Written by Vladimir Moss



     The ideas of the French revolution posed a great threat to the British. Although they prided themselves on being the home of liberty, the British saw that French revolutionary “liberty” would speedily destroy their own. Already the American revolution had shown that libertarianism and empire made an uncomfortable fit; and the fit would look still worse in India and Ireland as the French ideas filtered through to the subject peoples there.

     Moreover, the first effects of the industrial revolution on the industrial poor, and of the “dark, satanic mills” of England’s “green and pleasant land”, threatened to arouse revolutionary passions among the poor. “’Two causes, and only two, will rouse a peasantry to rebellion,’ opined Robert Southey, a radical turned Tory: ‘intolerable oppression, or religious zeal’. But that moderately comforting scenario no longer applied: ‘A manufacturing poor is more easily instigated to revolt: they have no local attachments… they know enough of what is passing in the political world to think themselves politicians’. England’s rulers must pay heed: ‘If the manufacturing system continues to be extended, I believe that revolution inevitably must come, and in its most fearful shape’.”[1]

     Already during the years of the American revolution, 1778-83, a debate had begun on whether the liberal ideas of John Locke that had inspired that revolution, had been right after all. In 1783 the Baptist Noel Turner wondered whether the “present national propensity” was the deployment of Locke on behalf of the “many-headed majesty” of “king-people”. And in the same year Josiah Tucker published his “On the Evil Consequences Arising from the Propagation of Locke’s Democratic Principles”.

     Again, Tucker’s disciple Soame Jenyns refuted the Lockean philosophy of the Whigs, writing:

I controvert these five positions

Which Whigs pretend are the conditions

Of civil rule and liberty;

That men are equal born – and free –

That kings derive their lawful sway

All from the people’s yea and nay –

That compact is the only ground,

On which a prince his rights can found –

Lastly, I scout that idle notion,

That government is put in motion,

And stopt again, like clock or chime,

Just as we want them to keep time.[2]

     That said, when the first, Lockean phase of the French revolution broke out in 1789, it was generally accepted by men across the political spectrum, from the Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger to the leader of the Whigs, Charles Fox, who exclaimed: “How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world! And how much the best!” Dissenters and poets were especially enthusiastic. William Wordsworth wrote:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

But to be young was very heaven 

And “a Unitarian student at Cambridge, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, burned ‘Liberty’ and ‘Equality’ with gunpowder onto the velvety lawns of St. John’s and Trinity. Dissenting intellectuals scutinized political events for their prophetic meaning, with ‘the Declaration of the Rights of Man in one hand, and the Book of Revelation in the other, as Joseph Priestly put it.”[3]

     However, as the news of the first atrocities filtered across the Channel, the mood changed. In 1798 Coleridge repented of his previous enthusiasm:

When France in wrath her giant-limbs upreared

And with that oath, which smote air, earth and sea,

Stamped her strong foot, and said she would be free,

Bear witness for me, how I hoped and feared!...

Forgive me, Freedom! O forgive those dreams!

     The earlier debate on Locke – the acknowledge ideologue of the first phase of the French revolution – was now renewed. Could the ideas of the urbane and civilized Locke really have led to such barbarism? William Jones thought so. He said that “with Mr. Locke in his hand”, that “mischievous infidel Voltaire” had set about destroying Christianity. And Locke was “the oracle of those who began and conducted the American Revolution, which led to the French Revolution; which will lead (unless God in his mercy interfere) to the total overthrow of religion and government in this kingdom, perhaps in the whole Christian world.”[4]

      The most famous debate that took place in England over the revolution was between two men who had been on the same, liberal side during the American Revolution, but now found themselves on opposing sides. Thomas Paine had displayed his radical credentials and oratorical skill in the famous anti-monarchist tract Common Sense (1776), and now enthusiastically backed his revolutionary colleagues in France, who read his tracts in the National Assembly. His opponent, the Anglo-Irish thinker and Whig parliamentarian Edmund Burke, could hardly be accused of being an enemy of freedom - he had defended the freedom of America and Ireland.[5]


     Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), written just one year after the revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, he attacked the liberal doctrine of universal rights as being precisely the cause of the greatest tyranny. Burke, write Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony, endorses“Selden’s argument that universal rights, since they are based only on reason rather than ‘positive, recorded, hereditary title,’ can be said to give everyone a claim to absolutely anything. Adopting a political theory based on such universal rights has one obvious meaning: that the ‘sure inheritance’ of one’s nation will immediately be ‘scrambled for and torn to pieces’ by ‘every wild litigious spirit’ who knows how to use universal rights to make ever new demands.

