The Scary Echo of the Intolerance of the French Revolution in America Today





Ms. Hamilton has a Ph.D. in English from Berkeley. As an undergrad she studied history at UW-Madison with George Mosse, William J. Courtenay, and Brian Peterson (of Florida International University), among others. Her mother is Virginia Vanderveer Hamilton, professor emerita and the author of biographies of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and Alabama Senator Lister Hill.

"Denunciation is the mother of all virtues, just as surveillance is the most reliable guarantee of the people’s happiness and liberty." -- Félix Le Peletier, Jacobin revolutionary

In Charles Dickens’s 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities, the French aristocrat Charles Darnay is rescued from the guillotine by the testimony of Doctor Manette, his father-in-law, a man revered by the revolutionaries because of his long, unjust imprisonment in the Bastille. The day after his reprieve, however, Darnay is again hauled before the revolutionary tribunal and denounced by the vengeful couple, Ernest and Therese Defarge, and a third mysterious accuser.  The Defarges dramatically reveal that the third accuser is Doctor Manette himself. Decades before in his prison cell, Manette had composed a letter in which he recounted the crimes of Darnay’s father and uncle, the men responsible for his arrest and confinement. That letter concludes:

And them and their descendants, to the last of their race, I, Alexandre Manette, unhappy prisoner, do … denounce to the times when all these things shall be answered for. I denounce them to Heaven and to earth.” 1

The leading practitioner of denunciation during the French Revolution was the fanatical Jean-Paul Marat, the man who used the phrase “enemy of the people.” Marat, a disappointed practitioner of science and medicine, printed in his newspaper. Friend of the People, the names of those he considered deserving of the guillotine. For these “counter-revolutionaries” he endorsed show trials and summary executions.   

Tom Paine, whose efforts on behalf of the American Revolution had made him famous, was in France as a witness to, and participant in, the new revolution.  Regarded as a wild-eyed radical in Britain and America, in France he seemed a timid moderate.  In a 1793 letter to Georges Danton, one of the revolutionaries, the alarmed Paine attempted to intervene:

There ought to be some regulation with respect to the spirit of denunciation that now prevails. If every individual is to indulge his private malignancy, or his private ambition, to denounce at random and without any kind of proof, all confidence will be undermined and all authority be destroyed.2  

Paine’s warning was ignored.  Eleven months later, the infamous Law of 22 Prairial (June 10th) was passed by the French National Assembly. Article 9 stated: "Every citizen is empowered to seize conspirators and counterrevolutionaries, and to bring them before the magistrates. He is required to denounce them as soon as he knows of them." "With the Prairial decree," comments Claude Lefort in Democracy and Political Theory, "the Terror declares that it knows no limits; the very dimension of Law disappears." 3 Paine was imprisoned and narrowly escaped execution. Danton and his allies were executed the following April. 

Marat, who fought with the pen, died by the sword. In an effort to stem the tide of denunciation, Charlotte Corday stabbed him to death as he lay in his bathtub, soaking his diseased skin. Unfortunately, rather than putting an end to the violence, Marat’s demise only exacerbated it. Corday was guillotined for his murder, and the Reign of Terror erupted. At least 16,000 people perished during the Terror, which sparked a reaction called the White Terror, during which young royalists grabbed people off the streets and murdered them. 

The spirit of denunciation was surely the worst political legacy of the French Revolution. It reappeared with a vengeance in the twentieth century. In Nazi Germany, Jews and communists were denounced by their neighbors, relatives, and associates. Stalin had “enemies of the people” arrested in the middle of the night and dragged off to gulags. Many Americans living today remember the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the hearings held in front of the ominously entitled House UnAmerican Activities committee.

Denunciation is a malignant practice that damages the political process, spreading cynicism, destroying careers, and discouraging public service. Its practitioners arouse and manipulate the emotions of their followers, who in turn succumb to self-righteous and irrational indignation. Sadly, both the spirit and the practice of denunciation are present now in debates between American conservatives and liberals. Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter play the role of Marat with enthusiasm. Each week on Fox News, Hannity denounces an “enemy of the state.” In recent years a spate of denunciatory right-wing books has appeared, among them, Michael Savage’s Liberalism is a Mental Disorder, Ann Coulter’s Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, and Daniel Flynn’s Why the Left Hates America. Some on the political left have attempted to respond in kind, with James Carville’s We’re Right, They’re Wrong, Jack Huberman’s The Bush-Hater’s Handbook, and Al Franken’s more humorous Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them. Such books are akin to those political campaign tactics that smear candidates’ personal reputations rather than engage their political agendas—“swiftboating,” as we call it.

