The two models
Ronald Wiltse December 2006
2. Model 1: The American Revolution
A revolution of sober expectations
Model 2: The French Revolution
The revolution of utopian hopes
3. Sidebar 1: Democratic government
• a bad question
– Plato caused confusion by misstating the
essential question about government, saying
the fundamental question is “Who rules, the
leader or the people?”
– But, in all cases (except theoretical ‘direct
democracy’), the leader or leaders rule.
– A better question would be “How many rule?”
4. Sidebar 1: Democratic government
• what it is, actually
– a way of choosing the leadership, not “rule of
– therefore, democracy is not a type of
– (the “people” are the authority behind American government, but
this isn’t essential for democratic government)
– (the philosopher to see: Karl Popper)
5. Sidebar 1: Democratic government
• from majoritarian to antimajoritarian
– Our Founding Fathers rejected ancient
“democracies” and (therefore) the word
democracy because the majority could abuse
minorities. This type of democratic rule can
be called majoritarianism.
– Our Founding Fathers wanted protection for
minorities—they were antimajoritarian.
6. Sidebar 1: Democratic government
• Antimajoritarian features of the US
– primarily, limitations on the power of majorities
(to protect minorities)
– but also, requiring super-majorities to exercise
– (see Federalist Paper No. 10)
7. Sidebar 2: Republican government
• named by the Romans for their government
with plural leaders and no king
• but : This form of government had already been
invented by polis Greeks (they misnamed it, by
confusing the method they used for choosing the
leadership with the type of government).
• not associated with representative government
until the late medieval period (the Roman
republican assemblies were not representative)
– (the book to see: The End of Kings, by William Everdell)
8. Sidebar 3: a clearer view of gov’t.
• Single leaders (originally all kings, later with
various titles) can be called monarchs.
• Plural leadership marks out the substance of
republican government (originally, all
examples of plural leader government had no
kings, so it was easy to think of this as the
defining characteristic [and, unlike Americans,
Europeans still define republican government in
9. Sidebar 3: a clearer view of gov’t.
• Thus, we can see the two types of
– monarchy (single leaders, no matter what the
– republican government (plural leadership, no
matter whether one of the leaders has the title
10. Sidebar 3: a clearer view of gov’t.
This type of analysis allows for clearer thinking
than the traditional “democracy=republic
For example, in dealing with questions such as
how should one view term limits? (They are anti-
democratic, but republican.)
Should an elected official vote his beliefs or his
(A leader is a leader and should therefore vote as he sees fit, but
practically, he may choose to vote otherwise to keep his employers
11. Sidebar 3: a clearer view of gov’t.
Confusion of thinking:
►shadow over substance: The significant point about a king in
the government is not his presence, but his power (thus, defining
republican government as one without a king emphasizes
appearances, while defining it as one with plural leaders
emphasizes the substance of the matter).
►After the Civil War, as the US became more democratic, the
terms democracy and republican government melded, making
clear thinking about these issues more difficult.
►The description of republican government as representative
government (or representative democracy) is historically
inaccurate (Roman assemblies were not representative).
► Plato misstated the essential question about government,
causing confusion ever since.
12. Sidebar 4
All modern so-called democracies share
13. Sidebar 4, continued
The five elements of modern “democracies”:
►democratically chosen leaders
►willingness of the citizenry (and canditates) to lose an election
(i.e., acceptance of majority rule over being right)
►citizenry’s sense of fair play (toleration of opposing views)
14. Sidebar 4, continued
Thus, the government of the United States can
clearly and accurately be described as an
antimajoritarian democratic republic.
Parts of our constitution are antimajoritarian,
parts are democratic, and parts are
republican (what the Founding Fathers called
• All revolutions involve two elements: tearing
down and building up.
• Of the two, destruction is far easier than
The great destroyer: Tom Paine
16. Model 1: The American Revolution
• A revolution of sober expectations
– limited goals: political only
– built on a democratic tradition
– well thought out
– negative outcomes weighed
– primarily constructive
– no theory of class warfare
17. Model 2: The French Revolution
• The Revolution of utopian hopes:
– everything was up for change, not just
• government, legal system
• economic system
• measurement system
The French Revolution, for details
18. Model 2: The French Revolution
But, The French
. . . one moderate, and one radical
19. Model 2: The French Revolution
• result: an actual republic
• King Louis XVI was the chief executive, with less
power than he had had as absolute monarch
• “The revolution is over”—Robespierre
• Fatal weakness: the chief executive was not loyal
to the government (he already had shown this
earlier by trying to flee the country).
20. Model 2: The French Revolution
The first revolution failed to produce
a lasting government. Why?
Even though the king had shown his
enmity toward the aims of the
revolution, he was allowed to be its
so, back to revolution
21. Model 2: The French Revolution
• It is the second revolution most think of
when they think “French Revolution”.
22. Second Revolution
• utopian goals
• willingness to resort to violence
• result: totalitarian government (in the form of
an oligarchical republic)
• END RESULT: the revolution collapses,
monarchy returns, and government allows
more freedom (for example,
the Napoleonic Code replaced medieval
23. Model 2: The French Revolution
Lessons of the French
1. Utopian goals are unobtainable on earth.
2. Noble goals without wisdom can lead to bad
3. Tyrants claim to know what’s best for others and
are usually willing to use coercion.
4. A monstrous evil can have some good results (but
don’t look only at the good).
24. Model 2: The French Revolution
. From now on, monarchies (whether run by kings
or dictators) must court popular support because
such support releases greatly increased power to
the government; that is, the government must
give (or at least appear to give) the citizenry
some of what they want.
• In France itself:
– a thoroughgoing decimal system
– national public education
– the Napoleonic Code
Legacies of the French Revolution
25. Which model will most
subsequent revolutions follow?
The models . . .
1: The American Revolution
A revolution of sober expectations
2: The French Revolution (i.e., the 2nd
The revolution of utopian hopes
The revolutions . . .
The Bolshevik, Chinese and Cuban Revolutions
26. Sober expectations vs. Utopia
• The winner, when measured by imitators:
The French Revolution
• The winner, when measured by freedom
created and good achieved:
The American Revolution