Open Thread, 6/30/2013

By Razib Khan | June 30, 2013 1:15 am

Independence Day is coming up. Very excited to celebrate with my daughter. She may be old enough not to be frightened by the noise. On the other hand I came to the conclusion a few years back that the world might not be a worse off place if the American colonies had remained colonies for a while longer (to be honest my thoughts were triggered over a decade ago when I watched The Patriot and reflected on its misrepresentation of the British armed forces for dramatic effect).

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  • TheBrett

    It might have led to an earlier abolition of slavery, or the revolt would have happened when the British moved to abolish if it didn’t happen in the 1770s as in real history.

    • razibkhan

      a counter-factual, a french revolution may never have happened (though an evolution was probably inevitable). certain forces of democratic liberalism were probably inevitable. but the details of how it came about may have been somewhat different.

      • andrew oh-willeke

        The threat of a violent revolution demonstrated vividly somewhere was probably necessary for the non-violent transitions to democracy that did happen. France and the U.K. could have traded places, or Germany could have had the heads rolling in the street, but some violent revolution somewhere seems like it was almost inevitable.

        • razibkhan

          The threat of a violent revolution demonstrated vividly somewhere was probably necessary for the non-violent transitions to democracy that did happen.

          and yet the french revolution ushered in a generation of counter-revolution. without the fear of the french revolution one might envisage britain which proceeded even faster toward democratic liberalism.

          • Contemplationist

            Razib

            Do you have a post fleshing out ‘materialist’ vs ‘ideological’ causes of liberalism? I know these may terms are crude but I trust you get my gist – impersonal, macro-historical, economic forces vs ideology (obviously they are often entangled in that one enables the other)

          • razibkhan

            that’s a book dude :-) though i think the material causes are easier to accept or reject. the ideological causes tend to be woollier by nature, making discussion kind of useless.

      • highly_adequate

        I think you’re on to the real justification of the American Revolution here. It’s not so much an issue of the oppressiveness of the British yoke – which is always exaggerated for effect in our school history books. It is rather the genuinely revolutionary improvement in form of government that the American revolution engendered that justifies it.

        It’s quite fair to say, I think, that democracy as we now know it, in all countries that embrace it, derives directly from the American style of government. This includes even countries that didn’t break away from England, such as Canada, as well as England itself, which had to respond to the improvements represented by the American style of government. It’s hard to see why we would have been better off if the American revolution had been delayed.

        • razibkhan

          It’s quite fair to say, I think, that democracy as we now know it, in all countries that embrace it, derives directly from the American style of government. This includes even countries that didn’t break away from England, such as Canada, as well as England itself, which had to respond to the improvements represented by the American style of government. It’s hard to see why we would have been better off if the American revolution had been delayed.

          i don’t think it’s so simple as all that (that all democracy derives from the american model). though obviously america as a successful republic (it didn’t call itself popularly a democracy in a positive manner until the age of jackson in the 1830s) was important. can you tell me what you know about the english transition to consensual governance via parliament before and after? i want specific facts i don’t know, i don’t care about generalities which i’m aware of.

          • Joe Q.

            I too would be interested in the details. I’m woefully ignorant about changes in government systems in other countries, but I can tell you that the Canadian system of government has changed very little since its inception (the only major change I can think of being the abolition of the upper houses at the provincial level, and that generally happened within 20-30 years of Confederation).

    • chris_T_T

      It may have delayed the abolition of slavery in the British Empire too. The effect the war had on the British is often ignored, but it did result in a significant shakeup of British politics (it also removed a political obstacle to abolition).

  • Sandgroper

    Did you also watch the 1985 film “Revolution”? That’s an interesting film for lots of reasons, not least being that it was a total financial disaster. Apart from the awful miscasting of Al Pacino as a fur trapper of British ancestry who is conscripted into the Continental Army, I actually didn’t think it was that bad.

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    Did everyone watch that guy tight rope across the Grand Canyon? It was 20 minutes of terror! I loved it. (Praise Jesus)

  • George Jones

    RE: “On the other hand I came to the conclusion a few years back that the world might not be a worse off place if the American colonies had remained colonies for a while longer”

    As a descendant of ancestors that fought and died (Real Life American Patriots) in the American War of Independence, I take an opposite view and say it was a “right” and “just” time to seek Independence. Sad to say, but many tend to limit their knowledge of American history these days with Hollywood like chaff in movies, tweets, blogs, etc.

    People in the American Colonies were itching for a change LONG BEFORE July 4, 1776. There was no need for them to wait “a while longer”

    “Bush Declaration” example: Just three days before Patrick Henry made his well-known speech, a committee of thirty-four Harford County Maryland citizens met at the Bush Tavern and, after deliberation, signed the famous Bush Declaration. This document of support has been characterized as the first Declaration of Independence in the American Colonies ever adopted by an organized body of men duly elected by the people was proclaimed on March 22, 1775.

    I am a descendant of one of the signers of the Bush Declaration and proud of that.

