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William Pitt the Younger
Wouldn’t it be nice to draw in lungs’ full of magical autumn air to savor and appreciate without knowing that soon as you step inside there’s be a media propagandist eager to push real joy out of mind in favor of the stink they find compellingly pleasing? Well anyway, seems to me some media persons might be a lot happier (and in some cases better suited) for employment in urban sewage plants or as rural septic pumpers. At least then the stink that’s raised serves some useful purpose and doesn’t creep out of your TV. The rustle of leaves rattling along on a gust is more real and informative than the well-paid head who says little but thinks it big.
Since we can’t walk this day together among falling leaves and autumn colors I’ll do what I can with a colorfully vibrant close paraphrase:
"We are come to a new era in the history of nations; we are called to struggle for the destiny, not of this country alone but of the civilized world. We have for ourselves the great duty of self-preservation to perform, but the duty of our people now to a nobler and higher order."
Whichever side of the debate you’re on I suspect you can picture either side saying and asserting a sentiment the same of similar. Ah, but a few hundred years too late. The words above are reported from Wm. Pitt (younger) addressing Parliament in 1804. “A new era,” he said, “in the history of nations.” Well instead of “new” maybe he’d meant more of the same. Who knows? As I do not know all I can do is add some context.
Pitt’s words were meant to inspire England in its continuing struggle with Revolutionary France. If you enjoy blood the French Revolution should satisfy as it found enemies (Reign of Terror) as often and plentiful as needed to explain failures to achieve the golden dawn. You can find a few examples of velvet revolutions, but for the most part revolution requires drastic measures against its enemies, including any supporters not supportive enough. An authoritarian system (which a revolution tends to be) demands obedience to its new order. Personal safety requires individuals to demonstrate ever more faithful adherence to the glorious goal and greater good.
Revolutionary French kept their heads by denouncing others same as 20th century Nazi’s secured their lives by denouncing Jews, or as Soviet citizens did to avoid a purge by being among those doing the purging. (I once roused ire from a committee by suggesting Nazi followers were trapped inside a bad system that produced unlucky and lucky victims, but victims the same. Obviously the actively persecuted had it far worse, but living in fear isn’t very nice either. Bad systems do that. The victims of religious or political inquisition reach similarly unpleasant ends where a swift burning at the stake might be preferable to slow death in Siberia.)
But let’s look closer to home in the same era Pitt spoke of a new era. At the time Revolutionary France continued to be slave owning (same for Spanish Florida) on its Caribbean and American continent holdings. A number (more than I’ve time to detail here) of slave revolts took place along the lines of revolutionary liberty and equality. Any guess as to how those worked out? (A look at Haitian history reveals some, depending on the author’s leanings.) Would you believe revolutionary revolt in the new world followed the old world model? First arms are taken up to defeat and eliminate your enemies. People stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time were seen as enemies and were (Toulon as an example) massacred in the thousands. (Quite a lot of work to dispatch 10,000 trapped along a waterfront. Shooting uses up costly ammunition, Bayoneting and clubbing with rifle butts is more cost effective but quite arduous. The soldiers of that new order did so to men, women, and children because they didn’t want to be the ones on the wrong side of the bayonet.) Showing the pattern was not language bound revolts in Spanish or French territories followed similar patterns. Haiti and Dominica tended to define enemies by color resulting in, well I think you know. It’s the rare revolution that doesn’t feed on fervor and a need for enemies. In practice revolutionary ideals and goals tend to become quite narrow, excluding rather than including. My view is one needs be damned leery of new eras and revolution as being an easy route to old butchery.
Depending on the history employed you may or may not be well schooled about the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. By then Emperor Napoleon (the people’s revolution had morphed into an imperial state – hmm, odd that) needed funds (revolution is expensive) in order to continue expansion of the revolutionary version of new era. The US paid fifteen million in gold. Napoleon was happy. Let the struggle continue. But actually it seems the Parliamentary and Constitutional democracies of Great Britain and the US proved (in terms of results) in the long run ahead of the revolutionaries or the monarchists in addressing the human condition. No, it wasn’t fast or elegant, but it got done. I hope to much annoy the historical finger pointers with the reminder that the English speaking world by far led the pack trying to assert a common humanity.
How have we done in the uncommon quest for legal and political equality? Better than most I’d say. Americans are not required to profess a particular faith (some modern nations insist on that) or conform to a particular ideology (conformity by choice is a different matter). I’ll wager that most denouncing finger pointing is from those not knowing piddle about Wilberforce (rather a religious fellow) and his followers leading Britain toward abolition followed second by the US. So imperfect as it is we’re one hundred ahead of Saudi Arabia eliminating slavery or any of the places in the world slavery is still permitted. Interestingly, pointing that out too brassily can get you accused of being a racist, so do be careful, eh.