Some of the denunciatory fervor may be a product of historical ignorance. How many of our feuding pundits and politicians could tell you the first modern progenitor of their own political philosophy or name its founding text? How many conservative pundits have actually read Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France? How many liberal politicians—or American students—have read the work of John Locke?

The term conservative, in its political sense, was coined in 1819 by a Frenchman, the writer Viscount Francois-René de Chateaubriand, who founded a magazine called Le Conservateur, meaning “the conserver” or “the conservator.” He defined a conservative as “one who is a partisan of the established social and political order.” Chateaubriand favored the restoration of the French monarchy and aristocracy as well as the preservation of the established French (Catholic) church.

In the past two decades, the word liberal has been demonized in American politics, and liberal politicians have tended to shrink from the word rather than explain and defend it. The Latin root of liberal is liber, which means “free.” The familiar expression a liberal education refers to a broad-ranging education suitable for a free man, rather than a slave. The liberal arts are those that make demands on the imagination and intellect, as opposed to the supposedly mechanical training of craftspeople and workers. Liberal was also originally associated with economic theory, as in the expression free trade.
Although they may emphasize different traits, historians and scholarly theorists of liberalism and conservatism generally agree on the defining attributes of their subjects. In Recasting Conservatism (1994), Robert Devigne elucidates the conservative world-view as follows:

Conservative political thought, as most fully expressed by Burke’s response to the French Revolution, developed throughout the West in opposition to Enlightenment beliefs that societies could be guided along a secular, self-governing, and egalitarian path. It was characterized by a pessimistic view of human nature, a preference for community or the state when this was in conflict with individualism, and a rejection of political institutions based on rational modes of behavior. 4

John Gray, a scholarly theorist of liberalism, provides a list of its defining traits:

It is individualist, in that it asserts the moral primacy of the person against the claims of any social collectivity; egalitarian, inasmuch as it confers upon men the same moral status…; universalist, affirming the moral unity of the human species and according a secondary importance to specific historic associations and cultural forms; and meliorist in its affirmation of the corrigibility and improvability of all social institutions and political arrangements.” 5 (italics original)

In other words, while conservatives value social hierarchies, liberals champion equality; conservatives want to preserve, liberals to improve; conservatives look to the collectivity, liberals to individuals; conservatives to the past, liberals to the future. Conservatives are the party of order and the status quo, while liberals are the party of civil liberties and reform.

Because conservatives perpetually seek to preserve, and liberals seek to improve, the agendas of both groups are bound to shift over time. As traditions change or disappear, conservatives find other embattled customs to defend. After one group of reforms has been implemented or defeated, liberals propose new reforms.  As John Stuart Mill, author of On Liberty, asserted, “A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” The conservative Disraeli agreed, declaring, “ No government can be long secure without a formidable opposition.”

Therefore, conservatism and liberalism are interdependent. Neither is static, and one cannot flourish without the other. Their spasmodic conflicts, Thomas Carlyle wrote, often end in embraces. This mutual dependence is another reason that a climate of denunciation is inappropriate in our political discourse.

Infected by the French Revolution and partisan hatreds, the founders of the United States and their supporters engaged in ad-hominem attacks and the spreading of defamatory rumors. Even George Washington was mocked and vilified, to his fury. Nonetheless, it was obvious that mutual recriminations damaged both well-meaning individuals and the “healthy state of political life.” The much-abused Alexander Hamilton complained, “It is a maxim deeply ingrained in that dark system [denunciation] that no character, however upright, is a match for constantly reiterated attacks, however false.” 6 In his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson cautioned his audience against “political intolerance”:

Let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions … Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. (italics added) 7

1 Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, New York: Doubleday, 1921, 315.

2 Tom Paine, Writings, edited by Eric Foner, New York: Library of America, 1995, 394.

3 Claude Lefort, Democracy and Political Theory, translated by David Macey, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, 82.

4 Robert Devigne, Recasting Conservatism, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994, 1.

5 John Gray, Liberalism, second edition, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995, xii.

6 Alexander Hamilton, Writings, edited by Joanne B. Freeman, New York: Library of America, 2001, 887.

7 Thomas Jefferson, Writings, edited by Merrill D. Peterson, New York: Library of America, 1984, 493.


Copyright Carol Hamilton 2007


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Navid Nakhaee - 12/17/2007

I think you used the 19th century conservatism-liberalism distinctions perfectly in order to make your case for rational deliberation/respect for the political other. Yet today, I think conservatism (via an orthodox neoliberalist) has painted itself as the party of progress and that of the individual.