     “Burke’s argument is frequently quoted today by conservatives who assume that his target was Rousseau and his followers in France. But Burke’s attack was not primarily aimed at Rousseau, who had few enthusiasts in Britain or America at the time. The actual target of his attack was contemporary followers of Grotius and Locke - individuals such as Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Charles James Fox, Charles Grey, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. Price, who was the explicit subject of Burke’s attack in the first pages of Reflections on the Revolution in France, had opened his Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty (1776) with the assertion that ‘the principles on which I have argued form the foundation of every state as far as it is free; and are the same with those taught by Mr. Locke.’ And much the same could be said of the others, all of whom followed Locke in claiming that the only true foundation for political and constitutional thought was precisely in those ‘general theories concerning the rights of men’ that Burke believed would bring turmoil and death to one country after another.

    “The carnage taking place in France triggered a furious debate in England. It pitted supporters of the conservatism of Coke and Selden (both Whigs and Tories) against admirers of Locke’s universal rights theories (the so-called New Whigs). The conservatives insisted that these theories would uproot every traditional political and religious institution in England, just as they were doing in France. It is against the backdrop of this debate that Burke reportedly stated in Parliament that, of all the books ever written, [Locke’s] Second Treatise was ‘one of the worst.’”[6]

     Burke foresaw that the revolution would bring in its train, not freedom, but tyranny. And “the tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny”.[7] The result would be: “laws overturned; tribunals subverted; industry without vigour; commerce expiring; the revenue unpaid, yet the people impoverished; a church pillaged, and a state not relieved; civil and military anarchy made the constitution of the kingdom; every thing human and divine sacrificed to the idol of the public credit, and national bankruptcy the consequence.”[8] The main problem with radical revolutionaries was that they did not take human nature into account. They “are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they have totally forgotten his nature.”
For him, “the touchstone of all theories which regard man and the affairs of men” was: “Does it suit his nature in general? Does it suit his nature as modified by habit?”

     Before the revolution Burke had written: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. United in prayer and our Faith, we must together bear witness to the Truth in our troubling times, as martyrs and confessors did in theirs."[9] These Christian sentiments were prophetic. "We cannot, if we would, delude ourselves about the true state of this dreadful contest. It is a religious war. It includes in its object undoubtedly every other interest of society as well as this; but this is the principal and leading feature. It is through this destruction of religion that our enemies propose the accomplishment of all their other views. The French Revolution, impious at once and fanatical, had no other plan for domestick power and foreign empire. Look at all the proceedings of the National Assembly from the first day of declaring itself such in the year 1789, to this very hour, and you will find full half of their business to be directly on this subject. In fact it is the spirit of the whole. The religious system, called the Constitutional Church, was on the face of the whole proceeding set up only as a mere temporary amusement to the people, and so constantly stated in all their conversations, till the time should come, when they might with safety cast off the very appearance of all religion whatsoever, and persecute Christianity throughout Europe with fire and sword. This religious war is not a controversy between sect and sect as formerly, but a war against all sects and all religions."[10]

Text Box: So the real question that the Revolution sought to answer was not political or economic, but theological or ideological, not: who pays the taxes?, but: who rules the universe? Is it the God-Man, Jesus Christ, or the man-god, humanity or the nation? The ancien regime declared the first; the revolution – the second.

     King Louis XVI had stated the Christian principle: "I have taken the firm and sincere decision to remain loftily, publicly and generously faithful to Him Who holds in His hand kings and kingdoms. I can only be great through Him, because in Him alone is greatness, glory, majesty and power; and because I am destined one day to be his living image on earth."[11] This firm, but humble statement of the doctrine, not so much of the Divine right of kings, as of their Divine dependence on the King of kings, was opposed by the satanic pride of the revolution. For, as De Mounier declared: “The Revolution… claims to found society on the will of man instead of founding it on the will of God, which puts the sovereignty of human reason in the place of the Divine law."[12]

     Burke agreed with the French Catholic monarchist Joseph de Maistre in calling the revolution “satanic”. And, as we have seen, he called the war that broke out between revolutionary France and Britain in 1793 “a religious war”. For it was a war between two opposed ideas of who rules human society: God or the people – or what Noel Turner called the “many-headed majesty” of “king-people”.. Moreover, it was war against monarchy in all its forms: “No Monarchy, limited or unlimited, nor any of the old Republics, can possibly be safe as long as this strange, nameless, wild, enthusiastic thing is established in the Centre of Europe.”

