A Brief Outline of the Revolution
This is a brief passage in the last chapter of "The Reign of Love", attempting to explain the intellectual atmosphere in which the ties of kinship were loosened. Far from being a natural evolution, such as the development of Roman law on marriage and inheritance, the weakening and elimination of kinship ties was one small but important part of the Greater Revolution.
The decay of kinship ties is not one of those natural developments that must occur in any organic societies. Just as there is no one ideal form of government, there is no ideal structure of kinship and inheritance. The law must always be adapted to changing circumstances, and the rule of primogeniture had lost most of its feudal significance in England before the end of the 17th century and never had any in America. Nonetheless, Thomas Jefferson worked relentlessly to undo whatever vestiges of the custom remained. Jefferson’s animosity to primogeniture and entail can only be understood in the context of an intellectual revolution that had been brewing since at least the late 14th century.
In its early phases, this revolution, under the guise of a restoration of classical learning and civilization, became known as the Renaissance, and, as it gathered steam and changed direction, new names were applied, such as Enlightenment and Modernism. As in any lesser revolution—I am tempted to call them epicycles—motives and objectives shift, and yesterday’s radical is today’s conservative and tomorrow’s reactionary bigot. John Locke and Adam Smith, whose theories were valuable weapons in the dissolution of Christian society, are now among the heroes of American conservatives, and Thomas Paine, once detested as an atheist radical, whose body was dug up and removed from consecrated ground, is now an eminently respectable Founding Father of the American Republic. In surveying the progress of this greater revolution, then, we must not be deceived into regarding the radicals of earlier generations as defenders of the old order, simply because they accepted private property, the classical tradition, or heterosexual monogamy as norms worth preserving.
There are many phases of this Great Revolution, many of them overlapping, others succeeding each other in a progression almost insensible to those who lived through the transitions. At this point, I can only indicate several major phases as the revolutions against the religious order, the political order, the social and economic order, the moral order, and the biological order. Each of them began by calling for the reform of ancient institutions, initially accusing the post-Medieval leadership classes of oppression and tyranny, and they culminate in open warfare against the very foundations of the institutions themselves.
The revolution against the religious order, for example, begins with a denunciation of papal tyranny and corruption, proceeds to the demolition of the episcopal hierarchy, and culminates in militant atheism and the abolition of Christianity. Similarly, the revolution against the political order is, in the beginning, content with attacking the privileges of kings, before proceeding to destroy first all vestiges of feudalism and then all obstacles a reign of theoretical equality in which regional and local privileges are obliterated and even national boundaries become suspect. Moreover, the crusade to abolish distinctions could not be content with the elimination of political privileges but went on to abolish social distinctions, including even such subtle indications of class as decent dress and polite manners.
The moral revolution, which facilitated the social revolution, was made in the name of liberating “the individual”—a creature invented by the revolution—from the shackles of religion, tradition, and social distinction. And, since all individuals of every social class were to be equal, distinctions based on ethnicity, religion, and culture had to be ignored, the moral revolution led ineluctably to the biological revolution that abolished distinctions based on sex, sexual orientation, and even the sexual identity dictated at conception by the genes and after birth by the endocrine system.
When we once accept the reality of the Greater Revolution, the epicycles—in which bishops were demoted, kings murdered, rich men robbed and taxed, women liberated, and normal human beings oppressed—are reduced to romantic episodes in the ruthless and mechanical progress of a driving force that the religiously inclined will be tempted to identify with the Anti-Christ.
One caveat before an unwary reader leaps to the conclusion that he should repudiate every change that has taken place since the death of Dante Alighieri: Human beings are almost infinitely creative, and an infinitely merciful providence has made it possible for creatures as weak and foolish as Freemasons and Philosophes, Jacobins and communists, Classical Liberals and feminists to find meaning and create beauty. A Catholic or Eastern Orthodox believer might smile at the follies and ignorance of some of the less disciplined Christian sects, but an honest Christian will not pretend that a good Baptist is less faithful than a rigorous Catholic.