Conservatism for the individual- Thye have framed the liberal promotion of positive liberty/freedom as an imposition on the individual. Sure, the views on "culture" still makes sense within the preserve culture/a new(progressive) culture dialectic, but at the same time, conservatives have made more convincing arguments for why they are the party of the individual as far as governance is concerned.

On Progress- through their neoliberalism, they have painted liberals as those who follow obsolete economics. They make the argument that a free market will produce more wealth for everyone and we will all live happily ever after (as long as there are no regs). The lbierals are now seen as non-progressive in that they speak of phantom cultural integrity rather than tangible economic progress.

...On another level, I disagree with your call for rational deliberation/respect for the political other.

While I know he's a boogie man- but what about Schmitt? If one followed the friend-enemy distinction, then the conservatives are not longer a rational political other that we deliberate with, but that they're a much more dangerous counterpart. They are a counterpart who has deliberately elevated points of disagreement into a more tense arena that requires more aggressive engagement. Indeed, I think it's the constant liberal recourse to "let's return to reason/deliberation" that has allowed Bush & Co. to go so far.


Maarja Krusten - 12/14/2007

Many people in political life act opportunistically. There always has been mudslinging by people of various parties in U.S. politics (it isn't limited to any one party) and always will be. That doesn't mean it is equivalent to what happened during the French Revolution or under various totalitarian regimes.

But the demonization of opponents is an interesting phenomenon, one which interests me. (Have you read the Andreas Umland piece elsewhere on the home pae.) In U.S. history, I've found that it is not always easy to distinguish between what a speaker genuinely believed and what he said for effect when he went negative. (More on that in a moment, as drawn from a column by David Brooks.)

There's a lot of hyperbole, exaggeration and overheated rhetoric in the political world. I sometimes try to translate some of it in my mind to daily life and end up with an image of a show such as Jerry Springer with people screaming at each other. (I never watched it, I have to admit, but I've seen clips and heard descrptions of it.) That's nothing like my everyday life, thank goodness.

Some of the mudslinging in politics over the years appears to have been an effort to distract people, some of it reflected an appeal to emotion, a way to get people riled up about an issue. What works in the short term sometimes fails in the long term. Sometimes politicians see an issue that bears examination but then overreach and end up giving ammunition to their enemies. That doesn't stop successive generations of politicians from going negative, a process in which the public plays a role, too.

Unfortunately, I've read few books where people reflect on what they did. The people from whom we most would like answers about what they did and why are not always as introspective as are many of us who are drawn to history in our careers.

John Podhoretz suggested as much in his memoir. He wrote in _Hell of a Ride_ that

"This might sound pretty awful, but people who reach this West Wing level are, generally speaking, not especially reflective people. Washington ambition discourages reflection."

He added that if politicians "had it in them to do even minimal soul-searching about the compromises they were making, had to figure out whether what they were doing was for the common good or for their own personal good, the conundrums of conscience would make them ineffective and indecisive.

The same capacity for deliberately unenlightened self-interest characterises just about everyone else involved in American politics. Just as [politicians] live for power--and after all, even the best of them are in it for the power, because they, too, need it to fulfill their special sense of mission--their parasites crave its proximity."

But more recently, David Brooks wrote in a column on October 16, 2007 of a discussion with a politician who told him of political advertisin, "I was appalled by what I had to do." Brooks concluded, "Politics, as you know, is a tainted profession. Professional politicians cannot serve their country if they do not win their races, and to do that they must grapple with a vast array of forces that try to remold and destroy who they are."

Sometimes the tactics backfire. We tend to hear more these days about Joe McCarthy's tactics and the polemical approach that brought about the fall of the Senator from Wisconsin than about the issues that brought him fame initially. That he acted as a bully does not mean all the issues he was looking at did not bear at least *some* examination.


Mark Reitz - 12/14/2007

Well, it appears that the author doesn't want to engage in the free flow of thought and idea. Rather than engage in a discussion about her essay that may end up contradicting her apparent thesis that evil Republicans denounce and are therefore the same as Murat, Nazis and Stalin, she has taken the advice of Harry Truman to stay out of the kitchen if you can't stand the heat.


William J. Stepp - 12/14/2007

While she's contemplating her answers to your questions, I'd like to add this one: what on earth do CEOs, with or without golden parachutes, have to do with political denunciation?