     Bradley Birzer writes: “Burke asked exactly how one might categorize the revolutionary government. Is it a monarchy of the democracy, a democracy of the monarchy, some form of pure democracy, or a nasty oligarchy? Whatever it claims to be, Burke continued, the intelligent person can simply dismiss that label as a manifestation of, at best, poor thinking, and, at worst, malicious and willful falsehood. Certainly, the revolutionary government and society had veered far away from the course of nature, creating nothing but a mere contrivance and shadow of reality.

     “The Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher noted that it is worth considering the notion that Revolutionary France is a modern attempt at democracy. Drawing explicitly upon the writings of Aristotle, Burke asked what the real difference was between a monarchy and a democracy: ‘Of this I am certain, that in a democracy, the majority of its citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority, whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of policy, as they often must.’ However constituted, few forms of government are more oppressive than a democracy armed with self-righteous fury at all who oppose the will of the majority.

     “In his own analysis written at the very beginning of the revolution, Burke followed Plato and anticipated his nineteenth-century disciple Alexis de Tocqueville.

     “Because the king is only one man, several things will restrain him (relatively speaking, of course, for a monarch can easily go bad). First, by tradition, he will recognize that while he might have mastery over things temporal, he cannot fully control things spiritual. Second, by being one person, he cannot extend his imagination beyond his own ego, thus having the limitations of his own mind and his own experience. None of this is to suggest that a king cannot be ruthless, brutal, and ferocious. Of course, he can, as Burke well understood. After all, Burke had just spent a considerable amount of time writing and speaking on the evils and follies of Henry VIII. Still, no matter how far the king goes in each of these things, he will encounter limits. For the ‘hive’ that is the democratic mindset, however, the very spirit of democracy pushes its adherents to surmount such limits, and to behave as one man with the will of a god. The very animalistic thought process of the collective lends it toward a righteous stand against any opposition, internally or externally. When opposed, they react with ‘fury’…

     “Armed with the insane fury of the democratic will, the revolutionaries believe themselves pure enough to pass absolutist judgments against the corrupt. While the corrupt might be only eighty to ninety percent corrupted, it is easiest for the presumed pure to claim it totally corrupt, destroy it utterly, and begin anew. There is no cost to claiming the need to begin anew because there yet exists no basis by which to judge that which has yet to come. As that which has yet to come does not exist—except in the hearts of men—it therefore has no weight or substance. By definition, that which has yet to come must be perfect, as it exists only in our perfect thought and hopes, not in reality. How then, can one ever compare that which is unreal but perfect with that very real thing which, by its very existence in a fallen world, must be imperfect? Wisdom would and should allow us to realize this, but democratic fury and passion dismiss such reason as doubtful, traitorous, and, perhaps, insane.

     “Listening to its opponents, one might think the French monarchy akin to the bloodthirsty god-kings of the ancient Orient or, perhaps, to Satan himself (though many of the revolutionaries, of course, did not believe in such ‘superstitions’ as God and the Devil). In the descriptions of the contemporary French monarchy, one might envision a world at constant war, ignorant of all arts and sciences, devoid of any economic securities—in manufacturing and agriculture—and ‘where the human race itself melts away and perishes under the eye of the observer.’

     “Though not a proponent of the monarchy, Burke could not in good conscience look away from the goodness—however limited—to be found in much of France’s religion, laws, manners, and opinions. Could not some corrective to the corruption of the monarchy be found in these? Why did men fail to see the good and focus only on the evil?

