One can argue that in Europe we have succeeded to some degree in erasing the historical class differences that characterized pre-industrial eras, thereby providing citizens with equal political and social rights. We also performed a process of institutionalization characterized by a strong state and continual political, economic and social reforms for the betterment of society. Market capitalism´s basic belief in the rights of individuals to own the fruit of their labors and the struggle for equality associated with Marxism and its various ideological perturbations have combined to create an entirely new era in human history. We are now an affluent world with a historically unprecedented degree of economic prosperity in modern democratic states characterized by a strong belief in human rights.
We have also largely completed what was a stated objective in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, namely to “melt the solid into air.” The authors of this Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, saw it as their mission in the wake of the French Revolution to help shake loose what they felt was cemented in an outdated class society where the ruling elites did little to address or solve social issues. Also at this time the ruling elites were experts at talking about “the people”, but did actually very little to alleviate the practical challenges of society in a political system that was experiencing internal decay.The desire for a better society based on equality where the privileges of nobility did not prevent the advancement of the commoners was the origin for the project that began to tear down traditional values, the pre-modern family structure, loyalty-based duties and rights in this “old regime” as Alexis de Tocqueville described it.
The ultra-radical architects of the French Revolution, those who first spoke so eloquently about “liberty, equality and fraternity,” soon proved to be far more ruthless than their bourgeois predecessors. Priests and the well-educated were beheaded, their bodies thrown into the streets as the doors of the churches were locked. Anarchist conditions gave criminals the opportunity to freely exercise violence against the innocent. The new intolerant politicians were driven by a deep resentment, not only against traditions, but also against liberalism’s emphasis on individual freedom with responsibility, a critical element in the rebellion against the custodial state. In the “New France” no violation of the strict radical consensus was tolerated. The response to differing opinions was a trip to the guillotine. While one controlling elite was on his way out, yet another was on his way in.
The French Revolution was essentially a disaster for France. There was no peace until Napoleon seized power and restored rule of law, a functioning legal system, freedom of religion, protection of minorities and respect for the clergy. In her book Demonic, the best-selling author, Ann Coulter, points out that the French Revolution was an uprising of a peer-pressure oriented nihilistic mob, further characterized by irrationality, violence and destructive social attitudes. Modern conservatism and the French Revolution Conservatives during the Age of Enlightenment, those who were in opposition to the French Revolution, believed that society needed laws and regulations. Order in society is necessary precisely because man is dualistic, both good and evil, and has an inherent tendency to exploit others for the benefit of the self. Hence the need for a clear ethical foundation to firmly establish respect for diversity and consideration for others. This is to ensure the right of an individual to live in a safe society where his welfare is protected and criminals are punished. The 1700´s English philosopher, Edmund Burke, is one of the Age of Enlightenment’s most interesting thinkers. He is described by many as the founder of modern conservatism.
In Russel Kirk´s The conservative mind he describes Burke’s strong dislike of the French Revolution. Burke in no way wanted a similar process to take place in England. Until the day he died he advocated that change is not always for the good. That’s why it’s important to know what ideals we should reform and which ones we should maintain as a source of stability and future growth. Burke spent much of his life explaining why it is important to maintain Europe’s original political and moral philosophical traditions, precisely those that had made Europe a great civilization: individualism’s emphasis on independence and opportunities for all, the values of equality and freedom, and the Protestant ethic’s culture of conscience. In a similar manner, the original Christian idea of limited governmental authority, the necessity of free and independent institutions and the need for the secular separation of church and state to ensure a free, democratic society are important. For Burke historical evaluation was critical to understand the true origins of European civilization´s greatness. Only with a full understanding of history could we avoid repeating mistakes and contribute to progress in a new era. One of the lessons of the French Revolution was that the revolt of the people occurred because contemporary political and social elites lost the ability to adequately relate to the issues of their time. They indulged themselves — to the pursuit of improved personal prestige, higher clerical positions, greater spheres of influence and political, economic and social corruption. For if social authorities are characterized by ideological camaraderie, peer pressure and a closed elite that inserts itself and its chosen friends in nearly all important positions, democracy loses its freedom.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt shows in her book The origins of totalitarianism how individual liberty is suffocated when groupthink takes over in such a way that the “masses” are controlled by the state. She points out that totalitarian government is worse than a dictatorship. In a dictatorship the elite strive to gather all political power at the same time as they persecute dissidents. The elites of democratic totalitarian regimes strive to gather not only political power, but also to ideologically dominate every aspect of human life and to control what to think down to the smallest detail — what to think about family, sex, relationships, religion, school, church , law, ethics and morals, etc. The purpose is to gain complete control over social development, with a universal desire that the whole world will eventually evolve into a “happy” multicultural, godless society.