Mark Reitz - 12/13/2007

It's been nearly 48 since we've heard from you, Carol, and there are several questions outstanding that I'd like to hear your answers to, namely:

Should the country elect people to office based upon the free flow of truthful statements concerning those running for office, and that are relevant to the character of the candidate or his/her political positions?

Was the Rather-gate controversy with the forged Air National Guard records of President Bush a denunciation?

Is the argument that “BUSH LIED” over the circumstances of going to war with Iraq denunciation?

Is pointing out that Romney is a Mormon denunciation?

Is questioning the circumstances of John Kerry’s first Purple Heart and the request for Kerry to release his military records for independent review denunciation?

I await your response.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/13/2007

Senator Joe McCarthy sent the tumbrils not to the spot where the innocent could be dragged away to the guillotine, but to the spot where the GUILTY could be dragged away to hide behind the Fifth Amendment... You have nailed her rather eloquently, Mark. Our country rarely deals in political murder. Other than JFK sending killers to Cuba, and also giving the green light for the murder of Diem in South Vietnam, it's hard to think of a case.


Mark Reitz - 12/12/2007

Carol, sorry I missed you answer in a prior post as to what, exactly, you mean by denunciation. I now see that you define the term as “I'm talking about calculated political campaigns that intend to destroy a candidate's reputation and deprive potential constituents of his representation.” [Do you mean deprive the candidate of the constituent's votes? Is this a top down system, of a bottom up system?] Of course, in the context of your essay, I’m not sure how this definition fits in. Do you not see a difference between the denunciations of Murat and Stalin as against the calculated political campaigns of Hillary Clinton (against Obama) and Bush (against Kerry)?

By your definition, what would acceptable political discourse look like? Would it be allowed? Should a candidate ever be permitted to talk about his opponent and his/her positions? Clearly, the only reason one would discuss an opponent’s positions would be as part of the political campaign, and because of a calculation that by so doing the opponent’s reputation will be tarnished and people will not vote for that opponent. Thus, denunciation!


Mark Reitz - 12/12/2007

Carol, you write as if Cleland was entitled to this senate seat by virtue of his Vietnam injuries. Your argument is that Chambliss and those nasty Republicans questioned his patriotism and denied him his office. The Republican Party has no such power. Cleland was removed and replaced by the voters, to who the government and offices in our democracy ultimately belong.

The ads run by Chambliss pointed out that Cleland had voted for an amendment to the Chemical Weapons Treaty that eliminated a ban on citizens of terrorist nations being on U.N. inspection teams in Iraq, and noted that Cleland voted 11 times against the Homeland Security measures co-authored by Georgia’s more moderate, more popular Democratic Senator Zell Miller. Those are indeed facts. Should facts be ignored so as not to denounce anyone? Read the editorial of the Wall Street Journal on the Cleland-Chambliss contest and then tell me that what was done equates to a denunciation. http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110002637

And let’s talk about denunciation, the purported topic of your essay. You have yet to define it. I would appreciate if you would do so, so that these conversations might continue in a productive manner and without the ad hominem attacks you so deplore. Merriam-Webster defines denunciation as “a public condemnation.” I don’t know if that's too helpful for purposes of your discussions. Does it matter, for instance, whether the public condemnation is true or false? It seems to me, and especially in a liberal democracy as the US, that truthful public discussion can never be a denunciation. Charles Bradlaugh said “Without free speech no search for truth is possible.” In a free speech case before the Supreme Court Justice Brandeis said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” We need more truthful free speech.

One of the problems with the historical denunciations of your essay is that the denunciations were not truthful and resulted in the death of the denounced. In the US today, no political denunciation, whether truthful or not, results in arrest, isolation and death.

Your direct question to me was whether I “really think it's good for the country to elect people based on who produces the most savage attack ad?” My answer, no, but your question is a straw man. Let’s rephrase the question: Should the country elect people to office based upon the free flow of truthful statements concerning those running for office, and that are relevant to the character of the candidate or his/her political positions?” I’ll answer this question, yes. How about you?

And finally, just a couple more questions for you. Was the Rather-gate controversy with the forged Air National Guard records of President Bush a denunciation? Is the argument that “BUSH LIED” over the circumstances of going to war with Iraq denunciation? Is pointing out that Romney is a Mormon denunciation? Are the questionable circumstances of John Kerry’s first Purple Heart and requests for Kerry to release his military records for independent review denunciation? If you’re keeping score, my answers are: Yes, Yes, No, and No. How do you answer.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/12/2007

Senator Joe McCarthy sent the tumbrils not to the spot where the innocent could be dragged off to the guillotine, but to the spot where the guilty could be dragged off to hide behind the 5th Amendment. Your analogy was absurd, and it is fitting Mr. Reitz jumped on it promptly.

