 & feudalism's end creates modern conservatism - March 25, 2022
- Glorious Revolution of 1688: England declares 'death to all other revolutions'
- Modern political history makes no sense if Napoleon is not a leftist revolutionary
- The Revolutions of 1848: Because Liberalism can't say the 'Counter-Revolutions of 1848'
- Louis-Napoleon: The revolutionary differences between Bonapartism & Western Liberal Democracy
- The Paris Commune: The true birth of neoliberalism and EU neo-imperialism
- Where the West is stuck: The fascism of the 1930s and the 'fascism' of the 2020s
- On 'Leon Trotsky on France' in order to reclaim Trotsky from Trotskyists
- The Yellow Vests' childhood: Seeing French elites, only, swayed by neoliberalism
- No one here is actually in charge: How the EU empire forced the Yellow Vests
- The radicalisation by Europe's ongoing Lost Decade: the Great Recession changes France
- To Yellow Vests he's the radical: Macron and 'Neither Right nor Left but the Bourgeois Bloc'
- Yellow Vests: At worst, the most important French movement for a century
- Who are they, really? Ask a reporter whose seen a million Yellow Vest faces
- Yellow Vest Win: Ending the West's slandering of all popular movements as far-right xenophobes
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western anarcho-syndicalism & unions as leftism's hereditary kings
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western parliamentarianism as the most progressive government
- Yellow Vest Win: Reminding us of the link between fascist violence & Western democracy
- What the Yellow Vests can be: a group which can protect liberalism's rights, at least
- The 2022 vote: The approach needed for 'Before'- what came 'After' polls closed
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of ' Socialism's Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism' as well as ' I'll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China', which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.