These issues have direct relevance to the current economic and norm-devastated Europe, characterized by a politician corps who often are skilled speakers in silk suits and red ties, but that over some time, due to systemic weaknesses in the practice of modern democracy, have not dared to set necessary limits and contibute to the solution of social issues. For example, instead of implementing necessary measures of economic austerity and setting a course for long-term political sustainability, the fear of becoming unpopular and losing votes in the next election has resulted in a continued emphasis on the rights and demands of the welfare society at the expense of emphasis on the responsibilities and duties of the workforce. At the same time they cultivate the rhetorical art of blaming other politicians as soon as the consequences of lack of control surface. In ancient times national leaders were exiled if they did not solve the nation’s challenges in a satisfactory manner. Today many politicians remain in their positions despite repeated corruption scandals and lack of accountability. In truth we have a whole new kind of politician. Many have never had a regular job, yet they create policies in sectors where they have little or no knowledge or practical experience.
Concern for the development of democracy
The nineteenth century philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville expressed concern for the evolution of modern democracy. He foresaw the rise of the welfare state, where a strong state promises to ensure the economic rights of citizens, but demands a rigid obedience and conformity to the opinions of the prevailing political elites. In his book Democracy in America he describes the fear that democracy could easily become a tyranny of the mob characterized by an extreme egalitarianism and peer pressure and where strong political forces gradually transformed society. In essence a return to a system that is strikingly similar to the balance of power prior to the French Revolution, the “the old regime.” Then the state exercised power from the elite level down and the people were forced into a passive state of political correctness.
Today the citizens of Europe boil over with contempt for politicians while people starve to death on the streets of a financial crisis that some say is worse than the 1930s. Europe is also headed at full speed away from its old ethical foundation and flounders in a deep moral crisis characterized by severe challenges to the old ideals of trust, honesty, moderation, solidarity and responsibility. The centralization of power in the EU is at a historically high level in a paralyzed system where tens of thousands of bureaucrats in Brussels attempt to orient themselves in their countless organizations, departments, delegations, NGOs, political meetings and administrative provisions with millions of important papers to be read and myriads of legal subtleties to be interpreted. Ineffectiveness, political cronyism and various forms of corruption permeate a value-confused Europe.
The shortcomings of the overly bureaucratic, cumbersome “state-ism” that Europe has developed over the last hundred years are now clearly visible. The rock-solid socialist belief is that the individual must be firmly controlled and shaped by a dominant state whose elites always know best. In 1944 Friedrich A. von Hayek, one of the 1900s’ most influential economists, wrote a book entitled The Road to Serfdom. Opposition to government authority and control and the belief in personal freedom were core themes. The book aroused enormous interest and Hayek was quickly compared to John Stuart Mill and other leading liberal thinkers. In short, he argues that socialism and all its perturbations, even social democracy, eventually lead to a totalitarian custodial state that chokes the healthy freedom of citizens. Where the socialist state or government systems that develop on the basis of this thinking become more dominant and controlling, elites will also grip power and and develop increasingly centralized authority. Hayek maintains that economic and personal freedom guarantees that socialist forces will not be able to transform society in the direction of totalitarianism. He reminds us that Nazi socialist roots lie in anti-capitalist and undemocratic ideology. NAZI is of course the acronym for the National Socialist Labour Party in Germany. Hayek cites Leon Trotsky who so aptly points out that in a country where the sole employer is the state, resistance to the existing regime means starvation. The old principle that he who does not work shall not eat is replaced by a new one: he who does not obey the state, shall not eat. Therefore Marxism’s original goal to remove the power-hungry elite led only to the emergence of a new, socialist ruling upperclass.