The American "Revolution" / The "USA" Mistake? (another's look) - eye2i2hear - 10-19-2013 05:08 PM
blogger gwern, in a page titled My Mistakes, Wrote:
The American Revolution
In middle school, we were assigned a pro-con debate about the American Revolution; I happened to be on the pro side, but as I read through the arguments, I became increasingly disturbed and eventually decided that the pro-Revolution arguments were weak or fallacious.
The Revolution was a bloodbath with ~100,000 casualties or fatalities followed by 62,000 Loyalist refugees fleeing the country for fear of retaliation and their expropriation; this is a butcher’s bill that did not seem justified in the least by anything in Britain or America’s subsequent history (what, were the British going to randomly massacre Americans for fun?), even now with a population of >300 million, and much less back when the population was 1/100th the size. Independence was granted to similar English colonies at the smaller price of "waiting a while": Canada was essentially autonomous by 1867 (less than a century later) and Australia was first settled in 1788 with autonomous colonies not long behind and the current Commonwealth formed by 1901. (Nor did Canada or Australia suffer worse at England’s hands during the waiting period than, say, America in that time suffered at its own hands.) In the long run, independence may have been good for the USA, but this would be due to sheer accident: the British were holding the frontier at the Appalachians (see Royal Proclamation of 1763), and Napoleon likely would not have been willing engage in the Louisiana Purchase with English colonies inasmuch as he was at war with England.
Neither of these is a very strong argument; the British could easily have revoked the Proclamation in face of the colonial resistance (and in practice did), and Napoleon could not hold onto New France for very long against the British fleets. The argument from "freedom" is a buzzword or unsupported by the facts - Canada and Australia are hardly hellhole bastions of totalitarianism, and are ranked by Freedom House as being as free as the USA. (Steve Sailer asks "Yet how much real difference did the very different political paths of America and Canada make in the long run?")
And there are important arguments for the opposite, that America would have been better off under British rule - Britain ended slavery very early on and likely would have ended slavery in the colonies as well. The South crucially depended on England’s tacit support (seeing the South as a counterweight to the dangerous North?), so the American Civil War would either never have started or have been suppressed very quickly. The Civil War would also have lacked its intellectual justification of states’ rights if the states had remained Crown colonies. The Civil War was so bloody and destructive16 that avoiding it is worth a great deal indeed. And then there comes WWI and WWII. It is not hard to see how America remaining a colony would have been better for both Europe and America.
Since that paradigm shift in middle school, my view has changed little:
- Crane Brinton’s The Anatomy of Revolution confirmed my beliefs with statistics about the economic class of participants: naked financial self-interest is not a very convincing argument for plunging a country into war, given that England had incurred substantial debt defending and expanding the colonies and their tax burden - that they endlessly complained of - was comically tiny compared to England proper. One of the interesting points Brinton makes was that contrary to the universal belief, revolutions do not universally tend to occur at times of poverty or increasing wealth inequality; indeed, before the American revolution, the colonists were less taxed, wealthier & more equal than the English.
- continuing the economic theme, the burdens on the American colonists such as the Navigation Acts are now considered to not be burdensome at all, but negligible or positive, especially compared to independence. Famed Scottish economist Adam Smith supported the Navigation Acts as a critical part of the Empire’s defense17 (which included the American colonies; but see again the colonies’ gratitude for the French-Indian War). Their light burden has become economic history consensus since the discussion was sparked in the 1960s (eg. Thomas 1965, Thomas 1968): in 1994, 198 economic historians were surveyed asked several questions on this point finding that:
- 132 disagreed with the proposition "One of the primary causes of the American Revolution was the behavior of British and Scottish merchants in the 1760s and 1770s, which threatened the abilities of American merchants to engage in new or even traditional economic pursuits."
- 178 agreed or partially agreed that "The costs imposed on the colonists by the trade restrictions of the Navigation Acts were small."
- 111 disagreed that "The economic burden of British policies was the spark to the American Revolution."
- 117 agreed or partially agreed that "The personal economic interests of delegates to the Constitutional Convention generally had a [substantial] effect on their voting behavior."
- Mencius Moldbug discussed good deal of primary source material which supported my interpretation.
I particularly enjoyed his description of the Pulitzer-winning The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, a study of the popular circulars and essays (of which Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is only the most famous): the author finds that the rebels and their leaders believed there was a conspiracy by English elites to strip them of their freedoms and crush the Protestants under the yoke of the Church of England.