In 2004 the Swiftboat veterans managed to expose John Kerry's sorry military record from Vietnam to Paris, thus rendering a high service to the nation. To insinuate he was smeared by them is to admit not having read "Unfit for Command."

So liberals champion equality, do they? How about John Edwards and his 28,000 square foot house, Al Gore and his $1,300 heat bills, or the Bill Clinton family, with a recently reported a net worth of $50 million?
Apparently further SBA loan frauds, new national parks in Utah to help Chinese friends with mines in Indonesia, sales of pardons, and collectng bribes via commodity futures, will no longer be necessary.


Serge Lelouche - 12/12/2007

mate.


William J. Stepp - 12/12/2007

Yes, Ron Paul would abolish the DoE, Soc. Sec., and Medicare, but that doesn't mean these functions would cease to exist, which is a common but incorrect charge against libertarians.
Abolishing the DoE and putting the educrats out to pasture, for example, hardly implies that Ron Paul is against schools. He just wants them out of the maw of the state. Ditto for retirement plans and healthcare, which would be better provided by the market.
As for global warming, whatever that actually is, Bush himself is on record as saying that it is real and caused by humans. CAFE standard legislation was passed with numerous GOP votes in Congress, and GOP members have long supported the gas tax. The mountain of pages in the Federal Register were put there with lots of help from the GOP.
As for Al Hamilton, he was a proponent of militarism, monetary centralization, high taxes, and "national greatness," everything libertarians abhor for good reason.
As for CEOs and their golden parachutes, some do get them, but relatively few. You also left out the part where the Clinton administration capped the deductibility of executive pay at one million dollars annually, so the market figured out how to get around that stupid law by loading up executives with stock options, which kept their pay in line with the market.
If Michael Jordan could make millions playing basketball, CEOs were going to as well, at least those who created as much shareholder value as #23 did for the Bulls, and options were the way to do that.


Serge Lelouche - 12/12/2007



The term conservative, in its political sense, was coined in 1819 by a Frenchman, the writer Viscount Francois-René de Chateaubriand, who founded a magazine called Le Conservateur, meaning “the conserver” or “the conservator.”

Translation errors aside, it was surely Bonald in 1796, or de Maistre, or some even earlier rather than Chateaubriand.


Serge Lelouche - 12/12/2007

At least 16,000 people perished during the Terror, which sparked a reaction called the White Terror, during which young royalists grabbed people off the streets and murdered them."

Not a word of this is true. The numbers were much higher (with the Vendee maybe 250,000) the "White Terror" wasn't then and there were no "royalists" grabbing people and murdering them!


Serge Lelouche - 12/12/2007

"With the Prairial decree," comments Claude Lefort in Democracy and Political Theory, "the Terror declares that it knows no limits; the very dimension of Law disappears.

Claude Lefort said a lot of stupid things, and there's one. The dimension of law never even came close o disappearing.Read de Baecque.


Serge Lelouche - 12/12/2007

"In a 1793 letter to Georges Danton, one of the revolutionaries, the alarmed Paine attempted to intervene . . .
Paine’s warning was ignored. Eleven months later, the infamous Law of 22 Prairial (June 10th"

How can June 10th 1793 be 11 months after a date in 1793?


Serge Lelouche - 12/12/2007

I was preparing my exhaustive list of errors of fact and interpretation in your piece, but you've been pretty consistent in the name-calling, me not so much. But since you're not responding. . . Oh what the hell. There was no "National Assembly" in 1793. There's one, care for the rest?


Carol Hamilton - 12/12/2007

"Ms. Hamilton, is it your contention then that the 'denunciation' seen in today's American politics is unlike the discourse in politics of previous eras?"

Answer: Of course not. Look at the paragraph at the end of the article, just before the Jefferson quotation.

It's too frustrating to be attacked for supposedly not saying what one has in fact said.

I had thought some conservatives might agree with my main points, but apparently not.


Carol Hamilton - 12/12/2007

You have yet to give any examples of French history, and I know perfectly well the difference between LePen and Sarkozy.

As for Hitler, he's dead and you're alive. If you had a functioning frontal lobe, you would realize this.

If you really had any patriotic feelings, you would be upset with the American Right, with its trashing of French and European culture, rather than people who share my views.

