From “The Eternal Left’s War on American Excepitonalism” (2018) and Alexis De Toqueville, in 1831,
When De Toqueville came to America and wrote his famous books on democracy, his purpose was to persuade the French aristocrats back home, forty years after the French Revolution, that such a free society built by low-born commoners was a good thing. But since it was the French who actually institutionalized class consciousness, they would have none of it, and it formed the entire European notion of culture for a thousand years. It was so religiously and closely-held that by 1914, had World War I not ended the European royal lines, insanity would have killed them off from in-breeding.
So while De Toquville’s arguments were smash hits in England and America, they failed in France. The French had created a caste system of sorts, where birth decided station, with virtually no means by which a commoner could move up, or a newly-successful merchant could buy in. American proved the fraud of the nobility’s belief that the lower classes couldn’t be educated, or become successful on their own merits, or taught to appreciate the finer things of life.
The French idea of class wasn’t just that low-born people shouldn’t be allowed to move into the higher classes, but that they couldn’t by their very nature. Low-born. It wasn’t that they were backward and couldn’t be taught good manners, appreciation of the finer foods and arts, (remember Liza Doolittle. “My Fair Lady”?) but shouldn’t. It would be a sacrilege to their class. This is why Thomas Jefferson, a 5th generation American, was considered to be a traitor to his class by other American gentry; Jefferson believed they were all “created equally” alomgside himself.
In France laws had been written in the 13th Century that commoners could not wear dresses, coats, hats or shoes that looked like the clothing of the nobility. Tailors were threatened with jail if they sold better goods “out the back door.” The poor were forced to be poor so that the nobility could think highly of themselves by comparison. The French patented this idea of “defining oneself by who he is not.”
(Do you recognize this sentiment in our poverty programs since LBJ? How about the government class today?).
And the whole orderly world of the nobility would go straight to hell in a hand basket in less than 75 years from the time De Tocqueville wrote those words.
G K Chesterton, on the other hand, was an Englishman, a wry and witty observer and writer (who died in 1936), a Roman Catholic in a sea of Episcopalians, a moralist, an enemy of “modernity” as intellectuals viewed it, yet a defender of America who many Europeans viewed as the very definition of low-class, materialistic modernity.
You know about The Lincoln Project, a group of disaffected Republicans who have put together some money to rally the forces of their kind against the open-door policy about America’s hoi polloi. Mr Kelly Ann Conway is among them. It was bad enough that Reagan invited the common herd into the Party, 1980-88, but at least had the decency to ask them to park around back.
Then Donald Trump comes along and acts like he’s one of them! Hell, you can’t tell a friend of Trump’s from the service staff these days.
The LP are mostly younger, and generally more educated about the GOP after US Grant than the party of it’s original brand, the Party of Abraham Lincoln. So their name is a forgery. Co-founder Michael Steele, former RNC chairman, is only 61, so I was already trying to steal smooches in the back seat of my dad’s Nash when he was born. Chesterton has some pointed words for this type which he knew intimately in England, (below).
We’ve watched a lot of really fine conservative writers leave the fold since Trump came on board, and most are indeed under 50 (my son’s age) and they clutch that word “conservative” as if it were a crucifix. In fact, our most religious conservatives these days seem to be the ones who cut Thomas Jefferson off a traitor to his class in the 1700s. They are easily recognizable by that gigantic “intellectualist” chip on their shoulders. Chesterton, in 1910, about their self-defined peerage:
The men who get to the top are not “picked men”. They are not picked by God, which is merit.
They are not picked by man, which is democracy.
As every rational man know, they are picked by vanity- by one vulgar fellow helping another vulgar fellow to high station (my term).
When I was at RedState we called that a “frat house”.
Chesterton believed the Declaration of Independence to be one of greatest documents ever conceived.
The Declaration of Independence was a philosophy written for a people who did not yet exist. In all the talk there has been lately about Abraham Lincoln there has been very little appreciation that he did understand the Declaration and he did believe in it…
The English often find it harder to understand great ideas and easier to understand great men, but in this case the great man is unintelligible without the great idea.
America is alone in having begun her national career with a definite explanation of what she intended to be. (1921)
(You have to go back to the Old and New Testament to find two other magnificent events to complete the tri-fecta.)
We are called upon to admire Americans for their hustle, their publicity, the commerce. Nothing is ever said of the real republican virtues which will survive, in spite of the confused and corrupt politics of republic. (1930)
(You might note this singular theme in “The Original Republican Brand, Who Owns it?” from 2013. Very important we know who’s wearing the spats.)
It is when a stranger begins to absorb all the strangeness that he begins to understand a goodness that is not mere imitation of the goodness of England or Europe; something that an American writer has very truly called “the folks ideal”…a toleration of humans in their shirtsleeves, which is infinitely more distant and difficult than any pagan ranting about mere nakedness
…and acceptance of humanity in obtuse angles and awkward attitudes; a thing altogether indescribable in English
(in short, the Problem with the Lincoln Project)
The American Revolution:
The American colonists had caught sight of an ideal which the English rulers did not understand, even as an ideal. It was not something England would not, but could not give. It was something that England had not got.
It was the idea of equality. The colonists were not fighting because George III had something and kept it to himself; but because they had never heard of it. The English king had not locked up equality in his cellar; there was no English equality to lock up.
I like the Americans for a great many reasons: I like them because even the modern thing called industrialism has not entirely destroyed in them the very ancient thing called democracy;
I like them because they have a respect for work which really curbs the human tendency to snobbishness;
I like them because they do not think that stupidity is a superiority in business and practical life;
I like that they are almost all optimists; very few of them are pessimists;
I like them because they are never guilty of the blasphemy of supposing there is something fine about being bored, any more than being blinded, or lamed, or paralyzed.
Americans really respect work, rather as Europeans (once) respected war. There is a halo of heroism about it; and he who shrinks from it is less than a man.