The French revolution affected fundamentally the mode of development through which the transition to government by consent throughout Europe would progress but took place in less favourable circumstances than its American antecedent. No habitable virgin territory exists on the continent, and whereas the American revolution was in fact the third British revolution, and sprang from a tradition of self government that had existed for over a century, there was no such precedent in France. Craft skills and industrial innovation were less widely developed and tended to revolve mainly about the production of toys for the aristocracy. Religious toleration - central objectives of both the English and American revolutions - was less developed, and papal orthodoxy accordingly commanded more dogmatic support among the educated population.

Political theory in France and generally throughout Europe had not kept pace with British advances in breaking fully with the methods of scholasticism and idealism. For these reasons French radicals held common sense in lower esteem than their English counterparts, and never fully grasped the practical orientation of philosophical realism which had comprised the guiding inspiration of Anglo-American radicalism. A further consideration is that a more virulently extremist and secretive form of freemasonry played, it has been suggested, a significant role in the French revolution. In France the standpoint of the revolutionary leadership in relation to the people was complicated by these considerations and did not directly correspond with Jefferson's division of the political spectrum between aristocracy and democracy. The social basis of the revolutionary movement was narrower, less mature and restricted mainly to the urban poor in Paris. The community of shared experience and understanding between the natural aristocracy of virtue and talent necessary to organise and lead the struggle against conservative intransigence and the people themselves was accordingly also less stable and developed.

Rousseau well understood Montesquieu's point that random selection is the essence of democracy, and that election of representatives should only be adopted as a complement to sortition. Indeed he correctly regarded elective aristocracy alone as essentially a legacy of feudalism. He failed however, as did French radicalism generally, to reconcile an idealised theoretical abstraction of prehistorical man with the organisational tasks of democratic development confronting the people. Rousseau was disturbed and confused by Hume and, unlike Jefferson, had not fully grasped Reid's command of common sense: accordingly like most French intellectuals, his trust in the people was in any case somewhat ambivalent, for all his idealising about the noble savage.

In America Jefferson's natural aristocracy of virtue and talent could rely on a theoretical leadership which held fast to the enduring principles of English philosophical realism and probably the most politically experienced social basis of support in the world. American radicalism was predominantly agrarian because it was presupposed by vast expanses of virgin territory, with all that this implied for freedom of spirit, independence of mind, and the promise of democratic progress. In relatively favourable material circumstances it both acquiesced and conspired in a viable though exploitative alliance with the slavocracy in the expectation of achieving further advance following victory against British imperialism. In Europe revolutionary leaders, including Robespierre, were unsure of philosophical realism yet dealt more directly with demands for radical change from a less politically experienced movement of the urban poor in more economically difficult and hence more volatile circumstances.

In France the tasks of transition to government by consent were therefore posed in their sharpest form: the general population had no experience of self government yet economic crisis precipitated by war expenditure forced the pace of change and made constitutional reform a matter of urgent necessity directly connected to the welfare of the people. It was due chiefly to these circumstances that the leadership problematic facing French radicalism arising from conservative opposition to democratic progress became so acute and, as it transpired, insoluble.

French revolutionary leaders failed to devise a practical strategy to deal with these contingencies in their relation to international diplomacy and constitutional reform, certainly as compared to American radicalism. The unstable nature of their tactics in dealing with the resulting dilemmas of conflict and reform reflect this, including the way Robespierre changed his approach on the question of war and peace, the death penalty, and the personal fortunes of Tom Paine. Robespierre's final approach settled on an attempt to resolve these problems by adopting a more authoritarian approach to political change on the basis, as he openly acknowledged, of essentially Machiavellian notions of political power. In dire and difficult circumstances French radicalism attempted to force men to be free, and in so doing set out on a reckless path that would lead not to clarity of strategy and ultimate victory, but to confusion, division, and defeat.

The French Declaration of Rights both engenders and reflects this confusion, and despite its more lengthy form mentions neither the right to trial by jury nor the right to bear arms. The condition that free speech meet the interests of the 'general will' amounts ultimately to the abolition of this right in its genuinely democratic meaning because it substitutes force of argument by force of law as a means to resolve conflict between the ideals of whatever elite holds power and common sense.

