Revolutions Revisited

Revolutions Revisited: Two Faces of the Politics of Enlightenment

Ralph Lerner
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Revolutions Revisited
    Book Description:

    In this elegant extended essay, Ralph Lerner concentrates on the politics of enlightenment--the process by which those who sought to set minds free went about their work. Eighteenth-century revolutionaries in America and Europe, Lerner argues, found that a revolution aimed at liberating bodies and minds had somehow to be explained and defended. Lerner first investigates how the makers of revolution sought to improve their public's aspirations and chances. He pays particular attention to Benjamin Franklin, to the tone and substance of revolutionaries' appeals on both sides of the Atlantic, and to the preoccupations of first- and second-generation enlighteners among the Americans. He then unfolds the art by which later political actors, confronting the profound political, constitutional, and social divisions of their own day, drew upon and reworked their national revolutionary heritage. Lerner's examination of the speeches and writings of Edmund Burke, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexis de Tocqueville shows them to be masters of a political rhetoric once closely analyzed by Plato and his medieval student al-Farabi but now nearly forgotten.A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

    eISBN: 978-0-8078-3798-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. PART ONE : Looking Forward

    • 1 Dr. Janus
      (pp. 3-18)

      “ ‘But what god am I to say thou art, Janus of double shape?’ asks Ovid in theFasti(1.89).¹ To this question the god, appearing in his proper person, gives no clear reply in the passage which follows. So the learned of every generation continue with high courage to supplement his remarks as

      1.Quern tamen esse deum te dicam, lane biformis?Taking a cue from Benjamin Franklin, I supply the original Latin: “Gentle Readers, we design never to let a Paper pass without a Latin Motto if we can possibly pick one up, which carries a Charm in...

    • 2 America’s Place in the Enlightenment
      (pp. 19-38)

      How contrived and farfetched to speak of America’s relation to the Enlightenment! For if it istheEnlightenment we have in mind—the assertive eighteenth-century French version of the movement—then, one must confess, differences and singularities are more apparent than shared concerns. At the least, we would be hard put to discover among the Americans much if any of the animus, frustration, and resentment that fueled and sustained thephilosophesin their battles with state and society. The French were intent on reconstructing a very old state now clearly seen as incoherent, paralyzed, and broke. In America, however, the...

    • 3 A Dialogue of Fathers and Sons
      (pp. 39-54)

      Just as the founders of the American republics looked back to a past that they both cherished and rejected, so too did they look forward to a future that might cherish and yet also in some sense reject them. Although the founders were believers in self-evident truths, in inalienable rights, in the lasting correctness of the principles of republican government, they were far from insisting on the fixity of each and every feature of their thought and work. Pleased though they were with much of what they had wrought, they had not exhausted their hopes. They began with the American...

  5. PART TWO : Re-visioning “Our Revolution”

    • 4 What Manner of Speech?
      (pp. 57-66)

      Popular historians, intent on gratifying our desire to define and characterize whole eras, have responded in kind. With a few bold, simple strokes, they offer for our consideration pictures of an Age of Faith, an Age of Reason, an Industrial Age, and the like. Whatever bewilderment or sense of wonder may first have troubled our view of the past and prompted us to seek their help is in a sense quieted, at least for a while. Yet our satisfaction, such as it is, carries its own price. If we are to remain content with the likely tale they offer us,...

    • 5 Burke’s Muffled Oars
      (pp. 67-87)

      From first to last in his long career as a public man, Edmund Burke insists on a self-conscious scrutiny of one’sstancewhen approaching questions of public policy. Ignorance, inexperience, myopia, closed-mindedness (whether prompted by self-satisfaction, indifference, or sloth): each rules out the chance that sound policy might be found and followed. As surely as “a great empire and little minds go ill together,” so too might it be said more generally that the conduct of the public’s business demands enlarged views both from the few charged with that business and from the many empowered to select them (C1:509).¹...

    • 6 Lincoln’s Revolution
      (pp. 88-111)

      By the time Abraham Lincoln first finds his way to the public podium, the traditional objects of American political celebration have been much altered. In the beginning, and especially to the east of the Hudson, the Lord had been praised by governors no less than by clerics. Both knew whence all blessings flowed and were intent that the public at large never lose sight of that source. Later, the controversies that lead at last to revolution and independence lay greater stress on English law and institutions, the rightful inheritance of a free people. To laud this legacy is at once...

    • 7 Tocqueville’s Political Sermon
      (pp. 112-128)

      The more impressive a work of historical analysis, the greater the likelihood it will deceive. Whether a popular article or a scholarly monograph, its aura of completeness and balance, even its physical unity, may serve to conceal the field of diverse forces at whose intersections the historian stands. Like the coroner’s report or the chemist’s analysis, the historian’s handiwork is a function of the interplay of investigating mind and subject matter. Beyond that, however, it also involves the reciprocal shaping of author and audience; for as with a playwright or a politician, the historian’s effort to persuade or to alter...

    • 8 Revival through Recollection
      (pp. 129-134)

      In isolation, the political argumentations of Edmund Burke, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexis de Tocqueville seem as distinctive as the political situations in which their speakers find themselves and the special character of the people they address and seek to persuade. Like the true politicians they are, they attend to particulars and then shape the form, style, and tone of their speech accordingly. In truth, none of them would ever be mistaken for the other; and yet, notwithstanding these singularities, we find that when we juxtapose their several productions some strikingly similar qualities come to sight. We sense that these men...

  6. Index
    (pp. 135-136)