     “What sort of madness had gripped the revolutionaries? The madness of democracy and its arrogant totalitarianism.”[13]

     “Burke,” writes Tombs, “was angry that revolution was being treated as ‘a spectator sport for middle-class intellectuals, tempted to believe that they can proclaim governments illegitimate without anyone getting hurt’ – anyone who mattered, anyway. He insisted that 1688 had not tried to invent an ideal system from scratch – the dangerous French error. Every political community was slowly shaped by ‘the wisdom of unlettered men’, in a permanent ‘partnership’ of the living, the dead and the yet unborn. A free society relied on voluntary respect for its institutions, which ‘the longer they have lasted… the more we cherished them.’ He insisted that revolution entailed suffering and loss, and was ‘the very last resource of the thinking and the good… I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases.’ Burke’s position was historical and philosophical, not religious, unlike that of his opponents, whom he considered Puritan ‘bigots’. Many were shocked that Burke, a leading Whig intellectual, supporter of American rights and religious tolerance, and nemesis of the East India Company, should attack the French Revolution. But his ideas were consistent. He had long dismissed abstract theory – ‘the fairy hand of philosophy’ – as the basis for social organization. Societies, he believed, grew organically, including by ‘sympathy’ and ‘imagination’. He denounced usurpations in which greed and intellectual arrogance (by people who ‘have no respect for the wisdom of others; but… a very full measure of confidence in their own’) destroyed legitimate authorities, ancient rights, social relationships, and laws embodying the history and culture of unique societies. Hence he regarded oppression by the British in India and Ireland (he was a Dubliner) and oppression by the revolutionary authorities in France as morally identical. ‘I do not like to see any thing destroyed; any void produced in society; any ruin on the face of the land.’

     Reflections met a chorus of denunciation. ‘Cursed Stuff’, exclaimed his old friend and ally Fox. Pitt thought it too extreme. Young idealists such as Coleridge, Wordsworth and Keats continued to admire the French Revolution as a revival of the ‘Good Old Cause’ of Sidney and ‘others who called Milton friend’. Dozens of rebuttals were written, including by Priestley, the historian Catherine Macaulay, and Mary Wollstonecraft in her Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790) and Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), maintaining that ‘God-given reason’ was the only source of legitimate authority. By far the most widely read reply to what he called Burke’s ‘thundering attack’ was Paine’s The Rights of Man (1791), dedicated to George Washington. Paine’s style was dogmatic reiteration. He did not engage with Burke’s ideas, which he dismissed as foolish, incomprehensible (‘all this jargon’) or dishonest. His position was exactly what Burke rejected: judging political systems on ideological, not pragmatic grounds. The new French constitution was ‘a rational order of things’; whereas the English system [much admired by many French liberals] was tainted by originating in conquest in 1066 by [William of Normandy] ‘the son of a prostitute and the plunderer of the English nation’[14], and it was stained by ‘the filth of rotten boroughs’, where ‘every man has his price’. Monarchy (‘the enemy of mankind’), a hereditary peerage and an established Church were the roots of evil. The remedy was simple: ‘For a nation to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.’

     “… In June 1792, Paine was summoned for seditious libel, and escaped to Paris to sit in the National Assembly. But Burke’s version of English history as as long collective ‘partnership’ was no less influential, endowing its institutions with a powerful legitimizing pedigree’.”[15]

     Burke’s emphasis on the importance of tradition and was important at a time when the rage was all for the destruction of everything that was old and venerable. In this respect (although not in others) he went against one of the main presuppositions of the English social contract theorists, following rather in the line of thought of the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers Hamann and Herder. As Sir Isaiah Berlin writes: “Burke’s famous onslaughts on the principles of the French revolutionaries was founded upon the selfsame appeal to the myriad strands that bind human beings into a historically hallowed whole, contrasted with the utilitarian model of society as a trading-company held together by contractual obligations, the world of ‘sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators’ who are blind and deaf to the unanalysable relationships that make a family, a tribe, a nation, a movement, any association of human beings held together by something more than a quest for mutual advantage, or by force, or by anything that is not mutual love, loyalty, common history, emotion and outlook.”[16 

     Society exists over several generations, so why, asked Burke, should only one generation’s interests be respected in drawing up the social contract? For, as Roger Scruton writes, “the social contract prejudices the interests of those who are not alive to take part in it: the dead and the unborn. Yet they too have a claim, maybe an indefinite claim, on the resources and institutions over which the living so selfishly contend. To imagine society as a contract among its living members, is to offer no rights to those who go before and after. But when we neglect those absent souls, we neglect everything that endows law with its authority, and which guarantees our own survival. We should therefore see the social order as a partnership, in which the dead and the unborn are included with the living.”[17]