This antidemocratic tendency, which reached its high, Machiavellian point in Robespierre's infamous and grotesquely bizarre attempt to invent a new, state religion for purposes of indoctrination and social control (and about which the left have ever since remained noticeably silent) comprises the original point of departure for totalitarian ideology. This step was not taken simply as a response to the objective difficulties confronting the revolution; it was also presupposed by an erroneous conception of the relation between politics and common sense. Frustrated by the intractable nature of the leadership problematic arising from conservative resistance in the transition to government by consent, French radicalism succumbed to a temptation known to and anticipated by Jefferson: 'I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.'

French radicalism did not possess a stable grasp of this thoroughly correct understanding of the relation between politics and common sense and as a result crossed the rubicon between democracy and tyranny in their attempts to resolve the leadership problematic. This went beyond a mere tactical error in difficult conditions: it sprang from political philosophical confusion and is reflected in the failure of the French Declaration to guarantee those rights which common sense knows to be fundamental to government by consent: trial by jury and the right to bear arms.

In 1861 Lincoln demonstrated how flexibly, ruthlessly, intelligently and consistently the tactical parameters of common sense understanding can be interpreted when protecting the general democratic interest on the basis of natural law by suspending habeus corpus to round up elected representatives suspected of making further moves towards confederate secession following the attack on Fort Sumpter. When the Supreme Court chief justice objected he made plain his intention to do likewise with the Supreme Court if necessary. French radicalism however sought to take power from the people and concentrate it in their own hands on a strategic foundation in order to force the people to be free in ways which they believed only they themselves could determine, up to and including matters of religious belief. This distorted the relation between a necessary but natural aristocracy of virtue and talent able to lead the people against the rule of force to ensure the victory of democracy and the ultimate sovereignty of common sense. The French revolution in this way transformed the necessary role of an aristocracy of virtue into a new form of radical aristocracy which, despite its supposed intention to force men to be free, could not be relied upon to do so because freedom ultimately must incorporate deference to the sovereignty of common sense. French radicalism, as has most radicalism since, did not consistently understand the relation between democracy and common sense and could not therefore lead the transition to government by consent.

Robespierre tried to invoke the cause of virtue to justify his excessive use of dictatorial powers in a fairly incoherent final speech, but he had by then already gone too far in the arbitrary exercise of force in the eyes of the people. The French revolution attempted to accomplish in five years what had taken one hundred years to accomplish in America. In this process the tendency to force the pace of development gained hegemony in the radical movement, informed by an obtuse and scholastic understanding of the relation between faith, reason, common sense, aristocracy, tyranny and democracy. Saint-Simon's theories still bear the mark of this confusion, and as supposed founding statements of socialist doctrine demonstrate how this weakness affected the early labour movement and general democratic solidarity on an international scale. Despite an almost identical approach to Tom Paine on inheritance tax, banking and social welfare these theories still demonstrate how wide is the gulf between Anglo-American common sense and European radicalism: the former could successfully separate faith and reason, the latter could not. Saint-Simon's religious fervour was succeeded by the atheist obsessions of Blanquism, but neither doctrine could properly emulate the American example.

This flawed approach to political philosophy and the leadership problematic in the transition to government by consent has since further evolved but has nevertheless proved to remain a generic problem in regard to the left, and helps explain why radical and conservative standpoints on a number of issues appear as if they have subsequently been inverted in regard to fundamental questions of human rights, and why the origins of totalitarianism can be traced, as J.L.Talmon and others have correctly recognized, to the French revolution.

The general will epitomises the failure of the French to properly grasp the Anglo-American understanding of common sense, and with this, the distinction between self evident truth and those truths which can be derived from it. The goal of democratic struggle for American radicalism denoted the sovereignty of common sense, and with this, the establishment of constitutional rights which directly reflected its basic truths. The goal of democratic struggle for French Enlightenment intellectuals was never properly clear: first it assumed form as the general will, a formula so vague as to denote, ultimately, anything at all. This was the context in which various historicist schemas gained increasing currency among the European left, all of which share the common trait of failing to distinguish the self evident from that which can be derived from it. Anarchism, socialism, communism, and the fake scientism of speculative dialectics make their appearance in the labour movement against this background.

