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A Tale of Two Revolutions

Published in Blog on February 27, 2019 by Sharon Correll

A review of Os Guinness: Last Call for Liberty – Part 2

This is the second installment in a series of articles inspired by Os Guinness's recent book Last Call for Liberty. The first can be found here.

One of Guinness's main premises is that America is divided between the spirit of two 18th-century revolutions. The American Revolution of 1776 marked the creation of the United States of America and led to the Constitution on which our nation is legally founded. It incorporated a certain understanding of freedom, law, and morality.

A few years later, another significant event occurred in Europe: the French Revolution of 1789. The underlying philosophy of this movement—as well as the results—were profoundly different from our own battle for independence.

The Spirit of ’89 wasn't limited to France. Os Guinness explains that it continued to be propagated by thinkers and writers such as Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche, and 20th-century activist Herbert Marcuse, as well as French post-modernist Michel Foucault.

It was also reflected in several other famous revolutions, the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949. Guinness explains that these revolutions

utterly failed to transform human nature; they each produced forms of revolutionary government that were even more tyrannical than the ancien règimes they replaced, and they each created killing fields that are an indelible stain on their memory.

The Spirit of ’76 has been what has guided our nation through the first two centuries of our existence. But more recently the Spirit of ’89 had gained dominance in our society and is affecting our education system, political views, and even our understanding of freedom itself.

Guinness lists a number of ways in which the ethos of the French Revolution is reflected in current American Leftist politics:

  • reliance on the state
  • open hostility toward religion
  • radical separation of religion and public life
  • attempt to control language in order to control reality
  • unashamed espousal of power
  • an egalitarian appeal to envy rather than liberty
  • naive utopianism that the removal of repression will mean the fulfillment of freedom

Most fundamentally, there is a difference between the American and French definitions of liberty that is contributing to the profound conflicts in our society today—what Guinness calls “a cold civil war.” Those ideas about liberty will be the subject of a future blog post.


Part 3: Positive and negative freedom

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