Since you are such an unpleasant man and possibly a misogynist, I will not read or respond to any more of your comments--but I urge you to submit a piece to hnn.us


Serge Lelouche - 12/12/2007

My politics,like those of my countrymen, are closer to Sarkozy than Le Pen. I suppose for you that's pretty similar, but, then again, French history itself seems to be a bit of a muddle in your mind.


Carol Hamilton - 12/12/2007

Ron Paul would abolish the Dept. of Education, Social Security, and Medicare--although the latter two not immediately but gradually. Other Republicans, notably Bush, would like to privatize Social Security. I have yet to hear any Republican express concern about global warming, pollution, raising fuel standards, a gas tax, or anything that would require government regulation of big business. The Democrats want to keep the estate tax and raise the tax on dividends back to where it was before Bush. The basic "conservative" position since Reagan/Thatcher since has been that most taxes should be lowered and people should just take care of themselves. But as Alexander Hamilton wrote, "When avarice takes the lead in a state, it is commonly a forerunner of its fall."

In our culture, unsuccessful football coaches ignominiously lose their jobs immediately after a losing season, yet CEOs who preside over great stock losses get golden parachutes.


Carol Hamilton - 12/12/2007

You ask:

"How is a bare-knuckle campaign against Max Cleland akin to the Murat denunciations? "

Here's what happened: "In 2002, Cleland was defeated in his bid for a second Senate term by Representative Saxby Chambliss. Voters were perhaps influenced by Chambliss ads that featured Cleland's likeness on the same screen as Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, ads that Cleland's supporters claim questioned his commitment to homeland security.[6] (The ads were removed after protest from some prominent politicians including John McCain.)"

You call the above a "bare-knuckle campaign," when it accuses a triple amputee war vet of such affiliations? I call it defamatory and shameful.

Do you really think it's good for the country to elect people based on who produces the most savage attack ad?


Carol Hamilton - 12/12/2007

Are you capable of a comment that is 1. specific 2. dispassionate and polite in tone and 3. substantive?


No wonder you are Jean-Marie LePen's communication adviser. You're the French Karl Rove, in your own tiny, spiteful way.


Carol Hamilton - 12/12/2007

You show no evidence of any such knowledge yourself. Your criticism is entirely non-specific. You are, Monsieur, "louche" and you have posted rude comments on other posts at this site. Why don't you submit something yourself and give us a chance to evaluate you?


Carol Hamilton - 12/12/2007

In the comments section I respond in kind to the attacks I receive. If someone attacks me, I respond in kind. The piece itself is dispassionate; but the responses are not. I engaged in no sniping in the piece itself, but I won't sit back and let people take potshots at me. If someone accuses me of wearing distorted political lenses, surely I can return the accusation. I'm not running for office and I'm entitled to defend myself.

It's disingenuous of you to ask me to define "denunciation." Just read the titles of the books I cited.

But you miss my point entirely. I'm talking about calculated political campaigns that intend to destroy a candidate's reputation and deprive potential constituents of his representation. Why is that so difficult to grasp? As I said George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were wounded and angered by such attacks. The French Revolutionary regime was not a democracy, and denunciation had a more lethal effect. We live in a representative democracy and attacks affect political careers and, as I said, poison the political atmosphere and spread cynicism about the political process.

I spent a long time reading material for this piece (including a lot of books on the French Revolution that I did not cite, although that's not the real focus of the article). I didn't get paid for writing it. I try to argue for a diminution of denunciation on both sides. And the comments I get have a sneering tone.


Sally Gee - 12/11/2007

Unworthy!


Sally Gee - 12/11/2007

What you seem to be saying is that conservative prefer to beat, gun down and starve out opponents to death to maintain the current social order, however dysfunctional, while liberals are nice people who do not and would prefer to make the world a freer better place. It that it?

Perhaps we should join together in denouncing those not obviously conservative or liberal first, and after they have provided us with a couple if weeks of televised guillotine reality tv, we can start on our real enemies for even more sophisticated guillotine entertainment, and may the least dysfunctional win and claim America for (relative) sanity!


Serge Lelouche - 12/11/2007

. . .for failing to respect the authority of 1980s era Berkeley Marxist/Linguistic turn apparatchniks.


Mark Reitz - 12/11/2007

Ms. Hamilton, is it your contention then that the 'denunciation' seen in today's American politics is unlike the discourse in politics of previous eras? How is a bare-knuckle campaign against Max Cleland akin to the Murat denunciations?

