|A wedding; from Spiegel des menschlichen Lebens, Augsburg 1475|
Two famous Englishmen admired, counseled and interpreted the Americans. Thomas Paine (1737–1809) and Edmund Burke (1729–1797) were leading commentators—and dueling philosophers—during that long-ago age of revolutions. I recently finished Yuval Levin's landmark book about these two giants of social and political philosophy, entitled The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left.
I got to know Burke through Russell Kirk, in The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. So I understood conservatism's "prejudice and prescription" concept, and was persuaded of its wisdom. Being a Christian, I found Burke's scripture-tinged expressions quite thrilling. Lines like "A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views" and "People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors" reminded me of my late Yorkshire-born friend, revival preacher Leonard Ravenhill.
I had certainly heard of Paine and the many renowned quotes from his famous books, and I was familiar with his basic biography. But I'd always thought Leftism got its start with Marx and Lenin. I guess my boyhood preoccupation with world Communism (my paternal grandfather had run-ins with Bolsheviks) kept me from considering revolutions prior to 1917. Of course the French and American revolutions differed in many ways, yet Paine assisted in both—publishing what were arguably the preeminent works inspiring American (Common Sense) and French (The Rights of Man, Age of Reason) revolutionaries. He wielded a prodigious and powerful pen.
But when author Yuval Levin finished peeling back the rhetorical layers of Paine's philosophy it became clear that the man was a burn-down-the-house radical—quite possibly addicted to revolutions. He repudiated Christianity, was convicted in England of seditious libel, was elected to the French National Convention, then arrested and imprisoned by Robespierre. He called for a mandatory minimum wage, denounced George Washington, never married, and died alone at age 72 in New York's Greenwich Village. His obituary in the New York Evening Post: "He had lived long, did some good, and much harm." The seeds Paine planted would yield an even more bitter harvest a century after his death, even as his roguish life prefigured the prototypical Leftists of our own day.
Burke was famously appalled at the French. He wrote his most enduring work, Reflections on the Revolution in France, predicting it would end badly. The rabid Parisian crowd's literal tearing apart of a family in the first moments of their revolutionary rage was soon forgotten as the bloody guillotine became the icon of that movement. But the baying crowds and the revolutionaries urging them on were always hostile to the traditional family. The inclination of Paine and his French radical pals, right down through Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Guevara and Castro, Alinsky, and Cloward and Piven, has ever been to destroy the deepest emotional connections of citizens to the existing order—family and faith always prime targets. That is the unbroken record of Leftsim. And that is what we are seeing today in the same-sex "marriage" debate.
"You're not seeking to join the institution, you're seeking to change what the institution is."
Chief Justice John Roberts to plaintiffs
Proverbs 22:28 "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set." (KJV)