Right Answer,rnWrong Labelrnby Clyde WilsonrnThe American Counter Revolution:rnA Retreat From Liberty, 1783-1800rnby Lam- E. TisernMechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books;rn634 pp., $49.95rnAgood historian ought to make it clearrnwhere he is coming horn rather thanrnassume an impossible Olympian objectivity’.rnI’hen, if he has handled his evidencernhonestly, he has hilfilled the demandsrnof his craft—whether or not wernagree with the interpretation he hasrnplaced upon his evidence. Ideally, interpretationrnshould come separately from,rnand after, presentation of that evidence.rnTwo historians, for instance, may agreernthat the New Deal was not reallv very radicalrna program. One of these may bernpleased bv this conclusion and the otherrnregret it; both, however, in their honestrndescriphon have done their job as historians.rnTheir opinion about their finding,rnof course, is another cpiestion. (And asrnSir Herbert Butterfield wisely warnedrnlong ago, historians’ opinions can too easilyrnbecome self-centered moral judgmeuts,rneven preferences of taste masqueradingrnas moral judgments.)rnLarry Tise, bv these criteria, is a goodrnhistorian. He tells us up front (self-indulgeiidy,rnalas, and at a little more lengthrnthan necessary) what he is and where hernis coming from: a liberal unhappy withrnwhat he considers the failed promise ofrnthe American RevoluHon. In the periodrnlie has under consideration, he belicesrnthat liberty (by which he means feminismrnand egalitarianism) was repudiatedrnby its friends just as it was about to be realizedrnin practice.rnTise provides us with a rich survey ofrnevidence from America, Britain, Ireland,rnand Prance (including its colony of SantornDomingo) concerning siiifts in publicrnopinion during the French Revolution.rnAmericans in this period, he believes,rn”marched from the worship of liberty tornthe worship of order.” I would interpretrnwhat happened and why somewhat dif-rnREVIEWSrnferently, but I agree that tiie phenomenarnhe describes took place. And recognizingrnthat what Tise considers a “reaction” didrnindeed occur among thinking Americansrnadvances our understanding beyond thernusual superficialities and is therefore welcome,rndespite the problem of mislabeling.rnIf only the autiior did not assume thatrnthe nahiral goal and summum. bonum ofrnhistor’ is a feminist, multicuitiiral, egalitarianrnsociety, then he would have itrnright. When one believes, however, thatrnmulticidtural egalitarianism is the appointedrnend of all human affairs, onernmust assiune some fault, some perverserndeviation to be ferreted out to explainrnwhy Utopia was not realized at that time.rnWhy did Americans give themselves overrnto evil — that is, succumb to anti-egalitarianrnopinions and a preference for orderrnafter tiie War of Independence?rnThis approach depends, however, onrnthe tacit assumption that when the Americanrnrevolutionaries proclaimed therncause of liberty and the rights of man, asrnthey certainly did, they meant the samernthing by them as did an end-of-the-millenniunirnliberal, or at least a French Jacobin.rnThe catch, of course, is that theyrndidn’t. The “reaction” of opinion and actionrntoward order, including an insistencernon patriarchy and homogeneity ofrncitizenship, that followed the AmericanrnRevolution was not a betrayal of anythingrn—it was merely the normal andrnnatural expression of Americans’ inheritancernand experience and tire consolidationrnof their achieements. We need onlyrnreflect on what might have ensued hadrnAmericans followed the path Tise drinksrnthey ought to ha’e taken: an AmericanrnTerror, Napoleon, or Santo Domingo?rn(There was a Napoleon—.’AlexanderrnHamilton —waiting in the wings. Tornthink sncli horrors could not have happenedrnbelongs to the same order of thinkingrnas to sa}’ that conmiunism did not failrnbecause “true communism” was neverrntiied.)rnAmericans could have taken no otherrnpath than what they chose to take and stillrnremain themselves. They were predominantlyrnserious Christians, and liberalsrnhave never understood the problemrnChristians have with the French Revolutionrn—which itself precluded Jacobinism.rnTheir social fabric and mores werernPuritan in New Fngland, acquisitivernbourgeois in the Middle States, and arnvolatile mixture of gentry and Border tribalismrnin the South. None of this lent itselfrnto the kind of society prized by ProfessorrnTise. Americans’ conception ofrnliberty arose from a solid legal and constitutionalrntradition and from real experience,rnnot from speculation. It stipulatedrnlimited government of a kind not energizedrnto pursue a feminist, multiculturalrnUtopia —a thing that it would never havernoccurred to them to pmsue since thernAmerican people, rmlike some Frenchmen,rnwell understood that it had neverrnexisted in the history of the world, andrnnever could exist. Americans, moreover,rnhad a task before them —civilizing a continentalrnwilderness—that only self-confidentrnAnglo-Celtic males could havernbeen expected to accomplish. It is ungratefulrnfor a later generation, living atrnease on their accomplishments, to findrnfault with them for not being as sociallyrnsensitive and noble as we supposedly are.rnFor Larry Tise, Thomas Jefferson isrnthe greatest villain of all, “the most radicalrncountcr-revolutionar'” of the periodrnwho provided the emotional and intellectualrnstimulus for reaction (that is, a preferencernfor self-governing order over egalitarianism).rnTise is accurate in thisrnjudgment: I salute him for identifying thernJefferson whom I hae been celebratingrnin these pages and elsewhere for over 30rnyears, though in the end he mislabels therngreat man.rnEdmund Burke had it right, as usual.rnAsked how he could defend the Americansrnand the Irish while being sornadamantly against the French reolutionarics,rnhe explained that there is a differencernbetween the desire for libertyrn”which arises from Penury and irritation,rnfrom scorned loyalt); and rejected Allegiance”rnand that “which is Speculative inrnOrigin.” The latter, of course, is Jacobinism,rnthen and now.rnBut take heart, Mr. Historian of thernCoimter-Revolution! The Jacobinismrnthat the founders of American liberty sornwisely rejected is fastened tightly enoughrnupon us now, though its goals of courserncan never be achieved, only projected intornsome hiture when evil reaction willrnhave been overcome. That, really, is arnpart of its charm.rnClyde Wilson is a professor ofAinericanrnhistory at the University of South Carolina.rnNOVEMBER 1999/31rnrnrn