    This country offers many shining examples …. one of the better ones was this Bush Declaration Independence movement. Today, some 238 years later, I can probably sympathize with protesters seeking Independence including most of those in Tahrir Square. There is no no need for those in Tahrir either to wait “a while longer”

    Happy 4th of July. I will be in Washington DC Celebrating the 4th with Ambassadors from around the World on the 8th flr of the U.S. State Department. Over a Sam Adams beer, I’ll be sure to bring up what happened 238 years ago in the the Bush Tavern. More at http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/stagsere/se1/se5/014000/014500/014502/pdf/msa_se5_14502.pdf

    • razibkhan

      Sad to say, but many tend to limit their knowledge of American history these days with Hollywood like chaff in movies, tweets, blogs, etc.

      sad to say, but your comment doesn’t indicate that you have any more knowledge than those people. you may, but it’s mostly just trite repetition of the kind of stuff you might learn as a 12 year old (i speak as someone with a moderately strong understanding of north american history from 1600 to 1865).

      • TheBrett

        Too true. I tend to blame the rise of the American Revolutionary War on the fact that during a period of crisis and bad relations, the British had unfortunately inflexible leadership in their government.

      • George Jones

        Glad to see some profess their North American history understanding for the period 1600 to 1865. I do see several respected history blogs listed here: http://www.mastersinhistory.net/top-50-world-history-blogs.html Check out blog #5 from the “Greek” who is more well known in the ancient history / ancient ancestry area and offers up some quality non-trite views and opinions. Perhaps you can explain and defend better your position why the American Colonies should have waited longer for Independence withyour assertion “the world might not be a worse off place if the American colonies had remained colonies for a while longer”

        • razibkhan

          Perhaps you can explain and defend better your position why the American colonies should have waited longer for Independence with your assertion

          i very specifically bolded and emphasized might to indicate lack of surety. perhaps it was for the good, perhaps it was not. but raised in the USA we are understood to take an entirely hagiographic stance toward the founders and the founding project. i don’t necessarily object to this in the popular celebration of the holiday, but among people of some reflection and intellectual airs i think it is best to admit that in the grand scheme of things the american rebel cause can be disputed on moral grounds. e.g. as samuel johnson observed, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” as for the new england colonies, i believe that a conflict between it and england were inevitable for various economic and social reasons (economically, that new england was poised to transform itself into a rival for the metropole in value added production, and culturally it was stridently low church protestant in a manner which was a minoritarian position in england at the time). though ‘conflict’ need not always be martial, though i can not foresee how it might have been resolved to each other’s benefit over the long term, though perhaps dominion status would have transformed more rapidly toward total separation and republicanism.

          in any case, if you misrepresent me again i’m going to ban you.

          • George Jones

            “though perhaps dominion status would have transformed more rapidly toward total separation and republicanism.”

            I still not buy the “might” / “wait a while longer” position for the American Colonies seeking Independence and sitting longer in a limbo like non independent “dominion status”. Maybe that worked OK for the people in Canada, India, etc. but as history tells us, it didn’t work here.

            I have no mirror to be keenly reflective nor partake in heated summer airs for those using fuzzy moral arguments that the American Independence was done by the “American rebels” for the greater bad versus the greater good.

            One must remember that the American Colonies did have a try at the “dominion game” and it didn’t work out. As an example, in 1660, King Charles II gave the Colony of Virginia the title of “Dominion”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion

            Throwing a singular quote from the likes of Samuel Johnson into this discourse adds little. http://www.samueljohnson.com/jpolitics.html Is he all that much relevant or a hero to either today’s run a day Conservatives or Liberals? I think not.

          • razibkhan

            Maybe that worked OK for the people in Canada, India, etc.

            your lack of any historical fluency is pretty clearly evidenced by classing india and canada together. the ‘white dominions’ were treated very differently than the non-white ones.

            stop it.

          • Joe Q.

            I’m not sure it makes sense to equate the 1660s “Dominion” of Virginia with the 1860s Dominion of Canada. The name may be the same, but surely the ideas behind it changed over 200 years.

  • andrew oh-willeke

    If the British had managed to weather the Revolutionary War and a few more decades after it, the increased democratization of the United Kingdom and expansion of the franchise probably would have prevented the U.S. from ever breaking away, or at a minimum, would have limited the break to the American South.

    • razibkhan

      perhaps. but why do you say that? culturally it was new england which was emerging as the rival locus prior to the revolution. it’s religion was contrary, and its potential economic lift off was analogous, to the uk (i.e. value added production and trade, rather than primary production through agriculture). as it turns out during the civil war the UK definitely leaned toward the south because of natural economic complementarities.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Tim Ortiz

        If the British managed to avoid (and I agree that this would have been a difficult prospect) or defeat a rebellion by the Northeast than the next crisis in British-Colonial relations would have been over slavery.

        The whole upper south (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland) could have rebelled along with the rest of the South over abolition, though they’d still be crushed by Britain if the North remained loyal.

  • RogerB

    Abolition was a non-starter in late 18th Cent. VA. See the proposal by St. George Tucker (in his Wikipedia entry). When he made it in 1796, tobacco culture had been in economic decline for 40 years, and the economic effects of the cotton gin (invented 1793) weren’t apparent.

    Tucker’s proposal came at the low point of the economic return on slavery, but there was also the fear of the social problems anticipated from the emancipated slaves. Jefferson said that it was like “having a wolf by the ears”.

    If the British had suggested emancipation earlier, it would have had an even more hostile reception.

  • Benjamin Shepard

    There is a lecture on youtube by given by Sean Gabb called “The case against the American war of Independence”. I posted in on facebook a while back and waited as heads began to explode. The central premise gets pretty close to what I believe you are hinting at in your post. Cheers.

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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