     “Every people,” writes L.A. Tikhomirov, “is, first of all, a certain historical whole, a long row of consecutive generations, living over hundreds or thousands of years in a common life handed down by inheritance. In this form a people, a nation, is a certain socially organic phenomenon with more or less clearly expressed laws of inner development… But political intriguers and the democratic tendency does not look at a people in this form, as a historical, socially organic phenomenon, but simply in the form of a sum of the individual inhabitants of the country. This is the second point of view, which looks on a nation as a simple association of people united into a state because they wanted that, living according to laws which they like, and arbitrarily changing the laws of their life together when it occurs to them.”[18]

     Burke rejected the idea that the French Revolution was simply the English Revolution writ large. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was not a revolution in the new, French sense, because it left English traditions, including English traditions of liberty, intact: it “was made to preserve our ancient indisputable laws and liberties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our only security for law and liberty… We wished at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers… All the reformations we have hitherto made, have proceeded upon the principle of reference to antiquity.”[19] In fact, far from making the people the sovereign power, the English parliament in 1688 had sworn “in the name of the people” to “most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities” to the Monarchs William and Mary “for ever”. 

     The French Revolution, by contrast, rejected all tradition. “You had,” he told the French, “the elements of a constitution very nearly as good as could be wished…; but you chose to act as if you have never been moulded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew. You began ill, because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.” “Your constitution, it is true,… suffered waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls and, in all, the foundations of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. Your constitution was suspended before it was perfected.” “Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years.”[20] The French Revolution was just another disaster “brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal”. The “rights of man” were just a “pretext” invented by the “wickedness” of human nature.[21]

     “It was Burke’s Reflections,” writes G.P. Gooch, “which overthrew the supremacy of Locke [for the time being], and formed the starting-point of a number of schools of thought, agreeing in the rejection of the individualistic rationalism which had dominated the eighteenth century. The work is not only the greatest exposition of the philosophic basis of conservatism ever written, but a declaration of the principles of evolution, continuity, and solidarity, which must hold their place in all sound political thinking. Against the omnipotence of the individual, he sets the collective reason; against the claims of the present, he sets the accumulated experience of the past; for natural rights he offers social rights; for liberty he substitutes law. Society is a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.”[22]

     To Burke belongs the famous dictum: “The only condition for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” He certainly never underestimated the evil of the French revolution, nor its ability to spread throughout Europe while good men did nothing, or very little. Moreover, he showed remarkable perspicacity in foreseeing how the instrument of its spread would be a military man – Napoleon. 

     As William Doyle writes, he attributed the fall of the old order “to a conspiracy. On the one hand were the ‘moneyed interest’, resentful at their lack of esteem and greedy for new profits; on the other, and even more important, were the so-called philosophers of the Enlightenment, a ‘literary cabal’ committed to the destruction of Christianity by any and every available means. The idea of a philosophic conspiracy was not new. It went back to the only one ever conclusively proved to have existed, the plot of the self-styled Illuminati to undermine the Church-dominated government of Bavaria. The Bavarian government published a sensational collection of documents to illustrate its gravity, and Burke had read it. Although he was not the first to attribute events in France to conspiracy of the sort thwarted in Bavaria, the way he included the idea in the most comprehensive denunciation of the Revolution yet to appear lent it unprecedented authority. Nor was the destruction of Christianity and the triumph of atheism the only catastrophe he predicted. Disgusted by the way the ‘Republic of Paris’ and its ‘swinish multitude’ held the government captive, the provinces would eventually cut loose and France would fall apart. The assignats would drive out sound coinage and hasten, rather than avert, bankruptcy. The only possible end to France’s self-induced anarchy would come when ‘some popular general, who understand the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account… the moment in which that event will happen, the person who really commands the army is your master.’”[23]


     The English debate over the French revolution was by no means brought to an end by the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. English radicals continued to feed on the ideas of the revolution, while as late as 1989 the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to attend the 200th anniversary of the revolution in Paris. The huge debate that rages over Brexit today may be seen as, in some respects, an echo of that primary debate.