I take it that you dislike denunciations and believe that a higher level of discourse should be taking place. (What's the definition of a denunciation by the way?) Far be it from you to engage in denunciation and ad hominem attacks.

“Apparently these readers approve of denunciation, swift-boating, and ad-hominem personal attacks.”

“Or he may be simply a rude person--which his other posts on this site suggest that he is.”

“It's no surprise to me that you don't recognize this; that's part of the historical ignorance I refer to.”

“But your own "political glasses" are so distorted that they won't allow you to see this.”


Serge Lelouche - 12/11/2007

Thank you for that helpful clarification! I am now convinced that you do indeed have a quite extensive familiarity with French historiography.


Serge Lelouche - 12/11/2007

Thank you for that helpful clarification! I am now convinced that you do indeed have a quite extensive familiarity with French historiography.


William J. Stepp - 12/11/2007

My reference to your statement was because the way you worded it could be taken to imply (I don't think you necessarily meant this, but I wanted to be clear) that it was new to contemporary conservatives. Obviously it's not.

As a matter of fact, not only do libertarians admit to anarchist roots, most of us like them, myself included. (For the record, I'm an anarchist.) Tucker (and Spooner) have had far more influence on contemporary libertarianism than Stirner. My guess is that most college libertarians these days couldn't identify the latter.

What GOoPer candidates want to abolish all social programs? Social Security? Medicare? I don't think so. Just last night on CNN there was a segment on how Huckabee was opposed to federal funding for an AIDS vaccine in 1990 but now supports it. Etc.
Of course in an election season even Democrats are going to come out for lower taxes--AMT "reform," etc. This is not unique to GOoPers.
I have yet to hear a denunciation from GOoPers of either social programs per se or the weak, poor, and the environment.

The word "commonwealth" implies lots of things, none of them consistent with either libertarianism or classical liberalism. The institutions that RP would abolish, like the Pentagon, the Fed, the IRS, etc. should be abolished. There was a time not so long ago that the U.S. (and the "commonwealth") did just fine without them.

As for speech codes, see the work done by FIRE.
No doubt lots of conservatives support them, but they haven't been in the vanguard of support for them.
Again, lots of conservatives support prayer in the schools, flag saluting, etc., but not all (or probably even most) of them. Goldwater conservatives certainly would not be among them.


Carol Hamilton - 12/11/2007

Upon further thought, M. Lelouche is making a false analogy. There's quite a difference between a technical skill like flying an airplane and an acquired body of knowledge, like a field of history. In the latter case, the child of a historian will be raised around bookshelves full of history, taken to historical places, and engage in conversations with the parent about that subject. It's not unlike learning from a professor in a classroom, except that it is prolonged and varied.

I will add that M. Lelouche misses the point of the essay, which is the Marat-like climate of denunciation in the US today. He may well be a poor reader of texts, thanks to his unfamiliarity with literary theory and criticism or his command of English. Or he may be simply a rude person--which his other posts on this site suggest that he is.


Carol Hamilton - 12/11/2007

I rewrote my bio to give a nod to some people who inspired me, including my mother, a member of Columbia's Society of American Historians, and the late George Mosse, whose name I thought historians would recognize with some pleasure.

As for my credentials to write the article, for some decades now English has ceased to be merely literary criticism. The Berkeley English department was the birthplace of the New Historicism and of a historically-conscious Marxism that disputed it. Professors from art history, intellectual history (Martin Jay), political science, and literary studies taught courses and worked together; graduate students flourished in such an intellectual atmosphere. One of my dissertation committee members, political scientist Michael Rogin, wrote a book on Melville; no one would have told him he lacked the credentials to write about a novelist.

What's interesting is the hostility, vagueness, and dismissive tone of these responses. Apparently these readers approve of denunciation, swift-boating, and ad-hominem personal attacks.


Carol Hamilton - 12/11/2007

American conservatism's hostility to individualism is evident in its hostility to nonconformity of every kind: thought, word, and deed. At least the Tories tolerate eccentricity.

I'm not sure what "long" or "recently" means in the second paragraph above. I'm the author of a number of scholarly articles on anarchism, and I'm sure that contemporary American libertarians are not going to admit to such an intellectual ancestry. I'm not saying that libertarians ARE anarchists; they're certainly not anti-capitalist or anti-church, just anti-state. I'm saying that they owe a more to Max Stirner and Benjamin Tucker than they would ever like to admit.

