Bored by the election, I have avoided the news and taken to reading more substantial works. In addition to a few other minor projects, I've also picked up Warren--and now Ann--Carroll's fifth volume in his History of Christendom, The Revolution Against Christendom. I quote therefrom:
Unerringly Burke put his finger on the central weakness of the French philosophy: that in its passion for logical abstraction it did not recognize religion and morality. It boldly assumed that these were identical with the General Will: the popular vote or other mechanical manifestation of democracy that in some mysterious way embodied the aggregate of human reason and virtue while discarding human folly and passion. The French reformers, who had disestablished their Church, thought that under a perfect constitution men would have no need for religion because the ideal State would automatically create the ideal man.
The same pathetic delusion, caused by rejection of the dogma of original sin, was to grip the twentieth century in Marxist-Leninist communism, whose horrors were fully to match the worst of the French Revolution. (p.141)
Though the scope of his work prevents him from delving into primary sources, Carroll is a thorough historian. He is also a wonderful writer; each volume reads like a well told story--which, in fact, it is. All Catholics, indeed, all Christians, would do well to read his magnificent series.
Carroll's observation seems especially prescient in light of the moral supremacy given to the democratic system of government, most adamantly and ostentatiously by the neo-conservatives, but, to a lesser extent, by almost all American public figures.
An earlier chapter in Carroll's fifth volume corrects the notion that the American Revolution was a revolution at all; more correctly, it was an assertion of independence from the British crown. It is true that the founders weren't democrats, in the sense that, although they believed in representative government, they were ultimately wary--and wisely so--of the General Will of the people. But more importantly, the founders set up a government to address a specific set of grievances, elucidated in the Declaration of Independence, to secure three things: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". They suffered no delusions about the new government being an ideal State, and if some of them, like Jefferson, were deists, the bulk of the people were devoutly religious. Paul Johnson makes this point well in A History of the American People, examining in detail the role of the Great Awakening in the grand American experiment. It was, in short, their relations to religions, which separated the French Revolution from the American War for Independence; and the fervid hatred of the former, especially toward the Roman Catholic Church, was the reason for the bloodshed of The Terror.
It is only in this distinctly early American sense that I could call myself a democrat, and even then, not a very good one. Alexis de Tocqueville offers some cautionary advice toward supporters of the American conception of democracy; though well argued, and worthy of study, they are besides the point Carroll is trying to make: regardless of the particular flavor of the government, the morals of the people must be good if its rulers are to be. This suggests culture, formed extensively by religion, and, at least to Carroll and me, the Roman Catholic Faith.