      One critic was the leader of the “Philosophical Radicals”, Jeremy Bentham, famous for his “greatest happiness” principle: the best action is the one which involves the greatest balance of pleasure over pain for the greatest number of people. In 1843 Bentham declared that the authors of the Declaration of Human Rights were sowing “the seeds of anarchy” and that the rights doctrine was ‘execrable trash… nonsense upon stilts. He called the Declaration “a metaphysical work – the ne plus ultra of metaphysics.” Its articles, he said, could be divided into three classes: (1) those that are unintelligible, (2) those that are false, (3) those that are both.”[24]

      As for the idea that all men were born free: on the contrary, said Bentham, “all men… are born in subjection, and the most absolute subjection – the subjection of a helpless child to the parents upon whom he depends every moment of his existence…”“This was the case,” writes Joanna Bourke, interpreting Bentham, “when you looked at the relationship of apprentices to their masters, or of wives to their husbands. Indeed, ‘without subjection and inequality’ the institution of marriage could not exist, ‘for of two contradictory wills, both cannot take effect at the same time’. Bentham ridiculed the idea that rights belonged to ‘all human creatures’. In his words, this would mean that women would have to be included, as well as ‘children – children of every age’, because, his sarcastic analysis continued, ‘if women and children are not part of the nation, what are they? Cattle?’ For him, this was nothing more than ‘smack-smooth equality, which rolls so glibly out of the lips of the rhetorician.’”[25]

      The second principle, that of equality, is no less difficult to establish. Men differ vastly in their talents and abilities, and above all in their moral worth. Indeed, according to C.S. Lewis, another campaigner against the idea of human rights, “equality is a purely social conception. It applies to man as a political and economic animal. It has no place in the world of the mind. Beauty is not democratic; she reveals herself more to the few than to the many, more to the persistent and disciplined seekers than to the careless. Virtue is not democratic; she is achieved by those who pursue her more hotly than most men. Truth is not democratic; she demands special talents and special industry in those to whom she gives her favours. Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into these higher spheres. Ethical, intellectual, or aesthetic democracy is death…”[26]

     Human rightists see inequality, especially in social life, as a scandal. But the “scandal” for our ancestors was not so much in the obvious and inescapable fact of inequality in every sphere of life, as in the fact that life so often does not seem to distribute rewards in accordance with natural inequality: “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the learned, nor favour to the skilful” (Ecclesiastes 9.11). So life is unjust, not so much because it contains inequalities, as because the natural order of inequality is not rewarded as it should be from a human point of view… However, the injustice of life is not a scandal to religious people because they believe in “the God of justice” (Malachi 2.17) Who will put all injustices to right at the Last Judgement and reward all men according to their deeds. And this means unequal rewards for unequal men; for apart from the fact that some men will be sent to heaven and others to hell, even among those who are saved there are different rewards. For, as the Apostle Paul says, “there is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another in glory” (I Corinthians 15.41).

     As regards the third revolutionary principle, that of fraternity, that was easily disposed of. The behaviour of the revolutionaries themselves showed that they had no conception of true love or fraternity. The revolution bitterly divided Frenchmen against each other, and Frenchmen against the other nations of Europe upon whom they tried to impose their “fraternity” at the edge of a sword…

     The truth is that the ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity have real content and application only in the context of the Christian faith. All men are born free in the sense that they are created in the image of God, which means they are free to do the will of God or reject it. If they do His will, then they become truly free in the sense that they become like God, free from sin and passion, whereas “he who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8.32). Then, having becoming truly free, they are truly equal to all other men who are spiritually free, being equal possessors of the original, immaculate human nature that is given to us in the Last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. And then, having become free and equal in Jesus Christ, we all participate in the love of brothers, that true fraternity, which exists only in the Church of Christ…

     The revolution began by imposing freedom and equality: it was never really concerned with fraternity at all. But the Christian way is the reverse: the path to true freedom and equality is through love, and only through love. For love in the great liberator and equalizer; it does not remove natural subjections and inequalities, but makes them as it were irrelevant.

