The Sixteenth of July, not having the same ring, will never compete with the Fourth for fireworks, picnics, or paeans to the document published on that day. But now that Americans have digested our annual hosannas to the natural rights theory of the Declaration of Independence, we might save a moment to remember the appearance, in the New York Independent Journal of July 16, 1788, of Publius’ broadside against a Bill of Rights. If the Fourth of July represents the American contribution to abstract universalism on rights, July 16 was the day we theorized it, in Federalist 84, as the…
Reading through John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions, (I am currently preparing an edition for Liberty Fund), several passages have brought me up short, as they shed much light upon our current circumstances. Adams was among those who believed that, human nature being constant, history was a source of humane wisdom. His “Discourses on Davila,” which Adams often called the fourth volume of the Defence begins with an epigraph from Aesop that translates roughly as “happy are those who can learn wisdom from the misfortunes of others.”
Taxi drivers in France rioted yesterday to prevent Uber from competing with them. They attacked vehicles on the mere suspicion that they were working for that company. They broke windows on cars carrying tourists. It was a kind of economic terrorism. Even a left-liberal rock star was upset!
France is one of the most heavily regulated and centralized states in the Western world. But Uber represents the new forces of decentralizing competition that it may ultimately be powerless to block. While the French government appeared to take the side of the violent strikers today, it will have difficulty in stopping this kind of competition without deploying coercion unacceptable in a democratic society.
Uber is essentially an app that connects people who want to make a mutually beneficial transaction. Other apps will connect those who want to make other transactions—for plumbing, gardening or housework. These services will be less expensive than current services, whose cost is inflated by regulations, not least of which are those designed to protect incumbents.
The prospect of Scottish independence has spurred a great deal of discussion here and elsewhere. It’s worth remembering that the Act of Union of 1707, which drew England and Scotland together, factored into the story of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson and other colonists believed that each colony had the same relationship to Britain in the 1770s that England and Scotland had to each other before the Act of Union: as an equal state with a common monarch.
The home and birthplace of John Adams—and his son, John Quincy Adams, diplomat, president, legislator and, most important, translator of the indispensable The Origins and Principles of the American Revolution, compared with the Origins and Principles of the French Revolution, more on which presently—sits on Hancock Street in Quincy, Massachusetts. The next time a U.S.-French Presidential duo desires a photo-op at the home of a historic American executive, they might skip Monticello and visit the Adams manse instead.
Books reviewed in this essay:
The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, by Corey Robin. Oxford University Press.
The Common Mind: Politics, Society and Christian Humanism from Thomas More to Russell Kirk, by André Gushurst-Moore. Angelico Press.
The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and Why They Should Give It Back, by David Willetts. Atlantic Books.
Amidst the recurring question of whether Edmund Burke is relevant to contemporary politics, we are presented with three volumes that approach this vital issue in different ways, and with varying levels of scholarly and popular perceptiveness. All the books under review attempt to connect the witness and insights of the great statesman to ongoing conflicts in society and politics. Perhaps the disparate assessments of Burke alone could suggest the resiliency of his legacy; however, the importance of Burke the political theorist dictates a closer examination of these critical works.
July 4 is separated from Bastille Day by a week and a half on the calendar but by eons in political culture. The interim is an appropriate interval for reflection on why exactly the two events were so different. One reason is arguably that America is precisely not what one might be led to believe from exclusive emphasis on the Declaration of Independence: a simply creedal nation bound solely by political belief. The creation of a new people connected by creed alone rather than shared tradition and history would, like the French Revolution, have been a radical event. As Willmoore Kendall would remind us, the American Revolution is better understood as a restorative or conserving one.