Common sense, scientifically understood, partially triumphant but isolated in the United States, was literally on the march in Europe in unorganised form as the industrial revolution gathered pace and the proletarian masses clamoured for reform and the organisation of a just society. European radical intellectuals searched for ways to organise these demands but at the same time were faced with repression, disruption by agent provocateurs and an aristocracy increasingly alert to the need to make concessions. These were the circumstances in which the 1848 revolutions began in Paris, and in which the Left subsequently entered the first elections based on universal male suffrage. No European radical movement then or since had adopted a programme incorporating the method of common sense realist analysis with a comparative assessment of democracy in its both ancient and American form in respect of modern requirements. By 1848 the Left was generally in favour of inheritance tax, but this was presented as a more or less minor policy component of general programmes which failed to challenge the formal constitutional status of representative democracy and instead concentrated on panacea schemas of economic reform concerned with social welfare. There was no radical critique of representative democracy in regard to sortition and payment for citizen participation; instead the American model was simply transposed to France, and, in regard to its constitutional status and form, accepted without any informed challenge by European labour.

The reform programme of French radicalism in 1848 did not present any coherent constitutional alternative to the representative democratic elections modelled on the American example. Instead, and following the mode of approach indicated by the French Declaration of Rights, the Left were preoccupied by economic programmes of social welfare. Radicalism wavered between Blanc's untested faith that social ownership would meet these needs, and Blanqui's suspicion that the revolution had been fixed to suit the ruling power and that elections would be a sham to give legitimacy to a disguised form of monarchy. This view, essentially, has been proved the more correct. Social conflict in France has been presupposed by the unwillingness of conservatism to cooperate with radicalism in seeking impartial solutions to the problems of social development, but the economic determinist hope that socialism would transcend such intransigence by its sheer efficiency has proved misconceived. After demonstrations held to protest the rapid timing and dates for the election, Left parties duly took part, and lost. A later protest was crushed by force, and Blanqui, only recently released, locked up again for many more years.

Louis Blanc's economic determinist hopes were shared by Marx and have remained in place on the Left ever since in various forms, including even the 'Third Way.' Economic determinism is methodologically flawed because it makes no systematic distinction between truths which are self evident and those truths which can be derived from them. It is also correspondingly flawed because it fails to challenge the narrow parameters of representative democracy in regard to the practice of sortition and payment of ordinary citizens to take part in the political process. Blanqui knew there was a problem of reformist collaboration with the electoral rules laid down by the ruling power, and of utopian wishful thinking in regard to blueprints for a socialist society, but had no clear idea of what programme to advocate himself, other than militant statements about proletarian state power and atheism.

These weaknesses in strategy coupled with the clear intent of conservative forces to take the initiative, taking account also of the hidden aspect of conspiratorial duplicity and aristocratic interference which was manifestly present in regard to these events, explain why radicalism lost its most important opportunity to shape the development of democracy on the basis of common sense understanding in Europe. The Paris defeat of 1848 cast the dye for Europe as a whole, as Marx himself very clearly recognized. French radicalism was the only left force in Europe capable of using armed force with any realistic prospect of victory, and armed force was necessary. Chartism had been defeated essentially by physical force: since 1848 the British working class has in consequence 'delighted more in servitude than in freedom.' Blanqui had understood the need for organisation and arms, but had no clear strategy of reform other than trust in his own commonsensical judgement, which unlike Jefferson's, was not informed by a clear grasp of scientific method. Marx had collaborated with Blanc but now, largely to save his radical reputation, fervently concluded the laws of history must involve a 'dictatorship of the proletariat.' These experiences subsequently informed Russian revolutionary plans to seize state power and suppress resistance by the bourgeoisie, 'if there are any of them left.'

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