Bailyn points out that no traces of any such conspiracy has ever been found in the diaries or memorandums or letters of said elites. Hence the Founding Fathers were, as Moldbug claimed, exactly analogous to 9/11 Truthers or Birthers. Moldbug further points out that reality has directly contradicted their predictions, as both the Monarchy and Church of England have seen their power continuously decreasing to their present-day ceremonial status, a diminution in progress long before the American Revolution.
- Possibly on Moldbug’s advice, I then read volume 1 of Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty. I was unimpressed. Rothbard seems to think he is justifying the Revolution as a noble libertarian thing (except for those other scoundrels who just want to take over); but all I saw were scoundrels.
- Attempting to take an outside view and ignore the cult built up around the Founding Fathers, viewing them as a cynical foreigner might, the Fathers do not necessarily come off well.
For example, one can compare George Washington to Robert Mugabe [President of Zimbabwe]: both led a guerrilla revolution of British colonies against the country which had built their colony up into a wealthy regional powerhouse, and they or their allies employed mobs and terrorist tactics; both oversaw hyperinflation of their currency; both expropriated politically disfavored groups, and engaged in give-aways to supporters (Mugabe redistributed land to black supporters, Washington approved Alexander Hamilton’s assumption of states’ war-debts - an incredible windfall for the speculators, who supported the Federalist party); both were overwhelmingly voted into office and commanded mass popularity even after major failures of their policies became evident (economic growth & hyperinflation for Mugabe, the Whiskey Rebellion for Washington), being hailed as fathers of their countries; and both wound up one of, if not the, most wealthy men in the country (Mugabe’s fortune has been estimated at anywhere from $3b to $10b; Washington, in inflation-adjusted terms, has been estimated at $0.5b).
(the author includes lots of links in the original post)
One question i found regarding this argument of a mistake, is along the line of what, if any, significance did the American and/or the French 'Revolutions' have on British Policy thereafter influencing the likes of Canada and Australia? Would things have gone as they did apart from such (influence/example/realities)? Granting, as noting what gwern included, that the issue of Slavery might serve as a consideration.
RE: The American "Revolution" / The "USA" Mistake? (another's look) - WorBlux - 10-20-2013 05:01 AM
Thomas Hutchinsons Letter written as a reply to the declaration is fairly interesting primary source material highlighting many of the hidden economic disagreements.
But as an interestign what-if Napolean would have never ceded the Lousiana Territory to the Crown of Britian.
RE: The American "Revolution" / The "USA" Mistake? (another's look) - eye2i2hear - 10-20-2013 12:23 PM
(10-20-2013 05:01 AM)WorBlux Wrote: Thomas Hutchinsons Letter written as a reply to the declaration is fairly interesting primary source material highlighting many of the hidden economic disagreements.
i particularly liked these parts (noting the terminology parallels):
yet another Bureaucrat Wrote:DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE:
A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which defines the tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
A tyrant, in modern language, means not merely an absolute and arbitrary but a cruel, merciless Sovereign. Have these men given an instance of any one Act in which the King has exceeded the just Powers of the Crown as limited by the English Constitution? Has he ever departed from known established laws and substituted his own will as the rule of his actions?
Has there ever been a Prince by whom subjects in rebellion have been treated with less severity or with longer forbearance?
They have, my Lord, in their late address to the people of Great Britain, fully avowed these principles of Independence by declaring they will pay no obedience to the laws of the Supreme Legislature. They have also pretended that these laws were the mandates of edicts of the Ministers, not the acts of a constitutional legislative power, and have endeavored to persuade such as they called their British Brethren to justify the Rebellion begun in America, and from thence they expected a general convulsion in the Kingdom, and that measures to compel a submission would in this way be obstructed. These expectations failing, after they had gone too far in acts of Rebellion to hope for impunity, they were under necessity of a separation, and of involving themselves, and all over whom they had usurped authority, in the distresses and horrors of war against that power from which they revolted, and against all who continued in their subjection and fidelity to it. . . .
<snip> [T]he professed reason for publishing the Declaration was a decent respect to the opinions of mankind, yet the real design was to reconcile the people of America to that Independence which always before they had been made to believe was not intended. This design has too well succeeded. The people have not observed the fallacy in reasoning from the whole to part, nor the absurdity of making the governed to be governors. From a disposition to receive willingly complaints against Rulers, facts misrepresented have passed without examining. Discerning men have concealed their sentiments, because under the present free government in America, no man may, by writing or speaking, contradict any part of this Declaration without being deemed an enemy to his country, and exposed to the rage and fury of the populace.
Old boss same as the New boss, New boss same as the Old boss.
Quote:But as an interestign what-if Napolean would have never ceded the Lousiana Territory to the Crown of Britian.
As me ole mum used to say: never say never.