As my wife and I prepare to visit the beach in Normandy where her father landed on D-Day and the battlefields where he fought, we see growing threats from within to the democracy he gave up so much to defend. Refusals to accept outcomes of elections, physical attacks on dissenting speakers on campuses, ostracism of supporters of unpopular politicians, and disruption of legislative processes all give evidence of a rising wave of totalitarianism that would substitute force for democratic order.
Demonstrations at the confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanagh are the current examples of the left’s renewed commitment to violent eradication of contrary points of view that has been its strategy since the French Revolution. Rather than tolerating and giving time and space for questioning and debate of Judge Kavanagh’s legal philosophy, the crazed demonstrators and their abettors in the Democratic Party revert to noise and physical obstruction.
That preference for power over thought, to coerce rather than convince, created the monstrosity in Europe that my father-in-law fought to destroy there and protect us from here. That was the sad heritage of the French Revolution, but not the heritage we enjoy from the American Revolution.
There is no sugar-coating the fact that we have also had periods of conflict, with violent struggles between employers and unions, slave and free states, and even veterans and politicians. Some of these were fueled by odious ideologies that in principle substituted violence for peaceful persuasion and democratic processes, but those ideologies never came close to winning here as they did in Europe. Except for the Civil War even armed conflict was confined to specific locations.
From the days leading up to the American Revolution through the Federalist debates and the adoption of our current Constitution, American leaders relied on argument, debate and ultimately the ballot box to resolve our disagreements. The Revolutionary War was not driven by a cabal of dissidents willing to impose their ideology by force, but a last resort to resist the actions of a distant ruler. The disagreements between agricultural and manufacturing interests, northern and southern states, city and frontier, and above all advocates of strong central government and loose confederation, were played out in newspapers, broadsheets, arguments in taverns and public meetings, and the writings of literate leaders.
The intellectual foundations of the French Revolution were more romantic and less cerebral. It broke out in popular uprisings against a weakening king and aristocracy. But civil discourse and persuasion through reasoned arguments were rapidly discarded as ways to decide how to reconstitute society. Despite the worship of Reason that replaced Catholicism as the official religion of revolutionary France, one faction after another took power by force and executed en masse those who might disagree. Reason was replaced by Terror, as it has been in one country after another in every part of the world except ours.
If we look at France in 1789, Russia in 1917, Germany in 1933, and Spain in 1936 we see the same pattern. Each had relatively new, moderate governments with mediocre leaders that aspired to democratic processes – the National Assembly, the Duma, the Weimar Republic, the Republic. Each was overthrown by a small but well-organized group that was not able to win elections but could apply concentrated violence to take power.
That is why it is terrible to see American elections and legislative debates limited to slogans and shouting down of opposing points of view. Our leaders from both sides bear a great deal of guilt in this regard. They have substituted talking points and one-liners for explanations of the reasons for their positions that respect the intellect of the electorate. The big three networks and establishment newspapers encourage this behavior by ignoring any politician who does try to take more than one sentence to explain his or her position. For a voter to find reasoned arguments that respect data and try for truth rather than persuasion requires both expertise and willingness to work hard to find reliable sources. This weakens our tradition of reasoned debate and democratic processes and strengthens those who prefer force to reason.
Protestors disrupting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination are not even trying to convince anyone of the reasonableness of their opposition – their goal is to create disruption until they get their way. They are just the latest example of the tactics of those who boycotted President Trump’s inauguration, the celebrities who advocate his assassination, Antifa in its violent suppression of free speech, the attacks on police rationalized by Black Lives Matter, and on and on. The American left is taking these tactics straight from the playbook of its totalitarian predecessors in France, Russia, Germany, Spain and failed states and dictatorships throughout the world.
The Democratic senators who are now using the disruption of his confirmation hearings to create further delays in a vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination are thereby endorsing and encouraging the demonstrators. If they had any respect for the democratic process and legislative debate, they would agree to a date certain for a vote on the nomination. That would both declare their allegiance to civil discourse and make the efforts of the demonstrators futile. But instead they encourage every form of disruption in their extra-legal efforts to prevent a vote they must fear losing.
My father-in-law never claimed any credit for preserving our freedoms or rescuing Europe from the tyranny that its unwillingness to defend democratic processes brought into being. That is just what he and his generation did. My wife and I go back and forth between being grateful that he did not live to see the current debacle and wishing that we could hear what he has to say about it.
David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy. He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America, David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.