in Kulturkampf

Back to the Future by Way of the French Revolution

I’ve remarked many times on the historical revisionism of right-wing theology and the implicit desire for a great rolling-backwards to re-fight every battle that reactionary conservatives have ever lost. Via Right Wing Watch, here’s Jeffrey Bell at a CPAC panel declaring that all of America’s problems with those darn liberals started in the French Revolution:

It’s rot, of course. The Jacobins have as much relationship to today’s American progressive movement as a spaceship has to a buggy whip. In fact, a primary achievement of the French Revolution was to disestablish the Catholic church as official state religion. France is a far more faith-diverse country today than it was in 1792. Remember, this was also the same moment in history when the First Amendment was being penned to prohibit government from interfering in the free exercise of religion in America. Though separated by an ocean, the two stories have a similar thread. Our revolution influenced theirs, and theirs became a caution for ours.

But what does Bell mean by “family”? Indeed, like many revolutionary periods, there were some odd attempts to do away with patriarchy — the end of the 18th Century was also the beginning of the French female suffrage movement — but France remained a male-only franchise until 1944. Women wore skirts and had babies and generally did so in wedlock, just like they always had. The radicalism of the 1790s didn’t even last through the 1810s.

No, something else is going on here — and Rick Santorum, who wants smaller government in every area except your birth control, gives us a clue. Via ThinkProgress:

They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is the government that gives you right, what’s left are no unalienable rights, what’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re a long way from that, but if we do and follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.

Santorum’s claim — that patriarchy (tyranny of the father) is our bulwark against political tyranny — is ridiculous. Patriarchy is in fact a defining characteristic of political tyranny (see: Nazi birth programs, the Saudi kingdom, and Ceausescu’s Romania). Nor is he simply talking about “God-given rights” in the sense that conservatives believe human rights come from a power higher than government.

He’s referring to his fecund Catholicism here: Santorum’s “rights” are to have potent, motile sperm for life; his wife has a “right” to unbroken fertility until menopause. They have these “rights” because their God endorses population growth. When Bell and Santorum say “faith,” they mean official faith. When they say “family,” they mean their own families.

Neither would admit that what they’re advocating is the very mirror of Sharia law in its most pernicious Salafist strain. Instead, both say the president is destroying faith and family — ridiculous claims, given his consistent Christianity and idyllic family life. But they aren’t chiefly concerned with the empirical universe, or the enlightenment values that make it possible. The French Revolution proclaimed “brotherhood,” not fatherhood, and to them this is the greatest of crimes.

Socialize this!