I've watched all the Republican debates, and all I hear is: lower taxes, abolish all social programs, every man for himself (armed to the teeth), and to hell with the meek, the poor, and the environment. This is not altogether true of Huckabee, but he's being attacked precisely for having abandoned that stance, raising some taxes to pay for a few programs. And of course, Ron Paul is refreshing in many respects, although he too is against any sense of a "commonwealth" and would abolish many institutions.

As for what you charge liberals with in the first paragraph, I'd need to see some specifics to be convinced. Speech codes, in my view, are an unfortunately authoritarian attempt to impose politeness and good manners upon people who aren't used to associating with women, Jews, gays, people of color--associating with them as equals, that is, rather than as house-cleaners or other subordinates.

As an authoritarian move, the imposition of speech codes is not alien to conservatism, with its respect/worship for authority. Conservatism would not require speech codes, but it would compel public school pupils to salute the flag, say the pledge of allegiance, and bow their heads in prayer or suffer various consequences, from ostracism to expulsion. Having grown up in the deep South, I know whereof I speak.


William J. Stepp - 12/11/2007

In addition to the points Mark Reitz makes about liberalism (speech codes, etc.), we might add prosecuting the drug war, involving the U.S. in 20th-century shooting wars too, and starting the Cold War.

Carol Hamilton writes:

That "conservatives" now trumpet individualism is partly a result of their opposition to the federal government and partly their adoption of libertarianism, which is descended from individualist anarchism.

Conservatives, rightly or wrongly, have long identified with individualism to some extent. This didn't start recently, as the post implies.
There are no doubt conservatives who believe this, but obviously it's a bogus point in the case of the budget busting and warmongering neocons and their supporters.
Which contemporary conservatives have adopted libertarianism? Again, certainly not the neocons, who don't have a libertarian bone in their bodies.
As a card carrying libertarian, I can tell you that it's only partially descended from individualist anarchism. Not all self-identified libertarians are anarchists.
Libertarianism also has strong roots in classical liberalism, which didn't reject the state, but did want to limit its growth and its functions more or less to protecting individual rights (including the right to property).


Serge Lelouche - 12/10/2007

It is obvious that the author has no familiarity with the historiography of the French Revolution. What are Carol Hamilton's credentials to write on this? I understand her mother wrote history, but my father was a long-haul pilot for Royal Air Maroc. Would you want me in the cockpit?


Carol Hamilton - 12/10/2007

These are the traditional definitions of liberalism and conservative as propounded by scholars and PROPONENTS of those positions (if you had read more carefully). It's no surprise to me that you don't recognize this; that's part of the historical ignorance I refer to. That "conservatives" now trumpet individualism is partly a result of their opposition to the federal government and partly their adoption of libertarianism, which is descended from individualist anarchism. As for contemporary denunciation having no consequences, look at what happened to John Kerry's campaign after he was swiftboated, or Max Cleland's reelection campaign in Georgia, where, after losing several limbs in combat, he was tarred as an Al Quaida sympathizer and defeated. But your own "political glasses" are so distorted that they won't allow you to see this or to understand how Coulter, Fox News, and those liberals who attempt to imitate their tactics poison political discourse, deflecting the attention of the media and the citizenry from actual issues to personal failings, real or imaginary.


Mark Reitz - 12/10/2007

I'm not sure I follow the flow of thought in this article. In the French Revolution denunciation leads to the guillotine and death. In Nazi Germany, denunciation leads to a concentration camp and death. In Stalin's Soviet Union, denunciation leads to a midnight visit, a gulag and death. Sean Hannity engages in political discussion and 'denounces' and 'enemy of the state' and what? Is this really comparable? And what about Keith Olberman's 'Worst Person in the World,' who just always happens to be a republican? Is that denunciation?

"Liberals are the party of civil liberties and reform." I'm sorry, but I must be reading different news and reports than you are. It appears that it is the liberals who enforce speech codes on college campus, who preserve racial distinctions, and who want to stiffle the free expression of ideas.

"Conservatives want to preserve, liberals to improve; conservatives look to the collectivity, liberals to individuals." Again, I'm not sure what the evidence is to support these conclusions. Take Social Security as an issue. Conservatives want to reform; the liberals won't even talk of any change. And conservatives seem to always be exalting the individual: the right to bear arms, welfare reform. It's the liberals who advocate that guns are a collective, not an individual right; and that welfare exists so that individuals don't have to be responsible for their choices.

If this article was meant to be a parody, you succeeded. As to bearing any resemblance to the real world, it just falls short. Take off your political glasses that color your world and start over.

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