       This was beautifully expressed in the seventh century by St. John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria. As we read in his Life: “If by chance the blessed man heard of anybody being harsh and cruel to his slaves and given to striking them, he would first send for him and then admonish him very gently, saying: ‘Son, it is come to my sinful ears that by the prompting of our enemy you behave somewhat too harshly towards your household slaves. Now, I beseech you, do not give place to anger, for God has not given them to us to strike, but to be our servants, and perhaps not even for that, but rather for them to be supported by us from the riches God has bestowed on us. What price, tell me, must a man pay to purchase one who has been honoured by creation in the likeness and similitude of God? Or do you, the slave’s master, possess anything more in your own body than he does? Say, a hand, or foot, or hearing, or a soul? Is he not in all things like unto you? Listen to what the great light, Paul, says: ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus’. If then we are equal before Christ, let us become equal in our relations with another; for Christ took upon himself the form of a servant thereby teaching us not to treat our fellow-servants with disdain. For there is one Master of all Who dwells in heaven and yet regards the things of low degree; it does not say ‘the rich things’ but ‘things of low degree’. We give so much gold in order to make a slave for ourselves of a man honoured and together with us bought by the blood of our God and Master. For him is the heaven, for him the earth, for him the stars, for him the sun, for him the sea and all that is in it; at times the angels serve him. For him Christ washed the feet of slaves, for him He was crucified and for him endured all His other sufferings. Yet you dishonour him who is honoured of God and you beat him mercilessly as if he were not of the same nature as yourself.”[27]


June 9/22, 2018.

St. Cyril of Alexandria.

St. Columba of Iona, Apostle of Scotland.


[1] Roy Porter, Enlightenment, London: Penguin books, 2000, p. 451.

[2] Mark Goldie, “John Locke: Icon of Liberty”, History Today, October, 2004, pp. 35, 36.

[3] Robert Tombs, The English and Their History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, p. 384.

[4] Goldie, op. cit., p. 36.

[5] Witness his famous remark: “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together”.

[6]Haivry and Hazony, “What is Conservatism?”, American Affairs, Summer, 2017, vol. I, no. 2.

[7] Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791).

[8] Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.

[9] Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents (1770)

[10]Burke, Remarks on the Policy of the Allies (1793), in David P. Fidler and Jennifer M. Welsh (eds.), Empire and Community: Edmund Burke's Writings and Speeches on International Relations, Oxford: Westview Press, 1999, p. 280.

[11] Louis XVI, quoted in Foi Transmise et Sainte Tradition (Transmitted Faith and Holy Tradition), N 68, January, 1993, p. 13.

[12] De Mounier, in M.V. Zyzykin, Patriarkh Nikon, Warsaw: Synodal Press, 1931, part III, p. 238.

[13] Birzer, “Edmund Burke and the Totalitarianism of Democracy”, The Imaginative Conservative, April 17, 2107,

[14] We may agree with Paine’s estimate of the Norman Conquest while differing fundamentally from his radical views. (V.M.)

[15] Tombs, The English and their History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, pp. 385-386. Paine was soon cast into prison by the Jacobins and barely escaped the guillotine. None the wiser for his experience, Paine fled to America, where he died in poverty and unpopularity.

[16] Berlin, “The Counter-Enlightenment”, in The Proper Study of Mankind, pp. 256-257.

[17] Scruton, Modern Philosophy, London: Arrow Books, 1997, p. 417.

[18] Tikhomirov, “Demokratia liberal’naia i sotsial’naia” (Liberal and Social Democracy), in Kritika Demokratii (A Critique of Democracy), Moscow: “Moskva”, 1997, p. 122.

[19] Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.

[20] Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.

[21] Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.

[22] Gooch, “Europe and the French Revolution”, in The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge University Press, 1934, vol. VIII, p. 757.

[23] Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, Oxford University Press, 1990, pp. 167-168.

[24] Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1946, p. 803.

[25] Bentham, “Anarchical Fallacies; Being an Examination of the Declaration of Rights Issued During the French Revolution”; Bourke, What it Means to be Human, London: Virago, 2011, p. 115.

[26] Lewis, “Democratic Education”, in Compelling Reason, London: Fount, 1987, p. 41.

[27] Life of St. John the Almsgiver, 33; in Elizabeth Dawes & Norman H. Baynes, Three Byzantine Saints, London: Mowbrays, 1977, pp. 243-244.

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